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2011: NORTH HAS BLOWN ITS CHANCE – MAXI OKWU

By NBF News
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Since the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan, many have been anxious for a change in the political fortunes of Nigeria. Ahead of 2011, the expectation is that the nation may, for the first time, witness a credible election.

Not a few also hope that the former Bayelsa governor would boost the epileptic power sector that will trigger the long awaited boom in the nation's economy. But the question is: Does President Jonathan have enough time on his hands and the political will to meet the expectations of Nigerians? In this interview, National Chairman, Citizens Popular Party (CPP), Chief Maxi Okwu x-rays some of the possibilities.

Excerpts…
How do you feel about the state of the nation since the death of late President Umaru Yar'Adua and emergence of his successor, President Goodluck Jonathan?

It is my considered opinion that the nation is in a state of suspended animation. The unfortunate demise of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in a way resolved the national impasse as far as federal executive authority was concerned. You may recall that until he passed on, the circumstances of the ascendency of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan through a legal fiction of doctrine of necessity was, at best controversial.

We were treated almost on a daily basis to sightings and near sightings of an ailing President whom his close circle kept up the falsehood that he was about to resume having substantially recovered from his ailment. You can imagine how destabilising this must have been to the acting President who could not see his boss staying just a couple of hundred meters from him in the villa complex. Just one public appearance by Yar'Adua, or a letter under his hand to the National Assembly would have sounded the death knell of the beleaguered acting presidency of Jonathan.

What would be your agenda for President Jonathan?
President Goodluck Jonathan does not have the luxury of time. You may be aware that going by the proposed amendments to the Constitution by the National Assembly, the general elections may come up as early as January. This is in consonance with timetable B of INEC in anticipation of Constitutional amendments. We therefore have tentatively six months to elections.

Party primaries may come up as early as July just one month away. Already, the ANPP has fixed their national convention for between July 11 and 13, 2010. It is very likely that the President would seek his party's nomination. If he succeeds by August, he would be a candidate and government business would become secondary.

If he is not the party's candidate, he becomes what the Americans call a lame duck President as the hustle and attention would shift to the PDP flag bearer. Goodluck Jonathan may be many things but he is certainly not a magician. I don't see what much he can do within the limited time frame available to him. I am also of the considered opinion that he shot himself in the foot by taking upon himself the power ministry. He is in a lose, lose situation.

I therefore believe that he should confine himself to maintenance of peace, order and good governance. If he is able to superintend credible elections in 2011, he would have carved his name in gold in the annals of the nation's political history.

With his interest in the presidential election, do you think, he can conduct a credible election irrespective of whom he appoints as INEC Chairman?

It is possible. The opposition would be selling themselves short by placing reliance fully on Goodluck Jonathan. The President is a member of PDP and an interested party. I have always argued that with or without reforms a credible election is feasible in 2011, if a number of indices are in place.

The opposition must collapse structures into one giant rainbow coalition with a progressive agenda for the people of Nigeria. The electorate must be pro-active and be jealous of their sovereign authority to elect their own government. The election management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be God fearing and patriotic.

Don't you think that the emergence of Jonathan has disrupted the issue of zoning which informally seemed to have taken care of the existing imbalance in the nation's power equation?

I believe so. The argument raging on zoning is diversionary and unnecessary. The PDP is but one of fifty- seven other political parties in Nigeria. The ruse is that once you secure PDP ticket, you have won. The death of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan is a game changer. The north has blown its chance of eight years with the demise of Umaru Yar'Adua. It's now an open game and may the better side win.

What is the place of the opposition in Nigeria Today?

Genuine democracy is factored on the rule of law and democratic competition and choice through the ballot box. We have one dominant party and a crowd of Lilliputians. In any viable multi-party arrangement, you require a minimum of two contending platforms. We don't have that yet in Nigeria. The opposition is its own worst enemy.

You have a few 'prima doners' strutting all over the place, Generals without army who have become excited by the appellation opposition leader. There is no match for the PDP at the Federal level. I see a few skirmishes in some states like Edo, Kano, Abia, Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Borno, Yobe among others. Unless the opposition in the next couple of months gets its act together, it will be rubbished by the PDP in 2011.

Is the implementation of the much-awaited electoral reform possible before the election?

The electoral reforms of our dream anchored on the Uwais' report is now history. However, all hope is not lost. There has been some token movement in the harmonised position of both houses of the National Assembly which should be adopted by this week. It then goes to the states for ratification. I believe that if the President mounts pressure on his party, at least 24 states would ratify the amendments before middle of July 2010.

Between the youths and the old generation as represented by the Babangidas and Buharis, who are in a better position to reposition the nation?

It is symptomatic of the tragedy of our national situation that we are still talking of the Babangidas and Buharis of the world. In more advanced democracies, these guys would have been doing time in a Siberia for having at one time or the other subverted the Constitution through a military coup. Secondly, we are talking of year y2k+11, I do not believe that they are compliant. In this modern world, you don't use a typewriter to log on to the internet.

From your vantage position, what is the future of Nigeria?

We should be happy that we have enjoyed eleven years of unbroken civil rule. This is unprecedented in our nation political history since 1960. We are not there yet, but we must keep on trucking. Someday we shall get there.

Nigeria recently celebrated her Democracy Day. Based on what has transpired since 1999, our democracy calls for celebration?

Eleven years ago, Nigerians began a long, narrow, and tortuous journey to constitutional governance after decades of military dictatorship. The hopes and expectations of the nation's founding fathers at Independence on October 1, 1960, had been dashed due to poor leadership that failed to deliver democracy dividends to the citizenry in tandem with the injunction in Section 14 (1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999; that Nigeria shall be a State founded on the principles of democracy and social justice and that the primary purpose of government is security and welfare of the people. Recently, Nigerians commemorated 11 years of civil rule as opposed to democratic governance.

We are not yet there. Hopefully, in the next Democracy Day, we shall have elected representatives of the people through free, fair, transparent and credible elections. Nigerians, and indeed the international community looks up to President Goodluck Jonathan's government to appoint a credible and God fearing INEC chairman that will provide level playing field for all contestants in the forthcoming general elections. Politicians should imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship and adherence to the rule of electoral engagement. This is the only way the people's vote will count in the forthcoming polls.

Suffice it to say that there will be no credible elections in 2011 without genuine electoral reforms and acceptable voter register. CPP urges the National Assembly to expedite action on the Electoral Reform Bill with a view to passing it to law. The way forward is for Nigerians to observe the rule of law, respect for the Constitution, the due process and the reforms needed in the electoral system. This is the only way we will evolve a responsive and responsible government duly elected by the people. The power of the people to elect or deny election to a government is the only weapon that guarantees a responsible and legitimate government.

We are still at the foundation level of democracy. As a leader of a political party, I am dismayed that we are yet to package a credible and viable counter platform to the dominant party, the PDP. The time is now to start packaging a Grand Rainbow Coalition that will wrest power from the PDP in 2011; we continue to delay at our own peril. All progressives must now come together. I call on all PDP Progressive Governors to midwife this Grand Rainbow Coalition to send a clear signal to PDP that it is no longer business as usual.

Nigerians must resist any attempt by self-serving politicians to manipulate, falsify and rig the 2011 polls. We urge politicians to embrace democratic ideals and abhor politics of bitterness and rancour that could abort our fledging democracy.