Nigeria News

Senator Ngige: Lack of Field Officers Directly Accountable to Jega is Bane of His Tenure

Dr. Chris Ngige, the senator for Anambra Central senatorial district, was the All Progressives Party candidate in last year’s governorship election in Anambra State. Ngige, a former governor of the state, says the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, may never live up to expectations because he is working with commissioners he cannot really discipline. He also talks about his party’s decision to boycott the recent local government election in the state, in this interview with Anayo Okolie. Excerpts: On whether he thinks INEC can be trusted to conduct a credible poll in 2015. I read discordant things about INEC. They apologised to us in Anambra State and did likewise to all Nigerians that their performance fell below expectation. I don’t blame Jega for doing that. I know he feels betrayed and so do I, because I had implicit confidence in INEC that the election was going to be free, fair and very credible. An election that INEC would place on a very high moral grounds and beat their chest and say, we have arrived! But with the election some days away, at the stakeholder’s session, we had told the chief electoral officer, Jega, that intelligence reports at our disposal had it that some people had plans to “starve” some areas of electoral materials or even deny them of the materials entirely. He said no such things would be possible. We also told him that there were plans to make voting materials arrive very late in some places and very early in others. That some places would have INEC ad-hoc staff that would be compromised; he said no such thing would happen. I also told him about my experience in previous elections, that some areas like Anaocha and the area were left blank in terms of security. People were driven away, especially if you were from another political party, and APGA would not let you come in and they would vote as they wish, thumb print as they wish and bring out the result. And that this time the situation was going to extend even to Anambra East and West. We mentioned these to them but they said everything had been put afoot, security wise, that the IGP was there, he would take care of that and serious staff were there this time. Of course, people had confidence, but everything we talked about happened. If you see the result from Anaocha and from Anambra East, where in a polling booth you will see 352 registered voters and the 352 voters are ticked as having voted; meaning no body died since registration and nobody was sick on election day. Everybody, i.e. 100 per cent voted in so many booths there. So what do you say to that? On the issue of Resident Electoral Commissioners. I have pity for him. He has refused to do one thing, that one thing is putting his Resident Electoral Commissioners in check. Right now, they are not under check. The only disciplinary action he can take against an electoral commissioner is to redeploy. But in 2010, when he was newly appointed, some of us did him a memo and the main suggestion in that memo was that he needed field officers that were accountable to him directly in every state of the federation. It is not something you put one special assistant or chief of staff in your office, coming down to Anambra, going to Cross River then coming back to say, “Oga, everything is fine; look at the paper they gave to me.” It’s not possible; you must designate an officer of any nomenclature you want – special assistant or chairman’s liaison officer, whatever name. But he is there permanently and reporting to you on the day-to-day activities in the field covering the local governments and state, and he is there and monitoring the preparations for any election. Look at the issue of adhoc staff, he has not been able to handle it effectively, otherwise, how do you take an adhoc staff from an institution which has their staff as a candidate in an election. There is a comradeship which people must exhibit due to the emotional attachment of coming from the same place of work. The deputy governorship candidate of APGA, Dr. Nkem Okeke, was a senior lecturer at UNIZIK, yet the Resident Electoral Commissioner drew 85 percent of all the adhoc staff from the institution in an election claimed to be is free and fair! On the automatic finger print identification system. Look at the voters’ register, his so-called Automatic Finger Print Identification System (AFIS) did not work, yet some people took away huge money from the commission. The present Anambra register, for example, is replete with duplicate and triple registration of voters in the same local governments and in some cases same wards and even booths. What do you say to that? I am presently doing him another memo as a citizen of Nigeria, not as a senator and will pass it to him again, hoping that good reason will prevail because he has to use the Ekiti June Governorship election and Osun August election to prove his mettle. On the postponements of the Anambra State local government election. You would recall that the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC), the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting this election, had fixed this election several times, giving different dates, since about five years ago. In 2010, Governor Peter Obi promised that immediately after the governorship