Kogi: Bello’s wife begged me to step down for her husband — Natasha, SDP gov candidate


The governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the November 16 election in Kogi State, Natasha Akpoti, speaks on her experience in the election and the Nigerian electoral system, among other issues in this interview with MUDIAGA AFFE

As one of the governorship candidates in the election in Kogi State, what is your assessment of the exercise?

That was not an election. It was the height of electoral manipulation, rigging, and violence all combined. I want to call it a mini civil war. It is retrogression in our democratic system and it is a shame that a winner was declared out of that.

Do you think you had a chance of winning?

Yes, I would have won if it was free and fair. I say this because of all the candidates I was the only one that campaigned with a manifesto and promoted a unifying Kogi agenda, while the other two major candidates campaigned on tribal sentiments. Most of the young people and the women resonated with me. I know the people might want to mock me that I scored barely 10, 000 votes, but I can tell you that that was doctored in the Government House. It does not reflect what happened. The governor knows that of the entire candidates I was the perfect one. So, he did everything possible for me to come out third or fourth so that I would not be anywhere close to him just in case we decided to go to the tribunal.

Why do you think you lost the election?

That was never an election. It was a war. So, if you are talking about me losing the war. That was because I did not fight on the same terms as some candidates did. It means I did not go into the field with thugs; with money to manipulate processes and I did not lure the Independent National Electoral Commission to my side, neither did I go into the battlefield having the police on my side. All the stakeholders that ought to have been fair and neutral were on the side of Yahaya Bello and the All Progressives Congress. So, it was not an election and for that reason, I did not lose. If you are talking about a credible election where the electorate had the chance to vote for the chosen candidates, I will agree that I lost, but for this, I can only agree that I lost the war.

With the alleged widespread violence and manipulation that characterised the election, was it right for INEC to have declared a winner?

It was completely wrong. But when you look at it, INEC had long taken sides because for whatever reason I was disqualified from the contest and I had to get a judgment one week before the election. I only campaigned for four days. INEC was already biased because they knew what they wanted to do. APC already had the ballot papers and the result sheet was already prepared without SDP being on it. Everything was already worked in favour of Bello. So, for INEC to have declared Bello the winner of the election was just icing on the plan that they already cooked up long before. It is a disappointment on the part of INEC but what can we do? Nigeria has suddenly become a country where there is absolutely no Rule of Law.

What does this kind of scenario portend for the country?

It is quite sad because a lot of people have lost hope in the electoral processes. I have spoken with many people who came home to cast their votes and they said they were not likely to participate in future elections. It is obvious that the Permanent Voters Cards are only used for identification processes by banks and that they do not believe in democracy anymore because the winner is already determined before the contest. Sadly, we have degenerated to this level. What do we expect in 2023, is it a continuation of this same violence? For INEC to regain the trust of people, then there have to be some drastic reforms.

What kind of reform are you suggesting?

There has to be a total overhaul. The chairman of INEC, the National Commissioners, some state Resident Electoral Commissioners and staff of the commission itself will have to be purged out of the system. Above all, we need to go electronic completely. Look at what other countries are doing. We complain the cost of an election is very expensive and it is true. What makes it expensive? It is the logistics of INEC. Deployment of ad hoc staff, unit officers, printing of materials, security -imagine 64,000 policemen allegedly deployed to Kogi and Bayelsa for elections. Just imagine if we go digital. If every Nigerian above 18 have their national identity cards and when you have a device where one person who has just one chance to vote will slot in his identity card to vote, that is what is done in other countries. The pattern of votes used in the Big Brother Nigeria showed and it was counted within minutes. When technology is applied nobody is killed, they will not need all these security operatives or printing of materials and so on. Agreed there is an initial cost to the technology upgrade but you can have banks, post offices or other portals. It will give room for those in the diaspora to participate in the electoral process. If today is Election Day and I have my PVC, Bank Verification Number and identity card with me I can decide to log into that portal on the voting day from any part of the world to cast my vote for the candidate of my choice. It is cheaper for the electorate and the government because you do not need to start deploying polling officers or what have you. We know what to do to get it right but people make money out of this old system and that is the reason why they do not want to change. More so, the digital system will stop rigging but those in authority do not want to change that system. Half of the money budgeted for an election is siphoned by those at the top and they do not want to stop it. Most of the funds budgeted for the accommodation of ad hoc staff; training and what others are not used for that purpose. Somebody, somewhere, enriches himself with it. Nigeria should begin to look into the electronic processes so that by 2023 we would not have this kind of mess. Again, it depends on you and because if we fold our hands nothing is going to happen. We need strong public awareness that is driven by the media.

