Senator Polycarp Nwite, senior special assistant to the president (political matters), is a chip from the old political block determined to instill some freshness into the political landscape.
A member of the third republic Senate, Nwite would be remembered for his contributions to the pro-democracy struggle during the military era. Now a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he was recently recalled from his ambassadorial duties in Botswana to give a fillip to the political dynamics of the Presidency.
In this interview with Sunday Vanguards, EMMANUEL AZIKEN, he articulates the administrationâ€™s determination to bring about a new political culture, laments the challenges arising from the failures of past administrations and offers his ideas on the way forward.
What do you do for the president as his senior special assistant on political affairs?
Politics. Politics, everything politics. Politics in its entirety. When they say you are a senior special assistant to the president on political matters, it is politics.
If the president wakes up in the morning, it is politics; if he sleeps in the night, it is politics; decision taking and everything is politics. Everything is centered on politics. The president himself is a politician, that is why he went for elections.
You left an ambassadorial position in Botswana to take up this job. Is this better?
The same man who appointed me ambassador asked me to come and take this position, so it is a service to the nation and somebody is responsible for the appointment.
He sends you to where he thinks you will do better. If the president in his wisdom thinks I should come back home after being an ambassador to Botswana to come and take this position, it is not a question of my choice.
I didnâ€™t appoint myself ambassador neither did I appoint myself as the senior special assistant to the president on political matters, all these appointments are coming from Mr. President.
Considering your role in the democracy struggle, could you say that this is the kind of democracy you envisaged?
Not quite. We praise the democracy activists, not only myself but every other person who took part in that struggle, we commend them for successfully sending away the military and installing democracy but I blame them for not continuing the struggle to see that the struggle achievesd its desired objectives.
During the eight years of Obasanjo rule as president of this country, it was a mixture of democracy with military touch.
Just bear in mind that he was a general and once a general having retired as a general, the trait will always be there.
I also commend Obasasanjo for all his achievements yet the practice of pure democracy was not there for the first eight years.Â But for the past two years we are witnessing pure democracy.
This is the first time that you can see that things are done and laws are obeyed by the executive and people have not started complaining and they can never complain; and there has been peace between the executive and the legislators; this is based on the fact that the president himself in his method of approach is purely democratic.
How would you distinguish between the quasi democracy we had under Obasanjo and the true democracy you portray as operating now?
If you look at the air, you will see pure democracy. There is freedom of speech, freedom of movement, obedience to rule of law where today Mimiko is Ondo State governor because the head of this government obeys the rule of law and Oshiomhole is the governor of Edo State because there was deliberate attempt to do what is right and there is no crisis between the executive and the legislature.
If you remember vividly, in the first eight years, if you didnâ€™t support the politics and the leadership style of those in power, then you will be pursued and so people stopped criticizing government.
People stopped talking about where the government went wrong but in the past two years, you will agree with me that we have had full freedom and there have been no high profile killings.
These were what we asked for. Of course, in addition to that, plans have to be made to achieve development. For the past two years, the president has democratically studied the situation on ground, consulted on every step he has taken with the representatives of the people in the National Assembly, the National Council of State, the Federal Executive Council, the governors and all stakeholders before decisions are taken. This is not going down well with Nigerians because we are not used to that but we the elder ones know what democracy is all about.
The excellent picture you paint with some practical realities we see on ground. Ekiti State is an example where the institutions were allegedly manipulated to ensure that the PDP returned to power.
That is not true. There was election in Ekiti, the court annulled that election, there was no deliberate attempt on the part of the executive to coerce the judiciary in taking the decision they took.
That election was conducted there and they introduced violence.Â How do you now blame the president for that with the caliber of people that we have (from Ekiti State), the numbers of professors, the number of generals, the number of leaders, the number of people that are educated?
I would beat my chest to say that Ekiti is one of the most educated states.
You shouldnâ€™t blame the president on that issue, you should blame the leadership of Ekiti, whether you are a politician or not, whether you are a professional or not, whether you are contesting election or not.
It was not because the president wanted his party to win. Donâ€™t forget the president went to Ekiti to campaign which is normal and he started that campaign with prayer to God; so it was not the issue of do or die, it (problem) was only in two local government, there were accusations and counter accusations but none was directed at the president but to themselves.
Still, the excellent picture you paint is punctured by the down trodden who talk of no electricity generation, no water, no roads. This administration has not commissioned one kilometer of road.
I told you the immediate effect syndrome has affected our psyche; a Nigerian who is 46 years and below has never participated in democracy except in the last two years.
