Former Ondo State Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) governorship candidate Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) spoke with reporters in Akure, the state capital, on the November 26 poll won by Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of the All Progressives Congress(APC), the faulty card readers and other issues. DAMISI OJO reports.
What is your assessment of the recent governorship election in Ondo State?
Well, we give glory to God. Under a democratic dispensation, elections ordinarily should represent the will and the wishes of the people. And that is why we have INEC, given such enormous powers as to prepare for credible election, fix dates of elections, and ensure that election at all time is free and fair. Speaking from my personal experience, I think this is one election that ordinarily has posed a challenge to all of us and has also tested the principles of democratic dispensation.
You will recall that, on the 27th of October, My name was taken out of the candidates in the election that was fixed for 26th of November. You will also recall that through court intervention to have my name restored to the ballot was achieved two days to the election. You’ll recall also that my party and I requested for postponement of the date of election, to still fall within the period envisaged under the electoral act. Regrettably and most unfortunately, INEC refused, declined to postpone that election, to enable us have a fair playing ground. And the reason for seeking that postponement was basically one, to enable us have the voters register that is very critical and important to the election; two, to enable us have my name on the website of INEC and introduce me as a candidate. Thirdly, to allow myself and my party to submit the list of agents for the purpose of that election.
The request was not granted. So, we were forced to go to election on Saturday, November 26. In other words, we had only one day to campaign for this election. Against that background, this is one election that, as far as I am concerned, did not meet with the basic tenet of fairness and has not afforded all the candidates equal opportunity of presenting their position top the electorate.
But, because it’s not about myself, it’s about the people, Nigeria as a nation and also for the purpose of history, it is important that we have a credible, independent electoral body. And all those games that are playing out in our democratic experience now were not there when the former President Goodluck Jonathan was at the helm of affairs. Interestingly, you cannot beat your chest and say there is any credible election again in this country. All those characters that had cause to truncate the will of the people should sit back and realise that they are the enemies of this country.
Are you considering any legal action, in view of the infractions that you have highlighted?
I have 21 days to do that. I don’t have to take any hasty decision, but I am also weighing all my options. I will tell you the truth. There are two schools of thought. Some say ‘challenge’, some say ‘don’t challenge’. For me, I am more interested in the Nigerian project. I am more interested in building a very credible democratic experience for our people. And I do know that four years in the life of a nation is just a small part of it. I know that opportunity will still come for our people to choose who their leaders should be. I do hope that next time, there will be an improvement in the conduct of elections. And I have had cause to congratulate Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, who was declared the winner by INEC. I have had cause to thank all those who voted for us and even those who did not vote for us. I have had cause to tell our people that even though we were adjudged to have lost the election but we won the heart of the people. I believe that all of us must make sacrifices.
And despite the heavy monetisation of the electoral process, there comes a time in a man’s life that you just move on.
In Ondo’s PDP, people look up to you for leadership. Apparently, the party is not going to be in power at the state’s helm of affairs for the next four years.
How do you intend to re-build and stabilise the PDP?
I don’t know what you mean by ‘the party will not be in the helm of affairs for the next four years’. I think it is too early to determine that. I think it is just too early.
People are also talking about re-alignment of forces among political parties. What do you envision?
I believe there would be, in the fullness of time. I believe there will be adjustments, there will be re-alignments. I believe also that there will be a lot of shaking in the political space after following the elections of Ondo State. I believe that politicians will adjust. I believe there would be a very credible platform that will do away with the whole garbage of the past and come up with a new vision.
Finally, the outcome of the governorship election in your home base, which is Akure North and Akure South, has really rattled a lot of observers. What do you think actually went wrong?
Well, I did complain that day. One; that the card reader machine is now the most potent threat to our democracy. Now, go and do your check and you’ll find that the card reader machine is a new innovation that has to statutory backing. It’s not in the constitution nor is it in the electoral act. And if you go and check, you will find out that one machine has a central server that controls it from Abuja. And it can be shut down. And that is a matter of fact that it is possible to manipulate that machine. Sometimes you see some of them not working, others working slowly, others working normally. It is the outcome of manipulation and adjustment of that machine. It’s like any other electronic system. It depends on what you feed into it. That is what it brings.
And I had complained on the day of election, from a good number of polling stations, where the card reader was not working at all. We also had instances where it was slow, and I complained to the Resident Electoral Commissioner. He said he had instructed that where the card reader is not working, they should use the incident forms. Now, why did you deploy a card reader that is not working? Now you know that that machine is not reliable, it’s not credible, it malfunctions, it will not assist. And you also know that the cause of the non-reliability and malfunctioning of that machine and you provided incident forms. Now where you have hundred voters on the queue and the machine would not capture these hundred, and then you produced 10 incident forms, what happens to the other 90 prospective voters? And why do you interpose a very unreliable machine in our electoral system? Whose interest are they serving? Why do you keep on using malfunctioning card reader to disenfranchise the majority of the people, when you know that it is not a machine that has a foothold in the constitution or would find comfort with the electoral act?
Why would somebody sit down and write under guideline, that you should use a machine that would not find comfort with our electoral laws and procedures? The law says that if you have your name on the voters register, and you have your voter’s card, then you are eligible to vote, you are a voter. But the machine says if you don’t pass through machine, you cannot vote. Does it make sense? So, the introduction of the card reader is a self-serving mechanism, meant to disrupt and influence our electoral system. And the earlier we do away with it, the better for all of us. That is my personal opinion. And I am saying this because I know that I took part in the elections of 26th of November. I know what happened.
Again, you’ll also recall that openly, there was heavy monetisation of the democratic process, and the security agents looked away. Again you find out that while some people campaigned for three months, two months, one month, one of the leading candidates was not allowed to campaign at all. Is that system fair? Some have said that ‘well, it is the internal matter of PDP’. But they should think deeply. Was it PDP that said ‘remove the name’? Was it PDP that removed the name? The truth of it is that, there had been third-party intervention in the affairs of a particular political party, by others who are outside that party. And they have used government institutions to thwart the will of the people. And I don’t think that is fair. We’ve complained, and I believe and hope that INEC would try to be independent. (The Nation)