Dr Jonah Ogbaji is a one-time Ex-Officio member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, North Central, and Chief Medical Director of Multi-Care Hospital, Makurdi. He spoke to The Voice Politics’ James Shim on burning issues.
2023 elections are just weeks from now what is your impression about preparations by Political parties and INEC towards achieving free and fair elections?
I think you are looking for comparative analysis of Political parties and INEC and the electorate. I think INEC to some extent has done a good job. In making sure that PVC which is an instrument to every Nigerian to vote, they have been able to update the voters register and are making PVC available to people. The problem is the attitude of the people who have not collected their PVCs even when elections are around the corner. There are thousands of PVCs stockpiled and have not been collected by the people, how will they vote. INEC has done her bit but the people have to do more by accessing the PVCs. And I think the voter education sector is lagging. People have not been sufficiently enlightened on the importance of the instrument for voting. There is this seeming voter apathy and voter education should be able to change such attitude. For Political parties, I think the choice of candidates has not been a smooth ride Parties should have internal mechanisms of choosing their candidates without rancour. But in the situation where candidates choice end up in court and litigations and physical combat, does not augur well for a nascent democracy such as ours.
Do you think INEC is actually in control of the process with the courts still deciding on pre-election cases and directing INEC to comply?
I think INEC’ is helpless to some reasonable extent. The courts in any country are supposed to be the arbiter where justice will be sought and final decisions taken regarding the right of citizens. Where these courts are not able to sit tight on their decisions, then, they have somersault on their position which is leading to the crisis we are experiencing. If the courts have clear cut legal processes and procedures, then, INEC has no choice than to follow. But today, there is a Court ruling tomorrow, there is a counter ruling and in the ruling INEC will be forced to obey. So it is helpless when it comes to the legal somersault that we are experiencing and it is not good for our democracy.
Do you think there should be possibility for an act to set time limit for determination of pre-election matters:
It is exactly what I am talking about. Our National, our State House of Assembly should be able to look to the ugliness in the experimental democracy that we are doing. If they adopt a particular process and is not working well, their eagle eye should see it and let new legislation be enacted to correct such things. Pre -election matters should stop at a particular period and give room for preparations towards elections. Pre-election matters should not be competing with election days. So I envisage in future that our law agencies will be able to see the loophole that we are experiencing at the moment. It is my sincere hope that they will work in harmony to bring this problem to an end.
There were hopes that PDP will resolve her internal wranglings before elections but it appears hope is being lost, how do you think the party can go into election successfully with a divided house?
Talking generally about party discipline and operations of the party, what we are seeing now is a micro representation of the situation in Nigeria where institutional weakness allows individual strength to stand up against normal standards of doing things. If we have very strong institutions, then the institutions should be able to discipline certain individuals who are not conforming to the standards and regulations of the organisation. Parties have their regulations and constitutions. The situation in Nigeria is that individuals are stronger than the parties and therefore, their strength is causing trouble and the party is not able to implement disciplinary measures. So party policies and implementation must be strict and quickly applied to every individual irrespective of status in the society. At the moment, individuals are showing stronger power than the institutions that we call parties. It applies to all Political parties. So the crisis we have in our parties can be brought to the minimum when discipline is allowed.
There are issues of morality and legality, so when should the institution apply discipline in party politics?
Morality is highly subjective phenomena. Legality is a law accepted by the people and is the voice of the people. It is accepted rules and regulations that guides human behavior. So morality will present different opinions but the issue of legality is a well-defined, clear term in human behavior control and that one does not respect anybody. The moral issue can be dealt with by ordinary negotiation. To me, law should be applied in party discipline rather than moral considerations because that one has no limitations and human interest can also truncate that one considerably.
What impression do you hold on the ongoing democratic practice especially as it affects party primaries and campaigns?
Primary elections to me is the greatest mistake parties are making at the moment. It is organized in a manner it will favour very powerful individuals who have choices of particular candidates they would want to emerge. If party primaries are abrogated or eliminated and popular candidates are allowed to be voted by the people, I tell you democracy will grow faster, smoother and stronger and it will be the choice of the people that will come to power. The primary election is the only way to stop popular candidates from coming to power. Remember I talked about individual strength that is more than institutional strength so the powerful individuals are likely to influence the outcome of primary election. So I think if we want to improve on the practice of democracy, we shall be looking at the possibility of adjusting or eliminating primary election.
The position of PDP Chairmanship is vacant in Benue State and party members seem to be mentioning you as a capable hand to drive it. What would be your reaction to this if such opportunity comes your way?
Democracy should be shaped in a way people will have a sense of belonging. The positions that have been shared in the state must be reflective of the structure of the state. When you have participatory spirit in executing your work goes smoothly. When a section of the state is marginalized or not included, then, the inclusive lesson is no longer a reality. At the moment almost all positions that exist within the party structures are not reflecting the sector where I come from. The only one that is left now is the position of the Chairman of the PDP. And we believe strongly that electing a Chairman from that side of Benue State- Oju and Obi will help in igniting the spirit of inclusiveness that we have been talking about. The people actually decide on who should be their leader. If the people are mentioning me at any corner or the party is contemplating making me State Chairman, why not. When I am approached I will respond appropriately. It is a position we use in shaping many things in the state. It is a position that could help strengthen democracy. It is a position that could show that we are running an all-inclusive party. So at an appropriate time when the time comes I should be able to say louder than what I am saying now.
What advice would you give as an elder of the party so that it will move United towards victory in the elections?
It’s simple. The period is very short but this critical period is also important. I would advise that they shift from personality to issues based campaigns. We have so many problems in the society that candidates could tell us what they would do if given the opportunity to serve. People should be talking about improving the standard of living of our people, the critical infrastructure that we lack so much, how we can improve in the ailing economy, our educational institutions how do we stop the medical pilgrimage, how can we improve the roads network. The Nigerian Airways has disappeared completely how do we bring it back, how can we help private individuals to own airlines how can we improve agriculture, how can we go into modern agriculture when we have a lot of raw materials and our neighbouring states are gaining. These are very wonderful campaign issues that individuals can focus on.
With the unending crisis in your party, how do you think it will perform at elections?
PDP will come out triumphantly in the elections. We are not talking about the immediate four or eight years. We will have to reflect on the achievements of PDP in the last 16 years. That is a legacy that we cannot forget in a hurry. It is the collective knowledge of the performance of PDP as a party that will be used in determining PDP returning to power. We can comfortably say in the last 8 years there is abysmal performance of the ruling party. So given that state of situation the electorate will like to go back to the party that actually gave them very good dividends of democracy so I think performance must be used as a yardstick and I am very optimistic that PDP will have the day.
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