Dr Patrick Dakum is the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) and an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine, Baltimore. The governorship candidate of Labour Party in Plateau State speaks on his chances in the 2023 elections with ISAAC SHOBAYO.
What is your assessment of the political situation in the country preparatory to the 2023 general election?
I think security is the only issue that can mitigate against the coming elections; it is like the big elephant in the room and it is what can make or [break]. The government, especially the security agencies, needs to focus on this area to avoid hitches and the political parties need to be responsible and play the game according to the rule. As to the election, since democracy has come to stay in Nigeria, anything that would thwart the system should not be supported by anyone. And for the Labour Party [LP], we are ready to go in for elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has rolled out the timetable and put every logistics in place for a peaceful election. So far, we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of INEC in conducting a free and fair election.
The use of BVAS seems to be a subject of controversy in some quarters; there are politicians and political parties who do not believe in this for some reasons. What is your view on this?
It is a bimodal voting accreditation system, where you have facial recognition and also a fingerprint. Anything that is internet-dependent is a thing of concern to a lot of people and also something that people are not used to could be scary. And the general fear is that, if my PVC and my finger cannot be verified or the facial recognition fails, what is going to happen? These are all fears, but I believe that the experience we went through in the past few off-season elections, where this was used with minor hitches, gave assurance that the BVAS is better than the old system where people were manually accredited. My overall assessment is that we can rely on BVAS. Nothing in this world is 100 per cent. If overall we have a success percentage of 90, I think that is good enough and the system will be gradually perfected as we move forward. Yes, there is a basis for fear, but we need to give it a trial.
Do you think the LP has what it takes to defeat the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming presidential election, considering the political clout and pedigree of AlhajiAtikuAbubakar and Senator Bola Tinubu?
When people talk about the chances of Peter Obi, they are looking at it in the context of these big parties: how can Obi or the Labour Party, which doesn’t have a structure, a governor, and other things in place, succeed? But if you look at Peter Obi’s candidacy, it is more of a movement than candidacy; it is being generated from the bottom to the top rather than from the top to the bottom. Instead of coming out to canvass for a vote, in this situation, people are coming out to identify with him and the party. The chances of Peter Obi are very high. If we were to rate them, I would put him as the number one interim candidate for acceptability by Nigerians. The question Nigerians are asking at the moment is, who can we trust to handle this country? Who can give us real change? Who will go there and not maintain the status quo? Who will go there so that the old cabal will not form a [ring] around him? Who is it that would be there and not be controlled by the cabal? In any survey carried out, Peter Obi always emerges as number one. There is still much to be done because all these campaigns and energies still need to be converted into votes at the polling units. Initially, people were saying it was a social media thing, but now they have realised the seriousness behind what they called social media hype. Presently, both the presidential candidates of APC and PDP are having sleepless nights. All these things are happening because Nigerians are tired and frustrated and they don’t want Nigeria to continue the way it is. If they don’t want the situation to continue the way it is, they are looking for the person who can lead the country and cause a radical change both economically and security-wise. And I am telling you Nigerians will say, “Peter Obi.”
Sir, apart from the southern part of the country, it is like your presidential candidate, Obi, is yet to make any inroad to the North, specifically the core northern states…
(Cuts in) I have not been everywhere, but I have been to Plateau, which is part of the North, and I know that Peter Obi will pool close to 80 per cent of votes here in Plateau State. I have been to Nasarawa State and have seen the acceptability there. I have also been talking to my colleagues who are governorship candidates across the country. Even in Kano State, a lot of acceptability is also coming up. If you ask me, is Peter Obi the most favoured candidate in the North, the answer might not be yes, but if you say that Obi comes in first or second in some states in the North, I will say yes. Reality checks reveal that in the North-East, Obi might not come first, but in the North-West, Peter Obi will give a good run to whoever comes in as number one there. In the North-Central, he has the highest chance of coming first because Obi will win in Plateau, Benue, and a chunk of Niger. I want you to note that the APC has never won in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. I can assure you that LP will win the FCT hands down. Kwara State is also another big opportunity for Peter Obi. All we need to do is continue with the momentum and ensure that the energies are converted into votes.
As the LP gubernatorial candidate in Plateau State, do you think your party has what it takes to create an upset in the coming gubernatorial election in Plateau?
All I can tell you presently is that Plateau is a Labour Party state. I don’t know whether people are looking at it from the past and thinking that Plateau was a PDP state, but that is an old belief that has since fizzled out, and the APC is also yet to find its bearing as far as the politics of Plateau State is concerned. The two political parties no longer have a crowd; most of their members have defected to Labour Party. Those in the APC are saying they have all it takes to win the election, so where is the crowd coming from? The enthusiasm for the Labour Party in Plateau State now is very high. We have raked in more than 60 per cent on both sides, and the two parties have been depleted while Labour Party is ahead. Initially, they said LP was not on the ground, but now they are only playing catch-up because we have already gone ahead.
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From all indications, both the PDP and APC have the resources and other political machinery they can lean on to win the governorship election. What are your fears?
My fear is the issue of vote-buying, but as I am going around the state talking to people, I realise that people are more determined to stand on the side of truth and not allow money to be the yardstick for their voting. My message to people is that if you collect money now, you are selling the fortune of tomorrow. How can you collect N5,000 and mortgage the future of your children if you miss it this time? We are going down in Plateau State to the point that reversal will be very difficult; we are virtually getting to the bottom of all indicators of development. If we did not take a stance now by voting for a platform that would not take orders from the old gladiators, the state might return to point A.
What are the changes you intend to bring on board if elected in 2023?
This is a huge question, and I will say I bring integrity, competence, and character—attributes that would enable Plateau people to trust me to handle the affairs of Plateau in a collective way that will move the state forward, not backward. I have experience that spans both the public and private sectors, as well as the NGOs and policy sector. If anything is new, it is participatory democracy.
If you win the governorship election without your party having a majority in the State House of Assembly, don’t you think there will be problems in the long run?
In Plateau State, we have issues with close to nine positions in the State House of Assembly, and we have filed a case in court to compel the INEC to upload those names. We are confident that those candidates will be on the ballot in 2023. Out of the 24 that filled out the form, the Labour Party is just about 12. The assumption is that even if the LP wins the12, it will still be a minority, but I want to assure you that we will be fielding candidates for all the required constituencies and also have confidence that we would form the majority. In the case that we don’t have the majority, there is no problem with that because the members will be people from the state, and they are expected to work for the progress of the state. If I present a bill and they refuse to support it based on differences in a political party, the people of the state will judge them.