IN NIGERIA'S INTEREST, DON'T CONTEST, FALAE TELLS JONATHAN
Presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Peoples Party (APP) in the 1999 election, Chief Olu Falae is pleading with President Goodluck Jonathan not to contest the 2011 presidential election.
Rather than contest an election he may not win, Chief Falae wants the president to restore the dignity of Nigeria by supervising a free and fair election. He argued that if the president decides to contest the election, he might be pressurized to tamper with the result. The Akure high chief believes that the president would live in the hearts of the people and win the respect of the watching world if he turns down the pressure to contest the presidential election. He pointed out that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979 became the darling of the international community because of that act.
Jonathan, he said, is just in his late 50s and can still come back to contest the presidential election in his 60s.
Falae emphasized that the zoning arrangement is a PDP affair and the party could decide to scrap, review or retain it and that if it is true that such agreement was reached and it still subsists, the honourable thing is to respect the gentleman's agreement.
Chief Falae also spoke on the return of Atiku Abubakar to PDP and how Buhari convinced leaders of the Mega Movement on why he needed to form his own party.
What is your position on zoning of the presidency by the PDP?
I have never been a party to any arrangement or agreement regarding the rotation of the presidency. What I heard and what I read was that PDP agreed among the members that they would rotate the post of president within their party. PDP is not Nigeria and rotation is not in the constitution of Nigeria. Therefore, it is not binding on the rest of Nigeria that do not belong to the PDP.
I want to stress that in 1999, the number of votes scored by the AD and the APP were three million votes more than those of the PDP. So, the PDP was not the majority party. Therefore, whatever they agreed upon couldn't be imposed on the rest of Nigeria. When AD and APP went into alliance, there was never any discussion about rotation. So, if there was any rotation agreement, it was purely a PDP affair.
You and Obasanjo - all from the South West were the main presidential candidates for the 1999 presidential election. The North did not present a candidate. Don't you think to abandon zoning now would amount to betrayal?
You recall that when Obasanjo embarked on his third term agenda, others and I condemned the attempt. We said then and I say now that since he has had two terms as prescribed in the constitution, it was immoral and totally unacceptable for him to try to manipulate himself into a third term. I believe in fairness and justice. That is the context in which I want to make my comment.
If there was rotational agreement within the PDP, those who reached the arrangement within the PDP are honourable people. They must honour any agreement they made. It is incumbent on them to honour that agreement.
Some of them are now saying there was no such agreement and that it is not forever. So, I don't know the truth because I never belong to the PDP. But if they had such arrangement, and if their party has followed the arrangement so far, it is only fair that they should stand by any agreement they made.
However, it is within their competence to also review any agreement they made if they wish to do so. They can change it, review it or retain it. It is entirely up to them.
What do you think made it possible for you and Obasanjo to be the main contestants for the 1999 presidential election?
First of all, in the AD to which I belonged at the time, I did not have the benefit of any zoning arrangement. In the extended caucus of the AD, I had to contest with Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife from the South East. I defeated him in a contest in Abuja. So, it was not offered to the South West.
If there was zoning that gave Obasanjo automatic nomination without any contest that is a PDP affair. In AD, I contested against somebody who was not from my zone. Why there were no contestants from any of the zones from the North, I don't know. But my guess is that the June 12 and NADECO experiences had persuaded most Nigerians that fair was fair. That the (late Moshood) Abiola won an election fair and square, so said Adamu Ciroma and was denied unfairly. There were protests and thousands of people lost their lives over the six-year period. That was 1993-1999 when NADECO was in the forefront of the struggle.
Many of us went into detention and many went into exile. Many lost their lives. I believe that the generality of the political leadership in Nigeria felt that it was only fair to allow someone from the South West to become president in order to heal the wound of the annulment and the bigger wound of the suffering that followed the annulment.
I believe the question then was: look, don't let us contest this time round. Let somebody from the South West emerge. That will pacify the people and convince them that the annulment was not aimed at the Yoruba as a people. That is my guess as to what happened.
Do you think that after appeasing the Yoruba, it should be left open to all Nigerians?
Well, again, I don't want to be dragged into this zoning thing because I was not party to it. As I said, I was not a beneficiary of zoning because nobody discussed zoning either in the AD to which I belong or in the APP that was our ally. One of their (PDP) former chairmen is saying that the zoning was not supposed to be forever. Question; for how long was it supposed to stand? I don't know. So, if the time it was supposed to stand has passed, it will be legitimate, therefore, to throw it open.
