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April polls: ‘Jonathan won’t take the north, other zones for granted’

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OLOROGUN Eddy Olafeso is a former Information Commissioner under the immediate past Governor Olusegun Agagu in Ondo State. He is now a  member of the South-West Jonathan/Sambo Presidential Campaign Committee. Olafeso  speaks to Sunday Vanguard on the chances of President Goodluck Jonathan in the April polls.

President Goodluck Jonathan

What are the chances of President Goodluck Jonathan now that the North believes it  is their turn to produce the next president and the South-West is embracing the presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria?
There is something about the South-West that you must recognize. All the victories of the ACN governors were through the Appeal Court. If you look at the way the got the judgments, you will know that they are not the majority. Time will tell, by the time the April general elections are held, you will know where the South-West lies.

Are you telling me that the South-West will want to go back to the opposition again when they know the implications after three decades and we have so many to tell in terms of poverty, underdevelopment, infrastructural decay to show for it? The South-West is one of the most educated in the country and they know what they are doing. We are all voting massively for Goodluck Jonathan.

The North is not as monolithic as you think. The intelligential in the North believes  that this is what should happen to Nigeria because everybody, no matter where you are born, should be free to contest as president from any part of the country. It is to the advantage of the entire nation and other political parties should emulate what  the PDP  is doing. It is not true that the North was not happy about the emergence of Jonathan. The voting pattern in the North during the presidential primary  is a testimony to that.

We are working hard and we are not taking any zone for granted. We need this to make our country great and maintain its leadership position in Africa.

There are allegations that delegates at the January presidential primary  in Abuja were bribed before voting for the president. How can you claim that there was transparency in the party’s primary election?

When people lose elections, they come up with one million and one excuses about why they lost. The honest truth was that, at that arena that night, nobody was forced against his or her  wish  to exercise their rights, no matter what might have transpired in terms of lobbying, in terms of explaining issues and in terms of making people understand issues within the country, it is still clear that Nigeria did what was expected of it that night. People went out there and voted for whoever was their candidate.

Money could not have been the factor that determined the way the votes went. It was borne out of the fact that Nigeria needed a fresh start, they want somebody new, somebody that had shown a high level of humility and who is not so hungry and thirsty for power. Looking at Goodluck, he cuts across as a very fine specimen of a modern Nigerian, who, through destiny and God’s  hand, got to that level.

He was deputy governor, acting  governor, governor, vice president, acting president and finally, president. He now wants  to have a full term as president. You can  see that he was able to organize himself to focus on the issues that are critical to the country and he comported himself in a manner that showed that he is a true leader and somebody with  great potentials to be able to drive this country to the desirable destination.

What efforts are the PDP making to ensure that frayed nerves are calmed and that the aggrieved aspirants at all levels are re-integrated  into the campaigns of the party’s flag bearers towards the  general elections?

We have spoken to people in various fora to understand that when you compete for something, somebody must lose and somebody must win. The victor must understand the fact that it was a victory for all and those that lost must know that it was a momentary lost. We have seen great men in their countries  who had lost  elections, yet they still won at the end of the day and even became presidents.

At this moment, Nigerians want Goodluck Jonathan. As usual of the party, the first thing we did was to set up a peace and reconciliatory committee to look at the grievances of those who did not win the primary elections at the various state  Houses of Assembly to the National Assembly, governorship, and then the presidency.

Everybody has one or two things to say but the earlier we became sportsmanly about this and begin to talk about to one another, the better. That initiative is already in place. You will recollect that former President Ibrahim Babangida congratulated Jonathan, likewise Mrs Sarah Jubril. We are still waiting and believe that the former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, will one day congratulate President Jonathan, because we all recognize the roles that everybody had played in this country.

All of us must accept responsibility for our own contributions and for the things we did not do well or have not been able to do for our country. Our party is concerned about all these. It is not about winning alone, we are carrying a willing nation along in this journey.

If you are a president and a lot of people are not supporting you to ensure that your programmes are successful, you will not be able to register the kind of  performance that actually led you to contest in the first instance. So the critical factor is for the president to reach out to a lot of the leaders in all the geo-political zones of the country and he has been doing just that. We are now moving away from the idea that what everybody is looking for in government is just the national cake.

