There is no gainsaying that integrity of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen Muhammadu Buhari, is unblemished and unquestionable. Despite his avowed incorruptible nature, however, some cynics still doubt his capacity to fight corruption, if elected as president given the circumstance he now finds himself. In this interview, a Chieftain of the APC and former Minister of Information, Chief Tony Momoh, speaks on the anti-corruption stance of Buhari, the perceived manipulation of the electoral process and a host of other national issues. He warns of the danger of undue interference in the electoral process, saying “PDP should not think they will do as they were doing before. When you touch the tiger’s tail, you are on your own.” Excerpts:
What has been the cost of election postponement to the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a party?
We don’t have the tones of money that PDP has. And you know how extremely expensive it is to run an election. We have been drawing our support mainly from grassroots following that our presidential candidate has. So, we don’t have money to play with. But the fact is that we managed the situation in such a way that many people may misread the signs. We told our people, ‘no violence. Let us accommodate it. One day, there will be election’. And the whole country was tamed. The army was spread all over the cities of Nigeria to stem any violent reaction. But the fact is no such violent reaction came because we told our people there should be no violent reaction. It proves one thing: APC is in charge of Nigeria. But if anyone thinks that because there was no trouble, therefore, the government is in charge and can do anything he likes; time will tell if any impunity of that nature repeats itself. You see, there is always a flip side to a coin. One side is balance of power; the other side is not balance of power. There won’t be violence in Nigeria. Nigeria will not break up. INEC told us one year ago that election will be on February 14 and all of us worked towards that date. INEC told us they were ready, the National security did not tell us anything until he went to London where he started flying the kite that INEC was not ready because of PVCs. INEC insisted that they were ready. On the eve of attending the National Council of State, they started talking about security. You will now see that when people start giving reasons of that nature, however well meaning they may be, some people will begin to think of some other agenda. So, we have heard mind-blowing things as Interim, when there is nothing like interim in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nobody will accept interim because there is no provision for interim in the constitution. We agreed to the postponement because it is within the stipulated time that the constitution endorses. March 28 is more than 30 days before the swearing in, that is why we accepted the postponement. I can assure you that APC will not accept any further manipulation of the date of the election.
Then, how do you see the fresh agitation for Jega’s removal by some interest groups?
Jega is on contract and the terms of the contract should normally be followed. Jega is a public officer; he is not an appointee of APC. So, we are not in the position to defend or not defend him. Jega should do his work. If he does his work properly, Nigerians will praise him. If he messes up, Nigerians will condemn him. All we know is that the constitution gives Jega the power to conduct election without taking dictation from anybody. And he seems not to be willing to take dictation from anybody. In CPC which is one of the parties that merged into APC, we accused the INEC of manipulating the election because they built into the computer a programme that automatically deducted percentage of vote cast in the North. They deducted 10 percent of 1.4 million to reduce the votes of Gen Buhari in the North. In the South, they ensured that Gen Buhari did not get up to 25 percent. It was the programme of the PDP which they did in concert with the INEC. But that is past now. The two existing parties now are big enough for the institutions to be allowed to do doing their work. So, it is either APC or PDP now. It is no longer like those days when PDP will give you ticket and you are automatically in the house. Then, PDP will just hold a meeting and write results and tell you to go to court. That is not going to work any longer. This time around, institution will be allowed to do their work. The police will do their work, the military will do their work, and INEC will do their work. All the agencies will do their work.
Which one has greater consequence for the polity between those calling for interim government and the statement allegedly made by Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State saying that there will be a parallel government if the election is not free and fair?
You have just said it; free and fair election. If there is no free and fair election, he said there would be a parallel government. What of Asari Dokubo and some others who said if Jonathan loses, there will be war? In other words, whether Nigerians like it or not, Jonathan must be there. Which one is more unacceptable? What Amaechi said is that if the election is not free and fair, there will be a parallel government. In other words, APC is in a position to question the impunity of the PDP. I don’t know whether people really know that APC is bigger than PDP. At its apogee, PDP had about 12 million registered party men and they said they were the largest party in Africa. I confirmed this from a former Chairman of PDP. But now, we are bigger than PDP because we have more than 20 million registered party men. It is easy to calculate. At polling unit level, we registered about 100 party men in each polling units and we had a total of 120,000 polling units. That alone is a minimum of 12 million to populate our organs. There are about 18 organs in APC and we populated them with the first set of registration. And, of course, this registration is customized. You can’t just go anywhere to register. So, we are bigger than PDP. If due process is followed, whoever wins, wins and whoever loses, loses. But when you write result and announce and tell us to go to court, we won’t agree. That is just what Amaechi was saying. No Nigerian today will accept that. Nigerians are asking for change and change will come through due process of election.
But why is distribution of PVCs is still ongoing, despite the earlier assurance by the INEC that they were ready for the election before the postponement?
You and I know that a day or two to the election is usually the time Nigerians rush to obtain their cards. INEC said they can distribute PVCs up till the eve of the election. Is there any substantial departure from PVC distribution? As far as I am concerned, even if it is one person that has not got his PVC, I want that person to get it. Once you have your PVC, you may decide not to exercise your right to vote. But the fact is that when you don’t have your PVC, your right to vote is denied. And that is disenfranchisement and it is unconstitutional. So, if all the PVC were not ready, then it is good there was a postponement so that people can collect their PVCs.
