By Ben Agande and Gbenga Oke
Chief Dan Nwanyanwu is the chairman of Labour Party. In this interview with Vanguard, he spoke on Nigeria’s 50 years independence celebration, the bomb explosion that rocked the FCT during the celebration, his party’s readiness for 2011 elections, the need for presidential assent to Electoral Act and the principle of one-man-one vote as solution to Nigeria’s many problems. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of Nigeria after 50years of independence?
Well, we have cause to thank God at least that we are together as a nation. We have cause to celebrate because the situation today is not the same as it was in 1960. Nigeria has encountered some stride but we must also accept the fact that we are supposed to be somewhere higher. Some of these shortcomings can be attributed to bad leadership which we have witnessed over the years since independence.
The military also did a lot of damage to this country because they are not meant to govern. Their responsibility is to ensure the unity of the nation but they have been involved in governance thereby destroying the fabrics of our nation.
What I am saying is that it’s a mixed grill effect, the good, the bad and the ugly but I think the bad and the ugly supercede the good because we are living in corruption, we are living without basic infrastructure, unemployment has reached its peak, graduates are all over the place, a situation that has led to crime and criminality, it has led to kidnapping, prostitution and terrorism. So these are some of the things I have to say about our 50years of nationhood.
What is your assessment of the bomb attack that exploded during the 50 years anniversary celebration in Abuja?
First, let me sympathise with the people who lost their loved ones in the incident. I pray God consoles them but we condemn that attack in its entirety. It is wicked, callous and no right thinking patriot will support what transpired that day.
I see those people as cowards who have lost their sense of reasoning and who cannot handle argument, because you become violent only when you have lost power of reasoning. I must tell you it is something that was targeted at Nigerians and Nigeria. It was not an issue for President Goodluck Jonathan or the Federal Government alone, it was an issue for the people of Nigeria and that is why Nigerians will see this fight as a collective one and which we must not stop until the perpetrators are brought to book.
We must have to continue to ask questions about what happened, the people behind it and we are entitled to be informed of what actually happened and that explains why we must encourage the security forces to do thorough job. We have one of the best security outfits in Africa and it can stand tall against any other African security agency. If they want to unravel anything, they can do it within a short time and that is why they must keep Nigerians posted until the mystery is unraveled.
But what is your opinion of government’s response to the situation?
I think government was quick in its response, in directing actions to be taken. When this thing happened, MEND claimed to have done it, President Jonathan said ‘no, MEND didn’t do it.’
That appears to have confused Nigerians and I think that should be the first clue of security agencies to unravel the situation whether indeed the action was that of MEND. What will the Niger Delta people benefit by getting involved in that action when everything is in place to rehabilitate and retrain the militants and Nigeria is spending a good sum of money and most of them are in camps and getting their allowances?
So I think if one or two people who were in MEND decided to do such a thing, we should allow the security forces to do their job instead of the government becoming the spokesman of MEND. I think that is the only area where the government goofed because this is a very high security issue that must be left squarely at the doorstep of security forces.
The bomb blast was politicised to the extent that it became a smear campaign between Jonathan-Sambo Campaign Organisation and that of Ibrahim Babangida. As chairman of a political party, what does this portend for Nigeria as a nation?
This is not an issue that should be politicized, we take exception to that and I must tell you that Nigerians and Nigeria should not be judged by what is happening in the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP). The problem of this country is the PDP, that is why it parades aspirants that have turned this sad event into political tools.
Here, we are talking of Nigerians that lost their lives on their way to celebrate the nation’s independence; we are talking of people who never expected they will not return back to their various homes, some were dead and others injured.
So what we are saying is that we must not politicize this issue because this is a crime against Nigerians, it is not a crime against the President or his government and the President and all those involved must try as much as possible to guard their utterances so that investigation will not be impeded or truncated.
This is a high security issue and we want to know the involvement of the man in South Africa and the government of South Africa, we want to know whether he was paid to do the job, whether he did it through his men here, these are issues that must be unraveled, it is not a political issue and we refused to accept that it should be politicized.
Labour Party seems to have made a little progress since its creation. What are your plans for 2011?
We are preparing for elections. Right now we are working on our wards, we are working on our organs in local governments and states, we are working on strengthening the party structures, that is the much I can tell you because I am not to tell you our strategies towards the election. All I can tell you is that we are working very hard and getting ready for the elections.
By the new Electoral Act, any party that fails to have a candidate at the state House of Assembly or National Assembly will be de-registered. How do you react to that as chairman of Labour Party and does your party feel threatened?
