A member of the House of Representatives in the Seventh Assembly, Dr Eddie Mbadiwe, has called on past heads of state and leaders to follow former President Olusegun Obasanjo in telling President Muhammadu Buhari that he has not governed well. He spoke to Chineme Okafor who presents the excerpts:
Your reaction to the amendments to the Electoral Act by the House Reps
I want to commend the House of Reps for the amendments passed a few days ago. That amendment will strengthen democracy in this country. It is to have the elections of the National Assembly first, then governors and states’ houses come second, and the presidency comes last. This is a very important amendment that Nigerians should canvass for the Senate to pass it as soon as possible and the president assent to it so that INEC would not be hindered by whatever they are doing.
What has happened in this country is that once you have a presidential election first and whoever becomes the president, there is a bandwagon effect, people just drift towards that person and so you don’t in fact know whether that is how voting should have gone because all the powers and wealth reside in Abuja and people want to align with Abuja, and that is why our democracy isn’t growing.
Is this provable – the fact that conducting presidential election first creates a bandwagon effect?
If you recognise that the current president was elected by just 12 per cent of registered voters in Nigeria, which is very low, and so you cannot say that democracy is thriving in Nigeria, it is not, we have to encourage people to come out more, and that is why I say that the amendment on the electoral law will change and move us faster along the road of democracy.
Bandwagon in that because of the current structure whereby all the resources are concentrated in the presidency more or less, the president is like a godfather and whoever he likes, he can give or deny things, and the truth of the matter is that people don’t want to be in the opposition. So, whoever wins the presidency has the power to attract a lot more people to his party, and that is why we have not progressed.
All our needs are peculiar, different people with different needs, and we have to address our peculiar needs according to the various zones of the country. I hope this amendment would be concluded quickly so that INEC would not be hindered in any way from doing their work.
Will this in a way guarantee fairness in the elections?
Fairness is a different thing, but I want a situation where people will actually express their views at the polls. In Nigeria, we don’t discuss issues that is why I think that what the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has done is good for discussion. Let us be truthful to ourselves and let more of our former leaders come out to speak the truth.
If we tell ourselves the truth, we will be a better country. All our views are still coloured and nobody wants to speak the truth, but let former presidents like Babangida, Shehu Shagari, and others come out and tell us the way they see things, let us see if we can make progress because we are not as a nation.
Do you see this amendment being opposed by governor especially from the ruling party who want to ride on the back of the president for re-election?
It is not about who would support or oppose it, it is a matter of what is best for the country and that is the way I look at it. Individuals have their selfish ambitions and they must not be allowed to dictate our political discourse in this country. This is how to ensure that our democracy comes out the best.
Remember laws are made by the parliament, if we can get the law through the parliament, it doesn’t matter who opposes it, whether the governors or anybody, if it is the law of the land, INEC will work with it. INEC has the powers to fix the sequence of the election, that is the current law, but if this amendment is done, then the order will be reversed to the benefit of the whole country and not to individuals.
Will this not affect INEC’s preparation for the election?
No it will not. This can become law within one week, the House has passed it, and the Senate should pass it and let the president assent to it. If he doesn’t assent to it, then they will override him and make it law, that is the sequence.
Do you think the INEC is prepared for the 2019 elections?
This is a new INEC and its current chairman has promised to give his best, so let’s give him a chance. From my observation, they are trying to be fair so far, but the fairness does not arise now or stop at this stage. The fairness is at the point of election because everybody in this country knows that elections are massively rigged up to the point of using guns to re-write election results.
But INEC is not a security agency but an election body, how would it secure votes?
It is not INEC’s fault that people get guns pointed at them to change election results, but if everybody comes out to massively participate in elections at every stage, a lot more people will be involved in protecting their votes.
The body language of President Buhari, indicates he could seek re-election, but does he deserve it?
The government must be given some credit in some areas like security and foreign reserves, but generally, Nigerians are not happy. Their living standards have not improved and this is true and not about a dislike for the government or not.
Government is elected to protect lives and property of its citizens, and then improve their standards of living, this has not happened. So, on that basis, the government has not done enough to deserve a re-election, and they know they have not, but it is for the people to decide who will rule them and that is why I am saying a lot more people should be involved.
