Says interest of S/South very crucial to Nigeria
• Not all Northerners are worried by zoning
If you are tempted to conclude that Senator Jonathan Zwingina is merely supporting President Goodluck Jonathan because of the name-sake mentality, you would be forgiven. However, for this teacher endowed with oratorical skill, his
arguments regarding the raging issue of zoning would be difficult to fault.
“You have been president for 35years but you still have appetite for another four years and you are telling the president who has never tested the presidency not to have appetite! Can you imagine the incongruity in the argument? If occupation of the presidency gives advantage, what more advantage do you need after having it for 35years? If occupying the presidency brings development, where is the development in the north to credit the 35years that the north has occupied that office? We have to ask this question. It appears the north has held the nation hostage than what we are going through”, he declares.
But Zwingina also talks about the supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution among other issues. He insists, playing the devil’s advocate, that “let me just play the devil’s advocate. Let’s assume we stop President Goodluck Jonathan and the militants in the Niger Delta say ‘it is because he is our son they don’t want him to rule and as such we will not allow any production to take place’ will there be peace in the country? We have to ask ourselves hard questions because it is not impossible that some people can raise such arguments. If we do not have peace, will you even be talking about the
constitution or even zoning? You can’t. Let us be reasonable about these things”. This is just the first part. Excerpts:
On the issue of zoning, you are one of those in the Vanguard of the campaign for President Goodluck Jonathan. Coming from Adamawa State in the North East geo-political zone, what is the catch for you?
Thank you very much for the question and I appreciate that. The first thing you need to know is that we are in a civilised democracy, we are in a civilised government and a civilised government means a government based on the rule of
law, a government based on a written constitution and the assumption in every democracy is that the written constitution is superior and supreme to other pieces of legislation as well as secondary guidelines issued by relevant
institutions of democracy that exist in that country – that is the first assumption and it is a very principal assumption.
Based on that, you will note that the 1999 Constitution gives a prescription of how you qualify to run for office of president and that prescription is superior to any other guidelines by a party or a group of people and in that
prescription, President Goodluck Jonathan qualifies. However, if the PDP has in its guidelines pronouncement for zoning, you will have to align that pronouncement together with the constitution and if those guidelines are in
conflict with the prescription of the constitution, then of course those guidelines would become a nullity whether theoretically or practically.
So, when the party guidelines conflict…?
(Cuts in) Exactly! It is in view of that that the PDP itself was at pains to resolve the conflict between the guidelines and the national constitution such that in the year 2003 when the PDP wanted to insist that the zoning was still in
the South and not to also stop the Northern aspirants from running, the late Abubakar Rimi and Barnabas Gemade insisted on taking the privileges conferred on them by the national constitution and the party had no legal right to stop
them. So they charged them nomination fees, collected those fees from them and allowed them to enter the primaries.
This was because the party could not find a legitimate reason to override the national constitution. In 2007, the same issue arose which was a conflict between the guidelines of the party and the privileges conferred on the citizens
by the national constitution. In the same vein, the party could not override privileges conferred on Chief Mike Akhigbe, on Rochas Okorocha, on Peter Odili and on many other aspirants at that primaries, so they were allowed. It is the
same principle that has been outlined in the case of President Goodluck Jonathan. I want the issue of provision of zoning on one side and on the other side, the privileges conferred by the national constitution. They equally
resolved in the same manner that well, that since the party constitution cannot
abrogate the provisions of the constitution, so President can run under this
provision as was the case in 2003 and 2007.
So I really do not see any situation that is difficult to understand here. The zoning is an internal arrangement of the party and it is at two levels. The first zoning is the one that confirms rotation between North and South. The
second aspect of zoning is zoning of principal officers within the nation.
After you have decided who is the president, you have to then decide where the vice-president comes from, the senate president, the speaker and other positions. So, you cannot abrogate zoning entirely but the issue of rotation is
a situation which the party has handled carefully in view of the privileges conferred by the national constitution. So, I think it is a straightforward matter.
Some people are saying your party had an internal agreement, where people had sat and agreed that eight years for the South, eight years for the North. People see it as a gentleman’s agreement, just like in a contract where people shake
hands and go to sleep. So, why can’t that same principle be applied in this case?