Some election observers have recently called for the cancellation of the November 16 governorship elections, are you in sync with that call?

I am out for the total cancellation. Is it not funny that some parts of the Kogi West Senatorial election was termed inconclusive and put out for a rerun while the governorship result came out and was accepted from that same region? Was it not the same polling units and should it not have affected all the results from the region? So, how did INEC single out the senatorial election? The truth is that the just concluded election was not it. I am 100 per cent in support of a cancellation. There should be a rerun. I understand that the APC does not want any rerun because they know that Bello is going to fail woefully. I will appreciate it if the Nigerian government listens to the advice of the local and international observers. They should listen to the EU and UN bodies (European Union and United Nations) that monitored these elections because on the one hand, it is these same bodies that we run for loans and aids, but on the other hand, we chose when to listen to their opinion. The whole country is against the conduct of the election because it was not an election at all.

Now that Governor Bello has been declared the winner of the election, don’t you think he should be given a chance for the next four years?

If the announcement by INEC that Governor Yahaya Bello will remain so, it means that Kogi people are going to be in for a tougher time than what we experienced in the last four years. I have said so because most governors try to do their very best in their first term with the hope of getting another chance. But we all saw how deplorable his governance style was in the last four years. He was not paying salaries, there was absolutely no development in the state, the private sector was completely dead, schools were always on holiday, and everything was on ground zero in Kogi State. In addition to that, he has accumulated huge debt without thinking of how he is going to pay back. So, if he could do all of these in his first term, you can only imagine what he is going to do right now knowing that he is not contesting for that position again.

Will you challenge Yahaya Bello’s victory at the tribunal?

Yes, I will for one simple reason that the SDP was not on the result sheet. Only very few polling units remembered to write SDP with their pen, some were with a pencil. That was why I did not record any score in so many local government areas because I was not included in the ballot paper. Excluding a candidate from such an exercise was a big flaw.

You were allegedly denied entry into a venue where other stakeholders were gathered for the signing of a peace pact. What happened?

It was on the Tuesday before the election when INEC organised a peace-pact seminar among all the stakeholders. Those at the event in a hall in Lokoja were the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, as well as the PDP and APC governorship candidates, among others. While I was about entering I was stopped and harassed by thugs in the presence of security operatives. The policemen there stood and were watching what was going on and I believe that the IGP and INEC chairman knew what was happening but they did not come out. To date, the police have refused to apologise or disclose that they are investigating the matter.

How did you feel when this was happening?

I felt so bad that thugs could maltreat me in front of over 30 policemen. My shout and cries were heard inside the hall and no top official came out. I felt humiliated and felt for once that this country is big sabotage and no matter how good and patriotic you are if the system is against you, there is nothing you can do to succeed and that is what we must stop. Our SDP office was burnt and till now not a word from the police about the investigation. After burning the office, Yahaya Bello’s poster was posted everywhere. What message were the arsonists sending out?

You visited the PDP woman leader that was killed, what prompted the visit?

Beyond politics, we are all human beings. I met that woman one week before she died. She was at the monarch of Igala’s palace when I visited the traditional ruler because I learnt she was close to the palace. Beyond party lines, we connected because we are women of purpose. So, when I heard of her death, I felt very bad. Politics should not be war. Till date, the governor has not uttered a word of condolence neither has he asked for an investigation. After the uproar from the public, the President ordered an investigation into the matter and it was because the president asked for it that was why they arrested some people but I bet you that the process will be manipulated again by the Police. I am calling on the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari; the Minister of Women Affairs and all the women bodies that have been critical on the attack against women. This is a litmus test for them to prove themselves and let us see how far they will go. Being in the SDP does not matter, I am a Nigerian woman. If they do not act, it means that we women are our enemies.

Did you get the support of women during this election?

I got the support of women but as you can see it now varies. For instance, the governor’s wife, the one acting as the first lady, approached me a month ago that I should step down for her husband. So, the support I was getting from women in authority was different from the support I got from women on the street. The grassroots women were more committed to me but all these women whose husbands are ministers, governors, and chairmen were telling me to step down. This is hypocrisy from the elite.

Kogi: Bello’s wife begged me to step down for her husband — Natasha, SDP gov candidate Kogi: Bello’s wife begged me to step down for her husband — Natasha, SDP gov candidate Reviewed by JNJ GLOBAL GIST on December 01, 2019 Rating: 5

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