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By NBF News

Honourable Sada Soli Jibia, from Katsina State is the Chairman, House of  Representatives Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Relations. In this interview, Jibia insists that the principle of zoning is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.

“Go and ask the crack lawyers to tell you, what is the concept, what is the basic principle of federal character provision in the Constitution. Mark you, I am not even talking about the president, but the opportunities in providing public service in this country, “ he noted.

He disagrees with Daily Sun  that the North is fretting over zoning.

The House of Representatives has been portrayed in bad light, as a result of some unsavoury developments: scam and rancorous sessions, lawmakers turning the chamber into boxing arena; why all these?

The House of Representatives, or rather the National Assembly has never been in the news, negatively. You see, this is democracy, this is politics and this is a forum, where you have representatives of the people and this is a platform where you have people that make comments on national issues, on different issues and therefore, those issues would definitely be unpalatable to some people and they would definitely view them in a different manner and because of the fundamental issues…they have the right to say anything about the national assembly.

People ascribe any bad image, or conduct, or scam to the national assembly. These are just opinions and you can not deny people from expressing themselves, but as a parliament and as a House, I think the House is doing very well.

When you gather people from different educational  and religious background, you are bound to have different opinions, different ideas, expressions and even different actions. Perhaps, this is it but the bottom line is we are still in a very young democracy, we are still trying to understand the culture of moulding democracy and definitely some people wouldn't accept it easily.

People are learning, I think the national assembly, or the House of Representatives, I could say we are learning. It is a very young democracy, the procedure is difficult, the process is very tough and society is taking  up these things very slow.

I think that what I can say; that the national assembly, or the House of Representatives is finding its feet in this process of democracy.

You know democracy or leadership generally, you offend people and they must have the shock to take it . I think that's the way I look at it.

I think generally the House of Representatives is doing very well. But I am just particular about the House of Representatives; the recent unfortunate incident, when members engaged in open brawl has painted the House in bad light in the eyes of Nigerians .

I don't think it gave the House a negative image, I think it also expressed the nature of democracy. It had happened in different democracy around the world and it is happening in different democracies around the world.

Look, parliament I told you is a forum, where people from different background expressed their views in different manner. Well, if you don't play according to the rules, you are bound to have this kind of thing.

All those who brought those accusations didn't play by the rules. They didn't bring those issues to the floor of the House according to the rules of the House, therefore, some people are bound to be offended.

Actually  we were offended, because they didn't follow the right procedure in channeling their complaints.

So, when are you going to have those suspended back?

I don't think we would have them back. The House have taken a decision. But their constituents are itching to have them back

Who told you that? I don't think so because you haven't been there and I don't think so.  If they have the concern of their constituents, they shouldn't have manifested what they did on the floor of the House.

I know the PDP National Working Committee has been involved in some trouble shooting efforts I don't know about that.

But what if the Party says they should be accommodated?

But the PDP hasn't said it yet. Some legal practitioners have been picking holes in the new Electoral Act  and faulted the national assembly resolution on the order of elections; that's it is the responsibility of INEC to decide on which elections to come first.

Well, where were the lawyers when the Electoral Act, was being done?

Where were they when we were amending the constitution I think in this country, we must sit down and get things done according to the ways they are being done, not because somebody is busy saying things shouldn't be done, because he doesn't like it done that way and begin to criticize.

Yes, lawyers can complain, but where were they, when we were holding public hearings, left, right and center ?

Where were they when we engaged their colleagues as consultants in the constitution amendment?

But don't you think something could still be done, now that they are discerning enough to observe that perceived illegality?

But most legislations are subject to review. If in the future we found out that the provisions of this Act isn't consistent with the demands of the society, we change it.

Section 91 of the Electoral Act places a bar on electoral expenses; it actually said, for House of Representatives candidate, you can spend, N20m, but people look at that provision with cynicism and ask, how do we enforce it.

Well, that depends on INEC. Let INEC enforce it, the law has made its provision. The enforcement should be done by the enforcement agencies.

If I should give you N10.00 to go for shopping, I have given you the money, it is for you to come back with the statistics on how you spent it. But I would want you to spend N10.00, or less. But the fact says I have given you the cash. Go and spend it anyhow. So, it is INEC job to enforce it.

Would you subscribe to shift in the conduct of general  election to April, 2011, as being canvassed in some quarters?

