INEC must convince us it is capable of conducting free, fair elections —Olawepo-Hashim

Presidential candidate of the Peoples Trust (PT), Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, speaks on the readiness of the party to dislodge the old order in the presidential election and the four key zones his party is set to win. He also addresses the challenges ahead of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, presents the excerpts:


WE have two weeks to the presidential election and the issue that has been resonating has been the allegations from some parties about lack of readiness for free and fair elections both by INEC and the administration. What are your views concerning these issues?
I think it is worrying that a number of parties are not comfortable with the preparation and I think the INEC people who are supposed to be the umpires have to go the extra mile to give comfort to the various actors in the process. It is their responsibility to do so. But it’s not just enough to make statements to say what you are saying is not true. You have to be seen to be taking practical steps that are deliberate, symbolic, and institutional; to give comfort and when people see the comfort, they know. So, it is the duty of INEC to give comfort. If they cannot do so, they would have failed in their responsibility and that is the responsibility they owe this country. When they were confirmed by the Senate, they were all screened individually. Somebody must have nominated them as commissioners and what have you, but ultimately, they owe their duty to Nigeria not to any group of persons.

I have left killers of my four undergraduate children to God’s judgement —ABU lecturer

This is a very important election that is going to happen and I think that there is going to be individual and corporate responsibilities for the actions or inactions of people who are in agencies or institutions. In the event that their actions lead to breakdown of law and order, they are going to be held individually responsible by history and not just history, by friends of Nigeria globally who are interested in the peace and stability of this country. So, nobody should think that they can hide under anonymity. This is what most of our development partners are going to be looking at. We have seen in countries and even in the days of our struggle for democracy. We requested for officers who were conducting themselves in manners that are not in sync with global practices, to be put under sanctions. So, INEC officials can be sanctioned. A lot of countries can refuse them entry as a result of their actions. Their properties can be frozen. If anyone of them does anything that leads to breakdown of law and order, they can even be taken to The Hague and sent to prison for life because Nigeria is a signatory to a lot of global instruments that expects some minimum standard of decency and conduct from public officers. So, they should not just think that they can do anything and get away with it. They can’t just anything and get away with it, whether you are a police officer or army officer. There is not going to be limit for accountability for your actions. Even the people they are helping to win the elections, they have a limited tenure after which they will go. But there is no limit in statue for people giving accounts, especially under the various instruments that Nigeria has signed. In ten years, you can still be called to give account of your role and you will still suffer the consequence. It’s not just enough to say that I can behave anyhow, as long as the person I want comes in. In 10, 20 year’s time you can still pay.

Are you scared by reports in some quarters that the February elections are already concluded and that that the results are known…?
I’m not scared by all these noise that some people have already concluded the election. I’m not scared about that. We had only five parties when Abacha concluded his election by making sure that all the five available parties endorsed him. What was left was for him to be coroneted as president. But did he become president? He didn’t become president. So, it’s just that people forget things easily and some people have short memories. Nobody can play God in the affairs of Nigeria. My advice is that let us be responsible people and know that power is transient. Let us also know that we owe this country a responsibility to improve the situation in which we have found ourselves.

So far, which of the actions INEC do you find objectionable?
I’ve not preoccupied myself with that and you can see that our party has not been preoccupied with that. There are other people whose job is to follow INEC and all that, civil society organisations, monitoring agencies, development partners and our party too, if we notice anything that is overtly dangerous, we will make statements. Whosoever is making the observation; those who are in INEC have the responsibility to make sure that they give comfort to the participants. They cannot run away from that responsibility and it will not be enough to say don’t mind them, they are just crying foul. That is not enough. You have to take steps to give people comfort. That is your job as an electoral umpire.

Much of the complaints in recent times have been against the appointment of Mrs Amina Zakari as the head of the collation centre. Does your party find that objectionable?
I am not interested in how INEC deploys personnel. That is within their competence to move anybody they like to do whatever they like, whether it’s Amina Zakari or Chukwumerije. The important thing is that whatever they want to do institutionally, in terms of their manuals, in terms of their systems, in terms of their procedures, in terms of monitoring, they can move another person that is more dangerous than Amina Zakari. If you find complaints about Amina Zakari, they can deploy somebody else who is more dangerous than her.

So, we should take it that you are comfortable with the preparations so far?
Don’t put words into my mouth. I have already said what I mean and what I have said is that INEC has a responsibility to give comfort.

Do you personally have that comfort as a participant?
It’s an ongoing thing. We will continue to ask for comfort as we observe lapses.

