By NBF News
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Recently, several invitees to a rally on one man, one vote organised by Edo Sate Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole shunned the meeting because of the presence of former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB). The governor gives reasons on why he invited him to the rally.

He speaks on other topical national issues.
Boycott of one man, one vote rally
On the issue of the electoral reforms campaign, I am satisfied that it was a successful outing. It was a huge success. How did I arrive at this? The objective was clear: to assemble as many people as we can across various political parties, bring voters at the grassroots, assemble politicians and the leaders both at the state and national level, and renew the campaign for electoral reforms.

For me, it can be reduced to One Man, One Vote.
If you look at all the problems we have had, it is all about thumb-printing. If one man thumb-printed more than once on a ballot paper, then, that is what we call rigging. Or I wanted to vote and was denied the vote. Or they cast one hundred votes and one thousand was declared. So, one vote equals one hundred.

At the heart of the electoral reform campaign, for me, can be reduced to one man, one vote. Or more appropriately, one person, one vote. I believe the presence of the Acting President represented by a state governor, who delivered a written address in which he renewed his pledge to the nation, I think, was most appropriate. And I was also excited that we had in attendance, not necessarily party members, but a number of PDP governors. I know that other governors would have come as well. Ondo was to come but they had a programme. There were a number of other governors that would have been here but it coincided with the Arewa Consultative Forum meeting in Abuja which I was also billed to attend.

Now, the boycott by those whom you call my friends was for me just unfortunate. It is just a reflection that friends and associates may differ on their evaluations of styles and strategies. I think the petition of those who went back was that you don't sit with a man who is not convinced about your mission. I think that was the position taken by those who boycotted the event.

That if you are sitting with a man, who in your opinion is not convinced, that it rubbishes your presence. My own position is that you have invited people precisely because you suspect that all of us are not yet in agreement that the electoral system needs reform. And you must continue to persuade these people. For example, if someone says the Senate President watered down Justice Uwais report, my argument is, so you can not persuade him to re-look it. You have resigned to your fate.

Whether you like it or not, he is the Senate President. And you will never make laws without the support of the Senate. Anyone of us who believes that what the National Assembly is doing is not good enough, the option open to us that I consider productive is that, that is designed to continue to put pressure on the leadership by the senate , to ensure that the amendment reflects the core items of Justice Uwais Report.

I personally do not believe in politics of exclusion. I believe in politics of inclusion. And when you throw an invitation open, you are not selecting. When people say, 'this person doesn't believe', I will say okay. It is a lie going to Church and the Reverend father says he is walking out because some of the people that have attended the church are not believers. But you go church precisely because the world is full of sinners. And the duty of the church is to continue to preach sermon, the word of God, to persuade us, sinners, to abstain from sin.

Let me ask you. Even the fact that Nigerians are talking of One Man One Vote, it means that we all recognize that this is a major agenda, that our people do not yet believe in it. If our people already believe in it, will we be preaching to them. Will one man, one vote be an issue in America today? Can it possibly be an exciting issue in the UK? It is no longer an issue in these places because it is something they have taken for granted.

In Nigeria, it is an issue precisely because it is not the voters who rig elections but the leaders. Therefore, any forum you organize and limit it to the voters, wouldn't achieve the expected goal. Who really needs to be persuaded to change our ways? For me, it is not the voters. I thought that if people hold these positions, that is the more reason they should come. I still believe that politics of exclusion is unhelpful.

If you look at our invitation, we threw it open. I think Professor Soyinka referred to an advert in ThisDay. In the advert, we said all former heads of states. We didn't mention any particular individual. We didn't exclude any particular individual. And General Buhari wrote a letter commending the initiative, but regretted that he had another commitment. So, everybody was invited. Atiku was invited. So, you can't then say, why did you invite a particular individual?

As for me, democracy really is politics of tolerance. And my own trade union training which I would rather fall back on, because I think it is richer, allows me to engage my opponent, not to avoid him.

I know that you don't believe in what I believe in. so, we go to the market place of ideas and battle it out. It is either in the end, you persuade me to drop my ways and adopt your point of view or I persuade you to re-examine your position and agree with me. That is the kind of constructive engagement which I think the present political environment demands. But as I said, it is about individual style.

Some people think that by not talking to some persons, it makes the reform process better. It is their own evaluation. I believe that engaging everybody in an all-inclusive manner, particularly anyone you suspect may harbour the idea, is my own preferred approach. It is not for me to say that my approach is better but that is my belief. If I were still to do it tomorrow, I will invite as many people as I can. And I would rather invite those I suspect that are not yet on board than limit myself to people who will be singing the same song.

The challenge of democracy is to tolerate another viewpoint. In my remark, I said the gathering was not partisan. It was not an AC gathering, even though it was political. It is non-partisan in the sense that members of PDP spoke, AC and ANPP people spoke. Civil society people also spoke. We invited the conservatives, the progressives and the radicals. No one was excluded and nobody was gagged. Everybody was allowed to speak his mind and we all went home.

