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Rivers Governorship: INEC Should Truly Be Independent, Says Wifa 

...Urges People Of The State To Remain Calm, That Justice Will Prevail

Sir B.M. WIFA, OFR, SAN, DSSRS, KJW, is an eminent lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, whose views on matters of national interest are respected.

...Urges People Of The State To Remain Calm, That Justice Will Prevail

Sir B.M. WIFA, OFR, SAN, DSSRS, KJW, is an eminent lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, whose views on matters of national interest are respected.

In this interview with JAMES FEBEBEBO, Sir B. M. WIFA shares his views on the issue of the governorship election in Rivers State and appeals to the Independent National Electoral Commission  not to subvert the will of the people of the State.

Excerpts:

Sir, you said that you foresaw what is happening in Rivers State today as you said that you predicted in your birthday message last year that the All Progressives' Congress-led Federal Government would want to capture Rivers State in this year's general elections?

Well, it was self-evident to anybody that was observing the political scene and I don't think they made any secret about their wanting to capture all the states in the South-South. In fact, they say they want to capture all the states in the South-South and by they I mean the federal government and the party at the centre. But I think by extrapolation, they wanted to cow the political opposition in the country and they started with Ekiti and you remember what happened in Ekiti and they even extended it to Osun. And now in the current dispensation, what's happening since Saturday, we're hearing expressions that they've brought into the political vocabulary called 'inconclusive elections'. That's what they did in Osun State last year after Ekiti, so, anybody that was a keen observer of the political scene would have seen that that's what they wanted to do, but expressly not just by their body language that they are going to take all the states (in the South-South). Their national Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, made no mistake about it (that) they want to take all the States of the South-South, and particularly Rivers State has been in bone of contention for some time. So, we didn't need any soothsayer to foresee or to foretell that they were going to do that in this State.

So, what would you say is happening now in Rivers State?     

 Precisely what was evident that they were going to do and I think that is what is happening.

And what is that?

I think it is a form of what they call in Ekiti the federal might. Federal might doesn't mean that they are going to shoot all the guns that they have. It means that you militarize the process and when you militarize the process, that by itself is an abnegation of the concept of democracy. You know that what democracy enjoins is that all of us wherever you come from, what is called the sovereignty, the right to all the powers and all the revenues that accrue in the state belong to the people. So, the people, they are there (but) not everybody in modern-day politics can say we are all going to gather in town square and all of that, so, the process is by election of your representatives both to the executive and to the legislative arms of government, which is a critical factor in the concept of democracy and the concept is that you are free to exercise those rights, the right to elect your people (and for) your people to represent you. So, once there's an interference with that, it's an abnegation of the concept of democracy and so if you now introduce any element into it, it's an abnegation of that concept of democracy because if you remove freedom from a person to choose, then what you have is a tainted process which is unacceptable.    

The governorship candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) has asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to declare him as winner of the governorship election in Rivers State. What's your reaction, Sir?

Well, so I heard. I don't even know him. Well, anybody who contests an election is entitled to say anything he wants to say. I cannot judge that. What I know is that there's a process, the process of governance which occasional part of which I've said is one of electioneering which just happened so far as the governorship and House of Assembly elections is concerned, that happened on Saturday. It's a process and the process enjoins that it has to be transparent. You have to see that it's done according to the rules otherwise it is marred and once it is marred, it is unacceptable. So that is to see that people freely elect their representatives by their free will but as I said, the one of Rivers State didn't start today. We know that Rivers State at least since 1999, had been a PDP state but sometime during the governorship of Rotimi Amaechi, the current Minister of Transportation, he felt, for reasons that were best known to him, to leave the PDP and join the APC and as I said, it's his right to do so but what is questionable is whether he could compel every other person in the state to go with him. Of course, some people will go with him, some others may not and you can determine that an election is truly free and fair and transparent, and of course, the one of 2015 didn't work out for them and I think that this is another attempt to do so. So, once if the process is free, fair and transparent, then it's legitimate.

