By Sunday Ani
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Secretary General of the National Union, Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori, has said that the issue of vote buying in elections as was alleged to have happened in the just concluded Ekiti Governorship Election would continue as long as Nigerians remain hungry, poor and jobless.
In this interview, he spoke on some national issues, including the current fuel scarcity being experienced in Lagos and some other major cities, the rising cost of diesel and cooking gas, the chances of the APC winning the 2023 presidential elections among others.
What is your impression about the presidential candidates of both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for the 2023 presidential elections?
I think they are popular choices. And once they are popular choices, I don’t have any problem with that. They were nominated through primaries; that is democracy at work.
What can you say about the allegations that the process that produced both candidates in their parties was highly monetized, and that the process was for the highest bidder?
Do you have evidence that it was monetized? I also heard that from people but I don’t know. Ironically, I was a statutory delegate and I only met them when they came to Delta but I couldn’t go there since I was not included in the list of those who voted at the convention. My people went there; maybe, they must have collected money but they won’t tell you.
What do you think about the Third Force that the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, has come to represent at the moment?
That is a very good development. Actually, I will not like Nigeria to have more than three political parties. It is a good option. The Third Force will be there to monitor the other two big political parties, hoping that one day, it may be lucky. So, I am happy about the development.
Which party do you think will win the presidential election and why do you think such a party will win?
I am a chieftain of the APC, so obviously, I will want my party to win, and the party will normally win. The way Nigeria is going, this government is so powerful. You see the APC having almost 23 governors; far ahead of their closest rival, the PDP, with about 12 governors. In Nigeria, the big parties will always win because the masses in the rural areas are so poor and vulnerable such that they only listen to their leaders. They don’t have their own choice. If elections were held only in big enlightened cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna or Warri, people will vote for the candidates of their choice. But, in the rural areas, people don’t care; they are just committed to one party and anything their leaders tell them is what they do, they don’t have their own choice. So, the two parties will always dominate but the APC will win, there is no doubt about that.
You are so sure that the APC will win even with the level of abysmal performance in every governance sector, which has left Nigerians complaining bitterly, where is such confidence coming from?
Which party is good? The PDP ruled Nigeria for 16 years and what did we get? They are all corrupt parties. Nigerians are corrupt, the government is corrupt and the people are hungry, so they will always vote for them. Do you think all these small parties can do anything? Didn’t you see what they did in Ekiti and in all other elections? Have they made any significant impact apart from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) that consistently holds Anambra State? So, we are in Nigeria and you know what happens here; people don’t vote for ideology; they vote where their leader said they should go and where their bread is buttered. If Nigeria has people who are enlightened like the elite who have reason with jobs, then it will be a different story. But if people don’t have jobs; the only people comfortable in Nigeria are not more than five percent who are gainfully employed, the rest are just struggling for daily bread; what do you want them to do. So, they look up to the big parties. The big parties have their presence in every ward and in every local government. The rest don’t have their presence; some of them can’t even sponsor their candidates in more than 10 local government areas. Look at what happened in Ekiti, with all the noise Labour Party is making because of Obi, they did not have agents. So, when you don’t have agents, how do you win elections? You can’t mobilize and you can’t do anything. So, you people just sit down there in your newsroom, shout and talk about ideologies when you are out of touch with the grassroots. The elite will just talk but they don’t know what happens in the villages. I am in the village, so I know what happens at the grassroots. What happens in Lagos is not what happens in these areas. Those people they arrested in Ekiti for vote buying, how many of the arrest happened in the villages? Who will go to the villages to arrest people there? Like in my village here, during elections they will be giving them money, can you come? When we were in NUPENG, do you know why NUPENG is powerful, why I made it so powerful and they believed in me so much even against what the military did against us that time? That was because every time workers were employed, their welfare was provided. For 23 years, they returned me as Secretary General because in the delegate conferences, every oil worker delegate was well paid; it was full employment. So, the government would do everything in collaboration with the multinationals to remove me, but they kept on. Even when presidents have changed for the conferences but I was there for 23 years as Secretary General because all of them were well paid and they knew I was instrumental to that. But when people are poor and have no jobs, then you could buy their votes.
From all indications, it appears the APC will have a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. Looking at the level of religious tension and division in the country currently, do you think that will fly?
Yes and no. Normally as a Christian, I won’t subscribe to a Muslim-Muslim ticket but for reasons best known to the candidate; probably because of the way Nigerians have played this religious issue and also the fact that Muslims in the North think that they are superior to their counterparts in the South. But that is a wrong notion because the Yoruba have civilized Muslims and that is why you could see Tinubu’s wife as serious pentecostal pastor; the same thing with the former governor and Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola’s wife. But, in the North, they don’t take it that way. So, if the man wants to win election, he may decide to do what he wants to do but normally as a Christian gentleman, I will recommend that they pick a Muslim-Christian ticket. But for civilized people like us, we believe that a good candidate is a good candidate no matter the religion he belongs to. Obasanjo was president for so many years, what did he do to our people? But there may be some advantages if you are a Christian because I know that without Obasanjo, the Ecumenical Centre will not be there in Abuja. The Christian cathedral was a waste land; it was Obasanjo who mobilized the Christians during his years to build that Ecumenical Centre and that is a plus to him. He was able to mobilize people to do that because he was president, if not, we should have even have a national cathedral in Abuja. The Central Mosque has been there even before the government moved to Abuja because I was there in the late 1980s to early 1990s; the Mosque was already there. And it was during Obasanjo that the Ecumenical Centre which is the Christian Headquarters in Abuja was built. So, there are advantages and disadvantages; it depends on what the candidate decides to do because they want to become president first before they talk about religion.
