Thursday, 21 July 2016

INTERVIEW: I have faith in the judiciary - Dan Onjeh

Former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, and a major contender for the Benue South Senatorial District in the last Benue Zone C election, Comrade Dan Onjeh, has expressed his resolve to fight to the finish in the ongoing legal battle to reclaim victory from his political opponent, former Senate President, David Mark.

The APC stalwart, in this interview with DAILY POST, also gave several reasons why Benue South remains backward, asserting that the most unsafe part of the country today is not the Niger Delta, not the North East, but Benue South.

Despite the recent court ruling, you have filed another appeal? Don’t you think it’s time you gave up this fight and give peace a chance?

I appealed the tribunal judgment because the position that I filed my petition late was not correct. I was dissatisfied by the ruling of the lower court. It misdirected itself by toeing the line of my very desperate opponent, who is the first respondent, Senator David Mark.

This is so because the law is very clear about its provision on the time within which an election petition can be filled and also on how the completion of filing such petition shall be done. Hitherto, in the 2002 and 2006 electoral act, it says that election petition shall be filed within 30 days from the day of the declaration. And the word “from” was repelled in the new act because lawmakers tried in killing the mischief in the law.

The law now says under section 285 sub-section 5 that an election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the day of declaration. It means the law has expressly excluded the day of declaration. I complied with the rules of the tribunal and expected the honourable Justice of the tribunal to have acted in line and in accordance with the intentions of the Lawmakers and not to have assumed or implied what the constitution did not mean with due respect.

It is also the principle of law in Nigeria jurisprudence that where the wordings of the constitution are unclear and unambiguous, parties involved in a matter are enjoined to give the ordinary and natural meaning to that provision of the constitution and not to do the contrary as in the instant case. The law has expressively excluded one day which is a day of declaration. That’s why we felt very safe filing our petition on Sunday, 13 of March and results of election were declared on the 21st of February. We complied with the law.

That is why I proceeded to the court of appeal believing that justice will be done in the matter. The time is far spent already and I know that respondents in the case are delaying, hoping that we run out of time but I know that the matter will be heard and pronounced upon.

With the recent development, do you still have faith in the Judiciary?

Definitely, I have faith in the judiciary. You see, just like someone saying he hates the police and another fellow telling him okay, if you are in trouble, then invite criminals. So, however bad you describe the police in the society, you will still resort to them; you still have faith in them because they are constitutionally empowered to intervene in times of crime in a society and resolve conflict, so however bad you view the police, just like every other sector, there are bad eggs and there are good ones in the society.

That it did not go well with you on one side does not mean the entire judicial system is bad. I definitely should have faith in the judiciary because in the first place, when I lost my first petition after the 2015 election, I approached the court of appeal and I was given justice. That was when the election was nullified and we were asked to go for a fresh election. I got justice from there.

I wouldn’t want to be seen as one of those people who appreciate the system when it favours them and complain when it doesn’t. I try to strike a balance. Even though with my previous experiences with tribunals of 2011, I practically lost faith in the judiciary, as soon as President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 election – because I’m one person of the school of thought that believes so much that the character of the leadership reflects on the subjects – I mean as soon as Buhari won, with the enormous influence he came into office with, things naturally were meant to fall in line.

So with that hope, my confidence was gradually being restored in the judiciary. Suddenly, I lost in the tribunal in a mysterious manner and I went to the Court of Appeal and finally my confidence was restored. Because the Justices of the Court of Appeal at that time distinguished themselves indeed to show that they were not just Judges but Justices. They acted in accordance with the requirements of justice. They saw what was wrong and they called spade a spade. It didn’t matter to them who was involved. It didn’t matter to them if it was a two-time Senate President that was involved. But they went ahead to do what was fair.

