By NBF News
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Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu was once a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). His name has been touted as a possible replacement for Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo who recently resigned his position as the national chairman of the party. In this interview with Sunday Sun in Abuja, Izuogu speaks on a wide range of issues and faults the use of delegates in the selection of party flag-bearers, and said it does not encourage best democratic practices. Excerpts…

Let's begin with the just-concluded PDP presidential primary, the president appeared to have met little or no resistance. What does it portend for the party and the nation's democracy at large?

To start with, the convention was peaceful, contrary to the expectations of some people who thought it was going to be tumultuous.

It was peaceful and orderly. I want to congratulate the President for his overwhelming victory. One thing that is very peculiar about his emergence is that he received tremendous support from the North where Atiku comes from. It was very, very significant that even Atiku could not win his state. I think for the first time, maybe in the history of this country, the North has come out to support a southern candidate overwhelmingly. I must confess that it is a good development.

He received more support from the North than Abiola received in 1993 in Jos. I was Abiola's right hand man, and I know all that happened. Kingibe who was Abiola's main opponent in the North carried the votes from the North, even though Abiola also made some significant inroads. This time, it was operation totality. The whole North came out to support a southern presidential aspirant. I sincerely believe that that was very good for the country.

It is good for the unity of the country. Let us stop this thing about this man is from my place, let me support him. Let us begin to look for a presidential material from every part of the country, whether from the majority areas or from the minority areas, or from anywhere or any religion whatever; let the best emerge. It is good for Nigeria, it is good for Nigeria's unity. People like me had feared about the altercations about the zoning, but day by day, my fears are being allayed that we don't really need to bother about zoning. In fact with the last PDP convention, we can now conveniently say that zoning in the PDP is dead. It did not play any role, and I think that that is good for the country. The best can come from anywhere.

Even the smallest minority tribe in the country can produce the best presidential material. Look at what happened in America. The blacks account for only eight per cent of the voting population in the US, but Obama emerged from there, because he was the best in terms of ideas.

How do you mean?
I know that we still have some way to go, no doubts about it. Rome was not built in a day. We don't yet have the kind of democratic atmosphere that I would want to see in Nigeria; for these primaries, they should be done at the ward level direct, close primary; that is what brings out the best. What it means is that the primaries will be done at the ward level so that the ward people, everybody who is a card-carrying member of the party will take part.

That is the way it is done in the US, and that is the best, direct, close primaries involving all card-carrying members of the party. If you are a card-carrying member of a party, you can vote for the presidential aspirant of your choice to be the candidate of your party. And so it is started early enough, and it is also good because those who cannot make it will know early enough. For example, if you start the primary first in Cross River and Zamfara, from there now, if there are 20 presidential aspirants, some will start falling out, before they have spent too much. So this do or die tendency will be removed, because if you have spent money only in Cross River, it would not be so much; but from the Cross River experience, you now know that you will not go far, and so you drop out of the race early enough.

Looking at the way the PDP presidential primary was conducted, the Atiku camp has complained that it was designed ab initio to favour the incumbent, and could not have produced any other presidential candidate outside President Jonathan. Do you share this view?

Why are they saying so now? It's like an after thought. These kinds of things, if they know that their complaints are genuine, should have been pointed out a month ago, two months ago. It is not after you have gone through the contest which you expected to win, and you did not win, then you start complaining about how it was structured.

They said they complained; they complained about the adoption of a method where each state was given a separate ballot box so that it would be easier to find out which state delegates defied their governors' directives and voted against the President.

But when Atiku addressed the convention, he didn't complain about this. The arrangement was in place, why didn't he point it out? He never talked about it; so I think it is unfair for him to start raising it at this point because he has lost. What if he had won, would he have complained about this? Certainly he knew about the arrangement before going into the contest. That's my take on that.

Now we have had some pockets of demonstration in the north, how do you explain this?

Well in a democracy really, there is no way you can do a democratic process and everybody is happy. Democracy never scores 100 per cent. So I think the convention was relatively peaceful and well organized. This would have been a golden moment for Nwodo, you know. This credit ought to go to Nwodo, but unfortunately, he bungled it, it is very unfortunate.

How did he bungle it?
Because of the way and manner he went to take the microphone from his deputy, even though a court had restrained him. Yes, the process of obtaining the court injunction may not have been free, whatever you feel about it, a court had given an injunction and he had been restrained. I think Dr. Nwodo, my friend should have respected that, because it would not have stopped him from being the national chairman of the PDP, anyway; that he didn't feature on that day of the convention would only elevate his stature that he is a law-abiding man, that he is a law and orderly person who respects the rule of law, and respects the courts, that would have been an added feather to his cap. Unfortunately, I don't know what moved him to go to the micro-phone and begin to talk, because that had the capacity to ruin the whole thing, ruin the whole convention, even the party itself.

