Comrade Ibrahim Idoko is the Benue State Chairman of Labour Party, LP. He is also Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC. The seasoned politician in a recent interview with The Voice Politics’ Editor, JAMES SHIM, carpeted those criticising the administration of Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia and berated the Nigerian judiciary over the verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal last Wednesday. Excerpts:
How would you react to the verdict of the Presidential Election Tribunal in which your candidate, Mr Peter Obi lost all grounds of petition?
Among all the presidential candidates that contested the election, the Labour Party Candidate, Mr Peter Obi was outstanding, and fearless. He toured and campaigned in all the nooks and crannies of this country. He was able to express himself and to make Nigerians understand how he intended to make Nigeria to work again. That is where some of us built our hope both in the leadership of the party and the party’s Presidential Candidate. We had hope that our candidate stood a good chance to win the election. And in my own opinion, he did but the system hindered him. The same system our candidate harped on that he wants to destroy – the corrupt system of Nigeria. That said, we were so disappointed with the judgement of the Presidential Election Tribunal. The cases our candidate advanced that every serious Judge would look at them vis- a- vis our constitution and the electoral laws, were simply dismissed. What we saw was a caricature of our judiciary. We were ashamed of our judiciary. But we believe that it is the beginning. This is the Tribunal and there is hope for us to appeal the judgement. And we are going to appeal that judgement.
Among the issues raised by your candidate, that of 25% appeared to be very key to your hearts. How did you find the determination of the case on that ground?
That is why I said they have made caricature of our judiciary. I am not unaware that there was a similar judgement in Abuja sometimes ago. Alh Mohammadu Buhari took one of the presidents to court challenging his victory using Abuja. The argument was that Abuja is the Federal capital Territory where the President operates as the Governor. It is also the National Assembly that makes laws for the administration of Abuja. So you can see the spirit behind the Constitutional demand of 25% that says, “and” Abuja. The spirit was to give it a distinct colouration and Independence. And the Supreme Court said you must score at least a minimum of 25% in Abuja, because that is his immediate constituency. And that is what we anticipated would apply. It is a very dangerous pronouncement, it has rubbish our constitution, and has made caricature of our laws. I am not a lawyer but I must say we are highly disappointed in that kind of pronouncement from the so called “mighty” judges.
So would you say the Nigerian democracy is poised for growth or not?
Thank God for democracy. No matter what, it is giving us the opportunity to challenge the constitution. Democracy is helping us identify some of the lacunas existing in our constitution. It is helping us to challenge the letters of our constitution. When we do not challenge the issues in court, we will not be able to stretch our constitution to our common understanding. There are a lot of misconceptions about our constitution and this going to court is helping us to understand. But unfortunately, our Judges at that level need to be fair and need to balance our laws with morality and justice. But they continue to abuse the law for selfish interest. So I think there is need for our judges especially at that level of Appeal and Supreme Courts to begin to be careful in the way and manner they interpret our laws and apply our constitution so that they don’t set a very dangerous precedence. But what happened is that they successfully reversed the Supreme Court judgement on 25%. They must be careful because this kind of thing can work against you tomorrow. I therefore hope they will look at it at the Supreme Court.
So do you still have hope for victory?
Yes, I want to believe that our constitution will be upheld and I want to believe that our democracy is growing. What we got from the Tribunal however,was judgement and not justice.
What do you mean? What is the disparity between judgement and justice?
The difference is that judgement is what the judges gave but there was no justice. We seek for justice but we got judgement. It was just a response of the judges. I am saying they have disappointed a good number of Nigerians. When people begin to get this kind of response from judges, it is invitation for anarchy. I can see that they are willing to compromise on what they usually say, “go to court”. Let me say INEC insisted and meant well when they told us they were going to transmit the results electronically. Only for the judges to tell us yesterday that those guidelines does not matter.
