By NBF News

National Secretary of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), Alhaji Dahiru Musa Abdullahi, has said that despite the wobbly movement of the country's democracy, there is hope for a greater Nigeria.

He said that the country would be great if its leaders put their acts together, particularly in the area of electoral reforms. According to him, such reforms would allow the people determine who would be their leaders.

Abdullahi, in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sun , also said that while President Goodluck Jonathan has the constitutional right to contest the 2011 presidential elections, if he wishes, he would, however, be faced with a moral burden over the issue of the zoning arrangement in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He spoke on this and other issues of national importance.

Can you assess Nigeria's democracy?
Democracy, as you know, is not a one-stop shop, but an on-going thing. It is a concept that is evolving and to that extent Nigeria has, to some extent, its fair share of democratic experiences. This is despite the fact that there have been series of military interjections or interregnums, as you want to call it. Having said that, as we gained independence in 1960, the expectations were so high because the founding fathers of this great nation had lofty ideals as to the kind of nation they wanted to build. Unfortunately, their regional orientations affected the process of nation building and these, of course, were some of the reasons the military gave for their intervention. But whether the military, during the period it held sway, was able to shift focus from these orientations is a matter of conjecture.

However, I want us to look at our recent experience. By that I mean starting from 1999 to the present day. You will agree with me that this is the longest period Nigeria has witnessed democracy; that is about 11 years of unbroken democracy. Yes, there have been quite a number of hiccups here and there, but we have been able to manage to get to the point we are right now and I think this depends largely on the Nigerian people. I guess that in the beginning, given the problems we had under the military, where there was total dictatorship, Nigerians were ready to put up with civilianization, where the civilians are at the helm of affairs, but without full blown democracy. At that time, we had a quasi-military man, so to speak, at the top.

Now, there is a difference. We are quite hopeful that we will get it right, because we have some neighbours, within  the West African sub-region, who look up to us, despite the fact that  they now seem to be the leading light in democracy. We have Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone and some of these countries now practising democracy. They all came out of war. If they have been able to get it right, Nigeria has no excuse. I believe that as the quasi-military segment of the political class begins to disengage, albeit unwillingly, the core civilians will give democracy its true meaning.

How then do you think the country has fared so far?

It's a mixed bag, in the sense that, as I said earlier, when we gained independence the expectations were quite high and our founding fathers were quite zealous and enthusiastic to deal with the issues of development, as speedily as they could. But again, they had to contend with the issues of ethnicity, regional loyalty and all that stuff and these seemed to have affected the issue of national development, as it were. However, you discovered that each of the leaders went back to their various regions and were able to give at least the necessary foundation through which development could be delivered. For instance, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, then Premier of the North, left legacies. Yet, he spent just about five years. When that is considered against the level of funding and resources available to him or to his government you will agree that he did well. The same thing happened in the West, where the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo held sway. He was able to give his people free education, among other things. Also in the East, with the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, you could see sincerity of purpose, commitment and service.

What we have today is a far cry and the painful aspect of the situation is that most of the current people are beneficiaries of the legacies left by the founding fathers. Unfortunately, they have become turncoats and corruption has now permeated every segment of the Nigerian society. This is the area that leadership has become very crucial and until we are able to get it right, at the leadership level, Nigeria's problems would not be solved. There are many challenges to grapple with. Essentially, these challenges can be located within the domain of leadership. I think one of the major challenges confronting the country is leadership. We need focused, committed and inspiring leadership to attract the same followership.

How would you assess the three years tenure of the late President Umar Musa Yar'Adua?

The late President Umar Musa Yar'Adua meant well for the country. He was a leader who was courageous enough to declare that the election that brought him to office was highly flawed and as a way of correcting this anomaly, he set up the Justice Uwais committee, with the intention of ensuring a credible electoral system that would deliver credible democracy to the Nigerian people. Although at some point, the hawks around him wanted to hijack the whole thing, you will realise that he showed determination. Within the short time he was in power, we felt his impact. If you compare his three years tenure with the immediate administration, you will discover that he impacted more on the Nigerian society than the eight years of his predecessor. Let it be noted that development is not only about infrastructure, but also about strengthening institutions of democracy. The policy on rule of law and amnesty programme for the militants in the Niger Delta is great. The way he convinced militants to lay down their arms is commendable. But for his ill-health, Yar'Adua would have offered much more servivce to the country.

