Defecting lawmakers are wrong’
By Charles Kumolu
ESEME Eyiboh, a former member of the House of Representatives, in this interview with Charles Kumolu, describes the gale of defections in the National Assembly as an infection on Nigeria’s democracy. Eyiboh, quick to add that the development spurred the Peoples Democratic into a self reinventing mission, says the failed attempt by the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, senators to decamp was outside the ambit of the law. He also speaks on other issues.
You were in the House of Representatives where you left a mark in the last dispensation. Today the gale of defections among lawmakers appears to be having a negative impact on legislative business in same House. Can we know what this augurs for the polity?
It is a very interesting time in the nation and the National Assembly. As a former spokesperson of the House of Representatives who had the privilege of being exposed to the welter of forces within that clime, I can say that on one side the development portends a positive impact for the country and governance and, on the other side, it has a preponderance of negative impact.
PDP consistently has been the ruling party since 1999. And some members even boasted that the party will be in power for more than 60 years. That was because of the level of success but the management of the party did not take into cognizance the need for reputation and management of success that the political party had recorded since 1999. They decided to engage in backslapping instead of restrategising, going into public communication, instead of creating a nexus between the people and government.
A political party is supposed to be closer to the people. They failed to bring government and the people together. And that has now reverberated into what is happening in the legislature. Why it is obvious in the legislature is that the difference between democracy and military government is the legislature.
Military government has the executive and the judiciary. But democracy has the legislature which makes democracy inclusive. So it is not out of context to see the backslash of whatever that is manifesting in a democracy, in the legislature. That is why it is so bad for the country now.
But you also emerged from the same process
Our electoral process is absolutely clear and proactive. Unfortunately the management of political parties have not handled the issue of internal democracy properly. They have not allowed internal democracy to be sustained. So instead of the government of the people by the people and for the people, we are now having a government of the monarch and by the monarch. I am talking about the political monarchs in this respect.
We had a situation where a group of people will hijack a political party to the extent of even acting in breach of the law. They now resort to the courts and the courts will now say that it is the political party that will decide on its candidate. In some cases, they say it is the internal affairs of the party leaving the aggrieved with the option of leaving the party or suffering the injustice while he remains in the party.
And the court is supposed to be the last resort. If there is an injustice which is a constitutional matter, the court should be able to act as the temple of justice. But the courts are unable to do that. This is why some decided to live with the injustice but there is a limit to human patience and tolerance. And the outcome of this tolerance is what we are seeing today.
People describe what is happening in the National Assembly as a gale of defections, but I will say that it is an infection on our democracy. When you see people leaving in droves out of personal interest rather than conviction, there is a problem. If you follow the trend of defection, you will know that they are doing that out of godfatherism and blind followership.
They are not leaving because the PDP has not been able to leave up to its manifesto. They are concerned about their individaul interests. That is why I can tell you that we will have a new APC soon. Having seen that, you will know that there is a problem with our leadership recruitment process. While they are defecting, our democracy is being infested.
Some have also argued that the defection is within the ambit of the law. Does that not contravene your argument?
Defection, as contemplated by the law, would have been very healthy for our democracy. It is healthy because, it will now make the PDP to reinvent itself, it will also make the party to know how to manage its affairs. It will also made the party to rise up to its social contract with the people because without that some party members would have been boasting about how long the party will rule the country.
They would have also remained in their cozy homes, waiting for the next elections with, hope on the number of states where the party will have a landslide. It is against the backdrop of this development that the party brought out a brand manager in the pedigree of Alhaji Adamu Muazu to help reinvent the party. Managing a political party is like managing a business, because the person in charge must be able to stoop low to conquer.
PDP needs a manager who understands how to mange public communication and reputation management. You must be able to network So, Muazu’s emergence, though belated, portends well for the PDP. So those dismissing his emergence, like the opposition, are wrong. We need to even ask ourselves if we really have opposition in this country. What we have is a group of people who came together from legacy parties with the aim of turning Nigeria into a franchise.
If they are proclaiming to be opposition, they should be able to give us the template on what they want to achieve for this country. That template should be more impacting on the people than what the PDP is offering. But we are not seeing that. What we see every day is a political party of press releases and a party that waits for the ruling party to initiate policies so they could criticise.
The opposition should be able to have a conceptualized alternative to what the PDP offers today. It shows that the opposition doesn’t understand want Nigeria needs. But they have not been able to do so. We are seeing people of monstrous proportion coming together with ulterior motives.
Do you now share the assumption, within and outside the PDP, that the party created the seemingly Frankenstein monster that turned around to consume it?
Even though the party did, it was not with the intention to destroy the party. It was an error of judgment for someone who knows little or nothing about party management to be brought in to manage the party. When we talk about managing a political party, we should focus on people who are flexible and also people who see their responsibility as a burden.
