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Yar’Adua’s absence:Jonthan is in charge – Okonkwo

By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Senator Annie Okonkwo represents Anambra Central Senatorial zone in the Upper Legislative Chamber.

This first time senator in this encounter answers questions on the fsituation in Aso Rock since the President’s absence and the   forthcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra state and expressed dismay that the state has been battling crisis in the parties since the last election, insisting that this time around, there will be no place for godfathers. Excerpts:

Nigerians of different divides have exhausted themselves over the issue of the absence of President Yar’ Adua which seemed worsened by the fact that nobody appears to be in charge.

It is wrong to say nobody is in charge. The constitution permits that the President could go on leave and the government will still run. And of course, we have the Vice President and when the President is not around, the Vice President can always take-over the handling of things. So, as far as I’m concerned, the government is still running. We are not losing anything.

So, is the VP in charge?

Yes. All those people saying one thing of the other are real ‘busybody’. You know, the constitution is very clear on this case. It’s impossible to think nobody is in charge because the VP is.

Before the President travelled, there were some issues pending in the National Assembly. The debate on the superiority of the Senate over the House affected the presentation of the Appropriate Bill. What is the position of things now?

There is no flexing of muscles between the Senate and the House. There is no basis for that. What the law says is very clear, that the Senate President should b the chairman of National Assembly. And he decides if he wants it to hold in his office, nobody can challenge it.

So, because the President used to go to the House to do his presentations, they took it for granted that it is the law. It’s not true. So, what the Senate is trying to do is to correct that impression.

The problem of passing the budget is normal and we are already working on it. The budget will soon be passed. So, I don’t see any problem with the joint session of the national assembly or the matter posing a hindrance in anyway. There is the Chairman of the Committee and there is nothing like a co-chairman.

The Constitution did not stipulate that. So, the language of co-chairman does not arise. We could only have deputy chairman or vice-chairman. So, those people who say it should be a co-chairman are wrong. I don’t know where they got that word from. It is not in our constitution. And that has resolved the issue.

So, clearly now, the Senate is superior to the House?

That is not in doubt. There is no room for comparison. The senators control about three local governments in their states. In my state for instance, it is one senator to eleven House of Representatives members. In some states, it is one senator to twenty House of Representatives members.So, there is no basis for comparison.

Is that where the superiority lies?

You people refer to us as the Upper House and the Lower House. It is already clear. The difference is clear. And the constitution also made that clear. The senate is stronger and superior.

There are so many unresolved issues in the PDP. It seems to be a party in strife. You can hardly see a state in Nigeria where the PDP is not fighting itself….

The PDP is a big party and of course, politics is about conflict resolutions. So, it is bound to be happening. The most important thing is that at the end of the day, all the crises would be resolved. But that is all politics, because politics is not ball room meeting.

There are key interests to protect and that is why we call it politics.
In Anambra State, the PDP is faced with inability to participate in the forthcoming gubernatorial election.

It’s unfortunate. If the party didn’t do their job well to maintain internal democracy, consequences like that would come and there is nothing they can do about it. Already, the thing is in the hands of the judiciary and people can go to the court to seek interpretation. That is what is happening today in the PDP.

The date for substitution of candidates expired Tuesday. What’s the fate of PDP in the state?

The candidate the party has in the state is not even valid. So, the question of substitution does not arise.

So, no participation by the PDP in Anambra State guber race?

They have to go through the court process to see if there will be any solution.
You are from Anambra State, how does that problem make you feel?

I feel bad that my party is not doing enough to resolve the crisis in the party in the state. The leadership of the party in the state should do than it is doing.

Besides partisan politics, Anambra has produced five governors since 1999 and with the forthcoming election,what manner of election would there be in the state?

There is already problem. I hope that by February 6 which is the date of the election, all the issues will be resolved and somebody would emerge as the governor of the state and that will mark the beginning of the new dawn.

As for the PDP, if the leadership of the party has done its work the way it was supposed to be done, if they had conducted a transparent primaries, all these problems would have been avoided. The leadership of the party directs the affairs of the party and they know where the problems lie and all the contending issues and would have been able to solve it.

One would thought that the prominent people in the state ought to have intervened in brokering peace but they have not.

You, know its all in the interest of politics. People have diverse political views and these leaders you talked about have political inclinations. All these are part of the problem. But like I said, I’m optimistic that the issues will be resolved with the forthcoming election. It is going to be the first before 2011 and the whole world is watching us.

Don’t you foresee a situation where there will be emergency rule in that state?
No. There will not be any need for emergency rule. What for? There is no problem in the state. The problems in the parties would not necessitate emergency rule. It’s only when there is war, where there is an obvious breakdown of law and order that you call for emergency rule but it will never get to that level for us in Anambra State.

The election would be in two months time and naturally, there would be tension but it would come down after the elections and a winner is declared.

APGA of the other faction is planning to substitute Peter Obi’s candidacy.The Ikemba Nnewi foresees a situation of war if Obi does not run for this election.
It’s all politics and in this case, an APGA affair. And this is time for the governor to manifest his crisis management skills. If he cannot manage the crisis in his party in the state level, how can he manage the state he wants to govern? All these threats of war and crisis are mere politics and like I told you, it would end.

In the past, political godfathers held sway and are still holding sway in Anambra State elections…

We are done with godfathers. That era is gone for good. They can’t come up again.
There was a news report that bombs used in the last civil war are still littering the South-East states and that portends danger in the zone. What should be done?
I don’t know about that. I’m just hearing about it. But if there is anything like that, the SSS and the military should know and be able to take care of that. I don’t know about that. They should really attend to that.

What are your plans for 2011?

I am not a candidate of any party for 2011 elections but I hope to present myself again for re-election to the senate and if my people give me the mandate, I will be very pleased to represent them and I will do that well.

There’s always this tendency for elected legislators to forget their constituencies after they have voted them in.

I’m not like that. You can go to my constituency and find out. I’m very much interested in them and the difference in my representation is clear. With me representing them, it is not business as usual. I’m different from all the representatives they had in the past and the people can attest to that. I have no fears about getting another mandate.


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