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Why Nigerians should leave Turai alone, by Barnabas Gemade

*EXCOF members did not act in  Nigeria’s interest
*The Jos crises were pre-meditated

Barnabas Gemade was the first elected National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.  He had served as a minister before. In this interview, Gemade brings a fresh perspective to the issue of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua and the role many have accused his wife, Turai, of playing. According to Gemade, it is not for Nigerians to blame a woman who has decided to protect her husband.
Rather, Gemade believes that the 1999 Constitution is very clear on specific roles for specific bodies. Gemade makes his point very succinctly
. Excerpts:

By BEN AGANDE

You have indicated your interest to contest election to the Senate. What would you have done differently if you were in the Senate now that Nigeria appears to be at cross roads?
I feel very proud of what the Senate has done. I am happy that the president of the Senate comes from my state and is a personal friend of mine.

I believe that nobody in this country would have handled the situation better than he did. All what it amounted to was that it is a necessity to do what we are doing so whatever other issues that are at stake is not important. Nigeria needs to have an Acting President so we’ve gone ahead to pronounce one. I consider the Nigerian Senate as one of the most outstanding institutions in the country today, may be because of the evolution of leadership. I think the leadership of the Senate today has shown that the Senate is a very strong institution. We have every cause to be very proud of the senate.

You were the strongest backer of the incumbent Senator representing your constituency and you want to take over from him. What is it that he has not done right that you want to correct?
I am not going to comment on how he has done his representation. I want the public to assess him. But as far as I know, there is little to talk about.

Do you support the recent Senate resolution stopping military presidents from receiving pension?

Well I heard that there are different payments being made to former presidents.
There is the payment for their services to Nigeria as president, another one for retiring from public service. After being a president, it is very unlikely that you would be appointed to any position, so your chances of additional revenue are very limited. On the one count, if the gratuity payment for being president is given to every one including military leaders, then it is fine. But the one that is pension, since the military leaders already enjoy pension as military men, there is no point paying another pension again. I think what the Senate did was right based on this circumstance. You cannot have two pensions.

*Gemade

Some people have argued that the process leading to the emergence of the Acting President is not known to the constitution?
That may be true because the constitution did not spell out that the matter should be done the way the Senate did it. But those who wish to challenge it must think about the best way they want to do it.
If they have no better way of doing it, they should stop being busy-bodies by going to the courts.

You were once a minister. With the benefit of hindsight, do you think that section 144 of the constitution is tenable?
Of course it is tenable.
The Federal Executive Council is the closest body to the chief executive.
Members of the council are in the best position to take an informed decision on the state of the president’s health. The only thing that we need to do is that the Constitution should make it mandatory that members of the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, must act when they are supposed to act as in the instant case. The constitution should state that once the president is ill and is away for a number of days, and is not able to perform his duty, the federal executive council must take a decision.

Would you say that members of EXCOF acted well in the case of Yar’Adua?
I cannot say they acted well because from what we heard, they were continuously squabbling among themselves. If there are squabbles, you can be sure that nothing will work out well. The fact that the Executive Council of the Federation appeared divided from the beginning shows that they could not have acted in the best interest of the country.

During the period that you served as minister, was there a cabal as it appears we have now?
No!  Presidents have kitchen cabinet, they don’t have cabals. A kitchen cabinet is useful in tackling government policies and issues. When a cabal emerges when the president is absent, then it means something else. I personally don’t know about this business of cabal.

The Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan has just dissolved the cabinet. What is your reaction to that move? Secondly, what is your expectation of the people that should be appointed into the cabinet?
I think the actions of the Acting President are appropriate. If his boss who is ill is not here to take charge, then he (Jonathan) must have a cabinet that is homogeneous and loyal to him. A leader must command loyalty before he can get his policies through.What he has done is appropriate.

My advice to him is that he does not have the luxury of time so it does not call for putting any one who is going to learn on the job in any position. He must ensure that those coming to the job already know what is expected of them and they have technical capability. If he just picks people because of quota system or federal character and you put round pegs in square holes, they will spend the next six months without understanding any thing. And that will be a disaster. My advice to him is that he should go for experience, professionalism and technical capability.

As former chairman of the ruling party, what would you have done differently if the present scenario had played itself out during your tenure?
The party is the umbrella of the government because it produced the government. Rather than the party following issues, the party should lead issues. I believe that if I were the chairman of the party, I would lead the issues. It is obvious that the leadership of the party did not lead the issues. I would have been proactive. I would not have followed what the other arms of government were doing.

When you contested as chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, many people believed that Obasanjo’s support for you was instrumental to your defeating late Sunday Awoniyi. What role exactly did Obasanjo play?
There is no way that a sitting president cannot influence the happenings in his party. There is no way that we can deny the fact that Obasanjo had influence on what was happening in the party at the time. But this is not to say that he put me up as a candidate and single-handedly made me the national chairman of the PDP. That is not true. I was put up by the North Central Zone.  This was as a result of the fact that the post was zoned to the North Central. A committee was set up to screen all of us including Chief Awoniyi at that time. I was adjudged to be the most suitable candidate and was put up officially by the zone.

