By NBF News
Click for Full Image Size

Mallam Adamu Ciroma is not a new name in Nigeria's politics. The septuagenarian-politician and Madaki of Fika, who served as Minister of Finance under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, remains one of the respectable voices in the North.

He was one of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1998 and in this interview, the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) slams the party's hierarchy for prevaricating on the issue of zoning of its presidential ticket to the North just as he warned of dare consequences should the party renege on the zoning agreement. Excerpts…

How realistic is the January election timetable release

d by the Independent National Electoral Commission?

I don't think it is not attainable. We know that the schedule became tight because of the time they constituted this new INEC and the time the National Assembly passed the reviewed 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act. A lot of time was consumed in the process of signing these laws into existence. Yes, the time left for the INEC to conduct the election within the law is very tight but it is possible. There is no way that you can delay the election and ask for further deferment of the election. INEC will have to make do with the time it has.

Do you think the argument by some people that God has zoned the 2011 presidency to Goodluck Jonathan is correct?

My opinion is clear over this matter. I based my position on an agreement that exists and everybody knows about it, including President Goodluck Jonathan, who also took part. That agreement says that power should be zoned to the south for eight years and then to the north for eight years. It is an existing agreement and it is not a territorial matter and has nothing to do with individuals dead or alive. The fact that President Umaru Yar'Adua died in office should not affect the agreement. It is an agreement between the North and the South not between Yar'Adua and the South.

It is a matter of existing agreement and all honorable people keep to existing agreement, and if there is any reason to vary the agreement, all the parties must be brought together to vary it. They will all come together and consider the reason why it should be varied. This has not been done in PDP, so presently, the agreement subsists and it is in favour of the north and nobody has the power to give up the mandate, not the governors, not party leaders; Nobody can vary that agreement until we all sit down and discuss why some people want it varied. The death of one person, though painful cannot vary it either.

Don't you think that with incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan contesting that agreement might be broken?

Breaking agreement is a very serious moral issue on the side of all those concerned.

But is it tidy to tell someone occupying a seat to vacate it for another person only for the man that was sent off the seat to be asked to come back to take it?

There are many views, even in the north that are pro-breaking agreement, and there are some of us who insist on the fulfillment of the agreement. But I want to say that the agreement is not for an existing President; this agreement was reached well before Obasanjo became President in 1999 and it was re-confirmed during Obasanjo's presidency in 2003 and I remember that this current President was part of that agreement.

So you don't just look at the face of the individual that is on the seat and say that it won't apply again. It must apply to him and everybody. The agreement is that someone from the area, which the Presidency has been zoned, must occupy the seat. The person to occupy the seat must be produced from the zone it was zoned to. The agreement says that it is the turn of the north to be the flagbearer of the PDP. Happily, the people from that area have not said that they don't have someone to replace late President Umaru Yar'Adua, and those who want it desperately from other zones have not consulted with the people of the north to find out if they can't produce someone to replace Yar'Adua.

People who break agreement will reap the consequences, and I dare say that the consequence can be grave because we are talking of an immoral issue here.

The north has so many aspirants on the field and northern elders are also not speaking with one voice over this matter. Is the north not confused on this issue?

No, the north is not confused. We are in a democratic situation and it is natural to have so many people from the north interested in the position that has been zoned to them. It would have been a tragic development if there were no people from the north aspiring for it.

They will continue to aspire until the party primaries and we have a general election that will determine who the people want as their leader.

When I hear people say that there are many candidates from the North and it appears that the north is confused, I laugh and say such people are mixing it up, they are wrong. The people aspiring are perfectly in order to seek to be the Presidential candidate of their party and they are right to aspire to be the President of the country too.

Are Northern leaders thinking of pruning the aspirants to a manageable figure?

We have to see a situation where all the candidates have indicated interest and then we will have a chance of weighing all of them and seeing who is who. We will then try and bring them together and reduce the number so that the choices before our people would be manageable.

Is it true that some of the aspirants have vowed not to step down for any one?

It is normal for anyone who presents himself, as an aspirant to want to go all the way, while some will fall by the side and I can assure you that this is going to happen. But we all know that we can only have one President and others will have to queue behind the person that is preferred by many.

Are you satisfied with the manner the leadership of the PDP is handling the issue of zoning of its presidential ticket?