Because that internal arrangement is in conflict with the constitution and don’t forget that I told you that in every democracy, the supreme law is the constitution. So you cannot make any arrangement as a rule and expect that
arrangement to override and supercede the constitution, that is really the basic thing and you also need to know that Goodluck Jonathan was on a joint ticket with the late President, Musa Yar’Adua and the principle in all democracy is
that the reason you have a joint ticket is in case the principal becomes absent either by virtue of death, resignation, impeachment or incapacitation and this has happened and President Jonathan has found himself in the presidency by an
act of God, he is no way hindered by the constitution.
So what you are simply saying is that inspite of the constitution that we have, people can enter a room, reach an agreement and that agreement repudiates the constitution? That will not be in a democratic setting; that will not be the
rule of law, the rule of law gives the constitution the first place of authority. So why do you want to repudiate what
is common in our law and in the world, the constitution, which remains the first symbol of authority. How could you say a group of people who met in a room and what they decided supercedes the provision of the constitution?
That is a military idea where the word of the head of state or military commander supercedes any
other written document, but in a democracy you have to respect the constitution.
I find this debate very strange.
Very very strange indeed but I am happy you raised the issue of the military
where the word of the president is law…?
(Cuts in) Thank God, our party is not under military. Let me finish, Senator – from 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo took over to 2007, some Nigerians saw and believed that the way your party operated tended to suggest a military mentality? That was not a good way to operate and many party people didn’t agree with it.
But do you agree with what I am trying to say? Yes, because you are right; you are absolutely correct, the party found itself in a garrison atmosphere quoting one of the situations that we were told by the President obtained in Ibadan. We
were told that the late Baba Adedibu was a garrison commander and everybody must bow to him. Those things are un-acceptable and really uncomfortable and very embarrassing to a democratic institution like the PDP and Nigeria.
I am not about to perpetuate those habits and that is why that particular government had a lot of impunity and that is why most Nigerians are uncomfortable with that era and any other era where we will find principal characters conducting themselves in that manner. I don’t think they are things for us to emulate and I don’t think many Nigerians
are proud of that era. So we should all look to that era with some shame, we should try to distance ourselves from that legacy and that is why we are saying that the first thing in any democratic setting is the rule of law. The
constitution is superior unless amended.
What some people out there are saying is that when it was convenient for Obasanjo and some people, zoning was made rigid but now it is being twisted….?
(Cuts in) Hold on, once you agree that the constitution is superior unless you want to go to jungle justice, that situation does not arise please. Do you want jungle justice where the rule of the mighty supercedes?
How do you deal with an Obasanjo or an Edwin Clark both of whom have been waxing rigid and forceful in their quest and support for President Jonathan. I thought politics is about negotiations and consensus building?
Let me tell you this: every president has advisers available to them, some of the advisers are good and some of them controversial. Some of the advisers have agenda that may not be democratic, it is the duty of whoever finds himself in
the place of authority to pick and choose what advice he will take. Our duty as democrats is to ensure that whoever is in the party obeys the rules provided by the constitution and the party. There are un-democratic elements in our
society, our resolve is to keep them aside and keep their un-democratic views aside. Even when they come up with ideas, we should try to defeat them by logic and argument and at the end of the day, defeat them in the court of law. The
moment we find these undemocratic characters or individuals in the party, it is our duty to repudiate their character by logic, by argument and by getting enough alliances to vote them out and at end of the day even in the court of
law. So we cannot drive everybody away and describe ourselves as democratic but we should not allow those characters to prevail. So I believe that a party cannot have everybody within its fold to be like-minded. What is important is
that majority of the party members must insist on the due process set up by the national constitution and the position of that party and whoever tries to ignore it should actually be prevailed upon either by logic or by even going to court.
What are the things you would consider as challenges to Goodluck Jonathan’s aspiration?
I think the major challenge he has, firstly those who are unwilling to respect the provisions of the national constitution, secondly, those who have resolved to one word manifestoe – zoning. You want to be president because of zoning, there is no content or programme. I don’t think we should encourage those things. You want to be president because of where you come from which is completely out of the constitution, those are the only inhibition I see
otherwise as a political scientist, I know that it is almost impossible to defeat an incumbent. You can do that in a general election because the people voting there are more than your party people but a sitting president to be
defeated in the primaries.
