Dr. Boniface Aniebonam is the National Chairman of the New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP). In this interview, he looks at INEC preparedness to conduct the forthcoming general elections, Amina Zakari’s role, lack of communication from President Buhari to Nigerians and the NNPP’s preparedness and expectations in the coming elections. He spoke to our correspondent. Excerpts;
What is your reaction to the preparations made so far by INEC for the Presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for the 16th of February, 2019?
We all know that INEC has the mandate as far as election is concerned in Nigeria and it is a statutory duty on their own part to ensure that election is transparent and very peaceful. That is an ideal thing, to be patriotic but the situation on ground seems to create some level of doubts as to their sincerity of purpose and I guess that is why all these public outcry, the body language seemed not to be going down well with the critical stakeholders.
We all know that INEC has a mandate but the stakeholders still have an input to make which will form the basis of their decisions but the final authority is theirs. I believe whatever they are doing; they are doing it in good faith but the greater number of Nigerians is seeing it differently. For instance, the issue of the electoral guidelines that they signed into effect, they are still perfecting the proceeding. That again tends to give people that something will go wrong in this election.
There is this call for the INEC Chairman to remove a particular National Commissioner, Mrs. Amina Zakari who they claimed to be a relative of President Muhammadu Buhari from the National Collation Centre as her presence as the head of the Centre may affect the credibility of the election. What is your take on this?
The operating environment suggests very high level fears to the extent that people seem not to be happy. Just like you said, if she is a relation to Mr. President, it is simple for anybody to understand that certain things can be compromised. But then, you see, it may not completely be that if we are in a country where rule of law, due process and sincerity of purpose thrives. Just like I told you, body language, look at the configuration, sensitive positions in the country, a lot of people have been complaining. Look at the composition of the Defense Chiefs, the organs of government particularly in the security chiefs and all that. Definitely, you will not want to believe that people are comfortable with that.
So, if I were Mr. President, I think that he should try as much as he can to listen to the voice of the people. I know that Mr. President is popular and leading a county like ours, his work will speak for him. So, I there is anything that might bring some level of doubts and confusion, he should do away with that after all, in the whole Nigeria, there are a lot of people that have the capacity to hold such position and whatever we do, let us take Goodluck Jonathan as a very good example because some of these things that tend to create some fears, Goodluck had all it takes to reject the last election that ushered in Mr. President but he did not do so and to God be the glory, everybody appreciate him.
So, what I am trying to say in effect is that Mr. President has been doing the best he can, the only problem I have with him is that he is not communicating with his people, he is not communicating enough with Nigerians to tell them how the country is being run. That is just one problem I saw but probably the Information Ministry or his media aides are not doing much. Communication means a lot, communicate with the people so that they know what you are doing more so with the advent of the online publications and all that, it is getting more serious that government must be on air all the time to make clarification on issues and that will solve a lot of problems.
A lot of people also fear that this election may be rigged as APC is putting every structure in place to…
(Cuts in) Why are you calling APC? You have said it all now. That is the structure we are talking about. All the things we have just discussed also alluded to the fact to creating opportunity to rig election. That is what we are discussing here now.
Before now, some political parties have gone into coalition with the PDP while some have also gone into alliance with APC, now tell us, where is your political party, New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP) in all of these coalitions and alliances?
Do you need to ask me? You have not seen NNPP in any of the coalitions. I think all this things that are going on is all political related issues but to me, there is some level of frustration among the participants because it is like everybody tends to see that things are not really working well and they are trying to realign forces.
But for us in New Nigeria People’s Party, as far as I am concerned, I am the leader of the party, we don’t have anything against anybody either as an individual or as a political party but to continue to work as a registered political party in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and see how we can be responsible partners in the government. But indeed, things are not working well, that is the high point. We have issue of security and all that, at this point it is like things are not working but then, you have to look at the efforts the administration is making.
What I am still insisting is that a lot of people are saying that Mr. President is not in charge, I expect Mr. President to tell Nigerians I am in charge. Every day you see one publication or the other to that effect. That was why I said he is not communicating with Nigerians. What stops him from telling them I am in charge, if you keep on keeping quiet, it means you are not in charge because people are still saying you are not doing well and you kept quiet and you are the leader?
So, communication is key to good governance. When you are not communicating, you may be misunderstood, you are likely to be misunderstood. Let’s see Mr. President come on air and say look, I have been hearing one thing or the other that the election will be rigged, nobody will rig this election and anybody who tries rigging election will incur the wrath of the law.
During the nomination of Presidential candidates by different political parties, we came across a name nominated by NNPP as its Presidential candidate. Now during the shortlisting of Presidential candidates to participate in a national debate, his name was not on the list just like many others and we did not hear your party protest his exclusion just like others did and up till now, we yet to hear from him in terms of campaigns. Tell us, is he still in the race or has he withdrawn?
It is not only our party that is not involved, I am sure you know that that debate was aired live. Channels Television is not a charitable organization. Just like you are talking to me, are you a charitable organization? You are not. So, anybody can go ahead and be making noise, those who participated, I believe must have been able to foot the bill. You know there are certain responsibilities attached to it.
If there is no other responsibility in terms of financial involvement, then, the organizers of that debate is not adding value to democracy because all persons must be treated equally. And then for NNPP, yes, our name is there on INEC list, you can see it, we were cleared and all that but you know, the worst you will do to yourself is to deceive yourself. To contest for the presidency of this country is not a tea party, it is not a joke. If you don’t have the capacity, you don’t have the capacity but if you want to go and be making noise, go ahead and be making noise, it doesn’t make any sense.
The logistics inherent in that is enormous. So, what stops me from contesting the President of Nigeria? But I know I don’t have the capacity for now, so, why do I go and waste time? Is it just because I want to go and add value to my CV that I was once a Presidential candidate of a political party? You are deceiving yourself.
So, you find out that we have concentrated more on the areas we can handle for now and we grow gradually. State House of Assembly, House of Reps, Governorship, after all you have seen what we can do, we are the highest opposition in Bauchi, we are likely to pick up Bauchi State, there is no doubt about that and that’s why this issue of rigging becomes a major issue as far as our party is concern. In Nasarawa we are doing good, in Imo State we are doing good and all that.
Sir did you count Imo State as one of the states that NNPP is waxing stronger?
We are doing good and our Governorship candidate is doing good.
But we have not heard anything about the party in Imo State?
If you don’t hear anything about it, does it mean we are not doing anything there? do you hear everything in Nigeria? All you need to do is to verify. We have a lawyer over there as our governorship candidate and he is doing good.
Are you saying that the NNPP Presidential candidate don’t have the capacity to run for the office of the President as it were?
If he has the capacity, he should come up now. I am sure you know that political parties are not being funded by anybody? INEC is no more giving any money. He filed his papers, paid the nomination fee of N5 million and he was verified. So, if he is not stepping up his campaign, am I going to force him?
So, why would a political party want to gamble with a Presidential candidate that was not capable of funding his campaigns?
We are not gambling, we are not funding anybody. Is there anywhere we got money to fund you? Is INEC giving us money? If you are contesting election, you fund the election. Our job is to create a platform for you.
Before now, you were so proud to tell us that NNPP will win Bauchi State governorship seat in this year’s election, are you still convinced that you will still have the day in Bauchi at the end of the governorship election?
I am much more confident because we are doing good over there.
And if after election things turn out the way you did not expect, what will happen?
It is not a do or die affair, the intention of election is for you to win but if you don’t win and it is transparent, you try again.
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