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‘Jonathan Should Do Everything Within His Power To Midwife A Credible Election In Nigeria’


Dele Agekameh, publisher, media consultant and National Director, Media/Public Affairs of the National Think-Tank, a policy advocacy group, is one Nigerian passionate about moving the nation forward. In this interview with OLAWUNMI OJO, he speaks on the recent ascension of Goodluck Jonathan to office as President, his ministers, the political parties, the build-up to 2011 elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the anticorruption crusade, IBB’s recent foray into the murky waters of the nation’s politics and the place of the South-West in Nigeria politics, among other issues. Excerpts:

Following the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua after a long battle with his illness during the week, Goodluck Jonathan was eventually sworn-in on Thursday as the President. What kind of presidency should Nigerians expect under his leadership?

His ascension to the office was something that was almost certain to happen. Now that he has assumed office eventually, it is not going to be a tea party. I believe Jonathan knows the enormity of responsibility the office confers on him and given his experience, he should also know that Nigerians are not the patient type. So there is the need to get straight down to business.

Going by the strides he has made so far in acting capacity however, I think Nigerians should expect a geometric improvement in areas of challenge as power. There should be a widespread overhaul of infrastructure and the economy is expected to bounce back, considering that he only recently constituted a 13-man economic team. Jonathan consults widely and one expects that he would perform creditably. It appears the presidency under him would be more proactive.

But how has he fared since mounting the saddle as Acting President a couple of weeks ago?

You recall Jonathan came up in the position due to certain circumstances. He came in at a time when the country was in dire need of a leader to fill a vacuum, and that was followed by some sort of stability in the polity. Jonathan came to meet a lot of challenges which meant he needed to take some decisive decisions right away. First, he had to do a reshuffle in the cabinet to take care of the then controversial attorney general, Michael Aondoaka, and much later an entire cabinet dissolution. At the time, the cabinet had become polarised and could not effectively function, as it ought to. So, a reconstitution was just apt.

In reconstituting the National Executive Council (NEC), you might not give Jonathan 100 per cent, yet he did well by his choice of people. The so-called Godfathers who believed it is their duties to nominate into the cabinet were disappointed because Jonathan had always been independent minded. Rather, he settled for those he believes could help him move the nation forward. Since then, he has not rested on his oars. Only recently, he removed the INEC Chairman, Maurice Iwu, who was already becoming an embarrassment to the nation.

Of all the things he has achieved so far, his recent trip to the US was an eye-opener for Nigerians. You recall that immediately he returned, Nigeria was removed from the terrorist list. What happened initially was that Abdul Mutallab did something wrong and there was no one in charge at the time. It would have been a breach of protocol for the U.S. government to speak with the Vice President. All that has changed now, international relations are normalising and Nigeria is regaining its foothold in international politics because Jonathan has started consulting and mending ties. Nigeria is coming out from its slumber and I believe Jonathan can do more.

There have been complains about some of the decisions Jonathan has taken so far, especially in respect of the choices and caliber of people on his Presidential Advisory Committee. Do you bear such reservations?

I do not have any reservation. The people on the PAC committee are respected and no nonsense persons. Jonathan only believes they can help the government to move forward. On the contract review committee, you also have people of impeccable character. Look at the power project committee, Prof. Bath Nnaji who is its head has single-handedly built a power project in his state. Nnaji is one of the best brains this country has produced. Jonathan is also gearing up to declare a nine-month emergency in the power sector to put things right. That is probably why he refused to appoint a minister for the sector. That shows he means well for the country. I have no doubt about the capabilities and selflessness of those he has appointed into ministerial or committee positions.

For instance, the manner with which the new Minister for Special Duties, Navy Captain Olubolade reacted to resolve the recently shelved strike action by Resident Doctors was desirable. I got to know about the action when I went to one of the hospitals to have my ward treated. I put a call through to the Special Duty minister, he asked to be linked with some of the striking workers’ leaders and spoke with them. Three days after, they were invited to Abuja in his office and he led them to the Ministry of Health where the delegation in turn met with the Health Minister. By the following morning, the whole issues had been temporarily resolved and the doctors returned to work. That is the kind of spirit needed in the Executive Council- service delivery and prompt attention to issues.

Do you see Yar’Adua’s death altering the political equilibrium of the nation in the following months?

