interviewBy George Agba
Abuja — National chairman of KOWA, one of the newly registered political parties, Alhaji Umaru Mustapha is one Nigerian who is worried over the confrontational manner in which politicians turn the affairs of state into money whirling business enterprise without regards to competent and transparent leadership. In this interview with George Agba, he enjoins Nigerians with passion for true representation to be bold enough by coming out and taking control of the country's political terrain in order to get rid of the money bags.
As a political party which was formed to take over government, what efforts are you making to sensitise the public about your party's existence ahead of the 2011 general elections?
We are aware that election is coming up even though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not come up with the final time-table. We are actually preparing for the election by establishing party offices in all the states of the federation.
We have done this in a number of states. Our publicity programmes have been on. KOWA party is very much concerned about the high level of apathy prevalent in the Nigerian political scene. This has very serious implication on the quality of leadership in the country. Many people who should be in politics today are not in politics and we in KOWA are telling them that those who feel that political office holders have not lived up to their expectation of their offices, should come forward, join us and participate in changing the scenario.
"Money politics" has deprived Nigerians of good, competent and transparent leadership. It is unbelievable to find people spending the kind of money our average politician spends just to provide service to the people; it is a contradiction. More people whose ulterior motive is not to provide service but to defraud the society are now participating and winning, which is dangerous. What this means is that we have more and more people whose primary motive is not to provide service in politics.
But why was KOWA party formed?
It was formed to specifically respond to the leadership gap that exists in the country. Therefore, we challenge every Nigerian to come up and participate in this electoral process and that it is wrong for people to sit back and say I am not a politician and so I am not interested. Mass participation will help us guarantee free and fair election and bring about credible leadership; correct things can be done and injustices being complained about corrected. We therefore call on people to come out and massively participate as a responsibility and not an option, especially this time in the life of our nation.
Who should be blamed; is it the "thug" who suddenly finds himself into the local government system as chairman, or the ones in the state or national assemblies or even the ones in the executive offices or the Professors in the universities, the intelligential, people who claim they are decent but who refused to come out and participate in politics that should be blamed?
If we go back to the Babangida-organized elections, even prior to that, the parties then attracted people of high integrity; people who have a lot of capacity participated in the electoral process, with a lot of commitment. But after the cancellations and frustrations faced by people like Umaru Shinkafi, Adamu Ciroma, John Nwodo, Bamanga Tukur, Tunji Braithwaite, etc, a lot of people lost hope. When later the political process kicked off, people thought they were not serious and stayed back as the new breed politicians which Babangida brought up at that time brought about a era of people who were not ready to serve taking over the leadership of the country and it damaged a lot of things.
Because of the excess of our experiences in the period I referred to earlier, unlike what we had in the past when people who were respected took part in politics, the problem continued.
But it is more than ten years since this dispensation started. Do you think that those people in government should still be complaining? Should they not have themselves to blame?
It is not sufficient for anybody who has the competence, like General Buhari, for example, to sit back and complain. Even though he does not have a lot of money, people still support him to continue with his aspiration. This alone tells you that those who shy away can not be justified on account of that they don't have too much money. Let me tell you, those who play money politics and use. Same to basterdize the polity do so because those who should put a stop to that are not involved in politics and so, they have a field day.
With this withdrawal, those who play money politics flaunt it, of course, it is not their money and so, they spend the money in dubious and unaccountable ways, without any benefit to the society. In the developed society, election monies are spent on what should deliver immediate value. Lets say by organizing quizzes and essay competitions; purchase of text books or exercise books for school children, even if the party logo or faces of candidates on such books, it becomes useful. But what do we see? We see stupendous spending of money on lousy things like parties, thuggery, violence, etc. people bribing electoral and registration officers and so on.
Talking about thuggery, since virtually all the politicians in the executive and legislative arms of government have either a Police officer or SSS or both attached to them and yet, same people plot to kill, kidnap and carry out acts of violence. Who should be held responsible? Is it the security officers or the politicians?
Both are culpable. You see, in the first place, it is wrong for such officers of law not to immediately arrest even their principals who engage in such acts of brigandage. Even before the processes begin, security agencies should identify private militia and get them arrested. Those criminals are not in the hiding and so, it behoves on the security agencies to get them arrested before they wreck havoc.
Since we know that these people kill and maim people, the greatest culprits should be those who engage their services. They engage their services because they know they are deficient, they want to hide their deficiencies and so on and so forth. What they do is to scare people away so they can perpetrate electoral fraud.
