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IF I HAVE MY WAY, I'LL GIVE PRESIDENCY TO SARAKI, BUT JONATHAN WILL BE A STABILISER – ADAMU SONG

By NBF News
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Saraki
Factional National Chairman of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), Alhaji Adamu Song, surely knows where to pull his punches. Recently, when he spoke to Saturday Sun, he sounded bitter about the controversy surrounding the contest of the 2011 presidential poll by the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

But his greatest worry now is the success or otherwise of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the leadership of former leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Attahiru Jega. He believes that what is on ground cannot guarantee free and fair elections.

'Why I am skeptical about Jega's performance is this: When he was sworn in, he made a request and said if he was given what he had requested, he may not need anything more. Now that he has been given what he asked for, another dimension is being introduced into it; the chances of a free and fair election looks dim, as far as I am concerned,' he said.

That is not all. Song added: 'I see that he is not in control of the environment, where he is working. In the organisation that he is heading, he did not appoint all the Resident Electoral Commissioners and so, he cannot vouch for them. Do they have the kind of determination that he has?

'He cannot vouch that these commissioners have the same belief and zeal to conduct a free and fair election like he has. It would be a very difficult task for Jega. I don't think we can have a free and fair election because such an election requires umpires of Jega's standing at all points. And where can you find the 774 returning officers, who believe in what Jega believes.'

Contrary to some of his vocal peers in the North, Song delivered a punch, disowning the northern socio-cultural group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). He said ACF members are all PDP card-carrying members and, therefore, should be ignored by all patriotic Nigerians.

'Let me ask you. Where did all northerners sit to draft the ACF constitution? Where did we sit to ratify the constitution? Some people sat down and registered their organisation and you are referring to it as representing the people of the North because of the name. Listen, ACF has never represented the North for even a day,' he said.

According to him, those talking about zoning should go to court or shut their mouths. 'The national caucus of the party endorsed Jonathan to contest. The National Working Committee says the same thing. The NEC of the PDP, the largest organ after the convention said, yes, Jonathan is free to contest. And even the Board of Trustees agreed that Jonathan could contest. I cannot then see what they are saying about infringement. If these important organs of the party are endorsing this infringement, then that party is not fit to exist. What then are they complaining about? You cannot be more Catholic than the Pope. Can you?' he asked.

He spoke on other things.
Zoning has been an issue in the polity, especially in the PDP. What does this portend for the nation?

What is happening now in this country and particularly in the PDP is not a good omen for this country. It is not a good omen because, although President Goodluck Jonathan is a member of the PDP, but in his capacity as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he has now transcended the party. He is for all Nigerians. So, fortunately or unfortunately, whatever is affecting Mr. President, directly or indirectly, will also affect the larger society, Nigeria as a whole. And, therefore, it involves all other political parties. Apart from that, it is a PDP affair. It is not supposed to have been elevated to a national issue. It only became a national issue because the sitting president is involved. But I am not happy with what is happening because it has heated the polity beyond the substance, the real issue on ground. And I hope PDP understands this. President Goodluck Jonathan maybe a member of the PDP, but they should treat him with some measure of respect and dignity because he is the sitting president of Nigeria . And whatever involves the president, they should handle with care because it is beyond PDP. It is Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan is, today, the symbol and representative of Nigeria. Nigeria and Jonathan are now two sides of a single coin. He is our president; whether you are PDP or whatever you are; whether you voted for them in 2007 or not.

With they way things are, what advice do you have for those canvassing the retention of zoning in PDP?

Those speaking now should also know that the problem on ground also borders on Jonathan's exercise of his fundamental rights, as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If anybody thinks that the constitution of the PDP has been infringed, he should go to court. Before now, I am aware that some people went to court. The court threw out the matter, which suggests that President Goodluck Jonathan committed no offence. And I cannot see how the three important organs of the PDP would be a party to the violation of the PDP constitution. The national caucus of the party endorsed Jonathan to contest. The National Working Committee says the same thing. The NEC of the PDP, the largest organ after the convention said, yes, Jonathan is free to contest. And even the Board of Trustees agreed that Jonathan could contest. I cannot then see what they are saying about infringement.

