Comrade Olufemi Aduwo is the Permanent Representative of the Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity (CCDI) to the United Nations and he doubles as president, Rights Monitoring Group, a coalition of about 45 civil society organisations. In this interview, he speaks on the pre-election activities of the two major parties, APC and PDP, the readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), among other issues.
As the head of one of a very powerful group of civil society organisations in Nigeria, what do you make of the happenings in the two major political parties in the country ahead of the 2023 elections and soon the parties will be having their primaries, will you say that from the things we have seen, they will be doing things different from the way we know them?
No, they won’t. You know that everyone below or of my age knows the way parties like the Unity Party of Nigeria were organised. In those days, every member of the party has a card. And so, it was very easy for them to have an organised primary. But what we have seen today is that there is no difference between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). I was hearing somebody discussing some days, saying the APC calls themselves a welfarist party. I said maybe they did not even understand what they are saying.
But in all sincerity, there is no difference between the two parties. What we have been seeing is just a display of ego and selfishness. It is now becoming a kind of war of survival for the two parties. The danger there is about the way APC, the ruling party, is conducting itself. Instead of leading by example, the party is really showing a bad signal. For the past six years, the party has not been able to organise a peaceful convention, be it once. Even the reconciliation committee it put in place to amend its leaking roofs has been there for two years now, instead of six months. And it is just because there are many things going wrong within the party.
But who do you blame other than the average Nigerian who cannot see beyond the surface to know that these people are not different from those in the saddle before. And even if we say we should go for a two-party system, it can’t work, because the present leading two parties are full of criminals. All they produce are criminal candidates and the masses have no choice but to vote for them. That’s another way of democracy in itself now, such that the whole world is running a two-party, either in the UK or in America. But the two leading parties in Nigeria today are the same and there is nothing special about either of them.
Part of your mandate as an election observer is not just to monitor elections, but also to observe the pre-election activities to see how they would impact the general election. Would you say that what the PDP and the APC are doing at the moment will have either negative or positive impact on the upcoming elections?
For an election to be free and fair, it starts from the way parties organise their own primaries. That is the beginning., so if the political parties are not getting it right in their primaries, we should forget it. And there are many things attached to this. I read this morning that some of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials appointed so far are APC card-carrying members, yet the National Assembly went ahead to give them rubber-stamp approval.
But generally speaking, the way the parties conduct their primaries will have direct effect on the general election, because it will show how the candidates have emerged and the kind of leaders that will possibly get to lead the country at the end of the day. Most times, the question is usually how the leaders emerge at the level of their political party’s primary. Today, look at the crisis rocking the APC in all the states they control in the federation, including the primaries they have done so far. It’s really a very serious problem. It’s as if people have not been monitoring their activities from the onset. I was an observer at their primary in EkitiState, where people thumb-printed and showed it to the paymaster before they cast their votes. So that tells you that money determines everything now.
I had hoped that the party would have done things better than the PDP who ruled for 16 years, but the APC’s case has become worse and worse. I guess people have not been very vigilant and observant of the party’s activities. It was a different ball game in America and if not the people there are vigilant, their democracy would have gone into extinction. But they stood and fought, unlike us in Nigeria and that is why all we have seen so far is zero and nothing to write home about.
So what kind of 2023 elections are you envisaging going by all these things that you have said?
If anybody is saying the 2023 elections will be free and fair, it will just be a lie on the devil, because the election, like its precedent, will be manipulated. Many people will die and be injured, but at the end of the day, nothing will happen. Are we not in this country in 2015 when we saw what happened in Kano to the extent that the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state was murdered? The man was killed with his wives and children. Even his house was burnt. But the government didn’t probe anyone or any organisation. All they said was that it was a fire incident. So, it is the same thing that we will keep seeing. Elections in Nigeria can never be free and fair. This is because the people that can make [free and fair elections a reality] are the ones benefiting from the violence associated with the system. So they see politics in the country as do or die.
So you are saying that the 2023 will not be free and fair?
Yes, it is not possible.
Some people have argued that, given the availability of the electronic transmission of results and a number of changes to the amended Electoral Act, it is possible.
With due respect, one thing is to have a good law, but another thing is for the people to respect and execute the law as stipulated. In Nigeria, we have a lot of hoodlums in official uniforms. Are they the ones that will execute the law? Is it not in this country that the judiciary will pronounce a judgement on a case, yet it will not be obeyed? There are several instances like where even the Supreme Court will give a verdict, yet it will not be executed or obeyed. So when people are talking about the electronic transmission of results, is it not in this same country that we will hear tomorrow that the network is bad or certain difficulty came up and the results could not be taken electronically? So, these things are not new.
The fact remains that it is not only the electoral law that will make every other thing to be free and fair; the human elements and other structures on ground matter. Today, go to INEC and see the mess there. Right now, I can say it confidently that before you get promoted to the rank of a director in the commission, you have to pay. So somebody that paid about two million naira to become an official, how do you think he or she will get the money back? He has to raise it back one way or the other. Even as a Resident Electoral Commissioner before you are posted to some states, you have to bribe with almost a million naira. This is pure madness and not the best at all.
So how do you think Nigeria can get it right?
