IT appears there had not been any other time in Nigeria’s political history when opinions, viewpoints, debates and social commentaries have competed for space amidst diverse and divergent individual and group ideologies and sentiments, as much as have pervaded the atmosphere in the build up to the much anticipated February 14, 2015 General Elections.
Yet, what goes around comes around, as history, a vibrant tutor, keeps repeating itself and hoping, at each time, there would be someone to learn.
How far have Nigerians learnt from history?
In today’s Encounter, Reverend Humphrey Arheghan, Senior Pastor, Church of God Mission International and Founder, Beshan-Youth Organisation, Activist extra ordinaire, Public Affairs Analyst and Social Commentator of repute while speaking on the forthcoming general elections, takes a swipe at certain segments of the society, the media in particular, for according to him, “not properly playing their role as the conscience of the people and thereby contributing in heating up the polity, and other sundry issues.
He spoke with our Principal Features Writer, Ijeoma Umeh.
It’s 11 days countdown to the February 14 General Election. What is your perception on the atmosphere so far.
Well, for me, the atmosphere is hazy, a little bit confusing based on the actors’ utterances and body language; and there is an aura of negativity in the environment. The fact that there is a whole lot of disenchantment by reason of the issues with the Boko Haram insurgency; again, by the issues regarding the way and manner the INEC is handling the PVC distribution and all others, a lot of persons are still lamenting they have not got their voters’ card, coupled with the kind of information generated by the so called noise from the camp of the political gladiators. I am disturbed by the reporting style of the various media. One would have believed that the media being the conscience of the society, the people’s horoscope, ought to filter the information that would get to the public without necessarily distorting facts. What we now get are what I might call “verbatim’ reports that apparently favour the gladiators at the expense of the people. That is not healthy for our democratic experience. The whole scenario makes it feel like warfare rather than campaigns, and by the way media houses pander to the interest of which ever party or personality suits them, that leaves less to be expected by the viewing or reading public, the people as a whole for whom this macabre dance is about. After 16 years of practising democracy one would have expected that we would have grown beyond the level where we are, but there seems to be no growth, but I believe that God who has always helped us would help Nigeria to grow even when the gladiators, I call them gladiators because it is like a battle field, have not given us reason to believe so, but God willing, it will be so. We will grow and learn lessons from our past.
The campaigns have been described as complains and a cross section of Nigerians are clamouring for issues rather than personality based campaigns. What are those pressing issues now? Again, recently the political parties and major contenders signed a peace accord before foreign observers. What is your assessment of that peace pact and has it been realizable?
The Peace Accord! You know, one would have been expected to say, “Thank God” that people have decided to come together and work out modalities for peace to reign, but I have problems with Nigerians and Africans as a whole and their difficulty to keep to agreements and terms of engagement. ‘It is easier said than done is a slogan which easier and best describes the way we keep to agreements in this country.
Again, I got a bit worried that it has to take foreign intervention for the gladiators to understand that they needed to do the right thing, even without resorting to signing a peace accord, which, as far as events show, has no legal undertones.
Again, when you are signing an accord, in most cases it is not just the parties to the accord that should be considered. There are others concerned directly or indirectly. For instance, how many of those at the grassroots understand and even know the content of the accord. The prevailing issue of the head not being able to disseminate information down to the grassroot is still there to worry about. Every segment of government, every tier has their power and rights, that is why you will hear a governor make a statement and the next person would absolve themselves from the preponderance that follows such statement. From all indications, and from matters arising therefrom, one would not be making assumptions to say the accord is just to satisfy foreign observers, to give them, being lords of the manor themselves, the impression that things are moving forward. However, if they have decided to respect the foreign body they should respect them intoto, but we continue to perceive some skirmishes afterwards. There have been altercations in some parts of the country, campaign offices have been razed here and there. That goes to show that to a large extent, the campaign language has not changed. The campaign language is like warfare like I said earlier, and it all begins with words. It is words that make wars or make peace. That is the starting point. If they have not been able to polish their words to reflect the peaceful atmosphere they want to create by reason of the signing of the peace pact, then they are not ready to ensure peace. The signing is null and void.
