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ZONING PROPONENTS HAVE NO ELECTORAL VALUE – SEKIBO

By NBF News

Dr Abiye Sekibo was a former Minister for Transport in the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Rivers State politician during a recent chat with newsmen took a swipe at proponents of zoning in the PDP describing them as spent forces who can't add any value to Jonathan's Presidential aspiration. He also insists that the Supreme Court judgment that made Rotimi Amaechi governor was improper. Excerpts…

What have you been doing since you left office?
Since I left office, I have retired to my private practice. You know I am a medical doctor, so I am back to practice and running around like everyone else to ensure that I keep my family going.

Have you been involved in anything that is government-related?

I am now the chairman of the National Business and Technical Examinations Board, NABTEB.

Leaders from the South-South of which you are one, had come up with a resolution, urging the president to declare for 2011. They also endorsed him as their sole candidate and also said the PDP should do away with zoning, what is your opinion as regards zoning?

My opinion about zoning is that it enthrones mediocrity. It is not a proper federal character and just like anything that does not permit fair competition for all those interested, it will always breed mediocrity. Let's assume that you want three of the best engineers to do assignment, but you put a bar, requiring the engineers to come from some particular areas out of a 150 million. If you do that, you restrict your chances of getting the best engineers. Some people are zoned away while others get more attention. At the end of the day, the best material is not produced for the job.

How do we solve this? Your best friend doesn't have to come from your village; neither does he have to be your brother or sister. How can a people who have such experience be myopic and narrow-minded when it comes to choosing who leads them? We want the best for our country.

The president can come from anywhere. He should not be one who steals from the Ijaws to give to the Hausas or steals from the Fulanis and give to the Tivs. No! He should be one who gives everyone his due.

But this can only happens when you pick someone based on merit. But when you pick someone by 'zoning' everyone from the other zone goes to him to say; look, you picked our slot, so you own us. We all have surrendered our rights to you.' So you now have to think of compensating people, whose slots you've taken, and how do you do it? By depriving other people their rightful due.

Nigeria is a country of many federating units with divergent cultures, groups, tribes and interests, do you think our democracy has matured to a level to which these interests and groups can come together, do away with zoning and pick a leader based on merit?

Our democracy has gone beyond that. Don't forget that in this country we have held elections before. In Lagos, don't forget that the party that normally won elections was the NCNC. They held Lagos in their grasps. Don't forget that Azikiwe won election in the West and would actually have led if ethnicity and tribalism didn't creep in. Our people, ab-initio, did not care where he came from. We all went to secondary schools in which we didn't even know where our classmates came from. It didn't matter.

Only those who don't have electoral value can come to the point of saying, 'if this becomes a fair competition between me and the other person, he is likely to win. So what are his disadvantages that I need to emphasize to make him lose? In other words, this means that if I fear he will win, but since I need the office at all costs, I need to scheme him out, by saying, 'Ok, he is from Okirika and since Addah George from Okirika has been in power for some years or thereabout, we can now say Okirika has produced a governor,' so that he will not become governor.

Those kinds of arguments are used to exclude people whom you think can defeat you and it shows that one lacks the strength of character to stand up to competition. If you want to contest elections, you come forward and say, 'Look, I am the best candidate. I am better than these others who are saying they are good; not because of where I come from, but because of what I have to offer.'

As a member of PDP, the debate over zoning was occasioned by the death of former President Umaru Yar'Adua. If the deputy happened not to have come from the South-South, do you think this debate would have been as heated as it is now?

The PDP constitution does have provisions for sharing offices according to geo-political zones. It is a leading constitution, in the sense that if the president comes from zone A, he must ensure that other members of his government that come from other areas, other than his own get some important offices, as well.

It is assumed that at all times, the best will be picked, but this time, some people want to exclude the sitting president. And what are they saying? 'Oh it is not the turn of the South; it's not the turn of the South-South.' How? It doesn't make sense. The question is; in the PDP, who are those out to contest? Are they better than Goodluck? Do they have a better programme than him?

Where he comes from should not be a factor. Now, whether I am from the South-South or not, I will advocate this trend for the progress of our nation. It is rare to see any sitting president, even those in the USA, loose his party ticket. The party even pushes him forward, because if he wins, it is to the party's glory. Everyone knew that Gordon Brown was not the perfect candidate for the Labour Party but he was the best advantage they had.

