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ZONING: NORTH SHOULD NOT BLAME JONATHAN

By NBF News

For some time now, no issue has dominated public discourse like the ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan. No sooner the former Bayelsa governor formally assumed power after the death of his predecessor, late President Umaru Yar'Adua than speculations of his ambition became rife in the public domain. In this interview, Dr Doyin Okupe, former Special Adviser to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo adds his voice to the cacophony of voices among others. Excerpts…

What is happening in your state, Ogun ahead of 2011 general election?

Ogun has been a state under political siege for quite some time and everybody in Nigeria knows that. But I think we are actually getting closer to some form of resolution. In any case, the groups in Ogun State must coalesce in maximum of six months because in terms of popularity, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) can only defeat itself in the state.

The opposition cannot win the PDP. But if we allow the split to continue, what happened in Lagos a couple of years ago when the National Republican Convention with less that 15 or 20 per cent popularity won the governorship with Otedola may happen in Ogun State. But luckily for us, the party at the national level has now been reorganized. I believe that sooner than later, some decision that will allow the two warring groups to come together would come into play. I also believe that the area of disagreement being essentially political is narrowing down because I can tell you categorically that the issue of governorship or who succeeds Gbenga Daniel in 2011 has been a topical issue.

I can tell you now that the major stakeholders in the state have more or less reached a consensus that the next governor of Ogun State would come from Yewa, that is Ogun West. So, if the Gbenga Daniel group and our group have come to that decision, the gulf between us is narrowing. It is now left for people of Ogun West to now bring up a credible candidate, a man that we can all be proud of. We will adopt him and support him during the election. But it is not for us to impose a candidate on them. What I expect is that people from that area should now come together and bring up one or two people and we rally round them.

So, if that is the case, the disagreement between the governor's group and us is nothing personal. I cannot come to any podium and say he has offended me as a person. What we are asking for is so simple. We are asking for fairness and equity since we are all stakeholders in the state. The governor did not make himself. Some people came round like we are going to do soon and made him governor. So, the governor cannot now be the whole inheritor of the state, the government and the party.

That is the basis of the argument. So, what we are asking the national secretariat is that now that the issue of succession, one of the main bone of contention is about to be resolved politically, all we are asking for is let us have a level playing field. Presently, 100 per cent of the party structure is being controlled by the governor. All other persons are excluded and when I say this, we are talking of very important people in the state, serious stakeholders including Jibril Martins-Kuye, Speaker of the state assembly, very distinguished Senators and House of Representatives members, people like myself and so many others.

We are totally disenfranchised even in our local communities. In my local government, I do not have a single nominee even in the ward. I do not know who the chairman is and he does not know me. So, that cannot work well for all that we have done for the party. We expect that some form of action must come from the national body of the party. May be there would be a dissolution of the Executive Council and we find a way to harmonise on the basis of equity; Or it could be a kind of caretaker arrangement after which we go for a congress and whoever wins, that is it. I believe that the crisis in Ogun, we are about to get over it. We are increasingly getting nearer to the resolution.

At a point, you resigned your membership of the Elders Council of Ogun PDP. Have you rejoined the group?

I resigned from the Elders council because at a point, our case was before the Ike Nwachukwu panel. The party at that time at the national level was not favourably disposed to the emergence of the then Vice President as the Acting President or the President. I held a Press Conference on January 5 this year and I categorically stated my position on that issue and my position was that the nation must come to the reality of what was on ground and avoid unnecessary political or constitutional lacuna.

At that time, it was not a popular opinion and could jeopardize the interest of my group whose petition was before the national party. So, what was fair for me to do was not to allow my personal interest or disposition to affect the intention or position of my group. That was why I resigned but now, we are all back. What I was then advocating which was unpopular has now become the norm. We are all chorus singers of that my position then and there is no other problem.

Some insist that Governor Gbenga Daniel is not doing well. How do you reconcile that with your position that the opposition cannot win the next election in Ogun State?

I do not think it is right to say that the governor has not done well. May be, he has fallen short of the expectation of most people. I cannot argue about that but the popularity of the party in the state is what encouraged me to make that statement. On ground, the PDP appears to me to be very well entrenched in the state and if we do not stretch the populace too much by now giving them a candidate that appears not to meet their expectation of standard, there would not be a problem.

This is despite the fact that they may not be happy with what the party has done so far in the state. If we bring up a credible candidate, I believe that the people will still give PDP another chance.

Would you like to comment on the officials of the state that were arrested? Does it have anything to do with the power struggle in the state?

The officials that were arrested were because of some fraudulent transactions. That has nothing to do with the party. That is government and governance. Even if I was a friend of Gbenga Daniel, there was nothing I could have done in that respect. If you breach the law, the law would take its course. It is not the opposition to Daniel that has brought it about.