At what point did you fall out with then President Obasanjo?
That was an erroneous thought. If any body thought that I was put there by Obasanjo and I had to do his biddings, it was wrong. I was not put up by the president but by my zone. The fact that he supported me, the National Assembly supported me and the party hierarchy supported me does not mean that I had to do the bidding of the president and these people. I resisted his meddling in the party and I will say that basically, that was the problem we had at that time. Obasanjo as the president wanted to make sure that he organised the party the way he wanted and the party did his bidding. I don’t think that was the vision of those who formed the all inclusive political party. I was not the kind of person who would do that and naturally, we fell apart.

Nigerians believe that the goodwill that the PDP enjoyed has been lost and many Nigerians believe that the problem of Nigeria is actually the PDP, At what point did the PDP miss it?
I don’t want to talk about the PDP in isolation of other political parties in the polity. This polity has been very dynamic and every single political organisation has metamorphosed in different ways. Today the All Peoples Party, which became All Nigeria Peoples Party, is now almost a disintegrated organisation.

PDP came with a lot of goodwill because people of different persuasion came together to form a giant political party that would have every one on board. Of course certain interests were not properly covered and people had to leave because they were not happy. The dynamism of political activity is such that parties and organizations within the polity had to be dynamic in the way they operate. PDP is not the same party as it was that time and it could not have been.

Why have successive governments produced by the PDP failed to meet the basic challenge of power supply, employment creation and development of the infrastructure in the country?
There was a dislocation between the political party’s manifesto and the government. There was serious dislocation. We saw a government that was operating entirely independent of the political party that produced it. Those were the Obasanjo years. For instance you mentioned power supply and infrastructure. I want to make it clear to you that through out the eight years that President Obasanjo ruled, there were no tried and tested professionals involved in the issue of power supply or development of infrastructure. There were no electrical engineers that were appointed to head the ministry of Power. In the ministry of works, there was hardly an engineer who was involved in the management of national infrastructure. How can you then perform surgery when you have put a historian to be in charge? These are some of the dislocations that took place and we found ourselves where we are now.

Would you say that our elected representatives are the best that we can possibly have in the country?
It is not possible to have something like that. It is impossible in Nigeria where a system is not in a position to throw up quality. Our system in every respect is geared towards the promotion of sycophancy and those kinds of tendencies. Nigeria is too big to say that zoning is responsible for this.

Zoning is a good thing for a multi-ethnic, multi religious nation like our own.

With the categorical statement by the national chairman of the PDP that the north will produce the presidential candidate of the party in 2011, people have argued that the North central Zone should produce the presidential candidate of the party in 2011. What is your take on this?
As I told you earlier we never produced a roster on when which zone will produce the president. This meant that at every election, the elders would meet and decide. People say the presidency was zoned to the south and Obasanjo served for eight years so the north should also serve eight years.

But the issue here now is to ask if Umaru Yar’Adua is ready to do eight years?
If he is not, the onus is on the party to sit down and consider the next line of action. It is therefore not for anybody to stand and pronounce that this is what will happen because no individual is a party and no group inside the party can arrogate to itself the full responsibility of deciding on party issues.

Was the pronouncement by the Party Chairman on where the next presidential candidate of the party would come from not done in consultation with the Board of Trustees of the party?
The matter has never been discussed at any BOT meeting and in as much as there was no discussion with any organ of the party, it still remains the opinion of the group that announced it.

State governors have taken frontal roles in the affairs of this country recently. Do you think this is healthy for our country?
In politics, it is not the beneficiaries of the system that determine who gets what. The party has organs which are well suited to deal with the issues of zoning and matters of that nature. It is not a body of elected people who are themselves beneficiaries of the system. The other arms of the party, the Board of Trustees, the elders and others are the best suited for issues of that nature.

Is the PDP you left as its national chairman the same today as it was then?
How can you leave something nearly eight years ago and expect it to be the same. It is not possible.

Is it better than you left it?
It is not better. It is not better. Meddling in the affairs of the party is responsible for the degeneration.In fact for the substantial part of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, the executive meddled in the affairs of the party to the point where party executives were there to only rubber stamp what the executive had decided. That is not how to run a political party.

Are you elders from the North Central zone not worried about the recurrent crisis in Jos, Plateau State?
We are concerned and the concern stems from the fact that law enforcement agencies have not been decisive in dealing with the matter. People are influenced by their own personal interests and are not dispassionate in assessing the matter. In a situation whereby from time to time, the reasons for such wanton destruction are often very flimsy, it shows that there is pre-meditation. There is no other organ of government that is in a position of pre-meditation than the law enforcement agencies. They must rise up to their responsibilities. The police, the army and the intelligence agencies cannot tell us they are not aware of what is going on. It shows that they are aware but choose to ignore it. They should stop pretending that the matter is beyond them because it is not beyond them.

Every time we hear there is up rising in Plateau state, we hear about drafting of mercenaries from several states. One group was arrested coming from Lokoja and another one from other nations. This shows that all religious leaders from the country must wake up to their responsibilities.

The long absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua has turned the heat on his wife, Turai who has been called all sorts of names.
My candid opinion is that people should leave this lady alone. The constitution does not entrust any responsibility to the First Lady so they should worry about those people to whom responsibility has been entrusted. Any one whose husband is ill will protect him. If she seems to be over-guarding her husband that is her responsibility. Those things that need to be done have been assigned to various people by the constitution and the constitution should take its course. If those people failed, they should be held responsible and not Turai.


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