Davidson Isibor Akhimien is the Chairman of the Grassroots Democratic Party of Nigeria (GDPN) and its presidential candidate in the 2019 elections. He speaks on the elections and what he thinks INEC should do right going forward.
As a candidate of a political party, what is your impression about the 2019 presidential election?
With benefit of hindsight, we thank God we are alive to tell the story today. For me, it’s a tripartite engagement that involves the electoral body, the politicians and the electorate. Let me start from the umpire body. In the first instance, when the presidential election was postponed at the hour that it was postponed, one didn’t find that to be palatable especially given the resources that had been thrown into the process; the resources by government, by political parties, then the loss to the economy by that postponement. So, one look at the umpire as a body that wasn’t prepared for elections but still went ahead to give people the impression that they were prepared. Or maybe they were prepared but it was just a strategy by whichever party to create what we call a shock in the system to cook advantage to whoever may have caused it to be.
But the umpire body really didn’t do well and with subsequent elections especially with the pockets of inconclusive elections as well as the military involvement especially in places like Rivers state. So, all of these gave the umpire a very bad name and it leaves so much to be desired. On the part of the electorate, I think they are also culpable in certain areas especially with regards to violence which the president and Commander-in-Chief had preached against long before the elections, but we continued to see cases of violence in South-West and South-South parts of the country. So, it will appear that the electorate has not learnt their lessons in electioneering and these sentiments along primordial lines still exist in our politics and it is unfortunate. But on the part of the politicians, I will say that they are the instigators of the violence in the first place and they are equally guilty. So, the entire thing was below expectation but as it is, we just have to move forward. We thank God that we still have Nigeria in one piece; we have to mend the cart and move along and see how we can improve on the electioneering process in subsequent elections.
Were you disappointed about the performance of your party at the election?
No, if anything, I think I was very impressed with the turnout of my party’s result in the presidential election because in terms of national spread, my party could be said to have come third in the presidential poll. The truth is that votes from other parties were either gotten by default or some of the parties that were either ahead of us had their votes concentrated in one part of the country, for example, APGA which is a traditionally eastern party, the bulk of its votes came from one state in the South-East. But for us, we had our votes equally spread across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. For a party that is just about 12 months old and for a presidential candidate that it is his first foray into politics, I think it was an interesting performance. Our party is a national party, not only by way of its establishment but by way of its composition and spread. We are a truly Nigerian party and that is symbolised by the candidate of the party who is a highly detribalised Nigerian and that reflected in the result the party got across the country. We are a truly nationalistic party and the people accepted us irrespective of tribe and creed.
Do you agree with calls from some quarters that INEC should prune down the number of political parties?
Firstly, the introduction of more political parties has its own merit and disadvantages, but it now appears that the negative is overriding the positives. At some point, the number of political parties that were registered now became so ridiculous. But from the grapevine, it was now found out that most of those parties were registered by proxy. They intended to use them to split the votes and reduce the chances of their major opponents. But the positive side is that it threw up new entrants into the system and the clamour for calls for new political elites has been heeded to. To that extent, the registration was able to open up the political space and it is commendable. I think the gap could be bridged so that we can bring it down to about four or five that will be more manageable. I think 91 parties are ridiculous and that is why most of them got some ridiculous results at the elections.
With the outcome of the 2019 general election, what aspect of the Electoral Act do you think should undergo reform?
Going by the performance of the umpire body in this election and the alarming rate of violence and ballot snatching, the most fundamental reform that can be done on our electoral system is electronic voting. It is going to be less expensive and it will stop all the ballot box snatching, it is also convenient for the electorate. We won’t need to shut down our country for elections if we adopt electronic voting. Yes, it may not totally eradicate rigging which is the mainstay of election victories in Nigeria, but it will put a modicum of sanity in the system.
What advice do you have for the president-elect as he takes the oath of office on May 29 especially on issue of the economy?
It’s apparent that we need to do something fast as a nation because wherever you turn to you see an army of unemployed youths everywhere crying for job opportunities. There are reports that the government is trying to increase the VAT as it were when companies and industries are going under with the present 5 per cent. What do you expect if you now increase it? If you do that you just want to close down the economy. The government should make sure they diversified the economy into productive areas that will create jobs for the people. We are endowed with mineral resources, agricultural products and incredible human resources. These are areas the government can diversified into instead of stifling the productive sector of the economy with tax increase. By the time you increase VAT and most organisations couldn’t cope and they sack people, there will be more social disorder like crime, unemployment and extend the gap between the rich and the poor. Also, they should cut down the cost of governance, it is key to generate additional revenue for the economy. If there is a political will to do so, all arms of government should cut down their cost to make additional income available for the economy.