By PETER AGBA KALU
Special Adviser (Political) to the President, Senator Benjamin Obi, has asked his Igbo kith and kin to step down their ambition if President Goodluck Jonathan runs for reelection in 2015.
In this interview, he said that Jonathan is entitled to a second term, going by constitutional provision, and therefore, can contest in 2015 if he so wishes. He would want Igbo to vie for the Presidency after the President would have completed his second term.
Recently there was an issue over the making and operations of political parties. Why do we have so many of them?
The law says that they are necessary and we are law-abiding people; we believe in what the law says. Now, if they are really a political party, in the true sense, it is entirely a different matter. But there again, it is not my duty to define what is a true political party. My duty is to interact with them as much as possible. It is also my duty to recognise such political parties without an opinion.
Some people are of the opinion that we should collapse the political parties and just have two political parties, like the SDP and NRC, until such a time our political system stabilises. What do you think?
Everybody has his or her own opinion on issues. I also have my own opinion. But you see, now that I have the responsibility of interacting or interfacing with political parties, as mandated by Mr. President, I am forced to keep my personal opinion to myself as far as the matter is concerned. I have made comments on this in the past. If you check your records, you will see my position, but for now let me restrict myself to the mandate of my functions.
You were in PDP and later joined the opposition. How do you cope in this assignment?
Before Mr. President appointed me, he did mention to me that he was giving me this enormous task because he was quite convinced of the fact that I have been a member of the opposition and over the years have been in the opposition. I have interacted with many of them, if not all of them at various levels. The interesting thing is that even when he ran for the presidency, I was also the director-general of the campaign of his opponent. So Mr. President felt that while there are many other capable persons within the rank and file of his support group that he needed somebody from the other side who can deliver for him.
Yes, I am a member of PDP. But my friends in the opposition know that my word is my bond and I try always to also say this to Mr. President. Fortunately, I must say, I enjoy the confidence of Mr. President with particular reference to my schedule of duty, and beyond. I try to go beyond my mandate when I tell him something he understands. He goes along with you once you can provide a superior argument. Be rest assured that Mr. President will go along with you if your direction is right. That is what happens since I knew him and since I joined office one year ago.
What defines your political philosophy? I ask this question because of how you changed political parties in the past.
When I started politics, I started from the camp of the Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP). You may need to visit the manifesto of the Nigerian Advanced Party; when you go through it, you will confirm that it was the only revolutionary political organisations that have ever been formed in this country. That was in the Second Republic. While I was in the National Advanced Party, I was also concerned about the welfare of the Nigerian people.
Therefore, to an extent, I believe in the welferish philosophy. My motive of going into politics is to better the lot of the poor, improve on the welfare of the people. If by today or tomorrow, a miracle occurs and I find out that the welfare of the Nigerian people have improved to the level mandated by our constitution, I will bid goodbye to politics and go and take care of my family and my extended family members. I am in politics to help and uplift the poor people of my country. If I find out that I do not have any need for politics because things have improved and have stabilised, I will take a bow and give myself a deserved rest. So to answer your question, the politics I played then and still plays is more of a welferist.
If I approach Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, do you think he will still share the same opinion you are holding about yourself?
I am in constant touch with Dr. Braithwaite. We speak on phone at least three times in a week. Recently, you will recall that Mr. President launched his book and congratulated him on his 79th birthday. My philosophy has not changed; it is just that political parties were founded in a hurry or in a hush manner. Political parties today are not founded in any ideological ground. I mean all of them; there is no question about it; it is all a mixture of strange bedfellows.
That is the fact. I have been involved in the formation of three political parties, namely NAP; CNC and APP. In each of them I played a key role. I was the National Secretary of CNC and latter APP National Secretary. I was the National Publicity Secretary of NAP and after that its National Secretary. Therefore, when you talk about party management, I think I am one of those who can talk with authority about party management. So I know where I am coming from.
Looking at the boiling political environment, do you think that 2015 election will be feasible?
You can see the efforts being put into all these by Mr. President. I was in Ondo State with a clear-cut mandate by Mr. President to do in the State what I did in Edo State. I organised a workshop for all the political parties running elections in Ondo State. At the time of the workshop, we all signed a communiqué, where all of them agreed to a free and fair election as was the case in Edo State. When the President went to Edo State and mounted the rostrum, he told everybody loud and clear, that it was one man one vote.
