Ogbeha...Jonathan is a child of circumstance

It is a healthy development in the polity and that was why the north  met in Kaduna and it was agreed that Jonathan should serve Yar’Adua’s second term before the zoning should return to the North

By Chioma Gabriel,Deputy Editor

Senator Tunde Ogbeha is a retired general from Kogi State, Nigeria, who was administrator of Akwa Ibom State and then of  Bendel State during the military rule of General Ibrahim Babangida (1985_1993). After the return to democracy in 1999,  he was the elected senator for the Kogi West constituency of Kogi State from May 1999 to May 2007.

He is an influential figure in Kogi State politics.

In 2003, Tunde Ogbeha  was the chosen as PDP candidate in his constituency  and was  re-elected to the Senate in April 2003.

Tunde Ogbeha was appointed chairman of the Senate Committee on Water Resources, in which role he attended the Fourth World Water Forum, March 16_22, 2006, in Mexico city.

In a December 2005 interview, Ogbeha said “The constitution was made without the thought that we will have cowboys who will operate it and these cowboys are bringing us shame and disgrace”.

He strongly criticized the current leaders for wanton and unbridled corruption. As senator for Kogi West, Tunde Ogbeha advocated a new Kogi State comprising the Okun Yorubas and the people of  Kogi Central.

He said that the people of Kogi East should constitute a separate state.
In July 2009, late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua nominated Tunde Ogbeha to the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, representing the non_oil_producing North Central region.

In this interview, he answers questions on the on-going political debate on zoning and other issues.

There have been arguments over the issue of zoning on whether President Jonathan should conclude Yar’Adua’s second term or not and the argument is perceived to be dividing the North. What is your take?

The argument on zoning is healthy in democracy because, people are free to express their views. We must recall that it was circumstances at the time in 1999 that saw the zoning of Presidency to the South where Obasanjo emerged the presidential candidate of PDP and then the President of Nigeria.

We also know that another circumstances have arisen whereby President Yar’Adua who took over in 2007 died in office. That circumstance has brought President Jonathan to where he is today. And it is this new circumstance that necessitated the argument on whether Jonathan should continue or not.

It is a healthy development in the polity and that was why the north  met in Kaduna and it was agreed that Jonathan should serve Yar’Adua’s second term before the zoning should return to the north. It was a different circumstance that made Obasanjo a Southerner, to become President in 1999.

Now, another circumstance has brought Jonathan into the picture and that is why we say that Jonathan should serve before zoning returns to the North.
Now, you talk about zoning in terms of North and South, there is a school of thought that believes that zoning should revolve around the six geo-po0litical zones, rather than between the North and the South.

Naturally, to make sure everybody has a sense of belonging, yes. That was why I said that circumstance informed the decision on zoning and this circumstance will continue to be there. The truth is that zoning is not a permanent issue. It has to be dynamic. Arguments have to be dynamic.

If today, it is zoned to a particular place because of circumstance, it doesn’t mean that zoning has to be perpetually there. If zoning was done in 1999, it was because of the dynamics of the situation at that time. And now, we have a different scenario. And because the scenario is different, zoning has to be redefined.

If what happened in the scheme of things did not happen, we wouldn’t be having these arguments. The arguments and  discussions going on now are because we are faced with the two sides of the coin.

If it was just one side of the coin, the argument will not be going on. I only hope that democratically, it will be resolved in the nation’s interest.

The fear being expressed is that if this issue is not properly handled, it could get out of hand.

I hope not. That is why these arguments, discussions analyses are part of the game. Except that a superior argument will be sustained because, a superior argument is in the interest in the people.

Many Nigerians who took on former President Babangida’s attempt to return think that he should be encouraging the younger politicians rather than aspiring to become President again. What do yo think?

I have no opinion about that because everybody is entitled to do what he wants. If you want young people in government, you shouldn’t because of that think that old ones should not contest. It is the decision of the people to choose who they want. Let the people decide.

You were in the senate but did not re-contest…


What’s your view on the relationship between the Senate and the House of Representatives? They have constant disagreements.

People have rights to disagree on issues and that is why it is a democracy. They disagreed on the issue of Constitution amendment but today, they have resolved and we have an amended constitution which they both agreed on. It is okay.

Would you say the anticipated new constitution is the people’s constitution?
Of course,. The Senators and the members of House of Representatives are the peoples representatives and speak the voice of the people. They consulted the people they represent, discussed the issues with them and they made their contributions towards the amendment of the Constitution. So, the amended Constitution is the peoples Constitution.

What’s your take on the creation of a new state for the South East that has only five states whereas other zones have six states?

I don’t think the newly amended constitution contains anything on states creation because there is no time for that now. This administration does not have enough time to create new states because states creation is a long process. There is not enough time.

But General Murtala Muhammed created states within six months

That was done with military fiat. We are in democracy and  you cannot just create states because it will undergo a lot of process and the people must be carried along. No one can create a state in a democracy with the fiat of the military and remember, there are so many people clamouring for states to be created for their zones.

But the South East is peculiar. It is the only zone that has the least states.
I agree with you but what I’m saying is that the process has to be right.

There are speculations that INEC will de-register the perceived weak parties to create room for a two party system. What is your view on this?

There is more sanity in a two-party system than a multitude of parties. It creates room for tolerance amongst the people and that creates room also for a more credible election. I have always supported a two-party system in a democracy.

Would you say we are ready for the next election when electoral reforms have not been implemented and there is no new voters’ list or voters’ registration.

Elections will take place next year. We just had a new INEC chairman and he is getting ready to work. It won’t take a whole year to update voters’ register but I believe it can still be done.

As for electoral reforms, you will notice that since the removal of Maurice Iwu as INEC chairman, nothing else is being heard about electoral reforms and strangely, the voices clamouring for electoral reforms have all died down. They have ceased.

Does that mean that Iwu was the impediment to free and fair election in Nigeria?

That is the question that all those people who are clamouring for electoral reforms should answer. Since Iwu was removed as INEC chairman, they are no more talks and that perhaps could mean that Iwu was the problem but I don’t know.

My questions is, where are the voices? What happened to the clamour? All the civil society groups who are clamouring for the implementation of Uwais reports are no longer talking and I’m also asking them, what really happened to the clamour?

When you said the North met in Arewa House over Jonathan one is not sure whether to call you a Northerner or Yoruba because you come from Kogi, you claim to be a Northerner but you are Yoruba. Which side do you really belong ?

{ Laughs} I like that. And I keep that very close to my chest. But I know the North agreed that Jonathan should contest and if he wins, he will stay for another four years before zoning will return to the North. It is circumstances that brought about this because we are now looking at the other side of the coin. After Jonathan’s tenure, zoning will return to the North.

Well, the next general elections are fast approaching, what advice do you have for Nigerians?

I believe that this next election will be better and more transparent and I urge the people to be more responsible in their voting. The votes should count and at the end of the day, the peoples choice should emerge.

We are confident that next year’s election would be more credible, more transparent and this new INEC will do a better job.
So, are you supporting IBB? What do you think of his aspiration?
It is the people that will decide. He was my boss. He is still my boss. But the North agreed that Jonathan should conclude Yar’Adua’s tenure.

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