By Aleke Linus Ikechukwu
As the controversy over the eligibility of president Goodluck Jonathan to seek reelection in 2015 continues to generate ripples, a security and strategy consultant and public affairs commentator chief Max Gbanite in this exclusive interview with Linus Aleke said that going by the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, the incumbent president has every right to seek reelection as others before him had done. He also chronicles President Jonathan’s achievement in line with the transformation agenda in the past few years of his administration. He equally spoke on other issues of national relevance. His excerpt
As a public affairs commentator, what will be your assessment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s performance in this second quarter of his administration?
It is important that your readers know that during the 2011 election which brought Jonathan on board as the president of Nigeria I did not vote for him. As a matter of fact I campaigned for power shift to the north at that particular point in time. But my American orientation and having lived in the United State for more than three decades, I learnt a lesson that once a president is elected, all respect must be giving to that office. Even if you don’t like the person but the first thing president Jonathan did to impress me was the argument about the removal of fuel subsidy. I went to AIT to defend that decision and proffered a solution that the price of petroleum should be pegged between 95 and 100 and government listened and pegged it at 97. Where I beg to differ with Jonathan on subsidy is that the money saved had gone into in my own estimation a nonsense called sure-p programme. What we needed to do was to fund the refineries and build new refineries and make sure they are functional so that there shall be value added to the generation of income of finished products for the nation. The objective of setting refineries could have created millions of jobs directly and collaterally. Having said that the president has not impressed me on the issue of sure-p but there are so many things that he has done to show commitment to transformation that has impressed upon me. Not necessarily in this order but let me start with the successful privatization of the power sector. It was done with transparency and without any favoritism and that exercise in itself means that within the next five years, the elusive power stability will begin to come in. it is not going to happen now because the investors will have to reinvest in the infrastructure. But within the immediate future the result will be very fantastic and I hope, whether the president is still the president then or not that Nigerians will remember that he really was committed to this. When you compare it to the fact that Obasanjo put in 18 billion dollars into the sector and the money disappeared and nothing happened. Then Yar’Adua came in and put additional 10 billion dollars and what Jonathan has saved the nation is not putting money. But privatization and raising 3 billion dollars, so it is a plus for the president in that sector. Then number two, the aviation sector has witnessed commitment by the president and the minister. Sokoto state airport; I had seen it with my own eye transformed, Enugu state airport transformed, Abuja airport transformed, Imo state airport is been transformed into the largest cargo airport in west Africa, Kano state airport is been transformed. So the aviation sector has also witnessed a good percentage of transformation. Then the railway system, people had argued that instead of building faster speed train, they are still going back to the old gage. Whereas that argument can be correct I stand to differ from it, you must repair what you have first and make it work before investing in something that you have never had before. So I was in Mina by the rail yard and I saw I train loading and people were rushing to go to Lagos. The last head of state that tried to revive the Nigeria railway was General Sani Abacha of the blessed memory. And since Abacha’s death, in the eight years of Obasanjo, the rail did not move an inch but money was budgeted and it disappeared. And I give Obasanjor and Atiku that credit. Then Yar’Adua did not spend enough, but part of his agenda was rail transformation which is part of his seven point agenda. So Jonathan has also paid loyalty to his association-ship with Yar’Adua by making sure that train travels from Kano through Akwanga to Mina and to Lagos. And that so far more than five thousand metric tons of goods have been hauled by rail. What that does to the roads of Nigeria is that there will be less petrol tanker and less trailers on the highways when they are completed. Another area is in the road network though they are struggling, I am able to go from Enugu to Abuja in six hours a journey that took eight hours and I am quite sure it is going to get shorter. By the time they finished dualising the various points of dualizations. Having said that, I am only disappointed that those that the president had giving the responsibility of the East West road had not performed as a result it make the president looks very bad. Then the area of rule of law, there is rule of law and government is obeying the rule of law compare to the era of Obasanjor and Atiku which was the era of legal brigandage. The judiciary is taking responsibilities for the lapses and corruption within the judiciary to correct it. I will like to see more teeth given to the fight against corruption, I will like to see the president take over the national orientation agency and begin to drive the behavioral modification of Nigerians for us to become more patriotic than playing partisan politics under religion, Parisian politics over party, and partisan politics over ethnic orientation. And lastly in the sporting arena; under this presidency we won the African cup of nation when in eight years of Obasanjo\Atiku there was no trophy. Under this presidency we are likely to win the under seventeen tournament. Under this presidency Okabgara had gone to UK and Russia and won medals for Nigeria. So there is more to be done in the sports department and I think the government is helping to develop sport the right way. Under this presidency there is less friction between him and the national assembly, he minds his business and he allows them to mind their own business. Whether that is good or not for democracy we will still gage the barometer of measurement of that. So having said that under the same government the terrorist activities are been reduced and the military is taking charge and responsibility of restoring peace and order in the country. And I am quite sure eventually we will get to that. The short comings of the administration will be the ministers who are not performing creditably well and president must use this second half of his administration to sanitize if he is still going to contest for presidency in 2015.