The question of issues based campaign is also significant. There are two reasons why they fail to have issues based campaign. One, is the ideological base of the parties. If a part is found without clear ideologies what issues will it be propelling? Secondly, none of the parties has well articulated documentation and research unit, where they would analyse and talk about prevailing issues, you don’t just wake up one day and start to talk about issues and policy decisions. We don’t have such in our political setting when the Americans were doing their politicking in those days, in fact, anytime they politic, they tell you precise issues if it is about education, for instance, they tell you what they will spend on education and how they intend to go about it, and who is to benefit from it. In Nigeria, someone says, I will give you security when I come in, how, what is the timeline? Nobody is saying anything. We have not really seen issues. You say you will give us free education, what is the population of those who will have free education? What is the monetary value? Now we are talking about dwindling oil price, how do you go about the revenue? How much are you assuming to deplore into the various segments of your promises in actualising them? Even if you are talking of roads and other infrastructure, how much does it cost to tar one stretch of road and how many do you want captured in the time-specific plan? Same with light, energy. What are you going to do? We are not seeing specificity in all the things they are talking about. When we already know the revenue is going down and you are telling us you are going to tackle a lot of problems, which when there was money they could not be tackled, then it shows we really don’t know what we are doing, we are just fanning the emotions of some persons, even while fanning the embers of trouble because when you fail to deliver without adequately enlightening the people on your modes of operations, they revolt.
We hope that during the debate these issues will be properly articulated, except that we hear there are already dissenting voices in the presidential debates. That in itself also puts a hedge on the integrity of the media and leaves much to be expected.
If that debate would hold, we want to perceive specifics, capacity, intelligence, mental alertness of those who want to lead us. They need to go back to their drawing board and come out smoking with plans that are feasible. We no longer want people who would come and bamboozle us with unachievable plans – air conditions in the streets, airport in the sea. How? Let us know. If you talk about industries, what kind, what percentage of the budget will be captured in the plan? The structures are there, the Nigerian Nation is still very much there, how do you deplore the variables in actualizing your plans? If we are talking about change, the nation and the people that make up the entity cannot change, it is the ideologies that must change.
Information has it that millions of Nigerians were yet to collect their PVCs even by the January 31 deadline for collection of PVCs.
The Federal Government has sunk a whole lot of funding into INEC coffers to boost its preparedness. Do you think it’s commensurate with the effort made so far.
Would that inform the call in some quarter for the postponement of the elections?
That is another issue with our orientation. We believe that money solves all problems even without planning for it. This issue of distribution of PVCs should not have been an issue with the 2015 General Elections. One would have expected that after the 2011 General Elections there would be an ongoing process to ensure Nigerians are registered and the voters cards sent across board. In advanced societies as soon as one came of age they are registered and the cards are sent to them effortlessly, no queueing. It is so unfortunate that we are still talking about these things. Now, what is the capacity of INEC to handle these things. Does INEC have the personnel, the machinery? You don’t use ad-hoc staff to achieve these feats. What is the level of trainings that they have? When you go through the environment where these things are done, you will find out that some of the ad-hoc staff could not even operate computers. The environment is not conducive, no light. Listen, you might have a Phd, but if you are not trained on a particular thing, performance may not be optimal.
At this time INEC should be able to boast of electoral officers that are trained on the job and proficient in whatever segment they would oversee. I read that the INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega says that there are about 65 million eligible voters, but as at today only about 25 million have collected their PVCs. That is a dismal showing, if you ask me. Let’s hope we will have about 45 million Nigerians with PVCs, the remaining 15 or 20 million that will be disenfranchised is still a bad showing. We also hope that after the 2015 Elections INEC will begin an ongoing process to ensure every eligible voter get their PVCs. We should stop ad-hoc life. We should have long-term ruling plan
On The Call For Postponement…
First of all, the issue of postponement, or the clamour for it in certain quarters, is not based on any empirical research. There is no where in the world that a nation just wakes up and postpones election.
In Afghanistan with all its wars, elections still held. It’s not as bad as people have seen and experienced elsewhere.
I believe it’s all mischief, or some persons are testing the waters. Moreover, it’s a constitutional issue. There are legal processes that would follow such call if it is taken seriously.
However, I don’t think it holds water, not barely two weeks to the election. Why shift the goal post? Why postpone the evil day? There is no need to postpone election. Nigeria is not at war. Even when Cote Devoir had issues they still voted. Today the country is enjoying relative peace.
Individuals may have their ulterior motives, but it does not add up as reason for the postponement of the elections. We know by reason of the problems in some parts, like in cross Rivers in those days, election may be put forward. We would hold elections and those who would vote should vote right.