By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Professor Ralph Uwechue is the President-General ofÂ Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo .In this democracy day edition, he said there was no zoning in PDP because he aspired to be President in 2007 and was screened and certified before paying N5 million, arguing it wouldnâ€™t have been if there was a zoning policy.
How would you assess democracy from 1999 till now?
Since Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over to Obasanjo, a lot still needs to be done to make democracy real. There is not enough of democratic freedom in the country particularly, when it comes to political parties machineries. All we practice in Nigeria put together as in membership is less than two per cent of the voting population of Nigeria. Party caucuses contain everything.
They decide who does what and horse-trade amongst themselves within each party to decide who becomes what and alienate the ordinary Nigerians, denying them of the chance to choose the type of people they want as their leaders. I think that we should address the kind of democratic practice within the political parties andÂ nominations for office because when people are nominated, Nigerians will lose the chance of choosing the people they want.
Whatâ€™s is responsible for the high cost of running democracy? We are now hearing that the states are broke, Nigeria is broke. Why?
Democracy has become our pattern of governance. It is better than dictatorship and it takes time to get people used to practicising it properly and it costs money. But what money we invest in getting things right is money well-spent. If we spend money and get democracy right, that is the basis of stability and without stability, we cannot makeÂ progress.
So, itâ€™s not the too many officials in democracy and their number of aides and assistants that is making democracy expensive?
No. It is not the number. Nigeria is a large country of 150 million people and we need a lot of people to manage the affairs of the people. We need the number to be able to serve the population andÂ as long as they are doing things right, there is no problem.
One thing though is that we must be sincere and people should be managing the money in their care sincerely and judiciously. They should be honest and transparent in their management of public funds. As long as we get the right people to do the job, it is okay.
Sometimes, when you have five ministers in one ministry, it is because of the volume of work being done. If the number of officials and their aides is large and they have the technical knowledge and efficiency of the production of governance, it is okay. Itâ€™s not just about the number but quality and that is what raises a number of questions.
People believe that come 2011, PDP will produce the next President as it was doing since 1999. But the zoning policy ofÂ the party is being threatened at the moment because of the likelihood of Jonathan contesting. What do you think?
Zoning is a matter of party arrangement. Each party is free to do what it believes will help to make democracy work.
However, if a party takes a decision to zone leadership to a place at one time and at another time decides to zone it to another place, there is nothing wrong with that. One good thing about zoning is that things can go round in a fair manner.
But a party at any time can decide where it will go as long as there is due process in that decision, that the entire party membership finds it acceptable.
But you must understand that this idea of zoning to the North was at the point when Obasanjo was about to leave power. It was a private decision between Obasanjo and some Northerners. There was no official zoning policy in the PDP.
I think the idea was to exclude some people but as far as I am concerned, we donâ€™t know who is running in 2011 yet.
And there is something else you must know about zoning. Nigeria does not have North and South. We have six zones and Presidency should rotate around the six zones. If you talk of zoning, South-South, for example where Jonathan comes from has never produced the President of Nigeria.
The South-East has never had it, apart from Aguiyi Ironsi who was killed six months after he took over. So, we should study the situation critically to know what is good for Nigeria. Power should not be monopolised by any group of the country.
Zoning means helping to spread things. I am saying that the idea of zoning to the North was the personal idea of Obasanjo who was not chosen in 1999 as a Southern candidate. He was not. It was at the end ofÂ his term that he promoted the idea of zoning Presidency to the North. It was never so at the beginning. If it was so at the beginning, why is it that many people from the South, registered by the party were screened in 2007 to contest presidential election?
They were screened, including myself and certified okay and we paid N5 million each for the contest. If it was zoned to the North, why were we screened and certified okay and then N5 million accepted from us which was non-refundable.
They should have told us to go, that the presidency was zoned to the North. They should not have screened us and then asked us to go and pay N5 million becauseÂ we are from the South and the Presidency was zoned to the North. I was not the only person. Donald Duke was there. Horsfall was there. Nobody told us that we were not qualified. If it was zoned, they should have told us no, you are not qualified, we wonâ€™t screen you and we wonâ€™t accept your money. So, there was no zoning in PDP.
It was Obasanjoâ€™s decision and he didnâ€™t run democracy with freedom and honesty. He just used democracy to play around and suit his fancy anytime he feels like.
Thereâ€™s been a campaign for a two -party system. Do you think that isÂ preferable to our multitude ofÂ 50 political parties?
We need only two political parties and not more. That is the only way we can have a balance. Babangida did something. He introduced a two-party system, Social Democratic Party, SDP, and National Republican Convention, NRC. That was in 1993. We had the fairest election under that. Abiola from the West beat Tofa in Kano. You see, Nigeria has a multiplicity of religion and tribes and ethnic groups.
If we have two political parties, people would be compelled to join the two. There will be no Hausa party, Igbo party or Yoruba party. People will be compelled to go to one or the other. If you donâ€™t go toÂ party A, you will go to party B.
There will be no ethnic or religious parties. Our Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba will be in the two-party system. People who said it should not be so are talking nonsense. The system we operate here was imposed on us by the British. It will be a good thing for us to operate a two-party system. If we are sincere, we will tell ourselves this truth. It will kill ethnicity in politics, kill religion in politics, kill everything bad in politics.
So, there was no zoning in PDP. A nine-man committee was set up to screen the candidates including those of us from the South in 2007. It was headed by Chief Bayo Akinola. Two women were in the committee: Mrs. Chinyere Asika and Mrs. Pam. Then, there were six people each representing a zone.
That brought it to nine. How could it have been zoned to the North if Southerners were allowed to contest primaries. After the committee screened us, we were asked to go and pay our fees and this emphasised the fact that there was no zoning. This zoning thing is the last minute thing that Obasanjo brought out. It must be a private arrangement between him and some Northerners in 1999 which the party never knew about.
The next general elections are around the corner. What will you tell Nigerians concerningÂ that?
The politicians should be sincere with Nigerians. We should not take winning elections as a do-or-die affair. We should let our votes count and the only way to do that is to organize credible elections. Let the politicians go for a free contest and let the winner be the peoplesâ€™ choice. That is my advice. We can have a free and fair elections in this country. We did it under Humphrey Nwosu and succeeded and we can do that again.
So would you say democracy has made impact?
Yes. But we are not there yet. It has made impact to the point that we have a functionalÂ national assembly where the people have their representativesÂ making contributions but we are not there yet because the internal practices within the parties are not democratic enough.
What we have is a situation whereÂ members of the political parties who constitute only about 2% of the 150million people nominate who they want to become whatÂ and impose them on the people instead ofÂ leaving the population to make their choices and that is not democratic enough.