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Adio: 2023 Polls Will Be Most Credible Elections Ever

Adio: 2023 Polls Will Be Most Credible Elections Ever

In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, the National Publicity Secretary of Youth Party, Ayodele Adio speaks about the travails of the party in the hands of the Independent National Electoral Commission, credibility of the 2023 elections and the failure of the main presidential candidates to decisively address issues affecting youth in the manifestos of their political parties

INEC de-registered the Youth Party in 2019 which sparked legal tussle, but the party eventually won at the Supreme Court. How can you describe the de-registration of the Youth Party by the commission?

I think it is important to give context to this illegal and undemocratic action by INEC. The Youth Party had fulfilled every requirement to become a registered political party in 2016. For some reasons, however, INEC refused to register us. Or, avail us with an application form for registration until we went to court.

We had to approach a High Court in Abuja to compel INEC to carry out its duties. Expectedly, the High Court ruled in our favour and ordered INEC to register us. Unfortunately, INEC did not obey that judgment until two weeks to the slated time for primary elections. Between judgement delivery and compliance, INEC was busy sponsoring the amendment to the 1999 Constitution in a manner that would empower it to deregister the party immediately after the 2019 election.

INEC successfully sponsored the amendment of Section 225A of the Constitution, while delaying our registration. The section was amended to require performance of parties at election, without giving any period to allow the parties to grow organically. It means party can be registered today and de registered tomorrow without a fair chance to mobilise or perform. Nonetheless, we fielded 11 candidates for House of Representatives and States Houses of Assembly all over the country in those elections.

If you understand how elections work, you will know that no serious politician who wants to contest an election will stick with a party that has not been registered by INEC two weeks to the primaries. It was therefore a surprise that INEC was then eager to deregister us right after the election. It made no sense at all. Little wonder the Court of Appeal described INEC’s action as “reprehensible and illegal.”

We want to move forward and assist INEC with our electoral reform policy. We want to support INEC. We have made recommendation to the constitutional review committee of the National Assembly as well as its committee on the amended Electoral Act. We give commendation where it is due. Some of our recommendations were adopted based on our observation of the draft bill that we critiqued and the eventual Act that was enacted.

We have no issue with INEC’s power to deregister political parties that are not performing. But we have a serious issue with the procedure they are adopting. No window period for the parties to organise. Give parties a minimum of one full electoral cycle. There was no fair hearing.

Whilst INEC cannot disqualify a candidate without a court order, but can deregister the candidate’s party with a letter. Incredulous. CBN needs a court order to withdraw a banking license, but INEC can deregister in its sleep and it’s legal. Exclusion of candidates and parties have also been legalised as it no longer voids any election. The way INEC Chairman and commissioners are appointed can be better.

Our electoral system is retrogressing and we need to pay attention. The price of liberty, including democracy, is eternal vigilance. All these undermine the credibility of the democratic process and voters’ confidence. It is no surprise that voter’s turnout is now effectively under 15 percent of registered voters from over 60 percent in 1999. We need to build confidence trust into the system, and it must start with INEC.

Now that the litigation has been decided in favour of the Youth Party, what lessons has the party learnt from its de-registration and how does it plan to avoid  de-registration in the nearest future?

I will argue that it is the Nigerian citizens that should draw lessons from our experience. The first being that in spite of what we were up against, we stuck to our principles, and fought for what we believed were our inalienable rights until the very end.

The most important lesson for us was the realisation of the huge gap in civic education. Most Nigerians, including many activists, civil society organizations and media specialists, have very little understanding of the workings of democracy. A lot of them asked us what the point of our struggle was and what was the need for another political party. These are the same people who cry everyday about the current state of affairs and the notoriety of the dominant political parties.

So, we quickly realised that we have to find a way to educate millions of young people on democratic ideals and to build their faith in the democratic system.

Avoiding deregistration is an easy one as we have four years to rebuild our party after our victory at the Supreme Court. I’m confident that we will do well in local and state elections in 2027 and pick up some important seats.

However, it is worth pointing out that the race to shape the future of Nigeria is a marathon and not a sprint. For us, we have dug in and are ready to go the haul.

Youth Party is not contesting any political office in the next elections nationwide. What does the non-participation of the Youth Party mean for the country’s political development?

We have two candidates: Tari Taylaur who is running for State House of Assembly in Eti Osa 1 and Mrs Victoria who is running for Governor in Abia state. Of course, we are currently in talks with INEC to ensure that these two candidates are on the ballot, and we are confident that reason will prevail.