Its weeks to the elections, at this point, you should be able to tell us whether you are comfortable with the arrangements or not?
Few weeks to the election is a lot of time in Nigeria. So, it’s very premature to make such a categorical statement.

Earlier, you talked about forming a coalition with other political parties. Some time ago, you said there were 20 parties that were looking towards forming a coalition with Peoples Trust. Has the coalition been formed? How far have you gone?
Well, discussions have reached advanced stage. 90 per cent of the issues have been dealt with. I think that within the next one week, you will see the announcement and you will see the parties. Some have been more proactive. Some individual candidates already stepped down. A former aspirant of one of the parties joined us. We are about seven presidential candidates that we are having talks. A number of them should make their individual declarations in the next couple of days.

But beyond discussion within the new parties, there is also discussion with the larger political leaders. We have people who are responsible and who are decent within the two major parties, who also feel concerned about what is going on in the country right now and we are talking with such people.

One thing that I will be doing by the grace of God, when elected as president, is to form a broad-based national government to deal with the situation that we find ourselves. We need to urgently confront insecurity with our best talents, whether they are in APC or PDP or they are non-partisan or they are in diaspora. Some of them have been in various armies and posted to Afghanistan, all the talents in the world, to urgently deal with the problems that we find ourselves. I will put them in my cabinet, whichever party that they belong to. So, the PT government will not be a government of PT alone. It will be government of national unity. There will be professional lawyers, there will be technocrats; there will be journalists. So, you will not be left out as media men in that government because they problem that we have to deal with now does not require narrow-mindedness. We need to be broad-minded. There is no room for pettiness. The country faces imminent existential threat that needs to be faced with all the talents that is available to this country. 11 out of the 19 Northern states in this country, as we speak today, have almost been swallowed by insecurity. There are practically only about 8 States that have some level of stability in the North, out of 19 Northern states. The Southern states are almost being consumed by kidnapping, armed robbery; you cannot travel by road safely. Even between Abuja and Kaduna, there is a lot of concern. People just want to jump into the train. They don’t want to go by road.

So, we are in a very serious mess and I have been active. By the grace of God, we have about 30 years in the social movement. I know the type of talent that this country has got, professionals that I have interacted with. I’ve also interacted across political spectrum. I know those who are serious and those who are charlatans in the various parties and I know that we need all of them, those good ones. There are good people in APC and PDP, not all of them are hoodlums and criminals. There are patriots that we have fought together and they are in those two political parties, not to talk about our professionals in Diaspora, really energetic and creative people and I was part of the business contingent of that diaspora. I know everybody and I want to assure you that when I’m elected, by the grace of God, within 48 hours, I will form my government. I will not sit by waiting for advice for six months before forming government because things would have collapsed by then.

Talking about going round and talking to people, there is this impression that Nigeria is much more divided than any other time. What message do you tell the people while going across the country?
We were somewhere in the South-East and we had an all-night quiet meeting and these people we met were people with deep roots in the East, they were patriots who have produced a lot of the people that you see on the scene today and a lot of people defer to them and are really bitter about the situation of Nigeria. Incidentally, I went with a team of my Chief Press Secretary, Dr. Jahleel Tafawa-Balewa and some of these people were talking about pains, why they are not really enthusiastic about Nigeria. They talked about pains which were of course very legitimate pains that had to be addressed. They were really bitter with Nigeria as a state. Then Balewa got up and said ‘you people are talking about pains, my father was killed over allegations of corruption by some officers of a certain regional extraction. He never had a single property anywhere in the world, not talk about a bank account. He left nothing for us, and then my mother happened to be of the same parentage with Chief Ladoke Akintola; the same father, the same mother and Chief Ladoke Akintola, who by then was Premier of Western Region, was killed that same day Tafawa Balewa and Sardauna were killed. As an eight year old boy, I’ve borne this pain since I was told that my uncle died and my father died too.’ It was a double barrel tragedy for him. He said ‘what pain are you talking about?’ That meeting was very interesting to see and it was a laboratory for me in testing the hypothesis for national reconciliation and everyday calmed down. They we are ready to give you chance seeing where you are coming from and indeed you are very serious about this. Those are the quiet things I’ve been doing without the cameras.

