Why Nigeria must be restructured now… —Ken Nnamani

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Former Senate President in the 5th Assembly, Senator Ken  Nnamani is the chairman, electoral reforms committee of the Federal Government. He recently joined the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, declares that the committee he leads will reform elections in Nigeria. Excerpts:

 

YOU recently joined the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and your entry is already causing some tense moments particularly when the Imo State governor of declared you leader of APC in the South-East. Was that offer one of the attractions that made you to defect?

Not at all. My joining APC was accidental, because I quit my membership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in February last year. I gave my reasons for quitting the party in a well written advertorial used in four national dailies. Remember that I was party-less for close to one year. But for the purpose of illustration, for someone to commit suicide, he or she might have thought of it for several days or weeks or even months. It simply means that it took me a long time to take the decision of joining APC. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate PDP for giving me the platform to attain certain political exposure in Nigeria.

Before I joined APC, I had observed that PDP had been hijacked by certain cabal that lacks the knowledge of the party and effected some changes that wasn’t acceptable to the people. At individual level, I made efforts to correct that, but stronger powers hijacked the system. The one year that I stayed without party gave me the opportunity to reflect on my political career and how far I had gone. After that, I realised that I still need to belong to political party to be

politically relevant and make positive impact on the society. Moreover, the Electoral Act does not recognise independent candidacy  in the political process, but it guarantees freedom of association. APC, though not a perfect political party,  I know I can contribute to make it perfect. Regarding the party leadership in the South-East, I can’t but say thank you to Imo State governor. But the issue of leadership is something that requires popular mandate and not conferred on an individual by another individual. It is not synonymous with chieftaincy title or national honour.

 

There were side talks that you left PDP, because they denied you BoT Chairmanship position. Secondly, that you moved to APC so that you can be getting government patronage. How true are these allegations?

None of them is true. You must know that one doesn’t need to be a member of any political party to secure government contract. It may interest you to know that most successful businessmen in Nigeria don’t belong to any political party and they have remained relevant in any administration irrespective of their political beliefs. Recall that I was in business before joining politics. I even represented a great international company in Nigeria and we made great impact, even when we never identified with any political party. I have a second address, because I see politics as a platform for service to the people. There must come a stage in one’s life that you must have to assist others and people would only remember you for that. As regards the issue of PDP BoT Chairmanship position, I aspired to that position, but the then president, Dr  Goodluck Jonathan, asked me to step down for Chief Tony Anenih to continue because of certain reasons best known to the president. Meanwhile, shortly after the elections which PDP lost, ex-President Jonathan appealed to me to take up the position and rebuild the party. Two days after, I replied him with a press conference where I announced my resignation from the party. My reason was that there was no need to take up the party after a mass exodus of meaningful people from the party.

 

Would you say that the mess the PDP has found itself is still redeemable?

I don’t know, because am longer there and I am privy to any information from there. Before I left the party last year, I figured out that there was no point crying over spilled milk. But my greatest disappointment was that the people that led the party to the abysmal performance in the general elections failed to realise their mistakes. They didn’t show any remorse at all.

 

If you say that the PDP has lost it, why did you join another party that has had its own fair share of troubles?

As I said earlier, APC is not a perfect party. Mind you, perfection is an unrealistic standard to judge any human endeavour. However, I discovered that APC is not yet hardened and that was why I chose to join the party. The level of compromise, corruption and decadence in the PDP is alarming. Just take a look at the corruption that was in the system, particularly the Dasukigate. Nobody would have heard about it if the party had won the elections.

 

But it appears a worldwide practice that political parties in power use the office of National Security Adviser (NSA) to tamper with public funds during elections…

I can’t justify that. But you can’t divert security funds to private pockets and claim to use it to prosecute elections. That’s  unacceptable. Nigerians couldn’t have known about this impunity if PDP had won that election. I may not agree with you that it is applicable to other developed countries of the world.

 

In June 2009, you granted an interview saying that there has never been a consolidated democracy without the interest of the middle class. Do you still maintain the view?

I still maintain my view even though the recession that visited some countries, including Nigeria, has made it impossible to provide a conducive atmosphere for the middle class to improve their standard of living. As an oil producing country, our economy is affected by the sharp drop in the price of crude oil in the international market, even though the price has begun to rise. However, I still maintain that we need the middle class to consolidate democracy. You may doubt it, but

there’s too much hunger in Nigeria and that has made it extremely difficult for the electoral body to conduct free and fair election. No one is to blame for that, but government needs to do all it can to improve the standard of living of Nigerians. There is no alternative to economic diversification.

