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11 yrs of Democracy: We’re making slow progress but…, says Agbaje

By Hugo Odiogor,  Deputy Political Editor
THE emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as the President and Commander-in-Chief after the political uncertainty created by the ill-health and unfortunate demise of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, seem to have restored hope in Nigeria’s ability to weather through its troubles.

In this interview with Vanguard   Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA) governorship candidate in 2007election , Chief Jimi  Agbaje, avers that after eleven years of experimentation, Nigeria’s democracy is on course. Excerpts:

Agbaje

From the rise of peoples power to ensure the National Assembly’s proclamation of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting president in February 9, 2010, to now full fledged president and Commander in Chief, how would you assess Nigeria’s political terrain so far?

Well, I think from the point of going to the streets to ask that the constitutional provision be put in place, be followed, I will say that things have moved quite rapidly. We were in no doubt that the Acting Presidency thing was temporary in the sense that it was not safe for Nigeria and we have two executives who were living more or less in the same compound.

Anything could have happened to truncate the arrangement, bearing the experience of the Interim National Government where any court decision could have thrown spanner in the works.  Well, like you said it is important to say that the process of the marches were not for Jonathan per se, it was that we needed to do our own part. The Save Nigeria Group was doing its own to saving Nigeria from disaster.  It had nothing to do with  Jonathan.  It had to do with what is right, that was what the marches were all about.

Well, the late President Yar’Adua has been called to a higher glory, which has now paved way for  president Jonathan and  that resolved the constitutional uncertainty that we had over the health of the late president.  He is now firmly the president and of course, that part of our struggle has been resolved, but that is not the only reason while the Save Nigeria Group was formed.

There are still other issues.  The system must work better for Nigerians.  We are putting so much resources to our democracy but we are not getting the result, the way we want it, and so, if you look at Save Nigeria, there is still a lot more to be done.  We are now going to challenge those in office including President Jonathan, in doing that which we considered is right.

How do you react to the situation where all those who were initially opposed to the transfer of power to Dr.  Jonathan are now campaigning for him as the new man on the block?

Well you see, it is all about our system, which is not working.  Our system is set up to share the cake, not bake it and so, any opportunity to have a share of the national cakes makes everybody to fall in line.  That is sad for our country, it is sad for the development of democracy and development of our country.

It is sad even for our values, so it is sad, but again some of us believe that the centre is too strong relative to the Federating Units.

At the centre, people feel you can be made over night and the truth is that most of the political elites, many of them are there for what they can get rather than for what they can give.  So, it is like a magnet, who ever holds on to the magnet all other people are attracted for as long as they have confirmed that the man is in power, then they are like bees around honey. That is what you have, it is sad, ours should be in a country that is working.  These are some of the things that have to be addressed.

There are views that the issue of electoral reform is mere administrative function that does not require any review. The constitution review is going on for eternity while the FOIB is still in the cooler, do you think we are serious with our democratic development?

We are not sure that we all want democracy to survive the way it should be.  I think that it is a big assumption.  A lot of people try to pay lip service to democracy.  They are not really democrats.  You mentioned the FoI Bill, it is obvious that the political will is not there by the National Assembly to pass the bill.  It can only be for selfish reason.  With the Freedom of Information Bill, a lot that are being hidden, will come out of the closet, nobody is going to be able to put things under cover any longer.

That is as far as it concerns the FOI Bill.  In terms of Electoral Reform, you do have a little more than administrative changes required.  There may be constitutional amendments, and again it is clear that the political will to bring a far reaching amendment is not there again, for reasons of self preservation.  That is what we have.  This is an unfortunate reality.

There are key issues like that of the umpire, which is INEC. There is the issue of who brings about INEC, a situation where the sitting President is going to run for office, should he be the one to appoint the umpire.  We would have made a little progress if the provision of front line charge is put, then we would have made some little progress in that respect.

The issue of being sworn into office when litigation is still going on is there.  The National Assembly has not accepted that we are still going to have a situation where politicians would say “let us first rig ourselves into office and we use the resources of that office to fight the case.  The National Assembly has glossed over this.  It has also glossed over the issue of affirmative action for women, where we say we want to have more of  women in place is being over looked by the National Assembly.

We are not clear yet in terms of the modified open ballot system which will go along way in preventing the malpractices that happen on election day. The National Assembly appears to be very quiet on this.  So in such a situation, people are still talking about self preservation rather than benefit for the larger majority.  People are paying lip service to having peoples vote count when the process that will make such a possibility are still sidelined.  So it is unfortunate that we are not there, but take consolation that in a democracy you keep fighting for what you believe in.

We are making progress.  It is left for us as a people to say that with these inadequate provisions we must bring in the human elements to make it work.  That will be by making the electorate to be alive to their responsibilities.  The emphasis will shift to how we can make our votes count with the present inadequate laws and constitutional provisions.

How would you assess our progress with democracy in the last 11 years?

Very slowly, very slowly.  Like I said, there is still a military mindset in the way that we think, because we have been ruled for a very long time by the military than any democracy. We are coming from a situation where our value system has been so bastardized, where right is wrong and wrong is right, that is what you have in our country.  If you are an honest person, you are like a mad man. If you are a principled person, you are not the type of person that is wanted around the corridors of power, that is the kind of thing that we have.

We are worshiping  those we should not be worshiped.  Our role models have gone upside down. So, we are coming from that background, it is going to take sometime to get out of the situation.  We need to have a break in terms of good leadership at different levels, we need to have some icons, some rays of hope, a lot more than we have presently in our country; when that is not happening, then the followership should begin to insist.  That is what you have in other countries of the world.  You don’t rely solely on the leadership, the followership should insist on issues happening and even if you look at the Nigerian situation, when the people actually rise, those in power tend to listen.

President  Jonathan is in  the week of his tenure and people are already urging him to run in 2011 instead of completing the Yar’Adua/Jonathan term, what is your view?

As somebody who preaches democracy and who wants to as much as possible practice democracy, it is difficult for me to say that Dr. Jonathan should not run in the sense that he has the democratic right to run.

Having said that, my concern is not whether he runs or not, there are some things that must be put in place. We must have credible elections and so I will respect a Jonathan who puts credible election in place, if he wins on it so be it, if he loses on it, and accepts its, then he comes out as a true leader.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.