Despite the reinstatement of the Youth Party, most young Nigerians are either supporting the Obedient Movement or other leading political parties in the federation. Why has the party not earned trust of the teeming young Nigerians?

It is not right to say that we have not earned the trust of young Nigerians. Recall that over 70 political parties were deregistered in 2019 and we are the only one standing till date. That should tell you something. Even though INEC had its knees on our neck, we have gone on to build an admirable structure across the country.

I always boast that we have more registered members in our political party than the Conservative Party (the ruling party) in the United Kingdom.

In states like Kano, Gombe, Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Abia, Kwara, Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Kaduna, we have an average of 30,000 members in these states. In others states across the country, we have between 5,000 to 10,000 members – predominantly young people.

We are the only party in Nigeria that runs effectively on membership dues and donations. We never owe staff salaries, we have published several policy documents, hosted several symposiums and managed a gruelling litigation over three years. We could only achieve this because young people believed in us enough to lend their support and put their monies where their heart was.

Electioneering has taken off in full scale. Looking at the manifestos of the leading political parties, are you satisfied with the process so far? Or do their manifestos truly capture the interests of the teeming youths of Nigeria?

 We have scrutinised the manifesto of the leading candidates and some of their positions align with our ideology. In a policy document we published last year titled The Bold Revenue Plan, we called for the complete removal of petrol subsidies to free up resources to fund health care, education, national security and infrastructural development. So, we are glad that two of the candidates have promised to take that bold step if elected.

Sadly, they have failed to state categorically the number of jobs they are going to create to stop this “Japa” movement. Lack of opportunities particularly jobs is our biggest problem.

It leads to brain drain, hopelessness and crime. We currently don’t have medical personnel to man our hospitals anymore. Also, we are yet to see any credible plan on police reforms, social justice, judicial reforms and revenue plan. These are very important issues requiring urgent attention.

With the adoption of electronic voting in the 2022 Electoral Act, most people believe the next elections will likely be credible. Do you share this public perception?

With what I have seen in the Edo, Ekiti and Osun elections, I’m optimistic that the elections will be credible. Or put differently, the elections will be very difficult to rig or manipulate.

However, we need to manage our expectations. Many communities in Nigeria don’t have access to electricity power as well as internet and mobile phone network. Also, voters education in the rural areas can also be better. We have infrastructure challenges that we can’t wish away.

Can electronic voting stop electoral violence and intimidation? How many people have we prosecuted for these crimes as an example apart from mouthing off?

The only issue will be how we are able to reduce the impact of voter inducement and violence. If INEC finds a way to reduce the buying of votes on election day and security agencies can keep political thugs at bay, we may witness the most credible election our country has ever seen.

Since the Youth Party is not contesting the next presidential poll, is there any likelihood that it will support one of the leading presidential candidates? Can you give reasons for the decision of the party in this respect?

The National Executive Council of the party has taken a position on this matter. Since we don’t have a dog in the fight, we have encouraged our members across the country to vote their conscience. So, we have not endorsed any candidate and we are unlikely to, but members are free to support and vote for any candidate of their choice.

The Youth Party has been campaigning against increasing borrowing by the governments at all levels. What are the alternative funding strategies the governments can adopt?

We have never been against borrowing; our argument is that we cannot be borrowing to spend on consumption as we are currently doing. Borrow to build a good educational system not to fund 20 private jets for the President or 20 car convoy for governors. Unfortunately, we have not only borrowed to fund consumption and an insatiable political elite, But the Federal Government has also violated certain laws and provisions while borrowing from the CBN. Hence, we have found ourselves in a parlous state.

We believe that the FG needs a bold revenue plan (they can read what we have carefully put together on this). It must find a way to double tax to GDP ratio – and this does not mean increasing taxes but widening the tax net.

Government must also cut down on waste, white elephant projects, subsidies on petrol and electricity, and corruption.

They need to also exhibit modesty in the lifestyle of public officials to build trust and encourage people to pay taxes. People believe their taxes are being wasted and are not encouraged to support the government with payment. In addition, both federal and state governments must adopt sensible economic policies that encourage the growth of the private sector, increase employment opportunities, reduces poverty and inequality and raises productivity.

Nigeria is in the doldrums economically and socially. Can the country recover from its economic woes and security challenges?

Countries like Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Brazil, and China, to name a few, have recovered from worse within two decades. We can do it too if governments at all levels adopt data driven policies, encourage trade and entrepreneurial activity, invest in education, healthcare and critical infrastructure, shun corruption and remain accountable to the people. I believe it can be done, but it requires will, capacity and talent.

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