Elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, has expressed concerns over the controversies surrounding the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to retain the use of incidence forms in the general election. He says the elections are very sensitive and advised the electoral body not to take actions that will cast doubt among voters and the confidence of the international community.
He also accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) of being deceptive after senior administration officials contradicted themselves by saying that President Muhammadu Buhari will support both the South West and the South East for the 2023 presidency.
There have been controversies over the decision of INEC to retain the use of the controversial incidence forms in the general election despite the fact that the National Assembly excluded it in the amended Electoral Act which President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to sign. What is your take?
If I were in a position to advise INEC, I will ask them not to do anything that will cast aspersions on the conduct of the election because it is a very sensitive issue. It is also very controversial and competitive and it is not a normal administration where you treat matters on the pages of your file. It is a very sensitive issue that affects the citizens. It is just like when you want to go to a hospital and you have no confidence in the doctor, even when he treats you, it would have no effect because you do not have confidence in him. So, I would advise INEC not to do anything that will shake the confidence of the electorate and the international community. It should be avoided so that the credibility of the election would be intact and the electoral commission as an umpire would be safeguarded.
Opposition parties have accused INEC of pandering to the ruling party and creating an enabling environment that would benefit the president in the general election. They have also advised the INEC chairman to step aside if he feels he is under pressure to compromise the election. How do you advise him to ensure credible election?
I can tell you that right from the beginning, I think Buhari brought some people who are now serving in the commission for a purpose but I am not sure of the purpose. If someone is brought in to do the bidding of somebody, it would be difficult to imagine that the person would be happy to do anything that would lead the man that brought him into office against his aspiration. So, they need to be extra careful not to give the impression that they are there to serve the purpose of the person who appointed them.
Do these people you are referring to not have a choice to step aside if they discover that what they being told to do are at variance with their convictions?
Unfortunately, we do not have that type of culture in Nigeria where people would voluntarily step aside or leave their positions if their integrity is subjected to scrutiny and I doubt if we would have it over night. Justice must not only be done but should be seen to have been done, so, the conduct of the election must not only be fair and credible, but must be seen by a large section of the country, including the international community, as free and fair. The onus is on the leadership of INEC and I expect them to be aware of this and do the needful.
President Buhari’s supporters have argued that he is right not to assent to the amended Electoral Act because it is too close to the elections to carry out changes that would alter the polls. Do you agree?
The delay is not due to the fault of the National Assembly, it was caused by the President’s refusal to sign the bill several times when it was presented to him. He should have known what the issues were a long time ago and draw the attention of the National Assembly and point out why he is not happy with the bill, then they can quickly go and change it if they are satisfied with his explanation. So, I do not think the delay should be an argument on his part, because he caused it.
Besides the reasons the President is giving about the delay, what is your personal opinion on why he is refusing to sign it?
My opinion is that the main issue is the decision of the National Assembly to separate the day of the presidential from that of the federal legislators. This is because; the president would like to force the candidates who are vying for seats in the National Assembly to work for him. If elections are separated, they would work for themselves and he would work for himself. So, the president’s arguments are mere excuses, but the main reason is this issue of separating the presidential election from the National Assembly election.
His critics say he is afraid of the removal of the use of incidence forms in the amended bill because it helped him get so many votes in the north where its use was widespread.
It could be a factor but whatever the reason is, I am sure that it has to do with the ultimate result of the election. I doubt if the president is confident enough that his own election will augur well for him without joining it with that of the National Assembly. Therefore, anything that is related to that is driven by the same consideration.
The APC has promised the South West and the South East the same thing; which is the 20013 presidency. Do you think that promises like this should be made a campaign issue?
With the Vice President coming from the South West, certainly, it is impossible for anybody from that zone to promise the South East that they would soon get to power. By the nature of our politics, it is expected that if a presidential candidate wins the election, his running mate would naturally be the next presidential candidate for the party. If that is the case, we cannot argue that the slot can go to the South East and the South West; it is not possible. It is a clear cut deception and I don’t think that people in high places should deal with the matter of election on the basis of deception.
It should not even be a campaign issue because there is precedence in the country such that where the principal has completed his tenure, the second in command would be the natural presidential candidate for the party in the next round of election. Therefore, anything to the contrary is a clear case of deception which is coming from the leadership of the APC.
Deception is done deliberately and the motive behind any form of deception is to cheat. Anybody who goes out of his way to deceive, his intention is to cheat the people that he is deceiving.
The negotiations between the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Federal Government are ongoing over the issue of increase in minimum wage to N30, 000 per month. A lot of states owe salaries even at the current rate of N18, 000 per month. Do you think it would be wise to increase minimum wage at this stage?
Something is structurally wrong with us. In a country where 80 percent of the annual revenue of the government is dedicated to bureaucracy, that country is not healthy economically because they cannot develop. In all honesty, N30, 000 is too small for a person to live a decent life. Even what the permanent secretaries earn cannot sustain them because our naira has no value. The purchasing power of the naira is so small that it can’t meet anyone’s needs. What the government needs to do is to ask why we are living this artificial life that cannot be sustained.
Originally, Nigerians thought that Buhari would be able to address this issue of poverty but it is obvious that this government has no economic policy. They came to power on three slogans; security, and to them security means fighting Boko Haram, which is limited to three out of 36 states in the federation. The Shehu Shagari administration came with a policy for housing, agriculture, and education. Now, we don’t have any programme for the real issues dragging the country backwards.
I will prefer to see what Atiku Abubakar would be able to do, because being a businessman, I expect his programmes to include housing, agriculture, power and so on. Whoever will fight Atiku has to produce a better programme than that of Atiku for him to be voted into power.
Look at how the late Umar Yar’adua started; he came with his seven-point agenda which addressed core issues that were bedeviling the country, but after him, the programme was abandoned. Even the almajiri programme which former President Goodluck Jonathan.