For me, they wrote their names in gold and imprinted their names in the sand of history by that historic and landmark Judgment. It takes courage, the fear of God and good conscience to deliver that kind of judgment. And they did it. I didn’t know the Justices either. I wouldn’t even recognize any of them right now if I see them on the road. I neither knew nor had access to them. As poor as I am, to have contested with somebody who is an embodiment of wealth, yet those people looked the other way in the interest of justice, it means they are indeed very principled. You see, from my little narrative, it shows my absolute confidence in the judiciary. I’m very confident that Justices of the Court of Appeal are very-very experienced and versed in law and know exactly what the intentions of the lawmakers are on the 285 and they will make pronouncement according to the purpose with which the law was repelled.

I’m very, very hopeful that as that is done, the matter will be entered back in the trial at the tribunal and the whole process will start all over again. And we also hope that by that time, there will be an accelerated hearing of the petition so that it can be brought to conclusion.

Many well-meaning Idomas have expressed concern over this continued legal battle. Should David Mark walk up to you today for a peaceful settlement, how would you react to such?

It is relative. And it depends on my intention; my original motive. Had my struggle and battle been for personal gain, selfishly driven, it will be a lot easier for me to accept any bargain. But in a situation where I’m acting in line with my natural calling – I’m inherently an activist, I believe that God has predestined me to stand up on behalf of the oppressed. And it always has to do with the oppressed majority. That is what God has designed me to do. If there be anything I’m doing in this struggle, I believe I’m doing the will of God.

The Benue South, you will agree with me, is the most deprived, most forgotten corner in Nigeria.

Who are this so-called concerned Benue people or Benue people raising the concern? They are the same people who in the first place did not vote for me or support my success. The majority of them are part of the conspiracy against the common Idoma man. Why did they say during the election that I was not going to get thousand or five thousand votes? For me, I felt it was social media noise. Because the privileged few Idoma people who are on the social media are eager and desperate for recognition before David Mark for personal gains, so it’s what suit them better they did and are still doing because of their own immediate benefits.

It is unfortunate that because of immediate satisfaction, most Idoma youths have lost their future. The society we live is our image. We see ourselves in the society. It behoves on us to look at our own society to see if we are contented with our image. There is no single son/daughter of Idoma land, I repeat, that can confident come out to boast that his ward is developed yet we are deceiving ourselves. The headquarters of Idoma land, Otukpo has remained an ancient city up till today. Senator Kabiru Gaya came out even before the elections when the then new Minister of Works and Housing visited the senate to say that their committee approved N4billion for dualization of roads in Nigeria. On that of Otukpo, N1billion was given, the monies were released, contractors were mobilized and they never went to the site to carry out the work. Nobody is talking about that.

In 2012, several billions of naira was earmarked for federal constituency projects, at least we had our representatives. They are quick to defend themselves that the primary role of a legislator is legislating, yes, that we know, but we also know that the constitutional framework of Nigeria extended and expanded the role of a legislator beyond legislating. There is second function, which is oversight function. If you have such amount of monies in billions which were earmarked for projects ranging from construction of roads, class rooms, skill acquisition centres, bridges, feeder roads – to encourage farming in the localities – construction of development centres – particularly in Ukpoku. Over N300million was earmarked for construction of development centre from the town of the former Minister of interior, Abba Moroh. If you go to the site, the work is still at the grass-clearing level.

The senate is not an oligarchy. There are people who have attracted development to their people. It is of a general knowledge that it was when we consistently put Senator David on his toes, particularly during the rerun election that he mobilized contractors to the streets of Otukpo – be it another attempt to deceive the people again – but we know that work commenced in all earnest because he was very very desperate to woo the people into supporting him again. But that failed obviously, and surely after the elections and declaration of results, they relaxed. Projects have been abandoned all over and most of the works that were started with accelerated speed are now gradually packed up.

I don’t have any problem with the opinion of the people. We are all at liberty to our speeches, self-determination, opinions, issues and matters. So those who are of the opinion are free to say so. But never, I repeat, never will I concede to sit on the same political round-table with a man that has callously and heartlessly neglected my people whom he represents for close to two decades. We know the nation is facing challenges at the moment, but societies with the capacity to absolve the shock of the economic down-turn and economic crunch in the nation have not degenerated so badly like ours. An environment that has been so permeated by crime; only recently a Rev. Father was kidnapped and murdered and heaven didn’t fall. Several other crimes of various degrees are still going on this place. The most unsafe community in Nigeria today is not even the Niger Delta, its not the North east, but Benue South. Because there is no notable occupation for the young people there.