Amaechi had asked supporters of the All Progressives' Congress in Rivers State to vote for the governorship candidate of the AAC and now that the governorship candidate of the AAC has asked INEC to declare him as winner of the governorship election, does that portend any danger for the people of Rivers State?

The question of election which is a critical phase in governance must be seen to be free, fair and credible.

We are not robots and I don't know of magicians. It's a process, so what is important is not what anybody claims that he has done or won. It is that it is to look at that process before, during and after the process, to see whether it was credible, and they made no mistake in saying they were sending the military to the states particularly states in the South-South including Rivers State. So, it's self-evident that they were there and they are here. To what extent the military “participated” in the election is a matter that can be ascertained by empirical evidence and if it is found out that they did so, then of course, the question of the legitimacy of the elections will be brought into question, and I'm so sorry, this morning, I heard some renowned lawyers advocating that at our stage of development, you need the soldier there because they instil more fear into people than policemen particularly unarmed policemen. That's total rubbish. I'm so sorry to say that because the paradigm of the gunman commanding obedience to the law is a discarded jurisprudential concept. So, I was very surprised that some eminent lawyers were able to say so. When you left the house this morning and were coming here, you have been brought up to know that there are certain rules that you are going to obey without somebody putting a gun at your head. So our development should be and I can tell you this that in 1959 general elections that I participated in voting, to usher in independence to this country, we didn't see militarization. It wasn't there and I can tell you this again that on the 11th of April, India will be going to the polls, so, you compare that process with what is happening in Nigeria today. It means that there is a retrogression from 1959 to 2019, which is sad and this type of reasoning that it is the military that can instil fear into you so that you can go and vote or refrain from doing anything, it's something that is more ascribable to the society that I can say have the three P's. They are plural. They are primitive and they are primordial.

What's that retrogression we are facing?

I'm telling you that if, because I'm a living witness, if what we did in 1959, you are derogating from that by 2019, then there's a retrogression of Nigeria as a society where today you will say unless there is a soldier, you will not go and cast your vote and be happy with it and go to your house. It's an abnegation of the concept of democracy and I think if it is proven that the military did in fact play any untoward role in the election, then it's not merely condemnable, it's unacceptable and the people are entitled to reject the outcome of that flawed process.

So, how are we going to prove that these allegations against the soldiers are true as people have said that soldiers meddled in the electoral process in Rivers State?

What I can say is that the issue of self-denial is unacceptable. That is to say, 'oh soldiers were not there in Rivers State', because the administration said and everybody knew and in fact, observed that they are here but to the extent to which they may have participated in the electoral process is the one that I expect INEC to show its own integrity to be able to unravel. I hear they have set up a panel, so a panel should be able to look at it and say yes and if they did so, then it will remove from the legitimacy of the exercise and the people are entitled to… reject it.

Will you say that INEC is independent? 

Independence does not lie in the words they use in describing a body or a person. It lies in the ability of the person to prove that he's so independent. You can be appointed by the President but you can take your action (and) do what you have to do and demonstrate that you are independent of your employer and that's what everybody expects of a body like the INEC to do. They should be able to come up with that because unless they do that, they are going to engender further crisis.

Some people believe that the INEC is not independent? 

Then maybe they have seen that probably they are mere puppets. Though, you may be employed or appointed to an office, somebody is teleguiding you. That is what it means, but I want to believe that we must make a deliberate effort in this country to build strong institutions. It has happened elsewhere… What I'm trying to say is that… we cannot be held hostage to the ambition of any single person or a body of persons. So, INEC has an opportunity to look at the elections because in elections, the foundation of all the elections is the unit vote and INEC ought to be in possession of the unit votes. So, INEC should be able to find out if any of these results from the units have been tampered with. Once you have the credible votes, then declare (the results of) the elections.

Do you foresee that justice will prevail in the end on this governorship issue in Rivers State, when the results are announced?

