What’s your opinion about the belief that the shift in the date for the elections from February 14 to March 28 was orchestrated by President Goodluck Jonathan?
It is very tragic that people who are educated, people who are supposed to be well informed, people who are supposed to be yearning to rule this country, people who are supposed to be real politicians will try to hide the reality from Nigerians. And I think this shows the kind of leadership they want to give to Nigerians if they mistakenly find themselves in power. This kind of leadership will be based on falsehood. As you are very much aware, the Independent National Electoral Commission is still issuing the Permanent Voter Cards, why are they doing that? They are doing that because there are many Nigerians who have registered and we are not even talking of new registrations, we are talking about those who have registered and are qualified to vote and yet did not receive their voter cards. By the last count, we were talking about almost 34 per cent of those who have registered and have not received their cards. We are talking about over 24 million people. Now, 24 million people are equivalent to the total population of a country and now you say you are going to disenfranchise these people? These people are registered, they have the right to get their voter cards, their voters cards have not been given to them and you still insist elections must go on because you are in a hurry to take over power, that is a sign of desperation. Secondly, they also know that there is this issue of card readers. You as a journalist, have you seen the card readers they (INEC) say they want to use? Do you know what it looks like? What of my own uncle or brother in the village? I have not seen one. Now, this card reader has to be tested and it has to be utilized and people have to know what is the life span of the batteries? Are they going to use generators? Are they going to rely on electricity? These are questions that have to be answered. INEC knows that these are elementary issues that have to be explained because they are required to make the election free, fair and credible. Anything that will disenfranchise even 10 per cent of Nigerians is bad not to talk of 34 per cent or so. I think the All Progressives Congress know what we don’t know. There is something they are holding back because our people say if a blind man says, let us begin to play the game of throwing stones; maybe the blind man has his leg on a very big stone. Otherwise, you can’t call for an election even when your own people are not ready.
Why is the PDP opposed to the use of card readers for the verification of voters in the 2015 general elections?
Have you seen one? You have to see something before you say whether you oppose its use or not. Like I told you before, I have yet to see one and I am sure most Nigerians have never seen it so the issue of whether we support or oppose its use for the elections does not arise. Let us see it and know how it works first. Perhaps they will bring it one of these days for us to see. The issue we have at hand is the issue of the desperation of the opposition APC that is resurfacing at every level. At every point in time they are intimidating and blackmailing INEC to do things the way they (opposition) want things to be done. They earlier joined other Nigerians to say INEC should be independent, now INEC is independent but they now want to force INEC to do things outside the law because it’s convenient for them. If INEC does not want to do something, why does the opposition force or blackmail them to do things outside what the law provides for?
There is also the contentious issue of the use of military personnel for election purposes. A court has ruled that this is illegal, what is your take on this issue?
Have you seen the judgment? I don’t want you to get carried away by this propaganda; security is security. First and foremost, in an election you have to secure the personnel that are going to deliver the material for the election, you have to secure the materials to ensure nothing is missing in transit but you also need to secure even the voters themselves because in an environment where there is tension, where people are fighting and quarrelling over every other thing, you will need security personnel to be there to secure even the voters. It is not my own decision; I believe it is the decision that has been taken for a very long time that you need to protect the election and the electoral process so that it can be credible. Anybody who is threatened or blackmailed and the person cannot go and vote, he cannot say that election was free, fair and credible. Why are they afraid of the military, why are they afraid of police? Why are they afraid of the Department of State Service? Assuming that today, we have a number of states under APC control, are they not working with the military and the police everyday in ensuring the security of their states? Why is the election period different? What about the previous elections that we have had in this country? Was there any election in this country that the police and the military were not deployed? What makes the 2015 elections different? Why are they afraid? If they are afraid of the military or the police, then there is something they are hiding.
Perhaps they are speaking from the experience of Ekiti and the revelations of a military officer… (cuts in)
It is convenient for them to shout because they lost that election. Why did they not say the same things about Osun? The answer is simple, when they win, the military is apolitical and very professional but when they lose, they cast aspersions on our professional men and women in uniform. This is not fair. We must be seen to be evenhanded and gracious enough to admit it even when things don’t go the way we want them. The opposition has never seen anything good about what this government is doing.
This administration has made several claims about its giant strides in a lot of areas including power. We can hear the sound of electricity generators in the background as we speak. Why is this so?
The reality is that when a problem persists, it takes a long time to address it and overcome it. And you know that for many years, until recently, the issue of energy was not seen as a crisis. It was seen as a way of life. I believe during the coming of late Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua who first mentioned it as one of the seven-point agenda, that government was taking the issue of energy as a critical factor, everybody knew it. I know the PDP right from 1999 has been concerned about it. The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan was also part of that government. The feeling is that although there are a lot of emphasis on the issue of energy for development that even those who never thought that there was a serious problem with NEPA – which they took as normal, began to see things differently because they have now become more aware. Since then, there have been several policy reforms, institutional reforms, structural changes and government has been doing it and we are making impact. Don’t forget, Nigeria is also expanding, urbanization is catching up with us and the demand for energy is on the increase. There is an incremental need for energy for domestic and industrial uses; our investments have begun to yield fruits.
What about the criticisms trailing most of these reforms?
An opposition man is an opposition man no matter what you do. Even if he sees something that is white, he will not see it as white. Some people will not be happy when you are making progress. Opponents only look at the negative side. Today in Nigeria, the kind of freedom citizens enjoy is second to none. What people say and what you read about our President in the media and people go to bed and sleep peacefully, is it the kind of things you can see in other countries? But the freedom is there.