Ogbeni Lanre Banjo is a three-time governorship candidate in Ogun State. He is a Certified Public Accountant (Chattered) with wealth of experience in both government and governance. He had served as a Treasurer for a member of the United States’ House of Representatives, Mayor of the District of Columbia, and a Council member. He spoke with AYODELE OJO in Maryland, U.S. on several issues.

Excerpts:

As an African, whom did you vote for in the U.S. election?

I voted for Barrack Obama because he redeemed majority of his campaign promises. As a non-conventional or professional Nigerian politician, I know how challenging it is to keep all campaign promises, especially where there are mosquitoes and hawks all around, who are out for selfish interests. Out of the six candidates that contested the US presidential poll, Obama appears to be more experienced.

Of course, I am not impressed that candidates of other political parties were not allowed to debate with the candidates of Democrat and Republican parties, especially in a country that prides itself as the father of democracy. I am also ashamed of Africans, especially Nigerians in the United States, who are voting for voting sake.

Many don’t even know why they voted for Obama execpt that he is a black man.

This is a preposterous reason to vote for one. As educated as we are, we should be making demands for our votes. I mean demands that will make Africans in the U.S. more recognised.

Today, in the United States, Congress will tell you they only recognise English as the official language, but go to ATM, you will see Spanish language, Chinese and others, and during the campaign, all of them are induced to speak Spanish if you want Hispanic vote. If not for the Hispanic, immigration laws would have made life extremely arduous and unbearable for immigrants, even though majority of the members of Congress are sons and daughters of aliens.

Hispanic are much organised, have foresight, and they are getting something for their votes. Look at the black man, what are we getting for our votes, absolutely nothing. Obama was forced to speak Spanish during the campaigns.

What is your impression about the U.S. elections and its outcome?

The system is not perfect but you cannot compare it to the nonsense we do in Nigeria. It would be observed that the media peopled by chauvinistic citizens is at every election board office with the representatives of all political parties and candidates.

While journalists transmit results to their organisations, representatives of political parties and candidates at the Board of Elections also transmit announced results per polling booth or precinct and local governments to their campaign headquarters for tabulation. Don’t forget, unlike my home country, movement is not restricted because of thugs who might want to snatch ballot boxes, electricity is available, Internet works, you need no credit to use your phone and votes are not counted under candle lights.

So, those at the helms of affairs in Nigeria are able to shamelessly watch all night and elite who show no interest in Nigerian elections burn midnight oil because of American elections.

By law, the general elections must take place on first Tuesday in November and the winner of the elections is decided not by popular votes, but by any candidate who won a minimum of 270 of the 538 electoral votes. In a nutshell, the winner is determined by Electors in the Electoral College. It is therefore worthy to note that when American votes on general elections day, they are not voting for the candidate per se, they are voting for a slate of electors who will in turn vote for the President on a later day.

Again, I am not preaching the importation of this practice. I think we can examine it and come with a better system so that they can learn from us. This system works for them, but we are Africans with unique culture and values, they are Americans

When and how do the Electors vote?

Once the election is over and the counting in various states is concluded, the law requires the governor of each state to prepare seven Certificates of Ascertainment after the election results in each state have been certified.

The governor sends one of the Certificates of Ascertainment to the Archivist not later than the meeting of the electors on December 17, 2012. However, federal law sets no penalty for missing the deadline. The remaining six Certificates of Ascertainment are held for use at the meeting of the Electors on December 17, 2012. By December 11, states must make final decisions in any controversies over the appointment of their electors, at least six days before the meeting of the Electors.

This is so in order that their electoral votes will be presumed valid when presented to Congress. On December 17, the Electors meet in their various states and vote for the President and Vice President on separate ballots. They record their votes on six “Certificates of Vote,” which are paired with the six remaining Certificates of Ascertainment. They also sign, seal, and certify six sets of electoral votes. A set of electoral votes consists of one Certificate of Ascertainment and one Certificate of Vote.

These are distributed immediately as follows: one set to the President of the Senate (the Vice President) for the official count of the electoral votes on January 6, 2013; two packages to the Secretary of State in the state where the electors met – one is an archival set that becomes part of the public record of the Secretary of State’s office and the other is a reserve set that is subject to the call of the President of the Senate to replace missing or incomplete electoral votes; two packages to the Archivist – one is an archival set that becomes part of the permanent collection at the National Archives and Records Administration and the other is a reserve set that is subject to the call of the President of the Senate to replace missing or incomplete electoral votes; and one set to the presiding judge in the district where the Elec-tors met – this is also a reserve set that is subject to the call of the President of the Senate to replace missing or incomplete electoral votes.

What do you appreciate about their campaign system?

