High Chief Peter Ameh, Chairman Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) in this interview with EMEKA NZE explains why the council disagrees with INEC and the purported division within IPAC.
What is the cause of the division within IPAC from your own point of view that some of your members are now saying that Chief Chekwas Okorie is their chairman?
Chekwas Okorie is a respected man; he a very responsible man, I have high regard for him. I have worked him no matter what anybody will say. But I think it is proper for you to also interview him to hear from him that he is a factional chairman.
For me, since I was elected, I have been working with INEC. In fact INEC has so far given us N17 million through me since I was elected, no other person. So there is no faction. I have appeared in several fora with INEC standing as IPAC chairman. I think the seeming cause of that crisis was that they felt I was going to say something that was not in their favour. They thought I was going to question some certain things and they got wind of it. If you were there, you see that in democracy it is not about one party lobbying Peter Ameh, it’s about the majority electing me.
So, I was elected by the majority and I’m still the chairman of the IPAC through the election of the majority and if you were there (INEC quarterly meeting with parties), you could see how the political parties chairmen protected their chairman when very few six or seven people were just trying to cause crisis and they ran away because of lack of numbers. IPAC is not divided, there are varying interests in IPAC, there is no doubt about that but the most important thing is that because of lack of education, some of them do not even know that IPAC is a political but not a partisan organisation.
IPAC cannot endorse, IPAC cannot go against APC, IPAC cannot go against PDP, IPAC cannot go against any party. So they are being funny because they go to their paymasters and get money. They say “Peter want to go against APC”, “Peter want go against President Muhammadu Buhari”. It is not true.
That is why from the day we formed IPAC, 12, 13 years ago, everybody want to pursue a different course. We should go and form a different organisation and leave IPAC alone to pursue the main reason why we established it- a free and fair election, to pursue advocacy to discourage voter apathy, to go and announce to the public the preparations of INEC towards conducting a free and fair elections.
These are the functions of IPAC. IPAC has no other reason to fight or to war. Like those group they have, what they call Coalition of Progressive Political Party COPPP III, Ibrahim Bashir is the chairman. Then we have what we call CUPP, Coalition of United Political Parties because we cannot use IPAC to advance our political interests. That is the reason these associations are formed so that we can pursue our interest as guaranteed under the Constitution that we are free to belong to any association or a political party that will protect your right and interest.
Since I was elected 5th of September, 2019, have you heard anybody release any statement that he is the chairman? No. In more than one hundred occasions, I have given letter of congratulatory message to the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). Three days ago, if you listened to Radio Nigeria, the Abdulsalami National Peace Committee just appointed one of my nominee, Mr Benson Adetona as member of National Peace Committee. If you go to the Nigerian women, I am the person they know, even in INEC. For the first time, IPAC was established, it is I chief Peter Ameh with the 9 man committee, we have rented IPAC headquarters and we are going to call Journalists to open that place. IPAC had never had a corporate national headquarters since it’s formation. This person, Nalado spent two years and there was nothing to write home about.
Before you digress, can you tell the public the summary of what happened, what led to it?
I think in politics, people should grow beyond parochial interest because we have parochial and childish views and sentiments and actions. When I got to INEC, a chair was labeled “IPAC chairman”. The INEC official walked me to that seat. Officially I sat down on the seat. In fact the invitations was sent through me to political parties and I did a good job by making sure that all parties irrespective of whether you love or hate me were well informed.
The code of conduct simply stipulates that if you have a 50 per cent attendance, you have IPAC. You don’t have to have 91 persons in one hall saying they love you, before you say you are the IPAC chairman. if you have 50 per cent majority, you have IPAC presence. As we were there, we followed the processes and all that.
But because there were journalists, they felt that if they do what they did there, they would have amplified it. When I was called, those other six party chairmen, they were not more than six. If you were there you see that they were just six now decided to disrupt proceedings for people to get the feeling that there was crisis within IPAC.
Because they saw that majority of party chairmen in this country are the most responsible people I have ever seen who are acquainted to the dictates of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and code of conduct of IPAC. stood up and defended their chairman, I, High Chief, Peter Ameh, surrounded and protected me from the vicious attack of those minority who then decided to leave the hall.
Can you confirm that some officials of INEC instigated the Intra- IPAC crisis at the meeting with INEC?
In fact, what we are asking for now is that any meeting we will hold with INEC, journalists should be there from the beginning to the end. There is nothing about national security in any meeting with INEC; we are not holding security meeting, we are talking about Nigeria. So that Nigerians can see what we discuss and how we sincerely want Nigeria to change. So what should journalists be asked to leave? In my last statement before leaving the headquarters, I told the INEC’s Publicity Director, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi that any day he misbehaves the way he did at the meeting, we will take it up with him and that was the word coming from the political parties.
