Kwankwaso’s insults on Ndigbo show he’s not a nationalist –Ezugwu

Chief Willy Ezugwu is the National Coordinator of pan- Igbo sociopolitical pressure organisation, South East Revival Group (SERG). In this interview, he speaks on recent developments ahead of the 2023 presidential election and fallout of the presidential primaries elections of the various political parties, among other issues. FELIX NWANERI reports

What is your assessment of arrangements for the 2023 general election, particularly on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the political parties?

So far, there is nothing to worry about in terms of preparations. We have a new Electoral Act; the law may not be perfect but it has some fundamental changes that can improve on the outcome of our elections generally. The most fundamental of them are the provisions for the electronic transmission of election results and legal backing for the use of smart card readers and accreditation of voter electronically by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It also allows for a longer period for campaigns such that there are about 150 days for candidates and their political parties to campaign for votes.

This is very important because it now gives the electorate enough time to understand the manifestoes of the candidates and make informed decision during voting. Also, there are many more clauses that will improve on the conduct of our elections, including the powers it gives INEC to review election results that are declared under duress by its returning officers. It is important to note that so far, INEC has been up and doing in its regulatory powers by sticking to the new provisions of the act.

What is needed urgently is voter education to enable the electorate know that it is no more business as usual so that they can have renewed confidence in the electoral process to reduce voter apathy in the country. On the part of political parties, they have been complying with the provisions of the new electoral law. Primary elections have been concluded and candidates have emerged but there are allegations of inducement of delegates to influence their choices. That is a bad omen for the electoral process as the highest bidders have been elected as candidates. That is why some of us prefer the direct primary mode to indirect primary. Delegates can easily be manipulated and bought by corrupt politicians who are always desperate to win and to continue their looting of the treasury.

What is your take on the process leading to the emergence of the presidential candidates of some of the political parties?

In most cases, it was flawed as we can see but we can do better. Like I said, the major challenge is the bribing of delegates or what we may call vote-buying by aspirants during some of the presidential primary elections. Aside that it has been better with less violence since political appointees were not part of the delegates as a result of the contentious section 84(12) of the Electoral Act, which barred appointees from voting or being voted for at congresses or conventions of political parties. There is need to revisit the mandatory direct primary election by political parties to reduce the now alarming allegations of inducement of delegates to the extent that we are reading reports of delegates donating millions of naira to orphanages.

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who was a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recently accused southern leaders of abandoning their resolve to produce a presidential candidate from the South. What is your take on that?

First of all, I want to commend Governor Wike for the courage to dare. He contested the presidential primary for the first time and the outing was very impressive, coming second at the end of the PDP presidential primary. Yes, if the southern governors had come up with a mechanism to produce a consensus candidate or at least reduce the number of southern candidates, it would have gone a long way to improve on the chances of Southern Nigeria to produce the PDP presidential candidate. But the party, which before now prided itself as a party that institutionalised zoning for the sake of equity, suddenly jettisoned its zoning arrangement, when it was clearly the turn of Ndigbo to produce the next president of Nigeria. So, Governor Wike will be naturally pained that the southern governors failed to act in line with their resolution on producing the next president. From the point of equity, capacity and ability to deliver democratic dividends to Nigerians, Governor Wike stood out among all the aspirants who participated in the PDP presidential primary. We should be more concerned about the track records of aspirants and candidates, looking at what they have achieved before seeking elective offices. In this regard, Governor Wike stood tall but unfortunately, PDP governors from the South did not put up a good fight for the ticket and failed to support their best candidate in the PDP. It is very regrettable that the PDP chose to turn its back against its best. Nevertheless, Wike fought a good fight that the entire Southern Nigeria will be proud of him for a long time to come as somebody who refused to chicken out even in the face of sabotage by those who were supposed to stand by him.

Is a Nigeria president of Igbo extraction still possible in 2023 and what do you make of Peter Obi’s emergence as the presidential candidate of Labour Party?

The political parties have conducted their presidential primary elections and we can see that a former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, emerged as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party. So, it is left for Ndigbo to build bridges across the Niger and appeal to the conscience of the country to do justice by voting for equity in 2023. Ndigbo have very competent politicians and the emergence of Obi still places their chances of producing the next president on the front burner. So, Obi’s emergence as Labour Party’s presidential candidate is a plus for Ndigbo in their bid to produce the next president of Nigeria, especially as the APC failed to produce a presidential candidate from the South-East.

What is Obi’s chance in the poll given that he is contesting the election on party that some people say lacks structures across the country?

Peter Obi is a Nigerian in the race to be elected president irrespective of the tribe or religion he belongs to just like every other presidential candidate belongs to their respective tribes and religious bodies. But the issue now is, has Obi shown Nigerian electorate that he has the intellectual capacity, requisite experience and character to make Nigeria work again? The answer is known all over the country as Obi has been accepted across the country. It is a fact that most Nigerians have rejected both the presidential flag bearers of the PDP and APC as they belong to the old bloc of expired and failed politicians.

What is your take on the failed alliance between Obi’s Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), which has a former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, as its presidential candidate?

It was the hope of many Nigerians that an alliance between the former governor of Kano State and his Anambra State counterpart would have been complimentary in the move by the masses to take back their country. However, the recent utterances of Kwankwaso and his insults on Igbos have clearly exposed him as an ethnic bigot who was mistaken for a nationalist. We, therefore, urge Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Obi, to move forward and shop for a more nationalistic vice-presidential candidate from the North. As has been observed, the Peter Obi movement is sweeping across cities and states all over the country even before the campaigns starts. Obi should realise that the Nigerian people are genuinely following him and it is the alliance discussion with Kwankwaso that nearly brought the former Kano State governor into national political limelight. However, Kwankwaso has exposed his true self, that he is not different from other ethnic bigots with a superiority complex, which is extremely bad for national unity and integration.

What is your advice to INEC ahead of the 2023 general elections in terms of credibility and transparency of the electoral process?

INEC, under its current leadership has been alive to its responsibility as a regulator and electoral umpire. Recall the role played by INEC, when it sided with Nigerians on the use of technology for elections. That was a boost in the confidence of most Nigerians in the ability of INEC to live up to its responsibilities of ensuring free, fair and credible election. If you watch the political space so far, you will see that no one is criticizing INEC except for the recent shift in deadline for party primary elections, which did not in any way breach the law. So, the only advice to the INEC chairman is for him to stand on his feet and ensure that justice is done to all candidates in the forthcoming elections in Ekiti and Osun states and in the 2023 general election. INEC must not be seen as a rubber stamp of the ruling party in any state or the country. The only way to deepen democracy is to allow the will of the voters to prevail. INEC must invoke its powers in the new Electoral Act and give Nigeria a free, fair and credible general election in 2023.




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