Earlier in your response you said that you did not vote for President Jonathan in the 2011 election if he express his interest and desire to run in 2015 and PDP select him to be their standard bearer, will you vote for him this time around?
Yes and I told you the reason why I will vote for him now because of the conspicuous things that I had seen that he is doing and my vote will be added confidence for him to do more. And I will urge those who did not vote for him in the past to have a rethink. At my level I am not afraid to say I did not vote for him, I am not been given any appointment and at my level I am confident and comfortable saying that if he emerges our party’s standard bearer I will vote for him, in our primary I will also support him. Because I am also looking at the strategic peace of the nation, he is from the Niger Delta and if we allowed Obasanjo and Atiku to govern for eight years, it is only fair that Jonathan being a Niger Delta and a minority for that matter be allowed to finish a second term so that the issue of marginalization of minority could be put to rest. And then after that we can begin to negotiate if it is going to go to the north, if it is going to go to the south east but no particular region or zone can achieve the presidency without discussing with other zones.
You are the leader of the PDP members that are advocating for the right of first refusal to President Jonathan as is been practiced in USA, what informed your decision to champion such practice that is viewed by some as undemocratic?
Going by what we have in America and also what we had seen in Nigeria. Let me start with the former; when President Nixon resigned as president of America and General Ford took over and finished the term of Nixon, Republican Party went for primary. In that primary, General Ford was challenged by Californian governor called Ronald Regan; the contest was very bitter, General Ford emerged the winner but went to general election and lost to Jimmy Carter a democrat. Then after Jimmy Carter’s first term, the democrats had a primary of which Kennedy and a few others challenged Jimmy Carter. The contest was bitter; Jimmy Carter emerged winner but went to general election and lost to Ronald Regan. After Regan’s first term, the Republican said they are not going to have primary, the result was that Regan won the second term because the whole party rallied behind him and he even handed over to his vice president Jorge Bush senior. When Bush finished his first term the Republican went back to the old habit of primary; Prospero challenged him in a bitter fought primary but Bush won and Prospero out of anger went ahead to run as an independent candidate. And the result was that Republican lost the election to democrat in the person of Bill Clinton. Clinton learnt that democracy does not have primary election after the first term he won second term and handed over to Bush junior after his second term. Bush junior who also avoided primary won his reelection bid. The democrat also avoided primary during President Obama and he is doing his second term. You bring it back home, after Obasanjor and Atiku first term in 2003, there was controversy of Obasanjor doing one term only, Alex Ekweme contested the primary with others, they were defeated. It was a bitter primary but it was just that Nigeria did not have a strong opposition PDP would had lost in the general election because they entered the election limping. Then in 2006 going on to 2007 election there was also primary and Atiku left the party and formed CAN. If there was a strong opposition there would have been a problem to PDP. So looking at that, you discover that every primary is skewed in favor of the incumbent. The party is now known to spend close to 50 billion naira in running primary, what for? You can put that money toward general election. In most instances primary becomes too bitter that the actors forget that they are from the same party. So in the case of Mr. President, when you give him the right of first refusal and tell every other candidate to rally behind the president and give him support, the party will be going into the general election more unified, and more united because 2015 election is a different election from 2007 election due to the fact that opposition political parties seem to be getting it correct this time around. So with such credible opposition facing you, you will want to go to the general election more united party than a divided entity.
The reelection bid of president Jonathan had divided his loyalists and adversaries; some of them believes that he has the right to seek reelection, others are of the opinion that he had completed his two terms and therefore should drop his ambition, which of the divide do you belong?
