We’re on course to make 2015 elections best in history – Ekweremadu

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By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy president of the Senate, last Monday, delivered a lecture entitled “Constitution review in an emerging democracy” to the faculty and staff of the John Hopkins University, Washington D.C., USA. Following the lecture, Ekweremadu also held talks with U.S specialists on Africa and addressed members of the Nigerian community who came from far and near within the United States to share views on Nigeria with him. At the end of the engagements, Ekweremadu spoke on his observations in an interview. Excerpts:

What is the outcome of your meetings in Washington?

The major thing that I came here to do was to present a paper at John Hopkins University, and outside that, I had some scheduled meetings with some interest groups.

I met with the National Security Adviser in President Bill Clinton’s administration, Mr. Sandy Barger and we spoke about the security issues in the sub-region of West Africa and how they could be of assistance to us using their experience, and he was very forth coming in the discussions. He spoke about the issue of border control and how that has been a panacea of sorts in the Middle-East and we are going to take it up from there as I intend telling the National Security Adviser of our discussion so that the two of them can take it up from there so that we can take advantage of his experience in that respect.

Ekweremadu

*Ekweremadu: We can defeat Boko Haram

I also spoke with officials of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and they wanted an assurance that there would be free and fair election and I made it clear to them that we have been in the process of electoral reform since 2010.

The group had earlier met with Dr. Doyin Okupe and Alhaji Lai Mohammed and my meeting with them was more like a follow-up. So, I assured them that we are working with Prof. Atthairu Jega, the chairman of the Independent and National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that the election in 2015 will be very transparent.

They wanted to find out what would happen in the North-East, I told them that we are very optimistic that matters would have been settled by then and that Nigeria is considering a lot of options in dealing with Boko Haram including a joint effort on the level of the Chad River Basin Commission which would mean Nigeria, Chad, Niger being involved in finding a solution to this problem because that had been the major problem in Nigeria’s engagement with Boko Haram.

So, because of the sub-regional implications, it became necessary for Nigeria to involve other countries within the sahel region to ensure that we have a concerted effort in dealing with this matter. I am aware that in a place like Chad that they are selling AK 47 riffles on the streets, so if they are not involved, we will be wasting our time because the supply of arms will go on unhindered and that is why we need to involve others in the region.

And I made it clear to them that we are open to dialogue and discussions on ideas on how to deal with this matter. So, we want our friends to be part of any effort to resolve this issue.

Did you address concerns raised by the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the forum with the CSIS on the sincerity of the Nigeria administration towards free and fair elections in 2015?

The matter came up and I told them that the government is determined to ensure that there is free and fair election and that everything to that regard is being put in place including legislative infrastructure that would enable this election to be successful. We have looked at the success recorded in 2011 and the areas that require improvement and we are providing both constitutional and legislative support for that. So, we are going to amend the constitution to address some of the concerns we have noticed between 2011 and now, just as we are also reviewing the Electoral Act to improve on the quality of the election in 2015. So, we believe that the election in 2015 will be much better than that of 2011 in spite of the fact that that was adjudged to be very successful.

So, will these meetings bring them to support development in Nigeria?

Definitely! We also met with the authorities of the John Hopkins University to see if they could set up a campus in Nigeria because I noticed a large number of Nigerians in the school and they spend $60,000 to $100,000 to acquire their degrees here.

Quality education

I believe that this money can be saved in a way in Nigeria if they can set up a campus in Nigeria and it will help save transport and living expenses expended here in the United States and at the same time acquire this quality education.

We will continue this dialogue as it seems interesting to them because I believe that whatever we can get now in terms of quality education that Nigeria will be better for it.

We need to think of the future leaders of Nigeria, how we can develop them intellectually to face the challenges of tomorrow. So, we will be continuing the discussion with the John Hopkins University through the Nigeria Institute of Legislative Studies, NAILS which is already collaborating with the University of Benin on legislative studies. But this will be broader programme and we expect it to be a major development in our educational sector.

What do you think you can get from the U.S. to check the activities of Boko Haram?

The U.S. has been deeply involved in fighting terrorism in different parts of the world, so no doubt, they must have acquired some experience doing that. So, we can share their experience in the Middle-East especially in the area of border control. We have porous problems in that part of Nigeria, so it is important that we develop the kind of infrastructure that can help us deal with this matter.

What we need is their advice and their logistic support and indeed, their psychological support because terrorism is an international challenge, so it is not just Nigeria that is affected because once a bomb goes off, you don’t know who would be killed, it could be any national. So, there should be a concerted effort every time and everywhere to deal with terrorism anywhere in the world.

What is your message to Nigerians following the latest Boko Haram strike in Nyanya, Abuja?

It was a sad development and I believe this is a time that we can all come together as a country to fight this ugly development, to fight this insurgency.

National challenge

We need to come together as a country because today it is Mr. A, tomorrow it could be Mr. B. So, irrespective of religion or tribe, we need to come together, bond together as a country and then fight the insurgency and obliterate it from our system. I believe that it is doable and we have gone through challenges like this such as the civil war.

So, I am very optimistic that we would be able to go through this challenge, the important thing is for us to see it as a national issue, not a northern issue, a North-East issue or a South-West issue or a Muslim or a Christian issue.

We must see it as a national challenge for all of us as Nigerians. We must as a people come together, condemn it, fight it and get it away as quickly as possible.

Were you able to address the concerns of the Nigerian community in United States on these challenges?

`1Definitely, I did. I met with a cross section of Nigerians after the lecture and it was an opportunity for us to have informal discussions on developments at home and we encouraged them to come home.

Enabling environment

One of my friends who came with me, Prince Chris Igwe, made it clear to them that there are more opportunities for them at home than they would have in the United States.

He gave examples of Nigerians who moved from the USA where they were doing nothing to Nigeria where they are now doing extremely well. What we must know is that government cannot provide work for everybody and our people are very enterprising and all that government can do is to provide the enabling environment.People are here just managing to survive with the very stringent system where people pay very extreme tax and the security situation is not too different from what we have in Nigeria.

You have a situation where children go to school and kill fellow students and where unthinkable things happen. So, if insecurity is the issue, nobody would even stay in America, no where is secured anyway. So, what we need to do is that all of us should think how we can help our system, but that is not an excuse for us not to pray for progress.

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