The fact that citizens willingly participate without being paid, politicians do not have to visit any king solely to bribe him for support. Campaigns focus on programmes, issues, and why a candidate cannot deliver. Most of the time, candidates’ characters are questioned. Whereas in our own system, citizens have told me point blank that I am too honest to rule them, and if I cannot lie I cannot rule them. Voters have told me that I should focus on my programmes and do not have to bother with other candidates, whether they have questionable characters or not.

I have had occasions to ask voters, if I tell you my programmes and the other candidate tells you the same thing, who would you believe? The answer has been mostly whoever gives them some money.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates.

It is a non political affiliated NGO whose source of funding is the public. Unlike us in Ogun State where those who organised a debate will be asking candidates for money and the candidate with the highest donation gets accolades.

The one organised by the NUJ in Ogun State was not even covered by a single journalist. Also, during a debate, harsh words are sometimes used in the United States and they would hug themselves once it is over; it is not taken personal.

If you watched the 2011 gubernatorial debate in Lagos, you will feel sorry for the black race. J.K. Randle did not behave in a matured manner at all. Just because Governor Babatunde Fashola annoyed him during the debate, he refused to shake his hand and in fact referred to him as “omo alaileko” – a child without training, God help Africa!

Having participated in elections in Nigeria, and been politically involved in the U.S., how do you think we can right the election wrongs in Nigeria?

To right the wrongs in Nigeria, all citizens must be involved. Citizens must discontinue asking for pittance for votes. They must reject Naira stocked in the loaves of bread or wrapped in leaflets or envelopes, carried in Ghana-Must-Go or cup of rice being distributed a day before elections, just for them to suffer for the rest of their lives.

Journalists must be more dedicated and must diligently exercise their duties as the conscience of our society. Rigging of elections at the primary level must be resisted.

Most political parties do not engage in free and fair primaries anymore, and there is no electoral body to enforce the rules because they are all compromised. From local governments to the federal levels, no leaders with visions.

Visionless leaders cannot right the wrongs; they deepen the wrongs, lay political and economic landmines for all of us. The seeds of corrupt practices are being frequently sown and nurtured in the minds of young ones.

Dogs are just killing tigers in our communities. They all think governance is all about sending citizens to Mecca in contravention of the requirements of the Holy Quran and Jerusalem. They think governance is all about building bridges and roads only, and when governors are sick or their planes crash, they drive them on those bridges to the Airport to Germany, while those they serve continue to perish in mortuaries called hospitals in Nigeria.

What are the functions of the state in the conduct of U.S. elections?

State law regulates most aspects of the election, including primaries, the eligibility of voters (beyond the basic constitutional definition), the running of each state’s Electoral College, and the running of state and local elections.

In the U.S., to declare one’s ambition, all one needs to do is to go to the City or State’s Board of election with your Treasurer to complete the application and submit a petition signed by required numbers of voters resident in the state or city. Of course, those sponsoring you must be members of your political party. The local and state governments register voters, establish polling booths and make election laws. It is as easy as ABC; there are no requirements to have tables, chairs or certain number of offices like INEC under Abel Guobadia required before Chief Gani Fawehinmi fought it at the Supreme Court.

Primaries are conducted by the state and local governments, relieving political parties off the pressure and to bring sanity to the system. The letters of the laws are followed since the Board of Elections is required by laws not to be members of one political party as we traitorously do in Nigeria. Each state sets when early voting takes place so that those workers and police who are required to work on the election’s day are given the opportunity to vote early.

There are strict laws that discourage members of the Board to engage in criminal activities and if those laws are violated, the violator will be jailed. Also, there are issues that are pertinent to each state that were referred to voters in each state.

Laws that require voters’ registration varies from state to state. In the District of Columbia for the first time, voters are allowed to register to vote on the day of elections and then vote immediately, whereas in some states, voters’ registration closed couple of months before the day of elections.

Weeks before the election, the state will send a booklet containing the names of all registered candidates, the state and local judges contesting in various courts, your rights as voters, your polling booth and issues that require your votes and the explanation of each issue to educate the voters, including amendments to the State Constitution, if any.

How do you view the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s statement that opposition should learn from the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, in conceding defeat?

That is an absurd statement made by an immoral official of a political party known for its election malpractices since inception. The first reaction of Mitt Romney was refusal to concede until their trick in Ohio failed.

Why would there not be a protest and court cases when cases of illegal thumb-printing of ballot boxes, contemptuous snatching of ballot boxes from polling booths, other electoral malpractices engaged in and proved by foreign forensic experts at election tribunals? The ACN performed wonderfully well in court by exposing them. The PDP that is full of indiscipline and questionable leaders should keep its mouth shut and don’t further disgrace Nigeria. Al Gore went to court against George Bush.

