SPECIAL Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi, in this interview spoke on why the president may not intervene in the crisis ravaging Rivers State as demanded by the All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders while directing APC federal legislators.
He also spoke on how the president is handling pressures to declare his 2015 political ambition, allegations that the president is not fighting corruption and the leadership tussles between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and APC in the National Assembly. Excerpts:
ON the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC 2015 timetable
First of all, they have a constitutional responsibility to take care of elections; it is that responsibility they have adhered to. For me, it is part of the transformation agenda that those who are given responsibilities to perform do so without let or hindrance. That is what the Professor Attahiru Jega-led INEC has done.
Nobody was expecting it. If anybody was saying that they were under some influence that person is wrong in his presumption.
It is the independent nature of the various organizations under this administration that is coming to play. We must thank the president for making sure that these organizations have a free atmosphere to function.
So, when is President Goodluck Jonathan declaring whether or not to run?
I want Nigerians to understand one thing. I have been on the side of the opposition for very long. Now, I am in the executive, current leadership.
Path of governance
President Jonathan appealed to Nigerians and said he would not discuss politics until 2014. Despite all the pressure mounted on him by the opposition to draw him into politics much earlier than 2014, he resisted it; he continued on the path of governance and maintained that he would say something in 2014.
Now we are in 2014, now INEC has spoken, we do expect that with all of these, I am sure he will sit down with his kitchen cabinet and look at the pros and cons, what his administration has done and then take a position clearly on what his next line of action will be.
I want say, as somebody who has been deeply involved in the management of political parties; a political party will only sponsor a candidate, whose achievements they are proud of. So, when I see people talking about who the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is going to sponsor or not, I feel sorry for them because they don’t understand how political parties are run. I cannot tell the APC that because I had been associated with most of them one way or the other that A or B is a better candidate. I can’t do that.
And I expect that they too will not try to put themselves in a situation where they will be dictating to the PDP. Their business is to go and wait for whoever it pleases the PDP to produce.
In every climate and political understanding that I know of, particularly, when the constitution is on his side, they concede the first, the right of refusal to seek re-election to the incumbent.
The constitution is on the side of President Jonathan. His achievements speak for him.
If you feel offended or aggrieved, he has put out a mid-term report, cataloguing his entire achievements. I am still waiting to see a critical objection and rejection of that document rather than people just shooting in the dark.
He has put down his achievements in black and white. Take them one-by-one and dismantle or dislodge them but that has not been the case.
So, as far as I am concerned, I serve a president who has made a tremendous impact in the lives of Nigerians judging particularly from where he took off. What was the situation when he came on board and what is the situation today?
How soon will the President meet with his kitchen cabinet over the issue?
Like I said he will meet with his kitchen cabinet, they will study the INEC guidelines and timetable and decide: what do we do? Where do we go from here? Nigerians will be adequately informed at the appropriate time.
As far as I am concerned, they (president and his kitchen cabinet) still have some two to three months to really concentrate on governance and that is the Jonathan philosophy.
His New Year message was very clear: ‘Nigerians will enjoy a better 2014,’ which means there are certain things he will want to put up that will make a difference. Let’s complete that process before we go into the political event. Let’s create the atmosphere for a better Nigerian environment.
On allegations that the government influenced INEC to put the presidential election first to create a bandwagon effect in favour of the PDP
Go back to the past INEC elections and draw your analogy from there. There is nothing INEC will do today that people will not say it is doing it in favour of the president in power.
But those of us who are part of the government in power are really a bit perturbed the way things were done without consultations. Consultations I mean here is the council of state and various bodies. They are performing their responsibility as a body under the constitution. For anybody to think that all they are doing is in our interest is unfortunate.
On leadership tussle in the House of Representatives between APC and PDP with APC claiming majority over PDP
We have legislators from APGA and Labour Party. Have you taken their numerical strength? Where do they stand? APC has 172 and PDP 171 members, if you add APGA and Labour, who then constitutes the majority? It is always better we do stocktaking before we come to the public domain.
I must commend the Speaker for the matured manner he handled the issue that day. Both camps, APC and PDP poured encomiums on him.
APC tied its directive to shutdown government to the resolution of the crisis in Rivers State…
Again it is a vindication of the position of the President. If the president dabbles into the issue of Rivers, he should be ready to dabble into the issues of the 36 states plus one – the Federal Capital Territory.
