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NGF election video was manipulated - Mimiko

By The Citizen
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Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, in this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE speaks about the recent controversial Nigerian Governors' Forum election and the roles he played

 Some Nigerians are apprehensive that the 2015 elections may not be successful because of the inability of 36 governors to conduct a simple poll among themselves. What is your take on this?

I must say that none of the governors is very proud of what has happened. But some of us believe that it is necessary that we ensure that things are done right in the interest of our country. A few of us have also received a lot of bashing but we believe that we must stand for what is true and just. The fundamental question that will never go away, no matter how you look at the event of that Friday is the fact that the governors' forum is a voluntary association; its an association of equals, who have voluntarily decided to come together to pursue what their collective interest.

Do you mean it is not compulsory for all governors to be members of the body?

It is important that all members should be able to abide by the rules and regulations of the body; otherwise any member can choose to stay away. Anybody who is there by volition can pull out without consequences to his status as governor.

Number two and this is one point that is very fundamental: No matter the amount of propaganda that goes on in the media, there is one issue that keeps coming up that we cannot run away from. It is a situation, where a chairman of a forum of equals decides to contest again, but the issue of whether that's in tandem with the spirit and the letters of our constitution is another issue. So, that election to a very large extent must reflect the standard of election in the polity.

Irrespective of whatever anybody says, 2011 elections were much better than the previous ones. No matter what anybody says, the election that brought me and Adams Oshiomhole back was probably the best we have had in this country. Once we can have credible elections, it will throw up real leaders of the people, who will work for the people and that the issues of development are addressed.

But, there are video clips of the election on how voting was conducted and counted, how come you rejected the outcome of the process?

Governor Rotimi Amaechi presided over his election. So, from the perspective of this fundamental, I will analyse what happened on the day in question. Some of us argued: 'Mr. Chairman, you are there as chairman by volition, by consensus. If willy-nilly, you say you want to contest election, then you must first dissolve the house.' What was released to the public was a product of manipulation. It was predetermined and disrespectful. I challenge anyone to show to the whole world where I was captured casting my vote in the video.

I specifically said, even in a village meeting, or old boys' association meeting, once we say a tenure has elapsed and the presiding officer in this case, the chairman, indicated interest, we must first of all dissolve the house. Then we will elect a temporary man who will preside over the affairs until a new chairman emerges. We must also agree on the process of that election, especially in a voluntary organisation, where what we claim as constitution doesn't spell out clearly how it should be done.

The practice in the governors' forum is that the chairman always emerges by consensus.  Also, the practice has always been that the party with the majority among the governors will produce the chairman.

But the result reflected the number of people present at the election.

We know as a matter of fact that the PDP Governors' Forum had endorsed Governor Jonah Jang. But be that as it may, immediately Governor Amaechi insisted that he was going to run, we insisted also that he had to vacate the seat as chairman, so that we could bring in somebody who would now conduct the affairs of the house. For me, that was fundamental.

I insist that you must see the full video. Our meetings are quasi, informal meetings; if somebody out of disrespect for his own colleagues, or because of some predetermined notion decides to plant video, you should ask him for the whole video.

We insisted that, Mr. Chairman, if you are insisting on running, the morality of the situation dictates that you vacate that seat. In fact, Governor Peter Obi who was the vice-chairman said he was not running.

The worst case scenario was for Peter Obi to be there to conduct the election. We must first of all agree on the mode of this election: Is it going to be by raise of hands? If it is going to be secret ballot, is it going to be by ticking or thumb printing? But Governor Amaechi didn't only indicate interest that he was going to run, he also insisted that he wouldn't vacate that seat and there was a lot of commotion in the house. At a stage, one of the governors said, those of us that ran for second term didn't vacate our seats before election, but we pointed out the difference.

Yes, I ran for a second term but I wasn't the Independent National Electoral Commission; I wasn't the one that printed the ballot papers. You cannot be a candidate and at the same time be your own INEC, and at the same time have the privilege of producing the ballot papers! He knew the number of ballot papers he produced; there were no serial numbers on them, we didn't know the number of ballot papers and he was also the one who brought the ballot box.

So, for me, that was the point of departure. Quite a number of us kept saying at that juncture that it would be immoral for us to go on.

We were tempted to fight. At a stage, we then said in the interest of this forum, let us give him the opportunity to seat there, but if he was sitting there to preside over this election, we would not use his ballot papers.

We then said it must be by show of hands. We were still arguing when he said Okauru (DG of NGF) should start distributing ballot papers.

There were two options open to us:  Either we walked out. But if we had walked out, there is a viral input in that constitution which also says that the quorum is 12.

So, if we had walked out, there was no guarantee that certain people wouldn't have sat down there and called the press to witness a 'free and fair election.'  Of course, the other option was the Nigerian way: Take the ballot and smash it; let there be crisis.

But you also know that such behaviour is not expected from a governor. Some governors were almost tempted to do that, but we kept saying we should not do it in the interest of Nigeria. It is better for us to come out and say we participated and keep defending it and we know that time will bear us out.

I remember that I kept saying that the process was immoral and that the outcome would be disputed. I cannot say that some governors didn't vote, but I am sure that what they counted didn't represent the opinion of governors there that day.

The information after the election was that Amaechi won with 19 votes as against Jang's 16. How would you reconcile that with your submission that the result did not reflect the opinion of the governors?

It would have been victory for Amaechi if everybody had endorsed the outcome of that election. This is absolutely important.

The day after the election-forget the fact that Amaechi has succeeded in playing the underdog in the press and you know journalists like victims and underdogs.

At times, if an aggressor is smart he can translate himself to be victim. The following day, Governor Jang called a meeting of governors, 18 were present, reiterating their support for him. Now, 18 the following day, standing to be counted physically as opposed to 19 in some dubious ballot papers which was designed by a contestant.

The question I ask is, why have some people decided to believe in a voodoo ballot process rather than the physical people, who were there to be counted? But we are ready to take whatever bashing that comes, knowing that history will bear us out that you cannot be a judge in your own case.

It was morally wrong, conventionally wrong and legally wrong for Governor Amaechi as a candidate to sit beside the ballot papers, bring the ballot box and be the presiding officer. If we subsume principles under propaganda, we will all pay a price for it in 2015.

What is the way out of the crisis?
Like I said earlier, none of the governors is happy with what is happening at the NGF but we are very optimistic that we will come out stronger. I think the best thing is for all of us to allow reason to prevail by doing the right thing.

My position on this issue is clear. It is the turn of the North to produce the chairman and we should allow the Northern Governors' Forum to present its candidate by consensus. We should just forget about ego and do the right thing.