Fred Itua, Abuja
His Royal Highness, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzu is the Eze Ogbunechendo of Ezema Olo and chairman of Enugu State Council of Traditional Rulers. His name rings a bell in the diplomatic circle, having served as Nigeria’s Ambassador and Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Nigeria in Washington, as well as High Commissioner to the Republic of Zambia with concurrent accreditation to the Republic of Malawi. Fluent in Igbo, English and French, Agubuzu served as the Organisation of African Unity’s (now African Union) Assistant Secretary General in charge of Finance and Coordination, and was once Commissioner for Local Government, Rural Development and Chieftaincy Matters in the old Anambra State.
A product of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Agubuzu graduated from the university in 1967 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science, and the Best Political Science graduate of that year.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he spoke on the forthcoming general elections in the country. He decried the lack of political ideology among parties, voter apathy and abusive tendencies of security agents during elections. Excerpts:
Voter apathy is a major challenge in Nigeria. Just few days to the general elections, what is your take?
The beauty of democracy is predicated on the belief or assumption that in contradiction to other forms of government, it produces governments freely elected by majority of governed or administered. In Nigeria, however, statistics available in office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) do not support this assumption. By simple comparison of the statistics of the 2015 presidential election with the statistics of the two previous elections, it appears possible that, so far, all the democratic governments in our country have been elected by the minority of our population and the minority of our eligible voters better known as our electorate. My intervention is the product of agitation of the mind on this national embarrassment. Among the possible causes of this dent on our democracy, I have chosen to delve into three factors which lead to voter apathy and pose challenges to democratic system of government in Nigeria. The three factors are: lack of political ideology by the major political parties; excessive use of security agencies in the conduct of elections; and lack of credible voting system. My friend, I will come up with suggestions on how to eliminate these factors.
Can you explain more on what you mean by lack of political ideology?
In many climes on this planet, each time a rational person steps out to exercise his or her democratic franchise during national or municipal elections, the individual ponders which guiding ideology of the country to support and vote for. In countries like our own, where there are no divergent ideological persuasions by political parties, there are usually topical national issues in respect of which contending political parties declare their positions clearly. Our political parties hardly unequivocally state their definite position or stand on issues of concern to electorate. The unbridled carpet-crossing, to and from one political party to the other by our politicians, is a pointer to their lack of ideology or principled position on issues of national interest. As we approach the 2019 general elections, the critical issues which confront our country include: unemployment, political structure, foreign debt, separation of powers, oil subsidy, corruption, insecurity, farmer/herdsmen clashes, agriculture, industrialization, poverty, education, health and infrastructure. If the key political parties contesting the forth-coming elections inform Nigerians of their stand on each of the above listed issues, many Nigerians would be motivated to vote. As long as Nigerians believe that the political parties are all the same, they may not see the reason to go and vote. This is one of the root causes of voter apathy in Nigeria and the politicians hold the key to its solution.
How does excessive use of security agents affect outcome of elections?
The second cause of voter apathy in Nigeria is the over-arching impact of ubiquitous security forces/agents in the conduct of our elections. The presence of security agents in large numbers strikes fear into voters forcing the decent and apolitical citizens to stay away or stay at home thereby abandoning the voting processes to thugs, street urchins and a few patriots. The ideal thing is that the civilians of a country apply the extant laws of their land to conduct their elections with minimal assistance, where necessary, from security agents. This ideal has not prevailed in Nigeria since the first return to democratic rule in 1979. The obvious reason for this is the military incursion into politics, the civil war and the prolonged military rule in Nigeria. The situation we find ourselves in Nigeria is not the same in some other countries that fought civil wars or were under military rule. Such examples are Ghana and the United States of America. The former was under military rule, while the latter fought a civil war. Why then is the case of Nigeria different? The answer to the above question may lie in the character and behavioural tendencies of an average Nigerian. Many of us do not willingly and instinctively obey the stipulations of our constitution and laws. Many of us are easily prone to indiscipline. Those who unleash the security agents on us during elections justify it by reference to our character traits. Because `security gives way to conspiracy’ as William Shakespeare said, those who feel that they may be at the receiving end of the excessive presence of security agents during the elections hire thugs as counter forces to defend themselves and their perceived interests. Nigerians are wise and intelligent. None of them would want to spend his or her resources to keep thugs without need. To tackle the problem of excessive use of security agents and consequent thuggery during our elections, it is suggested that both should be rendered unprofitable by INEC through effective application of the powers vested in the Commission by the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
Many political players have raised issues about the credibility of the voting system. What’s your take?
Another flaw in our elections is the lack of strict adherence to the global best practice regarding secret and open voting system. International election monitors and observers, including yours truly, who had seen elections in other parts of the world, would be surprised to see what goes on at some polling units in Nigeria. In the past elections, there were no secure cubicles in some polling units where the voter could secretly thumb-print, fold the ballot paper before coming out to openly drop it into the ballot box. Party agents, especially where vote-buying prevailed, stalked voters to know where they thumb-printed. It is ideal that security agents should not be too visible around polling units. Where this ideal situation exists, the following advantages automatically flow. Firstly, voters are not scared away through sheer intimidation. Secondly, the tendency of some overzealous, biased or influenced security agents interfering with the voting process is eliminated. Lastly, there may not be the usual accusations and counter accusation by political parties of security personnel favouring their opponents and working against them. It is encouraging to note that in its recent briefings to stakeholders at the state level, INEC assured that measures will be taken to prevent such ugly occurrences in the 2019 elections.
What is the role of traditional rulers in all of these issues?
Our first role as royal fathers should be to educate our subjects. INEC is doing a commendable job in educating Nigerians on the danger posed to our democracy by voter apathy. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the various religious groups in Nigeria are also doing their best in this. We, as royal fathers, should use our unique closeness to, and moral authority over our subjects to educate them on the need for them to always go and vote. Although multi-party is not negative in itself, royal fathers should advise against the existence of too many registered political parties in Nigeria. Too many political parties confuse the illiterate and less educated voters. It makes the organisation of elections cumbersome and more expensive. Traditional rulers should persuade their subjects, where possible, to join existing political parties rather than register their own. INEC should be strict in applying the conditions for registration of political parties. Traditional rulers may inspect the polling units and other facilities for elections in our domains and draw the attention of INEC to any observable shortcomings before the day of elections. The collaborative efforts of the royal fathers and INEC in this regard may minimise or eliminate some of the challenges to credible voting system.