election he would conduct that same election but he did not. As we were preparing for the governorship election in November 2013, he again announced that they would conduct the election on a date that was about one month before the main governorship election. But we all saw that all these things were gimmicks and tricks and we asked them how they were going to do the election. Which voters’ register will they use? This is because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had the original and that commission will have to give ANSIEC the register in conformity with the laws of the land. So they again moved and said it was postponed indefinitely. On the alleged manipulation of the voters’ register. Considering what happened during the November 16, 2013 Anambra governorship election, we saw that the voters’ register was not credible and hence unreliable, and that All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) had colluded with INEC and its officials, the unscrupulous officials, in particular, and disenfranchised people. They removed people’s names in many local government areas where they felt we were strong, like the Idemili North and South, Awka South, parts of Dunukofia and Okpoko Ogbaru, Oyi and the rest of them. They then re-fixed the election for December 14, 2013 and said they had collected that same register. So, of course, we as a party wrote to ANSIEC and said we are already in court contesting the authenticity of the voters’ register used on the governorship election day and that as a party do not believe in that voters’ register. Even the register we have in Anaocha, for example, if you go to Agulu, Governor Obi’s home town, his ward and neighbouring wards and even that of the factional national chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, you will see baby voters all over. You will also see blank spaces that were given Voters Identification Numbers (VIN) and had no photographs and no names, but on the election day these people were ticked as having voted! This we confirmed from the voters’ register used on election day given to us by INEC. If you go to Anyamelum, you will see inanimate objects like a bowl of rice as a voter, it was ticked as having voted. We know of some people that died that were still there; they were also ticked as those who voted on November 16, 2013. We concluded that we would wait for this register to be purged before we can continue, because the election voters’ roster is the basis and the foundation of any credible, reliable election. If a register is compromised then the election is compromised abinitio. On the alleged premeditated electoral fraud and non-display of voters’ register. Moreover, as they were said to be preparing, we got intelligence reports that the results of the election had been compiled; that people had already been nominated and selected and that the election would just be called as a cover up. So, we did our own investigations and found out that they had not printed voting materials for about 80 per cent of the voting precincts in Anambra State. They were just to announce the date, bring few materials in few places and announce results. So we were extra cautious. Based on all these anomalous situations, we wrote them and said you must rectify the issue of voters’ register and you should also allow us inspect these electoral materials at least 72 hours to the election or you count us out. Besides, there had been no display of the voters’ register for the election or even the list of candidates. We wrote them a letter and they dodged, in order not to show anybody the voting materials, whether sensitive or not. On why APC boycotted the council poll. So we boycotted. On the election day they brought voting materials to only about 10 per cent of people in Anambra State. In my ward, for example, they came with election materials to my own voting booths by 12pm and kept the official seated in the vehicle; they never came down and by 2pm, they left and the election had been done. So we were proved right! All the reports we had about how they planned to deceive the people and the candidates of other political parties played out 100 percent. My party is happy and members of my party are happy, they were saved money, time and resources. They had been sending me SMS messages after the charade and thanking me and the party, because it was the national party that first said that based on this intelligence report I should take charge, and that if the things were in that direction I and the stakeholders should take a decision with the aspirants. We called them to a larger meeting and said, look at what we saw. We did this on December 29 saying to them this is the intelligence report we had. What do we do? So they said in the next four days if the situation did not improve we should pull out of the election. That was exactly what we did, and of course the rest is history. They never concluded any election or voting, but yet produced winners who are now, “elected” local government chairmen and councillors. On the allegation that a faction of the party was not in support of the boycott. We don’t know about any faction in APC, Anambra State. Those who took the decision were authentic and genuine stakeholders and members who constitute what our party calls State Interim Committee (SIC). The composition is anybody who had been a minister