Martin Onovo was the presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP) in the 2015 general elections. In this interview with NATHANIEL AKHIGBE, he shares his view on why INEC is biased and the negative effects of Nigeria’s money bag politics. He also gives his scorecard for the APC led Federal Government. Excerpts:
According to the 2006 Electoral Act, a person running for the presidency can spend up to N1 billion; governor up to N200 million; senate N40 million; House of Reps N20 million; N10 million for state House of Assembly and local government chairman; and then maximum of N1 million spending for councillorship position. But these days, virtually all politicians are undermining this regulation in their spending spree, with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) whose mandate it is to weigh the big stick doing nothing about it. Give me your thoughts on this trend, bearing in mind that the electoral umpire had lamented the outrageous spending in the 2018 Anambra governorship polls?
INEC is not doing its work. We have called on INEC since 2015 to enforce the provision of the electoral Act; and INEC has publicly claimed that they lack the capacity to do that which was false. It was because INEC was biased; INEC pre-rigged the 2015 elections; and therefore, it was unwilling to do whatever it takes to stop the pre-determined rigging. Every authoritative independent voice has confirmed that the 2015 elections were pre-rigged. As long as INEC is biased you can’t have a free and fair election. I am sure you remember Yar’adua’s electoral reform committee? One of the recommendations of the committee was that partisan president cannot be appointing INEC chairman; and there are rumours now that Mahmood Yakubu, the current INEC chairman is a blood relation of General Buhari. We also know that Buhari’s niece is a federal electoral commissioner. So, if Buhari has his blood relation as chairman, and has his niece, his elder sister’s daughter as commissioner, what type of election would you expect of that INEC? These things need to be verified; but it is not the duty of the opposition parties, it is the duty of the media as stated in the Nigerian Constitution. The media has delineated its duty. So, leaving the watchdog role to opposition parties is very unfair and unconstitutional.
INEC is also mandated by section 153 of the constitution to monitor election campaign finance, audit political parties and make that information available to the public, so that Nigerians can know who is giving money to which party. How has the failure to do this entrenched money bag politics at the detriment of attracting credible leaders to the business of governance?
People are bringing in their money to fund political parties and when the party is elected, contracts would be given to those funding the party for them to recuperate their investment. It is not just what people are saying but what is happening.
How has this affected Nigeria’s development in terms of the opportunity to elect sincere people with high integrity into public offices?
Well, sincere people are not too wealthy. Let me quote Professor Taiwo Oshopitan, SAN. He said “persons who are necked deep into corrupt practices and economic crimes have very deep pockets”. So, it is very clear. If the process of achieving political power is corrupt, then, if you follow Ghandi’s political theory that “what bring you to power will sustain you in power”; if the process of coming to government is corrupt, it is corruption that will sustain such government. That is what is happening with the APC. It is only corruption that is sustaining the APC government and it is only corruption that can sustain it. On election finance, don’t forget that the same INEC that claimed in 2015 because of its bias, that it does not have the capacity to monitor election finance, that same INEC, last year, make a public statement that the 2015 election cost N1 trillion. In a country as at 2015, where total estimated National Revenue was less than N4 trillion, election alone cost N1 trillion. So, you can see how as a people we have deliberately decided not to develop, because there is nothing you will say today that will not be covered by Professor Chinua Achebe book (The Problem with Nigeria), where he concluded that the problem is with the leadership. And what is the problem with leadership? It is that the leadership is illegitimate, lawless and corrupt. So, it is not that we do not know the Nigerian problem; it is rather that we have not decided as a people to confront the Nigerian problem. As long as we continue to put criminals in power, crime will dominate governance. Immediately after the 2015 election, the APC governors were overwhelmingly responsible for the non-payment of workers’ salaries. More than 70% of the governors who could not pay salary at the time were APC’s; and the reason for that was that they committed so much to the election. It was the governors that funded the elections that brought Buhari to power. Not only them; but principal funding of the APC elections came from APC governors. And immediately after the elections they could not pay salary until the bailout came out. Atiku Abubakar had confessed that he was part of those who funded the election. He said after he committed his funds and structure to the APC they have sidelined and disregarded him. Is that not confession? But I am telling you categorically that the election was mainly funded by the APC governors. 60 seconds political jingle on some TV platforms cost N600, 000 and you can count the number of slots the APC put for several months, apart from the billboards and posters.
