The President of the Inter Party Advisory Council and National Chairman of the Progressive Peoples Alliance, Chief Peter Ameh has said the Southeast should be allowed the opportunity to produce the president of the country come 2023 not because they are disadvantaged but because the zone has some of the most competent personalities to lead Nigeria to greatness. He spoke to Onyebuchi Ezigbo. Excerpts:
How do you see the reopening of the debate on rotational presidency in the Nigeria?
First of all, the statement is false. It is with the intention to be able to force another sectional leadership on us. That is the fact, because if you want to talk about rotational presidency, who has it even favoured? Nigeria has three major tribes: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Have the Hausa ever held power? Since 1999 have the Hausa been elected? So, when we are putting facts on the table what happens to the Idoma man, who is in the central area, that is, when we talk about competency?
If you switch it to the North, does the north know that the Igala also qualifies to be president? If you switch it to the north, do they see the Ibirum man to be qualified as president? Do they see the Kanuri man to be qualified as president? These factors are very clear and nobody should come now and start saying rotational presidency should be stopped, because it hasn’t been fair to everybody and for it to stop it must first of all show to have been fair to everybody.
So, the South East since 1999 has never held a place of presidency not, because they are not competent. Do you want to tell me that there are no competent people in the South East? You cannot say so because it is the only region that has survived with government invention with ingenuity of the people. So, if you must bring competence in, then, you have to start from the South East and then, you have to go to the minorities in the North and Middle Belt.
So, the issue of competence isn’t the issue, because equality is different for equity and if you must do justice, justice must be seen to have been done and not to be perceived to have been done and for this case of presidency in Nigeria, justice hasn’t been done and for me, I don’t believe whatever party that you are, come 2023 another northern should be president. I don’t believe it and if it must be, let it be a minority Middle Belt man, but will that be allowed? It won’t be allowed!
They will do everything and say that the numbers are not there but if you do a proper census and calculation and look at the spread, Kogi alone we have nine local governments that are bigger than the whole Baylesa, Bikina alone is the largest local government in Sub Sahara Africa and we can’t say we are producing a state, that nine local governments represent a senatorial district while Baylesa produces governorship election.
So, there is no fairness anywhere. If we must do just on rotational presidency, let those who have held it too much stay away so we now go on competency and you go and bring your best minds. If you want to look at people, who went to Harvard, you will see it in the South East; if you want to look at people, who have done International and financial management, you will see it in the South East. So what are you telling me?
It is not about competency, it is an issue of trying to deceive the Nigerian people and hold on to power and it is not going to be fair and credible for any Nigerian to wake up and say the South shouldn’t hold this power. For me, as a leader and member of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), I believe by this time we shouldn’t just be talking about south, because this south thing has become a fraud. We should be specific and look at areas that have been marginalised since 1960.
An area like the South East has never held power and they will give it to you and when we see that they are not united enough to collect it, we can now decide to go somewhere else. We must be our brother’s keeper and if we must keep this country united and the reason why this country hasn’t moved forward in the real sense of it is because we haven’t given leadership to people who will turn our natural resources into better use for the people.
Do you think the country will witness an upsurge in number of political parties and realignments ahead of 2023 general election?
In the last 100 years, I think people should mention one country that parties have been static. You are supposed to be expanding the political space. For those of us that joined party politics early, we saw that multiparty politics helped us to become very successful at it and gave us the opportunity to even thrive and show level of competence. So, constricting the space also makes it difficult for younger generation to see any reason for participation.
Is it these two parties that have been so entrenched in monopolising power that you want the young people to apply their knowledge and experience? It must be difficult. So, we must encourage multiparty democracy. Any law that suppresses the people’s will to gather, that suppresses the interest and aspiration of people to belong to an institution that will protect their right and interest as stated in the constitution, then, that law should be set aside.
I know new alignment would come up because you see how Afenifere has been singing new tunes, saying they have been working with their brother Bola Tinubu; you saw the Afenifere leader, who just passed on, he made a very profound statement that Tinubu is their son and they might try him and that no one will abandon his own to go and choose someone else. You are going to look for your best man, who has the best weapon and the best political structure to be able to ply the political space.
