By NBF News
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For sometime now, the thorny issue of zoning has dominated the national political space. Chief Chuka Odom, a journalist, lawyer and politician, who was the immediate past minister of state for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) says zoning is not in consonant with democratic ethos.

Odom tells Daily Sun in this interview conducted in Abuja that the deafening calls for entrenchment of zoning in the polity are in total disconnect with the voting rights of Nigerians. Excerpts:

The major political issue at present is whether President Goodluck Jonathan should contest in 2011, what is your take on this?

Well, the law grants him and every other Nigerian an inalienable right to contest any election in the country. This is without prejudice to any internal arrangement a political party may put in place. And on the issue that is in our political lexicon at the moment, zoning, I see a total disconnect between zoning and the right of the President or any other Nigerian to contest election to any office in Nigeria .

Section 36 of the Constitution guarantees every Nigerian the right to free association and that freedom extends to your right to become a member of any political association of your choice. Any law or administrative rule that goes counter to the express provision of the constitution is null and void so I don't see where zoning can operate.

But is it only now you have realised it is at variance with the constitution when zoning dates back to 1999?

Now let me tell you, zoning and rotation are two different things. The truth of the matter is that rotation of political offices has always been with us even before 1999. Now if you are saying that the zoning arrangement of the PDP has been upheld and that principle has been upheld in all presidential elections, of course one would have cause to say respect it but in 1999 candidates from both the North and South contested elections. Now is that zoning? But it is all about struggle for power, and power sharing is about compromise and negotiation.

And I don't think zoning is what should be in the front burner now, what should occupy people's mind is the critical issue facing this country, one is security, the country is under siege by the mass of unemployed youth that have taken up arms in a criminal fashion against the sovereignty and integrity of this country that is a major issue, we have to worry about power, the President has assumed the position of Minister of Power in other to underscore the urgency to address this issue.

We should talk about unemployment which is at the key of this insecurity, when the state is no longer in a position to guarantee the safety of lives of its citizens then it becomes a failed state, these are crucial issue that true patriots should be addressing their minds to and not the narrow issues of who becomes President in 2011.

Sir, we know you were a member of the PPA, are you still talking to us on that platform?

I am a registered member of the PDP. Yes, PPA was a political party that delivered two states, the dynamics of politics at that time could not ensure its survival because the internal contradictions in our political culture where individuals are free to move from one party to another platform so when the party had lost its principal elected on that platform apparently it caved in.

You were a commissioner in Abia, and a two-time minister in the federal republic, do you intend to contest the gubernatorial position in your state?

Absolutely, I would certainly be participating in the next round of elections, what I cannot do right now is to declare my ambition, when I am ready you will be told.

You were minister of state during Senator Adamu Aliero's tenure as FCT Minister. He was recently indicted by a committee for allegedly being involved in shady land allocation, were you also involved?

Well I am sure you are very familiar with the issue of schedule of duties between ministers and ministers of duty, I as minister of state had nothing to do with land allocation, my views were not taken into account so I don't like commenting on something I am ignorant of so you can ask the minister himself.

What is the problem with conducting decent, free and fair elections in Nigeria ?

As far as I am concerned there are three reasons why we have not been able to have free and fair elections in Nigeria . One is that the institutions that are charged with the responsibilities are weak. We often times tend to equate personal integrity with institutional integrity, everybody is saying Prof. Jega is an honourable man and I agree but then that is personal integrity which has nothing to do with the integrity of the institution that he runs.

So for an election to be free and fair we have to have credible institutions and have the confidence of the people and how do you generate this confidence, you do so by a system of checks and balances, in-built mechanisms that will ensure a certain code of behaviour is not acceptable.

On the day of elections Jega will probably be in Abuja , he will not be in Aba or Taraba, if the institutions that are charged with the responsibility of the elections are not done in a manner to earn the credibility of the people, there is nothing Prof. Jega can do from Abuja.

Number two is our attitude to power, if we had addressed the issues of unemployment, power, insecurity maybe the rush for power would have been minimal because in a country where there are no middle class, no functioning businesses that can absorb up to 50 per cent of the labour market, that makes positions in government so attractive that people want to die because of it.

Number three is that we have not been able to create a sanction regime that works, if we have a functional judiciary, a criminal justice system that works fairly effectively coupled with a functional police system. This is a crucial element in electoral discipline; otherwise on election day the policeman is just a by-stander while thugs conduct the elections.

But what about all the endorsement for Goodluck Jonathan, is it healthy for our polity?

It is only a morale booster, it is also a statement of moral acceptability, it is done elsewhere but what I expected during the constitution review is the issue of security vote, who determines what amounts to vote as security vote? You see this is an expressway to corruption, no civilised system will allow or give an individual a freehand into public funds and decides what he wants as security vote and he gets some people in the House of Assembly to endorse it and then the party is on. In the US which we are using as a model, governors are paid salaries they can't dispense favours.

So if we continue to allow chief executives, whether at the federal, state or local government level can access funds and account at their own pace in the manner they think fit then the system will continue to witness massive corruption and it will translate to inefficiency and developmental issues.

What, in your opinion, do you think is responsible for the lack of a credible opposition in Nigeria ?

In the first place if we have a system that guarantees a level playing field then there will be no reason for people to run from pillar to post. Now the new chairman of PDP has said they have a credibility luggage that he is determined to discharge by ensuring there is internal democracy in PDP. Any day the system of elections become free and fair and free from interference then there will be no need of people moving from one party to the other.

The day governors will not use state funds to campaign, or use state security to guard his votes, or the police in his state as his personal army, that day there be no use decamping to another party.