By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Mohammed Shaba Lafiaji, former governor of Kwara State and a member of the PDP National Electoral Panel in this interview answers questions on the on-going registration exercise and agrees that the extension is necessary to ensure everybody votes during the elections.
He also speaks on the just concluded party primaries, suggesting that a re-run be conducted where there are complaints of imposition of candidates and other electoral malpractice.
The INEC chairman has asked the Senate to amend the Electoral Act with a view to extending the on-going registration exercise. Are you in agreement with that?
I think sincerely speaking, there is an over reaction to what is happening with the registration exercise. I believe that this registration is not perfect and if we need to extend the deadline, there is every need to do so because it is not going as perfectly as it should. I also agree that this problem is not peculiar to one place. There are DDC machine problems all over and this is to be expected because we are using a new technology. This is the first time registration is being done in this manner. We need time to get used to its operation before we could perfect it. We also know that the state of our infrastructure is not perfect and so, there is bound to be problems.
But the important thing here is the introduction of a technology to check fraud in the system of election in this country. That justifies the extension.
Do you think school children should stay at home longer as the extension is being done?
I don’t think school children should continue to be at home. If the extension is effected by the amendment of the electoral act, the children should go back to school. So, it should not affect them. Rather, the schools should be left to make adjustments to the exercise as it suits them. I don’t think that shutting the schools was the best thing to do in the first place.
The use of NYSC members for the registration exercise has its own problems as acknowledged by the INEC chairman during his appearance in the Senate. Some of the corps members are threatening to down their tools in some places over this. What’s your suggestion?
I don’t think there is anything wrong in using the NYSC members who are trained for the purpose of this registration. I do not see anybody who could have done it without encountering problems. I think the most important thing for us in this country is to try to tolerate some of these inadequacies. Many people have come out, shouting out criticisms and saying all kinds of things over the machines being used but this is the first time of our using such a technology and so expecting perfection would be too much. The most important thing about this process is that it would be used to eliminate fraud in the election.
However, you must understand that the basic thing about the on-coming elections is the time-limit on electoral activities. There was not enough time for screening, there was not enough time for primaries and not enough time for some other things even for presidential candidates to go round the country within a space of one and half months. It will be so tedious a task. So, time is not adequate for anybody. Maybe, this includes INEC also because INEC has no time. INEC has to work within the limits of time, they have to wait for all kinds of things so as to perform within the dictates of the constitution. So, we cannot, because of the problems here and there, condemn INEC or anybody because of the DDC machines because it is being used with the best intentions.
Across political parties and across the states in the federation, there have been complaints over the just concluded primaries?
There were problems with the primaries conducted across the states. You can hardly see a political party that is not complaining. Many are complaining about irregularities in the conduct of the primaries. Many are complaining about imposition of candidates and it is not PDP alone but all the major parties. There is no doubt about that. But you know that for us to expect perfect primaries in this kind of society is expecting too much. You must remember that the essence of everything is service to the community and humanity and definitely, there should be rancour. You and I know that some of the people who are contesting offices today are not doing so because they want to serve the nation, their communities or anybody. They have their private agenda and could do anything to achieve that and these problems therefore come.
All kinds of blames are being traded. Some people blame INEC for poor conduct of primaries and others blame political parties for imposition of candidates…
The tragedy we have in the system is deadlines. We have deadlines for screening; deadline for primaries, deadline for submission made to INEC. But my position is that where there are primaries that people are not satisfied with; primaries that there are no level playing field, primaries where people allege imposition of candidates; there should be a re-run . We should correct them. But like I told you, there is time constraint on everything and that is the problem. That is why the whole system is heated up unnecessarily.
From the conduct of political parties, would you say, there is preparedness for elections?
The parties are not duly prepared for elections. They first have to correct some of the internal problems they are having but the issue here is that the target date has been set for elections and must be complied with. It is therefore left for the parties to adjust themselves by tackling their problems so that it does not hinder them during elections because nobody would blame INEC for internal problems that would hinder parties during elections.