The Justice Uwai’s report recommends among others, that the appointment of INEC chair should not be a sole responsibility of the president; Electoral Offences Commission to try offenders; why do you think Nigeria’s political leaders are not interested in implementing these laudable recommendations?
Except I am compelled, why will I change a system that gives advantage to me? This government has committed a thousand impeachable offences and there have not been an impeachment motion and we are in “democracy”. The ruling party dominates both houses, where will the impeachment motion come from? So, there are things that are in the book which cannot be implemented because the system itself lacks integrity. What is in the book can only be implemented when the system has integrity. And the system cannot have integrity when it is your blood relation that you have appointed to be in charge of election; because our people say “blood is thicker than water”. So, it will be idealistic for you to expect blood relations not to further the interest of their kinsman who appointed them into positions. If I appoint you because you are my blood relation, you will want to give me advantage because I am your blood relation. Is it not irresponsible for a seating president to start campaigning for second term two years away and INEC was quiet? Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) must come out to tell Nigerians who is funding them. How can you start spending in 2017? The BSO had congregated and it was not the only group that congregated two years before election. Some well financed groups had congregated, but who financed them? If the President did not come out to disassociate himself from the groups, then, he started campaigning for 2019 in 2017. If Buhari had wanted to lead this country correctly, he would have told those groups to disband or order their arrest. Election timetable had not been released and those who campaigned because the media was excited were not patriotic, simple.
How should Nigerians then go about compelling leaders to make sincere change in the interest of the country?
It is very simple. Let me you give an example. When we started the agitation for the removal of Patricia Ete, when she was Speaker of House of Representative, both the PDP and the members of the House and the government of the day said “Ete will stay”, but did she leave or not? She left of course. That is a practical example. When we started our pro-democracy struggle, when Gani Fawehimi started the NCP in 1994, you may not understand the importance of that: there was a ban on political activism by the military government of Abacha and in defiant to that, he founded a political party and he was arrested and detained for it. We are products of his struggles. Gani is dead but his spirit is alive. So, what is required to compel leaders to change is democratic action. There is also the legal action which Gani used since he was a lawyer; there is the civil society part which we are in and there are the media aspects, which provide the moral ground for the actions. The media part is actually the most critical part. Was Buhari qualified to contest in the first place? A minimum academic qualification for president is WAEC, let him show us his WAEC. Don’t show me an affidavit. Let’s even agree his WAEC is with the military, but now that he is the President why has he not produced it? He was taken to court, but what did he do? He got eleven senior advocates and twelve other lawyers, totaling twenty-three-man, to go and defend him instead of producing his certificate. These issues are within the purview of the media to prove.
What are your personal assessments of the Buhari led government?
