By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
PDP has decided Jonathan will contest â€” Gemade
Barnabas Gemade, former national Chairman of the ruling PDP, member of NEC and BOT of the party in this interview explains why the NEC of the party which is the highest decision-making body of the party has decided that President Jonathan would contest for Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s second term in office.
According to him, in line with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Jonathan has inherited everything that pertained to Yarâ€™Adua as President from the very day he became Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s vice and that includes his right to a second term in office.
There are too many issues with the forthcoming elections: electoral reforms, voters registration and zoning. What is being done about these?
I donâ€™t consider those issues as pressing issues that could affect the conduct ofÂ elections. These are normal issues in developing a democratic system where every arm of government, every organization of government has the right to exercise its responsibility the way it should be done.
The budget required by INEC is very huge and when one analyzes the need to satisfy Nigerians that credible elections must hold, you will agree with me that there is need for fresh voters register which will prove to everyone that we do not have manipulated elections in any constituency in Nigeria.
But whether those previous lists are bad or not, you cannot convince Nigerians any longer because of the impression they had against the Maurice Iwu-led INEC. Even for the confidence of onlookers, itâ€™s good that we have a new voters register and Iâ€™m sure that at the end of the day, all these issues would be stretched out to ensure that INEC moves democracy forward.
I do not think that the issue of electoral law would in any way cause any problem. I agree that there are certain positions in the electoral law that need to be stretched out, especially inÂ the executive arm of government. Appointed officers are suddenly being removed. And you know nobody wants to have an advantage that existed disappearing.
At the end of the day, it is for the good of everyone concerned for a solution to be arrived at early so that the electoral law can be in place for INEC to move forward with its preparation.
There is belief that some of these delays are deliberate so that there would be cause to postpone elections to the benefit of some people.
The constitution of the country is very clear. There is no way that anybody can succeed in postponing elections. It shouldnâ€™tÂ be conceived that there is a deliberate attempt to extend the tenure of anybody or to suspend elections for whatever reason.
I think Nigerians are quick to think that whenever things donâ€™t seem to be getting completed, that somebody somewhere wants to take advantage.Â But the electoral law has been speedily crafted and I believe the President is looking at it and would sign it soon.
I donâ€™t think anybody would be able to postpone elections inÂ this country.
Besides the electoral law, we have this issue of the amended constitution and many are not sure if it has taken effect or still awaiting the accent of the President.
The national assembly has the responsibility to amend the constitution and the state assemblies have the responsibilities to pass certain sections of it that apply to them. If the people whose job it is to amend the constitution have done so, I feel the job is complete.
It is only outsiders who think the job has not been done. I donâ€™t want to join issues with anybody but I want to believe the Senate President or the national assembly when he said that the amendment of the constitution has been completed.
If anybody thinks that there is any place where it says that the Presidentâ€™s accent is required, then, they should show us. But if there is no such a thing, then, there is no reason why we should begin a new debate. Nigerians like public debate a lot.
Would you thenÂ say the amended constitution has taken effect?
From the day it was completed, I would say it has taken effect. I want to believe that the 1999 constitution has been amended by the national assembly and it has taken effect immediately.
One of the issues Nigeria is battling with today is the North/South divide and the issue of the six-geo-political; zones as it involves zoning of presidency. What is your opinion on this? ACF thinks all the parties should field Northerners as presidential candidates.
I donâ€™t think there is need for further argument on this. Until the political parties call for primaries, people would continue to talk about zoning. After the primaries, the debate will die a natural death.Â I have always been in Arewa Consultative Forum and I donâ€™t think there was anytime in the past where we decided where the parties would get their candidates from. We shouldnâ€™t start now.
And the issue of zoning is strictly a PDP affair. We crafted it in the party in 1998. We were using it all along and we are still using it. It is not the business of anyone else to come and tell us how we can use our zoning.
So, it was in PDPâ€™s constitution from the onset?
Yes. And we have already taken a position on the matter in our National Executive Committee, NEC, which is the highest body that deals with issues ofÂ this nature.
After PDP took that decision , South-East and Northern elders met and still agreed the North should hold on till 2015.
