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Violence’ll endanger credibility of 2023 polls if not curbed –Ezugwu

Chief Willy Ezugwu is the Secretary-General of Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP). He speaks in this interview with FELIX NWANERI on recent developments ahead of the forthcoming general election, particularly attacks on facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission, and the dangers inherent

What do you make of the spate of attacks on facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the 2023 general election?

The 2023 general election has remained under threat despite assurances by relevant stakeholders, including INEC and security agencies, and unless political thugs are treated as enemies of the state, the ongoing attacks will gravely endanger the credibility of the elections.

It is worrisome that despite the recent matching orders to the security agencies by President Muhammadu Buhari, which was reiterated by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd) to the effect that the President has given the go-ahead to all security agencies to deal decisively with individuals or groups trying to prevent peaceful conduct of the 2023 general election, the hope of a violent free electioneering campaign may be dashed.

My fear is that from the records of the Federal Government as revealed by the NSA that Nigeria recorded 52 acts of political violence across 22 states in one month, between October 8 and November 9, there seems to be gross inaction on the part of the security agencies, particularly the Nigeria Police Force to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of these violence. Worse still, after the recent emergency meeting of the Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) organised by INEC in Abuja, Nigerians have seen nothing but inactions by security agencies in preventing or arresting and diligently prosecuting perpetrators of the ongoing electoral violence and their sponsors.

Do you share the view that the attacks may jeopardize the conduct of the elections?

Every lover of Nigeria and her future knows that as far as the violent attacks on political opponents and opposing political parties in states are concerned, the situation is becoming alarming. For instance, last week, there was a suspected politically motivated assassination of Victoria Chintex, the Labour Party women leader in Kaura Local Government Area of Kaduna State, who was reportedly killed last by gunmen, who invaded her residence. At the weekend, there were reports that Labour Party’s rally in the Lakowe area of Lekki, Lagos State, was visited with violence by suspected political thugs allegedly sponsored by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the area.

In November, suspected APC supporters attacked supporters of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, in Maiduguri, Borno State, just as in October 17, suspected thugs also disrupted the campaign train of the PDP in Kaduna State. In the same month of October, some supporters of the APC in Oyo State were reportedly injured in Ibadan during a campaign rally, when some hoodlums in some vehicles allegedly launched an attack on the crowd. In Ebonyi State, a government sponsored security outfit, Ebubeagu, has been severally reported to have been unleashed against political opponents of the APC leadership in the state, among other several incidents of political violence in other states across the country.

What is the way out of this ugly trend?

If truly that President Buhari has given his directive through the NSA to all the operational intelligence and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the 2023 elections are held in an atmosphere devoid of any rancour, as the NSA has disclosed recently, why are we not seeing security agencies discouraging political thuggery in the country? We therefore call on all political party leaders at all levels to restrain their supporters both online and offline from carrying out violent activities against oppositions. This has become imperative as retaliations and counter attacks by victims of the ongoing violence could degenerate the issues and worsen the current security situation in the country. We call on President Buhari, who was said to be extremely pleased with the outcome of the results of elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states to ensure a repeat of such performance in 2023, both by INEC and all security agencies, including the anti-graft bodies because election is not war.

The spokesperson of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, recently told the people of South-East not to blame anyone if the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, fails to win the 2023 presidential election. What do you make of his statement in your capacity as the cordinator of the South East Revival Group (SERG)?

A few South-East elites may not be supporting the presidential bid of Peter Obi at the moment, just the same way political elites in other geopolitical zones of the country are standing against the overall interest of their own people for selfish reasons but the good people of the North should be assured that the voting masses in the South-East region are in total support of Peter Obi.

There is no elected president in the history of Nigerian democracy, who had 100 per cent support from elites in his zone during the electioneering campaign. We therefore call on Nigerians not misconstrue the opposing voices of a few selfish and envious political elites in the South-East as the true position of home support for Peter Obi and Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed.

We recall that Nigeria made tremendous progress when the great Zik of Africa, late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. Michael Okpara entered into alliances with the North during their time as no region in Nigeria can produce the president of the country alone. Even after the civil war, the alliance continued, producing the Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Dr. Alex Ekwueme presidency, with Edwin Ume-Ezeoke as Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1979 and 1983.

