Mr Akinlolu Kehinde, a senior advocate, in this interview with KUNLE OLASANMI, speaks on the dangers inherent in vote-buying and other sundry issues.
There is a general apprehension that the 2019 general election shall be marred with allegations of vote-buying just as it trailed Ekiti and Osun elections?
I will say that where there is a will, there is a way. We have electoral umpires in this country who have written their names in gold, somebody like Humphrey Nwosu, who conducted the June 12 election. That is a man, whose record has remained unbeatable by my own assessment. And whatever you do, either in private or in public life, it becomes a reference point tomorrow. I know that INEC as presently constituted comprised of men of impeccable integrity, especially the last set of commissioners that were appointed. I wouldn’t want to mention names but we know them and we are hoping and praying that they will not fail this time around.
It is very easy, just do what is right, heavens will not fall and know that whatever you do today, generations yet unborn will read about it as a reference point. We must get to a point as Nigerians and individuals when we will say that if I do what is right, I will die, if I do what is wrong, I will die, it is better for me to do what is right because whether I do the wrong or right, I will still die. It will get to that point. That is the only way to go. I also want to believe that the last two elections in Ekiti and Osun are very good opportunity to test run what we expect. We must also be conscious that we don’t have this re-run or inconclusive election.
Those states are not too big, so, if we are serious, there is no reason why the elections shouldn’t have been concluded at a go. And that is what is bringing all these insinuations that some people have decided to cause mayhem in order to invalidate the outcome. The whole world is watching, our children are watching and generations coming behind us are watching. I keep saying that until we get to a point where those who are seeking electoral offices are seeking to serve, not people that are jobless, frustrated and people who cannot make it in life, we will never get it right.
So, we must be able to check their pedigree. We must be able to know how they have governed their home, how they have represented their homes and the testimonies they have from their children, from their workers and neighbours. We must get to that point.
Do we need electoral reform, If yes, which areas will you say we need it?
Yes, there is need for a reform in our electoral laws or system. Of importance is the malfunctioning and the problems with card readers. You must take into consideration, the peculiar terrain of some parts of this country and the level of literacy. I will suggest that whatever reform we put in place must ensure that people are not disenfranchised. Once you disenfranchise a man, it is like taking away from him, the right to decide who should govern him and manage the resources meant for the community and that should not be allowed to happen. There is no reason why our standard of life should be this low. Every index that has to do with human life in Nigeria is low.
What is your view on INEC and APC’s disagreement over Zamfara state’s inability to submit candidates’ list before stipulated time?
INEC is an independent umpire. Its independence is guaranteed under the Constitution and it is also guaranteed under the Electoral Act. It does not matter which party is controlling the centre, INEC is expected to be independent and be seen to be expressly and clearly independent. If INEC gave a timeline for submission of names of candidates and Zamfara State APC did not submit its list of candidates within that timeline, I am sorry, heaven will not fall, if in 2019, we don’t have anybody either as APC governor, members of the National Assembly or as members of state House of Assembly. Heaven will not fall! We must get to a point where we respect our laws and our institutions, especially, the sensitive institutions like INEC. The whole world is looking at them. Each time any step is taken by INEC, there will always be two sides to the story, those that are in support and those that are not in support. So, my counsel to INEC is to do what is right at every point in time, heavens will not fall, and what they have done in this circumstance is the right thing. It is a message that INEC is not going to be available to be pushed around, and I pray and hope that they will keep faith with that particular stance even as we go into 2019 elections – that they will not be available to be pushed around or be manipulated by any of the parties, not necessarily the party that is controlling the centre at the moment, many of the parties. That is the only way that whatever result that INEC churns out in the 2019 elections will not become a source of unrest and dispute in this nation.
What is your view on high cost of party nomination forms?
The political parties are at liberty to fix the price for their nomination forms. If a candidate feels that he is very popular in his area and he cannot afford to contest on the platform of APC or PDP or any other party and feels the forms are too expensive, there are over 40 registered political parties. Let him go to other parties. Must he contest under APC or PDP? The problem with most of our politicians is that they are gold diggers. A number of them are not out to serve the interest of their people. All they want is a platform to get to power for self-aggrandizement and self-interest. So, if you think you are popular as a politician and you cannot buy the nomination form of APC or PDP, there are 38 other options. I know too well that there are some parties that are ready to give out their nomination forms free of charge. If you are sure of yourself, go and pick your form on any of those platforms.
How do we address vote-buying ahead 2019 elections?
Honestly, it is a worrisome trend in the sense that your vote as a Nigerian is your power. If you are not happy with the government of the day, all you have to do is to wait for another four years, for another election. But once you allowed yourself to be convinced to sell your vote, it means that you don’t even have the moral right to question the performance of that government. Again, that is also fallout of the state of degeneration of values. I am sorry to say that because of the level of poverty in our land; a lot of Nigerians have lost every sense of self-dignity. So, until the government consciously reduces the level of poverty in the land and people’s sense of dignity is restored, we would be going round the circle. I am sorry to say that our politicians know this very well and they play on it. They know that a hungry man will do anything just to survive.
Secondly, there is a need to do a serious reorientation of our people. At every level, we must make people realize that when they sell their votes, it is like selling their birthrights and once they sell their birthrights; it means that they have subjected themselves to slavery. Thirdly, people must be meant to realize that if we are able to get the right people into government, turning things around can be achieved in two, three years. It is possible to turn things around in this country in less than three years if we are able to get people with integrity and fear of God, people with the spirit of contentment who are not out because of self-aggrandizement. So, we need to educate our people, especially the youths, who are in the majority and this is the best time to do it.
Are there no provisions in the law to bring vote-buyers to justice?
I will not want us to go into that area now because that matter is before a competent tribunal and I am sure some of these issues are part of the issues that would be canvassed in the course of that trial. But as I said, if it is true, what I have said earlier is the antidote. People must be told that if they sell their votes now, they may not have the right to question the man, if he does not perform in office for the next four years.
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