Former Nigerian Ambassador to Ukraine and Member of the Board of Trustees of President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation, Ambassador Ibrahim Kasai said he would be surprised if Buhari loses this weekend’s election with the number of crowd chanting his support. He also revealed that he would not be surprised if the rescheduled election is postponed again because the loopholes that led to the last postponement are still visibly on ground. He spoke to GYANG BERE in Jos.
How did you receive the news of the abrupt postponement of the Feb. 16 Presidential and National Assembly elections?
Well, the postponement of that election came to me as a shock just like it was a shock to so many politicians and candidates who had prepared themselves for the elections. But if we look at things critically, it was better postponed than to allow it go that way. The postponement has its negative effects on the economy, apart from that, it has effect on the electoral process, and the general development of democracy in the country, although this is not the first time elections are postponed, it was postponed in 2015 and other years and usually, INEC would site logistics as if they had not prepared for the elections. But from the stories we are hearing from even the APC and the opposition PDP, we are hearing conflicting stories on the reason why the election was postponed. Although INEC said the postponement was due to logistics but people talk about ballot papers flying, people talk of some people picking some machines and printing some ballot papers in different locations but these are stories that you cannot verify and INEC has not cited that as a reason, therefore we will leave that to the rumour chamber. The general effect is that INEC should have tackled this before now.
Will you be surprised to hear of another postponement on Feb. 23?
I will not be surprised, because I believe that since INEC postponed the election last Saturday, it gave some cogent reasons for the betterment of the Nigerian state and those forces that caused the postponement are still there, if you block one loophole, they will open it the other way but they keep going good. I implore INEC to block all loopholes, not some, all to ensure that the election holds on Saturday.
The INEC under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had conducted several elections and declared some inconclusive, do you have hope that the election would be conducted without these hitches?
My general view on this is that we are still growing, we are still learning, if we had perfected our electoral process, all these challenges wouldn’t have come. The day we start running electronic voting, that is when we will rest, because in electronic voting there is no queue. You don’t need to queue, you vote at your own time, you can vote at work or during break or in the evening or in the night; you will simply go and drop your ballot paper and it will be recorded and counted at the headquarters. That is why Nigerians from all over the world can go and vote at that stage; it is because of the pressure and the time limit, that is why you will get all these loopholes, cancellation and postponement, you have just few hours to handle several people, thousands of people are just waiting within just few hours to vote, that is the problem.
Are you saying that until Nigeria starts electronic voting, we will not get it right when it comes to electoral process?
What I am saying is that, it will be more perfect than now, we are growing in that regard. INEC has improved, before now there was snatching of ballot boxes, it was more dubious in the 70s and 80s, elections were more difficult.
If you talk of improvement in the electoral process, the turn out of voters in 2011 was greater than that of 2015 and there are indications that there will be apathy on Saturday, has Nigeria really improved that way?
I think the systemic voting apathy was as a result of violence, people were scared. You can imagine a situation where youth corps members were killed during elections, where people go to vote and lose their lives, where people go out to vote and they will be hurt, these are the main reasons why you record voter apathy. Just as you cited 2011 and 2015, look at the records in terms of incidences of death or violence during elections, you will know that in 2011, there was so many dead particularly in Kaduna and other Northern States. Now, the moment Nigeria attains the level of electronic voting, you will find Nigerians everywhere voting, if you are abroad you will vote, if you are in the village you will vote, you don’t have to be traveling any how to vote, there will be no longer rushing to the village to vote. In the last postponed election, I had to hire buses for people to travel to my village to go and vote. They are staying in Jos and they don’t have money to go to the village to go and vote, they are relying on leaders for assistance to enable them go home and vote.
Do you share in the fears in some quarters that if this election had held last Saturday, President Buhari would have lost the poll?
I don’t perceive that because I don’t have evidence that he was to be voted out, I do know that he has massive support and I believe that he will win the election if things remain equal due to the massive support he has and even if there was rigging against him, it would have been sorted out in the court of law; there was no way APC would have lost the election.
Will you be surprised to see the President voted out on Saturday?
I will be tremendously surprised, in fact he will shock me but that is not even in contemplation at all, we will win this election.
