Opposition, civil society and others are denouncing the governor.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has come out in strong defence of one its governor’s, Godswill Akpabio, who confessed to rigging the party’s primary election in the northwestern senatorial district of the state in 2007.
However, opposition parties and civil society organizations expressed outrage over the governor’s action and confession, saying in sane societies and democracies, Mr. Akpabio should have been kicked out of office.
Mr. Akpabio had confessed that he manipulated PDP primary election in the district in favour of Aloysius Etuk in 2007.
The governor, who made the open confession during the “Good Governance Tour” led by the Information Minister, Labaran Maku, to the state, said, “The people of Ikono and Ini (LGA) from 1960 have never produced a senator. I used my own hand to strike out the name of the person who has won before, and I said it is important for me to give that region a senator in 2007, and I produced Senator Aloysius Etok for you; that is where he comes from.”
Mr. Etuk, who subsequently won the main election that year, is currently in his second term in the Senate. During his first term, the senator served as the Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation of the upper legislative chamber.
PDP defends its own
The PDP spokesman, Olisa Metuh, told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview that the video clip in which the governor said he manipulated the primary election was doctored; adding that it was an attempt to ridicule the governor who he said is a great and loyal member of the party.
“We have already raised the alarm that some people are targeting Gov Akpabio and put him to public ridicule. This video, which from all intent and purpose is doctored evidence, is proof of what we have said before,” Mr. Metuh said.
” The video, I must say, however, is a poor attempt at ridiculing one of the giants of the party. We are happy with his performance in Akwa Ibom State and he is a great and loyal member of the PDP.”
Opposition parties condemn
In its reaction, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, said it was not surprised by Mr. Akpabio’s confession of manipulating the electoral process, which it described as “the order of the day” in the governor’s party, PDP.
“That is the characteristic of PDP. It is the order of the day in the party. The governor made that confession because he doesn’t feel he has done anything wrong. PDP thrives on imposition; it is not practicing democracy; there is no internal democracy in PDP,” spokesman for the party, Emma Eneukwu, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Eneukwu urged the PDP leadership to allow internal democracy prevail in the party, warning that its undemocratic posture could derail the country’s democracy.
Rotimi Fashakin, who speaks for the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, observed that the Akwa Ibom governor merely lived up to the expectation of the ruling PDP whose members cannot come to power except by rigging.
“If PDP chieftains don’t do that, how will they come to office?” Mr. Fashakin asked. “They only come to office by rigging. PDP has a rigging culture. And that is what they are trying to do with APC. They see it as a conglomerate of parties that will give them a run for their money.”
On what should be done to check rigging of elections by party leaders, the CPC spokesman said, “The only way we can curb this is that everybody within the polity should be serious. This is about our nation; it affects the fundamentals of our land. It is the plank on which democracy rest. We must ensure that the sanctity of our electoral process so that we have a better lease of life. There should be one man one vote; there should be transparency in the electoral process because that is where the future of our nation lies.”
Mr. Fashakin’s equal in the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Lai Mohammed, said anyone who is familiar with the ruling party would not be surprised by what the Akwa Ibom Governor confessed he did.
“I’m not surprised. I don’t know why people are surprised. Anyone who is familiar with the PDP should not be surprised,” the ACN spokesman stated. “Was it not the same PDP in the case of Amaechi that he had to go to Supreme Court to be declared governor?
“They are serving their pay masters. Akpabio is defending the indefensible. Is he saying the video was staged? I know that PDP will implode, it is a matter of time,” he said.
The interim National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Maxi Okwu, who was equally vexed by Mr. Akpabio’s action, called for the governor’s removal from office.
According to him, in saner societies and democracies, the governor would be impeached for interfering in an electoral process to deny the people of the senatorial district the choice they made.
“There is something wrong with us. In a more developed democracy, for somebody occupying such an office should leave office, he should be impeached for displaying such impunity,” Mr. Okwu told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview.
The APGA chairman said that Nigerian politicians are not adhering to the rules of the game, stressing, “In civil rule, you should play to the rules. In football, you play to the rules, you don’t score goals offside, and in boxing, you don’t hit below the belt. But in politics in Nigeria, we don’t play to the rules and that is the tragedy of our democracy. That is why I say we are in civil rule and not democracy.”
Civil society reacts
The Alliance for Credible Election in its reaction, said Mr. Akpabio’s action and confession is a reflection of the loss of value in the Nigerian society.
According to Emma Ezeazu, its General Secretary, “They are being audacious and shameless. They feel election rigging is a thing of glory, they think it is something to celebrate. That is the kind of orientation our leaders have. It shows the level of the loss of value in our society. They don’t care that they have being trampled on those values. They celebrate negative values.”
He said the Akwa Ibom governor cannot be punished by INEC because it was an internal affair of the PDP.
Mr. Ezeazu, however, said the electoral process could be more democratic if parties avoid the imposition of candidates, adding that his organisation would continue to urge them to do so.
Also expressing anger over Mr. Akpabio’s confession, Ezenwa Nwagwu of the Civil Society Groups of Anti-Corruption and Good Governance said, “The governor and his mannerism have come to symbolize the current challenges of Nigeria’s ruling elite and why they have been so incapable of bringing a modern state. The corner stone of a modern state is rule of law and respect for one another.
“They believe in might is right. They use force of personal example that their offices provide for the service of evil. So, basically, that it not the first time the ruling elite is behaving in that manner. Others have said before that they have been responsible for others coming to power. The current reign of impunity is because there are no sanctions. You have a leadership that tolerates impunity.”
In his view, an Abuja-based lawyer, Kabiru Dodo, noted, “The comment by the governor is unbecoming of a person of his standing. The essence of conducting party primaries is to select leaders that can provide leadership and promote good governance, so where one comes from matters not.
“The goal should be to ensure the person is competent. So for him to say he replaced a genuine winner with another person simply to appease a certain community is totally wrong.”
Asked if the aspirant whose name was struck out by the governor could reclaim his mandate six years after, Mr. Dodo said “If the person whose name was struck out decides to challenge that action in court I believe he will be successful because the issue of time lapse does not arise. The Electoral Act has not made provision for a time frame within which litigation can commence on a pre-election matter.”