Although the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is yet to pick its presidential standard bearer, a chieftain of the party, Dr. Obinna Uzoh, says the fate of the PDP hangs on its zoning principle.

In an interactive session with journalists in Abuja, he also defines the path the South-East should toe and endorsed Genl Ibrahim Babangida’s presidential aspiratio. Execerpts:

Last week,  Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in an advertorial, expressed support for President Goodluck Jonathan, while also supporting zoning. As a key politician from the South-East and member of the zone’s political intelligentsia, is this the product of consensus?

Obinna Uzoh

That advertorial is not the position of South East. If it were it is not only one person that would have authored and signed it. In the said advertorial, it was only Amb Ralph Uwechue who signed.

We know that Ohanaeze is not a one-man organization. There is a secretary general and other executives. Have you ever wondered why they did not sign if that was actually the position of Ohanaeze? I doubt if Amb. Uwechue actually signed it. If he did, then he must have his private reasons for doing so. I suspect that he may have been under pressure to do so, if he actually signed the advertorial.

However, I want you to know that Igbo are too sophisticated to take such a position.  The Ohanaeze, which represents all Igbo, would not commit such political suicide.

Ohanaeze, in the true sense of it, had variously expressed the desire to have an Igbo become president in 2015 and they know the man who had made a promise in that regard.

Ohanaeze is solidly behind Babangida. They cannot be hoodwinked.  Uwechue’s view, which he wants the world to believe that he spoke for Igbo is inconceivable. He only canvassed his own personal positions.

The issue of zoning in your party, the PDP, has simply refused to die. Ohanaeze also expressed an unambiguous position on the issue. What’s your take?

Clarity in evaluating politically sensitive issues is important. Clarity is lacking in several of the positions being canvassed to kill the zoning principle in PDP. The considerable heat generated over the issue of zoning underlies its seriousness as a party concept. It was not lightly conceived.

A lot of thought was invested in its conceptualisation and the larger, peculiar Nigerian picture was taken into account. This was why it was a written component of the party’s constitution. Notwithstanding the political challenges, fears and reservation from some quarters, that principle should be adhered to closely.

A section of the PDP has decided, in its wisdom that President Goodluck Jonathan can run for the 2011 presidential polls and simultaneously that other contenders within PDP can also run.

This sets the stage for the next phase of political engagements that will shape the future of PDP as the nation’s ruling party and possibly determine its viability or otherwise.

Anybody who says that PDP has killed zoning by saying that President Jonathan could contest is wrong. The zoning principle was done after series of meetings by the NWC, NEC and then it was endorsed at a convention.

If the party genuinely wants to jettison zoning, as a principle enshrined in its constitution, the same process would be followed. That  means that  the NWC, NEC and finally the National Convention would  have to expunge the clause from the party constitution. Until this is done, the principle remains and the party’s executives, as stated by the PDP constitution, would have to enforce it.

The letter by the National Chairman of PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, when he was the national secretary and Chief Tony Anenih, as chairman of the BOT of the PDP underlined zoning. There is no ambiguity about it. PDP’s viability, as an  important political party, hangs on its zoning principle, as enshrined in its constitution. I don’t see our great party making a mistake on this.

It’s no secret that you remain a consistent advocate of a Babangida presidency in 2011. Of all the PDP candidates in contention currently, why are you supporting the former military president?

Gen Ibrahim Babangida is not a political greenhorn by any parameter of evaluation. He did not lightly signal his intention to contest the 2011 presidential polls.

It was a product of deep introspection, a trademark trait of his. With due respect to other contenders, I believe that at this moment of our national history and the rapid changes impacting the international arena, Nigeria needs a deep personality and thinker to guide its journey.

Babangida is the man. There are no sentiments here.  Babangida enjoys wide followership in Nigeria today, despite the efforts of paid propagandists to paint a contrary picture. Because PDP controls an overwhelming majority of governments in Nigeria, including the Federal Government, its fate has fundamental connections with Nigeria’s fate. Many are probably not aware of this.