First of all the president under Nigerian constitution has the right to have an ambition or seek reelection for the presidency of Nigeria. The constitution also said for you to contest any election, you must have a vehicle called political party. And the president has a party called PDP and PDP will decide as a party if he is going to be the flag bearer of the party or not and PDP is yet to have a convection to reflect that. But as a member of PDP I believe that, the president still has the right of first refusal. The president has the right to contest; the president did not kill his boss Yar’Adua. Yar’Adua died of illness. Therefore the president assumed command because the constitution does not give opportunity for a lacuna. When that doctrine of necessity gave him the power to finish that term, he contested for an election as a president and won. And that is what he is serving now and is he qualified to seek reelection, in my eyes, in my opinion yes. Until the Supreme Court rules that because he had been sworn in twice one accidentally for filling a void and the other rightfully that that qualifies him not to contest then we can believe that he is not qualified. But that has not happened, those who say he should not contest I cannot begrudge them they have a right under a democracy to fill so; they are the one overheating the polity not the president. Those who say the president must contest also have a right under a democracy to support a candidate. The polity need not be overheated because people are exercising their democratic rights. But when people bring religion, bring ethnicity and use the media especially the print media to suggest all manners of innuendoes that overheat the polity unnecessarily. Nigerians should be entertained, Nigerians should be saying the president should continue because he has done x y z for the nation and those who are against him should say he should not contest because he has not done x y z. And not because he is from a particular region or because it is their particular right after all a particular zone in this country at some time govern for thirty five years. It did not mean that the rest of the regions were stupid it was because the rest of the regions were patient. I said that you cannot argue with a man with a gun but that particular zone also especially in the north will come and be half clever by saying oh! The thirty five years does not count it was military regime. Then the question you will ask is those military regimes were they Nigerians and if they are Nigerians, what part of Nigeria do they come from so you cannot be clever by half. I think what my brothers and sisters from the north should be doing right now is self assessment. When is it bad to become a northerner because you are a Christian? Is it bad to be a northerner because you are Muslim from the minority? How come the north is killing the north over religion? These are the critical matters that as a region should be assessed and diffused before coming to say that the presidency must come from the north. We need to ask ourselves when we from the north governed for thirty five years, what did we do for the people? Even the various governors in the north called the northern governors forum what have they done collectively to help a fellow brother in governor Gidam of Yobe and governor Shetima of Boruno. What is even the national governors’ forum doing collectively to say these two states had suffered so much? Let us raise money and give to them to show that we are indeed our brothers’ keepers. They may be in the north but they are still Nigerians. The children in Yobe state had not gone to school, the children in Borono state are not in school. How do we bring them back to have confident in the nation called Nigeria? These are the issues.
As a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, what do you think is responsible for the crisis trying to claim the soul of the party considering the fact that seven governors elected under the platform of the party are threatening to dump the party if their grudges are not addressed?
Look, grudges, aggrievement, and turmoil had always beleaguered every political party in Nigeria since inception of democracy and independence in 1960. NPC fail apart and NEPU came on to challenge NPC Aminu Kano started his own party and it was successful. NCNC as a party had internal problems, K.O Mbadiwe and their group moved out to form another party. When M. I Okpara had issues with Nnamdi Azikiwe NCNC party he formed UPGA. Akintola had issues with Awolowo and formed his own party so we had precedent of issues in political party but when election comes they find a way to resolve the impasse. In those days of GNPP, Waziri Ibrahim and the group fell apart and Jim Nwaobodo and Slomon Lar formed NPP while Waziri remain in GNPP. NPN had issues and Abiola opted to live NPN. Then you came into the two party systems, all these things were the thing Babangida saw and introduced the wisdom of two party systems which is really what we need. Because it solves the issue of tribe, ethnicity and religion so what is going on in PDP today is the same thing that happened to AD. Under AD there was CAN in Anambra state today somebody is running for governorship under APC and somebody is running under AD. APP became ANPP so PDP is not an exception. During Obasanjo/ Atiku era the party was divided, Atiku group left and went to form ACNO and later came back to the party again but for me, when a father figure have issue with his children I will not blame his children I will blame the father for not listening to his children to know where the problem lies. For seven governors in a party to have issue with the president, I would rather ask the president. What is it that he did not do right to give presence to this young men to go against him? Because it is not just about 2015, there was a roadmap to what happened. I will ask a question; did the president reach out to these governors after his inauguration as a president? How many times did he do a state tour to various parts of the country to thank Nigerians for voting for him? Becoming friends with these governors, bringing federal presence to them rather than seat in Abuja and appear on TV once in a while. So if he had reached out to these governors and shows them that he is their leader, that he is there to help solve their problem and that he is with them. Perhaps before the governors became renegade or became aggrieved they would have called him and say Mr. President, we are concerned about this thing can we come and see you? And they would have solved those problems internally. And what we saw in eagle square or what we are witnessing today would not have happened. And also on the part of the governors I do not think it is right that a party will give you a platform, you used it to govern a state for six years or more and you turn back and start creating confusion in the same party, it does not augur well.