To be fair to the INEC chairman, he has been very cooperative with us. He has been very fair, he has given us resources to conduct State IPAC elections. We have been able to rent an office and furnished it. So the man has done his best but in every society, there are people who do not want to follow the dictates of the rules; who would want to misbehave.
So I have reported the people to the INEC chairman and I know the case will be taken care of because I believe in his ability to take care of these issues. On the issue of Amina Zakari, it is the right of political parties to ask questions. Our democracy cannot deepen if we want everybody to be on one side. One of the things that nature will continue to fight is the ability for people to be allowed to express their freewill without any sense of intimidation or harassment.
What’s your take on Amina Zakari? There has been a lot of calls for her to excuse herself from INEC given the fact that she has been associated with controversy in previous INEC outings- in Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, Edo and all that?
You need to separate this thing; I do not want to talk about Amina Zakari on the platform of IPAC anymore. My party’s view: It’s just that Nigerians don’t want to do the right thing. Look, Amina Zakari is not even being fair to her own self, I sympathize with her. She is not being fair to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or to the electoral process. Anything that is transparent must not just be transparent but must be seen to be transparent; anything that is fair, must not just be fair but must be seen to be fair and if people had a preconceived opinion, a perception already driven by an obscured view where they are standing- whether obscured or in reality- that Amina Zakari has a relationship with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having served in PTF, having served in several places with the president, having had this relationship, whether by marriage or by blood, if the President wins election tomorrow, they will say Amina doctored the results; if he loses, they will say people were able to shoot Anima’s intention to doctor the results. So whichever way, I sympathize with her and those related to her because they are not being fair to themselves, whatever she does now, she will not be treated fairly. So for me, there are needless controversies at this point in time for her and for the commission.
That is the position of my party. For IPAC, we have agreed that political parties should speak on this issue independently and decide for their parties what their positions are. And for me as the chairman of PPA and a presidential candidate in this forthcoming election, I feel she is not being fair to herself. So she should look at what is right, morally speaking, and take a decision based on that, just for the benefit of our democracy.
What are the other parts of the Election Regulations and Guidelines that IPAC is not comfortable with?
One, they said that if your PVC is recognised, and your thumbprint is not recognised by the Smart Card Reader (SCR), you will vote; your thumbprint is recognised and your PVC is not recognised, you can vote. If you put your PVC and a different name appears and they said the card is authentic but the name that appears is different from the one in the register. So what we are saying is the card reader now has become useless.
At the IPAC level, our part is to see how we can expand the winning space of elections in 2019 so that it will not be a two-party driven majority at the National Assembly and to do that, you must create a level playing field, you must make the electoral system so strong so that rigging becomes difficult for the two most powerful parties. So that is our fight; to be able to deepen multi-party democracy. We are saying no. If a different name appears, let the person not vote. If the Card Reader does not read the thumbprint and the name, let the person not vote. It’s credibility we are looking at. So these are the small issues we are trying to discuss and INEC is objecting to it.
Are you satisfied with the simultaneous accreditation and voting?
You know the issue is that when Nigerians follow a small road and they say if we don’t follow that again we will not be happy. What this multi-party democracy entails is to be able to carry more people along on the vehicle of democracy. What people are looking at is if you do simultaneous accreditation and voting, you will not know the people accredited until the end of the election and people can have a preconceived information and say this polling unit has more than 1000 people, can we increase it to 5,000 before we announce the results, phone calls can be made.
What about the manual transmission of results, does IPAC approve of it?
We are not okay with it; it should have been done both manually and electronically. So that before you do anything, the data would have been transferred to the national headquarters, who are also making collation. We are also against the unfettered and uncontrolled right given to the returning g officers. They said any election cancelled by them can no longer be upturned except through the Court of Law. With that, you can just hate a party and say this election is cancelled and there will be nothing else. We are looking at a consensus process where all stakeholders are involved. You can say that election that is written off by them can be re- conducted. We are trying to strike a balance and that’s why we need to sit down with the commission to create the balance.
Are you saying that INEC did not consult with IPAC before arriving at the Regulations and Guidelines?
No. I didn’t receive email; my party did not receive email. Our email is still open and as I speak to you, I have sixty-eight (68) parties which complained to me that no election guideline and Regulations was released or sent to their email on or before the date of the INEC meeting with political parties.
So INEC lied?
That’s what I am saying now; INEC said they sent email, people said they did not receive any mail. My email is there. If they want investigation, let them open their email, let people come and see if the email got to me. Our party email is: [email protected], my personal email is [email protected]. So if they want to check, let them check to see if there was any email sent to us. I speak to you authoritatively, I can list the parties who said they did not receive the email and we only met that guidelines on the day of the meeting, last Monday.
Therefore, would you endorse the activities of INEC? Do you have confidence in what INEC is doing?
That is the problem with the Nigerian system. You are asking somebody to have confidence; there must be considerable level of mutual communication and eventual understanding, then you conclude.