It is a very positive development because, within the last 10 years, we have seen superiority of democracy over military rule. One wouldn’t say the last 10 years was all about achievement and development in terms of giving the ordinary people the dividends of democracy. But looking at it on the whole, it is a good development. We have certainly achieved a lot; even though there are so many problems that are arising. But on the whole, we have made significant progress because 10 years ago, we started on a very bad footing. The situation at that time was very bad. We have to give General Abdulsalam Abubakar kudos for handing over to civilians. Whatever problem Yar’adua has, he has enough time to correct them because we have problems of lack of infrastructure such as sustainable power supply, free and compulsory education. With our resources, Nigerians deserve free and compulsory education from primary up to at least secondary level. This country has been battling with poverty and diseases particularly in the northern states but if democracy is sustained and the Niger Delta crisis is solved politically I believe the future of this country will be very bright. Since we have the resources and the manpower all we need is the political guidance and re-orientation for us to be more productive. A lot has been done but a lot more could have been done if we were as productive as we should have been.
Many Nigerians believe that governors are responsible for the impoverishment being experienced by Nigerians, for failing to judiciously utilize the resources that had accrued to the states. Don’t you feel guilty about this accusation, knowing that you are part of the problems you just talked about?
No. That is not true. Governors have not been the problem of this country; no. Are they chairmen of local governments? No. Can you even say the president of the federal government is the problem? The problems of this country are very wide and enormous for any particular regime to solve it 10 years. We have all tried our best, but, as I said earlier, we could have done more than we did. That is always true. One would have done more than he should. With the president’s seven-point agenda, I hope there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Mr. President has promised that by December, we are going to have 6,000 mega watts of electricity and by 2010, we will have 2,000 mega watts more. If this alone is implemented the country will certainly benefit from it. They have also awarded contracts for 26 roads across the country. I can, for example, speak for myself. When I served in Yobe State, the number of tertiary institutions we established since I became a governor are now functioning well and the government is sustaining them. So we did a lot in our eight years as governors.
One of the major problems facing the nation is the issue of free, fair and credible elections. Do you think the electoral reform bills before the National Assembly are enough to reform our electoral system?
The electoral reform bills are before us. We have started considering them. They are a good beginning; but good beginnings and good proposals alone cannot change the system. Unless and until Nigerians change their attitude and government looks for credible people who are beyond reproach, honest and sincere people who will work for the interest of the country, not for any parochial interest or of any political party are identified and vested with the responsibility of implementing the recommendations made by the Justice Uwais penal, we are not going to see better elections that are free and fair and transparent; elections which are crisis free and devoid of rigging and all forms of malpractices. Nigerians need to assist in this process, after all it is people who rig and carry out violence. It is the system, not the law, that does these things. But I want to give a word of caution because if INEC and its chairman remain under the control of the executive, it will not solve our problem. We need to have independent bodies that will be free from any interference. I hope my colleagues will do a good job on this and Nigeria will strip itself of all the bad things that have given us a bad name worldwide and which have also over-heated our polity and made it difficult for us to have credible and acceptable election.
Many of the important recommendations made by the Uwais committee were rejected by the federal government white paper committee?
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We have just started work on one of the bills and we have come to the conclusion that all members of the National Assembly need the original copy of the Justice Uwais report for us to study and make meaningful inputs to the bills that will be different from what the government recommended so that we will have acceptable laws which will guide us in future elections.
But what is important is who controls INEC and all the other commissions that will be established? Who funds them because, as they say, he who pays the piper dictates the tune? On local governments, as long as state governors control state electoral commissions as the president controls INEC, we are not likely to get credible elections that will be acceptable by all Nigerians and the international community. We will make the difference at the National Assembly.
Your party, the ANPP, is facing so many problems and 2011 is around the corner. Don’t you think that the party is heading for the rock?
We are aware of the problems our party has. It is common with all opposition parties. Those of us in the opposition need to come together and take on the PDP so that we avoid a one party state. We must create a big party that will give Nigerians a credible alternative. Our party has set up a contact and alliance committee to see how opposition parties can merge into a mega party that can take on the PDP that is like a monster that has forced all politicians to belong to one party. So, I believe that with this move, by the end of the year, we will come up with something that will be a credible alternative and have, at least, a two party state. We cannot be forced to be in one party in Nigeria. When this is done, our problem as a party will be over because, in ANPP, we have never had a good leadership. Our leaders have been killing our party. Most of the people who are senators and House of Representatives members today started with the ANPP or the AD but now they are all in the PDP. Any time you talk to them about having another alternative party, they welcome it but, for now, there is no alternative for them than to belong to the PDP. So hope is not lost. The problem with the opposition is individual ambitions of the people at the top. The last time we tried to get a strong group that will take on the PDP, the so-called presidential candidates opposed any merger because they didn’t want to lose their positions as presidential candidates.