Nobody is going to wake up and say because this other people don’t like my person, we are going to reject him. So, it is time for South East to also look at it and form a united front and stop thinking about party lines and form serious alliance with the Middle Belt. What is the distance between the Igbo and us? We can trek to each other’s place and come back. So we can form this alliance and salvage this country.
The South Easterners must wake up, because one of the things they have been using against them in this country is that they can never be united but that is not true. These are people that are united in business; these are people that are united in community development; these are people who are united in social communication.
So, why can’t they be united in trying to enthrone one of their persons as the president of this country? It says a lot and it is very important that we must look at power going to the South east and let them be able to show their competence, because they have enough people that have the ability, competence and integrity to man the presidency of Nigeria and take Nigeria to a glorious height.
Based on the shortcomings of the CUPP, do you see genuine coalition and realignment of political forces determining the outcome of the 2023 presidential contest?
I don’t want to comment on the fundamental mistakes of CUPP. I and my colleagues ran around to mobilise others based on our relationship with them, to see how much we could be able to work together and change the Nigerian narrative and grow, but eventually this thing happened and a lot of presidential candidate also came out and I think going forward, if you must do a coalition that is united against a sitting government, it is important that no other party in that coalition should present a presidential candidate except the one party that we feel has the capacity for us to pull up that weight to emerge victorious in the election.
To cut out the issues, because our electoral laws also had some issues because it didn’t allow many candidates within a coalition, the vote cast of other members can’t be attributed to the centrally adopted candidate. So, it is going to be a waste of vote and it isn’t going to be useful to the coalition. That lesson has been learnt that going forward in whatever way, we reorganize the coalition because there is a committee setup and headed by the chairman of National Chairman of Labour party and Dr Emeka Okani.
It’s an Alliance for Social democrats to be able to look at and review that past actions we carried and the best way to see how we can work on this group to see that 2023 election will play a major party and we will realise power just for the people. Power that would be responsible to the people in a form that Nigerians have never seen before, so it is better we expand it and see the way forward.
What are the things you feel should be done to correct the anomalies, giving Nigerians a credible election in 2023?
First and foremost, INEC has to be unbundled. INEC needs to be put in different units. First, INEC can’t be responsible for managing parties, checking parties’ constitution, registering parties, making sure parties conduct primaries according to their party’s constitutions; that is too much work. INEC shouldn’t also be involved in appearing to defend an action, which they have been committed by going to court and standing to defend an election that has been conducted according to the constitution.
INEC must be unbundled for it to perform effectively. We must have political party registration and regulation commission and the legal department must also be taken away from INEC that would be in charge of litigation. INEC should only be responsible for conduct and announcement of election result and winners.
As we speak, in the last election, INEC has over 1,000 pre and post election cases in court. If anybody is put there, you will have almost the same problem, because for INEC to function optimally and effectively, we would recommend that INEC should be unbundled. There must be a different department that works for regulation and management political party and another that works only for conduct of elections and announcement of winners.
Then, we can allow those, who have litigation to go to court for INEC to present documents they have to that department and that department goes to look at the case and see whether INEC has gone wrong, because you can’t be the one defending if they say you have done wrong or committed something that isn’t in the details of the constitution. You must prove at all cost and that is why, when a person loses election and the person struggles to try to get certified copy of election materials from INEC, it becomes almost impossible. For me for INEC to work effectively for the Nigerian people, we must also make sure our electoral law must be re-jigged.
The one done by the 8thsenate; Saraki and co is very strong, because now they put measures in the fact that managers would be liable to jail without option of fine if you announce a wrong result. You can see what happened in other elections, where they said that as soon as a returning officer has announced a result whatever he announces he would go to court.
We can’t be running an election, where people decide and then court decides. It must be an election that people would have interest in and trust is a major problem in our electoral system. The people no longer trust the system and that is responsible for voter’s apathy but we must also ask that the people engage the system actively and positively in 2023, so that whatever is determined that year must be a result of both intentions and aspiration in the Nigerian people.