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2011 PRESIDENCY: It ‘ll be unfair for zoning to disqualify Jonathan, says Sen. Arise

By Dapo Akinrefon
Ekiti has not ceased to be in the news  especially over the 2007 general elections which is still in contention in the state. Few weeks ago the Election Petition Tribunal, affirmed Governor Segun Oni’s victory in a  petition by Action Congress candidate AC, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who has indicated his intention to go on second appeal.

Much earlier, the same court voided the elections of Senator Femi Kila and  Ayo Arise, both of Peoples Democratic Party. While Kila lost his seat to AC candidate,  Senator Arise who represents  Ekiti North Senatorial District of Ekiti State, however, won the rerun poll.

He is the chairman Senate Committee on Privatization. In this interview with Vanguard in his Oye Ekiti country home, he maintained that the country’s  polity has made steady progress, contrary to views that Nigeria’s democracy, in the last 11 years, has been slow. He said that President Goodluck Jonathan is entitled to express his freedom to vie for the number one seat. The lawmaker also bared his mind on choice of  I
NEC chairman and other sundry national issues. Excerpts:

11 years of democracy in Nigeria, would you say there has been progress so far?

It’s not always so. I believe 11 years is a short period of time for us to start assessing the pros and cons of the political system. The military had been in power for close to 30 years.  In the last 11 years, we have had elections three times and we’ve been able to have a successful transition from one civilian government to another.

Sen. Arise

We’ve practiced that over a period and people understand their power and we now know of course that we would all continue to respect the electorate, once our votes begin to count. So many milestones have taken place in the last eleven years which point to the fact that we are progressing.

In terms of infrastructural developments, I believe that we would have done better than we are now and in terms of the system of governance, we are perfecting it, we are moving in the right direction. Presently, there is constitutional reforms and electoral reforms is also going on. So, I think we have made some progress.

You talked about electoral reforms, but the opposition will want to disagree with you on that. They have argued that the Senate has not helped matters in this regard especially with the way the Uwais report was treated. How would you react to this?

I don’t think the Uwais report was discarded. Many of the valuable suggestions were adopted and some were not. The contentious issue  was who appoints the INEC chairman and I’m one those who believe that the judiciary has no business with that. They control the courts and they are the final arbiter as the case might be, so, if they are the ones appointing the chairman of INEC, how can we ensure that there will not be sympathy or bias down the road.

And so on the basis of that, I think the judiciary should focus on its responsibilities and let the executive do its work. The power to appoint people into positions, in our constitution, is the prerogative of the president. And of course, whoever is appointed should be under the public scrutiny and we should be sure that he is a person of  of integrity and credible.

I think, by and large, we will never have a perfect person in that position, we will never have somebody that people will not criticize. As long as there will always be winners and losers in the outcome of every election, there will always be people who will complain and the person that will be blamed is whoever heads the commission. This is a fact that we must get used to, it did not start with Iwu and it is not going to end with him; whoever is coming next, will begin to have a share of that bashing from the opposition.

The reason why some people are opposed to the President appointing an INEC chairman is because they have this feeling that such a fellow, who is appointed as chairman of the commission, will be manipulated. What’s you view on this?

Again, I will say what is the procedure of appointing members of the judicial commission, what is the procedure of appointing the Chief Justice of the Federation, and President of the Court of Appeal, it’s still the President that does that.

Why then do we think that because Mr President appoints the Chief Judge, the Chief Judge will, all of a sudden become Mr President’s enemy and he will not bring his own people in there. So, these are just cosmetics in nature.

We should face the fact. The judiciary has no business of performing executing duties, neither is the legislature empowered to perform executive duties. We must always respect that separation of power.

The fact that we have gotten what we are looking for, does not mean we must always introduce what is not in the constitution.

We must trust that our president is not going to lord over the person he has appointed.  We should believe that whoever we put in power, would be somebody who has the interest of this country at heart.  That will be  the beginning of our steps to greatness.

In a country like ours, when we begin to develop our own individual enterprises, people will worry less about who is in government and this should be the focus of people in government in order to move this nation forward. We are praying that Mr President would make power work so that his name will go down in history. I believe that President Jonathan will succeed.  We are praying that he resolves the power problem and other basic things  to ensure that Nigerians live in comfort.

Currently  there is a bill in the National Assembly, which is seeking  to reduce the number of political parties in Nigeria. Do you support a multi party system or a two party system, considering the proliferation of political parties we have?

I can only speak for myself now because the Senate which I belong  has taken a position and the position is for multi-party. The House of Representatives has also taken a position and the position is multi-party. And so, as a member of the National Assembly, yes, it is numbers that count, the majority has won and the position of our people is that there would be multi-party system.

But on my own personal note, I support  two party system  backed with independent candidature. You see the independent candidature opens the room for anybody who does not feel comfortable in any party, to go and run as an independent candidate.

