Party defection and the tasks before the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, among other issues. My view
Defecting from one political party to another has become a constant feature in our political system, how does it affect the growth of democracy?
However it affects our political system cannot be anything but negative. Although we have the freedom of association which you cannot take away from anybody but under the same condition, defection is not completely absolute, there are laws that can be made to limit this freedom. The negative effect it has on our body polity is that it relapses political advancement; it stifles the growth and development of ideology; it steals the provision of alternative platform for the voting electorate and it encourages a one-party state. Nine out of every 10 defection is from one party to the ruling party; it is more like a concept of political osmosis where people move from the minority party to the majority party. The whole scenario now begs where the question of ideology is. You are voted-in on one political platform, sometimes not because of you but the party that you represent.
So, it is an electoral fraud when you go to people and you campaign that I am a member of AC, for instance, and this is what my party stands for, in a lot of cases these people do not know you because they are not voting for the individual- there are court verdicts that had proved that, the case of the Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, is one. The people voted for the party, not the individual- that was the rationale behind that judgement. If you are voted for on the basis of a political platform and on the understanding that you represent that particular party, it amounts to electoral fraud and deceit or obtaining by false pretence,‘419‘. Let us take a look of advanced democracy like that of the United States, there is rarely, maybe once in a lifetime would you find someone crossing over from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, it is so because the parties ideologies stand clearly different. They practise issue-oriented politics. So, to have that kind of system, we have to discourage cross-carpeting in our system. It does not encourage parties defining clearly what their ideologies are.
Some people believe that there is hardly any difference in the ideologies of the political parties in Nigeria that is why defectors find it easy to do what they do. Do you agree?
That is why I said defection should be discouraged because it stunts our development. This is because when you are allowed to move from one party to another it does not encourage clear distinction of what we stand for in the respective parties. If there is a clear demarcation of what the All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Peoples Democratic Party stand for, it would be difficult for someone to move from ANPP to PDP or vice versa. The only party that has a clear ideological difference to me is the AC; it is the only progressive party in the country. The party believes in the autonomy of the states, it believes in a weak centre and stronger state. It discourages a government where everything begins and ends with the centre. AC believes in fiscal and structural federalism. These are principles and ideologies you would not find in the other parties. The PDP believes in a strong centre and weaker states that is why they have people clearly intervening from the centre in the activities of the states. There may not be clear differences between parties, but there is a clear difference between other parties and the AC.
As the AC leader in the House, what would you say your party has been able to achieve in a PDP-dominated House?
Well, as you know, this is one of the dangers of election rigging and manipulations because everything leads to a one-party state. It is now fashionable to say that the minority will have its say while the majority will have its way. Having said that, however, I think a lot of achievements you can ascribe to the House have so many inputs from the AC and some other opposition parties were done collectively. There are many issues that we have tried to push as a party I wish the House had looked at wholly, not on party basis. While there had been some achievements, no doubts, the PDP had a more effective presence in terms of numerical strength. We probably would have been able to do, but you know the kind of politics we practise. That is why we are totally fighting seriously the issue of electoral reform knowing that only through that way can we have true, accountable representation- only then can the representatives start to do the bidding of those who have elected them.
Given the unfolding scenario, do you think a credible election can be conducted in 2011?
No matter the electoral reform, I believe that if you do not change the present occupier of the office of the chairman of the electoral body; if you do not also change the process of his appointment, then there are no electoral reforms that can stand the test of time. Most importantly is that we have to change the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, we are also looking at the Justice Muhammadu Uwais panel report and see if we can adopt the model for appointment of the electoral umpire. If that is done, there is a fair chance that we would have at least, more credible election.
Apart from electoral reforms, international election monitors after the Abuja area council poll penultimate week said the problem of voters‘ apathy may affect the 2011 election. What‘s your take on this?
We are hoping that it will not. But definitely, it stands to reason that if over and over again you go out under inclement weather, you stay there for a number of hours and you try to elect someone of your choice into office and your vote is disregarded, of course you will feel disenchanted about the whole process- that definitely have a part to play in voters‘ apathy. But with the ongoing sensitisation, and clamour for electoral reforms by non-governmental organisations, politicians and others, Nigerians are becoming more aware. By 2011 everybody is going for broke- is it going to make or mar our democratic system; is it going to be transparent; is it going to be free and fair? I believe that the international powers are also involved, so, it is a concerted effort by everybody. I think if we can sustain that pressure, I believe we will have a credible election. I do not think that there had ever been this kind of clamour and hype for the conduct of credible election.
With 13 months to the expiration of the tenure of the present administration, do you think the Acting President would be able to effect any positive change in the polity?
To some extent, we should be realistic, the time is short and the work is plenty but I believe that with the commitment to do the right thing, the Acting President can do a lot. I believe if he does only one thing, he would have achieved a lot, everything else will follow. If the Acting President can give Nigerians a free, fair and credible election, then he would have achieved accountability and it is only then that the elected officials will know that they are truly accountable to the people and they begin to do their bidding. This is simple common sense because that will make elected officials know that if they do not do the biddings of the electorate, they will not come back. It is for this simple reason that you have developments in advanced democracies. So, I believe that if we have free and credible elections, every other thing will be added onto it- we will have roads, electricity, hospitals and so on. Jonathan needs just three points agenda- electoral reform; electoral reform and electoral reform.
There are those who feel that the Acting President‘s recent visit to the United States was not necessary considering the problems he needs to tackle within this short period, while others think otherwise. What is your view on this?
Well, both schools of thoughts may be right in their own ways. Because we are trying to find stability at the moment, maybe the timing is not right. But one of the issues that took him there was based on the nuclear summit- to what extent is Nigeria relevant when it comes to nuclear proliferations? Agreed, it was a meeting of world bodies but it came at a time when Nigeria is in a storm. We had issues of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who attempted to blow up a US bound airline and no leader has been able to speak with the US government. There were also other ancillary issues that were more important to Nigerians than that nuclear proliferation. Issues that were discussed with President Barack Obama were issues of corruption and electoral reform. So, to me, when you look at the broader picture, the trip was well worth its while. If they were able to discuss corruption and electoral reform extensively, then I think he did well. Nigeria was the focal point for the first time. Even when President Umaru Yar‘Adua was hale, he didn‘t go to any of these summits. Nigeria was always conspicuously absent in those world meetings and when these kinds of things continue to happen then you have started isolating yourself. To that extent, therefore, the advantages of going to the US, far outweigh the disadvantages.