By NBF News

Contrary to the position of the Niger State governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu and former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, the deputy chairman of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Barrister Tanko Beji says no Nigerian should be precluded from contesting the 2011 presidential election.

This is even as former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, Governor Aliyu and some northern elites have been insisting that the nation's presidency should be zoned to the North.

But, in an exclusive interview with Sunday Sun in Minna, Beji who said he was speaking as a lawyer asked: 'Why are we talking about north/south divide?' and added that 'the Nigerian constitution that is supreme has resolved the problem.

For the purpose of this interview, let me use the word North/South divide; otherwise, we are talking about zoning. On the issue of the 2011 presidential election, we've been hearing serious warning signals from the north and the question people ask is: would the north go into the election with one voice?

Incidentally, now, I am going to talk to you as a lawyer; not as a politician. I am one single person who does not believe in the politics of North/South divide because politics is not all about North/South. Politics is about Nigeria. How do we better Nigeria than we found it yesterday. And our forefathers who helped build Nigeria were one solid people- Zik, Sardauna, Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo; they saw themselves as brothers.

Why are we talking about North/South divide? Incidentally, the Nigerian constitution that is supreme has resolved the problem. It gives each Nigerian the opportunity to aspire. Sell yourself to the people of Nigeria and see if you are sellable. If we have an Owerri man who will become the messiah to turn around Nigeria to take us to the promise land, why not?

But your party the PDP seems to be against this.
Don't misquote the PDP. Don't. You are not a member of the PDP; you shouldn't speak for the PDP. The position of the PDP is not far fetched. The position of the PDP says the PDP constitution is not superior to the Nigerian constitution. And any section of the PDP constitution that is not in consonance with the Nigerian constitution, the provisions of the Nigerian constitution take effect.

And that is why it says that even though the PDP constitution says that the position is zoned to the north, no southerner is precluded from contesting because the Nigerian constitution gives them the right. Even when the position of the presidency was zoned to the south, northerners contested. Gemade contested. Abubakar Rimi of blessed memory contested. Did the PDP shut them out?

But there seems to be the confusion created by the official zoning of the position of the presidency to the north and again asking southerners to contest. Why not say the position is now open to all.

There is no confusion there. You want to cause the confusion. The ultimate thing rests between you and me. Choose from among the southerners and the northerners who you think can best do the job.

Don't you think that the northerners who contested with Obasanjo at that time violated the PDP constitution?

No, they did not. That is why they were not sanctioned.

Why then is there the need for zoning?
Leave that to us. We'll sort ourselves out because you don't belong to us.

How is the PDP in Niger State?
The PDP in Niger State is more solid than it was. It is the party to beat. We are set for the elections. We have been in government for the past 11 years, getting to 12 with three consecutive regimes. Nobody can look at us in the face and say we don't have things to point at.

The present administration in the state has been talking about non-performance of the Kure administration; about certain ineptitude when the last administration was of the PDP. Do you agree with that position?

Don't misquote the present administration. I will get back to this point. I will hammer on it. Don't quote this administration out of context. Governance is a continuous process. When the present administration took over, it said things were not done rightly. Contracts were given and they were not executed. People were awarded jobs they didn't do and they were saying pay us.

Why do I pay for something that was not done? A committee was set up to verify the claims of the so called contractors. When the committee submitted its report, government discovered that those who claimed that government owed them money were actually the ones owing government because they were advanced money to work and they didn't do the work. Government said, alright, we have this report at hand, what do we do?

Let us set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, which is a quasi court; invite these people to come and show cause why government should not recover the money they owe government from them. That was what happened. The Judicial Commission of Inquiry that was set up was not set up, per se, to probe the last administration. It was set up to look at issues: who were those that were given money to work and they didn't work? Who were those that worked and were not paid?

But who gave them the contract? Is it not a PDP government?

PDP does not give jobs. It is the government. So if people were given contracts and they didn't work and they are demanding for more, does the government, not, as a matter of right, have that right to say come and account for what you are claiming? And people who have worked and were not paid, should the government not pay them? And after the report of the Commission of Inquiry, those that worked and were not paid, has the government not paid them?

