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2011: I don’t subscribe to zoning as a principle, says Senator Osakwe

.…N-Deltans should give Jonathan chance to perform

By Ben Agande & Gbenga Oke
SENATOR Patrick Osakwe represents Delta North in the National Assembly. In this interview with Vanguard, he spoke on issues surrounding Jonathan’s presidency, his ambition to contest the 2011 elections.  He said it is morally right for President Goodluck Jonathan to complete the tenure he and late President Yar’Adua started. Excerpts:

The death of ex-President Yar’Adua has brought about  change in  the political configuration of Nigeria less than a year to end of his tenure. What do you think the new president should preoccupy himself with within the short space of time that is left?

Well, may the soul of our departed president rest in perfect peace. It is a blow to the nation, but we all agree that death is an inevitable thing for every man, but when you die at that age which is not the mature age and in office, it is not just the death of the person, but our president and the whole country was under his leadership and everyone was thrown into mourning and that is why it is a colossal loss to the nation.


Having said that, the effect it has is very obvious, we are in a democracy and living by the constitution of the country which is very clear, the constitution envisions exactly what happened, that is why you have section 146: 3 of the constitution which is very clear, that is what has brought the new president into office.You can see that it happened is a very cordial atmosphere and nobody raised an eyebrow.

What it then means is that the new resident’spre-occupation will be to make an impact within the shortest possible timein areas like power supply and I am happy he has really declared war on that sector. I think Nigerians should give him all the support so that he can achieve that. If he can at least make one or two differences, there will be clamour for him to possibly continue, but it depends on what he does within this short time. So, the new president needs the support of Nigerians to make an impact.

Some Nigerians have called on President Goodluck Jonathan to do away with the 7point agenda of Yar’Adua and reduce them to at least 3 or 4  because of time limit. Personally, how do you see such piece of advice?

All these agenda, whether it is 7 points or 20points are just for administrative guidelines, but that does not mean he had to carry the whole 7, he must have his priorities within that 7-point agenda and concentrate on that. So, telling Nigerians he is reducing the 7-point agenda to 3 or 4 will make much difference.  They say action speaks louder than voice, from what he does, one will know that this is the direction they are going to make impact on Nigeria as a nation

Despite the fact that the Senate decided not to  probe  the death of   Yar’Adua, there have been   agitations  that in order to avoid such occurrence in the future, something should be done. What do you think should be done?

The Senate has spoken because it was widely accepted, but that motion was very important and as far as I am concerned, it was meant to solve the problem which you have just talked about because Mr president is not just Mr president as a person, he is an embodiment of the nation, a public property, so the public needs to know what is happening to him and that was the reason for that prayer, that at least let there be an investigation to find out exactly what happened, how he was kept off not only from the vice-president, but from the entire  nation.

The sickness of a  public figure like a president must not be kept in secret, because if the president is sick, the whole country is sick too, so everybody has the right to know, but that did not happen and that was exactly why the motion was moved.

I am of the opinion that an investigation ought to have been allowed, but you know we have one Senate and the moment the majority rules and that is essence of democracy, since majority of the people said no, that was the end of the matter. So, those of us who supported that something should be done, there was nothing we could do rather than to abide by majority decision.

PDP zoning arrangement appears to be heating up the polity. It is believed that in a country of about 150million, there are intellectuals all over  the country. But when zoning comes to play, we are limited to certain people in the society. What is your assessment of this zoning arrangement?

Well, I want to look at zoning from two perspectives. First, how did zoning come about in our polity? It came to  address the neglect and in-equality in our society so that at least those zones that have been deprived either because of their religion, or  ethnic background will one day have a say in the administration of the country.

If you look at it from that perspective, you will now ask yourself, now look at the presidency for instance, president and the vice-president, one from the North, and the other from the South or narrow it down, one from the North West, one from the South South, they were seen to be a pilot and a co-pilot flying an airplane, if for any reason like it has happened God takes the pilot away, it is now the responsibility of the co_pilot to fly that aircraft to the destination because when they took off, they had a destination.

