In this interview monitored by Head Politics, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in Kwara State, Hon Razak Atunwa talks about his purported withdrawal from the race, his commitment to workers’ welfare and why Kwarans should not make the mistake casting their votes for All Progressives Congress (APC), among other sundry issues in the polity. Excerpts:
What do you make of the rumour that you have stepped down from the gubernatorial race in Kwara?
I am still very much in the race, to win it come Saturday March 9, 2019. Those peddling the rumours that I have stepped down are mainly wishful thinkers and shows they are jittery. They lack confidence to contest with me having sensed I will defeat their candidate. The coming election is beyond party and the electorate will be discerning enough to vote for experience, capacity and the good intention of putting Kwara first. You will see those in APC gravitate towards my candidature to cast their vote for me in their belief that we will best deliver good governance and dividends of democracy to the people of Kwara State.
How would you react to the result of last Saturday’s presidential/NASS election? Is the PDP jittery ahead of the poll on Saturday?
Our party, both at the state and national levels have rejected the results and as such, we will challenge it in court which is the only proper and constitutional means for doing so. We don’t advocate challenging the election result outside the legal process because we believe the party and our people should be law abiding and take the matter to the election tribunal. We don’t believe that the election was a true reflection of the will of the people of Kwara state or Nigeria. Here in Kwara, the election was characterised by widespread irregularities, manipulation and malpractices. There was a great deal of over voting, card readers were slow and didn’t function properly thereby allowing those without valid PVCs to vote because the electoral officers were overwhelmed and inundated. They lost focus resulting into manual voting coupled with the pressure and tension of the day. There are documented cases of observers to that effect. This is most unfortunate. But I am saddened and disappointed that we have taken ten steps backward from the 2015 watershed electoral process instead of advancing the gains.
What do you make of INEC and security agencies?
I think INEC cannot be absolved from the blame of the last election, same with the security agencies which can be said to be a willing tool in the hands of the powers that be. INEC should have ensured that the card readers worked properly and made adequate provision for the election. Electoral materials did not arrive on time, same with the electoral officials including the ad-hoc staff who appeared overwhelmed by the situation on the day. Security operatives were used to intimidate voters. In Kwara State, the deployment was as though we were in a state of war. We had one Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), two Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGs) and four Commissioners of Police, all just for Kwara alone and in addition, we had the number two man of the DSS in Nigeria deployed to Kwara State assisted by three other directors of the service. From the Army, they brought in a Commander in the rank of a General, what we had initially was a Brigade-Commander in the rank of a Colonel, few days to the election and then truck loads of soldiers were deployed to the state just for the election. On my way to my polling unit in Efue/Berikodo ward in Asa Local Government from Ilorin to beat the 6am-6pm curfew, I was stopped at Eyenkorin roundabout, Airport road. Soldiers had sealed the place and people could neither go in nor leave Asa, this was around 5:30am. I introduced myself and they made a special case for me, but when I enquired about other voters’ plight who were equally stopped in their cars and motorcycles from going in, they said it was not my business and I had to be law abiding. Getting to my poling unit, we found that there were two truckloads of soldiers traversing the length and breadth of Asa. They came to my unit heavily armed and surrounded the place. Although they didn’t say anything to anyone, their action is intimidating enough for voters especially when you put that against the backdrop that for about three days before the election, soldiers were going up and down in villages in Asa and once they leave, someone from the side of the government in the APC will go and tell the people that if our supporters come out to vote against the Federal Government or the APC, they leave them to imagine the consequence of their action. That is intimidation. There were reported cases in Asa and other local governments, soldiers were there stopping genuine observers from going into wards or local government collation centres, what is the purpose of that if not to intimidate and stop people from monitoring the exercise.
Now that the PDP has realised the game plan of the APC-led Federal Government as you have said, what do you think could be done to forestall such development next Saturday when you will be on the ballot for the governorship contest?
We have done a number of things. We have told our agents to be vigilant as regards the voting process. And though they can’t stop INEC from doing their job depending on the instruction they were given, but if someone is trying to vote without PVC, then there is enough ground to object to that voter because there were multiple cases of such and I think that was one of their major tricks. Secondly, we have told our supporters and would-be voters not to be intimidated by the presence of the army or police. They should also be on the lookout for any possible interference between the voting process being completed at the poling unit and the ward collation centres because there were reported cases of collusion between APC and the electoral officials in the transportation of people and materials to the polling units. Anything could have happened in such circumstance. So our agents must be present. Above all, we have told our people to come out to vote and defend it.
You sound confident of winning the governorship election come Saturday despite what has happened, what gives you that assurance?
First, if the umpire provides a free, fair and credible election, Insha Allah, I will be the victor, if there is no intimidation by security apparatus. This election is going to be beyond party lines but come down to the candidate and what they can offer. On the one hand, you have a candidate, me, who has vast experience having headed four ministries, the state legislature and a veritable member of the House of Representatives. At the other end, the experience of the APC candidate in governance is not there, nothing. The electorate know our capacity to impact on all sectors in the state, increasing the budget on education and following it through, ensure we have adequate health care in every community; we have the experience to pull it through. Those who have been in governance performed better than bringing somebody from outside. Even in Lagos, from Fashola, a former Chief of Staff, to Ambode, one-time Accountant General, and now Sanwo-Olu, those brought forward and proposed by Asiwaju Tinubu were those that had been in government. Kwara cannot afford to experiment with the APC candidate who lacks requisite experience on issue of governance. The electorate also know that I was the first gubernatorial candidate in the country that pledged to pay the new minimum wage when I resume office if elected and I have also promised to clear any outstanding salary arrears if any, for both state and local government workers. Salaries will also be paid as and when due. The same cannot be said of the APC candidate and I challenge him and his party to come open and make same pledge to Kwarans. That will put our workers at a disadvantage. I have made this commitment to labour leaders in writing. The best way of getting the arrears cleared if it’s not cleared before May 29 is to have an Atunwa candidate. Once we are elected, it is our obligation to see the whole state as our constituency and provide good governance for everybody in terms of infrastructure and especially welfare.
What strategy will the party adopt in the remaining days before the gubernatorial election?
We will intensify our campaigns and go on door-to-door to woo the electorate and tell them what we have for them as the best compared to the APC. We are not going to be coward by any form of intimidation whatsoever and Insha-Allah, come March 9, 2019, we will be victorious. An Atunwa government under the PDP will give Kwarans the best.