Do you think the result of Saturday polls will have effect on the governorship elections?
Let me tell you, this is politics of the third world, the bandwagon effect is very enormous, we don’t have politics of ideology in the third world. The majority people follow the party in power because it is only very few that can remain in opposition, nobody wants to be opposition, that is why the fight is so tough, the opposition feel they want to capture power by all means and those who are in power say they must retain power, that is why you find people changing party like changing shirts. Today you are in party A, tomorrow you are in party B and this is because of the concept of the winner takes all. When you win, you appoint your people and the loser loses all. It is not like a game of boxing where the winner takes 60 percent and the loser takes 40 percent, that is how it is, nobody wants to be in the opposition. There is compensation in politics, whether you like it or not, the President doesn’t run the country alone, there is a chain of appointees, the same thing with the governors, appointments will flow after he wins the election because everybody participated.
Are you advocating that anybody who wins the presidential election should appoint people from the opposition into his cabinet?
In advanced democracy, let me cite America again, there was an appointment that Donald Thrump made, I think the Minister of Defence, everybody was saying that the man is qualified, he appointed people from the other parties, the interest was all to advance America, that is how it should be in Nigeria. When you find a credible hand elsewhere, bring him in as long as he is a Nigerian. The idea of winner takes all is drawing us backward, we should learn certain things.
You said that nobody wants to be in the opposition party, are you saying that if Buhari eventually lost the election, most APC governors particularly those who rode on his victory in 2015 will not come back?
It is not necessary, I have said the bandwagon effect is politics of third world because nobody wants to be in opposition.
So, if Atiku wins the Saturday election, there will be no APC because everybody will cross over to PDP?
Don’t you see what happens when PDP collapsed, is it not the same PDP people that came to APC? I was also in PDP and now in APC, this is because I noticed that APC has a better way of offering good services to Nigeria.
Are you expecting a repeat of what happened in 2015 in this Saturday election?
I have told you that I am not even contemplating that. I am not even contemplating that because nobody wants to go back to Egypt, the people who plundered the economy of this country still want to come back and you think Nigerians will just follow them to take Nigeria backward, I don’t contemplate that at all.
APC held a caucus meeting in Abuja this week and the President said whoever snatches ballot boxes does that at the expense of his life, is that statement right?
Of course, the President has to talk tough when people are not doing the right thing. You don’t just make laws and sit down and wait for implementation, the President has to give direction to this country, that his statement alone tells you that he is not happy over what was happening and over what he is hearing. A President shouldn’t be a laughing President all through, he must talk tough. As a head of the family you must give direction to the family and you must talk tough when the need arises, that statement was very correct.
Some political parties are asking the Federal Government to compensate all registered parties with N1billion each in view of the loss and pains they went through during the postponement of the election, do you share this opinion?
No, I don’t hold that view; apology is the best cure for this, there are some aspects that money can never compensate, there are some losses that money cannot cure, the best thing to do is to go the moral way, that is offering apology with genuine approach and block those loopholes that resulted in the postponement of the election.
It is believed that Governor Simon Lalong has so much support for the President because once he wins his election, he will help Lalong to win his election, that was why he said he can die for Buhari, what is your interpretation of this statement?
What you have said is just the B part of my answer, if you look at how Lalong is working with the President, he is lobbying very well for the state, he is doing that for the state not for himself, Lalong has attracted federal presence here on the Plateau. You don’t know the federal institutions that he has attracted to the state. Look at the Agwanga-Jos-Bauchi- Gombe express road, which will soon start.
But people said the project is political, it is just to woo voters during the election?
Is it not developmental? When the President said something and it is on the drawing board of the Federal Government and you said it is political, you want it to start instantly. Look at the dam project in Mangu Local Government that has been on for ages but it is near completion now. It doesn’t matter who started it, as long as the project is beneficial, the best thing to do is to complete the project before initiating any other one.
Are you optimistic that even if Buhari lose the election, Plateau will still remain APC?
I have said it time without number that I don’t even contemplate Buhari losing the election not to talk of giving a chance to say what happens, Buhari will win the election and Lalong will win. Although, we are having problems with some churches here in Plateau but that has been resolved.