Your party is aware that the Electoral Act has been passed. Are you comfortable with what is there?
We have not seen the Electoral Act. The National Assembly did not seek the input of political parties who are the major stakeholders in the entire process. That is one of those problems we face in the country. We the stakeholders did not have any input. And we heard that in the act, convicted persons can even conduct election. Though it would be premature for us to comment on things we have not seen, it is a major default that stakeholders like political parties are not involved in the making of the Electoral Act.
The objectives must be clear that once a set of laws that provide for the regulation of the electoral process is made, it was wrong not to have sought the input of the other political parties.
Who is to blame, your party or the ruling party? You did not agitate.
So many people are getting so many things wrong. It might be said that some political parties exist just to collect grants form INEC and so forth, but it is wrong to assume that all others exist for that. There are other ways of regulating continued existence of political parties. If you say, political parties hitherto registered would be de-registered if they fail to get so and so seats, the implication is that in an environment where free and fair election is a mirage and where a party like PDP with its strength in the National and State Assemblies and so on, does not give room for free and fair election, which positions in the first place they did not get through free and fair election; where elections are not conducted under conducive atmosphere, it is a problem.
Let us not forget that we are at the developmental stage of our democracy. If they are concerned about the number of political parties, which is not up to seventy, they should look at countries like Ghana, Tanzania, Senegal, US, Britain, etc, which some of them have up to 200 political parties. They don't de-register parties. I want to emphasize this, if the condition is conducive for political parties to have the necessary focus, we stand to benefit form the processes that would come to influence the political process; we shall have political parties that shall be championing specific issues or a cluster of them and they would be known for that. Those specializations would be a major input for the development of the nation.
Once the environment is properly organized, the society will benefit from the areas of interests of such political parties. Parties should be allowed to thrive; the number is not even much. We should not reduce the number. If Nigerians are properly educated and the environment made to be conducive, then, we would not be talking about reducing the number of political parties. We can even see the need to have more to accommodate divergent view points.
INEC has asked for money for voter registration and it has been released to them. How comfortable are you with this request and also the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega as the commission's boss?
No doubt, the appointment of Prof. Jega has addressed the issue of credibility of, at least, the headship of the electoral body. Similarly, the commissioners, to a high extent, are people of high integrity. From that point of view, the process has been commended.
But, credibility goes beyond having that calibre of people appointed into INEC. Their credibility would be questioned not from the point of view of having the correct people put in place, but whenever one is expected to come up with acceptable result in an election in so many processes you don't control. That is the problem.
There are so many processes which INEC itself does not control, which can determine the overall success of the electoral process. Take for example, the environment; the thugs are there, they will bring their arms and scare everybody away even before the election starts. So, how can you guarantee the credibility of such election, when people don't come out to vote due to that kind of environment?
As I am talking, political parties that are not in power in some states are not even allowed to hoist their flags or their posters in such states. In some of these states, you can not even carry out publicity programmes. The governments there can not even tolerate, do not even want to hear of another political party and so on and so forth. These parties are openly intimidated by those forces and the security agencies are quiet about it. These are some of the things which on the whole affect the electoral process.
If the environment does not allow credible people to come out and express themselves; the environment is so harsh they can not even come out, is that expression of free and fair, credible election? Even within political parties, everybody knows that when they are doing their primaries, the influence of money in the purchase of delegates does not give room for credible election.
With the huge amount of money released to INEC just for voter registration and what is anticipated they will ask for in order to conduct the real election and also their decision to use mainly NYSC members, do you foresee credibility in the forthcoming election?
I was privileged to be part of the INEC briefing of political parties the other day. We talked about such matters and so on. Prof. Jega came up with elaborate explanation on what they intend to do. I am of the feeling that NYSC is a body of resource that could be properly trained and they can be removed form partisanship and compromise. All the political parties were satisfied with the explanations given by the INEC chairman.
How have the PDP decisions on zoning influencing what is happening in KOWA party in the forthcoming elections?
Though it is their internal matter, the effect on the polity was such that it over-heated the polity and the consequences were there. In some way, it was exciting because, hitherto, people were complacent but we believe that parties like ours will benefit form what they have done. It seems we shall now have access to processes that will move democracy. I hope that PDP will take a better look at it and help provide avenue for Nigeria to have better leadership.