The Inspector General of Police, in the same vein, said the same thing. In Edo, the President said that nobody should kill in any election for his party; he also said that the blood of any Nigerian is not worth to be spilled because of the electoral ambitions of individuals. When Adam Oshiomhole won election in Edo State, the first congratulatory message came from Mr. President, who is the leader of PDP. The same in Ondo State. How else will you not anticipate that this administration is prepared that 2015 election will be devoid of any violence.
On the issue of Igbo Presidency, many people, particularly some Igbo, seem not to be happy with your stand, and support for President Jonathan re-election in 2015.
I have been in the forefront championing the Igbo cause. I have paid my dues. I am proud of my role as an Igbo man. My Igboness is not doubted in anyway. Those of them, who are criticising me, I wish them well. But I know that if and when we present ourselves to Igbo, we know those whose credentials the Igbo man can trust. But that is neither here nor there. To the issues that you have raised, I want to make it very clear that first and foremost, President Jonathan is entitled, by the constitution to a second term in office.
This means that if he wishes to run, he is free to do so. As an incumbent he probably will ran on the platform of PDP, which is the party he and some of us belong. It is the norm everywhere, even in the United States. So I expect and I still stand by my opinion that President Jonathan has a constitutional right to seek a second term. If he is to run, my candid advice to my own people is to allow him finish his term and we can then take a shot at the presidency. Those who can challenge him, or who can run on the ticket of PDP should allow President Jonathan to run. So I don’t see any contradiction in what I have said. I have said what I believe democracy should say in the circumstance. Many of those who are challenging him belong to a different political party.
Do you think that President Jonathan is managing the country, well, especially with regard to security?
The violence going on in the country today is being handled by the best of the security officers of this nation. There is no one of them that has not really been cracked. You can see that when the Boko Haram started, it was quite devastating. I have some knowledge in this respect. When the violence started, it was very strange to us as a people. But the President started to address the issue; each attack that took place the criminals involved were apprehended until we got to the present level where the incidents have been minimised.
Things are now improving daily. Our security agents are sent outside the country for the appropriate training; when I went to the Senate in 2005, one month after I was sworn in, I put in two bills; one for the establishment of antiterrorism agency and another for the elimination of terrorism. It went through the second reading. It got to a point my northern colleagues in the Senate said that I was too close to the Americans and consequently the Israelis. I then told them that terrorism does not know if you are blue, black, green or purple.
By then there was no Boko Haram?
Yes, there was no Boko Haram. So they set-up a committee. The committee was asked to go through the bills, to know where they were coming from. The committee was headed by Senator Aliyu, a retired DIG. I got Senator Jubril Aminu to second the motion on the bill because he was our ambassador in Washington when the attack in New York took place. But as my bill was being read on the floor of the Senate, President Obasanjo ordered his Attorney General, Bayo Ojo, to forward another bill on anti-terrorism to the Senate. Then I got the motion again on the floor of the Senate to tell the Senate to drop the Obasanjo bill. First of all, as a senator, I got the bill to the Senate before the executive brought a similar bill. That motion was debated on the floor of the house. Senator Udo Udoma, was the one who made the point that once a senator brought a bill first, no other person can bring that kind of bill.
They took my bill, duplicated it word for word and sent to the Senate. It was Udo Udoma’s argument that nailed the Obasanjo version of the bill and it was thrown back to them with lightning speed. That was the controversy that took place before we finally bowed out of the Senate. But thank God that the bill has been amended and passed into law and also signed by President Jonathan; so these are things that one foresaw.
Some people are of the opinion that the way President Jonathan is handling the challenges of Nigeria today has helped in preventing Nigeria from slipping into a civil war or having something like the Arab spring. Do you agree?
The first eight years of our democratic experiment of 1999-2007 was marked by Obasanjo, as the then President and commander-in- chief. Obasanjo had his own way of heading the country at that time. Everybody knows that Obasanjo is high handed and does not hide his style. So people were really worked-up and wanted a democratic president who will govern, by way of give and take, and serious consultation. We now have a president who consults. He gets people involved in governance. People are saying that it is now that we are experiencing democracy. Tension may be high, but it is dropping everyday, as a result of the administrative style of President Jonathan.