At most, graduates turn okada riders in Benue south, yet they keep boasting of how many jobs they have given. Don’t they know what Federal Character means? Is youth empowerment just about fixing people into civil service? Are the job opportunities, spaces in various places meant for Benue South people alone? Is it a good thing to say? Should we all as Idoma people join the Civil Defence because we have someone who is a minister of interior? Should we all as a people be in NCC because somebody put someone there? Well, I’m not against that, but I’m saying that is not enough. About two or three people might get to such places because they are related to them and they will blow it out of proportion as though they have employed the whole of the Idoma people.

But even if they have done as they say they done, the poser here, is have they done enough to mop up the youths from the street? He hasn’t done. So youth empowerment is not all about giving jobs in the civil service. It is about getting the youth self-reliant and self-sufficient. It’s about creating jobs. As a two-time sitting senate president, he has more than enough influence; at a point he was tagged the de facto president. He has more than enough to influence to attract the industrialization of our area. At least, the youths would have been meaningfully and gainfully engaged and this would have addressed the issue of the crimes going on now because such infrastructure would have served as shock-absolver to the current economic down-turn and economic crunch in the nation. But there is nothing completely. We have the coal mining in Owukpa which ought to have been revived but nothing was done about it. We have the proposed cement company in Ado that ought to have been completed so that we can also enjoy the benefit like other places.

Would just lobbying government to establish industries stop crimes in Benue South?

I am an economist and at the same time a political scientist, I know what a grown tour centre is. The moment you establish an industry at a place, it comes with a lot of benefits. The expatriates who come to the site of the industry to work will want a better environment and health facility for them and their children and as soon as a health centre is built, they won’t exclude the community from having access to it, then you are beginning to better the life of the people, the health of the people by the establishment of the industry. A widow who lacks a job can now go by the corner; fry beans cake (akara) make moi-moi and some other things to sell around there and continue as long as the company exists. And she’s able to make money for her children’s school fees. The expatriates will also want a standard school for their children and their children alone cannot constitute pupils or students of such school. The industry will be committed social responsibility, thereby providing scholarship, economic growth and expansion in the community.

We have the very booming Otukpo Rice Mill in Benue State, what happens? Most of the people who were engaged in the business have been since displaced. While some ended up in okada riding, others found themselves in crimes and desperate means of making money. But with the current opportunity that have been given for good prospect in Agriculture, one would expect that the senator representing us begin to organise and group the jobless youths and also liaising with the minister of Agriculture, who also fortunately comes from our place to give a direction to the youths and engage them meaningfully to reduce the crime rate to the lowest limit.

I know there is crime everywhere, but certainly not the type in our place can be accepted by anyone as being a societal ill. This is more than a societal ill. It is a menace to our society, and ought to be addressed. Those who have also have the well-with-all, the technical know-how to develop the Idoma land, at least the majority of the people I have spoken with, mostly those in the Diaspora have expressed fear and concern for their security and that of their immediate family and as such are not willing to risk coming back, not this time at all. How do we catch up with the pace of development when we have completely been disintegrated from the nation, from the phase of activities and revolution?

He had a Deputy Senate President being Ekweremadu, he got his ticket and came back to the senate because he did the bidding of his people. Go to his place, he provided his people with motorable roads, a feeder-road, development centres, health centres, electricity, and he is providing power for his people. He doesn’t need to say much. But all you do is to oppress your people. You are quick to say you have the Joy fm, the golf course, all these are elitist projects. What class of people play golf? You need to eat first before you can even buy the cloves. The land meant for the golf course would have been used for mechanised agriculture. You talk about the Joy Fm, what do you do with it? Feed the less privileged people with lies and deceit to do your bidding? Joy FM is practically an instrument of control, to perpetually subjugate and oppress the people. Yet some persons will say the battle is overstretched; it’s taking too much. How is the battle affecting these people? Have I gone to any of them to solicit help?

