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By NBF News

The proposed new voter's register to be produced by the new helmsmen at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may not be business as usual as many groups are warming up to participate effectively in order to ensure Nigeria has clean and reliable voter's register. According to leaders of the groups, rigging of elections usually begins with the manipulation of the register.

Spokesman for the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Mr. Yinka Odumakin told Saturday Sun that interest groups are determined to give support to INEC in order to ensure that the registration is not manipulated. Odumakin said the SNG would mobilize people to man the polling booths while the NLC and ASUU are putting down their facilities for use by INEC.

He said: 'We are going to collaborate with all well- meaning groups in Nigeria to ensure that we mobilize people above board to be engaged in the registration process.'

Odumakin pointed out that the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega and six commissioners shows the apparent commitment of the president to ensure a free and fair election in 2011. However, the SNG would continue to monitor the activities of INEC. It would also continue to sensitize Nigerians to the need to guard their rights and ensure that their votes count.

Odumakin maintained that Jega has credibility. He also has a good track record. He would, however, need the support of all to succeed. He called for the modified open ballot system to ensure that even those who may register twice would not be able to vote twice.

He also spoke on other issues.
What is the attitude of Save Nigeria Group to the appointment of Attahiru Jega and the Federal Electoral Commissioners? Many hailed the appointment why others said there is no way the president can be neutral.

Save Nigeria Group is clearly in support of the proposal of Justice Uwais panel on the mode of the appointment of the INEC chairman and the commissioners. It recommended that the NJC should be involved in the appointment of electoral officers. The NJC should shortlist and then pass it to the president out of which one would be picked.

But you saw the game going on. The National Assembly did not pass the report onto law. The law today is that the president has to appoint and that is what Goodluck Jonathan has done.

We would have wished that we used the Mohammed Uwais report. As per the nomination of Jega, we believe that considering his background and where he is coming from and his track record, he will not disappoint us. He also has a name to protect. We are ready to do business with him. We also see people like Professor Lamirode and a few others and we believe that we can leverage on those people because of where they are coming from. We believe they can do the right thing without us letting off our guards and resting on our oars. We shall not abandon the mass mobilization and galvanization of people because even if you have 13 Jegas as INEC commissioners and people are not ready to insist in conducting free and fair elections, the elections would be manipulated. We would not have free and fair elections. You have to fight for and demand free and fair elections. We believe that we should combine advocacy with engagement and do something that can make us raise our heads again in the comityof nations.

Jonathan said anywhere he goes in the world, they always asked about free and fair elections in Nigeria and it is becoming an embarrassment to him and he would want to be the last president that goes through that.

What is to be done to ensure that the president is not the sole authority that would appoint electoral officers?

We lost that battle because if we had enough time, we would have insisted on it. You know we lost six months on the Yar'Adua saga. Those six months was on what the constitution says that when the president is not available, the vice president should be the acting president. It shows the kind of country in which we are. A country where all rules have been subverted. A country where laws are not respected. So, we were fighting over what we should not be fighting over. The time we would have used to fight over Uwais report, we wasted it on the fight over the then vice president who should be the acting president.

So, in a way I think we lost the battle for electoral reforms but now, the war on free and fair election is still on. By the time we have free and fair elections, we have been praying for, we will press for the removal of INEC from the apron-string of the president and the independence must come through the mode of appointment. That would be when we have a sane environment. But right now, it would be foolhardy to continue to shout over Uwais report while those that want to contest elections are preparing. What to do now is to mobilize and galvanize our people to resist rigging of election in 2011. Whatever it is going to take, our people should fight to ensure that we have free and fair elections.

So, in a plain language, it is not ideal for the president to solely appoint electoral officers?

No. It is not ideal. It gives room for manipulations and underhand dealings. It does not give room for transparency and the Abacha constitution we are operating now, which Obasanjo doctored when he became president, was made for Abacha. That is why we have been calling for a new constitution. But in the meantime we have to do what is needful and make use of what is available now and galvanize our people to say enough is enough.

The newly appointed electoral officers have said they would embark on compilation of a new voter's register. What is Save Nigeria Group going to do to ensure the registration of voters is not manipulated?

