Chief Martins Onovo, the Head of Policy, Movement for Fundamental Change (MFC), is a former presidential candidate of National Conscience Party (NCP). In this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, he speaks on the state of the nation and other issues
How do you see the level of preparation by political parties for the 2019 general elections?
The preparations have been very disappointing. Politicians and party officials appear to be getting more desperate, more dubious and more lawless, particularly as witnessed in the primaries of the ruling party. So many politicians are acting with crass impunity. The two main pillars of any democratic edifice are the ‘Rule of law’ and the ‘Integrity of the ballot.’ Unfortunately many politicians and party officials prefer brigandage, bribery, fraud and impunity. Apparently, this lawless desperation is not to serve our people, but to continue the crass corruption and abuse of power that is prevalent.
How do you see the high number of presidential candidates for the 2019 elections, considering that about 76 candidates are running for the presidency?
We have the good, the bad and the ugly. There are candidates, there are pretenders, there are jokers and there are puppets. The first sets we must disregard are all the pretenders in one-man political parties, who are both national chairmen and presidential candidates at the same time. There are others who are positioning for pecuniary purposes to step down for the highest bidder.
You contested the presidential election in 2015, why are you not running in 2019?
We consulted with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and many other national political leaders and a selfless patriotic direction was agreed. We are all working to achieve the selfless patriotic imperative that was agreed.
Many Nigerians have narrowed down the presidential race to President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). What is your take on that?
Prof. Pat Utomi recently expressed his fear publicly that there may be no general elections in 2019. That fear is valid. There are very dangerous signs. Boko Haram and terrorist herdsmen have stepped up their attacks. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has continued to act in partisan ways. The desperation and impunity of the ruling party, it officials and members frightens many patriots. Considering the dysfunctional status of the country, incumbency, abuse of power, rigging, corruption and the lack of national consensus in the third force, the two parties dominated our dysfunctional politics in Nigeria in 2015 and may dominate again in 2019.
Do you see any of the other presidential candidates challenging Buhari and Atiku in 2019?
Dr. Hamza Al-Mustapha is the candidate of the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN). He is from Kano State; he is quite brilliant and has a good vision for the country, but he may have started too slowly and may not reach cruising speed before the elections. Mr. Kingsley Moghalu started early, but his party may be too weak for the contest. The way to defeat Buhari and Atiku is a united third force, which may no longer be feasible for now because of the lack of a national consensus and it may be too late for the 2019 elections.
Do you see the possibility of some political parties and their candidates stepping down for candidates of other parties in order to form a viable opposition against APC and PDP?
As I previously noted, it may be too late for the 2019 elections. It needs to be agreed, planned and implemented on time with the right people. It may be too late now.
You recently announced your resignation as a member of the National Conscience Party (NCP), why did you take such decision to leave a party you were its presidential candidate in the last 2015 elections?
We had to leave the party after some key members of the national management betrayed the cause of the party. For nearly a year, we tried to bring them back to their senses, but they were blinded by personal pecuniary pursuits. The National Financial Secretary wrote a petition on financial irregularities in the party accounts, the South-South zonal council proposed an investigation of the finances of the party and another presidential aspirant directly accused the same members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of financial fraud. We had to dissociate ourselves from the perfidy, which had divided the party nationally and in many states. Some leaders have left the party. We are committed to fighting corruption in government and in political parties too. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) stood for integrity and the rule of law.
At present all seem not to be well in some state chapters of APC and PDP, do you see other political parties benefitting from the crisis in the major parties?
Clearly, if other political parties can organise effectively, the crisis in the ruling parties presents an opportunity for other parties in many states.
Do you have confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducting a credible election in 2019 and what is you assessment of the commission’s preparation for the polls?
We have no confidence in the present leadership of INEC. It has shown itself to be partisan in favour of the ruling party. We saw what it did in Osun State governorship election. We know that President Muhammadu Buhari’s niece is a key Director in INEC and that the Chairman was appointed by President Buhari from his own religion and region of the country. We also know the shameless theatrics and ambivalence around the claims of President Buhari about his academic qualification.
What is your take on vote-buying, which is a new trend in Nigeria’s politics, considering what happened in Edo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun governorship elections?
