Governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State in the last general elections, Tonye Cole, spoke with MUYIWA ADEYEMI on why party decisions are no longer sacrosanct and the imperative of another review of the Electoral Act.
As a major player in the last general elections, was there any collaboration or working relationship between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State?
There was nothing like that. But what we saw is what you would call anti-party activities within the PDP factions. It is one of the things that we found confusing, especially in Rivers PDP where you see people cross carpeting anyhow. They stayed within their party and did not work for their candidates. You saw the group, called G-5 at that time, they were in PDP, but they were fighting PDP and they didn’t leave the party.
But that was not our business and it wasn’t a consideration for us in Rivers APC. We have worked assiduously to ensure that APC won at all levels from the Presidential to the gubernatorial and down through each of the elective offices in Rivers State. Unfortunately, on the day of the elections, there was a lot of hijack, manipulation, and all sorts of malpractices, which denied us the victory that we believed we were going to get at that election, but we are already in court.
But it was reported that you have withdrawn your petitions at the tribunal?
No, I have not withdrawn my petition; it was my party APC that withdrew its petitions, but I continued in my own capacity as a candidate. And we submitted our final address on September 6 and we went for the adoption of our address. Before October 10, we hope to get a judgment.
How would you describe the relationship between you and your party?
There is no problem. Our relationship has been very cordial. You can notice that I was in Kogi State recently to join the campaign group for the coming governorship election, and also, in Bayelsa State, where I am a member of the campaign council. I’m working as a party person to ensure that APC continues to win elections across the board.
From your personal experience, what will you say about party discipline in Nigeria?
I think political parties have weakened in the last couple of years, especially, because of the rate at which people decamp from one party to another. The supremacy of the party we used to know is no longer there because the party’s decisions are no longer sacrosanct. I believe that the party as a gatekeeper to the political process needs to be strengthened.
When the G-5 began to work against their party, one would have expected the PDP to take disciplinary action against them for their anti-party roles, but that did not happen. I recall a couple of times when the former governor and now a minister dared the party. That presupposes that you find yourself to be in a position that is bigger than the party, which should not be the case. And I think for those younger people coming into politics, once they see that kind of thing, it tells them that there’s a level that you can become and you are bigger than the party and that shouldn’t be. It’s a dangerous precedent that should be checked.
Some of the political appointments from the Federal Government that ought to naturally go to the APC members in Rivers State are given to PDP members. Is it right to say that your party is too weak to get what is due to its members?
These are two different things, and I don’t know whether it is a party or presidency issue because the appointments you are referring to are done at the discretion of the President.
One of the things that we have begun to do is to inform the presidency that the names of people who are getting appointments are PDP members. At the level of the presidency, you may not know who and who at the state level belongs to which party unless you are told. It’s clear that either with a relationship that exists today, where the former governor, a PDP member, is in the cabinet, when positions come up, he may be privy to dropping names for positions.
The state party chairman has been speaking against it saying that what’s supposed to be the rights and privileges of his members are going to another party. We now have a new party national chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje, who is looking at all these issues and he said the President has asked him to ensure that Rivers APC is strong.
His responsibility as the party chairman is to work that out, bring all warring factions, if any, to the table, and make sure that we stand as a formidable party.
Are you not surprised about the judgment recently delivered by the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC)?
I wasn’t surprised with the outcome because I think over the series of reports that are coming out, it was almost clear that that’s where it was going to go, even from the hearing, no surprises.
One of the challenges that we found in court is the burden of proof that is put on the person, who has failed to prove the case and how that has become a very heavy burden to the petitioners. So, it’s now left to the petitioners to change the minds of the justices at the Supreme Court. You can’t bring in new evidence. So, you have to go and look at the judgments and see if you can overturn it.
Do you think the Electoral Act 2022 is good enough to bring sanity into the electoral process?
The Electoral Act has improved the electoral process a lot. But there are some loopholes that we are now seeing with the judgment. And I believe that we would have to go back to that Electoral Act and improve on some of those things. I think one area that must be addressed is the issue of the role that INEC will play in that. The controversy about IREV must be resolved and there should be no ambiguity on transmission of results. Another thing that was very good about the Electoral Act that came out in the judgment was accreditation and the importance of BVAS. That you can do the accreditation and authenticate it is a very positive sign. We shouldn’t allow anything that we are doing now to discredit that aspect of the Electoral Act.
But there were some gaps, especially, where people voted more than once in the same area, those are the little technicalities and hitches that we must correct. It’s not foolproof. But it is better than the previous ones. And I believe that once we have cleared this whole thing, it is good to go back and do a full analysis of this Electoral Act, vis-a-vis what happened in the field, vis-a-vis what happened in court because all of them must be tied together.
We have to minimise the number of human factors between the time of accreditation and the time of uploading results. As long as you still have that human factor where somebody has to sit down, write, stamp, and all of those things, we are creating avenues for malpractices and manipulation. Once there is the human factor, then you end up in court. Even if you win, the person who loses will get up and disagree, then he goes to court.
How will you advise the President on the hardship Nigerians are facing occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy?
Local production is critical and it is something that we must do. I will advise the President to look into three areas. First has to do with agriculture and ensuring that as much production as we can on food security must be done. The second is on local production and the SME market, how do we ensure that we reduce foreign exchange demand within these areas, and the third area is technology, especially the development of ICT. You can sit down here and make it as foreign exchange earner. There is a whole generation of people that you can develop in the area of digital economy.
We are losing an incredible amount of money in the area of exploitation of solid minerals by illegal miners. In the same way, as the oil industry was brought under control to an extent where you were able to identify and know the fiscal regime around which oil is operating, you can do this with solid minerals.
Also, I think if Mr. President has the time and the political will to do so, see how we can make states more autonomous about their in-house production. When you look at any state in Nigeria, you can compare that state with most countries in Africa. You will find out that Nigeria is made up of 36 countries. Most of those ‘countries’ in their own capacity with population or landmass, we already have the same in those states, are already operating as a country. And so, what we need to do is to develop ‘countries’ inside the country. Lagos for example, is almost operating as a country within Nigeria, it is generating its own revenue, and it is looking inward to create what it needs without having to rely on the center for what it needs to do.
Ogun is getting there with its trade and all of that, so, you have all of these ‘countries’ inside a country. I believe that we need to sit down and have a very serious conversation. Though we started having that conversation on resource control, it was taken out of context, thinking that what was being advocated for was that the money should now come into the personal pockets of the people who are advocating for it. But we need to look at the larger picture of each state that God has blessed in this country. Each state in itself has the resources of a country. Allow the states to develop and build that resource almost as you would have the country within a country.