Ernest Elochukwu, Chairman/CEO Nestello Gateways Group and supporter of the Labour Party, has noted that the low turnout of voters during the governorship and State Houses of Assembly election was because many have lost trust in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Elochukwu, a former National President, Association of Nigeria Customs Licence Agents (ANLCA) and a former aspirant for the House of Representatives described the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections as a show of shame. He called for the immediate resignation of the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu in order to restore trust of Nigerians in the commission in future elections. He also stated why many Nigerian youth preferred the Presidential Candidate of Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. He spoke with DICKSON OKAFOR.
What is your assessment of February 25 presidential election?
It was a revelation in terms of general perception. It was a revelation because youths came out en mass to rewrite the political history of this country. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by INEC because of the poor handling of the exercise. Youths saw this year’s general election as opportunity for their votes to count hence they made up their minds to elect credible and competent leaders through which they can rewrite the story of this country in order to put Nigeria on the path of progress. They saw development again based on the exciting manifesto that was presented to them over a period of time by their preferred presidential candidate who undoubtedly was Peter Obi. So, they came out in large numbers all over the country and there was evidence to show that there was mass participation, but somehow a lot of irregularities marred the outcome of the election. There was ballot box snatching, violence, voter suppression and intimidation. INEC said it had measures in place to curb it as well as curb vote buying. Yet in spite of these challenges, the electorate came out and exercise their franchise and to signify who they want to lead their country. However, when it came to the issue of collation and announcement of results, the people saw it as something else. The people were grossly disappointed because INEC which had before the election been praising the infallibility, reliability of BVAS system suddenly woke up to say BVAS was not working again and that was a great disappointment. In fact, it was a very mortal blow to the enthusiasm that Nigerians had when they trooped out believing that this time their votes would count.
Many of the party agents actually agreed with INEC during the announcement of results. Only few of the party agents disagreed and walked out.
The problem is not about whether the agents of the political parties accepted the results or not. What we are talking about is, what is the agreed mode of collating the results? If the agreed mode was deviated from, then it does not matter whether the agents were there or not. We were told by INEC that with BVAS the issue of manipulation of the results will not happen again. If not for that assurance, many Nigerians wouldn’t have come out to cast their votes for the candidates of their choice in the February 25 election. Because if they came out and voted and their votes are manipulated again, then what is the need for them coming out to vote? And this was exactly what happened during the election. If proper analysis is done, you will found out that there are too many new voters that came out to vote. Not necessarily young ones who are of voting age, but those who have never voted before even though they were adults, because in the past they felt what was the use if after voting, their votes would not count.
But they were assured that with BVAS that their votes would count. And so they came out in large number believing that for the first we are now going to see a real democracy at work in Nigeria. So, it has nothing to do with party agents not objecting to results announced by INEC. The issue is about Nigeria. We are talking about Nigeria’s democracy. A lot of people think that all that matters is who is at the helms of affair as President and that is my concern. We should have a reliable means of conducting our elections. When President Muhammadu Buhari and the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu assured Nigerians before the poll that they were going to deliver free, fair and credible election, we were happy. It was a promise Nigerians held firm. The question is, was it a promise kept? No
But virtually all the political parties have accused each other of engaging in electoral malpractices across board…
It is a view that does not have any data to support it. First and foremost, it cannot be substantiated. It is insulting to Nigeria that rigging or out-rigging has become our national mantra in an election. It is an insult to Nigerian youths to whom this whole thing is all about. Let me say it, why the youths felt real bad is because after the election they had messages that resonate with them. They want to see a country that is built on concrete ideas and that was what made them to troop out to vote. So, saying one party out-rigged the other doesn’t arise. It is a shame and national disgrace that we cannot have a credible election as the giant of Africa.
What is your expectation as the two main opposition candidates Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi have gone to court to challenge the Presidential election result?
