I’ve not abandoned my 2011 mandate –Prof Ugba
Category: Inside politics
Professor Steve Ugbah contested for governor of Benue State on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the 2011 general election. Ugbah believed that his party overwhelmingly won the election but was denied the mandate by what he described as the “Nigerian factor”. In this exclusive chat with our correspondent at his residence in Makurdi, the former American academic reveals that he has not yet given up the fight to reclaim his ‘stolen’ mandate. Excerpts:
Nothing much has been heard from you since the court ruled in the case of the 2011 gubernatorial contest. Has the verdict in any way affected your faith in the judiciary?
Yes, Judgment was rendered against us at the Supreme Court. Before, then several judgments were rendered for us at the same Supreme Court. So, the short answer to your question is that I have a mixed feeling about the judiciary. I have both good and bad feelings about the Judiciary. Let me start with the bad feelings, whether by design or by accident, the law that was supposed to guide the conduct of election tribunals leading to the Supreme Court appears to have been flawed. I said ‘appeared’ because the law is subject to interpretation and anyone can interpret it in any way he or she deems fit. You have to also look at the letter or the spirit of the law. I have a feeling that, perhaps the judgment that was given against us was considered as the letter but not the spirit of the law and I do not want to submit myself to the so called Nigerian factor as it affected the outcome of our election challenge process. I’m happy because I still have faith in the judiciary. I’m happy because the now substantive Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will do what is right by looking at both the letter and the spirit of the law so as not to disenfranchise millions of people who took the time to express themselves through the ballot box.
The sustenance of democracy depends on the confidence that the citizens have in the electoral process and if people feel that that exercise is futile, then our democracy would suffer irreparable damages but I hope that is not the case and therefore, I’m hopeful that the judiciary will indeed step up to do what is right regardless or not whether it is Steve Ugba’s case or anybody else. They ought to do what is right to give people a sense of belonging that justice has been served. At the moment, people in Benue do not feel that justice was served and that is where my mixed feelings arise.
So you still have faith in the Nigerian political system?
I still have faith in the Nigeria’s political system. I don’t have faith in individual politicians, I don’t have faith in some political parties to either promote or to carry this mantle of justice but I do have faith in the political process. Those of us who are tagged opposition politicians also have to wake up to the reality of our political situation. I came into politics believing that indeed, a new era had been ushered in with the appointment of Professor Jega to man INEC and I believed firmly that it was going to be one man, one vote, which means it was not going to be business as usual. Therefore, our entire strategies in Benue was totally based on going out to convince and mobilize the people to go out and vote, at no point did we sit down and plot to go and steal votes, snatch ballot boxes or thumb prints ballot papers or intimidate people with guns.
So, it came to me as a rude surprise when I was confronted with the ‘structures’ but I believe in the political system, that is why, I’m in politics now and have not abandoned the mandate that people gave us because I firmly believe that eventually justice would be served. Everything is in the hands of the judiciary right now. Even after the Supreme Court gave its verdict; we felt there was still a window to exploit to give the Supreme Court and the Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC) a chance to redeem the name of the judiciary so as to preserve the political process in the country. We wrote a petition to NJC and we also wrote an appeal to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to review our case again. What the CJN does is up to her professional discretion and we want to give them a chance not to play with peoples’ aspiration. I want to be an example of faith in the political system by not abandoning what we started.
To what extent would you describe your commitment to ACN in the state considering the mass exodus of the party men to Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in recent times?
I’m intricately involved in the party affairs in the state. The ACN has not given me any reasons to abandon them and even the people who supported us in Benue have not given me any reasons to think otherwise. Technically, I’m supposed to be the leader of the party in the state by virtue of the fact that I contested the highest office in the state. But, also, I’m keenly aware that there were people there before me. There is someone who I respect so much, who was my political mentor who I also call my political leader. I use to have two, one of them, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, the former senate president who decamped from ACN to PDP which was perfectly his own choice as a politician but he still remains my friend and then, I had the senate minority leader, Dr. George Akume who is also a friend, a mentor and leader in the ACN. Both of us worked very well together to plan how to move ACN agenda forward in the state, so I contribute the best way that I know how to advance our party in the state.