before, governor, senator, ambassador, member of the House of Representatives or a national officer of the legacy parties that fused or had been a state chairman or secretary of legacy parties. So that was the body that met and took this decision. We don’t know about any faction. In any case, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. The people you refer to as faction now know who is right and who is not. On his views regarding disagreements within Anambra APC? There is no disagreement in the party. I have told you those that constitute the leadership of the party in Anambra State. I mentioned them and that is what is in the guideline sent to us by the national party. So, is that a disagreement, if you like to call it that, or misinterpretation of issues by some people? They think we can be doing it the PDP way, of anything goes. If you are not qualified to be member of a body just because, perhaps, you make noise, or you have money or you are very big in stature then you must belong. Associations don’t operate that way. Associations must have rules or regulations guiding them and political parties are associations. Therefore, today we have a guideline that gives the method of selection of the steering executive committee from the membership of the party. From this SIC you constitute yourself into an electoral college. The stakeholders or statutory members of SIC will then nominate three persons from each of the three senatorial zones. The configuration is that there must be three women, one from Anambra Central, one from Anambra South and one from Anambra North. Then you nominate three youths, one each from Anambra North, Central and South. Again, three elders, each from Anambra North, Central and South, making nine persons. These nine will join the statutory members and become the full SIC, that is the nine plus whatever is the statutory number of persons you have; like in Anambra State, we have 19 statutory persons. On the state interim committee. The 19 statutory persons plus these nine we then have 28 full SIC members. This must include the chairman and secretary of the legacy parties – ACN, ANPP, CPC, DPP and a faction of APGA. But in Anambra, we don’t have any APGA faction. The APGA people we have are Peter obi, Victor Umeh. So you cannot really call anybody APGA here in our SIC. So these are the 19 statutory persons we have and the nominated nine persons. If you are also an interim officer of our party, that is member of National Interim Executive, you belong there. If you are an incumbent senator or a former minister you belong there. If you are a current member of the House of Representatives or Minority Leader you belong there. So this is the template that is spelt out for all states. On the APC membership registration in Anambra State. Anambra is not an exception; they are to nominate three persons to work with a Registration Committee. Anambra has done the major part of registration but we would deal with the issuance of permanent party cards. So I can’t change it. Not even our national chairman can change it, because this is a decision of the National Interim Executive, which he chairs. This is it and we have met as this body, done the incorporation that we needed to do. For example, if you are a former national officer of a legacy party in Anambra State, like Chief George Moghalu, who was the vice national chairman of ANPP, we have him. The current officers we have from Anambra State in our interim executive committee are Senator Annie Okonkwo, the Deputy National Youth Leader Uzor Igbonwa, and the National Women Leader Sharon Ikeazor. These are statutory members of the college and that was how it was done. I didn’t make the law and I didn’t make that regulation either. But Senator Okonkwo says no, we have no need to set up the committee because, according to him, he has appointed an APC exco since September last year when he claimed he did a congress with some persons. Everybody is asking, who, where and when was this congress done? And he can’t answer. On the faceoff between him and Annie Okonkwo. Senator Okonkwo was initially to be part of our campaign as director general but later wasn’t part of the campaign. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he is still a full member of our party by his actions. If you remember, one time, he resigned and said he was resigning to go and run for the governorship primary elections. And it was pointed out to him that at the time he was resigning his position he was already time barred, because for anybody to go and run for our primaries, if you are holding our political office as officer of the party or holding any other public office, you are supposed to resign, going by the party’s constitution, six weeks before the primaries in question. At the time he was tendering his resignation, the primaries was just about three weeks away, so it was time barred. Later he stepped down for me and was appointed director-general of the campaign and the deputy national chairman of the campaign. The governor of Imo State was the national chairman of the campaign because we had a National Election Committee and the committee had many national officers, like the Deputy National Secretary Mallam El Rufai, National Organising Secretary Senator Izunaso and some others. Apart from this, a local campaign organisation committee was empanelled inside locally. At