If these important organs of the party are endorsing this infringement, then that party is not fit to exist. What then are they complaining about? You cannot be more Catholic than the Pope. Can you? The National Executive Committee of the PDP, made up of very responsible and highly placed Nigerians; people we hold in high esteem, rightly or wrongly, sat down and reviewed the constitution of the party, viz-a-viz the issue on ground and could not find any infringement of the constitution, bearing in mind that a member had earlier gone to court on the issue without winning. So, which infringement are they talking about? It is good that another member has gone to court again. That is the responsible and sensible thing for anybody to do rather than heating the polity unnecessarily. Are those harping on the issue of zoning now suggesting that they know the constitution of the PDP better than the NEC members of the party, who said Jonathan should contest? Then if truly there is an infringement that the whole NEC of the PDP cannot see and it is only those talking now can see, then they should pass a vote of no confidence in the NEC members. They are not fit to be there. These people should give us peace and discuss zoning in their bedrooms. They should allow Nigerians to face the elections.

Are you then saying that Jonathan's decision to contest the election is okay?

Those talking about zoning and dragging the North into it belongs to the PDP North. I am a northerner; but any arrangement that the northern members of the PDP enter is not binding on me. I don't see any honourable thing in what they have done. My own take on the issue is that Nigerians are free to contest election when they satisfy the constitutional provision. This is because I cannot see how you can disqualify a sitting president from contesting. It does not make any sense. Do you think there is any sense in that? They want to bar him from contesting simply because he is from Bayelsa State; not because the constitution says no; not because he has any record of incapacity or any other thing at variance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They want to stop him from the contest simply because he is from South-South. And why would the PDP constitution bar him and other Nigerians from contesting?

Jonathan is our president. He has all the rights to contest. Doesn't he? And that is what we are saying. He should contest. We, Nigerians, are saying he should contest. We, Nigerians, own Jonathan now and we are saying he should contest. Or are they saying it is PDP that owns Jonathan? PDP only presented Jonathan and we discovered that we wanted Jonathan more than PDP. So, for goodness sake, they should allow the man to contest. Let Nigerians say that he is not fit to be president. Those singing North, North should watch it. Are they taking me to South-South? Then which North are they talking about? For now, it is a PDP issue. After settling the matter, Nigerians will come and settle it. We Nigerians want Nigeria. Invariably, it would be left for Nigerians to analyse and decide who is better for the country. After all, we are not facing drought of presidential materials.

To be honest with you, those who are contesting and are shouting about zoning do not have a case at all. You said your party's constitution has been infringed; you don't need to be shouting it all over the place like the national anthem, heating the polity and not struggling. Take the case to the leaders of the party. If they are not convinced with your own argument, then give allowance.

But the ACF seems to be pro-zoning and there is the belief that there is a gang-up against Jonathan. What do you think?

There is no gang-up against Jonathan. In politics, we call it scheming. And this is allowed. If they can come together and present one candidate, it makes it easier for Nigerians to decide. Once you are good, no amount of blackmail will make you bad. I don't see their coming together as a gang-up. They are merely strategising. It is the PDP way. You know they have their own way of doing things. You are talking of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) throwing their weight behind those shouting about zoning; tell me which ACF member that is not in PDP. Let me ask you. Where did all northerners sit to draft the ACF constitution? Where did we sit to ratify the constitution? Some people sat down and registered their organisation and you are referring to it as representing the people of the North because of the name. Listen. ACF has never represented the North for even a day. So, make no mistake about that. Who are they representing? Where did all northerners meet to hold the election that brought those talking now into office? How were the delegates to that election shared? Find out from them if they held elections.

As far as I am concerned, I have nothing to do with ACF. There is, absolutely, no relationship between ACF and I. The ACF does not even resemble or represent my aspiration. Even the Northern Union is more respectful than the ACF. Few northerners that can come together can go and form a union. So, as far as I am concerned, Northern Union and ACF are representing the group they stand for. They are only using 'North' to make it look as if it is all-encompassing. I have absolutely nothing to do with the two bodies. And if I should belong, I will rather belong to the Northern Union than ACF.

