The candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the just-concluded governorship election in Ekiti State, Chief Segun Oni, speaks about the outcome of the poll in this interview with ABIODUN NEJO
Some say Ekiti State governorship election was free and peaceful, others say it was marred with irregularities. What’s your verdict on the poll?
I am not different from other people. Election is like an elephant; whatever is closest to you is what you see. If some people say it was free and peaceful, maybe that was what they saw. If some people say it was marred with a lot of irregularities and violence, maybe that was what they saw. So, from my own position, we are not going to pass any judgment yet until we have looked at the prevalence of evidence that we have, then we will be able to say this is what happened.
On the eve of the election, you raised the alarm that some people were already breaching the peace accord signed and also attempting to set the state on fire. Was that alarm taken seriously?
I do not know. But what I know is that some of our people were kidnapped, and I understand those kidnapped were being released, virtually all of them. I cannot say whether or not they took my alarm seriously, but we still saw violence; we saw the hijack of boxes and so on during the election.
How will you assess the preparation and performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the security agencies?
The jobs of INEC and the security agencies are very tough. When you talk of security agencies, it is a terminology that becomes very difficult to fix because the totality of the security agencies cannot be under one command. So, as some are alleged to be following thugs about, some are doing their jobs the way they should do. You cannot talk of security agencies under one command. The Governor of Ekiti State had his own security agencies under the command of the Chief Security Officer and those ones were doing whatever they wanted. They were not part of the Abuja deployment; so, when you talk of security agencies, part of what Nigeria must learn against the future is to stand down all security agencies and allow those who are accredited to work on election day be the only security agencies in force, and there must be a way they would be identified.
Can you assess them agency by agency?
I cannot assess them because the Nigerian Army did not come under a unitary command, the Department of State Services, I don’t think they were under a unitary command, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, maybe not in a unitary command, so are the police. So, you cannot pass judgment. What we saw shows that there is a lot more work to be done on the deployment of security agents and how to apply the right controls.
What about INEC and the efficiency of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System technology and conduct of the personnel?
I don’t know. I can’t pass judgment on INEC yet. I don’t have anything to say yet about how INEC performed. I don’t know whether their technology worked or did not work.
But going by your experience at your polling unit where you and others voted, were you satisfied with the use of BVAS?
There were no problems relating to BVAS. It is either BVAS worked perfectly of BVAS did not work at all. We cannot put our fingers on it yet, but I didn’t hear of many places where they said BVAS was the problem. It means either it worked perfectly the way it should or Nigerians have a way of putting that aside and moving forward.
What do you think was the problem with the election?
I am yet to understand what happened. When I understand, I will talk.
Going by the way the Ekiti State governorship election went, what does it portend for the 2023 general elections?
If the Ekiti State’s election is representative of what we should expect in 2023, I believe Nigerians must have very serious doubt about the new definition of democracy.
When I talk, I will not give explanations because I am not in a position to say everything that I know yet. We are likely heading to court.
Some people said the vote-buying witnessed on election day was the reason the election seemed peaceful. Do you agree with that?
Vote-buying happened. It is a crime against the Constitution of Nigeria, but it may be a very minor crime as far as the election was concerned. But let us understand what happened before we talk further.
Three major political parties, including your party, the Social Democratic Party, were accused of involvement in vote-buying. Is that why you see it as a minor crime?
Involvement in vote-buying? If anybody says we were involved in vote-buying, the person should prove it. We did not get involved in vote-buying because we did not want to compete with evil. That was what happened.
You agreed there was vote-buying; looking at the election, do you think vote-buying has come to stay in Nigeria?
Like every evil, it started in a place. Vote-buying started in Ekiti State three elections ago; we know the princes of vote-buying, the people who started it three elections ago. Whether Nigeria will be able to exterminate it or not depends on Nigerians. We cannot talk for Nigerians.
In the build-up to the election and going by the mood in the state, everybody thought the SDP would win, but it went otherwise. What happened and are you disappointed in the Ekiti electorate?
I am not disappointed in the electorate. We don’t even know what happened. So, I cannot apportion blames about the situation that I have yet to fully understand. Yes, there was vote-buying, but was vote-buying able to demolish as much as we saw? We have yet to see it.
You campaigned that you would bring about certain changes in governance in Ekiti State, but at the end of the day, the ruling party won. Don’t you think this means the status quo will remain, and how do you see Ekiti in the next four years?
If Ekiti State stays with what they have, it is continuation of whatever we were speaking against and Ekiti people must be ready for it.
What did you speak against?
We spoke against the level of despondency and decadence that we have all seen that faced the people. You passed through Ekiti, did you see cheers and jubilations on the faces of the people? That means four more years of gloom.
So, as a person, do you sympathise or empathise with Ekiti people?
There is no need for empathy or sympathy. When you go to the marketplace, what you buy is what you take home. It is not about empathy or sympathy or whatever.
Some say the people deserve what they got. How will you react to this?
