The National Vice Chairman (South-South) of the All Progressives Congress, Hilliard Etta, in this interview with MUDIAGA AFFE and TIMILEYIN AKINKAHUNSI, talks about vote-buying in the 2019 general elections and other issues
The APC recorded success in the 2019 general elections, what are the factors that worked in favour of your party during the presidential election?
I want to use this opportunity to thank Nigerians for the confidence that they reposed in our party and our presidential and National Assembly candidates across the nation. The last election was a referendum of some sort; it was a referendum on character and Nigerians chose integrity, selflessness and patriotism. It was also a referendum on our performance in the past three and half years. The masses of this country gave us outstanding success simply because we kept to the promises that we made to them in 2015. I believe that we are even going to do better in the next four years. Even when we have other variables that ensured the re-election of Mr President and the election of a vast majority of our National Assembly members, I want to believe that those two were fundamental to the success that we recorded; we assure Nigerians that we are not going to take this success for granted.
Do you think the outcome reflects the will of the people, when there are allegations of rigging in some parts of the country?
I believe that those who are crying wolf know even more than they are willing to say; I am sure that Nigeria is not out of the woods yet with regards to the way and manner politicians subvert the will of the people, but I want to believe that there is no political party that is a colony of saints in this regard. I believe that it is a common problem and we must tackle this problem wholesomely without resorting to blames whenever we lose elections. I believe that the outcome of that (presidential) election reflects substantially the will of the people of Nigeria.
There are also allegations that your party inflated same figures in the North, and suppressed in the South-South and South-East; how would you respond to that?
It is laughable when people who are not from our region begin to input variables or begin to speak on behalf of our people. If you look at the results of this election and you begin to put it into percentages; you would know that the percentages tally with the culture of our people. I say this without any pride that our people have not shown sufficient political reaction or consciousness when it comes to things like elections. Before now, the opposition was too weak to stop the inflation of votes that used to happen in the South-South. What happened in the South-South that I superintend over is that our people in some areas stood up to reject the rigging machinery of the Peoples Democratic Party-led governments in our areas and that is why you were able to see that it was not possible for them to get the kind of fantastic numbers they used to get before. I can’t speak for every part of Nigeria but I can speak authoritatively for my zone that the assumption that votes were suppressed in the South-South is incorrect. What you saw was the result of our people trying to stop the rigging machinery of the governments of the PDP in our area.
How would you explain that in Kastina alone, 1.23 million people voted for the President, which is more than the total number of votes in the whole of Lagos? About 900,000 people voted for the President in insurgency-ravaged Borno, how would you explain that?
If you do a juxtaposition of the election results in 2015 and 2019, you will find nothing contrary in these figures. The problem is that nobody is ready to interrogate the issues. Let me tell you that the people in the North-East as I hear from the National Vice-Chairman (of the All Progressives Congress from that zone), who happens to be my friend and colleague, are very appreciative and grateful to Mr President for weakening the Boko Haram. They are also grateful that no single local government area in that part of Nigeria is under the control of Boko Haram. Their votes reflect their level of appreciation. I would also like the fourth estate of the realm to do an analysis and research to juxtapose the results of 2015 and 2019. I am telling you that you will see nothing contrary. I saw a picture on the social media, and what was done by the people of the North was put side by side by what was done by the youth of the South. You could see the youth of the North in a queue, both male and female to vote for the candidate of their choice, while the youth of the South were seen playing football. It tells you the kind of political disposition that is prevalent in both the North and the South. Ironically, the more literate South are active on the social media, insulting people and calling them names and yet they are not politically conscious enough to go out on the day of election to cast their vote for the candidates of their choice.
But some Nigerians have described this year’s elections as the worst in history, considering the killings across the country, don’t you have something to say about that?
Well, I have not done a research as to the number of people that unfortunately lost their lives with regards to the elections as compared to other elections. It is very colourless; it is as a result of hate or pepper soup joint gossip for anybody to come out with such an assertion. The elections of 2003, 2007 and 2011 are far worse than these elections. I think most of them are massively disappointed because they had thought that they had won elections, not knowing that they had won it only on social media. They didn’t fathom the fact that the President had a consistent and dynamic relationship with the poor masses of this country because they see him as their champion, they see him as the one who has not corruptly enriched himself, who is selfless and working for them. There is progress in like minds, whereas our opponents were depending on the purveyors of hate on social media. What they got was that those who were champions and warriors on social media did not turn up on the day of election. Even if they did, they are so minute in number that they would not have affected the elections in any way.
Irrespective of what you say, the opinion of many Nigerians is that all the positive things that we gained from the 2015 elections have been eroded in the just concluded elections organised under the APC-led government that promised change in the country. How would you defend that?
Let me say that my reaction to that position is very mixed, I know that this government has always encouraged institutions to grow and make their mistakes and be strong. In that regard, this government has done nothing to interfere with the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Let me also say that as a participant in the process, I think that it is the INEC that has disappointed Nigerians, not the Nigerian government. The only thing that I can say is that because we appointed these people into INEC, we can’t be removed from the blame. I can assure you that where the INEC has failed has nothing to do with the government and the APC. Take for instance, in the South-South where I come from, the Resident Electoral Commissioner of one of the states is a PDP member. I can go on; when Mr President came on board, his attitude was that every Nigerian should be given an opportunity regardless of his political persuasion because he was only going to offer leadership. Little did he know that he was appointing people into offices that should not be partisan but these people were deeply involved in partisan politics. I can assure you that the lapses that have been recorded in these elections are not as a result of the interference of this government, it is as a result of the incompetence of the people who are in INEC and their partisanship and hate for those who appointed them. During the Walter Onnoghen (the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria under controversial circumstances) saga, a REC in the South-South had the audacity to come to the public domain to take an opinion and even called the President names on national television. When people are complaining about these elections, we have to be able to compartmentalise issues. What was the role of government? Were we not also complaining about the conduct of the elections? Before we come to such conclusions, I will like us do a thorough investigation as to the roles of all the people that were involved in the elections. It is flippant and gossipy to take the position that those people have taken.