Now, INEC has registered up to 50 political parties and that to me is crazy. How can you have 50 political parties, but amongst these parties, about 25 could field presidential candidates and Nigerians would be entitled to choose from them. All over the world where people are educated, governments are judged on their performance – they will tell you, you have not done this, you have done this, and we will not vote for you. And they can tell you in advance that they won’t vote for you, and you will see opinion polls going, but here, it does not count.
I’m sure you’ve read Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari, does the letter speak the truth about the country’s situation?
No matter what anyone says, I believe Obasanjo believes in this country, and means well for the country. I want a lot more of those who have ruled to come out and speak the way he spoke. A lot of the things he said are true, there is no question about that. Appointments are on-sided and even a blind man can see that.
But then, does this not call to question Obasanjo’s sense of judgement with regards to his previous supports for three former presidents and then fall out with them along the way?
No, you can support somebody but when he goes into power (he changes). Power is a very terrible thing, it is very dangerous and it gets intoxicating that many people don’t even want to see their friends anymore. So, you cannot blame him for supporting them, he thought they will do well, and I must praise him for telling them when they did not do well.
He told Jonathan openly that he didn’t do well, and he has told Buhari that he has not done enough for re-election.
Are you still a PDP member, if you are, why is your party so quiet after its national convention?
I am still a member of the PDP, but you know we had just elected new executives, and they are taking time to stabilise and get going. But PDP must realise that it is a lot of hard work to get back to power because a lot of damage was done and they must not kid themselves.
PDP must open its doors to people with bright ideas to sit down to formulate policies and sell the party with the work its current governors are doing, but is a lot of hard work.
Isn’t it risky and late now that it is just about a year away from the General Elections?
A year is not a long time, and that is why I am saying that the executives should be having town hall meetings, criticising the government, and all that. I thought that the PDP should have taken advantage of the ‘shithole’ comment made by President Trump to defend Nigeria and Africa. They should seize the moment and move with it because there are things we can do.
How do you reconcile the PDP still losing its members to the opposition even after its convention?
I think it is very disgraceful. One of the bills I proposed at the National Assembly was that people should not easily cross-carpet, and if you must, then you have to go back to your constituency for re-election, but the way Nigeria operates is that you just get up on the floor of the assembly and declare your switch to another party, this looks so childish.
Amongst the people that have left your party in the south east are former senate president, Ken Nnamani, and former Enugu governor, Sullivan Chime, does this bother you?
Of course, who wouldn’t be bothered because you can’t just dismiss them as being inconsequential. But if the party can get to the grassroots and don’t let a few people decide what happens, all that will be totally immaterial because if you set the programmes of the party and the electorate buys that programme, they will drive anybody who comes around with no worth.
Does this in anyway suggest APC is making some good inroads into the south east which is not its forte?
I don’t see any way the APC will make an inroad into the south east because it has done nothing for the south east. The Niger Bridge which is a major economic point has not being touched, as well as the roads. If they had come with developmental projects, then maybe, but right now, the people will rather they remain in their penury than go with APC.
Does this mean, the region will stick with the PDP, a party it has neither had good returns from as well in over 16 years?
The people of the south east should look at themselves and decide what is good for them. Obasanjo suggested a third-force, maybe that will come and if does, it better comes now because there is no time, and that might be an alternative because a lot of people are in politics for their selfishness instead of public service.
How do we move from this very sorry state as a nation that cannot even protect its own?
The answer is simple, and it is mass education, without which our democracy is endangered. Education should be compulsory for everybody up to senior class three, and if everybody can read up to that level, things will change.
Here nobody reads, the reading culture here is terrible and unless you educate people properly, there is no state. If you are educated, you will understand why it is necessary to vote. How can we elect the president of Nigeria with just 12 per cent of registered voters? Something is wrong and the country is in trouble. With education people will start to see things objectively.
The herdsmen and farmers issue is a touchy and threatens Nigeria’s existence, what do you think can be done?
The matter is simple and can be solved but needs government to be sincere. The people who do this are known. Even though the government says they are foreigners, they are not, and we know that. The governor of Benue State says he knows where they are and who they are, he is the chief security officer of the state, and we have our security personnel who can be mobilised to Benue State. One human life is too precious to be allowed to be killed.
This is a new INEC and its current chairman has promised to give his best, so let’s give him a chance