Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Peter Ameh, has expressed concerns over deployment of soldiers as form of military operation in some states ahead of next month’s general elections.
Speaking to Sunday Sun in Abuja, the National Chairman of the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA), maintained that the military should not engineer crime where there is none.
He also spoke on the dangers of not signing the Amended Electoral Act Bill, arguing that it is responsible for the electoral logjam trailing the polls, just as he opined that lack of funding has made the presidential election look like a two-horse race between the PDP and the APC. Excerpts:
How ready is PPA for the 2019 general elections?
PPA is part of the old horses that always survive all the avalanche of political cycles since 2006 the party was registered. There is no election cycle that PPA did not win election, but in a deep sea as we find ourselves in this country, people tend to forget the history that the party has made so far. Although, we don’t want to live on past glory, we must, however, remind people that we have been winning election from inception, when the party was formed. In the 2007 general elections, we had two governors, 10 House of Representatives members and over 60 state Assembly legislators, including in Taraba and Bayelsa states. We still won election in Ebonyi State in the 2015 polls because of the uniqueness of our party and the projections we have kept for ourselves. We are poised to do well in the 2019 elections because we have set up our candidates and they are busy campaigning. They are traveling every corners of the country with their billboards and we hope that the election will reflect the true wishes of the people. It should be transparent, credible and fair. There are certain ingredients election should have that will encourage multiparty democracy and other parties to win election. Election must be transparent and seen to be transparent. It must be credible and seen to be credible. If these factors exist and seen to exist, it must be of mutual benefit to the electoral umpire and the political parties participating in the process.
What are those things giving you the impression that the elections will not be free and fair?
Perception creates a lot of view for a person and if you have designed perceptions that something will not work, no matter how you try, it will not work. The Rivers and Akwa Ibom states elections would have been thrown out if the card reader was effective. Not that the election was rigged, but the card reader data, whether insufficient enough, would have been used as basis for justifying whatever election conducted. It is not subject to human manipulation as that of the direct ballot system, which would have taken out of our system, the ability to stop ballot box snatching. It has taken us one step ahead in our electoral process and we praise the changes, but we are appealing to the current electoral commission to do better. The failure to sign the Amended Electoral Act has put the process of election in a logjam because as it is, the card reader is not known to our law and cannot be used to justify anything in the court of law. We are now dependent on the morality and love from Nigeria for the Commission to do the right thing. It ought not to be because there should be two-way process where you believe that for people to do the right thing there should be guiding process that ensures they do not manipulate the election with easy. These are factors that must be juxtaposed to ensure free and fair election. But they are not there in this election and we are relying on Nigerians to collectively vote and defend their votes.
Which areas will you give the commission knocks and kudos ahead of the general elections?
Where I will praise the commission is in the way they released the timetable and schedule of activities for the elections one year ahead. It gave the political parties ample time to align their programmes of activities with that of the commission.
Again, the other area the commission deserves credit was the way it handled the collection and submission of the Expression of Interest and Nomination forms at the International Conference Centre in Abuja. We expected logistical challenges, judging by the number of 91 registered political parties. They were well organised from table by table during the collection and submission. However, I expected the commission to do more engagements with the political parties. They are missing a point by describing political parties as critical stakeholders when they are more than that. The political parties are primary stakeholders. When the commission claims that the constitution gave them the right to make bylaws for the conduct of their own operations and elections, the constitution gave the commission that right to make it for the political parties. So, there must be a buy-in process by those political parties.
Has the controversy, which happened during the presentation of the consolidated voters register to the political parties been sorted out?
I am sure that before that incident, nobody has questioned the validity of my emergence as the chairman of the IPAC since September 5, 2018. Yes, I contested the election with a man I have so much respect for and there was no form of calumny they did not carry out against me during that election, but I never insulted Chekwas Okorie for once even when I should be more temperamental than him as a younger person. I knelt down for him when I visited him after the election, begged him to forgive me for contesting against him. He blessed me and told me to carry on. I don’t know what else I am supposed to do to show that I have respect for him. What happened the day INEC presented voters register to parties was because of the impression many had that my speech will be against the interest of their pay masters. Their mission was to disrupt that process so that I will not speak. Prior to that day, I had written a letter to INEC, warning the commission that I will not hesitate in working against it if it releases the guideline without the buy-in of the political parties. Every stakeholder has recognised me as chairman. It was even my team that respected the commission by staying behind that day to discuss conclusively.
Is the presidential election becoming a two-horse race between the PDP and APC?