On 31st May, we started the campaign for free, fair and credible elections in Abuja. We moved to Lagos on June 23 when we had the grand rally to ask for a fresh voters register. Coincidentally, the president spoke on that day and said we are going to have a new voter's register. Already, we are hearing of NLC and ASUU offering their facilities to conduct new registration. On that we stand and we shall ensure that we have fresh registration because the present register is not credible. We had names like Mike Tyson and people who are dead. Nasil El-Rufai said that the last re-election in Ekiti State, his name was in the register and he was in exile. We cannot use that kind of register to vote. Once we get the new INEC to do that, we shall mobilize people to register and mobilize volunteers to assist INEC.

We shall approach credible groups to offer their services for mobilization. This is national emergency. Even if we need 10 days to allow people to go and register, we shall do it because this country is hanging on a cliffhanger. The year 2011 is make or mar for us in this nation. We must do it right to rekindle hope in the project Nigeria once again. It must be one-man one-vote and whatever it takes we must do. SNG would be at the fore-front of the campaign.

Apart from campaign, are you going to give INEC some assistance along with ASUU and NLC to present registration officers?

We are going to collaborate with all well-meaning groups in Nigeria to ensure that we get volunteers who are above board to be engaged in the registration process. If you were at the rally we had on June 23, Nasil El -Rufai did say that look, he was practically supervising INEC under Obasanjo and that when they brought the diametric data to capture people, all they captured was 20 million voters. But INEC claimed that there were 78 million voters. In fact, if they issue those cards that were registered, it would be clear that there were a lot of fake registration. To that extent, we will insist that in the voter's manual, INEC must adopt the modified open secret ballot system. Once you have that, even if you register twice, it would be useless. If you have modified open ballot system, you cannot vote in two places at a time. But we do all it takes to ensure a clean and clear electoral process.

There is a lot of noise about the rotational policy of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is a PDP affair, what the position of SNG?

As you rightly said, zoning is a PDP debate. It should not be a Nigerian debate. People are now talking as if election is solely for PDP. If PDP says zoning is its own formula, then, let PDP go with zoning. But don't let us get ourselves distracted. Other parties are free to get their candidates from anywhere in the country. As for me, zoning is absolute rubbish. It is nonsensical. It is not in the interest of Nigerians. It is an elite game. It is a power game within the elite. Let us talk about better things. Let every political party that is serious about power get the best, the brightest from anywhere in Nigeria and let Nigerians look at what they offer.

Is it morally right for Jonathan to contest election in view of the agreement on rotation within his party?

Constitutionally, he has every right to contest election. Every citizen of Nigeria has the right to contest, to vote and be voted for. So, there is no debate about that. In that contest, it is left to Jonathan to weigh every option and decide on what he wants to do. I think where people like me will have issues is the fact that if he wants to contest, will he manipulate the process like Obasanjo did? Once he is not going to interfere with free and fair election, once we are going to have free and fair election and INEC is not going to be guided by him, he is free to take his decision.

I don't own his legs and I can't tell him to run or not to run. All I can say is that he must not interfere with the electoral process. Whatever he decides to do is his own business.

What do you say to the in-fighting in the House of Representatives?

What happened in the House is shameful. The tokenism they have done in terms of the so-called amendment is not fundamental. All they have done is just mere tokenism. Even at that, it is not right that there should be wrangling over the version that goes to states. It shows clearly that we are in a state of national embarrassment. It is a repeat of what happened when the electoral act was doctored and sent to his office.

The in-fighting in the House of Reps is quite shameful. It is unfortunate that some members of the House decided to behave like legislative miscreants. They have been fighting since 2007 and not one fight was in the interest of the people. Not on bills and not issues that affect the nation. It is all about money, money, money and money. They have converted the National Assembly to Personal Assembly. They camouflage their personal fights in the name of fighting corruption. Which corruption are they fighting? When I see people fighting corruption I know them.

I said look, if you have enough number to remove this guy , if they are moving a motion to suspend you, you wait for them to move their motion and you move your counter motion and use your number to defeat them. It is wrong for you to go and be snatching paper from somebody who is talking and you begin to fight and you want me to support you. You said you are a progressive. What is progressive in that?

What did he say to that?
There was no clear defense. So, I am still insisting that anti-graft organization should look into all the allegations that have been raised. But the conduct of the aggressors before the House was less than salutary. It dishonours the hallowed chambers. The Road Transport Workers would not have done worse than that. When you can no longer distinguish between our parliament and Agbero Assembly, it is a problem and I think it is a challenge and that is why we must have a free and fair election. If election were free and fair, 90 per cent of these guys would not be there. They have debased that Assembly and Nigerians should mark them down so that come 2011, we won't have that sort of people in position.