So I think it was a very major mistake he made. I am also not happy that he had altercation with the Enugu State governor so soon after they had overwhelmingly supported him. Enugu state, I will say kudos to them; Enugu State was the only state PDP that rallied behind a candidate from their state to be national chairman. I will say kudos to Chime. Chime impressed me, because he was the only governor who rallied support for his own man. The other governors from our South East zone were scared about having a national chairman come from their state, because they erroneously thought that the national chairman would compete with them.

In fact, some of the South East governors said pointedly that they didn't want a national chairman. I know somebody who said in my presence, a governor, that he didn't want a national chairman from his state. And I said, is it the governor who should say whether a national chairman should come from his state or not? So you see, these are the problems of our democracy, because our democracy is not yet a level-playing democracy; because in a genuine democracy, a governor who has been elected cannot have the right to say whether the national chairman should come from his state or not.

So this is still part of our problem, and what Nwodo did, is going to justify the fears of those governors, because Chime now got a raw deal for supporting somebody to be national chairman. Instead of getting kudos, he got a raw deal; that is not good enough.

Still talking about the governors and the over-bearing influence they wield in your party, as was evident during the PDP primaries, should that not worry you? Virtually, it was the governors that delivered the ticket to Jonathan.

That is why I said we still have a long way to go in our democracy. Now if you make it a direct close primary, everybody will participate, and therefore it will no longer be the preserve of any group, whether they are governors or senators or even Mr. President. You spread the net wide, so that it is not only 4,000 people that are delegates. If PDP has a membership of six million, the six million people are voting at the primary, that is more like a democratic process; that is more like what democracy represents. That is why America adopted it; and it makes for more peace, so that anyone who fails the primary will not blame the governors, and he will not blame the President because card-carrying members of the party have spoken. It is more representative of the wish of the people than any other thing.

This idea of bringing 3,000 people out of six million people to come and choose who will be the President of the country is not democratic enough; but of course, we have to state somewhere. I'm sure the INEC chairman, Prof. Jega has the capacity to structure direct primaries which Prof. Humphrey Nwosu did during the SDP and NRC days, though it was not well organized that time. If it is well organized, oh, it is wonderful. Every card-carrying member will have a sense of belonging, and the tendency to bribe delegates will also diminish. If they are six million, how many people can you bribe? It is more representative of democracy, and I really want this country to be stable.

The only way the country can be stable is by adopting the democratic process; let the people speak, both at the primary election and the secondary election.

Your name has been touted as a possible replacement for Nwodo, are you thinking in that direction?

Well, you know when you talk about political party organization and leadership, that is really where I have had most of my experience in Nigerian politics. So managing a political party like PDP for me is not a problem. I have done that when I was much younger - the biggest political party as at that time, the Peoples Solidarity Party, I managed it. I was much younger then.

So if this responsibility comes, I won't mind. I will take it; I think I can do the job. However, for me it is not a do or die affair, because it is going to take my time; it's going to take me off my research which is very dear to my heart. However, if those who are taking the decision, if my zone thinks that I should take on the job, why not? I'm a politician I can do it, but I don't see myself running round everywhere trying to take the job; and it's only for few months, anyway.

There have been a lot of hitches in the voter registration exercise. What should INEC do?

I think Prof. Jega must be having the roughest time of his life. I sympathize with him; that thing is not good for him, and I think it is from the machines. I think inferior machines must have been supplied. Those machines ought to have been tested and re-tested before they were put out. Frankly speaking, a whole country can be sabotaged because of that. You know technology is a very intricate thing; and the easiest thing to cheat people is through technology. Something that should cost about N38 billion, they can supply you what costs N1 billion only for N38 billion and you take it and then go and take the headache, you go and have all the hiccups and the whole country can be ruined.

So from all the reports I get, the problem is with the machines, it is not with Jega, and it is not incompetence. Apart from Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, I think Jega must be the most competent chairman of the electoral body we have had. Maybe it is too early for me to give that judgment, but hearing him, knowing him, I think that judgment may well be right, even though he has not yet conducted the major elections. But I think the man means well.

Not being an engineer, not being a scientist, he may not have known how to check these machines before accepting them. That's the problem with Nigeria, that very often, foreigners dump inferior products on us and we pay. We not only pay the money but at times three times the cost, and yet we don't get the right value; that's why our economy is in shambles.