The Senator-elect for Benue North Senatorial District, Honourable Orker Jev, in this interview with RUTH CHOJI, expresses support for the application of the federal character principles in the selection of the Senate president of the 9th National Assembly. He also speaks on other sundry matters.
Were you surprised when INEC declared the just concluded elections some states including Benue as in-concluded?
It’s surprising because my impression of the exercise while voting was still going on, I gave it a pass mark. The only thing I notice was the low turnout…
But would you say the elections was free and fair?
Yes, at the beginning in Benue, it was largely free and fair though there was pocket of violence in places where they knew that my party, the PDP was likely to do well, they snatch the ballot papers. In places where those priest and parishioners were killed (Gwer) of course you know they won’t vote for APC again. So thugs went there and snatch ballot papers, they also burn down the materials and a few places. Apart from that, it was largely free and fair. The turnout was low but it wasn’t bad.
Trouble started from the collation center. It looks like somebody had an agenda to stop the results from being announced. Surprising in spite of the fact that Gov. Samuel Ortom of the PDP was leading with over 81,000 votes against his opponent of the APC, they still went ahead and declared the elections inconclusive. The facts on the ground shows that in 179 polling unit that INEC has identified for rerun, you have a total registered strength of 120,000 but the interesting thing is that, only 69,000 people have collected their permanent voters card (PVC), meaning if everybody that collected their PVCs in those units go out to vote and they vote for APC, they will still lose. So why are we wasting time? No matter how they try to manipulate things, it cannot work.
Some have blamed the election umpire INEC for this fall out. Do you share this view?
We know in Benue that this INEC people have come under tremendous pressure from ‘people’ in Abuja, they will whisper to you that they know this is not right but it is from Abuja. While INEC may be keen to have a decent elections, someone somewhere will not allow that to happen. Benue’s case is a straight forward thing but apparently Abuja does not want Ortom to come back, but the people have spoken.
Is the idea of inconclusive elections healthy for Nigerian Democracy?
Curiously other states too like Benue were listed but if you noticed, they are states PDP is leading or likely to win. So you begin to wonder that, is it that somebody wants to turn Nigeria into a one state party? We have come a long way in our democracy and even have as many as ninety one parties now. Nigerians should be able to vote anybody they want without being force or coerce to vote for who they don’t want.
Some many Nigerians have berated INEC for the outcome of the elections. What is you assessment of INEC based on the outcome of this elections?
INEC is not truly independent because if they are saying government officials are putting pressure on them and they go ahead to do what is not right, it then means they are not independent. At the beginning of the presidential elections, it was going well and I was telling everybody that this is unprecedented, I didn’t know we will reckon with some desperate people at the collation center and beyond.
What will it take to make INEC truly independent?
We need to rejig the law because a situation where the president nominates the INEC chairman will continue to give us this type of election. He who plays the piper dictates the tune. So if the president continue to nominate a person as INEC chairman, the person will want to protect his job by doing everything the president wants. Proper funding and people of integrity should be appointed into that office. We need people who can resign if they are being pressurized to do the wrong things. The beginning of good governance is through elections. If the wrong people get into power, the system will not work.
Going to the Senate, some Nigerians are worried that the Senate is becoming a retirement home for former governors. Does it bother you?
They should be because that is the impression people are making. It is not a good appellation. It means they are not going there to serve but to rest because they don’t want to be outside of government. Such people might not give their best in fairness to those who are going to work. When we have transparent elections, we will see less of that. For now the governors have grown so powerful that trying to stop them is a herculean task. I don’t think any office should be seen as a retirement home, it should be about service delivery.
The jostle for the positions of Senate President has begun, but some persons are of the opinion that the principles of federal character should be strictly adhere to. what is your take on this?
We have given ourselves the federal character principles, so we must adhere to it. For me, I am yet to be given my certificate and haven’t meet those who will be my colleagues but, I agree that federal character principles should be adhered to in choosing the next Senate president so as to give everybody a sense of belonging. It should be done to give other impression that a zone is not being favored
The eight session of the House of Representative will soon round up. What will you say are the legacies of this session?
At the beginning of this session, we gave ourselves a legislative agenda and part of it was reformation of archaic laws…
Has that been archived?
To a large extend, it has been archived. It’s unprecedented the number of laws and bills we have passed. Unfortunately the president refused to append his signature to most of them. But we did our job. The speaker identified some of the leading light in the legal profession and asked them to pick out these archaic laws and look at how they can be amended. Over three hundred of them were identified. The last time I was chairman rules and business committee, over two hundred of them have been passed into law and several were in various stages.
Law making is the first duty of a legislator, followed by over sight. Another achievement was E-parliament, and many other. Its unfortunate that there is a frosty relationship between the Executive and the parliament especially in this administration where the president thinks in my opinion that, it is a weakness on his part to be friendly with the parliament or he thinks it is a form of vengeance steaming from the way the leadership of the National Assembly emerged which resulted in a frosty relation between the two arms of government. But the fact remains that we are all part of the same government.
Nigerians have called on the National Assembly to over ride the president on the issue of electoral acts that was amended. Is it possible?
I won’t be surprised because sometime personal survival tend to over ride national interest. So some people intentionally refused to support it because of political issue but now that politics is over, may be they will see reason on why they need to support the electoral act as amended. It beats my imagination that the president still refused to accent to it but now that he has been re-elected, I hope he will accent to it. I am not in a position to speak for the rest of my colleagues but personally speaking I think we should revisit that rejection.
Coming back to the PDP, some prominent Nigerians have urged the PDP presidential candidate to accept the outcome of the presidential election and not take the case to court. What is your take?
I think that is rubbish. We are in a democracy and somebody feels a high level of grievances, should he have organized thugs to disrupt the process? He is following the legal way of doing things. The laws of our land stipulates that after an elections, a tribunal will be put in place and Atiku wants to follow that process. Why should you prevent him from seeking redress? What do they want him to do? They should let the tribunal decide.