BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
PROF. Julius Ihonbvere was special adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Project Monitoring and Policies.

Recently, he was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Electoral Panel that conducted the party’s  presidential primaries. He spoke to Vanguard shortly after he met with aspirants of the PDP who lost in the just concluded primaries of the party in his home state, Edo.

He rebuffed allegations that the presidential primaries was skewed to favour President Goodluck Jonathan. The professor of Political Science, who is also one of the governorship aspirants for the 2012 governorship race in Edo State, reviewed the preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the April polls and how he intends to dethrone Governor Adams Oshiomhole in 2012. Excerpts:

How would you react to allegations that the Electoral Panel that conducted the PDP presidential primaries skewed the exercise in favour of President Goolduck Jonathan?

I will say that is one of the things in politics, when you do primaries, somebody wins and somebody loses. So Nigerians must learn to accept that when you go in there somebody will win. Secondly, as a member of the Electoral Panel, nobody tried to influence us to the best of my knowledge, nobody offered me any inducement. And we took all our decisions collectively.

We had just one day to prepare the materials and luckily the PDP this time separated several of the functions. Our job was to go and organize the primaries and I will say nobody skewed it in favour of anybody, Jonathan won that primary clean and square.

Talking as a political scientist, I will say that the politics were generally in his favour. If you look at the expectations of Nigerians, the world is changing to younger breed of leadership. People who are agile, people who are not burdened by health problems, people who are technologically exposed, people who are educated. Now, the President is an incumbent, he has been in the party, it was really going to be difficult for somebody like Atiku that left the party with his supporters and did not come back with all his supporters to be able to mobilize party members at the same level. Let us be realistic.

Politically, the structure, the institutions favoured somebody who is an incumbent, who is carrying out policies that people can see, who is making promises on the basis of his incumbency and who has demonstrated in a short time, patience, maturity, focus, understanding and acceptability to the global system.

As far as that electoral panel was concerned, we did our job creditably, meritoriously and clearly in the face of everybody, there was no manipulation. Now, the only area people complained is  we labeled the ballot boxes, yes we did it. If we had not done that, first, those states where some people will promise their votes to somebody and will go and vote for someone else, we will not be able to know. Two, if there was a dispute, we cannot relate the votes of the voters register with the number of people that voted.

Now it is very clear, till today, every thing is intact. If any state says there was over voting in state A we will go and bring the voters register, count the names and count the votes which we did on the day of counting also. The counting was done in the presence of all the aspirants.

And all over the world today, the move is towards transparency and that was exactly what we did. I am from Edo State, I will not be ashamed to queue up with Edo State and cast my votes, why would they want me to jumble it up with Kano and others, so that we won’t know who did what? We are not voting for enemies, it is still within the party, it is a family affair and to the best of my knowledge that primary is good and gone, we should focus on the general election.

But the North is still angry and may vote against the PDP in the general elections?

Those who are saying that are people who are not studying the sociology of politics in Nigeria. The North is not the North of 1950s or 1940s, where a group of people unelected, get together to decide who will represent them. The North is part and parcel of Nigeria, they do not see the South as enemies. We are all one. We are looking for who can give us accountable, disciplined, focussed, enlightened, productive and creative leadership. I do not think that the PDP will suffer any loss in the North.

I think the northerners know that the primaries are over and we now have a candidate who is a PDP candidate and  needs to be supported in order for PDP to continue to advance the country forward. In addition to that I will say that if you look at politics in the North, it has its own contradictions and dimensions which you cannot sweep under the carpet.

And I think that with the quality of people leading the PDP in all the states and Local Governments in the North, I have no doubt in my mind that PDP actually is going to reap the benefit of the enlightenment of change, modernization, technological innovations and commitment to peace progress and unity in the country.

How would you review the recent voters’ registration exercise and what is your expectation from Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC for the April polls?

I think INEC has done an excellent job. Yes there are problems here and there but it was expected. We have never had a registration exercise that has been so comprehensive and Prof Attahiru Jega has shown that he is insensitive to the needs of the people. I was amazed, through out the exercise every text message I sent to him, to draw his attention to some problems particularly what happened in my Local Government where the exercise commenced late, he replied.

He extended the time, to ensure that those areas where the exercise started late are covered. I think they have done a good job and I think that will carry over to organizing the election. Jega has so far shown courage, compassion, commitment and that rules are made for human beings not the other way round. To that extent, we can expect the best from INEC. They got the money they wanted, they are recruiting people and they are training people. But I have always said that anybody putting the expectations on Jega does not understand politics.

