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Kogi State Governorship Election Will Not Hold If I’m Not On The Ballot – Natasha Akpoti

The Social Democratic Party Candidate in the Kogi State governorship race, Natasha Akpoti speaks on her disqualification by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Excerpt…

Natasha Akpoti, a lawyer and activist, is a a governorship aspirant in Kogi State. Photo credit: Facebook
Natasha Akpoti, a lawyer and activist, is a a governorship aspirant in Kogi State. Photo credit: Facebook

You lost in the senatorial election and now contesting in the governorship race… why this change?

I did not lose. I won the election but was rigged out. There is difference between loosing and winning but being rigged.

Is this your opinion or the electoral tribunal’s verdict?

For me, election is voting in a free and fair environment. Under such a circumstance, I won.

I have evidence of how many of my ballot papers were destroyed and the fact that two weeks before the election sensitive election materials were already in Kogi State in the hands of the governor.

I got about 100 ballot papers tomb printed for the presidential and senatorial candidates of the All Progressive Congress (APC).

It was based on that that I made a petition to the DSS and INEC. I sat down face to face with professor Mahmood and he told me not to worry that they were going to investigate it.

But up till this moment, since February, I have not heard from INEC. No investigation into how those ballot papers were out before the election.

So I have clear evidence that I was rigged out in that election.

So, what inspired your governorship ambition?

I was inspired by service. I don’t want to be one of those who seat on the sidelines and complain of the quality of leadership in the country and of how bad things are.

I am tired of going out for holidays and seeing other countries that have less resource than what we have but are doing well because their leaders are able to harness what they have for the common good of the people.

It all balls down to service and good leadership. I am tired of seeing development and project commission only on papers.

Do you still see yourself in the race after your disqualification by INEC?

Yes. Let me make it clear. That kogi election will not hold if I am not on the ballot. I don’t care how it is being interpreted.

I am not afraid of being arrested. What INEC is doing is politically orchestrated to get me out of the race.

I will not sit and watch my civic rights being infringed on because INEC has decided to interpret the constitution and the electoral act to please themselves and few persons they have decided to shift their neutral base for.

The constitution says INEC should be independent and neutral to all parties. That means even if they find out that my party has omitted something it is their duty to call on the party to make corrections.

I was disqualified because the deputy I nominated fell below the constitutionally required age limit, which is 35 years.

Though we made efforts to substitute him within the window period, INEC frustrated our efforts.

Section 31(1) of the electoral act, states clearly that INEC has no right to reject or disqualify any candidate.

Sub (6) makes it clear that only the court can disqualify candidates.

In 2015, when the issue of president Buhar’s certificate came up, INEC spokesperson, in an interview said it is not INEC’s duty to investigate or question the validity or otherwise of any candidates qualification.

He said that INEC’s duty according to paragraph (15a) of the third schedule of the Nigerian constitution stipulates the duty of INEC to organise, undertake and supervise elections.

That is it. So what INEC is doing now has infringed on my civil rights.

I am tired of going out for holidays and seeing other countries that have less resource than what we have but are doing well because their leaders are able to harness what they have for the common good of the people. It all balls down to service and good leadership. I am tired of seeing development and project commission only on papers

What are you bringing to the table different from other candidates; why should Kogi people vote for you?

I’m bringing content. I’ve got a vision that is real.

I’ve been a major voice in the call for revival of Ajaokuta Steel Company. Look at other contestants; most of them emerged not because they have been known to have made impact in any area of the economy or society.

I have content. I have vision that is connected and peculiar to Kogi State. No matter how much truth you speak as long as you are not in government, your truth is for yourself.

Tell us three of the issues in your manifesto and how you will tackle them if elected?

Three priorities of my government when elected will be Education, health care and industrialisation.

Our education reform will localise education in Kogi State to ensure that our education curriculum aligns with our realities.

Some subject will include indigenous studies like what Rwanda and Kenya have done. We will upgrade our schools, build teachers capacity and ensure free education from primary to secondary level.

We will ensure entrepreneurship and vocational skills are thought in secondary schools. So every child graduating from our secondary schools will be equipped with at least two lifesaving skills.

Research is going to be a focus in our education reform. We will ensure that educational sector go deep into research because it is only when you proffer solutions through research that you can make revenue from same.

On health reforms, we will ensure the full upgrade of all hospitals and will have hospitals in the three senatorial districts.

We will also have health centres across communities centers to attend to basic health issues. Children under age 10 and aged people above 65 will have free health care and child birth will be free.

You may want to ask how these ideas will be funded because Kogi State is rated as one of the poorest states in Nigeria.

We want to drive health tourism and make money from our health sector for the state.

Nigeria is not known for any research that provide solutions to any tropical disease, so we will open the door of Kogi State to research institutions like John Hopkins, Oxford University and others, partnering with our special hospitals to go into research.

On industrialisation, I have short term and long term goals. By working with the federal government we will get Ajaokuta up and running.

We have proven what we can do in this aspect. With Ajaokuta running, generating power to power our homes and factories will be much easier.

Short term industrialisation will focus on reviving local industry, cottage industries to ensure a thriving grassroot economy.

We will set up a Kogi extractive licensing board. Kogi State has 32 of these resources. All these resources have international prices.

So we cannot be shortchanging ourselves by not generating good revenue from such solid minerals. Nigeria is second largest exporter of cashew nut.

Kogi is the hub of cashew. Do you know that from World Bank report on Cashew in 2018, legally exported cashew amounted to $2bn from Nigeria.

If Kogi is one of the largest states with cashew plants, there is huge economic resource in cashew business.

Now we have just been exporting cashew in its raw state. What we are going to do is to ensure that cashew is not exported in its raw form.

It doesn’t cost much to set cashew process plants. So we go into processing it so we generate huge funds from cashew processing and exporting business.

I was disqualified because the deputy I nominated fell below the constitutionally required age limit, which is 35 years. Though we made efforts to substitute him within the window period, INEC frustrated our efforts

If INEC clears you, you will be slugging it out with incumbent governor and Musa Wada of the PDP. Do you think you stand a chance given their platforms and clout in the state’s politics?

Yes I do. My greatest strength is in my ideas.

What I have discussed with you is not up to one tenth of my ideas to give Kogi the right leadership.

And my greatest selling point is that I am transmitting from being a social entrepreneur, one that has proven capacity.

Without occupying any office in the country I got the National Assembly to pass a bill of $1bn for Ajaokuta Steel Company revival bill until the president turned it down.

You know what it means. I have got capacity and I represent an idea of prosperity that everyone can buy into.

So among all the candidates, whether it is Bello or Engineer Musa Wada, I am the strongest candidate.
Governor Bello has the presidency behind him, who is your godfather?

I don’t have a godfather. I don’t want to have a godfather. I told you I am a political reformer.

In as much as I am in politics to win for the greater good, I am also in to make reform along the line.

So my story is of one without godfather and money. I don’t need a godfather because everyone who sponsors you wants to own your voice.

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