Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Aba Branch, Mr. Chidozie Ogunji, in this chat with Emenike Ubani spoke on the conduct of the just concluded general elections, among other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the use of card readers, distribution of electoral materials as well as conduct of political stakeholders in the just concluded general polls?
As regards the political stakeholders, my view is that they did well as reports of violence have been very low compared to the previous elections within the city. There was no problem except with INEC. In many areas, electoral materials arrived late during the Presidential and National Assembly elections. Again, the issue of card readers, which is clearly something INEC was not sure of. I voted in the elections and I know that there was no card reader in my polling unit at the Presidential /National Assembly polls. It was not that the card reader failed but there was none. They brought card readers for the governorship and state Assembly elections, which did not work perfectly as it took a long time to accredit a voter. To deploy such a gadget in this election without test-running them in all the states shows lack of planning. For me, the general elections have come and gone with lessons for every stakeholder to learn. It is up to INEC to improve on these issues in the 2019 elections. It is not important on who wins or loses, but rather that elections are conducted in a free, fair and credible manner. In all, we must commend President Goodluck Jonathan for his insistence on the rule of law and due process. If you can remember, election was conducted in 2011 and Jonathan won with many lives lost. But since the results were declared, we have not heard any report of violence. In fact, President Jonathan has been the person who is calming frayed nerves. He has the power and opportunity to interfere with the electoral process, but he chose not to do so. Jonathan has been calling on aggrieved parties not to resort to violence and seek redress in court. It is un-African for our leaders to accept defeat; rather they will try to plunge their countries in to one crisis or the other. Jonathan has commended INEC, Nigerians and even his party, the PDP that lost at the election. As a man who believes in the rule of law, he congratulated the APC candidate even before results were declared by INEC. By his conduct, I think Jonathan will be remembered long after he has gone for deepening democracy in Nigeria.
Some people think President Jonathan has been a weak leader, particularly in piloting the affairs of the country.
Jonathan is not a weak leader rather he has been greatly misunderstood. We have a problem; many Nigerians have not yet understood democracy, perhaps, due to prolonged military rule. Such Nigerians believe that bullying, recklessness and executive lawlessness are what makes a president in a democracy. I remember an era in this country where soldiers were sent to burn down places, government throwing people into prison without proper trial and we had government sealing peoples’ offices and houses just because they believed such person were corrupt. They became judgmental in their minds that Mr. A is corrupt while Mr. B is a saint. Even lawyers, journalists and media houses were not spared. These things happened because those at the helm of affairs don’t understand how democracy and the rule of law work. For those who see President Jonathan as a weak leader, it is unfortunate. May be in some years to come, they will realize that he was the best president for this country at the time he was in office because we must learn to abide by the rule of law. We must be patient with democracy. In the past, a man was not yet adjudged guilty until proven by a court of competent jurisdiction, but EFCC or ICPC will declare him guilty before Jonathan came to office. Under Jonathan’s leadership, you must prove your case. The problem is that we are too impatient with democracy. Jonathan has showed exemplary leadership; my prayer is that the culture of genuine democracy will be sustained in Nigeria.
Some Nigerians insist that the president – elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, may not have changed from his past as a military dictator. What do you think?
Under this democratic dispensation, I don’t think such exhibition of dictatorial tendencies is going to be possible. I don’t think it will happen. But I wish Buhari well if he tries it because the courts are there to cut him to size. Nobody is bigger that the Constitution or Nigeria. So, having been declared the winner, he should take up the mantle of leadership and move Nigeria forward. But if he shows dictatorial tendencies as some people fear, I doubt where he will exhibit it unless in his private home. If he does that in governing Nigeria, the human rights community, the courts, the civil society group, the international community and the lawyers are there to check him. I also wish to remind him that the judges h a v e cont i nued to be courageous in their judgments. So, there is no way he will exhibit such dictatorial tendencies because the democratic environment will not permit that.
The result of the state Assembly elections from the 24 constituencies in Abia State showed that no party was able to get 2/3 majority in the House, what does this portend for democracy in the state?
I think it is a good omen for democracy. In respect of what we a r e having now, nobody can take any party for granted. Debates in the incoming state Assembly will be robust. The problem of our democracy has been the issue of non-performance of legislative houses and some legislators being afraid to do their jobs, but now there appears to be an equal opportunity for everybody to be heard which would also create an informed decision on issues.
The voting pattern in the presidential/national Assembly appeared to be along ethnic and religious lines, what does this imply?
I think we should over look such factors, and concentrate on the issues that will foster unity in this country. We must begin to assess and elect people on the basis of their track records and not where they come from or their religious inclinations. We must support the new government, but as for the manner and pattern the votes came, it is worrisome. It became more of a pattern like where is candidate A from? Which religion does he belong to? This should not be the issue. For now, let’s believe that as we march towards the road to sustainable democracy, we will continue moving in a positive direction.
As part of your sixth anniversary, NBA Aba organized political debates for Abia State governorship candidates, state and National Assembly candidates, were you satisfied with the outcome of the debates?
We heard them state their programmes and policies but some of the candidates of the leading parties failed to show up despite the invitations and reminders sent to them. We don’t know why they shunned the event. We only wanted the residents of Abia state to be cautious in their choice of candidates, particularly in Aba area. They should make informed choices that will help in rebuilding the town. For us the central issue in the 2015 general election was Aba town. We emphasized that the era of voting people on sentiments was over. That only candidate who possesses the wherewithal to bring concrete democracy dividends to the people should be elected. Many people have been asking why we didn’t adopt any of the governorship candidates who excelled at the debate, but we chose not to do that. It may not be fair to do that because among the teeming members of the NBA, they had their preferences but for the leadership to endorse one candidate may create rancour. The issue is that our only interest in who has the capacity to fix Aba because we know that Aba if fixed can carry Abia state. Aba has continued to go down in the area of infrastructure and development. We must stop this by electing the candidate who has the best capacity to fix the city. The NBA, Aba did its best to mobilize its members and the general public to ensure that only credible candidates are elected. But for now, we thank God that the elections have been concluded and a governor- elect has emerged. We only advice them to work in the interest of the masses.