You are talking about land, you are also talking about local government money and there are issues that are beyond us. I don't even understand all the details involved. I can assure you that it is not part of the crisis. Like I said earlier, the crisis centred mainly on the issue of equity. We are stakeholders and you cannot take that from us. Even Gbenga Daniel is a stranger in this arrangement. He joined us. Many of us were the custodians of the party before the advent of Gbenga Daniel. So, how can he now come and say we are no longer relevant in the party? That is why we had to resist the situation.

But he is the leader of the party?
Yes, he is the leader of the party but it is just like President Goodluck Jonathan saying I am the leader of the PDP in the country and I am not going to recognize the South East. You ask yourself is the South East not part of Nigeria. The leadership does not confer on you the powers to extremely marginalize principal members or components of your state. Gbenga Daniel is the leader of the party in Ogun and we agree but that does not mean that the other people must not survive.

And that leadership is already approaching the terminal point. In a couple of months, he ceases to be the leader of the party. So, at that time, what now happens to the party when the leadership ceases and when the authentic and original leadership had been pushed aside?

So, the two groups have agreed in principle to resolve the crisis?

Circumstances have made us to arrive at a seeming consensus on the issue of where the successor of Gbenga Daniel would come from. What we have agreed on that issue is narrowed to that agreement.

But even as the governorship seat has been conceded to Yewa in the next election, don't you think that there will still be trouble over which of the groups would produce the candidate? This question is based on the fact that Governor Daniel may like somebody he enjoys his confidence to succeed him.

That has always happened in politics. The majority would have its way but the minority would have its say. If we all agree that it is going to be Ogun West, if the governor has a candidate, if our group has a candidate, if Doyin Okupe has a candidate, it does not matter. That is why we are now saying that the national body of the party must provide a level playing field. So, we all go to the primaries where there will be no cheating, where nobody has been unduly favoured and whoever wins, so be it.

Our prayers to the national body is that the basis of acrimony is reduced and all you need do to help us is to level the playing field. For instance, now there is no need to go to any primaries when all the wards, local governments and state officials are cronies and stoogies of the governor. So, that kind of situation will not stand because the governor alone and his people cannot win the election without the support of other stakeholders. They need us and we need them. So, if both of us need each other, the arbiter must arbitrate the matter in such a manner that the basis of competition has equity fully embedded in it.

But in actual fact, is your group coming up with any governorship candidate?

The attitude of my group is a little bit different. We are not in government right now. Gbenga Daniel is in government and he may particularly want somebody to succeed him at the end of his tenure. In our case, we have agreed that the next governor should come from Ogun West.

The tradition under such circumstances is to ask the leadership, traditional institutions and the majority of people and tendencies in Ogun West to come out and say that this one or two people are the best we can produce. That is the attitude of my group because we will not force a candidate on the Ogun West people. It is a concession. Why did the South West initially oppose Obasanjo? It was because they said they were not the ones who nominated him.

But the belief in some quarters is that the stakeholders especially members of your group do not recognize Governor Daniel as the leader of the party in Ogun State. A point of reference is the appointment of Martins-Kuye as a Minister without even the knowledge of the governor.

Well on the issue of the appointment of the Minister, I personally cannot comment because I was not there and I do not know who nominated him. Before now, we had an Osotimenhin, the former Minister of health. I don't know who nominated him. Also, there was Sarafa. The way Ministers used to be nominated that I know was that, it is not the governor who nominates anybody.

These are all very recent developments. The caucus of the party would usually meet, even prior to the emergence of the governor or the completion of a general election, the areas that would produce the Minister is already decided. That is how party politics was done. In the areas that you have all agreed that the federal appointment or Ministerial appointment would come, people would now bring up names and you sit down at a caucus and you now select two or three names and send them to the presidency and the President can pick one out of the names.

And to say that the governor is not being given the respect due him is a fallacy. I boarded a flight and the governor came late and he was given a seat where he was sandwiched by two hefty men and I was in a better seat and I got up and said I would not be here sitting while my governor is squashed as a nobody and I would be sitting down like a king. He refused but I said no, Governor I am insisting. He said, but look at your size but I said it did not matter. I did that and I think most people in my group would do that. I cannot belittle that office because it was an office I ran for, worked for it for three years and I wished to be in. We disagree with the governor but we give him his dues anywhere and any time.

What is the feeling of the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo in all of these?

I know how he feels. Obasanjo feels that he is too big a fish to swim in shallow waters. If you look at it properly, Ogun State is for Obasanjo really a very shallow water. You cannot find sharks in shallow waters. It gets stuck. That is why the man, who ultimately if everything fails, you have to go to, must not be part of the problem. So, his attitude to the whole thing is understandable.

Are you comfortable with the state of the nation especially since the emergence of President Jonathan?

