Electronic transmission of results, direct primaries best for Nigeria’s democracy – Dogara

Honourable Abubakar Dogara, the Plateau state chapter chairman of Social Democratic Party (SDP), doubles as chapter chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC), and chairman Northern Forum. In this interview with MUHMMAD TANKO SHITTU, Dogara speaks on last Local Governmnt Councils’ (LGCs) polls, the use of direct primaries and sundry issues.

How did IPAC view the conduct of last LGCs elections in the State?

As opposition parties, I can say we are happy with the conduct of the 2021 October Local Government Councils elections, because it was peaceful. And in that regard, we are reiterating our commendation to,  most importantly, the Plateau electorate. It is also important to commend His Excellency, Governor Simon Lalong, for ensuring that elections are held given all necessary support to security agencies that also ensured that  peaceful atmosphere was in place. Some people of the state have come out and exercised their civic duty by casting their votes, the elections were characterised by serious voter apathy, where most of the citizens decided to seat at home which action poses threats to democracy. That indicates that people are not happy with the conduct of politicians, and unlike the past, when if there was local elections, being the closest government to the people, one would see lots of electioneering by politicians, with people agitating and clamouring to get to the polls, the last election was different.
And looking at that situation, one easily conclude that politicians must wake up, especially, those elected into positions to do the needful by telling people the truth, and by so doing, we may restore the people’s confidence.
The way and manner elected executives and even the legislatures have gone down to the people to canvass for votes, they must also be seen involving the people in, let’s say, when making budget proposals, the lawmakers must also be with their people. I think even when it comes to monetary spending, the people should be transparently involved, all these are processes that would restore people’s confidence in politicians.

Talking about transparency, did IPAC care to checkmate excesses of the ruling party in the state? 

Since government is not agreeing with the opposition, to tell it the truth, it is impossible to access accurate records of government, we have tried it through IPAC in all the 17 LGAs of the state and we were unable to have access to their records of accounts, their records of income and expenditures. Once you asked for it, it becomes entirely another problem. Unknown to them, our aim was to help them let the people know what they are doing, and we were just advocating for transparency but not mischief as they thought.

How has the Social Democratic Party (SDP), been faring amidst APC governance in the state?

Given the circumstances opposition parties found themselves, I can say SDP is doing its best advancing the cause of the objective of opposition in the state. Funding has always been the major challenges of running political parties, most especially those of us in the opposition. Initially, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was supporting parties with some grants which was keeping lots of us afloat, but having INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega, withdrew the grants, is compounding our problems and leaving political parties in tough challenges. In most cases, parties are unable to maintain their offices and run other activities. For that reason, we are agitating that INEC should look into it again. But so far so good, the SDP in Plateau state is relatively faring good, we are intact and we are having reasonable number of members that are joining us, many of whom are willing to aspire and contest for various positions in the 2023 general election.

Did the Forum of Northern States IPAC Chairmen support the positions of Northern Governors Forum, on which region of the should produce the nation’s next President

? Since we are in a democracy, people always have the right to express their feelings and opinion. But we are guided by the provisions of our constitution on who and how to contest or become what through elections, and in making our position then, we believed also that the Northern States Governors put into consideration those provisions of the constitution. They tried to let Nigerians remember that those constitutional provisions should be adhered to and respected, invariably, meaning that whoever that is eligible to vie and Nigerians find him suitable, should be elected as President. Nigerians should freely be allowed to vote for him or her.

We further felt that even in the North, we still have competent personalities that are competent to be the next President, and be able to right whatever wrongs Nigerians feel should be corrected. People of high timber and calibre, the likes of Bauchi state governor, Bala Muhammad Kaura, who looking at his blueprint and what he was able to, so far, put in place, making institution of government workable. And when one is talking about peace and bringing people of divergent interests together, our state governor Simon Lalong, is equally a great personality that will make a good President, looking at what he has been doing in the area of human capital development, peace  and security, for instance.
We have many capable people that if given the chance irrespective of where they come from, they will be good leaders in our country. That was why we thought that keeping the discussion at northerner, southerner, Muslim or Christian should not be the fulcrum of the issues in that context. We should be critical looking at how things are moving fast around the world. Most of those clamouring that the North or the South produce the next president are doing so for their personal interests but not that of the overall interest of Nigerians.
I am of the belief that most Nigerians are wise enough and will only vote for somebody of their choice who is credible, competent with capacity to lead the nation. That is why in SDP, we do not bother about zoning but crediblity and capacity. We need someone that will be fair, just and cares about our security and well being.
Again, the Borno state governor, Prof. Banagana Umara Zulum, is doing wonderfully good, to an extent, that many people from the Southern part of Nigeria are promoting him even more than those people from the North, so also some governors in the South are doing well and it is those type of people that we are saying should be fielded as candidates by their political parties to allow Nigerians choose, based on merit and track record of performances but not that he must be a Southerner or Northerner as the discourse is going on. All that Nigerians are after now is truth, performances and transparency but not sectional sentiments.

In 2019, the SDP presidential candidate hailed from the South. Are Nigerians expecting the same or will there will be a shift?

Yes in 2019, it was a Southerner, but in 2023, no one can specifically say who will clinch the ticket. As at now many members are indicating interest, but we do not know who will be suitable to members of the party in 2023. They are responsible for electing who they feel have the capacity to carry the flag of the SDP in the presidential election.

INEC has carried out Continuous  Voter Registration (CVR), what is  IPAC’s views on the last exercise? One could easily recall that IPAC has said that INEC should better take the exercise down to each of the polling units across the electoral wards, reasons being that if during elections, it is making provisions for staff to do the work, we are still saying why can’t INEC do the same to ensure that every citizen that is eligible is registered. Our observation is that many people will not be registered through the present means of online alone, because most of the people across the rural areas of Nigeria doesn’t have or operate android phones , talkless of having computers to get pre-registered online and further to INEC offices for capturing. But that INEC insisted on the current method, it is obvious that it has not recorded any meaningful results because of too much application of technology that we are not yet ripe enough to rely on.
In the circumstances, we are still appealing that INEC should resort to doing the exercise physically so that millions of eligible citizens will be registered.

The National Assembly has enshrined into the electoral bill that election results be transmitted  electronically, and has also abolished delegates method of electing candidates, what’s your take?

When one talks about transmission of results through electronic means using the internet, I think it is a good development. To us, it is a best option for credibility. As regards the direct primaries, SDP sees it as extension of its agreed norms into the main elections guidelines of the entire country. We have been applying it even since 2019 we used direct primaries to nominates our candidates.
I am sure most members of IPAC are in support of the National Assembly passing it into the electoral bill. It our hope that Mr. President will ascent to it, to become a lawful document that will not only guide our electoral processes but further strengthen our democracy to go online with international best practices.