That is exactly the problem in your party: Might …?
(Cuts in) Any primary, please in any primary and not just the PDP alone. I’ll give you an example: When Jimmy Cater was seeking a second term, there were challengers to him and you know that one of the challengers was one of those
regarded as one of the families that founded democracy and he challenged him, but at the end of the day, Carter, the incumbent won. We are talking of Kennedy.
There were several other cases, so you do find it very difficult to really set aside because an incumbent has so many advantages.
In this instance, we are lucky to have an incumbent that is not willing to play that card, he is allowing things to go, even things that are not in his immediate interest. But because they are rules of the party, he has allowed it
to go but I will like to say there are many things going for the president.
Firstly, the manner of his emergence purely by divine act. Nigerians have not forgotten God brought this man and if God brought him there, there must be a purpose and we should not try to oppose what God in His divine mercy and wisdom
has done. Secondly, Jonathan has been president since May 6th till now, he has not really had time to accumulate debt and debris, he is relatively a clean president. Thirdly, he has not exhibited any act of impunity or vulgarity that
we can say oh, he has done this or that in few months of his administration.
Many Nigerians are willing to give him benefit of the doubt. Even within the party, the governors are not intimidated by him, he listens to them and he respects them, he answers some of them sirs. They would rather have a president
they can sit and discuss with like that than any other president they will have to queue to see. So I think the president has a lot of things working for him, even in some of the newspapers where they do count states, you will find out
that the president has never gone below 20 states supporting him and if 20 out of 36 support him, that is a clear majority. So I think he has a lot of things going for him but it is a democracy, we have to allow others their right. This president is gentle and calm.
But these states you say people are counting for him, what if things suddenly change? Then you did not respond to the issue of those using foul language
against their opponents?
I can tell you with authority that things are not as rough as some people would want you to believe. Issues are still being discussed. And the people that may engage more in harsh language are not many but what is important is not whether
people are engaged in a harsh language or not but what is the principal doing?
What is Jonathan’s position? That is what should matter. Is he is conducting himself in accordance with hard critics or hard exponents or is he conducting himself in a persuasive, gentle manner.
Regarding the way he conducts himself some have described him as a weakling?
The word weak, to me, means he does not engage himself in the act of impunity. If that is what people refer to as being weak, then I support a weak president rather than a dictator, I will vote for a weak president any day than vote for a
dictator who will not even listen to me and start crushing everything on his path. What people describe as weak presidency is the first attribute of a democrat.
What scares you? Because from the way you made that statement you sound like a victim of a dictatorship?
I have been and all Nigerians are victims, our economy, both national and as individuals, we’ve been victims and every Nigerian that lived during any dictatorship has been a victim and that is why the press championed the return
to democracy. So everybody has been a victim of a dictatorial era and that is why we are championing the entrenchment of democracy.
Some people in the North still see a Jonathan ascendancy as robbery?
I do agree that some people reason like that but I think that is not entirely correct. What we need to do when we hear such things is to find out who are these people and how many are they and what is their generational status. Our
analysis has shown that all Northerners, 60 years and below are not worried about zoning. We have done a poll on that, it is only 60 years and above that are worried about zoning. Secondly, even among the older ones, there are people
who look at the matter carefully and with a dispassionate approach.
Let me give you an example, Ambassador Hassan Adamu is about 70; Alhaji Shehu Malami, too. They are actually at the forefront of the Jonathan campaign and you cannot say those people are sentimental. That is to show you that the North is not as united on this matter and look at how many aspirants we have in the North, they are many which means really that it is not the entire North that is championing this zoning matter but some individuals pursuing their ambition
which means there is nothing like a Northern interest. If there is a Northern interest, they would have come together and united around that interest. I think they are all individual ambition and which is legitimate, individual ambition is
legitimate under our constitution and we should grant it to them but the point I am making is that there is no such monolithic interest that you should expect a lot of deference to. It is simply various pockets of interests. Secondly, let me just play the devil’s advocate. Let’s assume we stop President Goodluck Jonathan and the militants in the Niger Delta say ‘it is because he is our son they don’t want him to rule and as such we will not allow any production to take place’ will there be peace in the country? We have to ask ourselves hard questions because it is not impossible that some people can raise such arguments. If we do not have peace, will you even be talking about the constitution or even zoning?
