BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE
After organizing a sensitization workshop for political parties and stakeholders in Edo State to ensure peaceful, free and fair governorship election on July 12, 2012, Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi, told reporters in Benin City on Monday that it was time to get politicians to embrace credible polls saying he was becoming ashamed of being addressed as a politician. Excerpts:
What informed the workshop? Is it that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is scared of losing the election to the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN?
Far from it, it was not a question of PDP being scared. In 2011, during the campaigns, for the first time an incumbent president came out to throw a challenge to members of his party and said to them: ‘let nobody rig elections for me, if I lose, I go home.’ He went on to say that the blood of any Nigerian does not worth to waste for any electoral victory.’
When I sat down and looked at the whole thing and noticed the tension that has been mounting in Edo State, I thought it was time for the Office of the Inter-Party Special Adviser to the President to organize a workshop, invite all the stakeholders and political parties that are going to contest the election and put them in the picture that if a presidential candidate and an incumbent can take a lead and say don’t rig for me, why will one of the 36 states of the federation not organize themselves and run a free and fair election?
I did a memo to the President and said, Sir, this my thinking, I have discussed with Professor Attahiru Jega, who has been so excited. In fact, the morning I was discussing the matter with Jega was the morning that Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s Principal Secretary was assassinated. I was with Jega when the news filtered through and he said, ‘this is what you are saying, there is need for it.’ And we agreed that it is something we must pursue and take it from that point. So, it is not a question of the PDP being scared. I met and talked with the national chairmen of the seven political parties running this election and told them what I wanted to do and all of them agreed that it was a brilliant idea.
In fact, Chief Bisi Akande, the ACN national chairman, called me at 6.30 this morning (Monday June 18) that he was flying to Benin. Unfortunately, he did not have an ID card and the airline did not allow him to board. The bottom line is that they all showed interest. I spoke personally to all the candidates. The only candidate that I did not speak to directly is Governor Oshiomhole. I spoke to his director –general. They, in fact, had a campaign but they cancelled it. They were even asking me if I could shift it for tomorrow (Tuesday) and I said no, that I had spoken to the other candidates and committed them to today (June 18). He said alright that they would attend.
What is your reaction to Oshiomhole’s comment that beyond sensitizing Edo stakeholders that you should sensitize Abuja (the Presidency), the independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and the security agencies?
If the presidency is not inclined to what I am pursuing, the president would not have approved my memo and the workshop. If as we go on there is need to draw the attention of the executive we will do that. Fortunately, the Police Affairs Minister and Minister of State, Works, were there. What we are saying is, for God’s sake, after 52 years of independence, we just have to get things done the right way.
We all witnessed an election in 2011 that the International Community, which had been here to observe elections in the past, said met international standards. We agree that there is room for improvement. It is that room for improvement that we are pursuing and it has led my office into this workshop. So, I think Governor Oshiomhole’s observation is right, I don’t quarrel with it. We have to discuss with all necessary organizations that will lead to peaceful elections.
What about the governor’s comments questioning the rationale for inviting the Works Minister to the workshop since he is not a critical stakeholder in the conduct of elections?
I don’t agree because the Minister of Works is an Edo man. I invited him as a chieftain of the PDP and a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to come to his state and deliver a goodwill message. It is the same way when others were saying to me that Adams Oshiomhole is a candidate why are you making him a special guest of honour. I said no, you cannot come to his state where he is a governor as of today and not recognize him as a special guest of honour. It was good that I invited the minister. Assuming that the minister did not read the goodwill message and the PDP candidate was not there to speak for himself as it happened, how would I have been able to control the PDP’s grumbling when it started?
What is your take on the use of foul language by politicians?
I am worried myself and I have been thinking about how that can be addressed. Maybe we have to organize a workshop with the media for the media to condemn languages that are not in consonance with moral rectitude. That is something I will work on and fine-tune and then approach the media.
Some say lack of punishment for election riggers is partly responsible for our flawed elections as nobody has ever been punished for rigging elections. Do you agree?
We are bound to get there if we begin now to imbibe the fact that we want to pursue free and fair elections. We must condemn the activities of unscrupulous politicians whose business is to come out to rig. We are complaining about the INEC and security agencies but it is we the politicians who go out of our way to compromise them. The essence of this workshop is for us to get used to the fact that election is not a battle field and we must let the playing field be level so that anybody involved in the election can say I did my best but Mr A won the election.
It is after achieving this that we can move to the next level and say if we identify somebody who rigs an election what should we do to him? We just established an electoral tribunal for electoral malpractices. It was not established for decoration. It was established for people to go there and face the music. Our duty is to make sure that whoever does the wrong thing pays the price. Some of us are becoming so ashamed. When they say this man is a politician, what it means is this man is just a common liar.
That is what we have all become now. I went into politics 35 years ago with a singular notion that politics is meant for the noble, who go to serve. I said to myself then that if and when we get to a stage where there is betterment of the lot of the people, I had no business in politics any longer. That was the truth that I saw in 1977, 78 when I was going into politics.
Fortunately for me, I played politics with the masters, I learnt from the masters. There are few of us today, who had the opportunity of sitting down with Zik, Awo, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Ibrahim Waziri, Shehu Shagari, etc.
The president is doing something that is interesting. I want to see President Jonathan govern as much as possible as president not as Commander-in-Chief. I want to see him govern as C-in-C only when it is necessary so that people will feel free to commend or criticize you and everybody is comfortable. It is true that we are going through challenges but I am sure that the way our security agencies are moving, one is certain that sooner than later, we will overcome the security challenges that we are having.