The security promise has failed woefully. As I am talking to you now, Boko Haram is attacking in the northeast. The group at some point came back fully with suicide bombings. They killed our soldiers and took their equipment at Sasawa; and somebody says he is the Commander in Chief and he is campaigning for second term! The IG of Police has spoken about rising kidnapping in Nigeria; the Nigerian Senate is talking about rise in sexual crimes; these are indexes of insecurity; herdsmen killing rising. We won’t be talking about herdsmen killing if we have a good government in place. A good government is the one who is able to solve problem efficiently. This government has never solved any problem. There was a power problem when the government came in and it’s unable to solve it, but complicated it instead. There was a petroleum import problem but has the government been able to solve it even after it increased the pump price? Instead of solving the Boko Haram problem, the government has complicated it with the herdsmen. Aside security let us look at the economy. Immediately after it submitted the 2016 Budget Proposal, economic downturn sets in; six months after he has been in power, the GDP nosedived. At some points, unemployment rose from 6% to double digits; inflation rose from 9% to about 17%-18%; public debts rose from N11 trillion to over N20 trillion. So, which index can you look at and claim that this government is doing well? The government has failed woefully in anti-corruption. Ordinary Senate Committee, without media trial, without Police, without Navy, without soldiers, without EFCC, without DSS, without patrol vans and security trucks, recovered N140 billions of national revenue diverted, no noise. But the EFCC, with all the noise and attacks at 1: am on judges quarters, how much has it recovered in two years? And the Senate Committee was only three months old. You can see the difference between intelligence and moral power over this brutal, stone-age dictatorship that stormed peoples’ houses at 1: am when they are sleeping; no invitation, no nothing; break down judges’ quarters, but how much have they recovered? Who have they convicted? So, the anti-corruption is discredited, it is a moral burden, and it is corrupt itself. The MainaGate just highlights the complicated incompetence and corruption of this government that I am talking about. This government has the corruption side and the lawlessness side. And the Maina case is a perfect example of how the government has destroyed everything. And then, there is the $26 billion NNPC contract scam under this government. Apart from Kachukwu being a Minister, the President lawfully appointed him chairman of the Board of NNPC, while Baru is an ordinary member of the Board of the NNPC. Baru claimed that he used NNPC Tender Board. That same Baru, is fully aware that the TB cannot award contract beyond $20 million. That same Baru is the chairman of the NNPC TB. Who is he deceiving? The NNPC Acts says that the Board of NNPC conducts the affairs of NNPC, Baru bye-passed that Board; Baru bye-passed the supervising minister (Kachukwu) and went to the Vice President who referred him back to Kachukwu; and he disregarded the advice of the VP. That was stated in Kachukwu’s letter. So, that is the biggest contract scam since amalgamation in 1914. That is about N9 trillion. That is two years of National Estimated Revenue. Government agents and supporters were telling lies that there was no contract. But go and read NNPC press release, they admitted that contracts were awarded. They were just disputing the figures. The Senate must sit up and investigate the scam thoroughly. We know that they lobbied the Senate not to investigate the matter. Buhari invited leadership of NASS to Aso Rock. What was he trying to cover? This scam will not be far from 2019. A foreign Nigerian online medium published that Abba Kyari’s company (Front and Interest) benefited $13 billion in those contracts. I don’t know whether it is true or false, but it was published.
What has your party been up to lately? It appears you have been quiet?
Saying that we have been quiet is not a fair statement. The last general elections were in 2015 and we held our National Convention in 2016 in Akure, Ondo State. The ruling party up till the congress that brought Adams Oshiomhole as its chairman had not held its National Convention. We have called press conferences regularly; we have featured press releases; we have featured on programmes to communicate our own alternative position, which is own constitutional duty; we took this government to court over the fraudulent local government election in Lagos State; it was my party that got an order, compelling the Lagos State government to conduct election within 90 days and yet, the media did not give us front page. The NCP has been in every state since 2011 and we have full structure, we may not have Wadada Plaza. INEC monitors our states’ congresses. If you also see in the fraudulent 2015 election, I had votes in every state. We have administrative staffs in Abuja who go to work every day.
You were your party’s presidential candidate in the last election, what was your experience as it relates to mobilization and wooing for support?
The first thing is that every society has its own deviants. But a dysfunctional society has more deviants than patriots; and Nigeria is an excellent example of a dysfunction society. People who should be in the prisons are in government. What is morally and intellectually correct does not make headline in Nigeria. Political violence and rigging are crimes; violation of criminal law is a crime and these are the ways power is accessed in Nigeria. People have accepted this. When the majority of the people begin to value intellectual and moral excellence as the basis for leadership, then you will see that the pendulum will swing on our side. The Nigerian people were very receptive to our election. If I tell you how receptive they were, you will not believe. People were contributing money, volunteering and contributing effort to our election; while the other parties were giving big, big money (100 and 200 million) to people to vote for them. The ordinary people stood with us. I have documented evidence that the 2015 election was pre-rigged. But it is not sufficient.
Will you be coming out again to contest for the office of the president in 2019?
Both of my parents are citizens of Nigeria by birth. All my grandparents are citizens of Nigeria by birth. We are committed to this country because this is our country. I don’t have dual citizenship. I am committed to the development of this country. I’m interested in 2019.