But they are saying the fight is causing disaffection?

They are saying that it’s causing disaffection, and what disaffection hasn’t been in Benue South? We appear to be the most disunited people. I don’t regret saying that because if you look at the configuration of our elites from Benue South, they are not really working together. How many times have they come together to reason for the benefit of the Benue South people? My battle, as I said earlier, is not a mere show of bravado. I didn’t come out to impress anyone. But I came out with a genuine and sincere mission for the total liberation of Benue South people. It was up to the youths. It was their battle. We needed to like brace ourselves and make our society better, safe, and free society and that was why I came out. I thank God for the journey so far and I’m so determined, so focus and very resolved to fight to the end.

Struggle is a familiar thing to my person. I have been a product of struggle from my secondary school days. I have been involved in series of struggles right from secondary school and all for advocacy for an improved well-being of my immediate community and by circulation, the society at large. I have always struggled without compromise. So I will never, I repeat, I will never compromise with David Mark. I don’t have anything in particular against him, but the big issue I have against him is that he has lost and blown the opportunity that would have blossomed his name in gold and that of his generation and generations yet unborn. You can’t turn back the hands of the clock. David Mark should understand the intrinsic nature of power which is transient. Once you are not able to use the power and authority you have for the benefit of the people, once it eludes you, it’s gone forever. David Mark should know that it’s time and the game up for him. What hasn’t he enjoyed? Our society, the Benue South has given birth to him, so he should be thankful to us not to inflict pains and bitterness on us. He should have eaten the humble pie, and bow out when the ovation was loudest for him and allow young people come up with new ideas and inject same into our society. But nay, he wants to have everything to himself and family…only me, myself and I.

We will continuously and consistently agitate for a paradigm shift until that change the Benue South people desire comes to be; we will not stop agitating.

Why did you file your case on the last day? Why not days before?

Just to mention finally and clear the air, there are lots of misgivings about the time we filed the petition. Even though I’m thankful to God that lots of people have confidence in my reputation and integrity, they know that it’s not deliberate but it also behoves on me to shed light on why it happened.
Why we filed on the last day was because INEC laid an ambush for us, which we narrowly escaped. We applied for the certified true copies of these documents immediately after the elections. We have documents to show to that effect when we applied. They delayed us without releasing these materials, and at some point, only a few electoral officers appeared. And guess what, those who appeared were from the local governments where we won and were not being challenged. They were giving us election materials we won while we requested and made serious emphasis on places they claimed to have won so that we can determine the result there. Even though we had some duplicates, some were torn at the election by their organised tugs and cultists that they mobilized to distort the election. We had some, but we needed the certified true copies they used in declaring the election result so that we can reconcile the testimonies we got from our agents and know exactly what we are challenging at court. Nobody is given a duplicate of voters register and the only place you get the voters’ register used in the election is the INEC. To apply for certified true copies, we began again from those areas they claimed to have won the election and the electoral officers in those areas absconded until the dying minutes when they showed up after much pressure. And of course, these are very bulky and voluminous documents. Imaging that in a polling unit, some will have over one thousand registered voters, some eight hundred, some six hundred and some five hundred. But in an average, we have 500 registered voters.

That gives you an idea of the bulky nature of the voters register and you will need to run photocopies; you will need to go to the bank, only when you are authorised to go and pay for the certified true copies. They will need to count those documents and do the costing; they will need to stamp and sign page after page. So all of these things took our time because all needed to be done. Sometimes, it takes about two weeks, sometimes a week if they really want to help you. And these things were given just 3 days to the aspiration of the petition. And of course, you know that petition drafting and writing is not literature writing that is just imaginative, it is a technical writing. As a technical writing, we needed materials and by the time the materials arrived, we needed to pen down a petition really aiming at victory. We needed to put up a water-tight case that will earn us victory. That’s all we encountered with just three days to the expiration of the petition. And that was why we made sure we filed on the last day. We put in every machinery in motion to make sure that we filed on that last day which was still filed at the time required by the law.

No comments:

Post a Comment