Materialism dominates contemporary Nigeria and corruption is endemic. Vote-buying is not new. I contested election for the Senate in 2007. Vote-buying has been with us for a long time. The difference is that we now have it recorded on spy videos and we share the evidence on social media for all to see. Even most primary elections are determined by cash for votes including the old Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential primaries in Jos in 1993. Materialism dominates and subverts the quality of the leadership which directly undermines national development.
What is your advice to the electorate and politicians ahead of 2019 general elections?
The electorate must understand that leadership is key to national development and their quality of life. Therefore, it is in their best interest to identify and support the right leaders at all levels. Politicians must accept that public office is for service and not for domination and personal interest. Therefore, all politicians must comply with all the rules and reject desperation, which leads to manipulations, rigging, violence, vote-buying, bribery and corruption. It is in the interest of both the electorate and politicians that the country is united and peaceful for national development. As politicians, we must fear God, obey His commandments, comply with all Nigerian laws and respect the sovereignty of the people.
How would you assess the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government in the last three years?
Dr. Femi Aribisala concluded since 2016 that this is the worst government in the history of Nigeria. We agreed with him publicly. The key performance indices are very clear. Security has deteriorated,corruption is much worse and the economy has been ruined catastrophically. On security, Boko Haram was significantly degraded by the government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, but today, Boko Haram has resurged with greater ferocity. Kidnapping, cultism, murder, rape and armed robbery have all increased nationwide even according to official records. Most terribly, terrorist herdsmen have overrun and occupied very many communities across the entire country. According to the highly respected elder-statesman, General T. Y. Danjuma, ‘the armed forces are not neutral. They are conniving with the armed bandits that are killing people.’ Many victims have made the same allegations. Today, we have four million Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs). We had less than two million, when President Buhari was sworn-in.
On corruption, the problem has been here for a while, but all the reports, facts and indices show that corruption has escalated to the highest level ever. The United States Department of State has reported massive corruption in this government. The ranking of Nigeria in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) dropped from 136th to 148th.
The $25 billion Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) contracts scam is the highest Nigerian contracts scam ever since amalgamation. The rate for infrastructural projects are the highest ever and worse of all, the projects are not making appropriate progress. After, over N3 billion was budgeted for the Aso Rock Clinic in one year, we read the damning public comments of Her Excellency, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, about the clinic. On the economy, it is very clear even to the blind that this regime inherited a growing economy. In 13 months, they ran it into an economic recession and subsequently into an economic stagflation and then into a debt trap.
If the economy is not rescued from this incompetent, deceitful and dictatorial regime, the economy is heading to a debt crisis. All macro-economic indices are worse than what we had in 2015. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is worse, inflation is worse, unemployment is worse, poverty is worse. Total public debt has almost doubled, while debt servicing costs have almost tripled. Unless we replace this regime with a better one, a debt crisis seems inevitable. Today, Nigeria has become the world capital of extreme poverty. So, Buhari must go.
But the APC insists that it has delivered on its three key promises – security, corruption and economy?
The promises were in writing and are clear to all. The government has failed catastrophically on all its promises of 20,000megawatts of power, functional refineries, three million new jobs every year, four million new homes, 100,000 new policemen and several others. This is clearly the worst government ever. We predicted same in 2015 because it is scientifically predictable based on the universal requirements of leadership and the key qualities of a leader.
There are some Nigerians who believe that APC and PDP should be shunned by the electorate and embrace a new party in 2019. Where do you stand on that?
They are not right because it is too late now to achieve that in 2019. Nothing good comes easy. No cross, no crown. We must be ready to pray and work for good governance if we truly want it. Laziness and complacency will not achieve great feats. If they truly wanted that, they could have joined us since 2016 to work for it. We have the opportunity to start working for that in 2023.
Which of the remaining 89 political parties would you regard as viable opposition to APC and PDP in Nigeria?
It is clear that Nigeria is an Augean stable with many decades of rot accumulated by ruling parties. To clean the Augean stable, Hercules diverted the Alpheus and Peneusrivers. Enormous work must be done to clean the Nigerian political stables. No one party can achieve that. We need a national consensus and a coalition of parties. For now, the national consensus is ‘Buhari must go!’
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