In this interview with Emmanuel Obe and Clifford Christopher Solomon, Kingsley Wali, a notable politician in Rivers State speaks on the 2023 general elections and the fallouts
Before the elections, a lot of Nigerians, particularly young people had hopes that the elections would be the changer in Nigeria’s democratic journey. INEC did promise repeatedly that with the use of BVAS, for instance, the votes would count this time around. The elections have come and gone. But a lot of people are not happy with the outcome. They believe that the votes did not count. Being yourself, a politician and an active participant in the processes, did Nigerians get it right?
I think to a large extent, the question if we got it right is a misnomer because they say that you can tell a blind man that there is oil in the soup when there is no oil. But you can’t tell him there is no salt when there is no salt. But the most important thing is that some things are too glaring for the eyes. So, you really don’t need to belabour it by asking if day will break. Day will break unless you die.
To a large extent I think that that question has been answered by the Nigerian people, by the reaction of the Nigerian people. Naturally, you will expect that in every contest there is going to be a winner and there will be a loser. Even in victory you expect that certain people are going to be celebrating while some will not be happy. But the preponderance of those who will be happy will be more because it is expected that they were the people who voted more. So, they will be the ones that will make the biggest noise in terms of jubilation. But the nation was thrown into some kind of mourning because there is insinuation that the victory was tainted with a lot of fraud.
But there were firm assurances that with the BVAS, there would be no manipulation?
Let me quickly say this so that we don’t get it all mixed up. We didn’t have a problem with BVAS. Neither did we have a problem with even the idea of transmission of results and all of that. The problem we had was not technical. The problem we had was human because people deliberately and intentionally decided to sabotage the process. And there is no better way of explaining what happened than in the presidential and National Assembly elections when in most places, the National Assembly results were uploaded but the presidential election was not. So the technical hitch was supposed to be for presidential election. So, you begin to ask yourself who is actually fooling who?
So, it’s not about BVAS. BVAS worked to what it was designed for. BVAS was supposed to identify people for accreditation, which was done perfectly well. We didn’t have what we used to have with card reader that said it cannot recognize people’s hands and all of that. BVAS worked almost seamlessly in almost every part of this country. It was after the accreditation, materials were given for voting, people went to vote, at the point of counting votes, these coup plotters stepped in and started hijacking materials because that was the only place they could do anything about it.
And the results we are seeing is having a situation where they cannot even perfect the criminal acts that they have started because there is no perfect crime. You can now see why some governors would make sure and do everything humanly possible to ensure that parties do not go to the tribunal because they know that they cannot defend what they did at the tribunal no matter how much influence they have. The facts are there. All they are trying to do is to ensure that people do not go to the tribunal based on technical grounds. You didn’t have enough materials or you didn’t file on time and all of that. But on the basis of the fact, they are too glaring. We all saw them on social media with results that were mutilated, numbers that did not tally with the numbers that did accreditation. People are still working mathematics to work from answer to the question and all that just to make sure that they are able to present something. But it’s still not possible because BVAS had done its job. BVAS says 25 people registered here and accreditation was 20, so if you like add 1 in front of the 2, add 7 behind the zero, BVAS had said 20, you can’t do anything about it. So, it’s obvious that the number of voters that you are parading has exceeded the number of people that did accreditation. So, you can now see the desperation why they are trying to make sure that people don’t go to court.
There is a law that backs transmission of results…
I can tell you for free. Even if the law says electronic transfer of results; in fact as you vote the results register at the back end at INEC office, they are still going to sabotage it. It’s the mindset of the dubious characters who have found themselves in the positions of rulership. So, it is not the law that is actually the problem. The problem is the people who have seized power and are scared of losing power. So, they will go to any length, even if it means burning this country to ashes, they don’t care because what they did can be likened to treason. What was done on the 25th of February and on the 18th of March can be likened to treason because it was an affront and an attack on constitutionalism and democracy.
What’s your take on the controversy over Datti-Ahmed (Labour Party’s presidential running-mate)’s view that swearing in the winner of the election would amount to a coup against the constitution?
