Gyang Bere, Jos
Member, representing Barkin-Ladi/Riyom Federal Constituency of Plateau State in the House of Representatives, Dr. Simon Mwankon has blamed the country’s woes in the last 21 years of civil rule on lack of internal democracy. He noted that until Nigerians were allowed to select their representatives without compulsion and imposition, the country would not make any appreciable progress.
In this interview, he assessed the All Progressives Congress, (APC)-led government in the last five years, the internal wrangling in the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the fight against COVID-19 among other national issues.
Looking at the shoddy way and manner the two major political parties, the APC and PDP have conducted their primaries in the past; do you think democracy has any chance of survival in Nigeria?
Internal democracy is the bedrock of the survival of any democracy. That is the beginning because party primaries should be transparent. Those saddled with the responsibility of conducting election should be willing to conduct free and fair election, even within the political parties. If there is no internal democracy, like what is happening in Edo State, we are not likely to have a free and fair election because the political parties themselves have not demonstrated transparency in the conduct of their primaries. It was still the same problem of lack of internal democracy that made the APC in Zamfara State to lose the governorship and the entire legislative seats to the PDP. If we refuse to accept internal democracy in our political life or in the conduct of our party primaries, we are likely to have problems in the main election. I think we have to be very cautious about this issue of internal democracy because it was the same thing that made the PDP to lose the general elections to the APC in 2015. A lot of people were aggrieved in PDP as a result of the party’s decision to handpick its candidates who featured in the main elections. We were all aggrieved and that led many PDP members to join hands with the APC against the PDP. So, it is a dangerous trend, that could singlehandedly destroy democracy. I don’t subscribe to the idea of imposition of candidates by any party, and that is a very big issue in party politics in Nigeria. I want to say that nothing kills democracy like lack of internal democracy. Those at the helm of affairs of political parties in this country need to be cautioned to play the game according to the dictates of the rules and also have respect for the constitution of their parties. Quite a number of them steer the affairs of their parties with sentiment and personal interest. It is high time they realised that the interest of the followership and the constitution of party supersedes and overrides their personal interest.
What is your assessment of democracy in Nigeria generally?
Democracy is a welcome development but we still have a long way to go. Election in Nigeria is characterised by vote buying, underage voting, ballot box snatching, as well as rigging engineered by both the electoral officers and security agents. I think we still need to work on our electoral system in Nigeria, so that people can really celebrate June 12 as a Democracy Day. This is because democracy is characterised by rule of law, fair play and other things that would make the process workable but in Nigeria we cannot see all those. Nigerians want democracy but the political class is not living up to the people’s expectation. The game is played without any recourse to the laid down rules and regulations. It is unfortunate that 21 years down the line, no political party in Nigeria can conduct its primary election without any rancor. It has always been complaints and litigations, whereas every political party has a constitution guiding the exercise. But, the rules are deliberately jettisoned most often for selfish and parochial interest.
The APC believes that President Muhammadu Buhari has performed creditably well in the last five years, do you agree with that?
From my own perspective and analysis, the APC administration has failed because none of its campaign promises has been fulfilled. They promised to fix electricity problem in six months. But, five years after, they have not done anything. The school feeding programme is a scam. Our Children are at home due COVID-19 pandemic, yet this administration claimed the pupils are being fed. Before 2015 election, the president claimed PDP was playing politics with the issue of Boko Haram, and promised to end it if voted into power. Many people voted for him on that basis. Now, the question is: Has he been able to solve the problem of Boko Haram? Recently, over 90 citizens of Borno State were killed by the Boko Haram insurgents. In Katsina State, bandits killed over 60 people. The North West and North East are under the siege of Boko Haram and bandits. The youth in these zones recently protested the killings, yet we are made to understand that the service chiefs are on top of the situation. Where are the security chiefs of this country? The President has refused to remove them and rejig the entire system. Although some people argue that it is not about the security chiefs, I disagree with them because once the head is rotten, there is nothing other parts of the body can do. They are supposed to give direction and be the engine room of the operation but these people have overstayed their welcome. Their tenures have expired. It seems Mr. President has some kind of agreement with them, which we are yet to know. Perhaps, it may manifest in 2023, otherwise I see no reason for him to continue keeping them, despite their poor and dismal performances. Mr. President should listen to the yearnings of Nigerians and allow the service chiefs to go. Retaining them amidst poor performance is in violation of the constitution. For you to aspire to be president, governor or any other political office holder in Nigeria, you must have a blue print of what you want to achieve, but many are just in power without any idea of what they want to do. That is why many of them cannot enumerate their success story or what they have been to achieve either in the past five years or last one year in office. In this lockdown, people are being killed in Irgwe land here in Plateau State, and nothing is being done by the state and the Federal Government. If there is any change, it is a very negative change.