They knew he had lost popularity, but he just had to go forward as their best. How can a party have the advantage of a sitting president and still keep on discussing if he is the right candidate who should run or not? Do they want to shoot themselves in the leg? Supposing the party decides that he would not be the candidate and he (the sitting president) decides to leave for another party to exercise his fundamental rights. In the event, he goes with the advantage of incumbency; does the party (he left) think they will do well? No!

There are circumstances to look at, and the fact that Goodluck from the part of the country that has contributed greatly to the advancement of this nation, it is something that should even be an advantage for him.

Recently, the Northern Governors Forum came out with a communiqué, 10 of them supported zoning while eight were against it; how are you, the leaders of the South-South going to go about gaining their support, to back the president?

I believe that all members of the PDP have a duty to support whoever holds their ticket. Any PDP governor not in support of the president, is not fit to be a member of the party. If I were the national chairman of the PDP, such a governor will be starved of the party support. Having said that, the NGF is not the PDP governors' forum. To expect all of them to endorse him enmasse will be illogical. There are governors who are of the ANPP, and the rest. If it is a PDP Governors' Forum that voted, then it becomes a party affair, but in this case, it is not something we ought to consider.

Automatic delegates often give powers to the governors during party primaries; it permits them to determine a lot and this is why the saying that 'the governors are in charge'. Don't you think the PDP should allow this to continue?

I have painstakingly studied the constitution of the PDP and I have come to the conclusion that it was skewed to keep the governors in office at the expense of the party. Those are some issues that have to be looked into by the reforms, so that sanity can return and we can streamline the way the governors have been given advantage over the rest of the party members. By the way, why are the governors afraid of allowing reforms in the party? We all belong to a party. If there are a 1000 of us and we say we should all have a say in who carries the party flag, is anything wrong in that? Anyone who says we all should have no say, and deliberately tries to keep us away from that decision process is quite unpopular. If you are popular, allow your party open to everyone who wants to join.

What the governors essentially do is to keep away majority of the party members and only pick a handful, and say come decide who'll be the candidate, but I am the only candidate. So nobody decides and nobody else should be candidate. What kind of democracy is that?

Another thing we are saying is that the party members should fund the party. The government must not use the peoples' collective wealth to fund the party. It is wrong.

The PDP has at least 10 million members across the nation. If each member were to pay at least N1000 membership fee, the PDP would have N10 billion every year. It is more than enough to run any party anywhere in the world. Now, when we say we have 10 million party members, we want to see physical evidence, not just papers. When we say everyone should go to his or her ward to get registered, or attend a ward congress, there must be tangible evidence, not overnight party members. I love reforms but some people are opposing it.

Who are those opposing the reforms?
Governors! I wish them luck because the worst that can happen to the country is that every governor must leave after eight years. When you leave, you will then come to my side of the divide and receive a double dose of what you are doing to party members now.

All we are doing is for collective interest. Do what is right, amend the constitution, and be fair to all, so that when it is time, you wouldn't have to crawl to anyone to get your rights.

The elections are around the corner; do you think you can be done with the reforms before the next elections?

Absolutely! It won't take us two weeks. All party members are enthusiastic and expectant. Every true PDP member wants an authentic constitution, inflexible and true to the core. No one wants to keep going to beg and being the houseboy of the governor to get his due.

What is the problem between you and Governor Rotimi Amaechi?

First, let me correct an impression. Whenever they want to be foolish and show their political naivety, they say 'Abuja politicians'. For Rivers State, there is nothing like 'Abuja politicians'. I live in Rivers; I am one of those opportuned to have a house in Port Harcourt, Abuja and Okirika. Unlike other people, you cannot deprive me of having houses in these places. I live in these places for as long as I want to. But if there is a business that keeps me in Abuja, I stay in Abuja. If there is business that keeps me in Okirika or Port Harcourt, I stay in any of these places.

Many of us disagree, absolutely with the decision of the Supreme Court to impose upon us a governor who did not contest elections, whose name was not on the ballot papers presented to the people of Rivers on the day of voting, although he won the PDP primaries. It ended there. He was not presented to the electorate as a candidate. People tend to forget that it has never happened anywhere in the world; in the history of democracy that someone who did not contest, but only indicated that, 'I want to be a candidate' is allowed to govern.