We'll wait and see and let me say this.  There are expectations everywhere around any country, including Nigeria and in this state. If I ask you now, in any free and fair elections held in Rivers State, because of the problems that I believe any fair-minded observer will say that the APC inflicted upon itself – they didn't have a candidate in the election and then suddenly one or two things and so on – you see the trend nationwide, in any free and fair elections… the PDP and its candidate, Nyesom Wike, who happens to be the governor ought to have emerged as winners. Maybe, magic happens everywhere. 

(But) there's a body set up by law under the Constitution, the INEC that will have to look at what has happened but the expectation is that they should be able to come out with the factual verification of things that have happened and tell Nigerians without fear or favour the outcome of the elections. If they find out that, looking at the unit results from all the local governments in the area and A has won, declare him as winner, but I say it will be near miraculous for the claim of this one that nobody even knew about or heard about to have emerged as winner. Election is not by magic.

So, what would be your advice to the people of Rivers State at this time?

Well, my advice first, as I've said, is to the electoral body, to do that which is right and I'm sure if they do that which is right, everybody will see that justice has been served, but if they do mango mango, then it may give rise to occasion for crisis. My advice is for the people of the State to remain calm in the belief that justice will be served.

Would you say that the federal government has been very oppressive? 

I can't use such general expressions (but)I know that the APC as a party had been anxious to win all states in Nigeria. I think it's unreasonable because it goes contrary to our demographic experience. If I form a party now and think I must win all the states in Nigeria, why should I want to do that? So, I won't use the word oppressive. I think I will say if they do that, then they are most unreasonable and I don't think that will help us as a nation. If by utilizing the available legitimate means of seeking and acquiring political power and you win, fine, there's nothing wrong with it in principle. In Kwara State, the APC has ousted the PDP completely, Not only have they produced the governor-elect but all the House of Assembly seats have been won by the APC. Whether it is a healthy thing or not, I'm sure political scientists will want to discuss that but the point I'm making is, if in doing that you have utilized the available legitimate, legal, constitutional process, there's nothing to quarrel with that, but if you now say, 'oh, I want to capture by using extraordinary power' to take that which does not belong to you, used in the context of their ambition regarding the South-South geopolitical zone, I think it's not merely oppressive, it's unreasonable and unnecessary and is capable of creating crisis.

What more would you want to say Sir?

We should try and progress beyond this primitivity. By October, Nigeria will be 51 years. Some of us predated Nigeria. So, if the country is going backwards, then we are not making any progress and Nigeria ought not to be proud of that kind of development. That's why I found particularly painful some eminent lawyers talking as if we were in the eighteenth century or nineteenth century that you have to put a gun to a man's head for him to either behave or not behave. Society develops to a point where the naked military power is far removed from civil society. They are out there, you don't see them but because of the values that you have, you are able to move around. When you go to church with your wife, your wife covers her head and all of that, (it's because) there's a law: the moral law, the traditional law that binds you and says when you go to a place, behave like this. Those are the rules of behaviour, not because there's a soldier, but people are brought up based on obedience to law and the punishment, so, it's unfortunate. So, Nigeria should make a deliberate effort to grow out of this primitivity and I think when you hear political gladiators (and), the media uses it (but) it's inappropriate, because what we are talking about is not individuals. We are talking about the rights that inher in the people.

The people have an expectation and they've gone out expecting that this will happen (and) if it doesn't happen, it will cause crisis. Then you now turn round to say 'oh, the people of Rivers State, they like violence'. It's an insult to our people. If you go and create an environment that will lead to violence (and) when there is violence, you say 'oh, the people like violence', I think it's an insult and I think our people should be able to reject it. I reject it, that appellation. So, let us try to accept certain political facts and live in peace… but peace without justice is an empty slogan. There must be peace and justice and I urge all the parties including the federal government. The President cannot turn his eyes away as if nothing is happening. Mr. President should rise to the challenge facing the nation and act like a leader to save the nation from further crises and possible catastrophe. The time for partisan political posturing is over.