Joseph Okoloagu, a retired Brigadier General, is a member of All Progressives Congress (APC) Board of Trustees. He is the senatorial candidate of APC in Enugu North senatorial zone for the rescheduled general elections. In this interview with journalists at his Enugu residence, he said the reasons for the postponement of the general elections were not convincing. He also condemned the role played by the military in the poll shift.DAILY INDEPENDENT CORRESPONDENT, EMMANUEL NZOMIWU was there. Excerpts:
What is your reaction to the postponement of the election?
My reaction to the postponement of the 14th February and 28th February Presidential/National Assembly and Gubernatorial/House of Assembly elections is that it is most unfortunate. I say that it is most unfortunate because
I personally don’t think, having listened to the reasons adduced by the INEC chairman, who himself like we say in law, ‘watching his demeanour’, was very helpless. The reasons adduced were not convincing. But, it was beyond his change or manipulation, but all it means is that he has been emasculated. The independence of INEC which ought to be total according to constitutional provisions and Electoral Act has eroded it by this singular joke by the Federal Government. Well, having said that, I will like to come back to specifics. And such specifics include what you might call ‘impossibility of performance in law’. We should be asking ourselves, if these elections are postponed for the next seven weeks, they said six weeks, but it is seven clear wins. The announcement was made on the 7th of February and the first election comes up on the 28th of March. If you check from 7th of February to 28th March, it is seven weeks, not six weeks. And my worry as somebody who sacrificed 35 years of my youthful life to the Army and by all standards a security expert is ‘if you claim that you are postponing this election on grounds of insecurity; if there is anything that is unpredictable in life, it is the flow of action at war or in combat. It is very unpredictable because each side sits down and plans its own actions against and from. How will you counter if it happens? Now, I understand that the Federal Government is saying that they have secured the cooperation of the other West African forces. That is what the rumour says and that they will get this job done in six weeks if election is postponed for seven weeks. So, the election is postponed.
Don’t you think that by the postponement, INEC has indirectly given candidates like you more time to campaign for votes?
Well, I don’t know whoever they are giving the time. That time and the benefits to politicians cannot be compared with the risks of not having this election. There are less than 15 local government areas that are under the control of Boko Haram or the enemies so to say. That is to say that we have 774 local governments in the country, peopled by Nigerian citizens. Why we claim that it is good for everybody to vote, there is no election anywhere in the world that is perfect. I have stayed in the US. I have stayed in UK. Name it anywhere in the world where the election is perfect and that is why you allow for some errors. So, giving room for politicians to canvass more is madness because nobody is God. It is only God who knows what will happen tomorrow. You and I are sitting down here now. I am granting you an interview. Whether I will be alive to read it tomorrow or not, I don’t know. My life is controlled by the Supreme Being, the Almighty God, not by human being. That is why I tell you the truth the way I see it. I fear no human being. I can respect you because of your position but you don’t treat me as if I don’t wear my head on my neck because I am a full fledged Nigerian citizen and an elder for that matter.
Do you think INEC deserves commendation when, for four years, they were yet to settle this PVC and card reader issues?
INEC has done perfectly very well and I want you to record me that way. In view of what you have just said now, for goodness sake, these are novel areas. We did not know about them before. The whole thing is intended to shift from the process where we have selection instead of election. Your child needs a future and he has to have a future. The only thing to eliminate selection, instead of selection in Nigeria is what INEC is doing now. It doesn’t matter how long it takes them to perfect it. But, the most important thing is that this PVC can prevent people who are not registered votes to vote and also prevent people from voting twice. It has reduced a reasonable level of corruption in our electoral system. So, it must be commended. The card reader thing, although I have not seen one, is intended to once and for all, remove the corruption in the voting system in Nigeria. I have not seen one. If what they told us is correct, it means that even when you steal somebody’s PVC or buy, because in my area, the ruling party has a lot of money and they are buying PVCs up to N1000 and N2000 from the poor women. So, what that means is that they cannot use it. But, they don’t seem to know they cannot use it. You can spend any amount of money in buying that thing, but you can’t use it. Professor Jega, no matter how they vilify him, has grey matters in his head for him to have thought about these things.
The only regret I have personally is; “Will he be allowed to stay on and finish the revolution he has just started in the electoral process in Nigeria? If he does, I am telling you, you and I may not be the immediate beneficiaries but our children will. I am telling you that with what Jega has done, in the next few months, elections in Nigeria, will be as if you are voting in the United States, in France or any of these advanced countries. You see, you have to start somewhere. But, my problem with Nigerians is impatience. And that is why we still have pitfalls in our democracy. If it suits them, they quote the American democracy and constitution. When it doesn’t suit them, they take the home grown. You can’t approbate and reprobate. You have set of laws and you follow the laws. If jega dies today, he has left a good name. He has succeeded in reducing the corruption in our electoral process to at least, 70 to 80 percent.
You were in the military and retired as a General. And today we are seeing what has not happened before, a situation where army wrote INEC, saying they cannot guarantee security for an election. How do you see such a situation?
Well, it is the pollution of the noble profession that I lived and obviously will die for. No service chief what his salt will divulge confidential information. I will tell you, most documents in the military are classified-confidential, very confidential, private, and no officer will divulge such information. Like I was sitting one day, watching television, I saw a whole Brigadier General, showing the records of service of a retired General, a former Head of State and saying, unless I heard him wrongly, that they didn’t have his records. And I just asked myself. Is this the same Nigerian Army I served? One thing is that you can never get into the officers training unless you have the minimum qualification.
For somebody like General Buhari, they are not even the NDA products. We are the NDA products. They were the NMTC British Products. They did what they did all in the name of politics and the British officer that did the selection is not from Enugu, from Kaduna or Ibadan. Let me use the three capitals I used to cram when I was a young man growing up because we use to have three capitals when we were growing up. So, for General Buhari to have been commissioned in the first place, he must have met the minimum qualification. When we were in the Army, you can’t show an officer’s records publicly. And I want to tell you the extent to which the military has been polluted. But, this happened. It was on the television and everybody saw it. When we were in the military, a Service Chief doesn’t stand up and say, we will do this at so, so and so time. No, we don’t. You are not supposed to talk. You are supposed to be acting. You don’t talk. You don’t engage in politics. And so, I didn’t see the paper, but if the army is now writing INEC to say, that they cannot guarantee the safety of materials and personnel for the election, honestly speaking, I make bold to say it is unfortunate and that is the beginning of the end because the army should not get involved. To say that the army wrote is very serious. I General J.OJ Okoloagu has not accepted it. I take it that the Army couldn’t have written it. The Army cannot. And if army wrote INEC, the Army has now emerged as another political third force.