It is about time Nigerians should roll up their sleeves and begin to look at how employment will be improved upon, how infrastructure will be built upon. Jonathan in his speech shortly before the primary election had explained that his main concern was education, infrastructural development, energy, and peace in the Niger Delta and to bring out our resources to begin to work for us. This to me is satisfying and I believe that it could lead our country to a better destination.

President Jonathan has been in the saddle for eight months, but many people believe he has not achieved much and that he may not in the next four years.

Things have  tremendously improved since Jonathan became president, eight months ago. Our country has gone so far down within the last 50 years. Quite frankly, it is unkind  to judge the president  within eight months of coming to power. A lot of things that many of us from the outside might not have seen,  those from the inside might have mis judged. The critical factor of judging the president should be based on his promises within the last eight months.

He hammered on certain areas like the energy sector and, quite frankly, that sub-sector has  considerably improved. On the issue of the Niger Delta, the quota and the level of improvement on our daily production, compared to what was happening in about a year or two ago, the issue of peace in all the regions is dealing with all these unrest, has been rested. No nation can be healed of all maladies within a spate of eight months. So we shall all continue to try.

How do you assess the performance of your committee so far with regards to the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party?

Let us thank God that the primaries have  come and gone and, for the first time, PDP proved itself as a party that could re-engineer itself. Apart from few places in the country, the primaries, were very peaceful and people went out to exercise their civic responsibilities, which means that PDP is deepening its own internal democracy as opposed to those who  criticised the party of not having any internal democracy, where selection was the order of the day.

We went round and discovered that members of the PDP were embracing peace, rather than violence, except in few places and the culmination of that was the January 13 presidential primary election in Abuja. The worst critics of the PDP, I am sure, will give kudos to the transparency and the free will with which people exercised their rights that produced President Goodluck Jonathan. A vote for Jonathan that day was a referendum of the future of the country because it showed quite frankly that Nigeria is marching away from the old order that thrived on how  regional considerations dominated how we selected  our leaders.

You will discover that the country has not actually been moving in the direction that the great men had anticipated during independence. The January 13 primary election  was a departure from the old order and I believe that it was the end of zoning arrangement  in this country.

The Labour Party in Ondo State recently accused the PDP of organizing a parallel voter registration  in the state. Don’t you think this is dangerous to the success of the forthcoming general elections?

Sometimes, the butcher is afraid of the knife. I heard the allegation and I laughed. The PDP is not in custody of any of the INEC materials. It is a bio metric exercise.

All the fingerprints of the voter have to be indented in the records of INEC before anybody could qualify to vote. It is not unusual with the leadership of the LP to raise the alarm when they know for sure that that they are losing membership to the PDP. How can the LP accuse the LP of parallel registration when for sure they know that the party is not in custody of the computers being used by the INEC? This exercise is nationwide, anybody trying to politicize it is doing so out of ignorance or being mischievous to cover up their own sinister’s moves.

For us in PDP we have been telling the people that the exercise is critical and important to us. Rather than supporting the just cause which is important to Nigeria as a nation, the LP should stop churning out propaganda.

Many believe that the North should produce the next president especially when former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner, had been there for eight years?

There were a lot of uncertainties in the polity in 1999 after so many years of brutalized citizenry, and many years of deprivation by the military. A lot of things had remained uncertain about our nation. The entity of Nigeria had been threatened and a lot of people had run into the tribal enclave. The only sure way out  of the quagmire then which is just a guide and not a law or a rule was zoning, which is just a mere working pattern through which we could  share power  in government so that some people will not be left out in the scheme of things.

Now the PDP is beginning to realize that is quite undemocratic and does not show any iota of freedom for you to say that a man cannot contest in an election just because he comes from a particular part of the country. Outside of that, the 2007 presidential election was a joint ticket of the late President Umaru Musa-Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan and if you are going to judge based on that, this ticket still lingers and if the president is entitled to run for eight years, the vice president is also entitled to it.

How can the vice president, who became the acting president and later president,  now be denied of his right? Calls for the zoning of the presidency to a particular section of the country is not only reckless and backward and does not portray the features of a 21st century democracy that we are clamoring. Can Nigeria isolate itself from the rest of the world?

Can we not try to look at what happened in America when Mr. Barak Obama, a minority black man, emerged as the president? Quite frankly, when we speak about these things, we must not decapitulate our intellectualism and allow people of small minds to continue to run our world by throwing into the public place  things that should have gone into the dustbin of history and have no relevance to these challenges.

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