April 11, 2010

Northern domination of Nigeria may lead to disintegration – Ezeife

DR. Chukwuemeka Ezeife,  one time governor of  Anambra State in this interviewwith Vanguard, bared his mind on burning national issues like the on-going constitution amendment exercise. He  also threw more light on how the last gubernatorial election was peacefully conducted in Anambra State . Excerpts:

WHAT is your assessment of the ministers appointed by Acting President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan?

I think it is a good team; the senators have appraised the team and approved them. They were taken from all corners of  Nigeria. It would appear that compromises have been made to achieve peace and progress  for the nation.

What  do you expect from this team?
Several of them  whom I personally know are good. For instance, the choice of former Minister for Information and Communication , Prof. Dora Akunyili  is a good one. I know that the petroleum expert in the  team is also good. This also applies to several others in the team whom I know. In fact, I don’t know anybody in the team who is not good.

What do you think should be the Acting President’s topmost priority in the remaining one year that he has to stay in office?
If  I were him, I would reduce the suffering of Nigerians. The first thing I would do is to stop any type of deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and identify a new system of supply of petroleum products to Nigeria. The second priority that I would tackle is unemployment.  For instance, I would establish a land army where idle able bodied men would be deployed to work in arable land lying fallow.  I would undertake a new system of road maintenance in which a  massive number of people would be involved. Every kilometer of road  which passes through every village or local government in this country  would be maintained on a preventive basis; that is to say we don’t allow the roads to spoil before we begin to repair them.  I would guarantee to the farmers adequate and timely supply of  farm inputs. I would do it as an emergency.

Dr. Ezeife

In the area of  politics I would put my weight behind electoral reforms. For the purpose of achieving a durable polity, I would start a dialogue. I believe that the most politically sagacious, knowledgeable and intelligent group of politicians  in this country are the Hausa/Fulani elite. I would ask them to use their intelligence and look back at their dominance of the nation’s polity.   Then I would put it to them that the domination of the nation by the North will inevitably  lead to the disintegration of the country.

I would remind them of the reason for the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914  and expect them to use their legendary intelligence and political sagacity to consider the way forward for Nigeria. I would propose to them that the federating units of Nigeria should be reduced; we can still have as many states as we want but we just have to reduce the federating units to about 12.

For now the nation has six identifiable geo-political zones. If we are able to achieve these goals, we would have ensured the permanence of one Nigeria; and that would be good for every group in this country including the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani and all other ethnic groups in the country.

This arrangement would enable the federating units to find greater unity and happiness inside one Nigeria rather than breaking up.  I would like to alert  the people that the Libyan leader Muammer Gaddaffi who recently said Nigeria should divide into several independent states was not talking nonsense.  It  was a challenge he  threw up to us for Nigeria to remain as one  country. If we retain the present system, we are retaining religious crisis, injustice and unfairness; in that case we are only waiting for time when the inevitable would happen.

What is your view on the on-going constitution amendment exercise by the Senate  which has already granted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) financial autonomy by placing the electoral body on the first line charge of the nation’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF)? Do you think this would improve the conduct of elections in this country?
There is this banal saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune. If INEC has an independent source of revenue, nobody can influence it.

We have seen the track record of Nigerians. We have seen some people deal with money. We have seen some people grapple with a situation  that  challenges their integrity. We are  in a position in this country to know the few Nigerians who can as a mark of their personal integrity and adherence to a principled life ensure a free and fair election is held in this country. Every other thing we are doing is supportive.

If the right person is given power he would ensure that the people are happy. If you win an election, you will need a strong person as the chairman of INEC. If you are afraid of the type of election which brought you into power ,you  can then go and bring just any type of person to head INEC. The decision of the Senate to give financial autonomy to INEC is a good one.

What then can you say about the  financial autonomy the National Assembly has also given to itself  and the  Judiciary by placing them like INEC on the CRF ?
Yes, it is commendable that the nation’s judiciary is being given financial autonomy. I support the amendment as it affects the Judiciary and INEC. I am not sure I understand how it affects the National Assembly.

Can you comment on the National Assembly’s rejection of the recommendations of the  Justice Muhammadu Uwais- led Electoral Reforms Committee (ERC) report?
Unless they have very good reasons, I can’t understand why they rejected the recommendations of the electoral reform committee.

The aspect of the rejected Uwais Committee’s recommendation that has attracted a lot of criticism is the part that proposed that the National Judicial Council should be involved in the appointment of  INEC Chairman…
(Cuts in)  I see it as a way of weakening the process of choosing an INEC Chairman.

So far it would appear that only the Senate has been vigorously pursuing the Constitution amendment exercise. What does this portend for the nation  considering the friction between both houses of the National Assembly?

In so far as the Senate has been up and doing, on this constitution amendment exercise, they are with Nigerians and the House of Representatives is not likely to oppose them. This is because as the Senate carries out those amendments, the views of Nigerians are made known about them.  If  the House of Representatives should come out and say no, the Senate would win.

But it appears  that the House of Representatives has been lagging behind in this exercise?
The Senate  is made up of only  109 members but the House of Representatives has  more members. For them to go through one section, every member of the House might want to contribute. It takes a longer time to agree on something when you have more people.