When I hear people talk about when Datti-Ahmed said some stuff and people were angry, I am like, are we normal? Can Datti-Ahmed be faulted? Datti-Ahmed simply said that the basis of democracy of Nigeria is rooted in our constitution. So, if you do anything that tends to challenge or undermine that Constitution and in the process you assume power, it can be said you acquire power in an unconstitutional way, same thing as a military takeover. It’s not every time that the military shoot to take over. By mere announcement, they take over. And if you have guns and you have the instruments of state power in your possession and you intimidate people with it and make announcements that people cannot react because they know that if they react you are going to shoot them just like the military would shoot you when they tell you that curfew, 6-to-6 or 8-to-7 or whatever. You are not scared of the voice. You are scared of what they are going to do to you. And that is what anybody who has done this using the police especially to enforce. It is public knowledge. We all saw it. When the police was moving from polling unit to polling unit seizing materials, collecting materials from the polling agents, bundling some of them into the vehicles and moving. The police actively was involved in sabotaging the democratic process. So, if you are looking for force, the police was also there. If your problem is gun, the police used gun. So, what they did on the 25th of February and 18th of March can be likened to a coup d’état. So, what Datti-Ahmed was saying is that if you overturn the Constitution and put yourself in power with disregard to the Constitution then you have committed a crime like the military takeover. It is simple. A coup is not necessarily when you wear uniform. If you take over power by force with arms or threat of arms then you have engaged yourself in unconstitutional takeover of power. And that was what Datti-Ahmed was saying. And I dare ask, what happened if you interpreted it strictly. Is that not what Datti-Ahmed was talking about? So, when people criticize Datti-Ahmed, I am sorry. It’s because of convoluted and factory fitted ignorance or just mischief. I really do not care who said what and who did not say anything because Datti-Ahmed cannot be faulted.
Well, those who lost have been asked to go to court. Aren’t the courts equipped enough to redress the fraud?
You said go to court, okay fine. Look at the charade in Rivers State for example. But unfortunately, Nigeria is making the mistake of thinking it’s Rivers State problem. It is not. It’s a Nigerian problem because by the time this is done successfully some other governors would take this model in a different election cycle. Oh! If this person did it here and you now say okay, these were the loopholes so let me try and cover the loopholes so that my own case would be different. So, you are now emboldening criminality.
If not, tell me, just tell me. Ordinary Nigerian citizens lay siege at a federal building for one whole week. The Nigeria Police Force did not disperse them. Even INEC did not complain that these people are stopping them from working. This place in question is less than two minutes’ drive from the military barracks. Less than two minutes’ drive from the Mobile Police barracks, and just about three minutes’ drive from the air force base. These are three key security installations. And they just drive past. And the guys got more emboldened. At some point they started stopping people, collecting phones from people and all of that. They were humiliating people they suspected were not in support of their cause and all of that and the argument was they wanted to do joint inspection. Joint inspection with who? Under which law? So, you are acting in an extra-judicial way and the security system is looking the other way. I am not talking about the state government now. No. they are the direct beneficiaries of that act of hooliganism. I am talking about those who were supposed to maintain law and order. For a second, imagine that the opposition parties especially the All Progressives Congress decided to go out mobilizing. There is nobody who has the monopoly of violence. If they cannot have APC members who are violent, they can equally purchase people who would come and insist on some level of equilibrium. And at the end of the day, there will be bloodshed. Then at that point, the police would come. Right? To come and keep the peace?
The whole thing back to the question you ask that if the expectations of Nigerians were met. You and I know they were not. They weren’t met. And it wasn’t because of the system. It wasn’t because of the machines or the technology that was involved. It was because people just decided. The state, the Nigerian state led by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) decided that the system was not going to work, which is why we have the rubbish that we are now faced with all over the country. One thing is certain, and that is the fact that the state did nothing to protect the constitution and our democracy.
You said the problem was not with the technology, but with the human element in the system. Some politicians have tried to read technicality into the words used in writing the Electoral Act as it concerns the role of BVAS in the transmission of result. Should there be a review of the Electoral Act such that the lapses being exploited with regard to the use of BVAS in transmitting results can be corrected?