Having appointed people to take charge of the various departments of government –the Inspector General of Police, Director, Department of State Services, etc, it is when the matter overwhelm these people that there can now be a communication to the government.
Like many people talk about corruption, have we had complaints from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission (ICPC) that they are under-funded? Have they said there is this intervention from the government that is making us not perform? As far as the presidency is concerned, the right people have been put in place and they have been doing their assignments. Until they fail, there is no point to intervene. I was listening to Amaechi, he said he spoke to the IG, ‘I am going to lead this Save Rivers Rally myself.’ And he thanked the IG because the IG sent men to make sure that they are protected. Some of these things are due to gap in communication.
On Speaker Aminu Tambuwal’s comment that President Jonathan is not fighting corruption the way he should given issues around Aviation Minister, Princes Stella Oduah and Director General of the Stock Exchange Commission (SEC), MS Arunma Oteh?
On Oteh, I am a member of the Presidential team, I do not know nor have I heard of how the president found a way to fund SEC.
But I do know that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating minister of the Economy, a highly respected international figure, who but for international politics would have been president of the World Bank and the President of the World Bank pays her absolute respect, set up a committee and that committee vindicated Oteh.
The legislature came up with its own issue. Ordinarily what needs to be done here is to look for solutions. It is not my duty to start educating the legislature on what to do. I just want to make sure, as somebody who has served on both sides, I can tell you there is always a way out of such a dilemma.
That is a way that must be looked into at resolving the issue so that both sides can sleep with their eyes closed.
On the issue of Speaker Tambuwal talking about body language, when I was in the Senate a couple of people talked to me about the Third Term agenda. I was the person who coordinated the project. I was not the chairman. Senator Idris Kuta of blessed memory was the chairman.
A lot of offers were made to me on how we should allow the third project sail through. The speaker talked about body language, when you are in the legislature, the truth of the matter is that you see permanently a challenge from the executive. And the more challenge you put across to the executive the more assured you are of your position.
Purview of the executive
I say to my colleagues in the executive, the young man (speaker) is managing 360 legislators from different political parties, background and interest, etc.
So he has a duty to navigate the storms and as long as whatever he says cannot be used against him, all well and good. Talking about Stella Oduah, the president did what he should do. Within the purview of the executive, he set up a committee immediately to investigate Stella Oduah.
Let me tell you something and I say this with all seriousness and experience as a politician, 35 years experience: this woman has done what no minister of Aviation had done. She has done so much in improving our aviation sector. I don’t see how on earth she will bring herself to a level of deliberately engaging in unexpected and unbelievable scam.
A lot of Nigerians across the country have commended her. I, as a son of Anambra State where she comes from, I am exceedingly very proud of her. I am happy. Whatever it is, a committee has been set up. By the time a decision is taken, it will be clear that the president will not go out of his way to shield anybody that is indicted. The President Jonathan that I have seen and known in the last two and a half years will not shield you if you are found wanting President Jonathan is not the typical Nigerian politician, who lies and promises you what he would not do. He is not the aggressive type of person. He is somebody who means well for this country. He is committed to seeing a true Nigerian nation unfold. That is why he is all-accommodating. No president has been bashed by the media as him.
I keep telling our people, the way you make your bed so you lie on it. If we ridicule our president that is the way people outside will see us. It is not about Jonathan. Beyond all of these, there is a divine message in Jonathan’s appearance on the political scene. It will be better if all of us join hands to make this country better.
Jonathan’s critics say he is too slow compared to rulers like Obasanjo…
I was a victim of the Obasanjo era. All those who say this now were saying a different thing when Obasanjo was in power. Today, President Jonathan is consulting. For every action he takes, he consults. Every action he had taken that needed to be reversed was reversed. Let us give him his dues.
On comments that the national conference is now threatened with discordant tunes trailing the report of the Senator Femi Okurounmu committee
I don’t agree. The national confab is not threatened. The President set up a committee, to come up with a template. The committee has submitted its report and people are reacting. Naturally, that is what it should be.
The committee is not all-knowing, it is not omnipotent. People are reacting from the various zones of the country, that is what it should be so that by the time the report is finally collated and the way we are going to hold the confab is decided, everybody will feel included and involved. I see the president’s position as purely defined and straightforward.