Nigeria must thread very carefully, as it navigates this critical bend in its democratic journey. Babangida is ready to submit himself to the electoral verdict of Nigerians. This position was clearly reinforced when he declared his presidential interest recently. He has that fundamental right.

Nigerians, in effect, must decide who their next president should be and this process must be fair this time. The era of impunity and electoral outcomes without electoral processes is over. That’s why some of us are saying that the orchestrated campaign of calumny against Babangida is undemocratic. Efforts have been made across the country to frustrate his campaign and rallies. This is bad for our democracy. We should let the electorate decide.

Babangida has been there before. What will he do differently this time?

He wants to change the fortunes of Nigeria for the better. He did it before and wants to do it even better this time. His previous scorecard justifies his comeback bid. It is there for all to see. He is a man who has learned deeply from history and is now ready to provide firm direction to our drifting country.

Babangida’s previous administration established NDE, BPE, People’s Bank, Community Bank, NERFUND, NALDA, and Export Processing Zones. Sadly, these significant innovations, policies and efforts were truncated for the reason of lack of continuity by government after him.

Nobody would forget his effort in the energy sector. To have stable power supply, the Babangida administration built Shiroro dam, refurbished Kainji, Jebba and Afam dams and power stations. He also developed Egbin and Sapele. In the oil and gas sector, it  took the initiative to sign the first-ever MOUs with the international oil companies to increase Nigeria’s reserves.

He invited other international players, such as Statoil to join in exploration and production. He also  actualized the Bonny LNG project, which had been on the drawing board since 1962. He  built the second Port Harcourt refinery; constructed petroleum storage reserves, expanded pipelines distribution and also laid the foundation for the Eket Oso Condensate plant in 1991.

The then Babangida administration strengthened the Nigerian educational foundation through establishment of a Primary Education Fund to ensure prompt payment of salaries to teachers. It also promulgated Education Tax Decree of 1993, now ETF, aimed at sharing the burden of funding of education with the organised private sector.

It oversaw the ASUU/FG agreement of 1992, which stemmed the brain drain from Nigeria  and established many specialized universities – agriculture, technology, etc.  Deregulation of higher education, which it initiated, paved the way for private universities. It also established many specialised centres, such as the Mathematical Centre.

Babangida created Akwa Ibom and Delta states in South-South, among other states in Nigeria.  Of course, I cannot exhaust the host of policy innovations his administration incepted. Look at the contenders’ field currently, who matches these? None. I also believe an IBB presidency would benefit the South-South immensely. Don’t forget his late dear wife hails from that zone.

The South-South women and all women should support IBB. No previous or current first lady has achieved what Maryam Babangida did for the rural Nigerian.

At a fundamental level, Igbo are expected to play a pivotal role in the presidential elections in 2011. Against the mixed signals emanating from their ranks, what is the way forward for your folks in the South-east?

The Igbo nation should vote for Babangida. They should rally round him, he has made a specific pledge to ensure that a Nigerian of Igbo extraction clinches the presidency in 2015. We should take into cognizance what he did for us in the past. I recall that in 1991, prominent Igbo traditional rulers feted him with the revered title of  Ogugua Ndigbo, in recognition and appreciation of his services to Igboland.

Decades since after the civil war, the South-East still claims marginalisation. Is there really basis for these strident claims?

Of course, there are. This question also leads us to issues related to 2011. That’s why I counseled that the South-East should work for their future today. That’s why Babangida, as things stand, is our best bet for South East. Since Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s “no victor, no vanquished” mantra after the war, the zone has not been fully integrated.

We have five states while other zones have six each. The implication is that South East gets the least revenue and federal appointments. Until an Igbo become president that marginalisation would not end. South East therefore, has a date with destiny in 2015, when one of our own should be president. For this to come to pass we have to support Babangida, who has pledged to make this happen.

What would you say about the National Assembly’s rejection of President Jonathan’s proposed amendment to the Electoral Act?

We must commend the National Assembly for taking the bold step to stop what would have been a foundation for practicing against democracy.

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