Just like the APC, the PDP also has problems with the caretaker committees put in place to steer affairs of the party in various states. What is your party doing to put its house in order?
I don’t like what is happening in the PDP but there are more problems in the APC. Looking at Plateau State, for example, PDP does not have problem because the caretaker committee was put in place by the National body of the party. You cannot come to your state and begin to fight the executives that had been so constituted by the National Working Committee of the party. We all know that COVID-19 pandemic is like a war situation, and in war situation, you just have to change some of the rules to meet up with your survival strategy. The PDP, in its wisdom sat and decided that all states in the country that have not conducted state congress should have caretaker committees and the number differ from state to state based on their peculiarities. Like in Plateau State, some groups of party members just constituted themselves into a caretaker committee. As far as I am concerned, there is no problem in Plateau PDP because these people that constituted themselves into a parallel executive cannot attend the national meeting, and every correspondent go to those constituted by the national body of the party. But, in politics, people would wish to be heard, and recognised. I believe there are better ways that they can be heard, and not by constituting themselves into parallel state executive.
The people that formed parallel executive are being sponsored by some notable members of your party in Plateau; don’t you think this will have negative effects on your party in the long run if the national body fails to intervene on time?
PDP is on course. We have no fear, especially on the Plateau South Senatorial election coming up. The way forward is that we must come together as a family. We must accept whoever is there now as a leader. If not for COVID-19, we would have finished all the congresses. I strongly believe that we can achieve more when we unite and work together.
What is your take on the Federal Government’s fight against COVID-19?
I co-sponsored a motion in February; three of us sponsored that motion and one of our prayers was that the country should lock all the borders immediately so that we would not import this pandemic to Nigeria. They refused to adhere to that prayer and left our borders open until they were able to bring in their children and relatives to the country; there are still others outside the country. Some children of top Nigerians came home with this disease. The Federal Government did not handle it the way it should be. It took the government up to three or four weeks before it made pronouncement; the Presidential Task Force was set up very late.
What lessons are there for Nigeria to learn from COVID-19?
The first lesson is that we must develop our health care system. We must be proactive to issues that have to do with human lives. Even Mr. President who often travels out for medical attention can’t go anywhere now. So, it is necessary that we develop our health care system; otherwise a day will come when all of us will perish. Also, we have learnt that a day is coming when every government would be responsible for its citizens alone. With the shortages of Personal Protective Equipment and rapid test kits, will America, Asia or Europe leave their citizens for Nigeria? We are just lucky in this part of the world that certain natural factors are working in our favour; otherwise we would have been burying people more than Italy and Spain. Some natural factors which we cannot explain are working to our advantage; otherwise we would have been burying people in thousands in Nigeria. There was a time Bill Gate said a time would come when the streets of Africa would be littered with corpses because they know the capacity of our health care sector. One lesson we have learnt from the poor handling of COVI-19 pandemic in Nigeria is that we must be very careful. We have all enabling laws, motions and the bills, but the problem is who to implement them. Every Nigerian is afraid of going out in the street to protest. I remember when the former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power and there was plan to increase fuel pump price; there was a national protest. When President Buhari came, how many times has he increased the fuel pump price? Even now that we are buying it at N125 per liter, is it not wrong? Looking at the price from the global market, we are supposed to buy it at N50 per liter, but nobody is talking; everybody is afraid. To be sincere, it’s like there is no hope for this country except all citizens of Nigeria speak with one voice. We must avoid the issue of nepotism, religious differences, and ethnicity. If all these are not removed from our daily interactions, we would go nowhere.