Minister of Culture and National Orientation and Supervising Minister of Information, Chief Edem Duke speaks on the preparations for the forthcoming election and calls on Nigerians to hold those who are threatening violence if they lose the election accountable. He also speaks on a number of other national issues. Excerpts:
Critics claim the government influenced the postponement of the election for selfish reasons. Is that true?
I think all I can say is to reassure Nigerians. When you look at the fact with the shift in the date, it is not an extensive shift. But in-between, you can see that it has afforded the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the opportunity of reaching many more Nigerians.
You can also see that there is a bit of relief, even though, there is great agitation in several parts of the country that people have not got their Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs yet.
That people in certain localities have deliberately been deprived of the opportunity of collecting their PVCs. Those issues have been addressed. If you remember the last media chat by the President during which he said that because of the security concerns that the status of the equipment of the Army will improve and he assured that in a few weeks there will be a dramatic change for the better around the terrain where insurgents are operating. You can see that all of these are coming to pass.
What would have been the story if eight million people were not served with PVCs if the insurgency were still prevalent in most parts of the northeast, what would people have said? They would have accused this same government of irresponsibility and insensitivity. But we know that the criticism is only coming from a particular section whose strategy for the campaign is criticism, propaganda and threat.
So it is understandable. But it is to reassure Nigerians that the Federal Government has no ulterior motive, it cannot have, not with the record of achievement that it has as its own collateral for the campaign.
The argument has been that if the government has not been able to decisively tackle insurgency in 6 years, with just few weeks to election, what will the government do differently. Some people have argued that it was a deliberate ploy by the government. What do you have to say?
Duke:Nigerians should continue to give the government the necessary support
I think again that that statement arises from ignorance because first and foremost, the issue of the insurgency is not a peculiarly a Nigerian issue. It is a global issue with a specific focus on Nigeria and countries bordering around Nigeria. And you could see the futility in the effort battling insurgents and having them escape into neighbouring countries, regrouping and re-launching attacks from some of those territories.
So it was identified that for this to be checkmated effectively, there is need to now mobilize the support of countries in the Lake Chad region, of countries in West and Central Africa so that there is a more holistic, more participatory engagement of insurgency.
And all over the world where insurgency has occurred, you will agree with me that it is a multi-dimensional approach that had always been deployed to attend to it.
So some of these stories and propaganda are deliberately fabricated in order to make the government look bad and you would see that when government began to record some successes, some of those who had thought that it would not be done, began to feel unhappy about it. They began to wish secretly that these successes against the insurgency were not happening because some of them premised their campaign on insecurity.
And let me also say that it is not how long it has taken us to address this issue but the fact that it has been addressed. And also bear in mind that those who want to use the issue of security or insecurity or insurgency to campaign had always been there, they had always been big players, big community leaders, big retired generals in certain parts of the country and they never lifted a finger to give advice, to give support and to intervene.
In fact, I understand that one of them was nominated by the insurgents to be their spokesperson but he felt embarrassed that they openly identified him as their preferred spokesperson. And these people never contributed thoughts and ideas in challenging this.
Rather, they sat back and saw the destruction that plagued the nation within and around where they were living and they thought the best thing to do was to fuel it or to keep silent so that at some point in 2015 they can use it as campaign propaganda. But the providence that sees that Nigeria after 100 years must not disintegrate has brought a solution.
In the next couple of days chiefs of defence staff from ECOWAS, from Central Africa countries, will be gathering in order to develop a roadmap for the final onslaught on this insurgency.
So, Nigerians should continue to give the government the necessary support and encouragement and more importantly they should continue to celebrate and appreciate the forces that are operating in those territories.
Is it true as it is alleged that the government has plans of compelling the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega go on terminal leave?
I am not in the position to speak on that for now. But I align myself with the statement of the President that he has confidence in the chairman of INEC. The most important thing is that any Nigerian that finds himself in a privileged position to serve this nation must serve with transparency and integrity because history will judge him or her.
And if that privilege leaves you with the ability to lead a sensitive electoral process and for any reason you make it toxic, then there is also a place in history for you, whether it would be a dark page or a golden page remains to be seen.
The forthcoming elections have raised some anxieties leading to people moving from their places of abode to their places of origin. Are you scared that there could be post-election violence like in 2011?
Postelection violence had in the past been unknown to Nigerians the truth must be told. The fear of post-election violence arose from the former candidate of the CPC, who is now the candidate of the APC. He is the author of post-election violence in Nigeria.
And right now some of the body language, some of the comments coming out of certain camps are responsible for this uneasiness and tension in the land.
But you know, what we have not looked at again is that when this same candidate contested against another retired general, he didn’t threaten anybody. When as a retired general he contested against another retired general he didn’t threaten anybody.
Now that he is contesting against a younger civilian from a minority part of Nigeria, there is this intimidation that whether you have done well, or you have not done well, I am desperate to win this election. So people are more anxious about what one candidate will do when he loses than the progress of one candidate when he wins. So that is what we are facing.
As a government, what assurance will you give Nigerians especially those moving because of the fear of possible post-election violence?
What I would like to say to Nigerians is that no individual, no group that desires the votes of Nigerians to lead this country must intimidate us to move away from our comfort zones and become refugees in transit.
It is important for all the players in this exercise to raise their voices of assurance to people who feel intimidated and threatened that they will protect them because parties have strongholds.
So it is easy for Nigerians to identify in whose stronghold or perceived stronghold some of these scary sentiments are emanating from.