By Dapo Akinrefon
Chief Elvis Agukwe is the Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy. In this chat he says the Independent National electoral Commission should do more to register every eligible Nigeria. He also gives insight into the recent primaries of the Peoples democratic Party in the state among other issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the ongoing voter registration exercise?
First of all I want to say boldly that this exercise has proved a lot of things. It has truly revealed Nigerians’ quest and determination to join the rest of advanced democracies as a major player in the democratic project of the world. I can tell you very sincerely that since this exercise started there is eagerness on the part of Nigerian citizen to register to become voters. They have demonstrated the commitment that has never been seen before and today one can easily say that Nigeria is prepared for democratic change.
Now on the issue affecting the exercise, I will say that INEC as an institution, INEC has performed above average. They have also assured Nigerians and reassured that we are getting it right this time around. INEC provided and have made concerted effort to give us a successful voter registration exercise. I want to commend INEC also because they have attended to most complaints that people have raised. Then, that bring me to an issue of need to extend the period for voters registration exercise.
We also discovered that the exercise did not take off as schedule. It took off and within the period of five days, people were still not able to master the operation of the machines and fingers print machines. So today they have improved, the reversed all kind of means and the exercise has normalized. So, in order to make up for the lost days there is absolutely need for us to get more time in order to ensure that majority of Nigerians register for the exercise.
But there are still complaints in some states that the machines are still insufficient?
Whatever, no matter the length time you leave out for this exercise people will still continue to complain. You know, some people have become professional complainants and some of them are just waking up while some are now beginning to embrace this exercise. But then, I want to say, for instance, in Imo state where I am coming from, I have taken time to go round the state and monitor the exercise and I also done it through report, I have received from the media and the random opinions sampling that I have conducted.
The reports are all the same. People are making the same complain about machine not being enough. About people not mastering the thumb printing machines and the other sundry complaints. I can tell you for instance in my state, we have had problem of ink. Some of the officials are complaining that when their ink got finished they went to INEC store, but they could not get enough ink.
But, I can also tell you that there is a concerted and improved effort on the part of INEC to supply all that is missing. There were cases, where we had problem of computer cables being faulty. We also on our own deployed some of our computer technicians who are from our state to go in and help and many have done that. For instance, they have also done well, their very eager communities are helping them, prominent stakeholders are helping and a lot of people have come out to be part of the success story of the exercise.
So, it is not a contraction to talk about complaints like I said. The complaints are the same. But I also have to situate the issue and be able to tell you that initial hiccup is now over and the exercise is going smoothly.
With the complaints everywhere especially by ACN which has described the hiccups as a deliberate attempt to rig the upcoming election, will it still be realistic for us to expect free and fair elections in April?
Well, I do not want to join issues with the ACN because, the ACN belongs to the mainstream of the media in Nigerian and they always try to set agenda. There is this tendency to always try to blackmail the ruling party, the PDP and that because they have benefitted from some technical issues in the hardware where Nigeria press is basically located. They tend to exaggerate issues and make claim that are neither here nor there.
It is wrong for them to make that statement assumption and to come up with that assertion definitely is not correct. This exercise is going on simultaneously across the country and if they want to be fair they will agree that INEC have done so much to get accomplished this project and done so well in it.
In Imo state where I come from we also have initial hiccup about the take off, but now I can assure you that, this exercise has normalized and we are on the verge of realizing the essence of this registration. But what is important is to make up for the lost days when this exercise started. It is very important; it is very pertinent that INEC must consider extending the exercise.
Even the National Assembly should if it is possible make a law mandating INEC to extend the exercise by at least one week to make up for those who will register and also most importantly, the issue of voters registration is the continuous thing. It is not something that must be closed because, those who are not 18 this year, some people may not be either 18 by month, or week so they are going to be 18 in a few weeks time, in a few months time.
So it has to be a continuous thing. So if you have not registered they must make provision for this exercise to be a continuous thing, so that people will continue registering those who feel they have not done so or who are have now realized the need to register should be allowed to register. What is important is to have a credible registration like what have been done now where people can now take place in the forth coming general elections.
What is your reaction to the controversies that trailed most primary elections of the political parties?
If you conduct that exercise ten times you bring even the most trusted people in our society like the church leaders to conduct that primaries, people will still complain.
Do you see a situation where the ripples of this primary election would affect the PDP and the general elections in the state?
Certainly, there is nothing like that. Imo people are basically PDP. That you have lost a primary election does not mean you go and begin now begin to campaign for opposition parties. The people of Imo are sophisticated, they have advanced and understand the sentiment people only come to test their popularity among party faithful and those who lost out naturally be aggrieved for losing the opportunity and that is where it will end.‘
They will not mobilize?
How would they mobiles? They can only register to vote. The PDP Imo population, Imo citizens are more than 90 per cent PDP and whatever PDP do, PDP will win. People have not done analysis on why PDP wins. PDP is the only party founded and located in all the wards of Nigeria, in all the local government, in all the state of the federation. If you go to the village and ask any market woman about a political party she will simply say PDP. So, they started voting PDP from 1998. Mind you, that is a long time, is not a new party like the ACN that people are just beginning to hear now.
The argument is that even the ACN you mentioned or the APGA do not even have the structure to make much difference.
When eye talk, when I met opportunity to talk, I am talking from the high level I am a political scientist by training. I am also a top most political actor in the nation and in my state. I give you an anatomy of political behaviour and political prejudice in the state.
Whatever I tell you I tell people I talk just because been the right from the beginning. Whatsoever, I say form material for people who have been researched and who also conducting analysis of what had happened. I have made several opinions and I tell you, I have been consistent in telling people this is how the outcome will be in this country because the level I have practice politics makes me an issue in party politics in Nigeria.
We now have a new face of the party, a party whereby the governor leave open door and ask leadership and followership to go and select who is going to be our representative or who will lead you in the party and people go out decisively to choose who will be going to represent them.