How would you assess the presidential candidates?
First and foremost, Atiku has done one or two things to all doubting Thomases. In Adamawa PDP, they are saying no to Atiku and all sorts of things. Atiku has reintegrated into the PDP. And the top echelon of the party met and granted him a waiver. The long and short of the matter is that Atiku has outgrown Adamawa PDP. Atiku is now a member of the national PDP. That is much for Atiku. Bukola Saraki is a vibrant young man. If it were something I can take and give, I would have given the presidency to him because his achievement in his state makes him one individual who merits it. Age is on his side. He is vibrant and has a bundle of ideas. We have seen what he would be able to do. After Saraki, Jonathan is there, in terms of age. He is a young man. And besides, Jonathan has the singular advantage of being the stabilizing factor. If we want to be rational, it is for us to surrender the presidency to him so that, for once, we will have the opportunity of unifying Nigeria and unite as a nation. If that happens, we would have buried the idea of getting Nigeria's president from a particular section of the country. Handing over the presidency to Jonathan now would stabilize Nigeria. That would be the stabilizing factor. Those having a contrary idea should remember that once there is no stability, there could be no development.

Take a look at Aliyu Gusau. He has been everything in this country, except being the president. And I do not want to believe that for you to contribute anything to the advancement of the country, you have to be the president. Aliyu has contributed enormously to the advancement of the country. There is not even a government in Nigeria without Aliyu Gusau. He's got to be thankful. For Babangida; yes, he has made some achievements. He is one of the longest ruling military presidents in this country. He brought in a lot of good programmes. Unfortunately, Babangida's exit was not too palatable for him. And I think he is only making an attempt to correct that. I believe if anyone of them wants to be president, if they can negotiate the interest of the North they are talking about, he would restore his respect and credibility. Babangida is a fine gentleman who has done a lot for this country. He has also left a lot of legacies. The Civil Defence, Federal Road Safety Commission, name them are his products.

I call on Nigerians to forget the confusion in PDP. That confusion is self-inflicted. They know what they want to achieve from that confusion. To be honest with you, I don't think Nigerians should expect much from Buhari, bearing in mind what he did previously. Even as a military dictator, he didn't achieve much other than flogging Nigerians in the market place and forcing them to do menial jobs when all the essential commodities disappeared from civilian stores to the barracks. In fact, left to me, Buhari is the architect of all the financial problems and poverty in this country because when he changed currency in 10 days, Kaduna town, which is the most urbane in the North, could not boast of 10 banks. Uncountable number of rural dwellers, as a result, became bankrupt. So, I do not think we should expect much from Buhari's presidency. All the same, as a Nigerian, he has the right to contest. I hope Nigerians will tell him that we have not forgotten the pains he inflicted on us in 1984.

Do you think that Jega would fulfil his promise of free and fair polls in 2011?

I do not know Attahiru Jega at the individual level. I, however, happen to know, from what I have gathered, that he is a forthright person, an activist who is struggling very well and who is prepared to make a change. He is also known to be transparent. But, I feel bad for him in the sense that he may end up soiling his record, although we are solidly praying for him. I see that he is not in control of the environment where he is working. In the organisation that he is heading, he did not appoint all the Resident Electoral Commissioners and so, he cannot vouch for them. Do they have the kind of determination that he has? He cannot vouch that these commissioners have the same belief and zeal to conduct a free and fair election, like he has. It would be a very difficult task for Jega. I don't think we can have a free and fair election, because such an election requires umpires of Jega's standing at all points. And where can you find the 774 returning officers, who believe in what Jega believes?

Why I am skeptical about Jega's performance is this: When he was sworn in, he made a request and said if he was given what he had requested for, he may not need anything more. Now that he has been given what he asked for, another dimension is being introduced into it; the chances of a free and fair election looks dim, as far as I am concerned. Jega should have thought of the confusion arising from the Electoral Act and the constitution before accepting the appointment. When he accepted this appointment, he never highlighted these problems. He never said, in his acceptance speech, that there are problems that might militate against the conduct of a free and fair election. What he said was that if he were given this and this, he would deliver. Now, he has been given and another dimension has been introduced. Honestly, I have my doubts. And I am uneasy. I am feeling very uneasy.

Perhaps, Jega himself has not properly assessed the enormity of the challenges associated with the conduct of elections in Nigeria. But my greatest concern is that he has no hand in the appointment of his lieutenants. I cannot understand how well he can see having 774 returning officers who share the same belief with him. If all the 774 returning officers return rigged results, I don't know what Jega would do. He would have no choice but to announce the rigged result because it is what would come from the local government areas that would form the result at the centre.