Before then, you have two parties, nobody says you must stay inside one party, there is a freedom of choice for you to stay either in party A or party B but you can leave party A to party B.

I believe we do require a two party system to stabilize our polity. The way it is going, my fear is that my party, the PDP, will soon become the only party in this country because our people, don’t have patience and government patronage is still the largest means of running business in this country, and so, everybody wants to be in the ruling party.

But if people realise that they have a part that is big enough to upstage the ruling party, there will always be that hope that they will remain wherever they are. And I keep on saying that even the fact that we have one party ruling for eleven years, it’s still nothing. That is the development that we are looking for, there are so many advantages that we can derive from a two party system. For me, I think it’s something we will revisit in the future.

The issue of amending the 1999 Constitution has been before the National Assembly for quite sometime now  and Nigerians are anxious to know if the amendment will see the light of day before the expiration of this present dispensation. How soon should the amended constitution be expected?

Constitutional amendment is not just easy, it has processes you have to follow and if you don’t follow the processes, you will have yourself to blame. I believe we are making progress and before the end of 2011, I believe we are going to have an amended constitution.

Your party, the Peoples Democratic Party, has been engulfed in crisis and you’ve had the PDP reform group springing up to agitate for internal democracy within your party. Do you support what the group is doing?

I don’t know anything about the PDP reform group, but we have a party, there is a process for reforms which must come from the party. So, I don’t know much about the activities of the reform group, but we have a working committee of the party.

If for any reason, the reformist now become the executives and begin to give directives as long as it is in line with the constitution of the party, I will abide with whatever the party says. But right now, I’m a PDP man and whoever comes in tomorrow, will have my loyalty.

There is issue of zoning within the PDP, while some have kicked against it, others are of the view that it was agreement reached between the North and the South that there will be a rotation of power. Are you in support of the zoning arrangement within your party?

Nothing is static in life, position changes due to circumstances and when the issue of zoning came, it was designed so that one particular group will not continue to dominate the governance of this country. And with the situation that we have currently, we had a president who hails from the North and was unable to finish his tenure, due to his demise and a South- South president has emerged.

I believe it will be totally unjust for us to start talking about zoning the thing away from him (Jonathan). He will have to go for election just like any other person and if he wins, he deserves the support of everyone of us in this country.

And of course, zoning is not part of our constitution. It has been used severally to ensure that we have some balances here and there. But right now, there is a balance to ensure that those in the greater number will not continue to dominate the smaller groups.

Our president now is from the minority, and now that God has put him there, I think he’s entitled to express his freedom as a Nigerian, to run for that office.

I don’t think there should be any zoning that should disqualify him. That will be unfair. On the basis of that if he finishes his terms and he feels that the South has had it for a while, the North can have it again; these are gentlemen agreement, which would further strengthen our cooperation as a nation.

The President has been under pressure to either contest in the 2011 presidential elections or not. If you were in a position to advise him, what would you tell him?

When people are talking about free and fair elections, is it only when you allow the opposition to come and run elections  that there will be free and fair elections. I think ay nation in the world, at one point in time, must have an incumbent who goes for an election. I don’t think we should begin to judge what would happen, when the man is trying to ensure that there is a credible election in this country. He is qualified.

Talking about support, the president ) has started well, we have to continue to watch him and don’t forget that, we in the Senate, support him and that’s the truth. And I’m sure every Nigerian knows that he has been carrying on very well.

Right now, we still have to watch what the dynamics are. President Jonathan has to come out and say he wants to run and if he says he wants to run, I can assure you that he’s going to have the support of many people.

In specific terms, what are those areas you think the president should focus on, now that he has less than a year before the elections?

Power is one major issue. We should ensure that power works in this country. Next to that will be our infrastructural development, especially  roads. We have grown substantially in size, when we just 55 million people, we had rail lines working during the colonial era.

Today that we have quadrupled that, we don’t have rail lines working, the roads are in a terrible state, the number of vehicles has increased. So, we need to work on that so that our businesses can grow.

Again, the commercial activities in the country must work and I think if we can achieve that,  Nigeria will be on the path of greatness. I also believe he can do so much within the short available time, God sparing his life. If he can do this, may be that will justify what will be his next step because he has the capability. But I think he should focus more on power and maybe  infrastructure.

There have been mixed reactions to the judgment of the governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Ekiti State. What’s your take on the verdict?

Well, the judgement was very solid and very sound, anything short of that would have been totally unfair, because we had a fair election in the state. The position of the people of this state is that PDP is the party on ground and we would always win, unless there is a crisis and people are divided.

I don’t think why anybody should have any doubt that Oni won that election because we had a free and fair election. In any election that we will hold here, we will defeat them (AC).

I think by the special grace of God, the judiciary will continue to behave in the interest of the people of this country.


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