 

Talking about free and fair elections, you were recently appointed chairman of constitution electoral committee. What should we expect?

The task of the committee is to make suggestions on better ways to strengthen our electoral system and possibly reduce the time we spend on litigation, as well as the resources that are expended during elections. We would proffer solutions on how a candidate can win elections at the polling booth through the ballot boxes and not otherwise. Some of us in the committee have had the privilege of monitoring elections in other countries in Africa and Europe, and we

would use the experiences to add to our electoral process to strengthen it and make it less cumbersome. It’s unacceptable that our courts have been overwhelmed with election matters, thus exposing our judges to financial inducement. Remember that the recommendations of the committee would outlive any political party or administration. Belonging to a different political party does not weaken the strength of the recommendations. However, the president would have to vet it before he could possibly assent to it.

 

The fear of many Nigerians is that we had such committees in the past and their recommendations were not implemented. The same happened to the National Conference report of 2014. Why would this be different?

Yes there was such a committee in the past. Precisely, Justice Mohammed Uwais committee. They did a great job. But I have to remind you that the mandate of our committee is entirely different from what Uwais committee did years back. We are working with the National Assembly’s constitution review committee to have legislative input to it. Our terms of reference demand that we review the Uwais report and pick critical areas that are still relevant to our exercise. There’s no doubt that Uwais report was fantastic, but it didn’t cover everything. Similarly, our committee might likely not cover everything also. Remember that Uwais report is over eight years old. The report never foresaw what happened in Kogi state during the recent governorship election. It also didn’t foresee the prolonged litigation that lasted years after some people have left office. If you look critically, you will observe that none of the Uwais committee members had contested for political office. But the case is different in our committee. Having played politics at various levels has armed us with practical and theoretical experiences.  And that would help us to achieve new ways of conducting free, fair and peaceful elections. These and others made the president to constitute our committee to review the entire electoral process and possibly include new things that would better our system. Members of this committee comprise serving and retired

legislators, senior lawyers and several other technocrats.

 

Nigerians have accused the economic team of the president of lacking in capacity to revamp the ailing economy. Do you agree with their claim?

I may not be competent to speak on issue of economy, because I lack the knowledge and capacity to comment on that, but I am very sure that competent hands in that field are working assiduously to restore the dignity of the economy.

 

But you can offer suggestions on way forward…

I choose to reserve my comment on anything that has to do with the economy. As I said earlier, the government is working hard to revive the economy. Their plans may not be open to the public, but I am sure that something is being done.

 

You have been an advocate of fight against corruption. Though the government claims it is doing that, many Nigerians are accusing it of being selective. What is your own observation?

The fight against corruption is quite commendable. But my suggestion is that the fight should not spare anyone who is found wanting in any way. Like someone mentioned on the floor of the Senate recently, if “insecticide or deodorant” is the way out, then it should be applied to all and not to certain set of people. Same level of punishment should be served to anyone convicted of corruption so that other people can take precaution before dipping their hands into government purse. In developed countries where institutions are functional, people are asked to give account of stewardship or face the consequences of their actions.

 

Some people have said the current state of the economy is a time bomb. Do you agree?

There is no doubt that the economic situation is biting hard on people. Nobody is immune to it. However, it is an opportunity for us to learn some economic lessons, because we have been living and acting carelessly. There is no state in Nigeria without one mineral deposit or the other in commercial quantity. The problem is that state governors are not looking inwards to tap into those resources, but relying on federal allocations which have declined due to drop in oil revenue. This is a pointer that we need to begin to practise fiscal federalism. That would ginger the states to sit up and

add creativity and ingenuity in the plans in order to boost their Internal Generated Revenues (IGR). Some states in Nigeria are endowed with arable land for agriculture but they have failed to encourage their people to go into  mechanised farming. We need to encourage local production, because we have all the needed raw materials that would encourage local production. Nigerians are very industrious people and they have proved themselves in several sectors of economy across the world. All we need is to encourage fiscal federalism because that would hasten our development.

 

You mentioned fiscal federalism. Does it also mean you are canvassing for restructuring of the country?

Yes I support restructuring, but the idea of restructuring depends on the context. Restructuring is an ongoing thing in our lives. It is being done even in our individual lives and families. Take, for instance, a situation where the federal government issues driver’s  license is unacceptable. It ought to be the duty of the state government. I have noticed that some people are afraid of restructuring, but that is inevitable if we must make appreciable progress as a nation. We have to make certain adjustments because federal government is overburdened by things the states ought to do. I was part of the 2014 National Conference, and very important points were raised at the conference which had the best and brightest brains in Nigeria in attendance. Their suggestions and contributions were quite amazing. I urged the government to revisit the recommendations, because they would benefit them a lot. Many good points that hasten the development and strengthen the unity of Nigeria are contained in the report. People should not be afraid of restructuring because it would definitely come one day. I support restructuring, but the issue of break-up is what I don’t support.

