By Daniel Kanu
Comrade Joseph Evah is the National leader, Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG).
The courageous activist in this exclusive chat with Sunday Sun, speaks on the danger of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) abandoning BVAS and electronic transfer of results, the president Nigeria needs, poll predictions and what the Southeast needs to do in their quest for the presidential, slot among other critical issues. Excerpt:
Campaigns officially started on Wednesday, September 28. What do you see so far in your assessment, what are the issues?
Of course, we know the issues and we want them to begin to talk on the issues, not only about highlighting the issues but how they will go about to address it, solving them. We want to see them debate so as to know their agenda, their manifesto. Without knowing their agenda you won’t know what they want to offer, so it’s time to start hearing from them, it’s time to talk to Nigerians. It is not time for abuses, but time for real business. The problem on the ground is enormous, it’s a humongous one, so we need to be serious now to assess and evaluate their capacities, their competences and ability to deliver on promises. Without knowing their agenda you can’t talk much about the people or person you don’t know their agenda. We want to start seeing debate, we want to know their philosophy, the philosophy of their party and their flagbearers. It is no longer time for distraction rather it’s now time to showcase what they have, especially how to solve the problem and allow Nigerians assess them.
Most critics are saying that there is nothing new they want to tell Nigerians outside the old song of the usual promises and at the end of the day nothing spectacular is seen in terms of delivering democracy dividends?
If what they will be telling us is rehashing their old songs, we will tell them that we have heard this before that we want something new, new approach, fresh ideas etc. If they are singing the old song, we will tell them it cannot fly. Now, with the social media, people are directly confronting people head-on. If they tell us the same old story we should tell them we have heard of all this before and that we want different things they will be bringing on the governance table. They should not expect Nigerians to start hearing old story again, what they have been hearing since 1999. We want to hear different things, we want to see different things, different approaches that can change the scenario or change the situation of the country. Nigerians must wake up to interrogate them properly and the media also need to rise up to this great challenge.
But the problem we have is still the usual problems of the economy, security, infrastructure, education, health issues etc…?
(Cuts in) But they escalated in recent times. Things got worst and Nigeria cannot continue this way. We cannot sustain the existence of a united Nigeria going this way. It is the way to political Armageddon. This is not how it used to be or is it how it used to be?
The problems have degenerated, it has now gone out of control and I think one thing we should do or introduce is to make them to swear with “Juju”, we have to go African way. I heard that they will be signing Peace Accord, and I expect those who are giving them those documents to sign to please let them swear with our African shrine, let them swear with Juju and you will see that they will sit up. You can see that they are no longer respecting the Bible and the Koran. There may be few you can count with your fingers that may have the fear of God in the discharge of their duty, but the majority, I am talking about the two religions (Christians and Muslims) no longer respect or keep to the oath. So, we need to give them something that will kill them, something that they know will kill them if they deviate from the oath they took. It is not a joke, we must implement it if we want them to comply because they know the danger of not complying on the oath taken. You can see that Nigerians, especially those that are occupying offices are no longer respecting the Bible and Koran, maybe due to the fact that they won’t get instant punishment. They should swear with something that will bring instant justice and you see that they will sit up. For instance, you will see that if one person runs mad while in office, or another killed in a mysterious way by Juju, others will sit up and will stop joking with our collective treasury. Our God is a patient God, but Juju will give instant punishment and that will put fear in them to be responsible in office. If they swear by Juju before they take office they will do the proper thing. Some may see this position as primitive, but it is a formula that will work for us, it is a position that will force those in office to do the right thing, bearing in mind what will befall them if they fail to comply. This will be a potent way to checkmate abuse of office, lack of performance, greed and others.
But the majority of them (politicians) if not all, will not want to swear with Juju as they will tell you it is against their religion…?
(Cut’s in) Then the person should not be allowed to be part of the election because those that have sworn with the Bible and Koran have failed us. If the person says he or she will not swear then the person is not ready to serve and we should not trust that person because we are all Africans. Are we not speaking our languages? So, it is part of our tradition. We are tired of having thieves in office and we say they are leading us. Since they have failed us when they swear with the Koran or the Bible, let us see if they will also fail us when we give them traditional Juju to swear, let us see if they will misbehave. They will never misbehave because they know the consequence.
How do you see the entrance of the Labour Party (LP) in the present political equation?
Labour Party (LP) has been existing over the years and they have been involved in elections. I think people like Mimiko has been there as one of the patrons. Dele Momodu at a time also ran as their presidential candidate if I am correct. But Labour Party has a fresh bite and the party is more active now and has attracted more followership. There are a large number of OBI-dient followers, no doubt. One or two opinion polls conducted recently favoured the LP, but I still think that the predictions are still too early. If we don’t have infighting even within the party taking themselves to court before the elections to weaken their party ….You know that some people in the party are spies, they are there as spoilers, as moles they are there to strategise to disorganise, cause confusion. They are being sponsored by some people, so let us see first how everything plays out, how the campaigns will go, the people behind the scene who are sponsoring those on the scene. Our politicians are complete harlots and until the last minute, until the game is over you cannot determine their entire trick. So, let’s watch the developing scenario, but I still think the poll report will serve as a booster to LP. Let’s see their commitments to their parties at least in the next two months and if another opinion poll is conducted or another prediction made then we will know where the game is tilting to. But for now, campaign is just beginning, you can’t predict anything. Some people will still cross-carpet. In all the political parties there are still people who are grumbling, you can see that some are yet to come up with their presidential campaign committee names. So, let’s give them, at least, two months into the campaign then they will be better stabilised and then when you make prediction, people may begin to consider it. As we speak, people are still cross-carpeting even at the level of the National Assembly. So, now is time to watch first.