If you review the Electoral Act a hundred and ten times, if the people themselves are not ready to do the right thing, nothing can be done. Let me give you a practical example. In the first election, the BVAS worked. I-Rev worked as far as the National Assembly elections were concerned. Some of the governors sat back and said okay, this is what the issue is: Uploading. We will ensure that there is no uploading at all, at all. What did they do? They physically moved from polling unit to polling unit. Immediately after voting had ended thereby stopping the polling officers from counting and recording on the result sheets. Because once you record on the result sheets whether you upload immediately or not it becomes increasingly difficult for you to manipulate the result because whatever you wrote here is what is going to be on the BVAS. Any other thing that you write that is not in tandem with what is on the BVAS is a complete waste of time. The law is very clear on that. What did they do? They made sure that there was no counting and made sure that there was no recording. So they went away with the result sheets. So, when you go to wherever, you look at the BVAS machine. How many people were accredited? Two hundred people and from that 200, you now allocate because the result sheets were clean, there would be no mutilation. If you have 200 voters or 300 people accredited, you will now have 200 voters. You can now say APC 5, APN 1, this one 0 and whatever is remaining, you allocate to your own party. So, you see that there is no conflict, no contradiction between what is on the result sheet and what is on the BVAS machine. There is no over-voting.
Now, the other side of it is this. You have ballot papers. So, if you go to tribunal, you might want to do a forensic examination of the ballot papers. One, the ballot papers have serial numbers. So, if you destroy them to bring the number of ballot papers that will correspond with what you have given to yourself that means that whole number that the other party scored will be destroyed. So, in court you now question why is serial number 1 to 90 is missing. Why do you have voters starting from 91? That will expose destruction of ballot papers at the tribunal.
So, you can now see the whole gamut of issues that is making them not to want people go to the tribunal. You can defend this but you can’t defend this; the principle of nyedebaa, nyedebaa. You can corrupt the process and get the process to aid you to a point. But there is something the process cannot do for you because of technology, which is what is recorded in the BVAS and the ballot papers.
So, even if they grabbed clean ballot papers and clean result sheets they will have find a way of what to do with the ballot papers that were cast at the polling units.
Maybe they will have to forge the ballot papers.
No. It’s not easy. It can’t be done that way. I doubt if that can be achieved because you need to know the exact number. The booklet from which you brought them out would be required. So, it is absolutely difficult for them to be able to defend what they did at the tribunal, which is why they are doing everything humanly possible to ensure that the parties don’t go to the tribunal.
Now that the matters are moving to the tribunals, do you think that the judiciary can do justice to the cases?
You are asking me to become a native doctor.
You laid out grounds on which the matters could be decided
I want Nigerians to be the judge based on what we have on ground already. Ultimately, history has a role to play in all of this. If you have a system that has issues with doing the right things, why should I expect that you will do the right things now? Unless people have now decided to turn from Saul to Paul. Any system that made Lawan the current Senate President be on the ballot in 2023; any system that made Akpabio be on the ballot in 2023 my brother, there is nothing you want to tell me. But like they say nothing is impossible; it’s just difficult.
Are you saying that with these glaring issues is not possible, that they won’t get justice?
I am saying that it’s nairabet.
What’s the implication of being a nairabet?
Just gambling. But on the basis of what the law says and what the courts have been doing I cannot make any categorical statement on what the outcome of the tribunals will be. These tribunal members are Nigerians and they were nominated by Nigerians. Sincerely speaking if you have judges who were nominated by Mr. A and Mr. A has a record of having an unholy relationship with the judge, even if the judge will not be in the state of Mr. A he can influence what will happen wherever they send them to. What would happen is that somebody would say Mr. so so person is coming to your state and your own is coming to my state, let’s do this. Protect me here, I will protect you there. I just pray I am wrong.
Everything now boils than to the ethical state of our politicians because if they conduct themselves well…
Nigerian politicians are one of the most mindless set of people in this world.