From your personal perspective, how do you feel about Ayu’s deflection to PDP?
You see, politics is about interest. It’s about self and collective interest, if you look at a seasoned politician like Iyorchia Ayu, you have to respect his own interest. I can’t comment on my personal feelings about his own decision except to wish him well and to allow him have the political freedom to express himself in any way he deems fit. At some points, however, I hope to convince him to come back to ACN. Then, his interest may perhaps be better served in ACN than another party but for now, he is free to exercise his freedom by associating himself with anyone he chooses to do so with. I have no bitterness towards Ayu at all; he still remains my friend because it wasn’t politics that brought us together in the first place. As for me, I remain rooted in ACN firmly.
Most politicians have already begun to strategize towards 2015, do you intend to contest the governorship again?
It sounds like a direct question but it is a very loaded question for me. As far as our supporters are concerned, 2011 is not over yet in spite of what the Supreme Court said. The Supreme Court would have the last say in what happened in 2011. Whether or not, I would contest election in 2015 would depend on what happens at the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rules finally in one way or another, then we will sit down and discuss what I would do come 2015. But, I can tell you that my coming into politics was not a personal decision, it was a collective decision by the people that propelled me and compelled me to enter into politics, what will transpire in 2015 would also be a collective decision and not a personal one. I could not have done it all by myself, people had to believe in something and that was how they supported us to win the election.
So, I don’t want to preempt anything by declaring now that yes, indeed, Ugba is going to run for governor in 2015. I’m not in a hurry. I’m going to wait and work very hard to ensure that ACN continues to strengthen its political structures across Benue State. To position the party to win the House of Assembly in the state, to win lots of seats of the House of Representatives in the state, to win senatorial seats in Benue and if elections would be held in 2014 for the local governments in the state, it would be time for us to truly participate in those election and ensure that indeed, the elections hold as compared to the charade that happened recently. So, my only mission is to ensure that ACN position itself to really show the entire country that Benue is an ACN State and nothing else to me is important. Contesting election in 2015 is not as important to me as working towards the progress of ACN in Benue state.
What exactly are your prayers to the Supreme Court?
We went to the Supreme Court asking it to determine our case based on a few prayers. We had several issues that we wanted the apex court to help us reconcile and one of them bordered on the constitution. We want the Supreme Court to be quite clear in its pronouncement because there seems to be some electoral laws that contradict what the constitution says. We want these issues resolved that is why we went to the Supreme Court to review our case. We are waiting for them to tell us definitely what they intend to do and that is what gives us hope.
From what has transpired, what lessons have you learnt?
I have learnt very interesting lessons that compared to where I came from (America), when elections are held, people vote and within few minutes after the polls, you know who is winning and you know who is losing. There isn’t anything like waiting overnight or two days later for the release of results and you are left to wonder where the votes have gone. Here, we have to do the job of safeguarding our votes to ensure that people are not disenfranchised. It is a paradigm shift from where I come from as far as political procedures are concerned. I don’t like particularly being chased around with AK47 rifle, of course, that was not what I bargained for but that was my reality which is a lesson for me. I didn’t expect that elites would be involved in ballot box stuffing or snatching, but that was the reality that confronted me. Those are the bitter lessons I’ve learnt to guard against in the future. However, we will continue to appeal and tell people what we’ll do when we get into power, putting together reliable structures to declare results immediately so that people can have hope and confidence in the system. This is because, when you take away hope from people, it would be very difficult for them to accept you even when you supposedly win the election. If you give them hope and opportunity, It is in that way, you sustain the people’s confidence. For me, trying to inspire people and giving them the confidence to participate in the electoral process is part of preparing them for whatever development programme you have. Without their own participation, whatever you do is a temporary fix but we want permanent fixes and that’s why it is very important that we get it right.