I have heard people who say, what is the use of going to court, as the previous Presidential elections that were rigged were never upturned when a winner had been declared? To me, I think the issue is very simple. We have now finished from the polling booths. We have now moved to the legal arena. Everything that is being done in this world, especially in a country, must have purpose and that purpose must be national interest. So, it is left for the judges if they think it’s good, going on with the status quo even if it’s not the correct thing, or change the evil act. It is best known to them. But if they see the need to start rebuilding this country from the point we are to the point we will be proud of it, so be it. However, globally with these shortcomings we are backward because other smaller African countries are leaving us behind. If we cannot have something as simple as election in free and fair manner then I don’t know if we even have moral right to be called a country.
What’s your view on the request for INEC to allow Atiku and Obi to inspect electoral materials to obtain evidence?
For me, as far as I’m concerned, the issue of BVAS and portal looks as if we are talking about rocket science. These are supposed to be software. I don’t even know what is being reconfigured and I can’t comment on what I don’t understand.
How will you assess the March 18 governorship and State House of Assemblies elections?
INEC improved on the conduct of the March 18 election unlike the shameful act they performed on February 25. First of all, why did INEC do what they did in the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections? I will not say I see what they did as mistake. It is unfortunate that because of the poor conduct of the February 25 election, we could see its effect during the governorship and House of Assembly election, as many lost trust the in electoral umpire which led to low turnout of voters. Nigeria has decided to corrupt everything that the world holds judiciously. As it stands, everything in Nigeria has been corrupted for a purpose or predetermined aim. So, I don’t believe that INEC is interested in having free and fair election. In an orderly environment one would have expected Prof. Mahmood Yakubu to resign because he has failed. Don’t forget that some people expressed doubts over INEC’s capability to conduct free and fair election earlier, but Prof. Mahmood said INEC was capable of conducting credible elections. The commission even said that those people who were sounding warning signals were unnecessarily raising false alarm, but at the end, all that was feared, all that was predicted and all that was suspected came to pass.
A situation where people voted in a particular polling unit and votes were counted and a certain party won, but the next thing we heard was that the result that was being announced was totally different from the ones announced at the poll booths. It’s a pity that the expression INEC has created is that nothing good comes from Nigeria.
So, this was what led to voter apathy in the governorship elections?
Definitely, as we saw there was voter apathy because I talked to a lot of people and they told me that they wouldn’t vote in Nigeria again. No matter how I tried to convince them, they said no. Their own thinking is, what is the use? Many stayed in their houses on Election Day instead of going out to vote because, after all, their votes wouldn’t count. Or they were afraid that they may be stabbed or shot dead by political thugs. They believe that somebody would manipulate the figures somewhere and this was what we were hearing again after the March 18 election. So, definitely that was cause of voter apathy.
How can these electoral vices be totally curbed?
The only thing that must be done immediately is for Prof. Mahmood to resign. This must be done to redeem our political and democratic image by releasing the original Presidential results which people voted in their various polling booths during the February 25 elections. That is the only way INEC can tell the international community that Nigeria’s democracy is on course. That will make Nigerians to have confidence in the system. Imaginary things happened from the polling units to local government collation to state and national collation centres. It showed that there was tendency to commit infraction for peculiar gain which is in the DNA of Nigerians.
I saw a video of a Youth Corps member that was caught with some ballot papers. The question is, this Youth Corps member is someone we have said are among the people from the university and should try to stop badly run governments and the economy. They don’t have any hope of getting jobs after graduation because they will end up in the labour market. But he participated in rigging an election. It means the urge to commit malpractices is in the DNA of Nigerians.
Atiku blamed their poor outing on Peter Obi’s defection to Labour Party, which he said affected the chances of both of them to win. Isn’t that a strong point?
Those who see the way things were see APC and PDP as two leprous hands. What is the big deal about PDP? If there is anything that is bad in this country, they design it and APC brought it to perfection. Labour Party was talking about a different Nigeria.
So, why would someone be talking about votes that were supposed to come to him. They are talking as if voters are morons. Did LP not win in Lagos State and Abuja in spite of the manipulations that took place, even though the votes allocated to LP was half of what the party had in Lagos. So, what does Atiku mean by Peter Obi leaving PDP cost them the Presidency?