It has been noted that all the states where INEC has declared governorship elections to be inconclusive are places where the PDP is leading and that the move was to truncate the victory of the main opposition party, what is your take on that?
My party was leading even when elections were rigged in favour of the PDP in Plateau State. The Africa Action Congress that was supported by the APC was coasting to victory. Did the INEC not truncate those processes? How can one then say that in all the areas that were declared inconclusive by INEC, it was because INEC was trying to ensure the victory of the APC there?
How would you explain the heavy militarisation in Rivers State in the elections?
Has it been any different? Was it different in 2015 or 2011? There was a visit that we made to Rivers State, which was led by a former Deputy National Chairman (South) of our party; I was a member of that delegation. We went to Omoku to visit our members who were beheaded and this was not an election period. Rivers has always been a special case in terms of the violence that follows political activities in the state. If the police were incapable of dealing with these issues, are you saying that the Nigerian Army should not have gone there to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians? Is it different from what has always happened in Rivers State?
There is an allegation that the Federal Government, the President and the Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, are desperate to remove Governor Nyesom Wike at all cost. Can you say this is fair in a democracy where the will of the people are not supposed to be subverted?
Has the conduct of the President in the last three and half years shown any form of desperation? The President can never be desperate for anything; he is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Even when it was within his power to declare a state of emergency in Rivers State, did he do so? Why would anybody think that the President is desperate to remove Wike? Is Wike the only governor that has been insulting the President and still in office?
The decision of the Minister of Transportation to call on the people of Rivers State to vote for the AAC candidate, was that not an anti-party move?
You must understand that our party by judicial pronouncement did not have a candidate in that election.
In the election, observers came out to say that they were prevented by the military from going into Rivers and Nigerians are blaming it on the desperation of the APC and atrocities being committed by soldiers there?
We place a lot of value on the activities of the observers; when they have elections in their own countries, do we go there to observe? We cannot elevate the position of the observers to the place of the gospel.
The international communities have cried foul over the militarisation of Rivers State, which is believed to have been influenced by Amaechi; how would you respond to their condemnation of that?
I am more interested in what Nigerians are saying, Nigeria is not an appendage of any country; it is not a banana republic. It is not a country that can be dictated to by anybody in the world. We have enough educated people and those are the people we must listen to, and not people who have no business in Nigeria. This mentality of always listening to people outside the country is not good; is that how we tell them what to do in their own country?
What is the fate of the APC in Rivers State, considering the deep division that is within the party?
We are hopeful that there would be healing, anybody who infracts on the constitution of the party will be dealt with and sanctioned effectively.
There are fears that the way the APC-led Federal Government is handling the case in Rivers might lead to chaos and destruction of oil installations again in the Niger Delta region, what will you say about this?
For me, the truth is that in terms of political advancement and sophistication, the South-South is terribly lagging behind. I believe that the four years that are to come will afford the opportunity of moving to an electoral era where our votes will count. I believe that the President will sign the Electoral Act and the INEC will educate our people as to how to electronically choose their preferred candidates. When this is done, all the hiccups that we have in the South-South will disappear. I believe that the South-South people know who their friends and brothers are. They know that Mr President means well for the South-South. The three and half years that he has been in power is far more rewarding and satisfactory than even the six years that our so-called brother was on the saddle in terms of infrastructural development and the projects that have been taken to the South-South. I think the South-South people know this and they won’t do anything to plunge the country into crisis.
The APC governorship candidate in Benue State was alleged to have been found with bags of cash on the day of election; allegedly for vote-buying, as a chieftain of the party, did that come as an embarrassment?
He was alleged to have done it; I will view that from the perspective of speculation. When he is convicted by a competent court of law, I would now know that to be true. People say all manner of things. Today in Nigeria, it is difficult to come to terms with the level of fake news. In any case, I believe that vote-buying is a problem that has to be tackled by everybody, not by playing the blame game, which is what is going on right now. All the parties are involved in vote-buying; we have to sit down as a people to procure solutions to that problem.
Two bullion vans were seen to have entered the residence of Ahmed Tinubu in Lagos on the eve of the presidential and National Assembly elections, and Asiwaju himself came out to say that the money was his own and that he wasn’t working for government, as a chieftain of the party, if he was in the PDP, what would have been the reaction of the APC?
I am not in the heart of these people; you should ask me what would be my reaction. We are talking about the greatest politician in the modern era of Nigeria. Bullion vans were supposed to have carried money into his compound. The question you should ask is, was his compound a polling unit? Does he not have the right to have his money transported to him? Was the money stolen? What is the issue after all? I don’t understand the issue. The money was not found around any polling booth or collation area. It was in his house for crying out loud. The Jagaban (Tinubu) tells us all the time that he is a man who understands the abuses that are thrown at success. I find it absolutely inexplicable that this can become a topical issue.