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Presidency: Focus should be on capacity, not attacking candidates’ past –Sagay

Itse Sagay is professor of law and the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). In this interview with OLAOLU OLADIPO, he talked about the use of Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for next year’s General Elections as well as opposition to it. He also talked about the detention of a student of the Federal University, Dutse, Aminu Mohammed, for criticising the First Lady in a post on his Twitter account. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the ongoing electioneering process in the country so far?

My main criticism of some of the activities of politicians in the country is the personalising of the discourse. Instead of talking about programmes, past achievements, people are now going to look for where candidates were born, what school did he attend? And things like that. In my view, those who are running away from discussing capacity and achievements are weak candidates who feel they cannot compete when compared to some others. I think it’s sad that we are going personal by attacking people’s past and talking of where they come from, what is your origin, what school you attended. I think that’s a sad note on the direction that the process is going.

Are you worried that in recent times, some of the offices of INEC have actually become targets for hoodlums who routinely set the offices on fire, are you in any way worried?

Of course, I am worried and I am not happy that INEC offices are not protected. They (INEC officials) should have anticipated that sort of thing and factored it into their plans. They ought to know that that sort of thing would come up. They should have known that those who don’t want this country to continue as one, those who want to divide it and promote disintegration and civil war will come up with things like this. They (INEC) should have arranged that the facilities are well defended and fortified and I hope they have done that now? They need to do it so that anyone coming near that office in an offensive manner in terms of arms will have a price to pay. He won’t just walk in and burn the office and go.

From your reckoning, how negative do you think the impact of the arson is to the preparation of INEC and its ability to deliver a credible outcome in 2023?

Luckily, INEC is well financed. I know that they have adequate finance to be able to replace all these materials that have been damaged, so that is not a problem but my problem now is how to stop it from happening in future by making sure that INEC offices are well defended but I know that INEC is well provided for and they have the funds and the materials to replace what has been lost.

One of the game changers in INEC’s ability to deliver on credible elections is the BVAS, going forward sir, the question that I want to ask you is two pronged, how well has this initiative gone in moving our electoral processes forward positively?

Secondly, what do you have to say to some elements that insist that it should not be deployed for the election? Let me start from the second question, if anyone says that BVAS should not be deployed, obviously that person is a potential election rigger. He is someone who feels that he would lose if voting is strictly limited to those who actually voted. These are people who are feeling that they can no longer manipulate the whole process to cook up figures. Those are the ones who are saying that BVAS should not be used.

On BVAS itself, I think it’s one of the best equipment that has ever been introduced into our election process, especially in a third world country. This is equipment that will take your fingerprint and if that fails, especially on those of us who are older, it will pick your face. With that you don’t have any problem. Before you do that, they would have checked for your name on the voter register.

Once you’ve done that, then you are entitled to vote with your card. So, at the end, BVAS ensures that only those who have voted are registered as having voted because once they vote, the result is transmitted to the central servers. It ensures that elections results are accurate, unless of course, there is a major collaboration by all those involved in a voting station to manipulate the outcome by allowing those who are not registered or recognised by BVAS to go and vote. But if they keep to the strict provisions of only allowing those who have gone through these BVAS provisions or processes to vote then the election will be rigging free and credible.

Those who argue against it premise their opposition to unreliable power and internet supply in many parts of the country…

I don’t think they have a point because nobody is complaining that they cannot use their phones in any part of the country as far as I know. People everywhere are using their phones in all parts of the country. Where most parts of the country don’t have electricity, they (Nigerians) are using data and contacting themselves all over the country. So, this is just an excuse or maybe it is being said in good faith so that INEC can be more determined and be more aware of the problem. They need to be aware of all possible problems before the elections. It could be done that way or it could be simply people who are looking for an excuse to prevent BVAS from being used. I think INEC should simply do its best to make sure that there is power of transmission. I mean the capacity to transmit results anywhere in the country where there is a voting booth but BVAS must be used. If there is no BVAS, there can be no election according to the new Electoral Act.

Recently, there was a case of a university student who at the instance of the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, was arrested and detained by the operatives of the Directorate of State Security. He was accused by the First Lady of maligning her on social media. What do you have to say to that? Your question is already biased. What did that young man do?

What exactly did he (the detainee) do?

It was alleged that he described the First Lady as having gone fatter than what she was before she came to office…

Is that a pleasant thing to say? Can he say that to his own mother? Should we turn social media into a place for insulting people who are old enough to be their mother and grandmother? Should we be rude to our elders because we are on social media? Should we be so insolent and rude? I think we shouldn’t misuse or abuse social media. This is what this young man has done. I think we should devise a means for having people like this sanctioned. I don’t have any mercy or any feeling for him.

But some people are accusing the First Lady of being too harsh with the errant youth with the kind of approach that she has used in handling the issue…

Is it fair to tell the First Lady that she has grown fat with the public resources? Can he tell his mother that? Should we promote that kind of rudeness and unpleasantness on social media? Why are Nigerians so bad? Why do we lack training and good behaviour because we are free to do some certain things that we often abuse? I think that Nigerians need a lesson that you can’t do something like this and get away with it.

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