The PDP went into an error of judgment by bringing a National Chairman who saw his responsibility as a gift. It is unfortunate that the party became a behemoth of monstrous proportion. So people left in droves because they did not want to be affected by that situation. However, we are happy with the emergence of Muazu which has brought back a lot of people who were dissatisfied with the party.
I am talking to you today because of my belief that Muazu will reposition the party. Therefore with Muazu at the top, I can procrastinate that there is no political party in the country that has the ability to manage its affairs properly. He has the character and the colour and the pedigree to carry out the on-going re-branding of the PDP. So I am glad that we have a manager who understands what branding is all about.
Despite brandishing an impeccable pedigree, many, who have not forgotten how Muazu’s predecessors left their positions controversially, are of the opinion that he might sooner or later step on banana peels like his predecessors. On the strength of this, what will be your advice to him?
I am very confident of his judgment at all times. But I will rather remind him to always remember the welter of forces that may impair the democratic structure envisioned by the founding fathers of the PDP. He should also take the Presidency as a product of a political party, because Bamanga Tukur saw the Presidency as a shopping mall.
I expect Muazu to set up a department that will always liaise with the Presidency. That department should act as a mirror regarding the relationship of the party and the Presidency. The department should also work with the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters because, sometimes, statements, which are injurious to the sensibility of Nigerians, are made.
I also suggest that the department should liaise with the communication department of the Presidency because sometimes the Presidency is taken to the streets, and that is not supposed to happen. I such department existed, some of the things that happened would not have been witnessed.
The Presidency of this country is not just about Goodluck Jonathan, it is about the nation. We should be able to open up these channels of communication. With these, I believe that the party will be able to create a nexus between the various organs of government.
Recently, attempt by APC senators to formally decamp on the floor of the Senate was prevented by Senate President David Mark, who cited legal grounds. Can we know the implication of this?
Section 168 of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to establish its own internal rules and, in such rules, we also have the issue of privileges. What defecting Senator Saraki should have done was to have talked about himself and not all the APC senators, because he is representing his constituency. He should not have got up to announce that himself and others were defecting. That is absurd in the face of the law.
Section 15 of the rule also gives the presiding officer the stipulation not to discuss any matter that is in court. We all talk of the rule of law; so we should respect the law. Section 4 of the Constitution gives the National Assembly the power to make law, just as another arm of government is empowered to interpret the law.
So if the Senate president within the exercise of his power as the presiding officer of the Senate, did not allow the defection, let it be. What is required is for a defecting member to write a letter disclosing what he intends to do. The Senate president did not just do that because of Saraki’s group. It also happened in Uzamere’s case. It was not an issue of different strokes for different folks. He only did what was specified by the law and the Senate rules.
You were very prominent in your capacity as the House spokesperson in the last dispensation, but much has not been heard of you since you left the House. One would have expected you to be loud in this era even though you are no longer in the House?
What I have done so far was to go through a process of self-appraisal. I am not looking back on what happened in the past or what is going to happen in future. I did the appraisal to be able to put myself in the right frame of mind and put myself in a proper leadership mould and know where I have to go from here. I personally know that I am going to be fit and proper to solicit for support from any of the electoral constituencies.
I know I am going to do that as a matter of conviction. I am not going to do that by imposition, I am going to go round and talk to various stakeholders. That will enable me to take a proper decision. Whatever decision I am going to take will be a decision earned.
The issue of zoning is also contentious in your state, Akwa Ibom, ahead of the 2015 gubernatorial election. Can we know your position on that?
In the Nigerian situation, another name for zoning is federal character. Zoning was introduced to correct perceived injustice and imbalance in the system. When there is threat to justice in the country, there is the need to introduce a mechanism that will address that. So if people from a particular zone have enjoyed a period in office, then there is need for power to move to another zone not minding the constitutional provision that allowed everyone the right to vote and be voted for.
The Constitution also in Section 13, 2, A and B says the primary purpose of government is the security of the state. It goes further to make case for participation. So, I believe in zoning but it should not be practised at the expense of merit. That does not mean that a citizen should be denied his constitutional right to be voted for. People should know that what is not included in the law does not mean that it is excluded.
Nigeria has a President who is being criticized from many fronts and some even described him as a weak leader. Do you think these criticisms are in good faith?
I have been the Vice Chairman of the South-south caucus in the National Assembly. Jonathan has a problem. And that problem is not about Jonathan as a person but as a president. As much as he is performing, he is not informing. He needs people who have capacity to step out there and do proper reputation management. A lot of people who are there are economic choristers. They are only singing songs that will lead them to bank vaults.
Since 1960s, we have never had it good like this. For instance, in agriculture, the President has distinguished himself, because the ministry of agriculture has performed creditably well. Very soon, we are going to see the groundnut pyramid and cocoa boom return. Unfortunately, no one is talking about that. The opposition are only criticizing through press releases without coming up with alternative ideas. And the PDP was not doing what it was supposed to do under Tukur.