2011 PRESIDENCY: STOP ZONING DEBATE NOW, OR …. â€“ MAKARFI, SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIR
Former Kaduna State governor and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, has warned that Nigerians risk electing a non-performer as president in 2011 if the debate over zoning is not stopped.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Daily Sun at the weekend, Makarfi said that the debate over zoning has beclouded the minds of Nigerians to the extent that vital considerations that are necessary for the election of a president that would deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians have been jettisoned.
'It is regrettable that we are only talking about zoning. I would have been happier if all aspirants are talking about what Nigerians would benefit from their acquisition of power. If we continue with the way we are going, we may end up electing those who promised us nothing because we are stupid enough to be carried away by nothing,' he explained.
The former governor said Nigerians are treading on dangerous grounds if they continue with the debate over a southern or northern president, adding, 'what bothers me are the languages being used to express these different opinions. It is uncalled for. It is really unfortunate that people are using ethnic and religious languages to advance their opinion.
'Wherever you come from, whether from the South or North, it really doesn't matter. From what I am seeing and hearing, it shows we have not learnt lessons from events that have happened in our country and outside, including the consequences of bringing ethnicity or religion into mainstream politics. It is very dangerous. That is what bothers me.'
Makarfi spoke on the problems with INEC and said Nigeria can still have free, fair and credible elections even with the participation of the incumbent president in the 2011 polls.
What do we expect from you as we approach election year?
I don't know if you are asking about my political aspiration.
Yes, your political aspiration. What do we expect from you? The direction you are going and other political moves you are making.
As a Nigerian I am interested in what is happening and what is going to happen around me. As a Senator, I have legislative roles to play. As a party man, I equally have a role to play. And all of these are developing situations and you can't say exactly what you are going to do other than to play your roles, fully and effectively. We want to ensure that we have a credible election, to ensure the legitimate victory of my own party. And, of course, the most I can aspire for is to seek for re-election of my Senate seat. I have no ambition personally greater than that.
You talked about ensuring victory for your party. It is common knowledge that your party, the PDP, is in turmoil now over zoning. What do you think is happening?
In my personal opinion, the matter was not handled well. Be that as it may, that is what politics is all about. You have people with different views and they are free to express their different views. You also have people with different aspirations who are free to pursue them differently.
Whether it is right or wrong is not the issue. People will definitely make that judgment right from the party level, as in nominations, through to the general elections by Nigerians who will look above party lines to elect their representatives from councillorship to the presidency. So, I am not so much bothered about these differences in opinion by different players. What bothers me are the languages being used to express these different opinions.
It is uncalled for. It is really unfortunate that people are using ethnic and religious languages to advance their opinions. Wherever you come from, whether from the south or north, it really doesn't matter. From what I am seeing and hearing, it shows we have not learnt lessons from events that have happened in our country and outside, including the consequences of bringing ethnicity or religion into mainstream politics. It is very dangerous. That is what bothers me.
Where do you stand on this issue of zoning? Are you for or against?
All those for or against zoning have agreed on one thing. That is: whether you are for the incumbent president or those challenging him, you are talking about zoning. The question is: who takes it now? So, everybody is talking about zoning. I have told you that what bothers me is the language being employed. Look, we are all in the same party. By the time we destroy all the aspirants we have, we'll have no candidate to present to Nigerians at the general elections. So we need to be careful in the way we carry on.
Do you believe that it is the turn of the North to have power?
It is not the question of whether I believe it is the turn of the North to have political power. Ultimately, what we are aiming to achieve is to have a PDP president in 2011 and the way to achieve it is to ensure that we go into the field to campaign for our candidate. That is what should be paramount in the minds of those who mean well for the PDP. It is not for me to create more confusion by saying power should be here or there. I am a party man. What I am interested in is to get the whole matter of zoning resolved before the primary.
I believe elders in the party should sit down and resolve this problem. If the incumbent President wants to contest the presidency in 2011, there are political ways that it can be done. If we handle it well, there will be no problem. If it is not handled well, then, we'll have problems on our hands. This issue has caused a lot of confusion within the party and among its members. There is no doubt that the Constitution recognizes the right of all Nigerians to contest elections. The Constitution guarantees that. We had a President from the North who passed away. This is an act of God. It is also an act of God when the vice president from the South became President. How to handle this issue is the reason why people are talking the way they ought not to be talking. And I think we should be wary of whatever we say so that we do not set this country on fire.
There has always been zoning and there has always been people challenging it. So, even if you say it is zoned to the North, somebody from the South could also challenge it by going all the way. In 2007, it was zoned to the North, but people from the South contested even to the primary. A lot of my colleague governors withdrew; but there were also those who went all the way. So we shouldn't be emphasizing zoning. I think
what should be paramount should be the ability of contestants to pull support across Nigeria . If you believe in zoning then you should pull support across Nigeria so that you can counter those against zoning. Those for zoning should equally do the same. So, why are we wasting time, over heating the polity. What can give you victory is the ability to put yourself together. If the president wants it and he can pull support across Nigeria , he can easily get the ticket. In the same vain, if anybody challenging the president can pull support across the country, he also can pick the ticket.
