By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Political Editor
Second Republic governor of Lagos State is still active in politics even at 81 years.Only this week, he presided over a meeting where some political parties came together and agreed on fielding common candidates in next year’s elections in the bid to wrestle power from the ruling PDP.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he goes down the memory lane, and speaks on national issues against the background of the nation’s 50th Independence celebration.
What is your reaction to calls by some prominent northern groups and individuals that President Good luck Jonathan should resign or be impeached as a result of the comments he made over the October 1 bomb blasts in Abuja?
First of all I do not see the reason for the President to resign over the Abuja bomb blasts. The security outfits should ensure that those behind the bombing are brought to book. That is what I expect the presidency to say. I cannot see how he should be impeached for that.
What can you say about the general insecurity in the country which has manifested in the Abuja bomb blast, the high incidence of kidnaping and the recent killing of the Deputy National Chairman of the All Nigeria People Party (ANPP) in Maiduguri ?
It is a serious matter. It is a matter of worry for all Nigerians. The Presidency has a duty to check this high level of insecurity in the country. President Jonathan has to look into the security set-up nation-wide. Security of life and property is the first thing every citizen should be assured of. I would urge the President to mobilize all the resources at his disposal to change this scenario. I think the president should be encouraged to do everything possible to bring this situation to an end.
Would you say our leaders have learnt from the mistakes of the first republic?
I cannot say that our leaders have not learnt from the mistakes of the first republic. One can say we expect our leaders to find answers to the nation’s problems. We fought for independence so that we can be in control our own affairs. We wanted to be a sovereign nation and we have achieved that. But we now have a duty to behave as a sovereign nation. I must say that the security situation must take precedent.
The 2011 general elections are around the corner. Given the unfolding scenario across the country don’t you think it would be a repeat of the 1964 federal elections and the 1965 western regional elections?
I hope not. We have seen enough of rigged elections. What the people of Nigeria would like to see now is an era of peace. We want to see a country where every citizen has the opportunity to live a good life. We want to have a country in which life is precious; a country which places premium on the welfare of every citizen; a country where every Nigerian has the opportunity to express his potentials to the fullest in order to develop himself or herself.
Can you comment on the ruling of a Lagos Federal High Court that the on-going constitution amendment exercise- which has been embarked upon to accommodate INEC’s extension of time for next year’s poll – should be halted?
I think the ruling of the judge was an unusual one. There is no provision in the Constitution that empowers a Court to stop the National Assembly from debating any issue or taking any decision. What the court can do is to wait until after a decision has been taken, then the court can look into one aspect of the house’s decision or another as to whether it is legally binding or not. This is the first time I have ever heard that a Court interfered in the conduct of the business of the House.
How can you compare the opposition groups of the first republic which included the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) and the present opposition parties as represented by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and others?
One can say there are too many political parties in the country today. These parties were not established based on known programmes and policies. But during the first republic, we had few parties and every party made its policies clear.
There were the progressive parties and there were the conservative parties and they had different programmes. The issues were clear and the position of each party was well known. The choice of the people was also known. But today we do not know what the different parties stand for. Some tend towards adopting a progressive policy but most of them have no policy.
My own appeal to all of them is that for the purpose of having a healthy democracy, let the members of all these political parties make up their minds as to what they want for this country, so that everybody can know what they stand for.
If for instance, a party has a policy on free education at all levels for Nigerians, it should let the people know about it. This would enable the people to know what political party to vote for. But today the political parties do not pretend to have any programme at all. I would advice that we return to the politics of programmes and policies so that the people of Nigeria could be properly guided.
What can you say were the lessons you learnt from the treason trials of 1963 in which you were involved together with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Enahoro?
Well, the trial has come and gone. It was a treason trial that shouldn’t have happened. As you would recall , no evidence was established. It was a cooked up case against the opposition. I can really say that Nigeria has learnt her lesson and I would not like to see a repetition of that ugly incident.
Former Governor of old Imo State, the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe out of frustration over the turn of events while he was still in office called for the return of the British colonial master……
Cuts in: I knew the late Governor of old Imo State, Dr. Sam Mbakwe. He was a very interesting character; he was a very good friend of mine. He made some controversial statements. I recall his call for the return of the colonial masters. Quite frankly, I regarded it as a joke.
This is because even a slave who has been freed cannot go back to call his former oppressor to come back and continue oppressing him. Sam was just like himself; he was angry about the situation of the country.
There can never been any justification in my mind for the return of Nigeria to colonial rule. We fought against the colonial government and won our independence; it is now left to us to rule ourselves and to insist on the right type of governance. We already have freedom; nobody can forgo freedom freely. Even our former colonial masters also have their own problems.
They may not even accept to recolonise us if we go back to them since they also have to attend to their own citizens. My position is that the fight for independence for Nigeria was totally justified. We have struggled this far.
There is nothing we can substitute for the freedom of a man to live his own life and do his own things in his own way. If we have problems, it might be within our sovereignty. What we need is a government that is sensitive to the needs of Nigerians. We have no excuse at all for making Nigeria worse than it was under colonial rule.
You must be aware of the on-going debate on whether the late first republic Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa died as a result of gunshots or ill-health?
Well, I have not bothered myself about that debate. I take it that God controls our lives; He is the giver and taker of life. I do not want to bother myself about what way or how he decides to take a man’s life. It is for us to thank God for the life he lived.
As for Tafawa Balewa, I believe he did his best for this country. He was the only Prime Minister we ever had. During the period he served, I knew him personally. He had a gentle character. He loved Nigeria very much and he did his very best to serve Nigeria.
There is a big debate on zoning which has been raging on for some time; some politicians from the northern part of the country have been insisting that only a northerner should be allowed to emerge as President in 2011. What is your position on this debate?
My position is that zoning of offices cannot be a substitute for good governance. I believe that we should rather consider the policies and programmes of the various aspirants for different offices.
In other words, what matters is not where a Nigerian comes from, but what he has to deliver; whether the person is from the northern zone or southern zone should not matter. What matters is once he gets into office, he should be a President that should be fair to all. I expect a President to have a government that is fully representative and which seeks the good of every part of the country.
That is the reason why we have the Federal Character Commission. I think that is good; the Federal Character Commission should ensure that federal appointments are spread to every part of the country.
Beyond that, I think it is not right to zone political offices based on where people come from. I don’t think the so-called northern leaders should be bothered about whether the President comes from the North, South, East or west; instead they should be bothered about whether he can deliver.
I would have expected them to insist that the policies and programmes of the late President Umar Yar’Adua should be executed by President Jonathan. In any case, President Jonathan was the Vice-President and it was not possible to ask the Vice-President to resign. One can expect that the Vice-President had the support of the late President, otherwise he wouldn’t have been Vice-President. We should be looking at the programmes of Jonathan has instead of diverting his attention. Some are even talking of impeachment.
What is President Jonathan’s crime for him to be impeached? I am surprised that my good friend Adamu Ciroma has been linked with this type of call. I am surprised because he is not that type of person. So far President Jonathan has committed no crime; therefore he cannot be impeached.
I hope that my friend Ciroma would raise the level of our political debate higher rather than that of chauvinism.
What is your position on the on-going debate on whether Governor Babatunde Fashola should get a second term or not given the political undercurrents in the politics of Lagos State?
Definitely, I would say that Governor Fashola has impressed me in his first term of office. I think he has been a dynamic Governor who seems to be focused. It appears to me that he has a clear idea of what the state needs and the courage to pursue those needs.
I believe he should be given the opportunity to execute the programmes he has in mind. I believe it would do Lagos State a lot of good if he is allowed to have a second tern so that he can complete his projects in the state.