Certainly, because we would now have to look at certain issues in considering the suitability or otherwise of persons for that office in future. However, Yar’Adua meant well for the country and has left some legacies like the rule of law mantra, good governance and abating the Niger Delta problem. These are things Jonathan should build on.

The 2011 elections are close by. One major issue inherited by Jonathan is that of electoral reforms, which is key to the upcoming elections. What is to be expected from the new helmsman?

There was a committee set up by Yar’Adua, headed by Justice Uwais and the unedited report after submission to the late president, had since been forwarded to the National Assembly for ratification. Jonathan knows that for him to make any appreciable impact in governance in Nigeria, we need electoral reform. He has reiterated it that he wants to organise a credible election. He knows the implication of a good and credible election and he should do everything to midwife this.

To achieve this, we need an unbiased umpire at the head of INEC. Names such as Ribadu, Gen. Ishola Williams (rtd.) have been bandied but these are people with one form of military background or the other. And at a time when we are clamouring for civil democracy, a person like Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi could be best suited to head the INEC. This is a man of impeccable character who has played so many roles in nation building and believes in credible elections and sustenance of this country. I do not see him compromising as the head of INEC.

Less than a year to the elections, political parties are in disarray, there is confusion in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), opposition are distraught, the mega party option seem so late on the block to make any meaningful impact, INEC itself lacks direction at the moment. What kind of elections do we look up to?

Undoubtedly, there is disorganisation across board and all the parties involved need to put their houses in order. Most of them lack internal democracy and this must be upheld. If the parties can subject themselves to internal democracy, we would have fewer problems. Besides, the scramble for political offices by those who not deserve it should be discouraged because this is the reason we have misfits in political offices. This is the reason largely responsible for the nation remaining pauperised. In the run up to the next elections, we must discourage this trend to have any meaningful result come out of the elections.

PDP has held the nation by the jugular for years now, yet its reign have not brought appreciable development to the polity. Do you see the party improving or the possibility of its being displaced by any political formation?

Parties are creation of human beings. PDP needs to put its house in order. For instance, its national chairman is being accused of corruption yet he is not showing any remorse over the situation. In other saner climes, he would have thrown in the towel soon as he gets accused with such allegations. And when the head is alleged to be corrupt, what happens to the rest of the party.

To the opposition, I think they are not united. Every Nigerian wants to be president. The progressives find it difficult to come together. The newly constituted Social Democratic Mega Party may not stand a chance because most of the party bigwigs are conservative in their approach. They have progressive ideas but they must speak with one voice. I also believe the number of opposition parties is too many; two, three or four would be perfect and they could then find a way of upstaging the PDP. Do not forget that the zoning system is an internal arrangement of the PDP.

In recent times, we have had subtle moves by former military head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to return to power through the polls and there have been diverse opinions in the polity as to his ambition. What is your take?

Most of the accusations leveled against him are hear says. Babangida is a Nigerian and since he has not been convicted by any law court, he is free to declare his ambition and aspire to any office. It would now be left for the electorate to either vote for or against him. It would interest you to know that majority of those putting pressure on Babangida to contest are from the south.

How would you situate the place of the southwest in Nigerian politics today?

The region has no leader for now; there is no clear-cut leader in the mould of Awolowo in those days. That is the first failure. The southwest should put its house in order. They should have people who would be respected by the people and can speak for the region. Many professed Awoists have defected and only now looking for the political space to actualise personal ambitions. Even the Afenifere is now polarised. The region should also stop playing the politics of exclusion.

The National Assembly has huge roles to play in the run up to the elections in terms of the constitutional review and attending to the electoral reform report. Under its present leadership, what hope for the nation?

The present leadership might not be able to do the bidding of Nigerians. If you consider how the debate over the late presidents’ health went, you would see that the House was on one side while the Senate was on another side. The leadership should see the need to take decisions in the overall interest of the people.

The anti-corruption crusade seems to have lost steam. How would you assess the EFCC under its new leadership?

I believe the manner of appointment of Farida Waziri is what affected her performance from outset. I think the woman’s hands are tied and so many things are now going wrong. The anti-corruption is now stagnant; a lot of shady things are going on in government and other sectors. Personally, I recently had a bitter experience with the agency when I took a case there and it was mismanaged. EFCC today is not the same with what it used to be and corruption appears to be on the rise again.

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