Other than the general issue of insecurity, rotational presidency is one other discourse that engages the minds of the state actors. In this interview, Senator Ayo Arise examines the debate and declares that power rotation remains the only option for the country, at least, for now.
There is an ongoing discussion on the issue of whether or not Nigeria can now jettison the zoning arrangement in preference for the most competent person being elected as the president regardless of state of origin. What is your take on this matter?
Because of our peculiar situation in Nigeria as a nation with different ethnic nationalities, for us to continue to live together in harmony, there must be a sense of belonging for everybody. As a result of that, the best way we can still manage ourselves is to look at the issue of rotational presidency very seriously. You will remember that in the years past, during the military, the major crisis we had was because we had one particular ethnic group ruling the country and that resulted in a lot of crisis. Even though everybody will prefer to have qualitative leadership rather than geographically defined politics, rotational presidency is still an option that we can still live with until our institutions are developed. This is more so now that people are not too happy because of what appears to be a sectional dominance at the federal level. And it is natural that such would happen if we don’t strengthen our institutions and go strictly by merit to make appointments. That is what has brought dissatisfaction to a lot of people. Because of this situation, we still need to go rotational presidency now so that those who are grumbling can have understanding that somehow the thing will rotate and come back to them. It is now left to them to ensure that they lay a strong legacy. If we want to remain as one country, we must begin to put policies in place that would make us integrate and become a nation. Until we find a way of winning our people with a new form of orientation, we must continue with rotational presidency; otherwise, people will not feel a sense of belonging and the agitation for everybody to be on his own will continue. If we want to grow as a country, we need to continue with zoning arrangement until we are able to come up with policies that will make everybody feel a true sense of belonging. It’s going to take years, but this should be the foundation.
What you have said is part of the reasons the Southeast is agitated for the perceived marginalization of the Igbo. If rotational presidency is to be allowed to continue, it is only natural that presidency should go to the Southeast in 2023. Do you agree to that?
At independence, we had three regions-North, Southwest and Southeast. When the states were created, North had more than 50 per cent of the whole country. Since they now have more than 50 per cent, they might be agitating to say that once it goes to the South, it will come back to the North. Therefore, the issue will now be who produces the next president? Is it the Southeast, Southwest or South-south? Or are we going to rotate it by zone or North-South dichotomy? In the circumstance, the problem of Southeast, Southwest and South-south will now depend on the kind of politics each zone decides to play. Who has the capacity and the structure to win will now be determined through the political process. All of us are putting on our thinking caps as to what is going to happen. Politics is a game of number. As we all know, everything is skewed in favour of the North. But politically, for us to have a sense of belonging, power must rotate between the North and the South. Once we resolve that, then rotation between the three zones of the South will now be a contending issue. Who gets what? The issue of the best person will also come up. So, for me, it is not a 1+1=2 situation.
The indictment of some members of the National Assembly in alleged contract dealings has introduced a new twist into the ongoing probe of the NDDC. Is it morally right for the lawmakers to be involved in contract award in the name of oversight function?
Of course, it is clear that nobody who works for the government or draws money from the purse of the Federal Government has any right to be a contractor at the same time. Our constitution allows people to be farmer. That is about the only thing you can do when you are in government’s employment. Now that the National Assembly people are taking contracts, it has become necessary for us to change the structure of governance in this country. We need to strength our institutions. The ICPC and EFCC are there. If you find anybody engage in this kind of practice, let him come and explain how come he became a contractor. But I know these people are not so stupid to go and collect contracts in their names. What is more important is for us to follow the due process as contained in the procurement Act. I am not going to be one of those people who will tell you that Senators must be taking contracts. They can take contracts when they leave the position, not when they are still there. There are laws controlling those things in this country. But if the executive decides not to follow the due process and begins to dish out contracts to anybody, then why do you think the National Assembly people themselves will not have interest in doing the same? It is a case of one bad example coming from one arm of government to the other. And it goes round and round. The only way we can stop it is to strengthen controlling agencies. Let us adopt a uniform standard that can be applied evenly to everybody. For as long as that is not in place, abuse of due process will continue because nobody gets punished for anything in this country. They will always find a good lawyer and get away with it through technicalities. So, we must establish a standard and follow it.
As some observers have said either rightly or wrongly, the scenario has put a big question mark on the morality of the National Assembly throwing its weight around in the name of oversight function. Isn’t it so?
Some members of the executive are always looking for a way to cover up their inadequacies or errors they have made. In the process, they quickly bring those people to their sides and issue them contracts. That is still part of what is wrong with our system. And it has always been there for many decades. So, it will take a gradual process for these things to be corrected. It will require a lot of determination on the side of the president to be able to turn things around and change the way of thinking of our people. Everybody always thinks it is now his turn to “chop” Nigeria. It should not be so. If it continues to be like that, whether we do rotation 20 times, each time a new person comes into power, there will always be a tendency to leave the people poorer in terms of infrastructure, in terms of development, in terms of healthcare delivery, education and so on. It’s amazing how we have allowed our country to deteriorate. The rot goes deeper than even the leadership. So, it is the people that can correct it. We have a whole lot of work to do. We must first of all see this country as our own country because we have no other country we can call our own. Therefore, we must begin to plan to ensure that even our own children will see themselves as one. Outside Nigeria, nobody cares whether you are from the North or South of the country. There is always affection and you see people relating together as one. But here, we play political game to expand our differences, rather than for us to look for way to ensure that we integrate more and show more commitment to our country.
A reconciliation committee has been set up by the Ekiti State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to resolve the differences among the aggrieved party members. Do you share in the desire of the committee to have one house in the state?
I don’t know much about the day-to-day activities in Ekiti State because I live more in Abuja now. But I don’t think there is any major crisis in Ekiti APC. There are people who are not too happy. And that again exists everywhere. It is not every APC member at the centre that is very happy now neither is it so in any state. There will always be people who are not happy. If it becomes a big issue, there is always a room for reconciliation. We participated in a process and somebody emerged victorious to become the governor. My own attitude is very simple on this matter. I do not begrudge people who by chance or by divine luck have an advantage over me in an electoral process. That is why you hardly see anyone say he wants to reconcile me with anybody. I take things as they come because I know there is always another day. But not everybody is like that. Once I subscribe to be a member of the party in my state and the governor is the leader of the party, I work with him. If we all adopt that kind of attitude, all these quarrels will not be necessary. So, I am not in the picture as to who is reconciling who.