By Chioma GABRIEL,Â Deputy Editor
General Ibrahim Bata Maigwi Haruna is the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum who playedÂ a vitalÂ role during the Nigerian Civil War in keeping the country united. In this encounter, he answers questions on eleven years of democracy, the problems of democracy and how to forge ahead.
What is the problem with democracy in Nigeria, why is the practice of democracyÂ expensive?
Democracy is not expensive. Itâ€™s the operators that we have in the system that make it expensive. It is lack of efficiency from the administrative sector and looting along the line that make it expensive but as a system of government, it is not.
In terms ofÂ leadership, would you say Nigerian has done well in the past eleven years?
Leadership in any democracy is dependent on the internal structure of the political parties and their ability to gather and marshal opinions. So, the leadership role is played by organisations, the political parties essentially who must present candidates and of course the opinions of the media and the civil society all matter in leadership.
These institutions must be strong, in the sense that they must be committed to serving the public good as an end.
Would you say we have had good leaders since we started in 1999?
One has to be very careful about making such generalization whereby you throw away the baby and the bath water. If we are not making progress, we will not be at peace today to be examining ourselves and be making desirable changes to perfect our system. So, the mere fact that we are healthy and wealthy and we are still respected in the international community; we can criticise ourselves and make our choices and because we are a living entity, we cannot say that we have failed because ofÂ the leadership. Leadership doesnâ€™t go on its own.
Itâ€™s a symbioses between leaders and the people. They say people get the leadership they deserve. We are making progress because we are making the scales fall off from our eyes. We are beginning to see clearly and make choices much more selectively.
If you say the people get the leadership they deserve, does it mean that if the leadership is not good, itâ€™s because the people chose the wrong people?
No, Iâ€™m not saying that. What Iâ€™m saying is that leadership does not go on its own. Leadership must be leading people. So, the two must work together. The choices are made not by the leadership on its own but by the people. If the people donâ€™t condone thuggery and stealing of ballot boxes and so on and so forth, the political leaders will not live in the comfort of stolen votes.
So, itâ€™s not just the issue of leadership. It is the question of everybody being committed so that we act morally and ethically. So, itâ€™s not just leadership. You cannot have a leadership ofÂ a clean society by bad people. So, both the leadership and follower ship must be committed to some kind of probity. So, we cannot just talk about leadership being bad or about poor leaders. No. We must talk about society; our society being unclean, being unfaithful, being unethical, being immoral.
We should condemn it. The people steal money and use the public money to go and buy honours, doctorates and chieftaincy titles. The society generally clap for them and say â€˜this is our son.â€™ so, itâ€™s not a simple matter of saying leadership is bad. Leadership is bad because they tell lies and steal public money and they are taking it to a small greedy group of people who clap for them. The society itself is totally corrupt.
There were reports ofÂ states and the country getting broke. Some people think itâ€™s because the system of democracy is such that a government official has too many aides and assistants and these are costly to maintain and these in turn affect the running of democracy. Do you subscribe to that?
If our public officers have too many assistants, itâ€™s because the establishment created them. Democracy permitted it. Are you now saying that government officials should reduce their assistants or their budgets?
How do we reduce the cost of running democracy?
I donâ€™t know how that can be done. Iâ€™ve told you from the onset that democracy is not expensive. Itâ€™s only the budget to whet our public funds by those who are in-charge of our treasury, that what makes it expensive and people are stealing the money along the line.
Zoning was introduced in democracy to reintegrate all the zones…
Now, please listen. I think youâ€™ve got the wrong end of the stick. You are associating zoning with democracy. Zoning is not democracy. Zoning is about federal character or states character or local government character. It is to give people opportunity to participate and have fair representation and opportunity to all concerned.
Zoning has nothing to do with democracy. It has something to do with the spirit, the mind or form of democracy so that people donâ€™t fill offices on the basis of nepotism and tribalism and bias.
The ruling party, the PDP, wants to dump the zoning formula of the party. Do you support that?
