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N84BN FOR INEC? THAT'S CRAZY – WILLIAMS

By NBF News

Chief Oladipupo Rotimi-Williams is the secretary of The Patriots, the group of eminent Nigerians that fast-forwarded the exit of the military era. The scion of the late legal icon, FRA Williams, is not a man given to frivolities. In this interview, he slams the leadership of the National Assembly over their insistence that Jonathan needs not sign the amendments. He is also not comfortable with the money released to INEC for election. Excerpt…

What is your take on arguments that the election should be deferred till April so that we can have a good voters' register?

You cannot have a valid election with the old voters' register that was used by Iwu. A lot of people have now reached the age of 18 and above and they were not so in 2006 when the last exercise was done. I don't really know why we are in a rush.

This country is so large and wide. It is not easy to cover from all the parts of this country compiling the voters' register just under three weeks. It is the same problem that we have always had on everything that has to do with the nation. We tried it with the World Cup in South Africa; we want to perform miracle less than three weeks, and I was not surprised we rightfully performed woefully. We need time to do a proper electoral register. I think January is unrealistic if we want our votes to count. There will be a lot of people whose name won't appear on the register because there is no time for INEC to do it.

The other issue is the colossal amount involved in doing the exercise. If we use N2bn to build low cost housing in each of the local governments or use it to equip some of our hospitals, or pump it into education, we will at least see what we are spending it on. We are going to waste it and unfortunately, it is bound to find its way into the pockets of some unscrupulous public officials. By the time that happens, the EFCC will wake up and then they will be telling us the story of someone on the run with our money.

But the money you are complaining about is for the compilation of fresh voters register to replace the one being criticized by everybody.

But must it be N76 billion? Do you know the meaning of N76 billion? It must not be that much. Who did the costing? What kind of materials are they planning to use? So many people are hungry and hunger is hunger in all places. It is shameful and terrible that we are using that type of figures.

Do you think the appointment of Jega is not too late to the elections?

Jega should have been appointed within a few weeks after Jonathan was sworn in so that he can have between 12 and 18 months to prepare for the election. When are we going to campaign for the election? When are we going to sell the candidates and their programme? It is going to be a disaster unless a miracle happens, but things don't happen that way.

I will want the election held in April so that we can do the right thing.

I realize that we are yet to understand the principles of democracy and that the people are supreme.

Certain portions of the constitution have been amended and some people are still insisting that some areas need to still be tampered with; are you comfortable with the amendment?

In the case of the autonomy for the House of assembly, I think we should have autonomy for each arm of the government.

The second one is making it easy for governors to be impeached because the entire people of the state elected the governor. He should therefore not be impeached at the whims and caprices of the people at the House of Assembly. What constitutes an impeachable offence should be further defined.

Do you have any issue with the timing of the constitution review?

I have not see many of the amendment because it has not been given the necessary publicity required for members of the public to make informed comments. Once they are made public, we will all see what they are doing. The timing is not a problem really.

It has always been the problem of the government in Nigeria. How many people are aware of the constitutional amendments? There is a serious communication gap between the government and the governed. Do you think the president needs to assign the amendment before it becomes law? The Senate and the House of Representatives thinks it is not necessary.

I think the senate and the House of Representatives are wrong and misinformed over the issue. For any law to have validity, the president must accent to it. The Deputy Senate President that said that there is no need for the President to sign it is very wrong. Presidential accent would be required to give any law its validity. The president was voted for by the entire country as one constituency and he embodies executive power.

The National Assembly members are to debate the issue and then vote and then send it to the President for his signature; without that, I am afraid, lawyers will challenge such a law that does not have the signature of the President. Even states can challenge the Federal Government over it.

I don't understand why the National Assembly did not want the president to have a say in it. The President was elected by all Nigerians and they are saying they can sit in their chambers and change the laws of the country without his accent. It is strange.

There is this crisis going on between the government of Oyo and Osun over a jointly owned university. Interestingly, the two combatants are from the PDP. But some people insist it is not a political matter but a matter for Yoruba elders to solve amicably. What do you think?

You have to understand the background of the old western Nigeria to be able to understand the issue involved. Western Nigeria started from Palm groove and extended to Asaba. That was the West that the late chief Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola governed.

LAUTECH was named after Ladoke Akintola,he hails from Ogbomosho. When new states were created and Osun was excised form Oyo state, SL Akintola is a native of Ogbomosho and a proud one at that. Therefore, for historical reason, Oyo is saying LAUTECH can't go anywhere. But Osun is claiming that SL Akintola governed the area that included Osun too.

I think the best solution will be to have a multi campus arrangement so as to reflect the plurality of the matter involved.

The two people involved must allow statesmanship to govern them, they should not allow ego to get involved.

Will you advocate that Yoruba leaders should get involved?

Unfortunately, Obas are no more what they used to be. They have lost their respect. Obas then are men of great influence and reverence. Technology and modernization has whittled down the influence of our Obas and some of them too did not help matters.

Obas' don't have the influence and powers to resolve this type of crisis.

Why are The Patriots not meeting?
To convene the meeting of The patriots is not always very easy. They all live in Lagos and unfortunately, the chairman has not been around but I believe soon we will meet.

Do you really see an urgent need for The Patriots to meet especially now with the problem of zoning engulfing the land?

There is always the need for eminent people to meet and make their views known. They don't have the enforcement power but they appeal to the moral conscience of the society. If you remember, it was formed as a bulwark to Sani Abacha's dictatorial rule and the people have accepted it. It has nothing to do with who is in government. Government sometimes in fact recruits some of them to assist in ruling.

Do you think zoning is necessary in Nigeria?
It is more of an emotional issue. It has beclouded realism. I know of many Nigerians who won't support a particular candidate because he is from a particular area. Performance has nothing to do with it. When Obasanjo was in power, I am sure many people will agree that he did not give the south West any particular favour over and above other regions. He visited Rivers State more than the time he visited Ekiti or Ondo states. I depend on who your friends are. I think this zoning thing is a PDP matter and PDP is not Nigeria. Nigeria is bigger than any party.

Yes, we can't rule out zoning totally; after all, the constitution itself recognizes federal character. You cannot say that as a President from Abeokuta you will pick 34 of your ministers from Ogun State and then another from Ibadan and the other from Lagos and then say that you have done justice. It will be tough for you to rule.

We need to recognise and harmonize our differences so that the tune won't be discordant. If the people of Nigeria say that it is one person that they want, who is anybody to complain? To my mind, the idea of zoning as formulated by the PDP was to ensure fairness and equity and I think they should stick to it but like I said, it is their own internal matter.