Well, that is for the parties that have not actually worked so hard. I don’t think that affects us because we have gone beyond that level. But I must tell you that most of the parties have refused to do certain things that will enhance their position as political parties.
They prefer to be seen and called NGO and that explains why some parties endorsed a particular presidential candidate.
I don’t think this election is for them because there are certain things you must do now, you must first go for your congresses as at when due, I am not aware any of those parties has gone for congresses, you have to go for primaries where everything will be transparent before you put up a candidate. Many of these parties have been living on INEC subventions which has now stopped.
So any political party that is in this position must do everything to win at least one seat in order to able to exist as a political party and be relevant. If you don’t do it, by the new law, what it means is that you will lose your status as a political party.
But are you in support of de-registration of political parties in Nigeria?
Anyway, if you ask me, I will say no, because the main essence of a political party is not actually to win elections. We have to also look at the freedom of association of people. You have to also look at the UN convention and UN Charter which have to do with the freedom of association, I don’t know how government will manage that but it is left for those parties to challenge that provision in court if they see it as an infringement on their rights.
If you look at the last few years of our democracy, will you say the political structure in this country today contributed to the failure of politicians in moving this nation forward?
No, this republic is the worst we have ever encountered. We have selfish politicians who are only concerned about themselves. I am referring to elected officers from the National Assembly to the governors in their various states. We have come to a sorry state where nobody passes law unless it is going to be in his favour.
Look at how the National Assembly under the 2010 Electoral Act dictated to INEC the sequence of election, that is a selfish provision. They decided to put their own election first, it is selfish. The Labour Party has already gone to Court to challenge it.
Let me give you another example, if you look at section 89 (1) or so where they now put a provision that no special adviser or political appointee should be part and parcel of a congress or the primaries of a political party, the PDP dominated National Assembly did that because of their own experiences, but the experiences have got nothing to do with other political parties, the issue of who attends congresses and primaries of a political party is the business of that party, it is not the business of the National Assembly, so that goes to show you how much they think about themselves only.
They have seen themselves as the beginning and the end. You amended some sections of the constitution and due to pride, you say the President should not assent to it. I am not aware of any Act of the National Assembly that will become law if the President fails to assent to it. So these are some of the things we are saying and if you look at those in the Executive, we have no good roads in Nigeria, all the roads have become death traps and in some cases, some of these roads have been awarded and reawarded.
For example , contract for the Abuja –Lokoja road has been awarded more than three times and payment made and yet that road has never been done one inch. It is something that has replicated itself round this country, both at the federal and at the state levels. Corruption has taken the centre stage in Nigeria and the body put in charge has not been able to fight it.
Having said all these, what do you think is the way forward for Nigeria?
The way out for Nigeria is one-man-one-vote. The way out is that Nigerians must be given the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice, election must be free, fair, transparent and credible and a level playing field must be provided. Nigerians must elect their leaders and they must also be in a position to recall their leaders if they have performed below expectation or if they have deviated from the mandate they have been given.
Situations whereby results were written in Government Houses must stop. You cannot plant corn and expect cassava. These people are not accountable to the people of Nigeria, that is why you see them making obnoxious laws, laws that will not improve democracy, laws that will not put food on the table of Nigerians.
So that is why we are saying that there must be one-man-one-vote and the vote must count and be counted. It is only when we do that, that Nigeria will have leaders that will realize that some people are waiting to see how they will perform, and if they don’t do well, they won’t be returned to office.
But will you say the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega has restored confidence in Nigerians?
Well, the appointment of Jega is an improvement on the last INEC because he is coming on board with some pedigree and antecedents and integrity unlike the last INEC leadership that was shameless and reckless in almost all its activities. But that is not to say it will guarantee a free and fair election and that is why we have to follow him closely to ensure he does not derail along the line. We are watching with keen interest and we can assure you that if the new leadership derails, we will surely call it to order as a political party.
Two personalities namely, Mr Donald Duke and Chief Dele Momodu are aspiring to contest the presidential election on Labour Party platform. Can you confirm the position of your party on these aspirants?
As at now, Labour Party has no presidential candidate; everybody aspiring is a presidential aspirant. At the end of day when the final timetable might have been released by INEC, we will know what to do.
Now the tempo has gone down because we are all waiting for the timetable, so by the time it comes out, you will see some other aspirants coming in. We will screen them and those who are qualified to run will run for the primaries and it will be transparent. So we are not seeing anybody as our candidate yet because we have not done primaries.
They are still coming and as at now, I can confirm two people have given their letters of intent and we know it will be up to seven aspirants based on the feelers we are receiving. So we are not discussing that yet until we get there and we will give to Nigerians the candidates that will win election.