We are here when Mr President said that he wanted to fight corruption. Please ask him, where are the foot soldiers? Look at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related offences Commission (ICPC), who are even fighting the so-called corruption. Today, Mr President is even tired; he is overwhelmed and it is glaring to the whole world. And as I said, if the system is bad and Nigerians are not asking questions or going on the road to protest certain abnormalities they perceive, we won’t go anywhere. So we should be asking questions. That is it.
You once said in your past interviews that it is wrong to use university lecturers as returning officers for governorship elections when there is a REC in the state and even the court has vindicated you. So what do you expect from INEC regarding the 2023 elections?
What I have been saying is that some people are not just honest while some are. And as for a returning office, it can either be a journalist, clergyman or any other person, but does the constitution recognise this? I know that it is the duty of INEC to choose people into the roles. Section 160 of the Nigerian constitution allows the commission to appoint a committee for the officers to do their jobs. That was what was done in 2009 when an Election Monitoring Board was set up. And that is why I am saying that we have failed, because the intention of Attahiru Jega was to give food to the professors. Because Iwu was gone, Jega felt he should take care of the lecturers and carry them along. And that was how this issue of using varsity professors came in and, no doubt, we have seen it bad and ugly with these professors. Their use doesn’t make sense anymore.
So you are saying INEC should look beyond the ivory towers?
Yes. Let the INEC returning officers themselves handle their issues and when the whole thing become messed up, they carry the consequences. So they should not be looking for one professor to come and be a returning officer. Let the INEC themselves carry their burden and cross. This is because the professors are not there on the field. They just stay in rooms and are used to rubber-stamp. We have seen a situation whereby an INEC returning officer and professor of Mathematics cannot calculate two plus two, because he was not there on the field where the votes were counted. So why are we using them, when they won’t be on the field?
To the glory of God, today, I am the only Nigerian that has been to the UK Electoral Commission to observe an election. I even followed INEC in 2008 to America to observe an election. Some of us understand what is going on in INEC, because we have served on its board. So, you cannot just bring someone, because he is a professor of…, of what? And then be giving the person money for just sitting down in a room. We have even seen a lot of professors in Nigeria today that after an election, they became ministers. I can mention two examples. The former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, who was a returning officer in Lagos, afterwards became the Minister of Health in Buhari’s cabinet. So these are some of the things that have been happening.
Still talking about the 2023 elections, are you optimistic that the electronic transmission of results will reduce violence at the collation centres?
It is when you have monitored the means of transmitting that you will get the same information. For some areas here in Lagos, the networks are either not good or none-existent. So when this is happening, how much more will it be when someone wants to transmit results from my village? The electronic transmission is a good idea, but the Nigerian factor will always play out. They will make sure they manipulate it. You will just hear INEC saying ‘the system didn’t work in some places and they, therefore, had to use manual’. For instance, see the stories we get on the use of the card reader. In some places, they will tell you it is not working. So, as long as the human error there is not perfected, we will keep on having the same problem.
As I have always said, corruption is a non-Nigerian. It may be residing here in Nigeria, but it is found in every system where there is no transparency. It is good to hear that the commission wants to checkmate corruption. But how possible is that in this country where the INEC official will want to make money?
The e-transmission would have been a good idea, if not for the depth of corruption in our system. And that is why since it came on board, the National Assembly has been manipulating it, just to make sure they find ways to remove the clause. But I won’t be surprised if tomorrow you hear that there is no network and the server is bad, so a manual method is used. Somebody will tell you that he is inside Bayelsa and Ilaje bush and, as such, cannot transmit election results electronically. So human errors will definitely come in, which is normal, but just too delicate for the corruption-ridden system we operate in the country. The Nigerian factor is a real issue in this country as people will just want to cut corners to get the money and care less about the consequences.
INEC has said that on the issue of the electronic transmission of results, there is no reason for anyone to entertain any fear and that they demonstrated in the Anambra election that the e-transmission can be done. Many people even said it was a great thing to see the election result coming out early due to the electronic system. Don’t you share these views?
I am not new to INEC. As I said, I followed the commission to America as an election observer in 2008. I have also served on the Election Monitoring board alongside Professor Okoye. So, all these are not new. INEC talks tough every time. Remember, during Jega’s time, Nigerians could not see materials on the Election Day. And seven billion naira was lost in the election he conducted. But the Jega INEC said many things too. So, what the commission is saying now is not new.
Today, the commission has become an INEC of anything goes. They will not tell you that they will fail and even the police will tell you that they are on top of the situation. But at the end of the day, what will you see: failure and wastage of huge sum of money. So I think people should be monitoring the commission properly. The commission will be giving money to the police, the DSS and other operatives, yet these security outfits have their own budgets.
Given the crisis in the PDP and the APC, do you see the possibility of a third force sacking either of the two?
It is not possible. I have told you that, all over the world, political parties have become two battalions, even in America where you have over 100 parties. Same thing in the UK. So any party that comes in now will only weaken the chances of the main opposition party more and more. So, it is not possible and that is why I laughed, when I see people like Professor Pat Utomi and many others with their education forming political parties, because this is not a time to form a party, but to join either of the two and make it firm.
And then, I give to the PDP, whether we like it or not, they have been the oldest party today in Nigeria. They have been on ground for 22 years. So it is a kudos for them as they have remained the only national party in Nigeria. The APC was formed before the 2015 elections and the way I am seeing it now, it is like it is going to scatter, because some of their big names will go if they did.