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JONATHAN MUST FIX OUR ELECTORAL SYSTEM

By NBF News
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Hon. Farouk Lawan is one member of the House of Representatives who does not mince words. The leader of the powerful 'Integrity Group' representing Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency of Kano State is seen as a strong contender for the governorship of his state in 2011. In this interview with Sunday Sun, he speaks on a wide range of issues including the Jos crisis. Excerpts…

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has finally dissolved the cabinet after several weeks of speculation. What advice will you give him on how to compose the new cabinet?

Anybody who had any reservation as to his powers certainly could not have appreciated the position of the acting President. The two assemblies, through separate resolutions, made Jonathan the acting President since the President is not around.

We also made it very clear that he could discharge all the powers exercised by the President. So, the question of him lacking any powers does not arise in the first place because he has all the powers that he needs to do the job he is given.

Now that the cabinet has been dissolved, my simple advice is that he needs to note that he has very little time for him to make a mark and Nigerians are desperately crying for development, leadership and good governance. My hope is that the cabinet that he will be reconstituting would be one that will convince Nigerians that he desires to bring about good governance in the country.

If the reforms in the Electoral Act are concluded, election may happen this year and what that means is that we may have very short time for the Acting President to be in office and the cabinet that he is reconstituting to work for Nigeria. I know that the Acting President has been doing all the right things and making all the right statements. He is excellent when talking about the fight against corruption and electoral reforms and making sure that there is a level playing ground for all candidates. He also spoke of electoral justice; these no doubt are correct statements and intentions. He also wants to focus on power.

Which specific areas will you advise him to focus since he has a short time?

I want him to look at the issue of power supply in the country. That is becoming an intractable problem and it should not be so. There is need for the acting President to work towards improving on the epileptic power supply in the country. For a very long time, Nigerians have been disappointed with the level of power supply and I believe it is a critical area the President should focus on.

I also believe that he needs to work to dismiss the speculation in the polity that there was a lot of looting in the last couple of months. He will need to step up the fight against corruption and create greater confidence in the administration. Another thing he needs to do within this short period is to guarantee free, fair and credible election in the country. This should not only be for the acceptability and legitimacy of whatever government that will emerge but also to show the international community that we can do it in Nigeria. He should make electoral reform a priority.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come out with a timetable but the National Assembly is yet to get the guiding law ready; is that not a shortcoming on the part of the National Assembly?

We have a law for election in the 2006 Electoral Act, but I think what you are trying to say is the review of the electoral laws which is not yet completed. It is simply because we have embarked on constitutional and legislative amendment to ensure that our elections are more credible.

There is unanimity of opinion on the fact that we cannot continue with the existing electoral law because it leaves some gaps, which were being exploited during elections in 2003 and 2007. Besides, it is important for the stability of our democracy to ensure that we do things on the basis of acceptable standard and that was why President Umaru Yar'Adua established the Justice Mohammed Uwais panel, which submitted its work and we at the National Assembly have a copy of the unedited version.

I also need to tell you that we owe it a duty to ensure the stability of the country. This is why we are accelerating the process and both the Senate and the House of Representatives are taking up these issues and I can assure that in the next two weeks, we will get the amendments ready and Nigerians can then be guaranteed free, fair and credible elections.

What the INEC did was in order because it shows that it is preparing for the election.

Apart from all that, I will also advise politicians to begin to have the correct attitude that will help our democracy. We must begin to do away with this do- or-die attitude that we must have our way or the system will collapse. We must learn to abide by the rule of law and be civic in the way we conduct ourselves during elections.

How do you react to the repeated killings in Jos and the bomb scare in Delta State Government House?

There is no doubt we are facing a lot of security challenges in this country. But I feel that anyone that takes up arms against any Nigerian does not mean well for this country because we are all brothers and sisters. All Nigerians must condemn what happened in Jos and we must also work to bring permanent peace to that place.

I believe that there are quite a number of steps we should have taken in the past that were not taken. Perhaps, that is why we are having the current crisis in Jos.

There is no place in the world that people engage in wanton killing of people and destruction of properties and then they go scot-free and then you will expect that there will be peace. It won't happen. All the reports of the various crises that we have had in that place in the past have never been implemented and no one brought to book for the criminal activities. We need to take certain steps and one of them is that anyone involved in the Jos killing should be adequately punished to serve as deterrent to others in future. All of them must be punished. They include those that incited, sponsored and did the killings; all of them must be investigated and punished by the government. It is only by so doing that we can deter future killings.