Since I don't know, I cannot comment on it. But my position is that in an ideal situation, the search for the leadership of a country should not be limited by any zoning. That is in an ideal situation where there is fairness in the competition. Zoning would mean that whatever the favoured zone throws at Nigeria, Nigeria must accept. If he is a mediocrity, he becomes your leader.
But, I also agree that the search for leadership has never been very fair or competitive. Look at the quality of past leaders before zoning was introduced. With all respect, very few of them were outstanding. Even when there was unrestricted choice, we did not get the quality that was much better than what we got after zoning. So really, the evidence is not conclusive one way or the other. If we are searching for the best, we might search the entire states.
It was alleged in 1998 you wanted Afenifere to join PDP, while the late Bola Ige wanted APP. What is the truth?
This statement like many others is a huge distortion of the truth and reality. I never wanted us to team up with one party or the other. We started with G34, which was not a political party. And consultations were going on. Don't forget the military had been in power for 13 years and politics was just being allowed to take place. As consultation was going on, I had to go abroad for medical check-up. I spent one and half years in a police cell. People don't remember that. I slept on the floor with criminals and my doctor was anxious that I should come for a proper check-up to be sure that I did not pick up in detention the health problem I did not have before I went in. I was there for about four or five weeks. By the time I came back, the party had been formed. So, I was not even around to say this is my preference and not that one. But the truth of the matter was that the G34 became what is now PDP.
Our group left the G34, and I was never fully briefed. When we went to what became APP and it was said that we were going to belong to that group. But when they got to the final meeting, some of our leaders identified some people as agents of Sani Abacha and we can't be in the same party with them and they walked out. They proceeded to form what became AD. All that was done before I came back to the country. My four or five weeks abroad was very critical. All the maneuvres and changes and joining and walking out took place during that critical period. I did not have the choice of saying I prefer A or B.
What do you say to the circumstance that produced President Goodluck Jonathan?
The circumstance that produced him ought to have been normal if normal people had handled the late President Yar'Adua's situation. It is natural for anybody to be ill. Our constitution anticipated that kind of situation when it provided that if for any reason, the president is unable to discharge his function they should follow the normal procedure.
Somebody said during the crisis that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in October 1965 left Nigeria on health grounds. The day before he left, he swore in the president of the Senate, Dr. Nwafor Orizu as acting president. Three months latter, the coup took place and Orizu was removed from office. The position of president at the time was not an executive president. But Azikiwe went abroad like Yar'Adua and was there like Yar'Adua. However, unlike Yar'Adua, his replacement was not a problem. It was a routine matter. Many people did not even know there has been a change.
But this time round, because of all kinds of political reasons and maneuvres, what should be a normal thing with sympathy and prayer became a controversial issue. I believe some people used Yar' Adua's illness to feather their nest. That should never have happened. The medical panel should have gone to see him and write report that in our opinion we don't think that he can come back and be president. So, the National Assembly would visit him with full respect and homage, pour encomium on him. But the constitutional duty is to say that he cannot continue as president. The deputy should have been sworn in and there would have been no problem at all.
If the president was going away, for example; on leave or extended holiday whatever, he would write to the National Assembly to say that I would not be available to perform my functions from this day to this day. He would later write another letter to say I am now back. But this was not that kind of situation. When he was leaving, I don't know whether he was conscious or able to write any letter. Writing of letter is in a normal situation when in good health and would be away for some time. When he is back, the VP goes back to VP position or job and he would be president.
Is Jonathan morally right to contest for president in 2011?
There is nothing morally wrong in his seeking nomination to contest the presidency. The constitution allows it. But as people said, if PDP has a zoning arrangement and they all subscribe to it and this is Yar'Adua first term and the North is entitled to another term of four years. No one knows the truth about the PDP zoning arrangement.
But if it is true they have a zoning arrangement and it is true that it should go on indefinitely, it is reasonable to expect that somebody from the North should have it to balance the eight years Obasanjo spent. If the zonal arrangement is true and I want to repeat if what we hear is true then the North has another four or five years. If it is true, I believe Jonathan as a man of honour may not wish to breach that agreement if there is such an agreement. But there is nothing immoral in him under the constitution seeking nomination to contest the president.
