Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nigeria: Group preaches against post-election violence

Idris Usman is the national coordinator of Believe Nigeria Initiative (BNI). He was the best state coordinator of Neighbour-to-Neighbour campaign in 2011. In this interview with PAUL CHIAMA, he talks about the importance of peace during and after the elections, saying Nigerians don’t want a repeat of the 2011 post-election violence.

The Yorubas currently appear to be singing a new song of support for President Goodluck Jonathan. What is it all about?

The agitation and aspiration of an average Oduduwa or Yoruba man is to see Nigeria operates true federalism, with each federating unit functioning as they should. We believe that until this is done, it will be difficult for Nigeria to attain the kind of greatness we are aspiring for as a nation. The system of government we are currently operating is everything but federal system of government; the states are not independent of the federal government, with much concentration of power at the centre. It has been our dream since the time of Obafemi Awolowo. And we have got to this point of crossing the bridge, we can’t let the matter go and turn back. This is the first time we the Yorubas are getting close to achieving their dream.

What makes you think that President Goodluck Jonathan will honour any agreement with the Yoruba race, considering that he has been accused of reneging on promises?

It has been the tradition that during electioneering campaigns different socio-ethic groups come forward with their demands. And I don’t expect Jonathan reneging on such promise this time around. He was the one who set up the National Confab in the first place, and we are talking about some of the recommendations of that confab. Honestly, this time around it is so real; it isn’t about Jonathan or PDP, but a platform that offers fulfilment of the Yoruba dream. It may interest to know that when President Jonathan was contesting the 2011 presidential election, part of the demands of the Yoruba race was for him to call for national conference, which he eventually did in 2014. I don’t see the president going on his promises.

You won the best state coordinator of Neighbour-to-Neighbour campaign for Jonathan in 2011. Now, it is two weeks to the rescheduled general elections, your group, Believe Nigeria Initiative (BNI) appears to be silent. Is it that you have been silenced somewhat not to speak, or you have not been mobilised?

A lot of people have accused me of not giving President Goodluck Jonathan the kind of unalloyed support we gave him in 2011. Others have also described me as being unstable this time around. But I want you to know that it has nothing to do with whether I have been silenced or mobilised. We in the BNI have come to realise the importance of peace to the development and progress of the country. Elections will come and go, but we need peace at all times. There is hardly anything meaningful we can achieve in the absence of peace. We have been concentrating more on achieving peace than electioneering campaigns. We don’t want a repeat of 2011 post-election violence, and that is why we have been holding town-hall meetings with different youth groups, enlightening them on the importance of peace and the need to shun violence.

Again, my political godfather, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, from whom I cut my teeth in politics, taught me to be loyal, but independent-minded. And that is exactly what I am doing. The Nigerian project is more important to us than any candidate or political party, but that does not mean that we will not support a good and noble cause if we I identify one. Those who are contesting elections today are able to do so because there is a country called Nigeria. If the country is on fire or is consumed, they won’t be able to politick. This is why peace is central to our survival as individuals, groups or nation. We are talking to youth leaders, religious leaders, including relevant stakeholders on the importance of peace, and we know peace is achievable.

It is two weeks to the elections. How would you assess INEC’s level of preparedness?

I’m disappointed in INEC! Before the general elections were rescheduled, INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega came out to tell Nigerians that the commission was ready for the elections. But I wonder the kind of elections would be conducting if the elections were to hold last month. The poor distribution of permanent voter cards and card readers are strong indications that INEC was not ready for the elections. I hope it is ready now! There has been improvement in the distribution of PVCs, though there are still pockets of complaints here and there. The issue of card readers is yet another worrisome issue.


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