When the president came, he inherited monumental problems which all of us know. Take electricity, for example, some of the equipment were due to have been replaced some 50years ago, some 10years ago and these equipment were not maintained and the president cannot manufacture or replace these equipment by magic.
But these were the same arguments Obasanjo gave.
One important thing is that certain billions of US dollars were paid for the rehabilitation of power projects (during Obasanjo regime). Was it done?
The president cannot come immediately and say I re-award all the contracts with immediate effect so that there must be electricity. No, he went into planning and set a deadline.
Nigerians should accept his deadline because these equipment need to be manufactured and then the old ones have to go completely and then when the old ones are removed there will be no light except the new ones are replaced and we have given December deadline of this year for generating 6000 megawatts.
I think that the president has said: â€œI have used these two years to plan, I have studied the problem of this country; now the next two years I will use it to execute and give me up to December, I will deliver 6000 megawatts. If we have had such in the first three years of Obasanjo and he delivered 6000 megawatts in another three years, by now there will be no problem. I am not blaming Obasanjo for that, he also inherited his own problems directly from the military.Â So, I am saying that the whole problem we have were inherited, and I am saying that the president planned, studied and then mapped out his actions.
Would you now agree with the insinuation that the president was not prepared for the presidency, that he didnâ€™t have a blue print?
That is the Nigerian way of thinking which actually irritates me because during the struggle for independence the same set of people would sit down and will not be seen anywhere and they will be talking.
During the Obasanjo era, it was the same group of people. I want to say that nobody in this world will come out with plan that is fool-proof. It is when you get to office that you will physically see what you inherit before finding solutions.
He came out with his own seven-point agenda on the date of swearing in and by then he had not stepped into the office. When he stepped into the office, he saw, first-hand, for nobody will put you through except you get in there.
But some presidential candidates who contested with him had their blueprint on the issues on ground?
(Raising his voice) How do you implement a blue print when you do not have record?
But there were some candidates who had blue prints. I can give you example.
Atiku Abubakar for example had his blueprint to run the country.
He was in that villa and was part of the government and, for the first four years of that government, Atiku was the president; Obasanjo spent the first four years traveling all over the world.Â He never sat down to do any job. It was Atiku and show me what he achieved. So what type of blue print? Blue print on paper or …
But this government has adopted some of Atikuâ€™s blue print, like the increase in the salaries of policemen. Atiku recommended something like that.
You are guessing but what is wrong? One of the greatest problems is that if somebody brings a good idea, government should not implement it? The commendation should go to the president for even accepting the opinion of opposition and putting it into practice, because even during the military, the military had some good plans that were dumped when Obasanjo came simply because it came from the military.Â Are they not Nigerians? And today, some of Obasanjoâ€™s programmes are still being implemented.
If you have any programme, please bring it, we will accept. This is a government that called every Nigerian to participate, so is there anything wrong for the president accepting and implementing ideas from Nigerians? Is it a crime? No, I donâ€™t think so.
You did say that this president consults but there is the perception that his consultations are limited to a section of the country, particularly the northwest from where he picks most of his notable aides.
I am surprised!
Do I give you some examples?
You will see that most of the notable appointments in the petroleum sector, in the finance sector come from the north-west.
If you elect the Pope as president of Nigeria, Nigerians will still complain. If you elect the chief imam of Saudi Arabia as the president of Nigeria, people will still complain. I want to tell you that the geopolitical zones, that I, Polycarp, I donâ€™t recognize them.
What I recognize is one single Nigeria and except we go back to that basic where a Nigerian will be proud to be a Nigerian and not a Nigerian descending to narrow interests of a geopolitical zone and if that is done I am sure we will achieve more results. I donâ€™t believe you, I donâ€™t. Was Obasanjo not accused of favoring the south west?
No, he was accused of favouring the south-east in his appointments!
(Expresses surprise) Please who and who did he appoint from the south-east?
At one time, we had the CBN governor, the minister of finance, the national planning minister from the south-east!
Oh really, very good. That is interesting. Very, very interesting. But was the south-east not worse off by the time Obasanjo left?
Go and get your data right you are a journalist. Go and research on Obasanjoâ€™s administration and really see for yourself whether he favoured south-east or not.
What are the intents of the electoral reforms of this administration?
(Angry) I am surprised that as a journalist you are asking that question. I will only answer the questions that are relevant because, if as a journalist, I need to start talking about something that has started a year ago and you donâ€™t know the intents and you donâ€™t know the objectives it is unfortunate. Go back to records. From the first day the president was inaugurated, his speech and promises, the inauguration of Uwais Committee, the submission of that report, the deliberation of the Federal Executive Council, the drafting of the White Paper, the deliberation of the National Council of State to the submission of bill to the National Assembly. Things have taken shape. So the questions you are asking are out dated.