But you are asking me if I think he should seek nomination and contest. My answer is clear; I will plead with him that he has the right but not to insist on that right. I have one important reason for it. The reason is important for him and important for all of us. This reason is this: since 1999, we have not been able to conduct a decent election. Sierra Leone that came out of 12-year civil war conducted an election that was fair. We have been conducting elections in Nigeria since 1922 – almost a century. We've conducted free election in the past. Suddenly we became incapable of carrying out decent election. We became a laughing stock to the entire universe. International observers felt that the standard of 2007 election fell far below the minimum standard. Not just below but far below the minimum. It is a shame. So, removing that shame and restoring legitimacy to governance is far more important objective than his becoming president next year.
I am pleading with him that he should take us on that objective of conducting a free and fair election to redeem the image of Nigeria and confer legitimacy on governance. I plead with him to please do that. If he is a candidate as well, it is more than likely that there will be a conflict. If he is running to become president, opinion polls suggest that he might not win. If he is not running, there will be no pressure being brought to bear on him into manipulating the process. He should not be seen to have conducted an election, which he won. Contesting may force him to compromise the objective of conducting a free and fair and acceptable election to redeem the image of Nigeria. So, that is the main reason I will plead with him to forgo that option and wait for another time. If he does so, why did the international community hail Obasanjo in 1979? It was because he handed over to an elected civilian president. If Jonathan does the same next year in circumstances more difficult than that of Obasanjo, because he would be giving up more than Obasanjo gave up in 1979. He would, therefore, be the beneficiary of greater goodwill and respect at home and abroad. I believe that in four or eight years, there is nothing stopping him since he is in his late 50s. He can come back before he is 60 to be president.
This is my advice to him. But I know that tremendous pressure is being mounted on him on how sure is he sure of returning to win in eight years' time? They will tell him to strike the iron when it is hot. That he is the one people have been waiting for long time. But I say, he should please, let God direct him. He should let the wishes and interest of Nigerians to be dominant in his taking a decision.
What is the position of the mega party today?
Thank you very much. We were in INEC and we've been in INEC for the past four weeks. We have submitted all that we are required to submit. The INEC officials have visited our office in Abuja and held meeting with the protem executive of the party. We have reason to believe that very shortly, we should be registered having fulfilled the conditions in the constitution.
Why did Buhari have to form his own party?
When we learnt that the Buhari Organization has transformed into CPC, some people raised the issue. He said the process of registering the party was on since early last year. He said it took them a year to get approval. He said it did not start after the Mega Summit Movement had started. It was something already in the pipeline. He even stated that many of us in the mega summit already have our own political parties. Several people, including myself as the chairman of DPA, Femi Falana is the chairman of National Conscience Party (NCP) and Senator Salawu is the chairman of Action Alliance (AA) and so on and so forth. So, we have many parties in the Mega Movement. What is wrong if he too gets his own political party? That was what he said and the answer was, why not? These are the two reasons advanced by him for the formation of his party.
Is Buhari still part of the Mega Movement?
I cannot say he is not a member anymore because his principals were in touch with us very recently. We are meeting at Abuja very soon. It is clear that no single party can win election against the PDP. If you want to be president, you need a large platform. To the extent that Gen. Buhari wants to be president, I believe it is reasonable to expect that he would want to remain part of the movement. I remain the chairman of my party and I remain the co-coordinator of the movement. So, the movement is larger than any party. It is a movement of many parties, groups and leaders. I believe that at the end of the day we will all operate on the same platform next year if we are serious about dislodging the PDP. The alternative is for PDP to ride on and Nigeria will become a one-party state. God forbid.
This is a question that would interest many Nigerians: Why did Atiku Abubakar decide to go back to PDP?
Only Atiku can answer that question. Thank you.
I ask the question because he was very active in the Mega Movement
Sometime last year, he requested for a meeting with some of the leaders of the movement. I went to Lagos for the meeting. We said look, how can we believe that you are with us because you went to see Obasanjo recently. He said it was a private thing and that he believed in a two-party system. He wanted us to come together for a credible broad-based alternative to the PDP. He said he believed strongly in two-party arrangements, which was why he decided to work with us. It was a very persuasive argument. But why he changed his mind later and went back to PDP, only he can answer.
Did he inform you before going back to PDP?
No. He is not obliged to do so.