As a member of the Jonathan’s campaign team, what do you see as the high points and challenges on the way?
First of all, I believe that time is indeed limited for all the parties to do comprehensive campaigns. It means that all the political parties have to hit the ground running because the time is February 14, which is just next month. So, for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), we are prepared to engage in that process. We are going to work day and night. Luckily for us, it’s not going to be too hard a task because we are running on our track records in terms of the performance of the President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in the power sector, education, general infrastructure, roads building, railways, rule of law and enablement of freedom of Nigerians, including press freedom under his watch.
Do you think Rivers State has a role to play in the presidential campaigns and elections?
Well, Rivers State is a very important state to Nigeria because it plays host to all the multinational oil companies. A lot of Nigeria’s investment in the oil and gas sector is domiciled in Rivers State. Besides that, it is situated across the ocean, which is a major trade route for the country. So, it’s an important state. Even the politics of now, by its configuration and the role it played from our history to now, it is host to refineries in Eleme 1 and 2. It is host to petrol-chemical plant. It is host to NLNG, NAFCON, Shell, Agip, Total and Mobil. It is host to almost all companies in Nigeria in the oil and gas sector. And it’s just one state.
Naturally, it is a very important and strategic state for Nigeria. So, I see the APC decision to begin their campaign in Rivers as only a recognition of this fact. I don’t think it has to do with the current politics. In terms of natural endowment, Rivers is the most endowed state in the country. We only suffer from lack of governance or perhaps, poor governance. That is why we emphasize that we need to put our best materials to govern such critical state to bring out the true value for national economy and to act as drivers for other states and units.
What are the chances of President Jonathan against Buhari in the presidential election?
First of all, on the issue of phantom; if I understand phantom, it means unreal. Well, those votes in Rivers State were real. People voted. You can’t manufacture votes. There must be thumb printing of ballot papers by somebody except you want to indict the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC ran those elections. So, if those votes were indeed gathered by INEC, they must have been the actual votes. So, I think we should dismiss the issue of phantom. I can say the votes in Kano and Katsina for Buhari are phantom. But I won’t say that because I will be indicting INEC.
We must repose confidence in the electoral umpire. We should not describe votes anywhere as phantom. Back to the issue of prospects, I said before that Jonathan will be running on his track records of performance in the rail sector, power, education, roads etcetera. I believe Nigerians will tend to see the points with us. He has done reasonably well given the constraints of insecurity which began like joke some years back. It has now assumed international dimension.
It’s now commercialised terror in parts of the country, especially in Maiduguri, in Borno State, as well as Adamawa and Yobe States. So, given this kind of constraints, I think he has done reasonably well. And that is the reason we are asking for four more years. We think that with a renewed mandate, we will be able to crush the insurgents, bring to a closure the difficulties in the North so that it doesn’t spread further to the South, restore the economy of the affected states and allow them to deepen the changes that have already begun in all the sectors.
On the other hand, the All Progressives Congress (APC) will be campaigning on promises. We know that most of you accuse politicians of making promises but not delivering. So, Nigerians are going to be looking at what to go for. Do we accept the promissory notes? Do we look at somebody who has done something concrete and who needs more time to finish those reforms? People have to weigh these options.
If today you told me to take ten birds in the bush, but if you give me the one at hand, I will prefer it to the ones in the bush. So, the PDP is marketing a bird at hand while they will be marketing many birds in the bush. People have always promised heaven on earth during campaigns. But we know that when it comes to delivery, it’s a different story. So, Nigerians know this thing very well. They will be very careful. I’m sure they will take the promises with a pinch of salt.
The opposition has persistently raised the issue of corruption and insecurity in its attacks against the president and the PDP, do you think President Jonathan has done his best in dealing with these social ills?
Well, every country that wants to develop must fight corruption. It’s either you kill corruption or corruption kills the country. I think that the PDP government is doing its best. But a lot more can still be done. Nobody is saying that it is uhuru yet. We are not there. But at least the efforts are being made. Unlike the past where attention was focused on arrest that won’t lead to conviction, they have focused more on investigations and accumulating facts that will enable them to secure convictions.