You are saying that the only way to be elected is through the ballot?

The Supreme Court imposed this man on us, and everyone kept mum, except a few of us who said, 'Look, if the Supreme Court has done this, it is wrong. Yes, it is the highest judicial authority in the land, but it is wrong. It is a misuse of judicial powers. I did not stop at that, I went to court to challenge the decision. Did Amaechi satisfy constitutional requirements to become governor? Those are the issues.

This man who is superintending over the affairs and money of Rivers State, was he voted in by the people? Did he satisfy the requirements of the various sections of the constitution to become governor? The answer is No! Everyone knows it, but we hid our heads in sands like an ostrich and the few of us who said, 'Mr. Governor, it's wrong. Let us go back to the electorate and whoever wins will be sworn in. If he were an honourable man, he would have done just that. We know that it is a gain for the party but some of us cannot stand for these things that are not just.

The Supreme Court's judgment made it very clear that in the eyes of the law, it was Amaechi that won the elections, that it was the party that won the election and not Omehia.

The matter has not gone back to the Supreme Court yet, but let me say this: you can deceive some of the people some of the time, but you can hardly deceive all the people all the time. If in the eyes of the law it is Amaechi that is the rightful person but he was not presented to the people, in the eyes of the people, who was the candidate?

When you are practicing democracy, do you rule with the eyes of the people or that of the law? You see, people should stop deceiving themselves and misleading society. The law is made to help the ordinary man to be able to stand for the truth. When the law is turned upside-down to cover the truth, you encourage the ordinary man to become lawless and say, 'If this is what I can get from the law, then let me break the law and get a lawyer to help me turn it upside-down.'

As a stakeholder in Rivers State, do you have fundamental issues with the governor that make you disagree with his administrative procedure?

At the time Amaechi won the party primaries, I was one of his ardent supporters. When the party leadership met and decided that he should be our candidate, I didn't oppose him, I supported him. When issues arose, not from the party in Rivers, but from Abuja and the decision was reached that he should not be the candidate of the party again, we were powerless.

From the day he assumed that position as governor of the state, he has administered in a way that has bordered on dividing the state. All the primordial divisions and sentiments that were destroyed for good, he has brought them back. He has tended to impoverish our people much more than he can ever empower them. Now, that administrative style is one I disagree with.

If he had allowed some of us to be close to him, we would have advised that this style of governance will do our people no good, this decision will not help us. There are two parts to the issue. One is my position about the fact of his administrative style. And two is the fact that, Supreme Court verdict or not, he has ruled in a way that tends to divide our people. That is a major issue I also have with him. If he doesn't like me for these reasons, it doesn't bother me.

Do you have plans to run for governorship of Rivers in 2011?

When that time comes, we'll look at that.
Do you think we will have credible elections in 2011?

From what we have read of Prof. Jega recently if he is able to get the amount of money he is looking for now, he can conduct a credible election. But that is a big one, and knowing the president for keeping his words, Jega will be sorted out soon. I'm sure he will steer INEC correctly. I am not in support of anyone who is calling for postponement of the elections, because the constitution, even with the amendment, has made it clear that the elections must hold at a stipulated time. The elections must hold. The issue is; will it be credible? Jega has said, 'Give me this and I'll make it credible.' Let's wait and see.

Late President Yar'Adua granted amnesty to repentant militants and the current president is doing all he can to sustain it. As a stakeholder in the Niger Delta struggle, are you satisfied with the progress of the programme? Secondly, do you think the relative peace you have in the South South will last, seeing that the elections are around the corner?

For the first question, only he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. The president, luckily, is from the heart of the South South zone and he knows the problems with the amnesty programme and the pace at which it is going. I am happy that he is taking steps to address it by going to the NASS to approve funds for that. I think the president has taken the bull by the horns, and is on track to bring lasting peace and restoration of commercial activities to the region. Having said that, how do you sustain the fragile peace?

The answer is simple. Provide jobs, infrastructure and allowing the people a say in who governors them is a fair beginning to permanent peace in the area.