It is possible. Everything is possible when it comes to planning. You plan and then you find out at tail end of it that there is something that is missing. And this is about people and when you are dealing with people, you must have contingency plan and that's where contingency plan is important. If INEC feels that it can not conduct it at a given time, then it can make request for extension. The provisions are there and I think the law make that provisions.

Let us discuss your party, PDP?
Yes, what is wrong with PDP
Where do you stand on zoning?
Yes, I am for it, because every political office holder in this country is a beneficiary of zoning. I would want to see one person in

this country who would deny the fact that he isn't a beneficiary of zoning. In fact most of the political office holder, go to the public service, from the messenger.. what is federal character all about? It is talking of zoning. It is about saying one section of the country must not dominate privileges.

It is all about it. Why people are making all sorts of noise about zoning, let them go and sit down in their study and understand the concept. There was zoning in the previous government and in public offices. Look at the appointment of permanent secretaries. It is based on zoning; look at the appointment of commissioners in the respective states, it is based on zoning. Even councilors at the local government level, it is based on zoning.

It isn't even about PDP, other parties if they will not be mischievous, they know that zoning exists in every appointment in this country because it is about giving every section a chance to participate. I look at zoning as participation in leadership.

That's the way I look at it. Giving opportunity to other people to participate in providing public service. So, if you talk about zoning, it isn't only in politics, it isn't only in democracy, even in the civil service, there is zoning.

Are you aware of G-20?
Look, there are so many Gs` I am not aware of G-20 Well, G-20 has Professor Jerry Gana as chairman ; the group organized the Northern Political Summit held  in Kaduna. The logic being canvassed by the group is that Yar `Adua and Jonathan ticket is inseparable; that the demise of one doesn't invalidate the ticket.

Well, since you say it is logic, I have to look at it, logically. Now, what did the constitution say?

But there is no zoning in the Nigerian constitution.

Yes, there is, absolutely. What is federal character?

You are giving another dimension to the debate. Go and ask the crack lawyers to tell you, what is the concept, what is the basic principle of federal character provision in the constitution. Mark you, I am not even talking about the president, but the opportunities in providing public service in this country. You see, why some prominent people keep harping on zoning is because they know the history of this country. It isn't about selfishness, or taking a position and giving it to one person in the country.

That's not  the issue . It is about understanding the nature and the history of this country. That's why these nice people sat down and said, if we want to exhibit fairness in providing public service  you must open up and give opportunity to the minority.

Can you tell me, if there is no zoning how can an Idoma man…

Take Benue State, if there is no zoning how on earth can an Idoma man be governor in Benue?

It is completely, absolutely impossible, if there is no zoning. Tell me how. Look at the population of the Tiv, plus the Idomas. But it is the right of the Idoma man to be given a fair chance and level playing ground to provide public service.

How do you get that level playing ground?
Only on the platform of zoning and federal character, or power rotation. It is all over the states and that's how to resolve the domination of even one ethnic group on the others in a local government.

But some Northern leaders have threatened to dump the PDP, if it insists on Jonathan.

Would you respond to such call?
That's politics, the North isn't only dominated by the PDP, but that's the PDP. We wait and see the scenario. You see, what I don't do in politics, I don't threaten people, because it is about opinion, it is about convincing people what can you do. In a democracy, you don't threaten people.

Do you agree that in the political history of Nigeria, this is the fist time the North is fretting and divided, even at the home front?

You see, that's the beauty of democracy. In democracy, somebody must disagree with you. That's why you have democracy, so that the cross fertilization of opinion and ideas, is so versed, you can not even imagine it. You can only have this kind of development, only in a democracy; that's the beauty of it. I will allow you to express yourself and you will allow me to express myself.

But I don't agree with you that it is the most trying period for the North, but for Nigeria. I don't want you to have the misconception that zoning is a northerner thing. No, it is a Nigerian thing. Any right thinking and honest person would tell you, the only thing that would guarantee peace in this country is to give a level playing ground and fairness to all and sundry in this country.

How do you do it, is through zoning, because if you say you want to discard the principle of zoning, some people who have quality people will never be given that opportunity to give that leadership. So, you must have to come up with something reasonable to accommodate the weaker ones who have the capacity to provide leadership. But they can not get that opportunity given their weak numerical strength and they would be marginalized, because democracy is about majority.