The implication is that, even when INEC is telling you these are the guidelines, I will tell you it does not matter. I will grab it, I will snatch it and I will run away with it, as president Tinubu would say. It is a very dangerous precedence that they have set. But I want to believe that the Supreme Court will reverse it.
The present administration both at the state and federal levels has clocked 100 days, do you see it moving in line with the desire to fulfilling the yearnings and aspirations of the people?
In Benue, because that is where I have deep interest, I think I will give them satisfactory response. Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia deserve our support considering his background. We must understand and tolerate our Governor because he has never been in Politics in this magnitude. Whatever mistake we might have observed within this 100 days, let us give it the learning process. From my own experience, leadership is difficult and then, Governor is even more complicated. Yes, he has a shaky start but we will excuse him. Our hope is that he will learn fast. One thing I must give to him is that he has proven to be a man of himself and he seems to know exactly what he wants for Benue people. I think he has made some promises and commitment, so we must give him that benefit of doubt and encourage him to do well.
What particular reference point would you make to advance the description of a shaky start?
He made some commitments which ordinary he has not fulfilled. But like I said, he can be excused because he had no clear political experience. Like I keep saying, there is need for us to concentrate on our comparative advantage in Benue. We have water, agriculture, land and human experience. So we need to consolidate on these areas. We can develop a more refined process to redefine our revenue base. We need to develop short, medium and long term plans to achieve development within four years.
There are criticisms on the starting of the present administration, do you think these are justifiable, particularly coming from political parties that have had opportunities to govern the state?
Just as I explained earlier, there is the need to understand where His Excellency is coming from and to give him some benefits of doubts. The criticisms for that, to me is too early. As far as I am concerned he has not failed yet. That’s my opinion.
What if the Governor invites you to help in service delivery in his administration?
Benue is my immediate constituency and my interest is to see that Benue State develops. We would not mind if we are asked to suggest ways for improvement. It is our state and we would be glad to see that the State develops.
Elections are over and now is the season for governance and it should be all encompassing, inclusive. We would gladly contribute to the development of the state if called upon. It will not, however, stop us from criticising. Our criticisms would be constructive and for the better in line with the LP manifesto and agenda as a socialist and welfarist party. I hope the governor will continue in delivering the welfare of the people in regular payment of salaries, and other things. Let us develop our agriculture and the value chain and we will be better for it. By now, I want to see how he will revolutionise agriculture. Lagos seems to be doing well because there is continuity in project execution.
Your party sprang up some surprises during elections in terms of membership, what measures are you adopting to maintain the membership for future elections?
To God be the glory because we performed beyond expectations in the last elections. We must remain thankful to Peter Obi for making the party what it is. Labour party has strong partnership with NLC and TUC. They are part and parcel of our board of trustees. We are working very hard to consolidate our membership. One area that we want to maintain so that we don’t miss it is discipline. We want to be a very disciplined political party. We saw what some of these candidates did to other political parties, we don’t want to allow that happen in LP. We will apply our constitution where it matters so as to keep everybody in line and in check. We have started working on our local government structures and as I speak, we are working on filling all the blank spaces that exists. We want to keep a structure that is alive from State to local government levels.
So how do you think the present administration can involve other political parties in the service for the state?
I am the Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, in Benue State. But I can tell you the government has not really extended its hand of fellowship to other political parties in Benue State. We are citizens of Benue and our intentions are to see that Benue develops. And I want to advise that the government should look at other political parties that can contribute to the development of Benue . We should be open to criticisms, we have to accept it. Out of the criticisms you might be able to see where you are getting it wrong. To begin to consider opposition as enemies of the state is unfair. The criticisms is born out of the concern to see to the development of the state. Look at it and see what you can make out of it , don’t shut out criticisms, you will definitely fail.All you do is to come out and explain. But one thing I assure the government of Benue State is that, when it is time to criticize we shall make it very constructive. And I look forward to when the governor will begin to engage IPAC.