By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
General John Shagaya, former ECOMOG Commander and a Senator of the Federal Republic takes a swipe at politicians seeking automatic ticket, saying they are not on ground in their constituencies and states.
He also speaks on 2011 general elections, zoning and other political issues.
What do you have to say about the performances of elected officials in the year ending. Would you say they have done well in their categories?
Since I am one of them, you’d be rest assured I’be very selfish to say that the elected officials, beginning with the legislators have done the best they can within the confines of the offices they were elected into. I think the cry in the states has been about uneven developments and within the federal government, it is the non performance of the budget or non acceptable standard of performance of the budget in the year. I think the National Assembly has extended the life of 2011 budget to have the executive to at least perform up to 75 per cent.
Outside that, I think the country has achieved some good peace. Due to political activities, there are now few armed robbery cases, except of course, for the areas in the South-South, South-East where the new business of capturing people in the name of kidnap for money is thriving. That is for those who have high kidnap value. Those who don’t have kidnap values are intimidated and left.
I know that in these areas, politicians have taken quite a chunk of some of these nefarious activities. But I believe that after the elections of 2011, the spate of the criminality will reduce. I’m also happy that the government is addressing the issue of security through employment of the youth who are the most vulnerable and when we talk of criminality, it is due to lack of employment.
Nigeria looks forward to 2011 with hope and in the belief that our government and governance will continue and will improve. Some Nigerians are not asking for anything other than performance and accountability to the electorate from different political offices, especially from the executives.
Some elected officials lost out in the courts especially governors. In the South-West alone, four governors lost in the courts to the rightful winners of the election conducted in 2007. What does that say about our elections in this country?
It is unfortunate as a PDP card-carrying member that we lost some of the states in the South-West. It is not all over the country. This also included Delta state but I will not comment on the Delta issue because it is not yet final. I am not a soothsayer and so, it would be wrong for me to gamble with what the decision of the voters would be.
I think the lesson there for us is that as a ruling party, when elections are being conducted, we shouldn’t take the ordinary voter for granted. That is the big lesson we have to learn. The second lesson is that Nigerians especially political office seekers must learn that politics and occupation of political offices is not life and death.
So, rigging, and criminalities associated with either distortions of ballot papers and ballot boxes should be eliminated because when we have very sincere voters who insist on protecting their votes from the polling units to the last counting point, we will have what we had in the South-West.
As an office seeker too, what I have learnt is to respect the votes of the voters to avoid any litigations. My concluding remarks on this issue is that I believe that 2011 general elections will witness less litigations because political office holders have learnt a lot of lessons from the chains of litigations from 2007 till date.
The word ‘automatic’ has become common in our political dictionary because some elected office holders especially governors want automatic tickets to contest another term in office just as legislators want to become automatic members of NEC of their parties. Are we going to continue in that light?
Well, thank God the National Assembly has rescinded that. In politics, you use every tool to bargain. I believe all the National Assembly was trying to prove is that by right, they represent their constituency. Two, that it was possible, they could become elected members of the NEC of their parties. But of course, reasons prevailed that political parties offices should prevail over elected officials.
So, that has been laid to rest. On the issue of automatic tickets for another term in office, even when that was raised on the floor of the National Assembly especially in the Senate, it was rejected because it is believed that most Senators who are seeking automatic tickets are those who are not on ground in their various constituencies.
Anyone who is on ground within his constituency doesn’t need to ask anyone for automatic ticket because automatic ticket can only be granted by the constituencies. I subscribe to the school of thought that says there will not be automatic ticket for anybody and not only the governors.
But it is true that some governors who believe that they can use that to gamble and to pretend that they are the best if they can support and facilitate the president’s emergence in the next year may not necessarily be in charge of their states. They may not necessarily have absolute control over the voters who most of them, read no newspapers, view no television and don’t even listen to radio. Sometimes, these are promises within the states capitals.
But like I always maintain, the fellow who will decide in the general election will be the voter. The voters will decide. It is good for politicians to recognise that the smallest voter has the final say; and not necessarily the governor, the senator or the Rep some of whom do not earn the respect of their constituencies. I will give a typical example of my state, Plateau where the governor does not deserve an automatic ticket but it is being said that he has an automatic ticket and of course, with all the criminalities, ethnicities and all that have been happening in Plateau, only God knows what the voters may decide to do in Plateau.
Well, the governors have endorsed President Jonathan for 2011 and that has earned them automatic tickets too.
The governors who don’t have control over their states are the ones asking for automatic tickets. The performing active governors have not spoken or asked for automatic tickets because their constituencies which is their states will automatically deliver them without making anybody in Abuja to say they must be returned.
The National Assembly has been perceived to be selfish in their demands lately. Apart from automatic membership of NEC of their parties, they have been alleged to be spending 25 per cent overhead of the country’s annual budget.
It is not possible that the National Assembly will collect 25 per cent overhead of the annual budget. I don’t want to contradict the Governor of the Central Bank but you read presentations of budget every year in this country and the facts and figures are presented in every years’s budget. You will be a good judge to say whether only one person or organisation is taking 25 per cent of the budget.
I know how much I earn as a Senator. But I don’t know how much is being used for the expansion of the National Assembly. You’d noticed that lots of buildings are going on. At the time the National Assembly was conceived; it was done for fewer members of senate because they were fewer but today, there are 109 constituencies and so, you see new buildings springing up to accommodate every senator.