You can’t. Let us be reasonable about these things.
If you play the devil’s advocate and argue the way I am doing now, you will see clearly that in the interest of peace and unity, we should allow President Goodluck Jonathan. Is unity at stake only when northern interests are affected?
Why don’t we regard unity being at stake when South South interests are affected? Are they not part of the country? We have to be logical and rational.
Some of us are persuasive like this because we are reasoning beyond sentiments. If we want unity, it must involve every part of the country being treated fairly. We cannot say that if our interests are affected, that is more important
than any other section of the country. Take the leadership map of the country, for instance. The zone that has never been considered or never has that opportunity is the South South. Every other zone has had a shot at it. Even for
that alone, the South South should be considered. One of the reasons the PDP decided to give President Obasanjo support was because he is from the South West. This is because there was a necessity to compensate the South West because
of what happened to Chief MKO Abiola. We have the same necessity even if you leave the issue of constitution aside. We have the same necessity to compensate the South South at least on the issue of degradation of their environment and
the fact that they have never produced the president of this country, yet, their oil wells produce the money we spend in this country. When we look at all these factors we try to argue that if you are looking for national unity and peace,
the best way to guarantee it is to support Goodluck. Let there be a parity of opportunities and after that we can return to the rotation of offices.
There are arguments in some quarters that the nation is being held hostage by the South South because of this Jonathan issue…?
There are other people holding hostages in Nigeria. The North is also holding the country hostage. You have been in the presidency for 35 years out of 50 years of the country’s independence. What is the balance? Is it not 15 years?
You have been president for 35 years but you still have appetite for another four years and you are telling the president who has never tested the presidency not to have appetite! Can you imagine the incongruity in the argument? If occupation of the presidency gives advantage, what more advantage do you need after having it for 35 years? If occupying the presidency brings development, where is the development in the North to credit the 35 years that the North has occupied that office? We have to ask this question. It appears the North has held the nation hostage than what we are going through. If there is any region that should be patient and concessionary then it is the North.
Good argument. However, some people look at you and simply conclude that you are a very shifty politician and they back it up. They say from 1993 when you were in the campaign of late MKO Abiola, you’ve shifted positions severally that
people have lost count. Is that pragmatism or just crass opportunism?
I try to look at things on merit largely because of my background as a teacher and also because of the fact that I try to excuse myself from the sentiment that govern our era.
Some people would disagree and insist that you are playing a politics that is lacking in principles?
What is a principle? Principles mean you must have a yardstick that you use in arriving at a decision and that yardstick to me is analysis. You must analyse any given situation and take a position based on the reality of the moment. You
cannot take a position based on your assumption in the head. You must take a position based on the reality on ground otherwise you do not have principles.
That is my principle. You must analyse situations, look at all the factors involved and suspend emotions. I see people who are victims of their emotions as not being principled. What they should do is to respect other people’s
principles. Everybody has a principle. It is a naïve person that would apply a principle that worked last year in today’s condition. Every politician that I know has had to adjust his conducts based on the current position. Every
pragmatic leader has to adjust whatever he wants to do based on the current reality. The dynamics of time and circumstances compel human conduct. History is made by men but based on the circumstances they find themselves.
*THE NEXT QUESTION IS: WAS THAT WHY HE DITCHED BASHORUN MKO ABIOLA IN 1993?
*WHY IS HE NO LONGER ON THE SAME BOAT WITH FORMER VICE PRESIDENT ATIKU ABUBAKAR?
*HOW COME HE IS NOW IN THE SAME BOAT WITH OLUSEGUN OBASANJO FOR GOODLUCK
*WHAT HAPPENED TO CHUBA OKADIGBO IN THE SENATE?
*HOW AND WHY DID OBASANJO CONSTANTLY ASSAIL THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY?
*WHY DID THE IMPEACHMENT ATTEMPT ON OBASANJO FAIL IN 2002?
*WHY DIDN’T ATIKU ABUBAKAR GO THE WHOLE NINE YARDS AGAINST OBASANJO AT THE PDP
CONVENTION IN JANUARY 2003?
Find answers to these and ma