For me, this is not just an ambition; it’s a national reconciliation project. It’s a project to rescue Nigeria and it is something that I have put my heart to, not just because I want to run for presidency. It’s something I have been doing for more than three decades, paying the price, taking risks. So it’s a continuation of that struggle. I’m different from those who just want to be president. It’s not about being president; it’s about how to rescue Nigeria and we must rescue Nigeria as it is now. It is not the time for small boy politics; it is time to build a broad national consensus to rescue the nation and this is what this is all about.
Before we started making all the consultations, we went to Kaduna and we met with the ACF. They said we are not endorsing anybody. Anybody that is a candidate from the North is our candidate. You are all our candidates. That was a very good statement from the ACF. I said the North that we knew under Sardauna was the North that welcomed everybody and that was why Sir Kashim Ibrahim was elected to represent the Tiv people in the Northern Assembly. He was a Muslim, a Kanuri man and was elected by predominantly Christian society, which tells you about what the North was. We spoke and they were very happy. So, Nigeria right now does not just need a politician. Nigeria needs a statesman. Nigeria needs one who can mobilise the country for national reconciliation and development. Nigeria needs an inspirational leader that can bring the country back together again and defeat insurgency through negotiation and reconciliation. It’s not just going to be about police action. There are people who feel really bitter and they didn’t even see themselves as committing any crime. They believe that they are revenge against the Nigerian state. So, the style will be different. We are already building the national coalition and it is not a coalition of just parties who are looking to have seats in government. It’s more serious than that.

Some of the candidates have spoken seriously about restructuring, while some persons have seen it as mere contraption to seize power. What response did you give to some of the elite who raised the issue of restructuring the country?
Anybody who is in his right senses knows that Nigeria cannot continue the way it is now. There is too much over-centralisation of power. The states can do better when they have some level of power over their resources. For instance, Zamfara, if it has its department of solid minerals and does not have to come to Cadastral House to seek licenses to develop some of the mineral resources there; its revenue will be expanded and it will be able to face the task of development. Most states, even Bauchi and the others will be like that. So, you won’t have problem with Bayelsa or Rivers State having control over their own resources too, especially those ones that are in the inland basin. The one in the continental shelve is more than enough. Even right now, almost more than 60 per cent of Nigeria’s production is coming from the continental and deep waters not even from hinterland, because there are so many crises. A lot of people don’t know that. So, when they say let some states control their resources, they are thinking they will not get revenue again, not knowing that revenue is coming from the deep waters that are exclusive zone that belong to the Federal Government. So, there is a lot of illiteracy, even among people who call themselves elites, about conversations.

The language of communication is also important. When you say restructuring, a lot people are scared about the content of it. Yes, there are those who want to politically profit from that and they banding restructuring. For me, the most important thing is how to decentralize power to give more to the states as presently composed. In 1990 we organised a national conference and it was not a movement of just politicians. I believe in the reform of the Nigerian federation in other to have a more efficient and balanced federation. So, I will not use the word restructuring because it can be a bit confusing and it creates some signals that send unnecessary confusion and palpitation. My job as President and Commander in Chief would be to find the right words, synergy, consensus that will bring things that can move the country forward swiftly without creating more division.

Going close to the elections, how much of reception have you seen so far. You’ve gone to North-West, gone to North-Central, the North-East and the South-West. Just recently, the AD candidate stepped down for you in the South-West. How much of enthusiasm do you see?
It’s phenomenal and now that we are going to start the kick-off of our rallies, you will begin to see it demonstrated beyond small meetings. There is a lot of enthusiasm, especially among the common people. Elite and middle class people are very difficult to impress because they don’t easily take risks. They are thinking about the next appointment, where it will come from and therefore they are calculating what will happen. But the common people, they are not looking for appointments, they are not going to be commissioners or ministers. So, that calculation is not their problem. When they see something that is good, they know it and they can support it and there is a lot of buying into that. Even some of the elite people who are very difficult to convince, they are also getting scared of being irrelevant, seeing as the PT is becoming a movement that is fast-developing. If you follow the conversations online and you know that platform like this is where you have a lot of ordinary people have PVC.

What are the efforts you are making to sell your party and your candidacy to the hinterlands because politics is about grassroots…?
By the time we have the elections, you will see that the South-East has a buy in into this project, because they want to see a more united, a more prosperous Nigeria that is fair to everybody, where the lives of everybody will matter equally and there will not be a situation where other people will be made to feel as if they are a conquered people. I think that message resonates in the South-East right now and in the South-West and even all over the North. It’s just for us to work harder and I can assure you that we are making the right contacts that will give us a national basis.

The post INEC must convince us it is capable of conducting free, fair elections —Olawepo-Hashim appeared first on Tribune Online.

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