What can be more democratic than that? Some people stood up to say whatever they wanted to say. They said it and went home. It was an open arena. For me, this is the minimum rigour of democracy. It doesn't allow us to discriminate, particularly when a national issue is on discourse. But I respect their judgment, but I don not agree with it.

Renovation of schools
The second one is about the schools. Well I am glad that you appreciated what you saw. I was even touched when I heard those students speak. I wanted them to just talk about their impression of the school but they took us through their own appreciation of what is happening around them and they showed an unusual depth of issues.

The student did her comparative evaluation, comparing the present with the past. And you know we went there, so you cannot say it was arranged. That humbled me. If you think that these children do not know what is happening, they know. And that also strengthened my faith that I am not at the mercy of mischief makers. These people can see, beside what any body wants them to hear. But I couldn't go to cover more schools because of other commitments.

My own logic is this that to get the child of the poor to be excited and go to school, his classroom should be so attractive, often times more attractive than his father's living room. He should be looking forward to going to that fine, clean environment. If the schools are like a pig house, it will be very difficult to persuade people to go to an environment that is very disenabling.

And that is why in designing the specifications, I told our people, 'if it is one school that we are building, build it properly to last.

We can't accept that in a classroom, we have pot holes or classroom that is dusty because the floor is not properly done. I insist we must have beautiful floor tiles. I insist we must not have asbestos because it is harmful. It has been very well established that asbestos causes cancer. There is no controversy over it. It is a well documental medical fact. Yet, in many of our government schools and hospitals, you find asbestos roofs and ceilings. A lot of them are broken. So, we are replacing them with PBC ceiling and aluminum windows.

Public schools should not be less attractive to private schools because if the children of the poor grow up with that inferiority complex, they will have a long battle to regain their self confidence when they have to compete for space with children from privileged private schools.

Those pieces of furniture you saw in front are samples we have already paid for. And when we finish the renovation, we will replace those ugly looking benches and tables with those furniture. There is no private school in this state that can boast of such quality of furniture and environment. When we are done, we will be rest assured that the children of the poor will have the same privileges as far as the quality of primary and post primary education is concerned. If I can achieve that, I am done because without public education, I wouldn't be here.

My father could not afford a private school. What is happening today is that even the poor now struggle to send their children to private schools. Because of the conditions of public schools, we want to restore that integrity and across the three senatorial districts of the state, we are rebuilding schools. Go and look at St Johns. We are working at Maria Goretti, Niger College, John Bosco and so on.

You know last year the PDP dominated the state House of Assembly. Thank God, they are now minority. They had used their majority to scuttle our investment in public schools when they declined to approve of the board which we had set up to benefit the Universal basic Education Board. But that is now resolved by the new leadership. And so, we have about N5 billion this year that we will be able to invest in primary and post-primary school infrastructure. With that we will score a lot of marks and that model we intend to continue.

I took the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, there just to show him that we are not just looking at Ambrose Alli University but the foundation to feed the university is the quality of primary and post primary school. I have travelled fairly far and wide and I know that those who formulate public policies on education recognise that no matter how you try, there is no country on earth where every citizen is a graduate.

But every citizen can be literate and educated and capable of on the job training and re-training. So, if you have a sound primary and post primary school, a child that is destined and talented can take it up from there, even if he is not able to go the university.

But if we do not restore integrity in public schools, those you will find in the university will be children of the rich or only those who pass through 'Wonder Centres' to obtain marks to enable them get admission which is not commensurate with the level of knowledge they have. And when they cannot cope with the rigour of academic challenges, they resort to cultism. It is whole systemic failure and I am happy with what we are doing.

On the deputy speaker's allegation
The deputy speaker's allegation, I don't know. But I have tried to be open as far as I am concerned, without minding whatever is the official protocol. When I addressed the NBA national conference last year, I drew the attention to the fact that in public, everybody is saying they support reform but where it matters, many people are voting against it, including some governors. But it would be wrong for the deputy speaker to claim his judgment on what the governors are saying.

In this matter of driving changes, everybody must answer his father's name. The governors do not attend the National Assembly. They may have their wishes. But it is up to the National Assembly to decide who they would listen to. If they choose to listen to those who are opposed to reform, they must bear full responsibilities for their decisions. They cannot transfer the blame to another party. I do not think so. If the deputy speaker said that, just tell him the office of governor is different from the House of Representatives.

So, I think that buck passing is unnecessary. But it goes without saying that it should be obvious to you that there are not too many people in the system who truly believe in one man, one vote. That is why we are sustaining the campaign. I think that at the end of the day, legal reform is one thing but even more decisive is the attitudinal reform. The situation we have been in is that a lot of people don't even know it is wrong for one person to be thumb-printing all the ballot papers. Because since 1999, they see people doing it.

So, they have come to accept that is the way it is done. They think it is a style. They never realize that it is a crime. But when people accept this campaign, only those who have no blood in their veins will rig election because the people are in the position to roast the few who they often deploy for this rigging. In the final analysis, the real reform that will make the difference is that of the average Nigerian voter. Is he ready to vote, wait and defend the vote?