Going to court is very expensive anywhere in the world and probably more expensive in Nigeria because of our peculiar and corrupt nature. Victory in court is not what matters, but where certain cases are proved beyond reasonable doubts, even though, may not affect the outcome of the elections, such cases should be turned to an opportunity to improve on our electoral laws and practices and thus used to strengthen our democracy, if we have people who know their onions in power. The chairman of INEC should be the first to study the opposition’s position in court and objectively use it to improve the system.

Those in the National Assembly, especially the members of those political parties that litigate election issues, should also dissect the case and use it to make laws. United States is better than many countries today and the children of our elites are in the U.S. today because their citizens protest. Protest is part of democracy.

Is the response of ACN in order in your opinion?

Of course yes, but the ACN needs to be exemplary. You cannot call me a thief and when your hands are also caught in the cookie jar, you tell the world that you are preventing me from pilfering the cookies that belong to all us. Has the ACN been fair in the conduct of local government elections? ACN members are complaining about internal democracy, if your members don’t feel the equity, how do you want the civilized world to respect your party?

How can you convince educated voters that your party is better? Voters always cast their votes in a room, one at a time and beside stinking open gutters in Nigeria. Since the PDP introduced the snatching of ballot boxes during our elections, can’t any of these ACN governors think of planning polling booth to take place inside a place where it would be difficult for ballot box snatchers to just walk in to operate? If they have to work with guns at least 2,000 feet to snatch ballot boxes, with adequate securities, they will be challenged.

Are the ACN governors waiting for Jonathan or Jega to plan for decent polling booths in their states? Would a party whose leader publicly stated that it would be in power for 60 years do anything to smoothen elections in your state? As we speak there are many disenfranchised voters all over Nigeria. Many live too far distant to walk to the pooling booths area since you cannot drive on Election Day. Are ACN governors expecting the PDP government to solve that problem for them?

Each ACN state has State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) peopled with ACN members only, who is stopping the State of House Assembly from changing the law to lead the way for Jega’s INEC to follow? After their local elections, you would see the Chairman of SIEC rolling on the floor thanking God after conducting flawed elections, as if God who gave us eyes is blind and the same God who carved ears did not hear when people were shouting “they have snatched the ballot boxes.”

Talking about disenfranchising voters, does it happen in the U.S. too?

It is not about whether it happens in the U.S. or not. I want any other nation to read about Nigerian elections and cover their face in shame or learn something from us. Yes, there is technical voters’ suppression in America.

President Obama acknowledged it and despite the fact that it is a state function, he promised his fellow citizens that it would be fixed. The civil society rose against it and citizens refused to be frustrated, and there are judges on standby in local courts, who upon preponderance of evidence would order the extension of voting time on election day.

In Ondo, 1.64 million people were registered to vote, but only 645,597 were accredited and 624,659 actually voted which implied that 20,938 voters decided not to go back to the polling booths due to the crude manner we conduct our elections. In Edo, 1.6 million voters registered to vote, 667,993 were accredited and 629,461 voters actually voted. Again 38, 532 people did not go back to the polling booths due to the unrefined manner we conduct our elections.

In Anambra, 1.8 million Nigerians registered to vote, only 300,000 voted in 2010, only 17% of the registered voters. When Americans spent a minimum of three hours, they cried out and the system is improved. I have been crying out that this accreditation first and vote later system needs to be changed. The system disenfranchises many including the elites who are not willing to be exposed to the risks associated with voting in Nigeria.

This exposure to risks needs to be minimised by encouraging a system where people who want to come in, get accredited, vote, leave and those who want to hang around could be accommodated. Does Jega care? Do all the 36 governors care? Since many of these elected governors and President are so arrogant, why would those appointed and other hawks around them not be so conceited?

In a system that begs for assistance, people at the helms of affairs should be humble enough to encourage those who have the know-how to assist, not all these sycophants that are retarding progress. Did Jonathan ever promise to fix that?

Yet he is celebrating Obama when he would not allow a decent system in his country. Did Jega or anybody in the National Assembly care about this public outcry? In the ACN, CPC, and ANPP controlled states, have the Houses of Assembly ever called for hearing to hear why so many people were accredited and so many people failed to come back to vote? Even when Americans complained about spending three hours at the polling booths with a minimum of 10 machines in each polling booth, they ridiculed us by saying this is not a third world country.

I am being insulted by the act of these Negroes at the helm of affairs in Nigeria.

Source: National Mirror

http://nationalmirroronline.net/new/to-achieve-electoral-uhuru-in-nigeria-all-hands-must-be-on-deck-banjo/

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