By Ishola Balogun
As the new Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC chairman dusts his table for the task ahead alongside
his new Resident Electoral Commissioners, veteran journalist and two time executive governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba has joined some of the progressives who do not share the optimism that the new INEC umpire is capable of conducting a free and fair election merely because some of the electoral commissioners cannot be trusted.

In this interview, he spoke on the INEC  Professor Attahiru Jega inherited, the zoning arrangement, and other issues on 2011 elections. Excerpts.

As the new INEC chairman and the Resident Electoral Commissioners begin to get down on the job of conducting a free and fair election, what is your opinion on how they should go?

Osoba

I have no problem or complaint about Professor Jega or Professor Oloyode and all the newly appointed resident commissioners. My problem is how will they work with the corrupted institution Prof. Iwu left behind. It will be an uphill task for both Jegga and Oloyode if they decided to continue with what Iwu left. I am not optimistic about them conducting a free and fair election in 2011.

If Prof. Jega wants to inspire our confidence, first he should look into the records of the resident commissioners he inherited. For example, both resident commissioners of Edo and Ondo States respectively should be kicked out, given their role during the last general elections. They both snicked out of their state to Abuja at the point of announcing the result and then announced it at Abuja. This two are just a few among the rest that need to be beaten and flogged out of INEC by  Jega.

Any resident commissioner that the court gave decision against should also be kicked out forever. He should make a request to Mr. President allowing him to flush out all of them. Characters like Mrs. Adebayo of Ekitti State, who said she cannot do what she was asked to do, but on getting to Abuja, was sent back to eat her vomit. This characters must be flushed out from the system because they will be the ones to collate result for Jega at Abuja. He should not have the illusion that a tree can make a forest.

So much has been said about whether President Jonathan should contest the 2011 elections or not, what is your reaction?

It is an unnecessary debate, we all talk as if the entire country is the PDP. It is their headache and not Nigeria’s or the AC’s. I do not want to be drawn into their useless debate so long as the 2011 general election is free and fair.

Which means you will support any arrangement which will not preclude candidates even from the South -West?

Yes, from any part of the country, after all, Bill Clinton came from one of the smallest states in America. The problem in this country is that we have never been able to get it right for our leaders. The day we will get it right, everything will change. A leader who knows he was dully elected by the people will have them at heart.

With some of the recommendations of Uwais committee finally adopted by the federal government, do you think the coming election will be different from what we have had in the past?

Definitely it will. The set of people that served in the committee are persons of high integrity and intelligence. They gave a report which PDP’s State Houses of Assembly are holding with loose hand. For example, Independent candidate. Remember how Prof. Chike Obi won his constituency election in Onitsha despite Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s influence in Onitsha. Part of what was proposed by the Uwais report is already in the electoral act. Open ballot system which was proposed by the Hon. Etteh is out of fashion and not in the Uwais report. Open secret ballot system is what we have in the report and that is what we have in the electoral act.

Most of the things proposed by the Uwais report are things that will guarantee free and fair election in 2011 like the independence of INEC. I don’t know why that should be a problem to anybody. I have not seen where the captain or the coach of a team will determine who will be the referee of a match he is involved in. I am disappointed that everything Uwais reported about was thrown out. It shows you that the elements in the PDP who got into offices through garrison command, military actions and killings do not want a change.

The actions of the lawmakers did not surprise me because majority of them did not get there by the will of the people, so they are not bordered if the people’s will is important or not. It is of no consequence to them. They are beneficiary of stealing, robbery and election manipulation, so they cannot be different from what we have seen before.

What are they doing to be earning N500, 000 a month, I have not seen anywhere in the world where lawmakers spend so much on themselves as in Nigeria.

Most times the alibi was that they needed to be motivated to do their job well. Is this argument justifiable?

How many laws have they passed, how often do they seat or travel abroad and how often do they collect allowances for a trip abroad which they do not make! All these are the things we need to look into. The calibre of persons in the National Assembly are not the set of persons that are supposed to be there. They are appointed by garrison command. People who are supposed to be in the National Assembly are supposed to be persons of high experience, integrity and intelligence.

What would be your advice in this regard?

Let us conduct an open secret ballot system of election that will be held at the same time in all the states of the federation and let those who are contesting various positions be the ones the people want because in each of the community, they all know who they really want to represent them. If this is done, then we will have a great change.

Considering the point that votes rarely counts, don’t you think there will be voters’ apathy in coming elections?

The people are ready, but the system is disturbing them. When you have a system where the electoral process is made to be one in which already thumb-printed ballot papers are brought to polling stations by gun men or pre-prepared election results to be announced by gun men. This will not allow the electorate to come out and vote. Until this is changed and the electorate assured of their votes as key to positions, they will not come out.

For the masses votes to be assured, infrastructure and social amenities need to be  put in place by the government. Look at the two major roads linking the South-West to the North and the East (Lagos- Ibadan expressway and Benin – Onitsha road), nothing has been done on these roads for the last ten years that PDP have been in power. In the major towns in the South-West, PDP did not even construct any good road with all the funds released. It is worst in the East, where erosion is the order of the day. The masses know everything, they have them in their palms.

The South-West particularly the progressives seem to be ready for the battle of ensuring free and fair election, what are you going to do?

What have we not done! Look back at the last election in Ekiti State, how the PDP altered the figures when they discovered they were losing. Is there anywhere the progressives lost in the South-West? This is the challenges before the present electoral commission. South-West is the most visible zone in terms of show casing a free and fair election. If Prof. Jega can ensure the proper implementation of the open secret ballot system, I will praise him.

Also, he should throw away Prof. Iwu’s hand-over note into the trash can. I am saying this because Iwu said in that note, that politicians  manipulated him to scuttle the 2007 election. I would like Jegga to ask him how come he made himself available to the politicians in order to be manipulated. Why did he open his doors to the politicians?

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