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‘2011 Elections will define Nigeria ’s democracy’

Renowned security expert and policy analyst, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, a certified fraud examiner, in this interview speaks on  2011 elections against the backdrop of pre_election violence and killings, positing that the political class should learn from the lessons of history.

The race is on for 2011 elections. Before his death, President Yar’Adua acknowledged he came into office through fraught election. How do you think we can conduct credible elections come 2010?

The 2011 elections will define Nigeria ’s democracy either as a viable enterprise or as failed enterprise. Now the defining features of our elections have been violence which had tended to disenfranchise a lot of people who want to freely elect their leaders.

The fact is that violence_prone individuals often exhibit their traits.  Even before the elections there is violent selection process.  This of course is the product of lack of internal democracy within the parties. This was the source of major pre_election violence in the 2003 and 2007 elections.

You will recall in the build up to the 2003 elections, several top politicians like Chief Bola Ige, Chief Harry Marshall and even Chief Aminasori Dikigbo were killed. And in the 2007 elections, the likes of Engineer Funsho Williams and Dr. Daramola were killed in Lagos and Ekiti States .

Already, at least two party leaders have been killed in Oyo State and with the spate of kidnapping in the country in recent times, one would not be surprised that political opponents will swell the ranks of kidnap victims in the next elections.

Whether during the primaries when intra party violence occur or in rare cases when inter_party violence take place, this is a deadly form of violence which leads to the death of many people or destroying their house as a way of intimidating them to clear the political landscape as it were. This gives a kind of public concern because politics is supposed to be a contest of ideas; a contest of leadership horse race. And in the case of governance, it is a managerial horse race.

It is about what your ideas are, and in some cases when people want to be mischievous, how they can redefine their opponents in terms of what ideas he has out there in the political landscape. But what we find in Nigeria is that people just go out there and commit the violence because of the level of poverty or the fact that the law enforcement institutions are very week. So they are never caught or punished for committing such crime and so it becomes a self_pulling property that every election will witness more and more violence.

Except for the resolve of President Goodluck Jonathan to bequeath credible elections to Nigerians, one would have said it promises to be bloody. The fact is that the promise should not just be in words but also in action. We want to see a situation where legislations are put in place to ensure that perpetrators of electoral violence are get life_ time ban for such crimes.

By the time you impose such draconian laws, and by the way if there is a proven case of loss of life in the process, then such a person should be made to face the music. The death sentence given to those who pull the trigger should also give to their masterminds. By the time this is done in tow or three cases, you will see that our politicians will turn their tail.

What  do you think the recent attempt to import some weapons into the country foiled by the Customs Service connote
Needless to say, it portends a very great danger. Illegal importation of arms is dangerous to democracy. Even in the best of situations when you have a very peaceful society, because once the arms are there in circulations, it can be very dangerous.

Because when the people have the intent and there is no capability they cannot do anything, but when you match intent with capability, they can be very dangerous, and even overthrow a government. Violence can shape and reshape things only to the benefit of the perpetrators. Perhaps that was what Mao Tse Tung meant when he said ‘power flows from the barrel of the gun’.

I think first of all the Customs Service and other border_based security agencies should be commended, and maybe that is a tip of the iceberg. This should therefore move the law enforcement agencies to be more vigilant and acquire technologies that will enable them the containers being imported into the country for contrabands. They should also seal up all illegal routes across the Nigerian borders which are known to be very porous to interdict even inflow of small and light arms.

What lessons do you think the Nigerian political class can learn from the pre_election violence and killings of 1999, 2003 and 2007?

I think one of the most celebrated killings was that of Funsho Williams. His case for instance was very interesting, because this was a man who even in the previous night and went to bed late and was stabbed late at night.  In the morning he was dead, having been stabbed several times in his bed. Now there were so many people in the house but nobody noticed that he was dead and till today there is no trace of the killers.

That is the ability of criminals to outrun the law that I mentioned earlier. When perpetrators of heinous crimes  get away with it because we do not have the detective capabilities, that in itself becomes as an encouragement for other guys to get involved in anti_social behaviour.

That is on the one hand. On the other hand, there was obviously no security awareness on his part. There were no CCTV equipment, people were just milling around and his bedroom was accessible even to murderers; his perimeter fencing was very low; there were unoccupied buildings adjacent to his building and so many things were wrong. Our politicians do not take protective measures.