Those that collected money and didn't work, are they not refunding money to government? So, can you say because the past administration was PDP and the President is PDP, Government should sweep it under the carpet? Is that what you are saying? If not, are you saying that process can be called probing the last administration? They are just putting the record straight. In fact, I feel the Commission of Inquiry only vindicated government's position because government awarded you job and you didn't do it. Why did you not work? If you didn't work, bring back the money. Those that worked and were not paid, pay.

It is as simple as that.
The contractors then were PDP members.
So, if you are a PDP member, they gave you a job to do and you didn't do it, government should not prosecute you because you are a member? You see, the members of the PDP in Niger State are just one-third of the population of Niger State. The money does not belong to PDP. If Niger State has a population of 100 million and PDP has just about 800,000 members, for instance, are you saying government should shut its eyes?

Your governor, Dr. Aliyu was, initially, opposed to the idea of zoning the Presidency of this nation. Then to the surprise of many, he made a U-turn and aligned with those in favour of zoning to the north.

That question is personal to the governor. He is the only person who can answer it because as far as I am concerned, it is he who knows why he did the U-turn.

Do you have personal opinion in government, especially when you are talking about election matters?

When he made the so-called U-turn you talked about, did he say he made the U-turn on behalf of the people of Niger State?

But he would have consulted.
It's a thought. He did consult. Our governor is the Chairman of the Northern Governors' Forum. And at the meeting of the forum, the governor said all the PDP governors in this forum, before we take a decision, go back to your respective states; consult with your people and bring the report of your consultation to us in the next meeting. Am I right? Before the report came, did our governor make a pronouncement on behalf of Niger State? When he came back, did he not give a directive to all local government chairmen? And we called a meeting of all Nigerlites, irrespective of their parties at the Government House.

That meeting was faulted because it was entirely a PDP affair. Why bring in members of other political parties in an entirely PDP matter?

Well, that's entirely another thing. I am talking to buttress the fact that he consulted. Did the report in Niger State differ from the one he presented in Kaduna?

The question is: why did he make a U-turn?
If he had consulted, he would have given the position of the people of Niger State. And they wanted the position of governors in the north.

I want you to get me correctly. If he actually consulted, his earlier position should have been that he is for zoning. But his position before he towed the line of the people of Niger State was that zoning is undemocratic.

I want you to know that our governor is only human. He is not a super human being. He is just like me and you. And you know that in this country, political situations arise on the spur of the moment. You go to the northern governors meeting to discuss issues A, B and C and issue D may suddenly crop up. Is he in a position to determine what will happen tomorrow?

People believe that he may have come under pressure from former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida.

It's a wrong belief. But I don't know that. Maybe when you see him, you ask him whether he was under pressure from IBB.

There is this threat from the north that the north would disgrace the south at elections.

I am not one person that has that belief because I believe that the north needs the south more than the south needs the north. We need each other. For political convenience, we need to marry each other because the north cannot succeed without the south just as the south cannot succeed without the north. Whatever happens, I know that at the appropriate time, we'll get to a meeting point.

One thing journalists have refused to understand about the PDP is that; of all the 52 political parties in Nigeria, the PDP is the only political party that has gone through turbulent waters and came out clean. Which political party in Nigeria has gone through what PDP is going through and has not collapsed? The AC and AD tried it; they are dead and now ANPP is in crises or has just come out of crisis. Watch out for them.

But the worrisome aspect of it all is that they are talking about anarchy should the north fail to produce a northerner as President. That northerners in the PDP would defect to another party if that is what it would take for a northerner to be the next president of this country. And some southerners are asking the question: is the hatred for a President of southern extraction so deep seated?

This is not the first time. Who are you talking to? Are you not talking to a northerner? I don't subscribe to that. Who are those that are championing the cause of southerners today; some presidential aspirants in the south today? Are they not northerners? Nobody should sit in the four walls of his sitting room and think that he can talk about the north. The north has gone past that.

When we get to the bridge, we shall cross it and Nigeria will remain ever one and solid. People think that because they are canvassing for position, they can say anything. Nigeria will remain one and solid. And anybody who tells you that Nigeria will break simply because election time is here is not sincere. I tell you that person needs Nigeria than Nigeria needs him. If you think Nigeria will break, then what are you fighting over. If Nigeria breaks, how are you going to cope? Nigeria will not break. Nigeria will be as solid as ever and we will get a reassuring president that will take us to the promise land.