I also believe that we must continue to preach peace in that area and in all parts of Nigeria. The crisis in Jos is not just about religion; ethnicity plays an important role as well as poverty. That problem of ethnicity is not peculiar to Plateau alone, but all parts of Nigeria. So, we need to recognize that every Nigerian is a Nigerian and they have the constitutional right to live and do business in any part of Nigeria. This whole issue of settler and indigene should be stopped if we actually need peace in the country.

The government also needs to work towards providing employment and boosting the economy so that all idle people would be engaged in gainful employment.

Does that include the Warri bombing?
Of course. We must follow the rule of law. No where in our law do we have allowance for engaging in such violent act or killing of people or destroying properties.

The Warri bombing is a new dimension into violence in Nigeria. This was done in the Government House; does that say well of our security?

It is a minus for the security outfit in Nigeria; it is a failure of intelligence network that should have anticipated this type of thing. If we do not take necessary steps on it, this might be another problem soon. I recall that when kidnapping started, it was only in the Niger Delta and it was done to expatriates only but soon the thing became a problem and even Nigerians are being kidnapped as some people saw it as big business. Now, no one is safe. Militancy too started as mere agitation and later became serious. With this bombing, the security agents must wake up and fish out the perpetrators. If not, we might have big trouble ahead.

Why is the standard of education falling in Nigeria?

We are witnessing the result of many years of neglect in the country. For many years, the government left the sector to decay. If you start with access to education, you will see that there are many children that should be in school but are not because of one reason or the other. The beginning is to ensure that every child is given access to basic education.

The school must be well funded and equipped. Some of these schools cannot be called schools, especially in public schools. You will see some pupils receiving lectures under trees and there is no building. If some one goes to that kind of environment, you can't expect anything less in terms of quality.

The quality of the teachers is another thing. The teachers are not sufficient and in places where they are, they are not qualified. I know of a geo-political zone in this country where over 75 percent of the teachers are not qualified. So, what do you expect from such teaching staff?

Again, we need to look at the issue of funding. You cannot be toying with adequate funding of education and say you want the country to progress. Unfortunately, the proprietors of the schools are not committing enough resources to the area of funding. The federal, state and local governments have not committed enough resources to education, and we have not diversified to allow other stakeholders to get involved in supporting education. The motivation of teachers is another problem. The teachers have not been well motivated to ensure that they give their best.

My own concern is that we should all realize that education should be for all and that we all must have responsibility for education, either as parent, government or corporate institutions and we must play our roles if we want the quality of education to improve in Nigeria.

What percentage of government budget should go to education?

The UNESCO recommended 26 per cent of government budget should be committed to education. I think that should be the beginning because of the long years of decay in that sector in Nigeria. We need a lot of huge input of funding into that sector. Unfortunately, we have never had up to 10 per cent of our national budget on that sector. I believe states; local and federal governments should go for that 26 percent. It is for our own interest. We also need to diversify the funding of education. Corporate organizations should step in and help the government. Wealthy Nigerians should also help in subsidizing education for indigent students as well as providing equipment for schools.

The governors' forum seems to be getting more powerful by the day. Are you comfortable with the rising influence of the forum?

I don't know of any move to give the governors' forum any role in the constitution. I don't think there is anything like that; it has not been introduced on the floor of the House. For the nomination of Ministers, it was former president Olusegun Obasanjo that started the practice in 1999. He asked governors to nominate party members from their states to his cabinet.

He did the same in 2003 and Yar'Adua also followed the practice in 2007. I don't know what Jonathan plans to do; he may have his own style of picking people he wants to work with. Whatever step he is taking is still very close to him. The responsibility lies with the acting President to pick whomever he feels he wants to work with.

Don't you think the governors are becoming too powerful given their roles in recent past?

I believe the position of the governor is very powerful; they have always been powerful because they constitute an important part of our democracy, especially in the states. They are the chief executive officers of their states and they are very important too. The constitution gave them so much power that they can do so many things. It is not that their influence is rising. It has been there, but what is important is that they discharge those powers in a manner that will move their states forward.