a point, Annie Okonkwo resigned from the campaign and said he was not fairly treated, because I didn’t allow him to appoint a deputy governor for me. On the nomination of a deputy governor. Nominating a deputy governor was an icing on the cake proposed for him. It was something to carry him along and make him happy in whatever we were doing, especially, if one won and formed government. Because he had stepped down and in reciprocation, we said he had to have a hand in nominating the deputy governor. You bring people then I will select. That doesn’t mean you bring an unqualified person and he or she must be taken. For example, he brought a woman who had just NCE certificate who could hardly express herself and who ran a hairdressing saloon in Onitsha. Of course, I said no, I wouldn’t take that. I didn’t need that kind of person as my deputy. For that reason he stormed out of the campaign and complained he brought three persons and none was taken. Because he did not appoint the deputy governorship candidate he bolted away. It is unfortunate that it happened. Chief George Moghalu moved into the seat and became the director-general of the campaign and the deputy national chairman of the campaign. His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, was the national chairman. On the accusation that he mismanaged campaign funds. The national party’s funds that came to the campaign were channeled to and managed by the party’s national group. So Annie Okonkwo wouldn’t know about that, having walked away months before the campaign and elections. You know that the campaign funds or campaign expenses had been split into two by the 2010 Electoral Act as amended. If you go and read the Electoral Act, Article 61 or so, there is a maximum amount that a governorship candidate is allowed to spend, that is N200 million. That is the maximum fund the law allows me to spend. The party has the right to run its own expenses. They would run the expenses of the election day such as paying and feeding polling booth agents, logistics, vehicles for movement of materials and men. I think it is this lack of true perception of things that made him to be telling people that I refused him access to the campaign fund. And I don’t understand this, when I didn’t control the party funds at all. Because he (Okonkwo) wasn’t part of the national campaign, he wasn’t there to know what came in to the coffers of the party and what didn’t come. He doesn’t know the spending. Even the donation he made to the party for the campaign he did not redeem it. So how does he now say the money was mismanaged? On election day expenses. We had gone round 326 wards in Anambra State; each ward got their hired vehicle for four days for the election. We have 21 local governments and we have what INEC created and called voting points extra. So the vehicles we are talking about were in the neighbourhood of 400/500, plus other vehicles that were used. All our party agents were paid. Buying and selling is not my background. For us its service! service! I come from a background of the sciences as a medical doctor. I later found myself in the civil service and climbed all the rungs of the civil service ladder. In the civil service if you are given any money you will account for it. So as I speak to you now, even though I was not the one who did the party spending, the accounts are there. This is because I insisted that people signed for every kobo collected from the campaign. I tell you it is a strange happening in politics. Even the accounts of my own spending are there. This is because it is my personal resources and that of some few friends and colleagues of mine. The senators donated to me within the confines of the law. The law doesn’t allow anybody to give more than N1 million to a campaign. And so the records are there. On Okonkwo’s uncomplimentary allegations. He has libeled me and impugned my integrity and character. He put it on the internet that I am not to be trusted just because I refused to take his deputy governorship candidate. Hence, he began to call me “cheat” and unreliable all over the place. I have not cheated anybody. I have done business transactions with people before, but none has taken me to court that I cheated him. I have been in the service; I was neither dismissed nor got a termination of appointment because of fraud or for anything that has to do with breaking the financial regulations. If anything, I worked meritoriously and left the service and even got a National Honours Award of OON for my services to the nation when I was a medical doctor in charge of foreign outdoor services and had to travel with different Nigerian delegations. I had no negative records. By my family background also, I wouldn’t have such records. Nobody talks about money in my family, we are not money mongers. We don’t even respect those who have money because of their money. I don’t respect people because they have money. This is because anybody can make money in Nigeria; any idiot can make money here. If I go overseas and see someone who has made money as a millionaire then I will respect him because I know he would have obeyed the tax laws and the regulations of business in the country. But here, those who evade taxes and break the financial laws and regulations and whatever are the people who make the money.

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