There is this impression that you seem to have taken a back seat in the politics of Anambra State and the nation as a whole. Is that impression correct?
That impression is very incorrect. In Anambra State I am still in the front seat. I organised three groups for the purpose of ensuring that we had a free and fair gubernatorial election. I participated in marches. I participated in all the meetings of Anambra Association for Good Governance (AAGG). That was the platform on which I did so many things. We met with the President through his Adviser.

We met with the Inspector-General of Police; we reached out to all the political parties and some of them replied; we mobilized our people including all the non-governmental organizations and civil society groups in the state. That was why so many people came out on the day of the election.

That was also why we did not have violence. The election was free and fair but  not credible. This was because of  the disenfranchisement of many of the people including myself. I could not find my name on the voters register. A very large percentage of the people who came to vote could not do so.

INEC Chairman Prof. Maurice Iwu has been citing the successful conduct of the gubernatorial election in  Anambra State last February as evidence that INEC’s  performance has improved and he therefore deserves re-appointment for a second tenure. Do you agree with him?
The only thing that was good about that election  was the arrangement. There were  many fake names and pockets of  genuine names in the voters register. The register was actually dominated by the fake names. About 80 percent of the registered voters were disenfranchised. Second, electoral materials were delivered too late. In some polling booths, no election was held at all.

Since it was an election that held in just one state alone, one would have expected a near-perfect arrangement by INEC. We must praise INEC for the free and fair aspect of the election;. But we blame it for the lack of credibility.  I congratulate Prof. Iwu for the free, fair and non-violent aspect of the election.

There is raging debate now as to whether Prof. Iwu should be re-appointed or not? There was a demonstration led by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other civil society groups at Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). What is you view on this?

Not all the groups that have demonstrated so far are saying Prof. Iwu should be sacked. There was a demonstration by another group which said Iwu should stay on. I don’t think it is right to make caricature of a person. There are two things involved; Iwu can decide that he no longer wants a sponsored attack against him and leave on his own. He can also decide that irrespective of whatever they say about him he would stay. He may decide that since his tenure ends in June, he would just pack his things and go.

The Federal Government could also decide that he should go by June. But you know our political memory is very short in Nigeria. The disaster of the 2007 general election cannot be forgotten in a hurry. Nobody is pretending that they cannot remember that it was all fake. The election did not hold and offices were awarded to people. The manner in which that election was conducted is making things difficult for Iwu’s supporters. I think that the best decision for him  is that he should  leave in June.

Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was recently reported to have endorsed Prof. Iwu for a second term in office, would you like to comment on that?
I sucked my mother’s breast for years and I know that there are  areas  I cannot engage in. If somebody of Ojukwu’s standing makes a comment on an issue, the best thing for me is to keep quiet even if I disagree with him.

It was reported sometime ago that you dismissed the Anambra Action Congress (AC) governorship candidate  Dr. Chris Ngige’s petition against Governor Peter Obi’s victory as lacking in merit. Can you throw more light on this remark?
By the way I am not involved in partisan politics even though I am very active politically. I am presently playing the role of a father. Before the gubernatorial election in Anambra, I told Ngige his strong  and weak points.

When Prof.  Chukwuma Soludo, who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party also came to me, I told him his strong  and  weak points. Governor Peter Obi came to me,  I also told him his strong  and  weak points.
But I did not support or deny support to any of the candidates. In fact, I forgot to say Uche Ekwunife was among the candidates I rated very high. I am only playing a statesman’s politics. I can’t remember saying Dr. Ngige’s petition lacked merit. But let me tell you what I said.

The issue is did Gov. Peter Obi score  the required number of votes in the required number of local governments or not?
The petition from Ngige claimed Obi did not. The next question then is why?  He claimed that the calculation by INEC in which they awarded victory to Obi was based on non-inclusion of invalid votes. This is a very important point. If the invalid votes were added to total votes cast, then INEC’s declaration of Obi as governor would be wrong.

The issue is that the winner has to score so much percentage of total votes cast. Two equally intelligent people may disagree on what constitutes total votes cast in an election.

Do total votes cast include rejected votes? Or do total votes cast include only valid votes? That is the basis for the difference. Ngige is saying the total votes cast should include invalid votes. But my position is that if some votes were declared invalid or null and void, then only the valid votes should count. The constitution provides  for total votes cast. Some of us are saying that it  makes sense to count only valid votes. We can say that rejected votes are nullified and void. I think that is my understanding of the electoral law.

What can you say was the secret of the successful conduct of the last gubernatorial election in Anambra given the background of the very high tension that  gripped the state before the poll?
There was no magic. AAGG  first met in Lagos.  At one stage we agreed that the situation in the state  was beyond the knowledge of man. When we said it was beyond man we also agreed  that it was not beyond God. We agreed to take the situation to God. When we went to a particular meeting, everybody agreed with this proposal. In September 2009, we held a massive inter-denominational prayer session at Amos House Awka, the state capital but which drew people from all the local government areas of the state.

During the prayer we received message that God had already answered our prayers. While we were there praying,  one of us  knelt down on the wet field. Eventually, many of us went   into the field to join him. At one point during the prayer session, I felt tears coming out of my eyes; I tried to hide it.

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