Well, what is really topical now is whether Jonathan would run or whether he would not run and the consequences of that. On that, Jonathan has taken up that issue severally and recently on the media chat. I am not Jonathan neither am I his spokesman. I believe that what needs to be said has been said as far as his running for the presidency or not running are concerned. My worry is the seeming confrontation that seems to be emerging.

I mean the leadership of the North and those who are proposing that zoning should be abrogated. The North is saying that zoning should be respected while other people are saying that it should be abrogated. I read in newspapers that those who put themselves as leaders cannot win elections in the front of their houses, that is rubbish talk. I saw leaders that we have known who represent the northern interest. I want you to look at it this way.

Professor Wole Soyinka is not a politician and I doubt if he can win an election in Ogun State or the South West but would you discountenance the views of such a man. He may not be a politician or a typical crowd puller but you cannot say he is a nuisance. They are opinion leaders because those who you consider to be crowd pullers respect the opinion of such people. So, where as Wole Soyinka may not be killing cows everyday for people to come to his house so that during election, people can vote for him but his statement or views remain salient and important. So, I do not agree that the group of northern elders do not constitute anything. But again, let us even agree that zoning was agreed upon unofficially by the PDP.

If you agree that there must be a change, you cannot bring that change by humiliating those who stand for it. Having said that, the emergence of President Jonathan today, nobody can claim credit for it. This is because we were still studying the doctrine of necessity and all that and we were confronted with a fait accompli and he has become President. Whether anybody likes it or not, he had to become President. I see Jonathan's presidency as a force majeure. Go and check it. In any contract or agreement, there is always a clause for force mejure, that is an act of God. Whenever a force majeure comes into play, it nullifies every other agreement.

If I agree to supply you one trailer load of cement from Epe and when my trailer is going and the surge from the Atlantic ocean wipes the cement and the trailer away, I am not owing you any supply. The vehicle left my store with the cement and was on the way to the depot where you gave to me and a force bigger than you and myself acted on it and made it impossible.

You cannot hold me responsible for the failure to supply. If there was an agreement in place that when the North finishes, the South will come in, when the South finishes, the North will come in, it is correct. Those are normal circumstances provided there is no force mejure or an act of God. Which force can be greater than death? The death of Yar'Adua critically altered the agreement on ground because while the agreement was on, nobody envisaged that another President would be sitting whom we will have to tell not to exercise his rights.

It is a political incongruity for a sitting president that is capable, perfectly sane and able for you to now say do not run because there was an agreement. There is no basis for confrontation on the issue of zoning. What this has thrown up is that in 50 years of its existence, Nigeria does not have a national elite group. What we have are sectional elite groups and I think that was what the President meant when he said that people were championing ethnic causes and that they were tribal bigots and all that.

The truth is that we are all tribal elites. When the issue of making Jonathan a substantive President came in, even Senators of the North were aware of the situation but because of their ethnic interests, they were reluctant to do the right thing. I cannot blame them because the Yorubas if they were in the same position, they would do the same thing. So, this is the problem we have and we must face it.

We have failed to evolve a national elite group, a group that can only think of Nigeria as a nation. That is why you see the Babangidas and Atiku's of this world championing the northern cause. That was why you would have seen great Yoruba people championing the Abiola cause during his time. If anything happens in the East, you will see leaders of the East coming to defend it. We have not been able to horizontally unite our elite group and the earlier we do that, the better for the country.

How long do you think this would take?
It is impossible to predict but it is the people who are coming that would be able to evolve a national elite group and if we cannot evolve that system, then a presidential system is not appropriate for Nigeria. We can agree that, I am a Yoruba man, I am an Hausa man, I am an Igbo man and so on and say my interest in this parliament is to defend this ethnic group so that there will be no argument.

If you speak for Jonathan, they say it is because you are a Southerner and if you speak for Babangida, they say you are supporting the northern region. Let us come together where I know that Okupe will be defending the Yoruba interest, Adamu will be defending the northern interest, Okoro would be defending the interest of the East and so on. With that, there will be no pretensions here.

Is the picture you are painting a reflection of the crisis at the House of Representatives?

These things permeate our national life and psyche. When a man steals money in Abuja, he is given a rousing welcome in his state and community. His church will even do a reception for him because as far as they are concerned, it is not their business. In any case, what does it matter, if he did not steal it, some other person could have stolen it.

The worst thing about Nigeria is that we fool one another and we pretend a lot.

Look at President Jonathan's case. He is from the Niger Delta where all the resources of the nation are coming from and where people have been agitating that they have not been recognized as bonafide Nigerians and where they have been agitating that they are ready to leave this union if they are not considered good enough to be recognized as citizens. Now, you are saying that the thing should rotate.

Who should rotate to who? Is it the people who have never done it before or the people who have done it five, six times or more? But if the basis of rotation is to create equity, now what is equitable? Is it equitable to rotate to the region which has produced the President five or six times or to the zone that has not tasted it at all in the last 50 years of the nation's existence.