The Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, tells ADELANI ADEPEGBA that the United States of America should impose stiffer sanctions on sponsors, families and beneficiaries of electoral violence in Nigeria
Are you satisfied with the visa restrictions imposed by the United States on alleged sponsors of violence during the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship polls?
We are very satisfied. We just want the US to shame and name them. We want an expansion to members of their families and beneficiaries to serve as a deterrent to those who are always in a hurry to compromise our electoral process. We also want an expansion to the security, Independent National Electoral Commission and party officials, who aid and abet rigging and electoral fraud.
What impact will this have on the electoral process?
It will have a lot of impact because the majority of them rely on the US for treatment, shopping and education of their children. What is the essence of the visa ban on a governor if his children can still travel or his wife can go shopping in the US? What is the point if the security officials and their superiors, who took part in rigging, did not face the consequences of their actions? The fact that the buck stops on their table must be part of the consideration for sanctions, because if the security operatives, who were directed to oversee elections engage in electoral fraud, it means they were carrying out the instructions of their superiors.
Why do you think the US has not taken more punitive measures against culpable individuals by at least blocking access to their assets in those countries or prosecuting them under international laws?
Yes, the issue of state sovereignty does not cover state governors, but only heads of states. What we appeal to the US to do is to allow indicted persons, like the service chiefs, senior police officers and INEC commissioners, access to the US or the UK, then arrest and prosecute them. That will serve as a deterrent to the current and future leaders that their actions have consequences. Again, the US dollar is the most coveted currency in the world and it is what the politicians use for virtually everything. So, the US, UK and the European Union, which fund our elections, should also withdraw their funding. They cannot continue to fund impunity, rigging and abuse of the electoral process. These are some of the ways they can tighten sanctions on errant politicians.
Why are the development partners not demanding greater accountability in the light of their huge financial investments in the nation’s electoral system?
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Basically, because of the principle of non-interference in the activities of a sovereign state. However, the world is a global village and an action in Nigeria can affect the United States. You can see the high rate of migration to the US because of the bad way our country is being run. If Nigeria is well-governed, people will not be migrating to other countries. So, whether our development partners and the international community like it or not, whatever happens here will affect the rest of the world. The truth of the matter is whatever anybody says, one thing is sacrosanct: The US, the UK, the EU and other development partners must do all it takes to support credible elections and the only way they can do so is to impose sanctions on those who compromise our electoral process.
Do you believe the US has the moral authority to wield such a big stick when it is equally grappling with similar electoral issues, albeit at a lower degree?
Well, they do because the US has time and time again funded our elections. The US continues to be the bastion of democracy in the world. So, there is no way you can say a country that funds our elections does not have a say. I read what Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, said that it was embarrassing for the US to place them on visa ban and all that, but is it not embarrassing to receive funds from the US, EU, UK and others? But when you are being sanctioned for bad behaviour, it is embarrassing and so, it simply goes to the root of the matter. Look at what happened in Edo: Vote-buying and acts of intimidation by the police. You can see that the political actors are not ready, they are not willing to do the right thing and it is most unfortunate.
How do you see the rejection of the US visa ban by the Federal Government?
Well, the Federal Government did not take exception to borrowing money from the development partners. When it comes to receiving funding from the US, the UK, the EU, Germany and others for COVID-19-related issues, the government did not take exception. But when it comes to strengthening democratic ideals, the government takes exception. You see that the government is being hypocritical. You cannot take exception when it does not favour you. The US is helping to deepen our democratic ideals; the UK is one of our greatest partners, and so, they must show concern. We are happy with the action the US has taken; our group is responsible for it because we have written time and time again to the US and we are indeed excited that they have heeded our call.
The Federal Government said the US and the UK should not have commented on the Edo and Ondo elections because the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had warned the politicians against electoral violence. Is this enough to prevent violence during elections?
Didn’t Buhari say this when the election was rigged in Kogi State? Didn’t Buhari say the same thing when the election was rigged in Bayelsa and he hugged the people that rigged the election? Who takes the President seriously when it comes to electoral reforms? If Buhari is serious, he should sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law. He is not ready for free and fair elections from which he benefitted in 2015.
The number one supporter of electoral fraud in Nigeria is President Buhari; even the election that brought him into power in 2019 was fraudulent. People were thumb-printing ballot papers in Borno State and he celebrated it, claiming that the election was free and fair. You saw the level of violence in the election that brought him into power. So, a man that does not have legitimacy cannot confer legitimacy on another.
The government believes the US and the UK should provide concrete evidence of observed misconduct instead of making pronouncements on the elections. Do you support this view?
As I said, the US, the UK and the EU support INEC with millions of dollars and also provide manpower and vehicles. They have been supporting us for over 20 years and I have participated in several programmes organised by these partners to deepen the electoral process in the country. The people understand our electoral system and the political actors. Having tried various measures, they must resort to sanctions.
Some have argued that the foundation for the deficiencies in the electoral process was laid by the People’s Democratic Party. Do you agree with this?
Absolutely correct! It was laid by the PDP. However, in 2011, we saw that the elections were free, fair and credible; everybody adjudged them to be so. Before the 2015 elections, almost all the elections conducted under former President Goodluck Jonathan were won by the opposition. The opposition won Edo, Ondo, Osun, including all the bye-elections. So, we could see clear evidence that Nigeria was moving towards electoral reforms.
And look at the kind of innovations they brought in, such as the card reader. There were so many reforms under Prof. Attahiru Jega. Then, we had a presidential election, which Buhari won, and it was adjudged free, fair and credible. But since he took power, they have introduced vigorous vote-buying; that was what happened in the Edo election, where they were buying votes for between N5,000 and N10,000. Look at how militarised the election was!
You can say elections were militarised under the PDP, but not in this way and manner. So, if you look at the critical factors that have shaped the way elections are today and you will discover that the gains that were recorded in 2011 and 2015, as well as changes made by the PDP, have been eroded under President Buhari.
What is the implication of this for future elections and the electoral process?
The implication is that elections in the country will always be rigged. They will be rigged because some people believe they must win at all cost. Look at the Imo State governorship election. Somebody, who came a distant third and with no hopes whatsoever of ever winning, was declared by the court as the winner of the election. So, a situation where the court is used to determine election results after the electorates have decided will not help our system and these people have done it with impunity.
Once you set a precedent with such a dangerous act, it becomes the norm. The only way to save our democracy is through credible electoral reforms. The President must commit to real reforms and leave rhetoric. Nothing stops us from having electronic voting; it will eradicate fraud and also give room for Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote and the elections will be credible. We must commit to electronic transmission of results, because hijacking of results at collation centres can be avoided through electronic transmission of results. We have a long way to go, no doubt, but the challenges are surmountable.