In our scenario, the destination is 2007-2011, if Nigerians agree, they will also have 2011 -2015, now the pilot is no more, not by the fault of anybody, but the wish of God, so it is time to reason, if it is only meant to assuage the less privileged section of the society, am relating that to our present scenario, it stands to reason that the most appropriate person to fly that plane to its destination is no other person than President Goodluck Jonathan.

If he was a co-pilot and the pilot is gone, Nigerians should now stand by him and say please, pilot this plane to its destination and that one takes good care of the zoning because that also takes good care of the less privileged because if you watch, the South South has never tasted the leadership of this country.

If you go into history, you can talk of Awolowo, Azikwe, Tafawa Balewa, you now go to Babangida, Abacha, Abdusallam, maybe what God is saying is that it is the time  of the South-South, to at least solve that imbalance and this South South produces 30percent of our earnings. So I think that looking at it from that point the purpose is to achieve balance in the polity.

I don’t think zoning is something we should be talking about in year 2011 because, first, it kills the choice of the best, there is no doubt about it that with zoning in place, you will zone out the best and what this country needs today is the best. As far as I am concerned, I don’t subscribe to zoning as a principle in 2011.

You talked about a pilot and a co-pilot, in our own case, the destination you  talked about, is it 2011 or 2015?

Yes, from history, you cannot see any president after doing the first tenure that  did not do second term and former President Obasanjo is an example in our present dispensation. He finished the first 4years and was given another term of 4years and the constitution allows it. So, looking at it from that point, the destination is 2011 and 2015.

But people have argued that the understanding in PDP is  that North should do 8years after the South has done 8years under Obasanjo. But due to ex-President Yar’Adua’s death some people are saying that  Jonathan should not contest but  allow  North finish its term…

(Cuts in) That is a wrong calculation. First, the zoning in the party is just an administrative understanding, it is not really a written thing and not contained in our constitution, it does not agree with the norms of the constitution, it is not there. But what I am trying to say is that something has happened, if Yar’Adua were  alive today, if he had ruled till the end of 2011 with his good health, I know he would have gone for second tenure and with the way he  related with Dr Goodluck Jonathan, I have no doubt in my mind that he would have ran with Jonathan till 2015, as they never had disagreement like we witnessed in the past.

I have no doubt  that in 2015, he would have supported Dr Goodluck Jonathan to run for presidency after his 8years as it is done in the United States . I think Al-Gore was the most recent example of a vice-president that also ran for the president. So, because of the kind of relationship Dr  Jonathan had with his boss, it is obvious and certain he would have said, okay, he was a good vice-president, let us support him to carry on with our administration’s programme.

So, if you look at it from that point of view, you will agree that at least  zoning is to assuage the less privileged, is to serve those who are from the minority so that they can also have a bite. Look at somebody like former President Clinton, he came from Arkansas and what is the population of Arkansas? If it were our kind of  politics , he will never smell the White House. I think we should learn  that zoning thing should put behind us.

Okay, let’s say it is a gentleman agreement…

(Cuts in) No, I did not use that word, you must use my word because the moment you change my word, you will change the meaning.

What am trying to say is that the understanding of zoning according to…

(Cuts in) I said administrative understanding. I did not say it is an agreement because the words agreement means you shook hands, I said it is an administrative understanding, those are my words.

But in this kind of administrative understanding, if there is a kind of alteration in that understanding, wouldn’t it affect the game plan of those favoured with such understanding?

It will not because no matter how much you try to change, the constitution which is the ground norm is there as a check . So, no matter how much you do it, after 8years, it must change, it will have to leave the place, no matter how good Clinton was as it were, he was still good enough, but the constitution didn’t allow him more than two terms.

So, I think the constitution can correct that type of monopoly you envisaged. We have to talk about the heat of the moment, the passion of the moment, how do we move forward, that is what we have to talk about because we have to jettison a lot of things. You can hardly see a vice-president as patient, gentle, and tolerant as Dr Jonathan was; look at how God solved the problem.