Nobody will stop anybody from holding a meeting and talking about zoning or expressing their views. That is their own private decision but the leaders of PDP have decided Jonathan would run and we are working on the basis ofÂ that.
Those who support zoning say that Jonathan should not contest because it is not the turn of the South to produce the President.
They are wrong. Zoning has never ever stated that there are areas where candidates are not allowed from. Whenever we said that this zone would produce the president, we never stopped others from other zones from contesting primaries. We have examples in both the 2003 and 2007 primaries ofÂ the party.
There were contestants from all parts ofÂ Nigeria and they all took part in the primaries. And we are talking about PDP here. And we know that in line with the zoning formula, the incumbent President is enjoying the zoning that he was elected on in 2007 and we will continue with that zoning till 2015.
In other words the party is fielding Jonathan in 2011?
In other words, it is very appropriate for him to contest. It is not even a privilege, it is a right. As an incumbent President, he is still in his first tenure and therefore, has a right to seek a second term. That is not a privilege. It is a right.
But those opposed to his contesting feel it is not the turn of the South-South and they are right in their assessment.
We donâ€™t have zoning on the basis of the six geo-political zones. We fought for that in the ratified constitutional conference and failed. This issue is not about the South-South. It is the Presidentâ€™s right to contest the presidential election as a candidate like very other Nigerian within the constitution.
Well, one thinks that if the PDP says it is between the North and the South, then the South should not contest in 2011.
Why do you think so?
Simple. The South was there for eight years with Obasanjo at the helm of affairsÂ and it is the turn of the North, that is, if we follow the North/South argument.
But you donâ€™t understand this business. Those of us who crafted the thing in PDP constitution know that presidency involves the president and the vice president. So, once the two have one ticket, when one of themÂ is dead and one is still living, he has the full rights to enjoy that zoning because the constitution gives him the right to take over from his boss.
As long as one person is still living, that zoning is still operational, is still valid and must be enjoyed to the maximum. So, the two and half years done by late President Yarâ€™Adua continues with Jonathan and that also involves having the right to another term in office starting from 2011.
So, Jonathan will contest inÂ place ofÂ Yarâ€™Adua.
That is what the Nigeriaâ€™s constitution says. And when the President dies, the Vice takes over the full rights ofÂ the late president. So, as far as PDP is concerned, Jonathan has inherited the full rights of Yarâ€™Adua right from May 29, 2007 till May 29, 2015.
So, the argument is unnecessary?
There is no argument. We who introduced the zoning formula know there is no argument. And PDP has lived up to its own expectation by taking a decision. We are not stopping anybody from contesting primaries. In 2003 when Obasanjo was seeking a second term in office, some of us from the North including myself also contested.
And 2007, when we zoned the presidency to the north, many southerners contested the primaries and nobody shouted. The elections are quite close and right now, we shouldnâ€™t be discussing issues which have no relevance to what we are doing.
Any argument that infringes on the human right of any Nigerian is an argument that is null and void.
The problem is the division that this argument is causing between the North and the South.
No, there is no division because this is not a case of all the Northerners speaking in one voice and all the Southerners speaking in another one voice. It is when there is a common position by one group as opposed to the other that you talk about division but there is no such thing.
All over the country, different people are speaking different things and such opinions cannot divide the country.
So, Nigerians should not worry about such issues?
There is no cause for alarm,. And of course, Nigerians should understand that this is politics and sometimes, when arguments like this come up, people make their argumentsÂ based on their own selfish interests. Only few of us speak the way that the interest of the country will be promoted.
I will also ask Nigerians to put God in reckoning because no matter howÂ we argue these things, at the end ofÂ the day, God will take pre-eminence by putting the person that he wants.
Nigerians should develop faith in what is going on because we can see transparency, things are being laid on the table. The appointment ofÂ the umpires ofÂ the next election was done transparently. There were complaints that some people were party members and they were promptly dropped.
And when the chairman of INEC was nominated, all Nigerians hailed him as a straight forward individual whose integrity was tested and trusted. I believe he needs the support of every Nigerian to work towards ensuring a free and fair elections in 2011.