We witnessed some of the elections that were reversed because of the rule of law. If Yar'Adua had not been at the helm of affairs, I can assure you that the like of Andy Uba would have been presiding over the affairs of Anambra State till today. The same thing happened to Gov. Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State and Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State. These are clear legacies that the late President Yar'Adua can be credited with. And beyond that too, most Nigerians would agree with me that the eight years of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo brought so much pains to us. We had the issue of reforms in the banking industry, with so much media hype. It took the present Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi few months to look into the banking system and realized that the industry was drifting. Before then, people were just trading with the money and there was no commitment to the development of the real sectors. Hitherto the banking industry, supposed to be the engine room for development, was just interested in round tripping and trading in foreign exchange, at the expense of economic growth.

If you compare the three years the late President Yar'Adua and the eight years of his predecessor you will agree that in term of institutional strengthening and the deepening of democracy, through the instrumentality of the rule of law, the nation benefited much more from Yar'Adua. I want to believe that President Goodluck Jonathan would continue with these legacies, perhaps, with few amendments where necessary. He should not deviate too much from the thrust of the administration, because the late Yar'Adua meant well and the results are there for everybody to see. I am not saying that there were no draw backs. Of course, some people around him took advantage of his ill-health and almost marred his administration. But the legacies he left would take us to the future.

When Yar'Adua was governor of Katsina State, he declared his assets. As president, he did the same thing. I don't think his predecessor, Chief Obasanjo, despite his so-called war against corruption, came anywhere near doing that. Nobody knows how much Obasanjo was worth before he came into office. Nobody knows how much he's worth when he left office. I think the defining moment for every public officer is for the people to know how much he is worth before coming into office, so that we can compare how much he is worth by the time he leaves office. I think the late Yar'Adua lived a very transparent and exemplary life.

What are your expectations of President Jonathan?
For now, we are watching. It is too early in the day to assess him. But talking of expectation, if this country is to get it right, the issue of electoral reforms is key, because if people are able to elect leaders of their choice, then they can demand accountability. Now, most of the people at the helm of affairs are impostors. They have their personal and group agenda. They are not accountable to the Nigerian people. As I talk to you, the National Assembly members are asking for their capital project funds to be disbursed to them, so that they go to their constituencies and fight their re-elections.

We all know that re-election is a function of performance. Senate President, David Mark, sometimes ago, clamoured that senators should be given automatic ticket to return to the National Assembly. This is the kind of political environment Jonathan inherited and we want a situation where he would sanitise the system and restore people's confidence in the electoral system. As it is now, people's votes don't count and there is general apathy when it is time for election. You don't call that democracy. That was why Ghana was chosen, ahead of Nigeria, during the visit of United States President Barack Obama to Africa. That, to me, is a big slap on our face. Thank God that we are returning to international reckoning and I expect President Jonathan to cash in on this to deliver a credible election to the Nigerian people in 2011. Nigerians should be able to freely and willingly elect leaders of their choice and also make sure that their will is not subverted. If that is all President Jonathan can achieve during the remaining part of his tenure, I think he will go down in history as one of the most successful presidents the nation has ever produced.

Of course, added to it is the issue of power and roads. The problem of energy delivery is traceable to corruption. If we have leaders who cannot be held accountable, they don't owe you any explanation. Don't forget that when there was probe of electricity contracts the House of Representatives committee that was set up had a scandal. Leaders of the committee are now facing trial over alleged corruption. If they are actually elected by the people and they know that they owe the people some form of accountability and explanation, they would not do that. But they know that they are not there at the behest of the people and they owe them no explanation. This is the kind of political environment that President Jonathan inherited and if we don't deal with the fundamentals we would be building our castle in the air. I expect that by the time Jonathan's tenure expires, we would be having a sound electoral system.

How do you see the rumour that Jonathan may contest the 2011 presidential election?

Well, President Jonathan has not come out to say that he is interested in 2011 elections and I have not heard any sound of the drums beating for him. However, one thing I do know is that President Jonathan is entitled, constitutionally, to contest if he wants to. But then he has a moral burden to face and deal with if he wants to run. It is not for me to decide whether it is right or not for him to contest, because, in the first place, the issue of zoning, which the PDP is talking about, is essentially an internal arrangement of the PDP and I can't speak for the PDP. However, as a Nigerian I am bound by the constitution of the country, which has given clear conditions under which a citizen of this country can aspire to any office, including the highest office in the land, which is the presidency. To that extent, I think it is open to anybody who wants to contest.

However, I think it's a matter of putting the nation above self and allowing people to freely decide who they want to lead them.