And the only thing that can bring about credible elections in 2011 is to meticulously look at the electoral reform that needs to be put in place to safeguard the election in 2011. And how can that be done? First of all, we need to look at the flaws in previous elections from 1999 to date and statutorily try to see whether we can amend the situation. Unfortunately, there are certain amendments that need to be done that ordinarily are impossible without altering the provisions of the constitution. And there appears to be a stalemate on that issue; which is not good for the political process of this country. From 1999 to date, we’ve passed through three elections and most of them cannot adequately be said to be free and fair. Efforts have been made to douse tensions that arose after the elections, but for how long can we continue to entertain this fragile discontent that we have regarding our electoral process. We never had the precedence of people coming together to reject elections. But today, for one reason or the other, Nigerians are watching other countries where similar issues have happened and the position taken by the electorate to protest what they believe does not represent the true elections that were held. The issue is whether Nigeria possesses the capacity to manage that kind of crisis? Or is it better than what is at our disposal to ensure a peaceful, free and fair election. And it is my hope that people will see wisdom in trying to look at the consequences of inaction at this stage and the possible effects it will have on the very country we dearly love. With that wisdom they will see that there is the necessity for people to bend backwards and look at what will be in the overall interest of Nigeria.
You talked about stalemate and inaction in the electoral reform process, what’s responsible for the stalemate and inaction?
Well, about four months back, the committees of the two chambers of the National Assembly; the Senate and the House of Representatives were constituted to look at the provisions of the constitution that can be altered to give way for a more meaningful frame work of governance. The crisis started in Minna and the crisis has remained unresolved up till now. There appears to be no serious effort to resolve the crisis and unfortunately we are running out of time. We are already into two years after the last election and two years into the next election. And this is a very time consuming process if it must be done very well. So, if at this stage, the process has not been fully kick-started and the engine starts running, then you should know there is stalemate, and that represents my opinion.
Despite the stalemate and inaction, elected officials are now busy positioning themselves for re-election despite their perceived non-performance?
(Cuts in) Well, you see unfortunately, I’m a very keen observer of politicking in this country, and I do that based on facts. I am aware that as I am speaking to you now, I’m not aware of any governor from the south-south, south-east or south-west who is openly canvassing for re-election in 2011. I’ve equally not seen clearly any sign that the president of this country is equally canvassing for that. But for whatever it is, it is obvious that the governors, except for governors who have done two terms in the northern part of the country, every other governor is canvassing to be elected in 2011. Now, two things are striking here. One, it shows that our brand of politics is a little bit different from other parts of the country. Whether that is a positive brand or a negative one remains to be judged by the people. But I think what is more important is the fact that there is equally a circle of contradiction from both the society and those who claim to represent the society as good governance is concerned. Let me give you an example. Except with some few newspapers who have seen wisdom in protecting the integrity of journalism in this country, we have seen papers that provide platforms to people to write and abuse political office holders from Monday to Friday. But the Saturday preceding that week, we’ll see them renting a very big hall in one of the most prestigious hotels in this country, and what are they doing? They are giving out awards for excellence in governance to the same people that have being run down by other people in their medium. So, something is wrong and fundamentally, so. Because, I will think that morally, if a newspaper or a magazine provides and make its pages available to opposition and those who have genuine reasons to run the institution of governance in this country, then they lack the moral ground to give award to these people for excellence in governance. It is on record today, there is virtually, no governor in this country no matter how worse he is, who has not received an award for excellence in governance given to him by the media. So, something is wrong. You cannot on one side be telling people the government is bad; things are wrong and then on the other side you say these people have done well and then they deserve an award and I’m giving the award. So, who is fooling who? And therefore, that is why I say, the issue as it relates to making this country a great country lies at the feet of the leaders but it transcends much more than that. That the only thing that can make a nation great is that the people who have been imbued with knowledge and who have the privilege of being called elites in this country will decide that they will never get involved in what has neither the potential to secure their present or consolidate it nor safeguard their future by way of conduct that are fundamentally inimical to nation building.
With due apologies to what you said about the media, don’t you think the media is doing its job?
Well, again, in your right to swing your arm, so you’ll hit another person. There must be a parameter and that parameter is what swings, and hold your conscience. So, if in the exercise of the fundamental right of a journalist, to say a governor has done well by giving him award, he should possess the moral capability not to give him the pages of his newspaper for somebody to say that that governor has not done well. Or if he wishes to do so, he must go further to give valid reasons as to why he said that that person has done well by far better than the reasons advanced by the other person. There must be a parameter; there must be a balancing factor. You can’t come from nowhere and hide under the platform of fundamental human rights, and do whatever you want; otherwise, one can validly ask the question that if the media is the same all over the world but other media are not doing so, therefore what is so particular about the Nigerian media?
But lest you forget, the pages of newspapers are a market place of ideas?
Well, ideas that are processed taking into account the complexities and needs of that nation where you operate. That is my understanding, and I hope it is wrong.
Of recent you have curved a niche for yourself. People see you as controversial. Aren’t you wary of people’s perception about you especially as it relates to your recent utterances?
I’m not worried. You see, may be a lot of people don’t know me. I’m one of those people who believe that the journey so far by Nigeria from 1960 to date dictates that the country should live in a moment of truth and therefore political office holders must be willing to come out, and tell the truth no matter how bitter or how unpalatable it would be. I am not an arm chair politician who wants to play to the gallery, no. I sincerely and honestly, believe that my responsibility is to positively contribute to the development of the country. In doing so, I am perfectly aware of my responsibility to speak the truth as at when that truth is required for the purpose of nation building. The recent outburst, as it relates to the Niger Delta was a speech I was making where I was cut off half way without even allowing me to conclude it. But even at the conclusion of that speech, what I was going to say is not different from what was alleged. The only thing there is that to restrict it to the Niger Delta is a very stupid interpretation of what I had said. And I have no apologies about that. A responsible person, a reasonable person acting reasonably in interpreting what I had said should first of all ask himself two questions. One, are there 20 million, militants in the Niger Delta? The answer is no. Second question, is the population of the Niger Delta 20 million? The answer is no. So, to make reference to 20 million and say that Na’Allah said that 20 million Niger Deltans should be killed is the most irresponsible interpretations of what I said. But, I think what is important is the fact what is happening in the Niger Delta region today, if it was to happen in Kebbi State, I will advocate in the same way I have advocated that the government should deal decisively with the militants, and I have no apology.