How will their exiting from the party to APC going to affect the fortune of President Jonathan’s ambition to seek reelection
I do not believe that their exit from the party will in any way affect the chances of Mr. President because Nigerians have a way of casting their votes. There are some of the governors that have personal followership not because they are in a party; their follower follows them and not the party. Those are the once that may cause considerable dent on the presidential fortune in an election. Then there are those who don’t have such followership and party loyalist will still remain in the party. And even in their states, the party loyalists are praying for them to leave so that they can hijack the party structure in the state to their advantage. President doesn’t have to be afraid of those ones. It is now up to the president to study the body language and the roadmap that brought such governors to power in their states to see if they are the one that have followership or they are beneficiaries of the party’s platform. I think the presidency should make an effort to mend wall with some of these governors. He may not succeed with some of them but some of them will like to discuss with the president and end this issue called the G-7 governors.
If at the end of the day a resolution is not reached between the warring parties, what level of negative influence will it have on the party?
The party will continue to exist. There are other governors who left the party in the past, they are now in APC, there are former ministers who had also left PDP but PDP still remain a very formidable party that those who have left created opportunity for other to come in. And does moving to APC mean the demise of PDP the answer is no. it means that APC stands a better chance of winning more governors but winning the centre, they still have to bring the candidate that Nigerians will agree to and not a regional candidate. And winning the centre means that they are going to borrow a leadership from PDP again because those who are in APC could not govern APC without PDP members, that is proven and what is also very prevalent is that Bola Tinubu controls the party. In his absence the party was dormant; nobody was talking because he went for treatment oversees. Now that he is back the party is again on the news. So it is a one man show and Nigerians do not need a dictator, Nigeria need a democracy and I don’t think that even if the G-7 governors decamp to APC that it will change the presidency of Nigeria.
Do you have the confidence that President Jonathan has the capacity to lead Nigerian to the Promised Land?
Leadership can be trust upon people, and some people are born to be leaders while some people prepare to be leaders. The only president Nigeria had had who prepared to be a president is General Babangida nobody else from the first prime minister, he never envisage being a prime minister he was trust with leadership, Abdulsalam is the happenstance accidental leader, Shagari wanted to be a senator he became a president and ended up being a great statesman. Jonathan has to define what leadership is for him and what this country means to him. If he is able to come to terms with that he will go on to be a very great leader, though he has not gotten there yet. And being a great leader comes with taking a responsibility for failure and responsibility for successes and not allowing your personal advisers and minister to dictate the discussion. You analyze and dictate the discussion and steer the nation to a particular direction. If he is able to do that he will correct the impression. Anyone who has the capacity to acquire a PHD should have a capacity to lead therefore you are not fair to me by boxing me in a corner to tell you if Jonathan has the capacity to lead or not I cannot answer it in that format but I will rather say that where he lacks in capacity he should acquire it and where he has capacity he should improve upon but Nigeria is greater than all and Nigeria will continue to be there.
There are views in some certain quarters echoing discordant tune by saying that Nigeria is at the verge of collapse thereby giving credence to CIA prediction that Nigeria will soon disintegrate, do you share similar sentiment?
The man in his village; the farmer, the small business people, the community does not share the same view it is a gimmicks by the elite to continue to keep the nation at a precipice so that they can take advantage of the fall out of that precipice. Nigeria is not going to collapse, the inter marriage in this nation is such that an Igbo man cannot have a visa to come to the north to see his in-laws or take a visa to go to the south west to see his in-laws. God put this nation together to give this nation the added clout to decide what happen in this contiguous region called ECOWAS the share size of Nigeria give us respectability from the international community every continent have a nation that God put together. United State is taking care of the American side, United Kingdom is taking care of Europe even when Germany is resisting. Nigeria is positioned for West Africa and also Africa so we should not abdicate our responsibility by going to say oh! There should be a Yoruba nation, there should an Arewa nation, and there should be an Igbo nation that is a nonsense that can never happen. Those who advocate for the break-up of Nigeria will die a natural death because Nigeria is made to be together in the eyes of God and he used the British Empire to actuate it.