It appears politicians seem to do or say what other Nigerians are saying_ that they leave everything to God. Well, I have news for you. God is busy with other nationals who are more serious about their affairs. We need to get more serious about ourselves so that God will pay some attention to us after all it is said that  Heavens help those who help themselves.

Politicians who are interested in running for office in this kind a of environment should get security professionals who can conduct risk assessment, threat assessment, vulnerability assessment  for them, and develop a range counter measures to help them survive bad guys who will try to do them in during the next electoral context.

How should the President approach the issue of security in the buildup to the elections, especially with the fact that journalists have now join the list of politicians are the target for killings?

He should approach it rationally. The Rational Choice Model says when you have a problem, you should first define the problem, look at the elements of the problem, look at the implications of the problems; look at the policy constraints within the environment, generate a menu of policy options for solving the problem; look at the cost and benefit accruing to each policy intervention option and ultimately chose the best solution to solving the problem and get the crack team of committed professionals to implement the options and carry out evaluation to see whether the set policy goals have been achieved.

You see, the problem of insecurity in the land is a hydra_headed issue which requires inter_disciplinary approach. This is a problem that is killing people daily, driving away investors, dragging us back into the middle ages and giving Nigeria a bad name. Hence it flies on the face of reason that we are looking for carpenters and the like to handle the problem.

It is good that President Jonathan is not just a leader but an intellectual who understands that there is a track, a process of problem solving. I pray that God will give him the wisdom and courage to make good choices as to how this problem should be solved so that inertial will not set in. The tendency is for people within the system to say ‘this is the way we have been doing it since the British left us’.  One way is to set up a blue_ribbon commission (executive committee) peopled by thorough_bred professionals to look and the problem and get result following the aforementioned model.

A major factor which contributed to violence in the last elections was the do_or_die mentality, win by all means…

The do_or_die mentality is still here with us. That is why you see that law suits continue three or four years after elections were held. The fact is that our politicians need to apply a sportsmanly spirit. First of all the rules have to be fair and known to all such that when there is a political context, when you are beaten, you are beating fair and square.

Unfortunately, people do not believe they truly lost an election. Rather they claim there was manipulation of votes, inflation of some figures or intimidations or voters. People feel that the only way to get in power is through violence.

Also, electoral violence is an intra party affair with the desperation to win the primaries by foul means. The only time it becomes an inter party affair is on Election Day when, to worsen matters, the security people compromise or lean in one direction. Our politicians need to emulate the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and understand that power is transient and the purpose is to serve and create a better future for our youths. If the other contestant has greater ideas, acceptability and capability, let him win. We are all Nigerians. You will not renounce your citizenship because you lost an election.

What should the President do about the report of the Electoral Reforms Committee especially with regard to independence of INEC and all?

Well, INEC as the electoral umpire should be serious and be run as a transparent agency with integrity in order for its pronouncement to be taken seriously and respected by all and sundry. But when transparency is not there, when partisanship can be inferred, when the umpire himself is saying ‘I know who will win the contest’ before the election begins, then there is a serious credibility problem.

So INEC itself is facing a serious credibility problem which makes it impossible for its pronouncements to be taken on their face value. And everyone wants to find out what is the conspiracy theory in every election INEC is conducting.

Look at the re_run governorship election in Ekiti State wherein the female electoral commissioner disappeared in the heat of elections and reappeared after two days only to announce a result in favour of a particular candidate…

The issue of appointment of INEC chairman is an area where I totally disagree with the Mohammadu Uwais Report. I feel that anybody who is quality under the rule can be appointed by the President to run any agency. Now what the appointee does as the chief executive of that agency is another matter. At the end of the day, you are going to have a final decision–maker who decides that so and so person are ok. The judiciary is not that sparkling  I can assure you. We have a very corrupt judiciary which is trying to launder its image and that is why electoral contest are dragging the way they are, because the judiciary has not come to day to hell with meaningless claims and counterclaims, let us do the right thing.

Now in some cases that has been done, but in most cases there had been inducement and we have judges who have been dismissed for trading on electoral matters. To say that it will be better to have NJC, the House or Senate to appoint INEC chairman flies in the face of good reasoning.

The whole country voted for one President to preside over all of us. All the Senators and the House were voted by their constituencies and we know how decisions are made in the legislature. I think it is very mistaken to say that it is only when the judges appoint an INEC chairman that the person would be non_partisan. I think the president is in the best position to appoint credible individuals to such post. As regards its independence, l totally agree with that.


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