If we have tried to invoke section 143, if the Exco had tried to invoke section 144, we wouldn’t have the peace we are having now. But he was patient, he did not push for anything, he did not sponsor anything, he was just patient and he was a wonderful servant and I think this country needs some
body like him.

There ar e insinuations that the core North is not well  disposed to Jonathan’s rumoured ambition to contest 211 because of what you called an administrative agreement within  PDP. How do you see him overcoming these obstacles. Second, many Nigerians are of the opinion that if President Jonathan can deliver on free and fair elections, Electoral Reforms, Power and other problems we have in this country, he should leave honourably and give the North the opportunity to complete its term and then contest in 2015. What is your assessment of these opinions?

When you say his time, what time is his time? The media too have to help educate people, but when the media have taken a position, it becomes difficult to educate the people. We have to look at what is the best for the country at the moment and supposing the PDP is not the government ruling the country now, when you talk of zoning, how will these zoning be respected?

From inception, when you zone the presidency to the North, nobody from the South should contest, all the people who contested with Yar’Adua, Peter Odili and others, there were too many people who came out to contest against Yar’Adua from the South. During President Obasanjo’s time, you can see how many people stood from the North contesting against him. Abubakar Rimi was there, were all these people contesting to loose, they  all contested to win.

So, I want people to look at it from that point of view that the party has said this thing is zoned to the North, then nobody from the South should contest and if the people from the South are contesting, that is indiscipline in the party. Let the contest start  with all the people in the North if the presidency is zoned there, then if it zoned to the South, let it be only Southern candidates that will be vying for that office, it is like a democracy within the party.

In the 70’s when you have one party state, don’t tell me there was no democracy, but the democracy was not between parties, it was within the party. So, I want to see situations whereby when people want to talk about zoning, that is if presidency is zoned to North, there should be no Southerner in that contest, and if it is zoned to South, there should be no Northerner in that contest, then you are talking.

I think the media have a lot to do in educating people and how do we solve this problem. The country needs a surgical solution now and the person who can do it  is the person on that seat now.  He knows the politics having served his boss for 3years, he has been a very good servant, so I stand to reason that Nigerians should call on him to continue.

But like I said, let us see what he can do in 4 or 5months as president.  It is very important and what he does in another 5months will influence  some doubting Thomas’s even from the North.  If you look at it, there are some cries from the North too that he should continue.

In politics, where do you want to score 100 percent, even in your family if you stand an election, that is where you know how many people that like you, you will realise that the person that greets you most will be your worst enemy. So, I don’t really expect the North to come and tell the president to continue, No, but as time goes on, I think they will mellow down and you will now see that since both of them were pilot and co-pilot, he should be given the opportunity to pilot the plane to 2015, then it can move to the North.

Despite the ascension of Dr  Jonathan as the president , some sections of the Niger Delta are yet to embrace peace  with the recent blast of the NDDC office. Do you see moves like this affecting the Jonathan presidency?

No, I would not see it from that point of view. The struggle is a long term struggle and didn’t start with Jonathan. Right from the time of Isaac Adaka Boro, they have been fighting. Now, God is hearing their prayers by facilitating the possibility of one of our son assuming the mantle of leadership in the country. This is the time the whole nation needed their unity and support because they have it now without struggle, without bomb or shooting.  Is this the time now they have to start carrying arms.

This makes no sense because Jonathan has just assumed presidency .  My message to those who feel bad is to give him some chance, he needs our support and you can’t support your brother by throwing bomb, so they should look at it from the wider perspective that the failure of their own brother is the beginning of the doom that may befall  the zone.  This is an opportunity for the region to rally round their son.

In next few days, President Goodluck Jonathan will be taking some vital decisions like  appointing a new INEC Chairman. What do you think should be the pedigree of likely candidates for the post?

Thanks for this question. I disagree with those people calling press conferences saying that appointment should come from this or that zone, they don’t have the power. It is the president that has the power to do that according to Section 146 sub-section 3.  We have to operate our constitution the way it is.


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