Consummate grassroots politician and National Chairman of the Peoples’ Party of Nigeria (PPN), Razak Eyiowuawi, has dismissed the notion that too many political parties in Nigeria are responsible for the high costs incurred in organising elections.
Mr Eyiowuawi said that INEC’s (Independent National Electoral Commission) move to deregister political parties on that excuse was ‘cheap blackmail’ used by the electoral body to discredit political parties in Nigeria.
In this interview, Eyiowuawi argued that INEC should freely register more political parties in other to deepen the tenets of democracy in the country.
He also called for probe of INEC’s finances to expose alleged monumental, but discreet financial misappropriations taking place there. Excerpt:
How has it been leading PPN as chairman since 2014?
It hasn’t been easy because a political party is filled with people with different character; the good, the bad and the ugly, they are all there. But as leader of the party, a lot of burdens lie on your shoulder. Unfortunately for us, most of our men like Otunba Gbenga Daniels, that built the party, left to join the PDP. So the task of carrying the weight of the party solely lies on my shoulders. It hasn’t been easy at all, but I can tell you that the party is doing very fine. In 2018, Al-Mustapha came into the party and was our presidential flag bearer at last year’s elections. In the last elections, we won three seats in Rivers State, but unluckily for us, the election was canceled. And you know the enormous resources involved in electioneering in Nigeria. So, our candidate couldn’t muster resources for the second election. Likewise in Benue State, our candidate won a seat at the House of Reps at the first election, but also the election was cancelled. So, it hasn’t been easy since then, but the party has kept on moving. All over Nigeria, we have very strong members. During the 2019 elections, when it comes to submission of candidates, we had the third-largest number of election contestants, after the PDP and APC. We had over 1,300 candidates. So, I think we are strong and we are waxing stronger year in, year out.
PPN was among the 74 political parties INEC wanted to deregister. What is your view on the argument by many Nigerians that we have too many political parties, and that the number of parties we have should be trimmed down?
What I’ll say about that is very simple. The many years of military governance have gotten into the minds of a majority of Nigerians, and that is why they don’t understand the tenets of political democracy. Freedom of association is stated clearly in our constitution, let me just give you a brief example. Today, India has over 2,000 political parties, Benin Republic, whose population is not even up to Lagos, has over a 100 political parties, Kenya has over 300 political parties, and their population is not even a quarter of Nigeria, America as of today, if they ask you how many parties they have, many people would say two- Republicans and Democrats – whereas political parties in America are over 500, and so many other examples. The major problem we have in Nigeria is that it’s not about the number of political parties we have, but it’s about access to balloting. What we need to do is to ensure that before a political party has access to the ballot, it must have won certain elections. And that is why we’ve called for INEC to conduct local government elections. Today, in Nigeria local government elections are a sham. What we have is where a governor would just sit somewhere and write the name of councilors and chairmen and submit. But if INEC steps up, they may say that before any party can have access to the ballot, and contest an election in a state, they must have won a certain number of councilors or chairmen. Then if you win that you can contest in the state House of Assembly elections. Then once you win a certain number of seats at the state House of Assembly, you can now contest at the Senate or House of Reps, then if you win a certain number of seats, then you can go for Presidency. Not when you give all the 94 political parties access to the ballot. It’s not done that way. If they do that you’ll find out that the ballot paper you complained to be large won’t be large anymore. And you may end up having only two or three political parties going to the ballot at the national level, while others remain at their own local government and state level. These are things we need to look into in the coming electoral reform that we’re working on. And at the political level, we’re looking into that, when it’s time for submission, we’ll go there and submit our own view about the electoral laws. That is what we need to do. As of today, we have over 200 million Nigerians, and we want them to be limited to a few parties? By that, you’re only saying that you want to increase the chaos in the political system. The killings and maiming would just increase because space would be conscripted and people cannot do things at will, they cannot go to parties to express their freedom. So, we need to open the space. I believe that the number of parties we have is even small. We need to increase it. If India can have over 2,000 political parties, and Niger Republic having over 100 parties, then Nigeria having only 92 is still far below what we need to have. Very soon we’ll head back to court to make INEC do a mandatory return of those parties because INEC has no powers to deregister parties. What we’re asking is for more parties because those 92 is not enough for Nigerians. We know what is happening at INEC and we know that what they are doing is just blackmail.
But how about INEC’s reason that having over 90 political parties takes a huge toll on their funds for organizing elections because they make the ballot papers unnecessarily bulkier and expensive to produce?
The huge amount spent on elections is not caused by the political parties, rather by the number of people that are going to cast their votes. If you have 30 million registered voters, INEC whether they like it or not must print 30 million ballot papers. So, it is not the number of political parties that they would use in printing ballot papers. And INEC must come out and tell Nigerians the truth. The huge amount they realised from the last election should be probed by the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crime Commission), to ascertain how the money was spent. We only knew about the money gotten from the Nigerian government, what about the ones gotten from the international communities? Did they declare it? Or tell Nigerians how they spent it? These are things we need to look into. There’s a need to probe the account of INEC to expose the serious fraud going on there.
What kind of fraud sir?
Okay, let me give one example. In the last election, INEC said they would deploy dogs for the election at the polling booths, and that it would cost them N50, 000 every day to feed each of the dogs. You’re a journalist, so now, when you went to monitor and observe the elections, did you see any dog at any polling unit?
No, I didn’t…
That is it! We didn’t see any dog! In fact, we even hardly saw policemen at the polling centres, but they told us that they would be at least three or four policemen to secure the voters. Let me tell you, the fraud in INEC is more than the one in NNPC, and it needs to be probed. And you’ll find out that more than 70 per cent of monies that come into INEC go into somebody’s pocket. So, be rest assured that it is not the political parties that cause the huge budget, rather is it INEC that inflates their budget just to get something into their own coffers. Let me tell you something, during the bye-election in Katsina only seven political parties lined up their candidates, others did not come to contest. The last bye-election they did in Sokoto, about six parties contested. So, it is not the number of parties people should look into, rather they should look into INEC. The majority of the political parties don’t contest elections. In the last election, PPN had over 1,300 contestants, while some produced five and 10. But some political didn’t even present any candidate at the polls. If you look at the last election, you’ll see that less than five political parties presented up to a 1000 contestants. So, if INEC had done the needful, they won’t be having all the 92 political parties listed on the ballot paper. But they want to blackmail the political parties, which is very wrong.
What change would like to suggest that could make INEC function better?
INEC needs to sit up. And we call on our lawmakers to see the need for the unbundling of INEC. It should be unbundled to like three or four different other independent bodies that would cater for registration, monitoring, and collations. INEC being the sole agency for our election makes it too cumbersome and tedious for them. Also, INEC’s staff strength is too small, and needs to be increased; ad-hoc staff is not the best. INEC should have more staff and they must ensure that they are highly trained.
How would you rate this President Buhari’s government?
I expected so much from this government. With the way they campaigned and ran their manifestoes in 2015. I’ve never been an APC or a supporter of Buhari. But the reality on the ground shows that what we told them, that they do not have the capacity to run the nation. But now, we can all see that Nigeria is a car with no driver. This government has no focus, no economic, educational or medical plans. Nothing is happening in Nigeria, we are not moving forward, rather we’re moving backward in the comity of states. And it is very disheartening the way Nigeria is.