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Political parties should discard zoning; it affects merit -Okpara

First of all, the National Union of Political Parties has said that President Jonathan or any other Nigerian who is eligible based on the 1999…

First of all, the National Union of Political Parties has said that President Jonathan or any other Nigerian who is eligible based on the 1999 constitution is free to run for the office of the President irrespective of where the person comes from. As a fact, we called on all political parties to do away with zoning. Zoning affects merit. Political parties should elect their best members through the nomination process called primary election and aspirants should be free to come from any part of the country. People should not be disqualified from election because of who their father is or where their mother comes from or what religion they practise. People should freely express their aspirations as the superior laws of the land allow. For this reason, the NUPP decided that everybody, including Dr Goodluck Jonathan, should participate in the 2011 elections as they may wish.

Many  people feel the PDP zoning arrangement is already there and its rejection now could upset not just the PDP but the polity as a whole, PDP being the nation’s dominant party.

No. Zoning was introduced at a time when it was felt that a certain section of the country needed it to calm nerves, but we have overgrown that now. It is time to celebrate merit and support anyone coming from any part of the country.

Do you realize that as an Igbo man, you could be affected directly? The Igbo generally hope that if the North is allowed to hold onto the presidency till 2015 in the spirit of the zoning arrangement, the other two geopolitical regions of the south would let the South East, the Igbo,  produce the president in 2015.

It doesn’t have to be so. I initiated the Obama Nigeria in the countdown to the American election that produced Barack Obama as the president because of the ideals which the Obama candidacy represented. Obama is of a black minority group who got the support of the more than 80 percent of the White in America to become his party’s candidate and then the nation’s president. We should advance with America, after all it is their model of democracy we are practising. It is time for Nigeria to discard the inhibitions of tribe and religion and move forward.

Apart from your belief in electoral freedom, what has President Jonathan done to win your support?

Here is a highly educated man who is also very humble. He has never been known to seek power desperately. He has never printed a paper for any election. Fate has always helped him. He has always been called into the offices he has held. The antecedents are well known now. If God would have him continue as president through the 2011 elections, let him be.

What is your mind on the similarly controversial two-party system that nearly tore the House of Representatives apart?

It’s retrogressive even to think that a nation of over 140 million people could be satisfied with two parties when much smaller countries like Niger Republic have multi-party structure with political parties in excess of five. The former military President Ibrahim Babangida tried two parties: the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) and built offices for them in each of the country’s 774 local government areas, but that system produced nothing. As for the recent bill seeking two parties, the House of Representatives did justice to it by killing it.

But lots of the members of the House supported the bill passionately.

Some people fear that if they go into election on the tickets of minority parties they may lose. They want a situation that will leave them with a strong opposition party with a high possibility of electoral success. But I look at it that political parties should be formed based on ideology of something to offer that will confer popularity on the party. You shouldn’t form a party because of another party.  What these people want is PDP and another party, which is not good for democracy.

You have just become chairman of the National Union of Political Parties (NUPP). What is it really about, because there is also the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP).

The NUPP was formed in 2006 as an umbrella of many political parties. It is not mainly for opposition. I was elected president of the union for one year. I was called on earlier this month to lead the union once again for one year. It’s a one-year tenure. Some political parties which are not in the mainstream CNPP are in the NUPP. Some are in the CNPP but still also belong to the NUPP.

The former governor of Kaduna State Namadi Sambo has just become the nation’s vice president amidst worries by many Nigerians that he faces daunting challenges posed by development needs of the country. What do you think?

I had my fears when the nation faced the uncertainty of who the vice president would be. This was because we had a situation not far back when our president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and his vice, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar could not see eye to eye. But I relaxed when the lot fell on Sambo to become the vice president. Sambo is like Goodluck Jonathan in many respects. He is a man with vast experience, a man who is an authority in his chosen field: architecture, and a man who is well-read but is not unduly ambitious. I have confidence in his performance. He will make a good pair with President Jonathan. They will reign in harmony and they will succeed in leading the country.

What specific areas of development do you wish to see a change in as the two go about their duties?

The president decided to personally lead development efforts in power supply. It shows that he is unhappy and wants to make a difference. I want to see serious transformation of the power sector.  We have had more than enough of unreliable power supply. Manufacturing needs to grow. It should be the mainstay of our economy. We cannot achieve economic development without a solid industrial base and we cannot have such a base without regular power supply. Then, there is the Niger Delta. Our late President Umaru Yar’Adua did very well with the Niger Delta. Jonathan can surpass that and he should surpass it. He has to continue the amnesty programme and improve on it where necessary. I want the government also to sit up to electoral reform. We all know that electoral reform is a major challenge. Government knows the expectations of Nigerians on credible elections and I want to believe that Jonathan and other top government officials will do all that should be done to give the nation an electoral system that they can be proud of.

Right now, the question is who the next chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) should be after Jonathan removed Professor Maurice Iwu last month. Many are even saying the president should not be the one to appoint the next INEC chairman

I think that matter is settled that the president should appoint the INEC chairman. Some people commenting on the Uwais ERC report don’t know what it recommends. Even when the NJC (National Judicial Council) appoints or nominates the INEC chairman based on Uwais recommendation, who appoints the head of the NJC himself? In my own thinking, the president should just confirm the appointment of the present acting chairman of the Commission (Mr Solomon Soyebi) and cut the story short. Having been in INEC for so long and headed the commission’s offices in many states, the acting chairman possesses the necessary experience to deliver improved elections. We have less than a year to the 2011 elections and we need an umpire who is familiar with elections and who knows improvements that Nigerians expect.

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