This Day (Lagos)

25 March 2009

Nigeria: Yar'Adua Used Reform to Buy Time, Says Mohammed

interview

Lagos — Dr Junaid Mohammed, the National Chairman of the Peoples Solidarity Party (PSP) was a member of House of Representatives in the defunct Second Republic. In this interview with Taiwo Olawale, the radical politician scores the present legislature low in terms of performance. He also alleges that the electoral reform programme is a ploy to buy time for President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua

You were in the National Assembly during the Second Republic. Are you satisfied with the performance of the present lawmakers?

One thing that is interesting about democracy is that it is built on some core principles and procedures. First, you must respect the rule of law, you must also be patient and you must not present either your opponent or society with the two stack options of either this or that. If you do this, the society invariably ends up in paralysis, failure and violence. People who are genuinely democratic know that it is not a perfect system. But in today's world, it is perhaps the only system that makes our lives and decision making tolerable and prepares the grounds for progress in spite of its imperfections.

When the founders of the second republic took the conscious decision to recommend the presidential system, they did so because one, they assumed that the average Nigerian would respect the rule of law, that politics would cease to be a zero sum game and would be manageable. They assumed we would not practice politics as if it is war, they also provided the necessary institutions.

They said there must be an independent judiciary but unfortunately, given our experiences from then to date, the judiciary has become a threat to the democracy it was meant to protect.

The next institution which was absolutely necessary for democracy was the national assembly. Now, coming to your question; I think it would be an insult to the second republic and its legislators to compare what we had in the second republic with the rowdy, irresponsible behaviour and corruption that we are now witnessing. I won't even bother to talk about the state assemblies or the local governments because they don't exist. Every state assembly in the country is in the pocket of the governor. As it is now, there is no need having state assemblies.

At the national level, the system is so corrupt that it is not a reflection of the society it is supposed to be representing the people. Majority of members of today's national assembly did not win elections. They couldn't have won the 'elections if they were free and fair. So, you see, they are not the representatives of the people. Even in a non-representative capacity, they have perverted the understanding of the legislature as the watch-dog of the powerful executive. They now go to the national assembly to look for contracts or award contracts to themselves. We now have a terrible invention which they call the constituency allowance. There is a strict division of powers in the type of democracy we have chosen for ourselves. In fact, as much as possible, members of the assembly are discouraged from consorting with members of the executive. Now, they have subverted the national assembly and the entire presidential system.

President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua set up the Electoral Reform Committee to address the flaws in the electoral system. The government has issued a white paper on the report of the committee which is now generating controversy. Now, do you think we are on the right track?

I am not as optimistic as you are about the so called reform committee. I had objected to the composition of the committee from the beginning. I questioned the integrity and versatility of the committee chairman and the quality of the members. How do you attempt to reform a system without the operators of the system? There was no politician of any consequence in the committee. Whether we like it or not, it is the politicians that would work with the electoral laws and determine whether the law works or not. Democracy's delivery vehicle is the political parties. If there is something wrong with the electoral process, politicians should be the one to examine it and make recommendations on the way forward.

But Yar'Adua was misguided. I am not surprised that the whole thing was a waste of time. This goes to prove my point right from the beginning and this is that in life, you don't legislate goodwill or political will. Even if you give man the best laws in the world, if he is not determined to make them work, the laws would fail. As far as I am concerned, the whole electoral reform thing was a con game; it was a fraud. And if you go through the report of the committee, you will see that they had very little to say about the Electoral Act of 2006. This means the rigging we witnessed in 2007 had nothing to do with the laws but with people who were determined to subvert the will of the people. So, we are back to square one. Members of the committee knew the purpose of the whole exercise was to buy time for Yar'Adua to consolidate his hold on power.

Most people believe our main problem is lack of viable opposition?

At a very basic level, politics tends to show people with ambitions. When you see a political system, the first thing you ask is whether the system is run in such a way as to give top grade people the opportunity to run for office. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, it is a money-making machine. People don't join politics because they enjoy the engagement or want to serve. These days, people go into politics to make money. Success in politics is measured by how rich you become. People like us are labelled failures because we don't have money. My two cars are 20 years old. Now, when you talk about opposition, you must look at the quality of the people.

Do you see Professor Maurice Iwu, INEC chairman as the major barrier to the free and fair elections in Nigeria?

I wish I could give you a simple and straight forward answer, but I can't. This is because the issue is neither simple nor straight forward. First, we are assuming that we are in a democracy. The cornerstone of a successful democracy is the rule of law. What does the enabling Act of INEC say about the chairman's tenure? But I know that for every statutory post, there must be inbuilt mechanisms for reconstitution at any point in time. So, if Yar'Adua has the will and determination to do the right thing in the interest of the nation, Iwu would be history tomorrow. If in the course of implementing the recommendations of the reform committee, Iwu is seen as a problem, then he must go. But those who have the powers to force Iwu out would not try it because he knows too much and can blackmail them. Iwu is a peripheral issue. We must deal with the fundamental issue which is that PDP is not interested in democracy or free and fair elections.