This is where it becomes sticky. Are they still people’s choices or the choices that were made for them? You have to first understand it; if it is the people’s choices, then the people deserve whatever result they get, but if the choices were made for them, then we may not be able to blame them so hard.
Do you think the choices were made for them?
We are investigating what happened. I do not talk without facts.
You said you might be going to court; what will you be presenting before the court and what will be your prayer?
Facts! Based on the facts, we will make our prayers known.
Your party, despite being barely four months old in the limelight, gave the APC and the PDP a good fight and you even defeated the PDP. What is the secret?
I believe that all the political parties on the ground worked for their own successes. I do not know who defeated who, but we will see; when we get to the river, we are going to cross it.
In the course of this contest, did you have any regrets?
No, I did not have any regrets; rather, I was very happy. Nobody will be in my position and have any regrets. First, I have not done anything to diminish my integrity. That should make me very happy; that should make my friends and associates very happy. That should make those who believe in me very happy. I have not done anything that will tarnish my image.
The PDP said some of your members were already contemplating returning to its fold, and the APC said your political party would fizzle out after the governorship election. How will you react to these and what does your future in the SDP look like?
My future is bright; I am a member of the SDP. That is all I can say. I do not know about contemplation. If anybody wants to return and tells us he wants to return, we don’t even have the wherewithal to stop them. If they say some people are contemplating, how do you know what a man is contemplating until he does it? You cannot judge a man by contemplations of his heart because you do not have the key to that; you can only judge a man by his actions.
From all you have said, will it be right to say you do not agree with the election results as declared by INEC?
If I agreed, I would have congratulated the winner. That is why I am withholding my congratulations. If investigations show that it was won fair and square, I will not need any persuasions before I will congratulate everybody that needs to be congratulated.
The PDP candidate won his local government area. Why didn’t you win yours?
Let us find out first what happened at the election. If we know that we are discussing facts and not fiction, I will then ask myself questions such as being asked now and I would be able to answer them. Maybe in two weeks’ time, we will put in the public domain with what we know, then what we know will have been much more than where we are now.
It is believed that the SDP lost the election the moment Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, stepped down for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu at the APC presidential primary because your party was seen as a Plan B for Tinubu in case he was not picked by his party. What is your reaction to this?
I do not know anything about their politics and it does not concern the SDP. We would know exactly what happened when we conclude our own investigation. I don’t want to assume what is not there.
But the belief all around is that you are a very close ally of Tinubu. Are you still very close?
Close ally depends on the way you define it. I think the best thing is to ask Asiwaju whether we are close. If he says, ‘Yes, we are still close’, then it means we are still close.
By way of the heights you attained in the PDP and the APC, it is believed you are close to the two parties. Who will you prefer as Nigeria’s next president between their candidates – Atiku Abubakar of the PDP or Bola Tinubu of the APC, and why?
I will want Dr Adewole Adebayo, the presidential candidate of the SDP to be Nigeria’s next president.
Why do you think the SDP can win the presidential election?
That is the party to which I belong. If other things change, the party would announce its direction. If the party announces anything, I will follow. I am a member. Our presidential candidate has very solid and robust manifesto on the ground.
Why do you think Nigeria needs a change of leadership via the 2023 general elections?
Everybody knows that Nigeria needs a change of leadership, everybody will acknowledge that. I believe that Nigeria is ripe for a change because of what we are seeing. We are not happy. Look at the neighbouring Ondo State where not too long ago, gunmen entered a church and mowed down worshippers, something that we can only think will be in the imagination of fiction writers, but it happened. Those were valuable lives of our people being consumed. Who will not say Nigeria is ripe for a change? In Ekiti State, everyday, there are kidnappings; somebody was kidnapped in Orin Ekiti and released last weekend; N4.5m was what we understood he spent, but we thank God he is alive. Every day, kidnappers are kidnapping and they are collecting ransom in the state.
Today, the naira exchanges for over N500 to a dollar, but nearly eight years ago when this APC government came in, it was less than N200 to a dollar. Who will not say Nigeria is ripe for a change? I was viewing television recently and the Academic Staff Union of Universities was talking about the corruption in the system and they gave a figure of what a government official stole. Some of these are figures we don’t think are possible in our lifetime. Now, we are seeing individuals being accused of stealing what used to be the totality of Nigeria’s budget a few years back. Who would not say that there should be a change of leadership?
If you are to look at the way the Ekiti State election went, do you see a change coming?
I have said one fundamental thing and my position will not change. Let me understand what happened in the Ekiti election; when we know it, we will know whether we are just committing ourselves to laughter with the whole thing called democracy.
What are your words to your supporters and party members?
My words are to thank everybody for the cooperation, the determination, the support and their prayers and to say that we will not do anything to let them down. We are not desperados, but we are also not going to shy away from defending the truth once we know what the truth is. If we do not know the truth, we are not desperados, then we will not fight for anything that will turn out to be falsehood. We will rather not fight than discover that all the fights we have engaged in were to support falsehood. We will not do that.(Saturday PUNCH)
•PHOTO: Chief Segun Oni