How would you assess the conduct of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on our elections so far, and on preparation for 2023?
Well, I am not working in INEC or the INEC Chairman (Prof Mahmood) as to give the stamp of authority on assurance that all is well, but looking back at what the INEC has been able to do from the Edo election to Osun election, you can give them kudos that there is an improvement, but we need more assurance from INEC that people will get their PVCs on time, that BVAS will not fail, that the election will be an electronic transfer not manual. Any effort discovered to sabotage the election will not be tolerated, so INEC must brace-up to the challenges ahead. The 2023 election will be crucial for Nigerians because we want those who can truly do the job to be in office. But so far, INEC has done well. I respect the INEC Chairman a lot just like the former INEC Chairman (Prof Jega). But these stories that INEC is using some party members or that some party members are conniving with INEC commissioners to gain political favour should be looked into. But by and large, from all the elections that INEC has conducted so far in recent times, I think, its satisfactory. Since INEC has told us that they are going to transmit results electronically and not manual, it is okay. But if they want to do it manually, then we will have problem. And they may not be able to contain the hell that they will trigger using manual method because Nigerians will not tolerate it. It will create serious confusion in the land. So, I beg INEC to keep their promise of transmitting results electronically as any deviation may spell doom. There will be confidence crisis if INEC fails to keep its promise. INEC should ensure that votes must count in the 2023 elections. As I said, even looking at the primaries they have conducted, it’s not easy given the nature of our nation, but so far, I commend them (INEC), good mark for them. There is this challenge, this criticism on vote-buying by politicians or the hijacking of ballot boxes, but that is not directly under INEC control and I have not seen much of attack from the political parties on INEC on this or for being bias.
Most Nigerians will want the presidential candidates to speak to Nigerians, not their aides or spokespersons of the party…?
(Cuts in) Of course, we expect them to speak to Nigerians on their agenda for the country and not their aides speaking to Nigerians, but I think there is still time for that. There is still time for them to speak. Are they not going to go for campaign rallies? Are they not going to move around the country? There is no way they will not speak, they must talk to Nigerians. Not only the presidential candidates will talk, let their deputies also talk. It is up to you journalists to properly guide the entire conversation, it is left for Nigerians to properly interrogate them also. Let’s know their competence, their capacity to deliver. Journalists must come to the rescue, force them to come out and to speak to Nigerians on how they are going to tackle our ever-growing problems which they caused in the first place. We are not expecting them to come and tell us the problems, Nigerians already know the problems. We are expecting them to tell us how to tackle it, what they intend to do, step by step approach on how they intend to tackle it. Nigerians must look at their records of past deed, look at their political antecedents frankly, not with bias, look at their capacity to do the job, look at their credibility content, their character. Journalists should ask them relevant questions that will elicit the competence or ignorance of the person.
So in all, what type of president should Nigerians be going for in view of the critical challenges ahead?
We need a trustworthy character not those with trust deficit. We need the person with the right capacity. Look at a president like Gowon or Murtala. For instance, Gowon took office at a very young age, I don’t think he was up to 33 years, I think he was between 30 and 32 years, but you can see how he assembled people that helped him to do the job. We are not looking for that one messiah, but beyond that you need one that knows who should be on board in this rescue mission. Nigeria is going, going, going … and urgently needs a rescue mission. We are tired of jokers. Gowon chose or located talents, individuals like Mobolaji Johnson, former governor of Lagos State. They were able to identify patriotic people at that time. They should know who should assist them do the work, not choosing your own people alone, but talented Nigerians that abound in the country and in all parts of the world. Gowon when he took over, very young and when journalists at his first press conference asked him how he will cope with the job, given his young age, he answered them: Look at the people around me. So the moment as the leader you know what to do first, you identify talents to assist you and be ready to fire whoever you identify as not raising the bar the way you want it. You must have the political will to make decisions and to stick to the decisions and ensure it’s accomplished without undue favourism or nepotism. Imagine here that a Central Bank Governor (Godwin Emefiele) went to court that he wants to be CBN governor and also become a presidential candidate. Can you imagine that? Central Bank, where they are keeping the materials for election and the president of Nigeria cannot sack him, ask him to step aside? The CBN governor is there thinking on how to contest election, thinking about election matters while our Naira is becoming a disgrace, while inflation has eaten the value of the Naira. We need a president that will deal with those who are not performing, on the spot. We don’t need a president that is insensitive to national critical issues. We don’t need a president that is incompetent and will incompetently run the affairs of this country. EFCC operatives went after operators of Bureau de Change, I think last month, and we saw that the Naira picked, Naira went up. Why did EFCC stop? EFCC is doing as if they are not interested in that matter again. Who ordered them to stop? What is really going on? You need a president that has the will power, the political will to take decisions and implement it. Look at the way Nigeria is going down each passing day and our politicians are behaving as if all is well.
Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba cultural organisation has thrown its weight behind the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, citing equity and justice since the Southeast zone is yet to take a shot at the presidency, what is your take on it?
There is nothing bad with any group supporting their choice of candidates because it is within their democratic right. I have equally canvassed on the president going to the Southeast, but the leaders of the Southeast must rise up to the challenge in the zone, the security challenge over there is an issue they must tackle, also they have to watch the wave of the Biafra agitation. They should endeavour to forge a united front. A situation where they are still allowing sit-at-home is quite condemnable and not a good passport to showcase. The Southeast leaders must rise up and show leadership in the region.