But when the military struck again in 1983, they remained in power until ethnicity, religion and political thievery, otherwise known as corruption, took over the national political landscape and worsened in the last seven years of the APC administration, spring hunger for real change among the populace. Like we have always said, Obi’s presidential bid is a Nigerian project, not Igbo presidency. It is a mission by the Nigerian citizens across the geographical regions to rescue the country from the grip a very minute pro-elites politicians who have kept majority of the elites and the Nigerian people in near perpetual hostages.

Aware of the political realities in the country over the years, the Nigerian people opted to take advantage of the new amendments to the Electoral Act to remove themselves from the bondage of the pro-elites political clique holding the country in captivity over the years. This is the fact propelling the current Obidient Movement, which transcends tribal and political party affiliation. This why Obi’s presidential bid has been endorsed by virtually individuals and groups across tribes and political divides.

How about comments credited to the governor of Anambra State that Obi’s ambition is not realisable?

For me, the sudden outburst of Governor Soludo against Obi can only be explained as outright jealous, having seen the unimagined rising profile of the Labour Party presidential candidate. I believe that the opposition has hired the Anambra State governor to do some dirty political jobs from Obi’s home state in their effort to cause a crack in the solidarity and support Obi is enjoying in the entire South-East. Nigerians must recall that ahead of the presidential primary of the PDP, Obi never enjoyed massive support from the South-East.

The fact is that the current support being enjoyed by Obi in the region was spurred by people from outside Igbo land, like the Yoruba sociocultural group, Afenifere, whose leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, began the clamour for a president of Nigeria of South-East extraction even before the presidential primary elections. Obi is running for the president of Nigeria, not the president of Igbos. So, to measure Obi’s presidential victory from the lens of Igbo votes like Governor Soludo is the most myopic political calculation.

In any case, power belongs to God and He gives and takes away power from individuals at will and no individual can arrogate to himself the power to determine whom God has chosen to make the president of Nigeria in 2023. It is only God, through the votes of the Nigerian electorate that can decide who takes over from President Buhari. We therefore advise Governor Soludo to face the issues of governance, especially insecurity, and get working as the people will decide his fate in the next governorship election in Anambra State based on his four-year score card.

There is the belief that the recent redesign of the naira was motivated by political considerations; what is your take on that?

The Buhari administration has by this singular action, demonstrated a strong will not only to manage Nigeria’s ailing economy but also towards a free, fair and credible general elections in 2023. With the launch of the new Naira notes, if followed by strict implementation of the outlined monetary strategies for a full cashless economy, Nigerian democracy will be better for it.

President Buhari rightly noted the ‘urgent need to take control of the volume of currency in circulation and to address the hoarding of Naira banknotes outside the banking system, the shortage of clean and fit banknotes in circulation, and the increase in counterfeiting of high-denomination Naira banknotes.’

Mr. President rightly explained that it is on this basis that he gave his approval for the redesign of the N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes. For us in the CNPP, there is no better time to take control of the money in circulation than now, especially with the forthcoming 2023 general election and the experience Nigeria has had in recent years in form of voter inducements. Vote buying is a menace all citizens must vehemently stand against in unison irrespective of political affiliation as we can only play politics where there is a level playing field. No democracy can survive if political activities are controlled by moneybags and corrupt politicians, who market themselves based on their financial might rather than showcasing their track records of good governance and commitment to the ongoing war against corruption.

The governor of Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, has immensely assisted President Buhari a great deal to demonstrate glaring commitment to the fight against electoral corruption through the proposed controlled distribution of the new notes, which will in turn control inflation, make monetary policies more effective and ensure financial inclusion.

The best fight against corruption is to prevent it in the first place and this is one of the gains of the redesigned highdenominations banknotes. For Nigeria to maximize benefits of the redesigned Naira notes, including enhanced security, greater durability, attractiveness and promotion of rich cultural heritage as well as tackling vote buying, the CBN and anti-corruption agencies must at all cost discourage overthe- counter cash withdrawals in large sums.

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