But President Yar'Adua professes to be an advocate of rule of law?

It is an empty propaganda; it amounts to nothing. He is not sincere; it is just a slogan, you cannot reform a problem by throwing propaganda at it.

There is this belief that the present administration of President Yar'Adua is not doing enough to fix the nation's problem?

Let me do some juggling based on facts. First, we know Yar'Adua did not want to be president. He was drafted into it by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the cabal which now control him. So, from the beginning, those who put him there wanted a reluctant president; someone they could control. Those are the people in control now. Of course, there are those he appointed himself. These are his old school mates; people who have no political base to stand on. Things are not moving; we are in fact moving backwards. Since Yar'Adua came to power, not a single kilowatt of power has been added to the national grid. Two years into his tenure, there is no progress, so if we have a continuation of this for another eight years, then the country is in trouble.

Unfortunately, the main opposition party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) does not provide a viable alternative; the governors elected on the platform of the party are the most opportunistic people in this country. They play on the people's religious and tribal sentiments to win elections. Then, many of them rode on the back of Buhari's popularity. Now, they are trying to negotiate their way out of power.

Many think that Nigeria's already a failed state. Do you agree with such assessment?

From our discussions so far, it is obvious that our political parties are run by godfathers and rascals. If the parties are dysfunctional or in the hands of corrupt people, then the institution that is called democracy would fail. With what we are witnessing today, if people think Nigeria is a failed nation, they are right. What matters most to a man is his personal security. The most basic responsibility of any government is to provide law and order. No Nigerian can go to bed feeling safe. Then there is the issue of infrastructure. Is there anything? the social institutions are not working. What about strategic investments? So, if this is not a failed state, what is it?

If President Yar'Adua wakes up one day and decides to invite people like you to serve in his government, would you accept?

That is hypothetical and I don't like hypothetical questions. Yar'Adua knows me very well, he cannot do that. He has been caged by the cabal. There are very good and capable people in this country. But if a regime decides to surround itself with mediocres, then the capable ones would be forced to retreat. First, the system must be reformed in order to attract good hands.

The challenge before people like you should be how to create a national movement like that of Mallam Aminu Kano, your political mentor. Is there a hope that this would happen soon?

Mallam Aminu Kano led a movement not a political party. I cannot talk about Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) because I was born the year it was formed. But I can talk about the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). It was based on certain strategic elements. One, there was the Aminu Kano populist personality. Then there was the role of the talakawa. But we also had a clear-cut ideological focus which was one thing missing in most parties then. I credit that aspect to four people: Mazi SG Ikoku, Uche Chukwumerije, Ikem Okeke and my humble self. We made sure the party did not only depend on Aminu Kano, but also on credible clear-cut ideological formulations. We had a world view, value systems and ideology. We had internal democracy and discipline. Many of us came from the left; some of us had even toyed with Marxism. And in Marxism, we had learnt the supremacy of party over individuals. So when we had problems with our governors, we sacked them without batting an eyelid. No political party can do that today.

I would be modest by not answering your question directly. But I can tell you that it is in principle, doable to have a party like the PRP again. But it would take a lot of efforts.

Buhari is considering leaving ANPP, would you encourage him to join your party?

Buhari is no doubt in a very difficult position. Part of his problem is that of his closest advisers. Many of them are not politicians but they imagine they are geniuses in politics. If you like, you can classify me as one of his advisers, so if there is a fault to be shared, I must share in it. If he had good advice, he should not have joined ANPP in the first place. Now that the problems have refused to go away, he has three options. One, remain in ANPP with all the frustrations or he can form another party and dissolve the Buhari Organisation into it. That way, he can begin to form a movement along the lines of Mallam Aminu Kano whereby he may not necessarily be the king; he can be the kingmaker. Though if he still wants to have a go at the presidency, why not. The third thing would be to join an existing party. What party he would join is up to him and his advisers.

You are a medical doctor and a politician. What else do you do?

Technically, I am unemployed. One of the biggest prices I paid for joining politics is to sacrifice my practice. When patients go to a clinic, they want to see particular doctors. So, because I am not always around, my practice suffered. Now, apart from politics, I do a little bit of writing and consulting. But I have always been concerned with issues of national significance. Erosion, drought, pollution, desertification, malaria and many other issues which touch on the lives of Nigerians have always worried me. This is why I joined politics in the first place. And I have no regrets for choosing to serve people this way.

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