I ask in the sense that one of the major bills of the reform, the political partiesâ€™ registration and regulatory commission bill, was rejected by the Senate. The bill was thrown away.
That is the reason some of you who are younger men should go and study how democracy works. The president does not make laws. It is the prerogative of the National Assembly to make laws, and even you have the right to submit to the National Assembly on how you want to see the electoral bill to look like. The presidentâ€™s submission of bill to the National Assembly is his own contribution to it, it is not a law. If you as a journalist, you donâ€™t know that the presidentâ€™s submission of bill does not in any form make law. It is the duty of the National Assembly to accept or reject it. And let me tell you, the senate alone does not make the National Assembly. Whatever the Senate accepts or rejects now still does not make law … The House of Representatives must concur before it becomes law. Donâ€™t forget I am a senator, and I know the process of making laws and, at the stage we are, no law has been passed; in short, they are just debating on the general principle of the electoral reform.
The bill was thrown away at the second reading. I was there.
That is why I am telling those Nigerians who have never seen democracy to please exercise patience and study how democracy works. Reading democracy on the pages of the newspapers or reading them on the text books does not give you enough information. The stage they are on that bill, if Senate passes it or throws out everything, it is still not law. I donâ€™t know whether you know that the House of Representatives will also do theirs and the joint committee of the two chambers will now meet and harmonize their positions, because senators cannot make laws alone.
I think you have missed it. So long as the Senate has thrown that bill away, it cannot come up again in the present session. No matter what the House of Representatives does, it is inconsequential. They need the Senateâ€™s consent. Take the issue of third term. The House of Representatives did not need to progress on it after the Senate threw it away.
Did you think it is a law or a bill? I disagree with you that the process the Senate is taking now has put final â€¦
What I was trying to ask you on the intents of the electoral reform was for you to address how you are going to arrive at your objective after the Senate threw away the Political party regulatory and registration commission bill?
My answer is this. It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to make laws and, if the president submits bills, it is their prerogative to accept or reject it. That is my reply to you. You should know the role of the president and the role of the National Assembly. The National Assembly has the constitutional right to make laws. Whatever bill that is submitted to the National Assembly by the president, by individual by any other group or whatever, does not in itself become law except we are practising dictatorship where we must tell the Senate or the NationalÂ Assembly that they must pass the bill as it is. This is democracy in action.
If this key element is thrown away, will it not affect the presidentâ€™s electoral reform agenda?
That is what I am telling you that the president is not a dictator. The president represents the executive arm of government which has submitted the bill the way they see it to the National Assembly and this bill according to you was rejected by the Senate.
It is not the responsibility of the president to make laws, the National Assemblyâ€™s duty is to make laws for the good governance of this country. So I donâ€™t know how it will affect the reform.
The thing that will affect the reform is the attitude of Nigerians themselves, the press who will propagate what favours them.
One of the elements of this electoral reform is to prohibit decamping from one party to the other by elected public officers. Do you think it is a good thing?
Off course, yes.
It is a good thing?
Off course. Our democracy is developing and we must develop. The parties as we inherited them look the same no ideology, no differences. Cross carpeting is not quiet new that is why we are saying that if you are in one political party and you cross from one political party to the other you lose your seat.
We want to govern this country with justice, fair play and accommodation for everybody as much as we can.
But the President despite the fact that he is the one promoting the reforms went ahead to welcome Governor Yuguda who cross carpeted from ANPP to the PDP?
Yes promoting reforms, the reform are not there yet, the laws are not there and donâ€™t forget that Isa Yuguda left PDP because of injustice. The President said that the internal democracy of the party is the first step to a free and fair election and that is his position. And he said on 29th of May that politicians should play according to the rule by being democrats in words, action, and deeds.
With the way the president is going, having used two years to study and plan and another two years to execute. Do you think he will be able to finish his execution in two years?
Governance is a continuous thing. He must get to a level where you will say this man has tried his best.
Do you think he deserves a second term?
To me, yes. Nigerians will have to decide. He deserves a second term.
Do you see any possible challenges on his way?
Of course, why? He is not closing the door, he doesnâ€™t believe in automatic ticket. He is going to contest primaries, I can tell you that.
Will there be a level playing ground?
There must be a level playing ground.
So what do you make of the request by our Senators for automatic return tickets?
That is undemocratic. I have not seen any contest where you close the door before the game.
I think those who will not win election back are afraid of their nominations. Some of them have never been to their constituencies since they were elected, they stay here (Abuja) and they are only waiting to go back and they donâ€™t want to go for primaries because their people are waiting for them.