Jega is going to be in Abuja, those that matter are the political leaders, the political parties, the Resident Electoral Commissioners, officers  that will be in the various polling booths. The whole future of Nigerian politics, Nigerian elections, Nigeria democracy is in the hands of Nigerian people. It is whatever we give INEC that INEC will bring out. So I think that is a shared responsibility, we cannot say just because we have INEC, Nigerians are now absolved of their duty and responsibility as citizens to vote properly, avoid violence, electoral malpractices and defend their votes.

We have observed several court injunctions baring candidates from running elections, do you not think that this kind of trend may not endanger the democratic process?

There is reason to be a bit worried with the fact that the judiciary seems to be taking over the job of political parties and even the job of INEC. And I think the judiciary needs to be very careful about this. This has always been the problem in Nigeria, granting court injunctions. But the reason we need to consider is not the injunctions, why do people go to seek injunctions?

If internal party democracy reigns, if the parties respect their own rules and their constitutions, if there is no political imposition, if we reduce political corruption and political rascality, then people will not bother to go to the court. It is only when there is political wuruwuru or political magomago that people get angry and say they want to go to court. I think the real issue, if we want the judiciary to be less interventionist, or INEC to be less interventionist on the way we play our politics, political parties need to call themselves to order by respecting their own rules and regulations.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu is the presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, don’t you think he may shock President Jonathan at the presidential polls?

Ribadu is my friend and brother. But he is in a party that is not as strong or as big as the PDP. Definitely, his entry into the race is a breath of fresh air. He is a young man, he is articulate but at this stage, Nigerians know very well that to rule Nigeria you need experience, courage and  the solidity required in politics. So I don’t think that Ribadu is capable of shocking the PDP. He is a good man but speaking as a PDP member, there is no way in which Ribadu can defeat the PDP in this election.

Governor Adams Oshiomhole is fully in-charge of the politics of Edo State, do you think your PDP stand a chance in the 2012 guber election?

In fact in 2012, Edo State will have a PDP Governor and by the grace of God, I will be the next governor of the state. Let me tell you, the ACN came in under circumstances that we all know. I am not a lawyer but what should have happened in that case at the very worst, is a cancellation and call for a re_run because the Judge clearly put it that both parties abused the electoral process.

So why favour one with such judgment? But that is history, what matters now is that Edo people have had the opportunity to see ACN in power. And we have seen very clearly that the one man one vote with which they are suffocating the society, they don’t practice it. It was not practiced in Akoko Edo, it was not practiced in Esan Central, it was not practiced anywhere. And then their own congresses people died there, they killed each other.

But did you hear of any violence in Edo PDP primaries or congresses? Commissioners are even resigning from the party and government. My former Campaign Manager, Dr Tunde Lakoju, was the former Commissioner for Agriculture. He was told after the result disappeared for days that he scored zero votes. And the man said I have never seen rigging of this type before. So for me, it is a straight forward matter.

The ACN government has done its best but it is not enough for Edo people. It is not enough to refocus, to re-direct and re-organize Edo State for peace, progress stability and development. And I know that the PDP has a better agenda. And when the time comes we will go to the field and Edo people will decide. And I have no doubt, the PDP will win.

How do you view ACN’s allegation that it was over for PDP in Edo because the PDP failed the people of the state for 10 years and Oshiomhole had changed the face of Benin City?

It is not true that nothing happened during the PDP administration. The truth of the matter is this, we have re_branded PDP in Edo State. We have new voices, new leaders and new programmes. I was not here in those 10 years with them, I was not in the PDP government. But I have proven myself anywhere I go, as a scholar, as a researcher, as an activist, as a pro-democracy activists, as a policy maker, I have excelled. I am putting that record on the table for Edo people to see.

And they can know that there is no way a man of my pedigree can come into office and sleep. And I know that with my network and exposure both nationally and internationally I can do better than what the current administration may be doing. The situation is that people want change, they want rapid change, they want peace, accountability, responsible governance and I know PDP can provide that, I can provide that.

Let us take one example, education in Edo State. Education is dead in Edo State today. Right now, students of the Ambrose Alli University are demonstrating about increase in school fees and of course whenever such things happens, instead of looking inwards, sitting down and thinking, how do we dialogue with the students and management? they are looking for scape goat and people to blame it on, in the PDP. They have been there for two and half years, have those two years been better than the 10 years they are talking about?

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