Honourable Emmnuel Goa’r was speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly and later member of the House of Representatives. In this interview with ISAAC SHOBAYO, he speaks on recent elections in the country and other national issues.
What is your assessment of the last general elections and the recent governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states?
The bottom-line is that we are not moving forward. The last general election and the recent ones in Bayelsa and Kogi states were nothing to write home about. They have further exposed the lapses on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the desperation of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government to win at all costs. It is unfortunate that no APC leader condemned what happened in Kogi and Bayelsa states. Even when a woman leader was burnt in her house as a result of the election, it took some time before the president commented on it. It clearly shows that the APC-led administration simply wants to hold on to power by all means. The critical stakeholders responsible for that election did not live up to expectations. Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, in particular, did not learn from the last general election. Before the Kogi and Bayelsa elections, both the INEC and the police envisaged problems but virtually did nothing to take proactive steps to address the situation.
One of the innovations introduced by the former chairman of INEC is the use of academics as returning officers. Do you think they are still relevant in the scheme of things, considering the avalanche of allegations against them, both in the last general election and recent ones?
The former INEC chairman had good intention, because anybody who has attained the level of a professor is expected to be above board in character. He is also expected to be honest and show high-level sincerity. Education is also expected to expose you and make you a good citizen. The concept itself is good for the system, but some of them who took part in elections so far have disappointed Nigerians who hold them in high esteem.
Professor Attahiru Jega tried his best, but the man at the helm of affairs currently did not consolidate on those efforts. Professor Mahmoud Yakubu’s performance in the last general election and the recent ones fell short of expectations. Issue of prepared results, stuffing of ballot boxes and other malpractices have now become the order of the day. By now, all these are supposed to have been taken care of and completely eradicated. But reverse is the case. Professor Yakubu and his team need to step up their game. Nigerians are losing confidence in their ability to conduct free and fair elections.
What is your assessment of the role of security agencies in the Kogi and Bayelsa elections?
It still boils down to leadership, because President Muhammadu Buhari is the Commander-in-Chief. Nobody can deploy military and other agencies without his consent. He commands everybody. If Mr. President loves this country, it is high time he stopped involving the military in election matters. The military has not played any good role so far. In fact, their involvement has further compounded electoral matters in Nigeria. There are several cases of their involvement in electoral malpractices. This is definitely not good for their image.
The police too are not better off in this regard. What happened in Bayelsa and Kogi did not prove they can be relied upon. I can’t imagine there would be lawlessness in the two states with the number of policemen deployed there. During the elections, there were open thuggery, intimidation, ballot box snatching, shooting and there were no arrests. Something is wrong somewhere. There was also an allegation of security men shooting at the electorate from a helicopter. In some polling units and collating centres, the police simply closed their eyes to the malpractices.
In Plateau State, there is the allegation that three local government areas are often used by some unscrupulous politicians to produce controversial results at every election. What is the way out of this?
We know them and the people of Plateau State have also noted them. Stakeholders and politicians of goodwill have also noted this. We are keeping the plan to our chest. I can assure you that we will checkmate them in 2023.
Governor Simon Lalong, while reacting to his victory at the Appeal Tribunal, said he would have preferred to contest governorship election with the daughter of his opponent, General Jeremiah Useni (retd), who was his classmate. The import of the statement is that your candidate should have allowed the young ones to run. What is your reaction to this?
That is his own opinion. There is no age barrier in politics and nothing stops a son from contesting against his father, as long as there is a level playing field. The governor is just trying to trivialise the issue, more so, it is only God that knows who won the election between him and General Useni; the gap was not much. As an incumbent, if the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) can poll that number of votes, it means he is a factor and a force to be reckoned with, as far as politics of Plateau State is concerned.
The more than 400,000 people who voted for him are no fools. They know his age before they voted for him. They believed in him and his capability to turn the state around. Governance is not about age but your intention, what you intend to do for your people and the will for implementation in a sincere manner.
Following the defeat of the PDP gubernatorial candidate at the Court of Appeal, some prominent citizens of Plateau State are appealing to your party not to take the matter to the Supreme Court, to allow the APC-led administration to settle and have full concentration on governance. What is your opinion on this?
Some people are just talking, probably because of the position they occupy or because the case at the Appeal Court was in their favour. I want to tell those advising General Useni not to approach the Supreme Court that the electoral matter at stake is not causing any distraction to anybody. What the PDP and its candidate are simply doing is to strengthen and deepen democracy as well as explore the possibility of getting justice for the sake of prosperity.
There is the need to set the records straight for the sake of our future generations. If the matter gets to the Supreme Court, there is nothing bad about it. It is more civilised to follow legal process than to resort to violence. The matter in court is not stopping the Lalong-led administration from carrying out its state functions.
What do you think can be done to ameliorate the economic hardship in the country?
Those in government don’t believe there is hardship in the country. They don’t listen to anybody outside their party. As a result, those outside the government are skeptical of advising them. It is typical of this administration to see the comments of opposition as mere ranting, instead of trying to deduce sense from such.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan did his best. They used hate speech to run down his government. But today, the same people are promoting bill against hate speech, because they are on the seat. I want to say that the intention of the government of President Buhari is to gag the people, especially the opposition, the press, civil society and others, from criticising the government of the day. It is to kill dissenting voices. The bill was conceived with bad intention. If not, we have existing laws that take care of defamation, libel, among others. Thank God the bill is being shot down at different angles. It cannot see the light of the day.
The man behind the bill is a serving senator. Won’t he use his connections?
He can be sponsored. Any bill that is brought to the floor of the National Assembly must be introduced by a lawmaker. So, by introducing it, it does not suggest that it was his initiative. Somebody might have been behind it; it might be the executive.
As former federal lawmaker, what is your assessment of the ninth National Assembly, especially the Senate?
Let me start with the leadership if you look at the antecedent of the present Senate president, Senator Ahmad Lawan, especially before the expiration of the eighth assembly, you will know where he is coming from. He is there to play errand boy for the executive. If he is not checkmated by his colleagues in the Senate, they will disappoint Nigerians.
What is your take on the defeat of Senator Dino Melaye?
I don’t know much about Smart Adeyemi, but Melaye is a force to be reckoned with, when it comes to positive and progressive contributions on the floor of the Senate on national issues. Nigerians will definitely miss him. He is a voice that National Assembly will regret to miss. I also want to say that the defeat of Melaye was not ordinary. It was a combination of many forces that were out to push him out of the Senate.