Polling Unit Ambassadors of Nigeria (PUAN) is an election monitoring and observation group recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In this interview, Prince Osa Osaghae, the Secretary General of PUAN relates his experience in election monitoring in the country, gives comparative analysis of experience in other countries, says Nigerian politicians are not accountable to the people while commending INEC for bringing a paradigm shift to the nation’s electoral process.
Excerpts from JOSHUA OMOLOYE Omoloye, Politics Editor.
When did you go into election monitoring in Nigeria?
Polling Unit Ambassadors of Nigeria (PUAN) started election observation in 2019 as unaccredited observers but we have had accreditation from INEC to observe all Elections in Nigeria from 2020 to date.
What has been the experience?
The experience has been a progressive one because INEC has used every new election to develop their strategies to enhance and ensure poll integrity in Nigeria.
Have you monitored elections outside Nigeria and could you share your experiences?
I was invited to the USA by the American Black Caucus delegation in Washington DC to give an insight into our grassroots mobilization strategy in building a formidable structure that is poised to change the Electoral narratives of Nigeria and take power from the political elites to the electorates. In the process, I understudied the house to house political campaign strategy of the American politicians geared towards winning elections. In advanced democratic structures, aspiring leaders work very hard to convince the citizens that they have the capacity to become responsible and responsive leaders once elected into public offices, while in Nigeria, politicians hide under cabals and political godfathers to rig and win elections by all means; in other words, they do not rely on the people’s votes to win elections, that is why Nigerian politicians are not accountable to the people.
Are you funded by INEC or international funded?
Up until now, we are only raising Nigerians who are willing to sacrifice their resources and time to help achieve our aim of making the electorates the ultimate deciders of election processes at all levels in Nigeria. our organization has not asked for now received one dine from any donor both internationally and locally since inception. All monies used to promote our programs and activities are internal donations from willing members and some of us who are the leaders of the organization have put in our life investments into furthering the course of the organization because of our passion. however, we believe that every genuine and passionate work will attract donations from donors who will perceive the impact of what we are doing because it is genuinely selfless.
How do you guide your independence from INEC and politicians?
Our independence from politicians is very secure because we have not fallen prey to their antics and we have kept a very high integrity level by not compromising our values and principles. We have made up our minds to be highly distinguished ambassadors who must represent and defend the interest of the people and establish poll integrity in Nigeria. We see INEC under its Chairman, Prof Mahmud Yakubu as a formidable partner whose determination to bring a shift in the electoral paradigm is without any doubt.
What is your position on the new Electoral Act?
The new Electoral Act is a huge step in the right direction towards changing the business as usual slogan that has bedevilled this country and its election processes through the years. The Electoral Act as signed remains the only succour that the common man. It has as an assurance that his/her vote might begin to make meaningful relevance in the Nigerian Democratic space. It is a checkmate to those dubious political hoodlums that have continuously hijacked the Nigerian Political system.
Will it deliver a free and fair election?
The new Electoral Act will increase people’s confidence in the electoral process and create opportunities for us to collectively restore sanity to our polls. We cannot say for sure that it will usher in a free and fair election from the onset; there is so much work to do by the operatives and various stakeholders within the Electoral system so that we can begin to set a precedence that will stir our Electoral processes in a positive direction. It may not be rocket science but a collective resolution to enthrone good, transparent and accountable leaders in all strata of our political inclination.
What other confidence do you have that credible election is achievable henceforth?
The BVAS machine introduced by INEC recently which has been tested in Anambra and FCT Elections is another excellent development in the new attempt at regulating the conduct of elections. The introduction of this machine has drastically reduced touting and other forms of hooliganism from our polling units. There is no more need for politicians to mobilize for snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes because physical accreditation is necessary for any vote to count.
As a professional, how do you mobilize your team for elections?
Our election observation team is made up of passionate people who are determined to see electoral reforms work in Nigeria. They are ambassadors of their various Polling Units. Our strategy is to have people who are local to each polling unit area and man such polling unit because they have a stake and it is not financially tasking to do such. They only furnish a central unit with live reports of their observation while these reports are analyzed and harvested live to the world. The importance of this is that no polling unit in Nigeria will have a dark spot with dastards and nefarious undercover agents perpetrating evil and electoral malpractices.