Do you think there was an improvement of the electoral process in the local government elections held on November 24, 2012?
(Laughs) Amazing! It was a real miracle in the state that the incumbent administration cleared everything even to the grass and the sand. So, ACN in the state as far as the incumbent administration is concerned does not exist. Now anybody hearing this would laugh because nothing could be farthest from the truth. Even, right now, if you go into the street to ask whether there was any election in Benue on the said date, they would tell you that no elections held. Everyone even at the highest level knew, understood that elections did not hold in Benue state. It is really unfortunate that someone that I held in very high esteem, though I have not met him personally, Professor Phillip Ahire would append his signature to election results that he himself knew was false. But, that is the nature of the system that we found ourselves in. As far as ACN in Benue is concerned, whatever happened on November 24 is simply an extension of the caretaker of local government structures that have been used throughout for several years in the state. Nothing really changed; so we’ve not lost anything in a state where a party came from nowhere to win a senatorial seat and won another senatorial seat but that was snatched from it, it also won three House of Representatives seats and was on course to winning more, it won ten House of Assembly seats and was on track to winning more before the whole exercise was truncated by some ‘fantastic’ ruling by the judiciary. You cannot now tell me that barely one year later, that this party ceased to exist in the state, this a party that also won the gubernatorial election, you see, so something must have happened and that something that happened is an open secret to everyone. Rather than appeal to people to vote candidates to power based on the programmes that parties have, the ruling party decided that the best way they were going to use to win the election was through thuggery, intimidation and (unfortunately, this is very difficult for me to say but it is something that has to be said) with the collusion of security forces in the state. The police and army were conscripted and drafted to perpetrate these crime in the state, it is rather unfortunate but it is not all of the police, it is not all of the army but those elements that helped to provide the shield for these crime against the good people of Benue is something that they themselves need to examine their conscience. Normally, in hotly contested election and when people feel aggrieved, they seek redress through established channels but as a party, we decided not to go to the tribunal because we knew it was a waste of time to do so. This is because no election took place, so how do you go to challenge what did not even happen. It is up to the national assembly to do something about it. Local government election didn’t take place in Benue and I really feel sorry for a professional colleague of mine, Ahire to have allowed himself into this kind of behavior by the ruling party. I hope that he would examine his conscience and know that as an academician, who does not have anything to lose by doing the right thing would speak up to condemn the despicable act under his watch in order to protect his own integrity.
Governor Gabriel Suswam has been on the saddle of leadership in Benue state for about six years. So far, how would you score his administration?
I have nothing personal against Governor Gabriel Suswam but that does not mean I would sit down idly as a bonafide citizen of Benue to watch the state go down the drain. Benue as a state is endowed with fantastic human and natural resources. The state has gone down the drain because we have put inept actors in place where they have no business in governance. We have not been able to use our resources as leverage to develop the state that could easily rise above any other state in this nation. That was why I actually came into politics to challenge that regime not against the person of Suswam but his administration and actors around him who have held the state hostage. If you go to some places in this state, you will be afraid that you might not come out alive, not because somebody is going to shoot you, the sanitary conditions of those places are terrible. It takes leadership to achieve this feat. Today, Gboko that use to be the pride of the Tiv people is an eye sore. Opportunities too have not been opened up for people to engage in businesses, only government people are building mansions in Makurdi and it suffices to ask, where are they getting this money from? If we cut off just one person’s fraudulent fund, we can get money to finance free education, open access road in rural areas and pay women’s medical bills.
What is your take on the ANPP, CPC and ACN planned merger?
I believe it is a necessary thing. I endorse it, encourage it and pray to God that it works. If the parties merge, it would give Nigerians a clear choice because we need a viable alternative in government. However, we do not want to kill every other party and have only two parties in the country. That would be undemocratic. I do support the merger talks and would work hard to ensure it happens. Even though, some people are bent on killing the idea, I pray it works out fine.