So, you think that Muslim-Muslim ticket will be the best for the APC?
I didn’t say it is the best; I told you I am a Christian gentleman but I am not the candidate and I want my party to win. So, it depends on what is at stake; if they win, that’s all. But I know that a man like Tinubu is a liberal Muslim, so if he becomes the president, he won’t oppress Christians for anything. There will be no minus for Christians; that is my belief on it because he is a southern and Yoruba Muslim. The Yoruba Muslims don’t take their religion like their northern counterparts; most of them in the North are fundamentalists but there are good, liberal Muslims in the North. But almost half of them are fundamentalists just as you have Christian fundamentalists too. I am not a Christian fundamentalist; I am a liberal Christian.
Looking at the Ekiti election, with allegations of widespread vote buying, do you think INEC is prepared for the 2023 general elections?
Why not, they are prepared. When you say vote-buying, how many people can you buy? You can only buy delegates. How many people take money? When they do it in the rural area, maybe only about five percent of the voters that they will give money. Do they have money to give to 500, 000 or one million people in the name of vote buying? Nobody has that kind of money. It is just some fringe people who are so poor that they will give such money. They don’t have the money to give to every person. Where can you get N5000 to give 10 million people?
Do you think the issue of vote buying can be curtailed or stopped?
You can’t curtail it now because the people are poor; they have no jobs. So, in the rural areas, when you give them small money, they will vote for you. It is impossible to stop it now, when we have armed robbers, bandits and kidnappers everywhere. The policeman will even arrest somebody whom you give money to vote for you; the policeman will look away. When you say the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should go after the vote buyers, they will only be active in the state capitals and some few voting units. How many staff does the EFCC have or the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to go round Nigeria? Forget about that because it is not an issue. And the people that take money are just about five percent of the voters. Before, it was not more than two percent but now it can be up to five or 10 percent of the voters. That is not an issue; that does not make a candidate to win an election.
The new Electoral law gives INEC power to do electronic voting and electronic transmission of election result but that did not happen in the last Ekiti election. The usual manual voting and vote counting was what INEC used. What does that say of INEC and its readiness to deploy technology in 2023 general election?
No, no, there was a board on display as the results were coming in. As long as you count it physically and it goes straight in the electronic machine, there is no problem. Do you expect the machine to count votes for you? Even in America, they count ballots physically. Didn’t you see what Trump was arguing that they should recount? So, but immediately the result is known, it is transmitted online, and it goes straight to the portal; that is what we have been praying for. Before they were using the card reading machine and when they went to court, the Supreme Court said it was not in the electoral law or that was not approved by the president but now, it has been approved. There are a lot of bogus registrations in Nigeria; so from now, you will see that the number of voters will come down.
Some people will say, oh two million people registered and at the end of the day, maybe only 500,000 will vote. It is double registration, multiple registrations that is causing it. Not that the Nigerian voters turn out is very low to be 10 percent as we are made to believe; no, most of them are fake registrations. So, elections from now will be comparatively fair. People contesting elections now are luckier than those who contested in those days when the party in government, the ruling party will win election at all cost.
As we speak, long queues have returned to the petrol stations with most of them not even selling at all. What is your take on the recurring fuel scarcity in this administration?
I am only reading about that in Lagos and Abuja. I don’t think the NUPENG has issued a statement on that. I have not heard about that; I only heard that there are queues in petrol stations. If NUPENG is going on strike through PTD, normally they give ultimatum and they announce it; so they can’t just say they don’t supply fuel. No, I am sure the problem is with the depots because NUPENG has not issued any statement. I am their father, so I should know.
What is your impression about the consistent and persistent rise in the prices of diesel and cooking gas?
It is happening because Nigeria is a consumer nation. It doesn’t produce. It has no refineries. So, our crude is useless. They just sell it at a give-away price and import finished products at a very high dollarized price; hard currency. So, that is the problem and that is why the Naira is very weak. And there is also so much crude oil theft in Nigeria. So, these are the problems of the country. The government is not doing much to tackle most of these problems. So, let’s pray for a more serious leadership in this country.
With all these problems you have identified, you still think that the APC will win the 2023 election?
Who will win now? Don’t you see people like Kingsley Moghalu could not even win his own ADC?
Where you are in Delta State, are you not seeing the youth surge that wants to register with INEC to get their PVC to vote out the APC and PDP?
If you think those people will vote against APC and PDP, then you don’t understand what is happening in Nigeria. They will collect money from them and vote for them.
Is it because you are an APC member? Don’t you think that what happened in 2015 when APC defeated a sitting government without much structure can equally happen next year with the Third Force?
Let me tell you, if it is Buhari coming back, he will have problems even in the North but not with a new person. They will say, oh, Tinubu will do better; Atiku will do better. Didn’t you see the type of reception they gave to Tinubu at his arrival in Lagos? Didn’t you see those youths that you are talking about? You people will just sit down in your newsroom and you will be debating. The masses are different, they are hungry.