September 12, (THEWILL) – The founding Director of Strategy of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and currently President of Alaigbo Development Foundation, Prof Uzodinma Nwala, makes an assessment of political parties in Nigeria, in terms of their impact on the country, in this interview with AMOS ESELE. Excerpts:
As a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party and its first Director of Strategy, how would you describe the state of our political parties?
You can see what members of the political class are doing today. They are incapable of governing the people. According to the 1999 Constitution and legal definition, they are political parties quite all right. But they are not so in reality. What we have in Nigeria as political parties are trading companies, according to Prof Nkenna Nzimiro (late Marxist Sociologist at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka). Members of the political class can defect to a rival party without qualms.
Look at what is happening in the North. Bandits, kidnappers and terrorists are killing people, whether they are Christians or Muslims, yet President Muhammadu Buhari cannot call the criminals to order or put his military experience and background to good use and lead people to think afresh.
Don’t you think the major problem is because the political elite lack consensus on Nigeria?
That is political jargon. What is happening is that there is no organised political force with discipline. That is the only thing that can be of use, a tough organisation or association. Not the kind we have in the country as political parties. See what has happened in Afghanistan. The Taliban are not a state formation, but they have emerged as the force to reckon with in that country.
Politicians are already scheming, ahead of the general election in 2023. Many who are of Igbo extraction are making a case for the presidency to be zoned to the South-East and the two major parties seem to be listening to them. What is your take on this?
Are you sure the political parties are sincere? What will make the position of the South-East strong would be If the region can produce a candidate or two. That is if they can arrive at that strategy. But like I said, that will depend on if the political parties are sincere and what their committees have done in that regard. Otherwise, many of the politicians who call themselves Igbo are after selfish gains. What is going on now is that many are against the dream for a President of Igbo extraction. For example, many know that President Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC), is the problem in this country, yet they are defecting into his political party. It shows that we do have the kind of leaders this country needs. But like I said earlier, if the South-East is able to get a few persons, that will be a good sign, just like what happened the last time we were in the PDP and the military was leaving the scene in 1988. Politicians were engaging the South-East and the then military president Ibrahim Babangida intervened and brought out General Olusegun Obasanjo, just as the South-West also brought out a candidate.
Could you explain in detail?
On August 13, 1998 at a meeting of the G-34 in Abuja, the group that had successfully campaigned against General Sani Abacha’s self-succession plan. The main agenda of the meeting was the Manifesto of the PDP, especially with respect to power-sharing and rotation of the presidency. These were some of the most contentious issues at the 1994-5 Abuja Constitutional Conference. Although the Conference decided in favour of zoning and rotation, the decision was based on a vote which the southern delegates and their northern allies had won.
As soon as the issue of zoning and rotation came up, the Chairman of the Contact and Mobilisation Committee, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, stood up and said “Gentlemen, we shall adopt the policy of zoning and rotation. To begin with, we shall zone the Presidency to the South, and not only to the South, but personally to Chief Ekwueme.
Everybody at the meeting seconded Kaita’s position. But the Chairman, Chief Ekwueme, interrupted the discussion and said, “Gentlemen, we can decide that the presidency should be zoned to the South, but it is not a personal matter. It cannot be zoned to anyone.”
As soon the Chairman ruled, I was one of those who rolled their eyes and even shook their heads. For us it was the loss of a great historical opportunity for the right man in our midst to be invested with the awesome power to lead the emergence of the civilian democracy in Nigeria, nay the emergence of a new era in the political history of Nigeria.
Ekwueme’s action was that of a gentleman, a democrat, so to say – a man who was anxious to hold the fragile post-military society together. His position at that moment was guided by the realities of raw political struggle as has always been the case in Nigeria. He would have allowed the debate ignited by Alhaji Lawal Kaita’s proposition to run its full course. At the end he would have simply called for a formal motion and then a vote.
The outcome of the vote would have been unanimously in his favour. The political environment at that point in time was that the civilian politicians in control of the G-34 had become the singular political power. In fact, there was no alternative to them. Every member of the G-34 was anxious for a transition that would have handed political power to them.
The main power brokers, the military hierarchy, were bruised and dazed by the turn of events, following the annulment of June 12 election and the majority of them were anxious to leave the political scene. Abacha was gone, Abiola was gone. No one would have accused Chief Ekwueme and those rooting for him as leader of the G-34 of any political misstep. After all, the G-34 and Ekwueme had called for the release of Chief Moshood Abiola and to have him installed as President, having convincingly won the presidential election of June 12, 1993. Once that opportunity was lost, the ailing military power-brokers were politically revived immediately. They quickly sprang into action, shopped for their candidate, rallied round their local agents, sent their foot soldiers to reach out to the Emirs and other political forces in the North. Finally they reached out to their international political and business partners, who helped them to reach out to the international community.
Then, the sitting military Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who was beholden to the G-34 and preparing to hand it over to them, immediately realised that the political equation had changed. Shortly at a meeting he held with the leadership of the G-34, he mockingly asked the leaders of the G-34, “Do you have a leader who will take over if we have to go?” The answer was obvious. The answer was utter silence! They had taken the rug out of the feet of the G-34. It was a coup against the G-34. They now proceeded to anoint their candidate.
Ekwueme’s chance of becoming the post-military civilian President of Nigeria was lost on August 13, 1998. And that was because he was a gentleman and an idealist in politics.
Don’t you see that chance presenting itself again?
We do not have anybody like that to support an Igbo candidate to run for the presidency. If a man of IBB’s stature can stand behind such a candidate,that will be something. Ekwueme’s example shows that every situation is changeable, no matter the strength of the opposition against you. Again look at how the Taliban outwitted mighty America. In Ekueme’s case, we were bent on making him the President. Unfortunately he was not able to take that strategic step. At the critical point, he should have stood his ground and not decide to fall for the gimmick of Babangida and company.
Do you support the call for restructuring of the country as the way out of its unending crises?
If we can have autonomous regions within a confederal system, then we should demand such a system. With confederating states freedom would come naturally. What is going on in Nigeria currently is a trend globally. State formation is settling down to nationalities with people of the same language, no matter the internal configuration.
What do you say to large groups like ECOWAS, European Union and the African Union with its NEPAD?
Two things are happening. Associations of nation-states or republics like ECOWAS, EU and national, autonomous states. Any of the states within the ECOWAS and EU, for instance, can decide to walk away from the union. It is a free entity. Just like you have Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, which are all autonomous states. The former Southern African Union, for instance, has dissolved into the independent states that once composed it. Even Great Britain is already giving up. Scotland is virtually out. Nigeria is going to dissolve into its component parts of Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, Tiv and so on. That is why those of us who left politics want to stay with the people and assist them to control their destiny. That is the purpose of the Alaigbo Development Union. The political class has continued to be irresponsible. It has abandoned the people.