So, we have simply been over emphasizing issues we are not supposed to emphasis.
It is a political game; it's an act of mobilization, compromise, accommodation and the ability to garner support. Whoever is able to do that would at the end carry the day. I am also of the opinion that those who are feeling that it is their turn to produce the president in 2011 should be placated. We would not lose anything if we call for a truce with such people. They can be made to understand the situation on ground based on the prevailing circumstances we find ourselves. If we fail to do this, we may not get out of the logjam before the primary. And it is important we resolve this before the primary.
What is your own idea of a consensus candidate for the north?
What this means is a number of contestants burying their own ambition to support a common ambition. Basically, that is what it means. The president can build a consensus. Somebody challenging the president can build a consensus. Whoever is able to build a larger consensus would carry the day.
Given the desperate nature of some of the northern aspirants, do you think the north can arrive at a consensus candidate that would defeat the president at the primary?
I do not know how desperate anyone of them is to determine their level of desperation. But you can say Nigerian politicians are generally desperate; whether you are occupying any elective position or you are challenging anybody occupying elective position. Even those occupying appointive positions are desperate to change those positions. You can see how people struggle when cabinets are reshuffled to return to such positions. It is the general attribute of all Nigerians.
As I said earlier, your victory in politics will be determined by your ability to pull support. If an incumbent, be he a president, senator, member of the House of Representatives builds popular support, no matter the opposition, you will become victorious. If someone that is challenging an incumbent is able to build a larger, popular support, he can equally displace an incumbent. So, it is for all players to use their political expertise to build a truly popular support because some supports are deceptive.
There are people who will tell you everything is alright when everything is wrong. So, if you rely on those people who will tell you that everything is alright when they are not, you may be shockingly surprised. But if you are down to earth and listen to those who will tell you of your problems, the good and bad news so that you can rise up to the challenges, then you are likely to smile all the way. It is all a developing situation. So, it is up to the politicians to put their acts right if they want to become victorious.
What can you say about the quality of campaigns of the various aspirants?
It is regrettable that we are only talking about zoning. I would have been happier if all aspirants are talking about what Nigerians stand to benefit from their acquisition of power. If we continue with the way we are going, we may end up electing those who promised us nothing because we are stupid enough to be carried away by nothing. My party did not say there is no zoning, but that it also recognizes the president's right to contest the election. So, it has settled the matter.
So, the issue should have been based on what each of the aspirants can do for Nigeria and Nigerians. And the earlier we Nigerians begin to put them to task, the better. It should be politics of issues otherwise we will end up electing those who will tell us that they didn't promise us anything. They will then start to believe it is a privilege to do certain things for Nigeria .
Some Nigerians believe that most of the aspirants should have nothing to do with the 2011 presidential race because of their age. Do you believe in generational shift?
All of this semantics are totally unnecessary. It is the same thing when people begin to concentrate on zoning. Okay, if you are a younger generation, convince people of your capability. What does Nigeria stand to gain from your leadership? It is only politics of issues that can move Nigeria forward. Politic of sentiments will not take Nigeria anywhere.
If you take a look at the way INEC is carrying on and the structures on ground, would you say we are on course in terms of free, fair and credible elections?
For the first time in the history of democracy in Nigeria , a budget was passed in one day. INEC's budget was passed in one day. When that was done, any procurement process is not dependent on electoral act. There are certain things that are not tied to certain specific dates. Issues pertaining to voters registration should have been completed long time ago. So, INEC ought to have covered a lot of grounds in respect of a number of issues. I do not know the grounds they have covered.
There are things which implementation ought to have been settled long time ago. When INEC gave clear indications that it was not going to be feasible to conduct elections in January and they met the Joint committee of the two chambers and we listened to them, we said well, in principle, elections must hold before the expiration of the tenure of the current elected government; which means that there must be hand over on the 29th of May, whether election takes place in January or April. When we left that meeting, it was emphatically said that they should go with the understanding that what you are seeking, you are going to get.
The National Assembly will follow its legislative process. We told them not to wait and that anything which they have to start, they can go ahead and start doing it. We assured them that they will get what they are seeking. Now, if the National Assembly told you that, it is not like making a decree which you can write in one day, there are procedures for legislation to come out, at least, they have the mandate of the National Assembly to go ahead to make their preparations. With all of these, INEC should have no encumberance that would make them to have proper arrangement for the conduct of elections whether in March or April. So, I am explaining this so that you and other Nigerians would understand that the National Assembly has been doing all that is required of it in order to ensure that we have free, fair and credible elections.
Having regards to the incumbency factor in this country, can we really have free, fair and credible elections when the president is contesting?
Of course, we can if we make laws that are not personal. If we make legislative laws which are not deficient within the frame work of internal democracy and you win election through popular support. This popular support from your party will make you a popular president, governor, senator or whatever which other countries have had and have continued to have. So, we can have free and fair election even though an incumbent president is contesting. The issue is that we should concentrate on institutional reforms, on voter education, orientation of Nigerians so that they can elect credible leaders.