 

Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir Lawal said that the conference report belongs to the archive…

He may say that, but all I know is that the final report of the confab contains some good suggestions that can catapult Nigeria to same pedestal with other developed countries. It doesn’t matter where or who it comes from. We should be bold enough to make use of it. There are good points that were made at that conference that, if adopted, would go a long way in solving our problems. My position is not because I was a member of the committee, but because I saw people with in-depth knowledge of certain field making great contributions. This issue of restructuring was addressed extensively at the confab and they achieved what no other experts can achieve, particularly as regards the issue of national development. I really commended whoever put up that confab, because he selected the best brains and great recommendations were reached.

 

Do you the support the recent  call by Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo thet Igbos should  contest the Presidency in 2019?

He may be right but presidency is not something that can be wished or thrown at somebody. So he has some clarifications to make. Recall that the incumbent president still has the right for second tenure. So the ball is in the court of the electorate to decide on who to vote.

 

Does that mean his call is unrealistic?

That wasn’t my position. I respect the conventional wisdom of the ex-president. However, we must be careful and politically calculative enough, so that we don’t go on collision course. Remember that PDP missed it when they failed to allow the North to complete the tenure of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2011. That would have given us moral standing to make case for our turn. So, we ought to be careful so that such a mistake does not repeat itself. Constitution allows for second term. Even at that, we must be conscious of timing. The suggestion by the ex-president is very nice, but he has to explain to us when. I support that the presidency rotates, because no region is lacking in competent people to occupy any government position and it is less expensive if the electioneering is concentrated on one region.

 

The North has three geopolitical zones the same with the South, how long would it take to get to the South if you rotate the Presidency among  the geopolitical zones?

It is left for them to decide. But in the spirit of justice, all the geopolitical zones in the North ought to part take in the power sharing formula. Same applies to south, if South-West has had its share, it is natural and politically wise that other geopolitical zones in the South be given opportunity to have a taste of power too. That would reduce the obvious acrimony and give everybody a sense of belonging.

 

So far, the APC is not really popular in the South-East; how do you intend to convince the people to buy into the agenda?

It’s a difficult task, but we are determined to correct it. It’s a wrong perception and I will mobilise other South-East leaders to correct that wrong perception. We will explain to our people the benefit of participating in national politics. South easterners don’t have the ingredients to play the opposition in Nigerian politics. We don’t have the luxury because we don’t control the media, airport, seaport, economic power as it is in the South-West. No commercial bank or media house has its headquarters in South-East. That confirms that we cannot afford not to get allocation from Abuja for six months. That would be disastrous. We need federal government more than they need us. We are not ripe for opposition politics. However, as individuals, south easterners can survive because of republican and enterprise nature of the people. But as a group or nation, we can’t. Being in opposition translates to an invitation to starvation and I won’t

support that.

 

But are you going to convince the government at the centre to end South-East marginalisation as well?

We will apply carrot and stick method. We will talk to our people to be politically wise and not give their votes to a political party that you don’t control. We can’t afford opposition politics, because there is little one can do fighting from outside. So we ought to come into to the fold in order to stand a chance of lobbying and expressing our displeasure with the state of things in the region. Imagine that no one from the South-East region is found in the National Security Council. That you can’t achieve by shouting from outside. In a nutshell, you must find yourself in the ruling party for you to make your voice heard. However, we that are in APC have the responsibility of persuading the government to give more attention to the region, even though the region never voted for them. The party ought to pay more attention to region in order to make them vote for the party in next election. Those of us in APC now owe it to ourselves, our zone and Nigerians to persuade the party to do more for the zone for obvious reasons. Since the party didn’t do well in the region, they need to convince them to be on their side. We have a duty to explain to our people why they need to be in the ruling party and also encourage the government to give more attention to the region. I am not advocating that everyone join APC, but there’s need for some strong voice in the region to join in making the region better. I even want PDP to play a strong opposition party, but the Igbo cannot afford to be in opposition party because of several reasons. They can’t be compared to South-West states. In fact, Igbo are there paying corporate taxes and enriching those states.

 

What position are you aspiring to hold in the APC?

I have to correct one impression. Politics is about service to the people and it also provides you the platform to serve the people. I have no immediate plan to contest for any political position. All I want to do is to play party politics and that I can’t do if I don’t belong to a political party.

 

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