That costs a lot and that is between the Minister of Finance and the Executive and the National Assembly Commission. We are law-makers, not law-breakers, and this is not something we should be discussing. Our salaries and allowances were given by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission that has 37 members. They fixed our salaries and there is no secret in it.
It is also known that the highest paid Nigerian is the President whose salary is not more than N3 million. And so, one has difficulties in understanding the stand-point and other arguments on jumbo salaries for National Assembly members. A governor may be earning N2m or N3million but the cost of running government or government house could be a million times more than the salary of a governor.
So, if I earn N1 million or N2 million a month, the cost of running the National Assembly could be more than that. But I do know that my salary is only about N1.4 million. My take-home pay in the last three and half years is less than N900,000 but if you put the entire cost of running the National Assembly as part of our salaries and allowances, that is different. Democracy is expensive.
You have to maintain the security of the national assembly complex, the generating sets and other things that go with the running of the national assembly. These things don’t go into the pockets of National Assembly members. Nigerians need to understand that. If I am earning that much, I will not be living in Karo . Since I got elected into the National Assembly, I have not bought a new car. I am still using the car that is about seven years old.
Why then was the budget of the National Assembly reduced by 30 per cent?
It is because some of the structures that were embarked upon in the last few years are nearing completion. So, the budget is bound to go down. I expect that by next year, with 109 senators that would come, and the number of House of Representatives members will be occupying their new place that has been under construction in the last four, five years. So, the capital cost will somehow be eliminated except of course, there are libraries to be built and high-tech equipments for security monitoring. Nigeria is operating democracy and it is doing so like every other civilised nation. It takes quite a lot to keep the system going.
Crises in the parties have not ceased. Arguments about zoning in the PDP have not ceased.
Democracy is enshrined in our constitution in a way that everyone of us is free to express our views without intimidation and without harassment. It is our fundamental rights to express ourselves. So, I wouldn’t hold anybody responsible for expressing their personal views on national issues.
It is the decisions that will come out of all these comments and views that are expressed by concerned Nigerians that will be of concern to me. Zoning or no zoning, the President is campaigning. He has a number two from Zaria which is in the North.
He visited the three geo-political zones in the North. He visited North-Central where I come from on Tuesday. We met in Lafia; he was in North-East in Bauchi and he has gone to North West. I don’t think all those stalwarts that came to receive him said anything about zoning. Those who are talking about zoning are saying it would have been desirable if that is done because it would create a platform where each of our geo-political zones would be hopeful that it would soon be their turn to produce Nigeria’s President in which case we would be operating like a family. So, every comment on zoning is right.
Since Atiku emerged consensus candidate of Northern Political Leaders Forum, he seems to be at ‘war’ with Jonathan. Now, supporters from both sides have gone to court to stop the other. Recently too, IBB, threatened to quit PDP if the party does not implement zoning. Where is that taking Nigeria?
Political party is not a religion and nobody forces anybody to join a political party. If you believe that anyone can join a political association based on the philosophy of that association, if the party desists from that philosophy, the fellow is free to leave and join or align with any other political party that the philosophy suits his or her belief.
Again, that is enshrined in our constitution. It is our fundamental right to associate and befriend people all over the country. So, we shouldn’t hold people on their personal views that they dared to express. We should hold people who are in government, who make policy statements that affect the lives of the millions of Nigerians. By the time you begin to waste time to listen to the views of 140 million Nigerians, you will arrive at no answer but if it is the views of National Assembly, Houses of Assembly, governors, the Presidency, that touches on governance and the day-to-day running of the country.
So, Nigerians are bound to comment and so, I would suggest that Nigerians sieve the facts out of the comments that are made by certain individuals and those facts could be used to moderate the running of government. People go to court to trash out their views and that is why the law courts are there. And I think the judges significantly have done so well in tackling political issues, their relevancies and the facts presented before them.
The judiciary has been the most stabilising institution in this country and I respect them for their time in all that happened especially in electioneering matters. I doff my cap for the judiciary because it is the facts that are presented to them that they look at and take decisions. They have no business with the comments of Nigerians or individuals and market women.
The courts are a necessarily institution. They are the final arbiter that sort out grievances of individuals, of institutions, against their fundamental rights, against the wrong that are being perpetrated against the society. The court must respect the views of all individuals that come before them, they have to sieve those views and weigh them against the background of all the facts presented before they take a decision. I also do know that the present electoral law that has just been passed has a safeguard as to how long certain litigations can last and I believe that is good enough for the running of the society.
Finally, what are your expectations from INEC on the conduct of 2011 general elections?
I think from the pronouncement of the Chairman of INEC and from the observations of what the resident commissioners in the states are doing, one will believe that we will be witnessing a free and fair election in 2011. More so, the electoral laws that have been passed make INEC only observers. That means that the burden of presenting good candidates, defending the electoral processes lies largely with even the political parties themselves.
There are 62 registered political parties in Nigeria and if one does not play according to the rules of the game, the other political parties are bound to go to court and so, we may end up with what has happened in the South West and I think that will take care of itself.
How would the crisis in Jos affect the coming elections?
Which crisis? What is happening in Plateau is limited to only one or two local governments. You are talking of Jos North and possibly Jos South, not beyond that. It is not something affecting the other sixteen local governments within the state. So, it is my belief that elections will take place under very peaceful atmosphere and under the watchful eyes of the police and other security agencies. We will not witness any problem.
But what is happening in those two local governments cannot be worse than what is happening in the South-South. Kidnapping is a whole industry that has moved from Rivers to Abia and even Anambra. I’m not saying the issues should be there in Jos but it is so minor when compared to crises in other areas of the federation.