I am not at all satisfied with the way the PDP leadership is handling the issue of zoning and rotation policy of the party. I am not satisfied because the PDP constitution explicitly says that at every level of the party, the leadership must insist on implementing this policy and sadly they are not insisting on implementing this policy; they are being multiple-tongued in dealing with this matter of zoning the Presidency. They say that every member of the party is a Nigerian and can contest if he so wishes; that is true but the party itself says that its members must operate according to the constitution of the party and that is not illegal or unconstitutional. What they are saying is trying to encourage some members to break the rules of the party. I feel sad over that.

The party rule admits zoning; so whose turn is it? And, where is it zoned now? The party has to take a firm stand on that, but unfortunately they are not standing in that and they are trying to sit on the wall and so the party is sitting uncomfortably on the wall and trying to please all, but unjustifiably, leaning towards those who want to break the agreement, they are leaning towards those who want to break the rules of the party.

Do you have any fears for the fortunes of the PDP in 2011 polls?

I hope the party will do the right thing. If it did the right thing, nobody has any need to fear. But if they do the wrong thing and suppress the truth, they will pay the price. No body ever suppresses the truth and go scot-free. The consequences of suppressing the truth have always been grave.

You served as Minister of Finance under Obasanjo, who is today saying that the agreement can go to blazes.

Are you disappointed about his position?
I refuse to comment on Obasanjo's position.
I know you to be fearless, why don't you want to comment?

I am just holding back my comment because it will reduce the matter to a personal issue but there is nothing personal about it, it is simply a matter of agreement.

Do you have any regrets over the PDP fielding Obasanjo for the presidency in 1999?

History is a process and when the thing has happened and ended, there is no point regretting. Your regret has nothing to do with what has happened. All you can have is a lesson learnt from it. And we have learnt lessons from it and so there is no need for regrets.

Can we know some of those lessons?
It is for you young people to learn the lesson and use it.

We don't have all the inner details so our lesson might be limited

But it is happening in your presence and all of us are going to draw lessons and one day we will compare these lessons. It is not yet time to compare notes on the lessons we all learn.

Will you say that the PDP of your dream in 1998 is what the party is today?

It is not just the PDP alone that has been disappointing; the whole political class has been behaving in a manner not expected of them. What is happening now is a new experience and it is too early to say that experience have sunk in.

There are certain issues that I consider very important in determining the quality of politics. First, we must know the moral stance of politicians whether they say things they mean and do things they say or whether they do things in the interest of the ordinary Nigerians or what they do is govern in the interest of themselves. Recently a senior politician told me that moral issue won't carry weight in the PDP zoning controversy; I don't believe that; but I have taken note of his position. I believe that moral issues must continue to carry weight in Nigeria's politics; that the economic interest of ordinary Nigerians must be paramount and that national affairs must be conducted in the interest of the entire nation not just a section.

Nigeria will be 50 soon. Will you say that this 50-year-old nation has fulfilled its purpose?

We are still in the process of defining the purpose.

At 50 years?
Yes, at 50 years. Fifty years is nothing in the life of a nation. We believe that this country will still be there for a long time, unless you are pessimistic that the world would end tomorrow.

They say a fool at 40 is a fool forever but you are justifying someone still groping in the dark at 50.

Fifty years for an individual person is different from that of a nation. A person can be a fool at 40 but a nation can't be called a fool at 50. It will take a longer number of years before you can say that of a country.

Nigeria and countries like Indonesia, Ghana got independence almost the same time but Nigeria is way behind others now?

You are drawing comparison. Yes some countries that got independence the same time like us are far ahead. Some of them have large population like Indonesia and some are not many in terms of population like Ghana. Nigeria has huge population and huge resources yet we are still far behind. It means we have been an economic failure; we have not managed our resources to the advantage of our people. We must learn from that because there is no way you can argue it that Malaysia is now far ahead while we are still behind. Every Nigerian knows that this country is not developed and so we must determine to develop Nigeria.

It is not an achievement for Nigerians to acquire money legally and illegally and then go and acquire properties in US and Europe. They want to go there to enjoy the environment when they know that their own environment is not developed and they know that the school system here is in shambles. Our road network is in shambles and the Medicare system is in shambles. Everybody now including the poor goes abroad for treatment. The painful thing is we know we have the resources and the personnel to be a great nation. Our doctors are everywhere performing wonders and we go there to pay our hard earned foreign exchange to these people.

Do you agree that corruption is the bane of our underdevelopment as a nation?

Definitely. Corruption is obviously one of the causes for our under development and we must do something about it. You will hear people condemning corruption, but if you put them in places they can readily receive bribe they will do it with impunity, so we need to tackle what is it that makes people to be corrupt in Nigeria. Corruption is killing the nation. We all have to accept the responsibility to do the right thing. We must stop playing lip service to the issue of corruption.