By the position of your party, are you comfortable with the use of card readers for the conduct of this election?
Our history has been one of manipulating our processes of achieving due process in democracy. The way to achieve due process is to ensure that those who are qualified to vote are registered, that when it is time to vote, they are accredited to vote, that the votes are counted, and most importantly that the votes count. That is what democracy is all about. Card reading is one of the ways of cleaning up electoral process so that people do not go thump printing. The ultimate is when we go electronic voting. When we do electronic voting, you put your finger on the electronic machine and it registers there at the central collating point automatically. Card reading will remove thump printing. Neither APC nor PDP can rig and remains at peace. So, anybody who is afraid of card reader is afraid because they know that what they have been doing before cannot work in this election.
Do you have the same worry with some Nigerians who say the present democratic government is receding back to civilian junta with the military taking critical decision in the electoral process?
It is a question of leadership. In 1999, when Obasanjo was coming, there was an argument. The Service Chiefs said they were in charge because they were appointed by the previous regime and that they cannot be removed until they completed their four-year tenure. But immediately Obasanjo came in, the first thing he did was to remove them. It was this same Doyin Okupe who announced the removal and heaven didn’t fall. Unfortunately, the Service Chiefs are political appointees. Whoever appoints them can remove them any time. So, their way is the way out. You can’t make Chief of Defence Staff to come and be Chief of Army Staff. But if, for instance, they are now integrated into the control mechanism of PDP as it seems to be happening, it is only fair to accept that they are protecting their positions. They will go when it is time to go. If, however, they now impose themselves on Nigerians, then we are not practicing democracy. The PDP is not the one running the election now, it seems the Head of State and a few others and the Service Chiefs are the one in charge. You can’t do that.
What is your take on deployment of military during election?
The military is supposed to be on alert? not that they go to the polling units to supervise election. We should not allow the presence of the military in our affairs; otherwise, we won’t be seen to be practicing democracy.
Do you see election holding on March 28 and April 11 as scheduled by the INEC?
Election will hold, it will be peaceful, free and fair, results will be announced, winners will be announced and the losers will congratulate the winners. These security operatives you see are seemingly defending persons rather than office. You will see how they will change when change comes. Whoever wants to disturb the peace of the state will be picked up. That is their training. There is a script written for INEC. Of course, INEC Chairman is appointed by the President, but he is not to take dictation from anybody. That is the constitutional provision. All these people who are saying Jega must go should know that Jega can only die or resign. You can’t remove him outside the due process.
Despite the presence of several national issues that call for public debate, electioneering has been largely focused on persons rather than issues. Is this really healthy for the polity?
The secret of Buhari’s popularity is his discussion of issues. Buhari does not discuss people. Rather, he has been talking of corruption, security problem and unemployment. He has never said any negative thing against anybody. He has always said vote out PDP, he has never mentioned anybody’s name. But the fact is Buhari is the issue for Jonathan campaign organization. There is nothing you can say about Buhari that is negative. His integrity cannot be questioned. He is incorruptible, he has discipline. This man is what Nigeria needs now. We move with him. Nobody can cope with his pace. Yet, some people are talking about his health. Why will anybody get up to so say the man is sick? Do you have an age you attach to sickness? You can really see the level we have degenerated. They say he has no certificate. He has been secretary of the army and he knew his certificate were with the army. When his government was toppled, his house was ransacked and obviously he would think that these documents are with the military. He went and sworn an affidavit of loss of documents and that is what he has always presented. It is now that it becomes an issue. They even went to the extent of saying the man is not a Nigerian. Later, they said his wife is not a Nigerian. In doing all these, they have won more following for Gen Buhari than they expected. Now, they are trying to see what they can do, but they can’t do anything.
Given a level playing field, you think Gen Buhari can beat this incumbent President?
This election is not loseable. Did you hear what I said? This election is not loseable. In 2011, Gen Buhari had 12 million votes in the North. Now, you cannot say he will have less than that. The whole of the North is locked up for Gen Buhari. He will do better in the North than he did in 2011. In the whole of the South where he had less than 400,000 votes in 2011, he will have more. In the South-South, we have two states. We are not going to have zero in those states. We are not going to have zero in Bayelsa State. We will have votes in all the South South states. Imo gave Jonathan more votes than any other state in the Southeast in 2011. We are in control of Imo State. Jonathan will not get the number of votes he polled in Imo in 2011. Ebonyi is broken up, Anambra and Enugu are not locked up totally for Jonathan as it happened in 2011. My description of the situation in the South-South and Southeast is that South- South and Southeast have been unbundled. They are fishing areas. In the South west, Jonathan will have to struggle for votes. APC is everywhere in the Southwest even in Ekiti and Ondo states. Take the North that is almost locked up for Buhari, and all these unbundled areas in the South, you will see that this election is not loseable. You are not going to tell me that Buhari will have 400,000 votes in the South. It is not whether APC will win the election but by how much. PDP should not think they will do as they were doing before. When you touch the tiger’s tail, you are on your own.
By OMONIYI SALAUDEEN