You must agree that in fighting corruption, it’s not a matter of making publicity of arrests that end up without conviction. Now, what I have been told is that they are spending more time on investigations to close cases before prosecution. So, I believe that a lot more can be done. But the work is ongoing.
On insecurity, the fight is going on. Time is required. Terror is a global phenomenon. It’s not ordinary a Nigerian issue. As we said before, we need assistance of our neighbours. Our borders are very porous. With many large and porous borders that we have, many of these insurgents coming from neighbouring countries can go back. We need to have the cooperation of these countries and international community because of the globalised nature of terror and the presence of Al-Qaeda in Africa, who are also behind the insurgency in the North and the Boko Haram that we see today.
PDP primaries ahead of the forthcoming general election have created some rancour among members. As a stakeholder, how will you view the internal democratic practice or absence of it in the political parties?
Let me start at the top and then go down. At the level of presidential primary election, there was consensus. So, there is no acrimony in that election at all. It didn’t have any fallout. But at the governorship level, there were some acrimony in some states. There is similar trend at the level of senate. There is also acrimony. In fact, that is where I was also a victim. But I believe that you must build a party on the foundation of equity and justice. That is very important.
But having said that, the PDP has the records of resolving intra-party issues successfully and amicably and I believe that in many of the states, where these things are happening, efforts are ongoing to woo back the people, who may have defected and to conciliate those who feel genuinely aggrieved through the primary process. But going forward, we must avoid rancorous primaries. We must ensure that during primary elections, delegates should emerge through option A4.
We should have people who are popular at the grassroots lining up to be elected as delegates. When they emerge through that process, they have their own conscience. It makes election easier for us. If you sit down and begin to write names for delegates – that is not right. I say this across party lines because the APC has also had issues with primaries, where leaders of the party simply imposed candidates. There is also disgruntlement. I believe that, ultimately, the disgruntlement from the primaries to the parties will disappear when parties avoid this problem.
What of the emerging trend of candidates’ imposition?
There is an emerging trend. We are developing a culture of strong men, where somebody sits down and decides who is going to run for Senate, the House of Representatives, or other positions. People, who have capacity, who are exposed, educated and able, are seen as threat. They will say, ‘Oh, we can’t control him. He will shine too much’. You deprive the country of best talents. Both parties are equally guilty of this.
My advice on this new emerging trend of autocracy and people who want to play God is that the parties must intervene to ensure that democracy is not stunted so that democracy is able to produce the best quality of leadership. If democracy, over time, does not improve people’s welfare, democracy will collapse. That is how strong societies will retrogress from democracy to militarism. Democracy must be seen to be working for people’s interests. If it doesn’t, people become resentful of government and won’t support democracy.
When the support base goes off, then it collapses. That is why you see that in many countries, there is systemic collapse in democratic governance. That is why the politicians should not populate the polity. They should be statesmen and politicians. Statesmen worry about the health of the polity beyond their elections. Politicians worry about elections.
They must win at all costs. They don’t care if the system collapses. So, this emerging trend needs to be checked. One man plays God in the party. Nobody should play God. It is applicable to both PDP and APC. They must worry about the health of the polity. You can’t be imposing people on the electorate. The electorate knows those who they trust and whom they want to vote for. You can’t short-change them by imposing candidates on them.
Do you subscribe to the devolution of power in the Nigerian polity?
Yes, that is correct. That is the problem that the last constitutional conference tries to address and the one that both committees in the two chambers of the National Assembly try to address in order to unbundle the centre because the centre has taken too much upon itself. That is a drawback to military governance because of the command structure of the army they find it more convenient to consolidate powers into the Commander-in-Chief. Everybody is attached to him. He is the dispenser of patronage.
That is not good for a democratic governance and development. For development, we need to see that the states or the constituent parts of the federation are allowed to carry many of the major functions like education, issue of seaports, airports and even the issue of revenue at certain levels. I work in Rivers State, for instance, and I want to operate in Rivers State. So, I should pay my tax there. I shouldn’t go to Abuja to open my company again. I think the centre is too strong.
The other issue is that the fight for the presidency has become too fierce because the centre is too powerful. If the centre is not as powerful as it is, I don’t think there will be a lure to seize power by all means. Everybody’s quest to get power to empower his own people will be minimal.