I am not PDP.Â Zoning is the business ofÂ PDP. The constitution provides for federal character. The constitution provides for participation of all our over 300-400 tribes. So, the method a political party chooses is their own method.
So if you want to question how PDP wants to distribute power, so that the Igbo man, the Hausa man, the Yoruba man, the Lantang man, would participate, that is their political strategy. It is their choice and way to distribute power so that the whole thing does not belong to one family and that power is not monopolised by a dynasty or a family. Zoning is not democracy. It is a strategy for power sharing.
Zoning has helped so far in Nigeria.
That is not a question. You are reaching a conclusion. If you say zoning has helped us, you are passing judgement.
Okay. Should zoning be continued in the parties?
I have told you that zoning is a matter of the parties. We donâ€™t want one family being President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Attorney General of the Federation, and so on. It is about power sharing to avoid monopoly and dictatorship. If PDP has aÂ problem with how it wants to distribute power, it is their problem. If they zoned Presidency to North-West or the South-South, it is just to make sure that power is distributed. There is nothing wrong with federal character principles. Zoning is a mater of details.
In Nigeria, PDP is the ruling party and many believe PDP will produce the next President which has been zoned to the North. But now, the current President is from the South-South and would likely want to contest election. Should he?
I will not answer this kind of question. I will not. You cannot manouevre me to tell youÂ what you want me to tell you. I will tell you what I think. PDP can zone anything to anywhere. A Northerner is a Nigerian A Southerner is a Nigerian.
The President is President ofÂ Nigeria. Stop asking me this kind of question because Iâ€™m a Nigerian patriot. I fought for the unity of Nigeria. We are not talking about President of the Efiks or the Ijaws or Igbos but the President of Nigeria. So, he can come from anywhere. Please go and ask PDP this kind of question on how it is distributing power, right down to the ministers. These are mechanics to be worked out to ensure that there is balance.
We have practiced democracy for eleven years now without intervention. How do we move democracy forward for it to actualise its potentials.
Well, you must understand that democracy is a process. It is a process of choosing people who should manage public affairs and that is done through the instrumentality of institutions like political parties. A political party must be duly formed by associations fully getting together under the freedom of association provided by the constitution.
So, as long as we begin to go on aligning opinions and sharing opinions freely and people associate themselves freely, and as long as we improve the system of electoral processes and the validity of votes, we will arrive at a fair and free choice of representations who should manage our affairs. So, we are making progress because we have had years of denials of developing the polity through the process of democracy.
We have had military dictatorships which has denied the culture of representations in the national and state assemblies. Now, people are learning and not only that they are learning that process, but people are beginning to understand that candidates must be people who are transparent, who are corrupt-free and who can contribute because they are educated to understand the issues. Itâ€™s not a place for people who cannot debate, who cannot read the law and provide the solution to problems to go and sit down and be collecting allowances from the public purse. It takes years of training and years of assimilation of the initiative culture.
You have been in the system. You have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Nigeria. Many people are agitating for a two-party system. Is it good to reduce the parties to two?
I will not subscribe to a two or three-party system because you know that to legislateÂ as to the number of parties is a dictatorial act. It will inhibit the spirit of the freedom of association as enshrined in the constitution which permits us to form as many political parties as possible and which gave us the rules under which associations can be registered as political parties.
So, once we follow our constitution, then we are free people. We donâ€™t need inhibitions of reducing parties to two orÂ three political parties. And if we have two or three, who rules the two or three? In this case, we can get a committee of dictators who rule PDP and rule the second party and then marginalise the third. Two or three-party system is a form of dictatorship and should not be allowed.
The people should not be denied theirÂ freedom of association by streamlining them like military dictatorship. You must belong to theÂ left or belong to theÂ right. That is not democracy.
2011 general elections are around the corner. What advice do you have for Nigerians?
The politicians know where we are coming from. They know the past elections were not credible. Therefore, they have to ensure that we have credible elections this time around. The culture of democracy must be improved upon via free and fair elections.