Comrade Paul Yaro Jezhi was the Chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Kaduna State Chapter. He held this position for several years. He is presently a labour activist. In this interview with CORRESPONDENT,GABRIEL JOHN, he expresses his fears for the use of INEC’s Card Readers, and spoke on other issues. Excerpts…
How would you describe the impact of the recent actions of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, on the polity?
His action has no impact on the polity. But as a young man who is looking up to the elders, I feel disappointed. If I have a father, I should expect him to exercise decorum in the face of whatever challenges he has in life, even in the face of death. It is unfortunate that a leader that everybody in this world is looking up to will go publicly and tear his membership card. He may have his reasons, but as a man of high esteem, I feel disappointed. It wasn’t a good way of life, and I believe it will not have any negative impact causing disenfranchisement among the electorate in the country. If an elder or personality in that capacity can do that, what do you expect the youth to do? If the youth did something wrong, will he have the audacity to advice the youth? I felt disappointed because I hold him in high esteem.
What is your view on the level of corruption in Nigeria? And what do you suggest is the best way to tackle corruption?
The level of corruption in Nigeria is alarming. The corruption did not start yesterday. Going by our past experiences, since 1999, it is a challenge to journalists to take a look at the crude oil price. Journalists should take a look at the crude oil price from 1999 to 8 year period. What assisted the government vis-avis the developmental projects we enjoyed? Journalists should also take a look at six year period to date, what are the infrastructural developments that we have today vis-avis the revenue generated. This will help to assess the level of corruption in Nigeria today. So far, people go about dipping their hands in corrupt practices without thinking of the negative effect. Corrupt people in Nigeria today are celebrated. Government has not really check the level of corruption in Nigeria. That gives so many who are in position of authority today to do whatever they like. If a cleaner drives a car today, or build an expensive house today, people should be eager to ask, “Where does he or she get the money to buy that car or build the house.” But we are not concern about how one gets his/her money, and this encourages people to continue stealing public money. People are only interested to celebrate with the criminals rather than to report them for stealing our money, even if one does, his/her life is in danger. A greater percentage of Nigerians are guilty of corruption. One who sells food stuff or a shopkeeper who tries to manipulate figures so that he gets his own money. Fuel attendant will manipulate in order to make his own money. Corruption cuts across every stratum of government, private sector and this affect our economy.
Some critics have noted that the recent campaigns by political parties are of calumny rather than issues. Do you agree with them?
Personally, I don’t listen to their campaign. I hate so much with passion the campaign of calumny, campaign against personality and insult. In fact, we have reduced ourselves to ridicule. What is happening in Nigeria cannot happen in Niger, Cottonou. For God’s sake, if I am contesting for president today, I should be proud to come out to mention the programme and policies I intend to embark on if voted into power and not campaign of calumny against my political opponent. I should be able to come out with superior argument on what I intend to do, not to attack my political opponent. There is no genuine reason for attacking personalities as all political parties are guilty of this offence. I hate with passion. That is why I don’t listen to their campaign on radio and television.
What is your take on the use of Card Reader during the election?
I have fears concerning the use of the card reader for election. From the past experiences, during election you discover that materials arrive at the venue of election behind schedule. Sometimes, election materials don’t arrive at the appropriate time, or there are reported cases of snatching of ballot boxes even at the polling unit. Card reader is good, but has INEC trained the ad hoc staff properly to be able to use the card reader effectively? If you are going for an examination for example, you should be able to carry along all your writing materials. Sometimes you go along with double so that you do not get disappointed. If you are in examination hall and you are disappointed with your writing materials, who do you blame? It’s good to try using the card reader but there should be appropriate time to try using the card reader before the general election because it could be dangerous if we are disappointed using the card reader during the election. I have fears concerning the use of the card reader because of the Nigerian factor.
Recently, there was a botched Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) election and many saw this as a sign of a house divided against itself.
I want to say it is unfortunate that Trade Union and various labour organizations in Nigeria have allowed the politics or pressure from political groups to have influence on them. This is not the first time something like this is happening. You may certainly remember that National Association of Nigeria Students had similar Franca during their elections. They were lots of accusations that political groups or political class had penetrated National Association of Nigeria Students. The labour organization is just a single group, but unfortunately, one of the strongest labour organizations in Nigeria is giving room for interference from a political group. What has played out in the botched election of the NLC before it successfully hosted the election is purely a contest where the political group has almost hijacked whatever is happening in NLC. I feel there were some political class which were behind them and wanted them to go for a particular position. It is obvious that there is no formidable group in Nigeria that can stand to challenge government on labour issue than NLC. Now NLC has been penetrated by a particular group. The group has really broken the strength and power of NLC to be able to stand and criticize government on national issues. This is because the election was marred by lots of interest groups and differences.
How do you rate the election process of the new leadership of NLC, was the election free, fair, and credible?
Just like I have said, the entire process was characterized by various pressure groups. I want to believe that the NLC President who has just stepped down with his Executive Council members, are credible people. Unfortunately, towards the tail end, they allowed political interest group to penetrate them for particular reasons best known to them.
As Nigerians match forward to cast their votes to elect the president of their choice come March 28, what advice do you have for them?
My advice goes to the youth in this country. This country is for the youths because our elders are at the point of exit. Youths should eschew violence in this election as they should not allow anybody to use them during this election. When we cast our vote successfully, we should immediately go home and wait for the outcome. I heard that some personalities advised voters to stay at the polling station and have their vote counted, I don’t support that. As far as I am concerned, all the parties have their agents. If in the course of waiting, there could be a breakdown of law and order. If it eventually happens, are you going to be talking of constitutionality? No. I advise every Nigerian that once they cast their votes, they should go home and wait for the outcome. Youths should not allow politicians to use them because these set of politicians cannot use their children or relations.