There are lots of things responsible for the situation we found ourselves now. There are lots of challenges against our democratic system. When France President, Macron, decided to run, his party didn’t give him full support. He formed a new party and people willingly contributed because he had no money to bankroll the campaign. People are politically enlightened and experienced enough to know that the right to choose belongs to them though determined by certain factors like finance and that was why they contributed. In 2008, when Obama wanted to contest for president, where he was coming from, a minority driven angle, didn’t matter to people.
To them, he was a good man and brilliant orator. He was the one who engineered vote for his Facebook campaign, resulting in people contributing amounts as small as one dollar to support him.
made a lot of money that helped him run his campaign. Money is very critical in running any election anywhere in the world. We are among the poorest population in the world. A brilliant person wants to contest for president, but who will raise the campaign fund for him, especially the public that do not believe in a genuine cause. They believe that the contestant should give the public money to support them. Such attitude does not allow our democracy to grow. But there is a shift because people are getting to understand that some candidates have brought some level of hope. Without campaigning for any presidential candidate, I have met one-on-one with one of them who told me that people have contributed millions into his campaign fund. That was the first time Nigerian public are contributing so much for a campaign. There is a shift where people believe that any candidate can go into election and win it. But, political education remains very low. The Nigerian electorate do not know what the responsibility of legislature or the executive is. A typical example was the issue of constituency projects that have become the yardstick to measure the performance of the legislature. I believe that the Nigerian electorate will begin to see reason in sponsoring candidates. For now, it looks as if the presidential election is going to be a two-horse race between the PDP and the APC, but I will not believe so because as IPAC chairman, I don’t want to incur the wrath of other good presidential candidates in the race. It will be wrong to rule them out before the race starts. I was even against the presidential debate group that left other party candidates out the exercise. The election is still open until the electorate take the final decision next month.
What is your take on the allegation by the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole that political parties are charging so much to endorse candidates of the big parties?
That was a very generalised statement and very wrong for Oshiomhole to say so. If there are parties that demanded for money to endorse any candidate, he should publish them. You must move towards your direction and faith. People do something in Nigeria as if it is done in isolation. Electoral alliance is done everywhere in the world not just something domesticated in Nigeria alone. I don’t think any party charged for endorsement of any candidate. Yes, I cannot speak for all the parties, but I can speak for over 50 political parties because I had called to ask them when Oshiomhole made that allegation, but all of them denied charging and I am very sure that PPA never called to charge him. If there are parties that wrote to demand that he gives them money for endorsement, he should publish them. You must move towards your direction and faith. People do something in Nigeria as if it is done in isolation. Electoral alliance is done everywhere in the world not just something domesticated in Nigeria alone. The parties that have strength in areas of corporative advantage, combine with the ones with general corporative advantage, to win and form government of national unity. PPA did it with the PDP in the 2007 general elections. We gave President Musa Yar’Adua slot to appoint member of our party into his government. He gave us a minister in the person of Chuka Odum who was Minister of State for the FCT. Party can grow with such alliance. Forming government of national unity is done in France, Britain, Germany and many other countries. It is not a new thing, a party cannot force itself on any other, but it can look for place where its right and interest can be protected. It is geared towards the interest of Nigeria.
As IPAC chairman who interacts with the registered political parties, has it been easy for them surviving, what are the challenges they are going through?
I can tell you that I am so impressed with the new generation of political party leaders. You know that there are new generation registered political parties. They are not just young in only political party mainstream, but also dissect economic policies and issues as it affects the country. I saw candidates in this election that gave me the belief that there is hope for Nigeria in the nearest future. The greatest challenge facing these political parties and their candidates is the level of political education among our people and the financial constraints. They have everything it takes to be the president of the Federal Republic.
As IPAC chairman, what do you advice the electorate ahead of the election?
I will urge the electorate not to be cowed. They should not be afraid in going to the polling units on February 16 and March 2, to cast their votes and wait for their votes to be counted. They should also defend their votes up to collation level. They should see what happened during elections in smaller countries as a challenge to this country.
There must be citizens’ engagement of the political process. Politics without citizens’ engagement, without participation of the citizens is not democracy. Democracy is only driven by active citizen engagement and one of the principal responsibilities we must assign to ourselves is the right to vote and be voted for. The constitution gave the citizens that right that nobody can tamper with. We encourage people to go to the polling units and vote in an educated and enlightened manner and in a way that the person they are voting for truly without religious, tribal bias, solve the problems of this country.