Jimi Agbaje, a prominent figure in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and a former gubernatorial candidate for the party in Lagos State. In this interview with journalists in Lagos on the state of the nation, he said that poverty and insecurity were the primary challenges facing our nation. He also recommended amendments to the constitution, which he believes hold the key to improving the country. INIOBONG IWOK.
How will you react to some of the issues raised by Atiku Abubakar in reaction to the Supreme Court judgment that our democracy should be strengthened, and that our electoral system is not so good?
As a former vice president, it is within the right of Atiku Abubakar to pursue his ambition to a logical limit and so basically I believe that what he did was right, there was nothing illegal or immoral in it.
He has said that the Supreme Court is the final court, and some of us have had to go to the Supreme Court in the past. But it doesn’t mean that he necessarily has to agree with the judgment. However as a democrat, he admitted that it is the final bus stop. That does not mean that what he did was wrong.
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Atiku raised the issues of a single term of five years for the president and rotational presidency, would you support him on these?
These are suggestions; he even talked about appointment of electoral officers. What he did was what he considered as his suggestions. Many Nigerians generally agree that the last general election and the judgment that followed have thrown up issues that will be necessary for the electoral reform we would have. On rotational presidency and single tenure of five years, for me, I am not here or there, I don’t have a strong position on that.
I believe that our major problem is the structure of the federation that we run, if you run a federation that is not winner takes all, you will not have this attitude of I must grab it and go with it. If we look at the way our country is structured constitutionally; whether it is five years of single term, or those who would be there for first and second terms, it would still be the same. So, I don’t have strong views on that, I believe that the structure that we run is not good for our country.
In what way sir?
Some of us are more for a parliamentary system of government, where you are able to develop your area as you want and you don’t have too much power at the centre because the centre has not been able to deliver the goods to the component parts. That is why a governor or a local government chairman would tell you that the road in his area is a federal road. They would say it is a federal road whereas the people there are in their areas. I would rather say that we should look at our structure and go back to the ones we had in the past. We have too much powers at the center and they are not able to deliver the public goods and services.
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Atiku also suggested that all electoral cases should be concluded before anybody is sworn-in. Do you agree?
I support that, all election cases should be concluded before anybody is sworn-in. I also support the suggestion that whoever would become the president should have 50% of the votes cast in the election.
In view of the situation in the country occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy and unification of the exchange rate, what would be your advice to the federal government on how to ameliorate the suffering of the masses?
I think the greatest problems we have today in Nigeria are the economy and insecurity and they go together. All have to be done to improve the economy and there must be compassion on how to reduce the suffering of the masses. We need to think of how to reduce the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy on the majority of the people that are experiencing multidimensional poverty. It’s a serious challenge because a lot of people are suffering.
How best do you think the government can handle this as they are giving palliatives, providing CNG busses and doing some other things for the people?
There are categories, when you look at multidimensional poverty, there are categories. When you look at people in the low cadre, you can talk of giving them palliatives such as money and food items, but how do you identify the right people? Are you giving them to politicians, or the middle class people, which is why I said the structure we run is not the best.
How can Abuja determine those who need support in the grassroots. It should be the local governments and the states that should determine that. They would be able to identify those that are at the lowest rung of the ladder so that they can survive in terms of food, healthcare and transportation. The bulk of our transportation system in Nigeria is in private hands and it’s dependent on fuel that is not at a stable price.
So, it is left for the government to see how to ameliorate this, which is why we talk about CNG busses. The biggest difference between us and some other countries is that they have more mass transit that is immune to this kind of problem that we have. We should look at food, transportation and while you are making the corrections on the economy and reducing inflation, you must know that the people must eat, they must have transportation and the country should be secure, which is very important.
We should look at food, and transportation, while they are making corrections on the economy, foreign exchange and inflation. The people must eat, they must have transportation and the country must be secure, which is very important. If the country is not secure, nothing will work. If we have security, there would be opportunities for the people to work. If we are able to produce oil there would be more dollars and inflation would reduce.
The President is a proponent of restructuring. Would you say he should address this urgently?
If we have to restructure, we have to do it constitutionally and we are running a presidential system that gives a lot of power to the center. The present constitution needs to be amended so that we will devolve power to the states.
How do we go about that, do we go for a constitutional conference or we should go through the National Assembly?
There is nothing we want to say that is not in the past papers already, all that we want to say have been addressed. We have the 2014 Constitutional Conference and some others. All the issues have been addressed, we may not drop the constitution totally, we should just amend it.
With reference to what is happening in Rivers State, what would be your take on godfatherism in Nigeria politics?
Controlling the person in office is not acceptable, it is not for you to get there and somebody else would tell you the direction to go, I say no to any form of godfatherism that would make the incumbent powerless.
What of a situation whereby the person that wants to contest an election does not have the money to run the election?
That was why I said we should go back to restructuring, why must you spend so much money because you want to give service to the people. If you run a parliamentary system of government, it’s for you to sell yourself to the local people, it is within your community that you will win the election, that is the reality.
If you want to govern, I believe you want to do so because you want to offer service to the people, you will need people’s support based on what you want to do and not because of what he or she wants to get back as if it is an investment.
With what happened at the last election, would you say your party, the PDP is prepared enough for the off-cycle elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo State as well as the 2027 general elections?
We have just finished with the Supreme Court judgment, so we will go back to the drawing board and think of how to go forward. In the three elections that are coming up soon, they are at the state levels and they are strong states. For 2027, we will go back to the drawing board and be the main opposition party. There are lots of work to be done, the opposition is not a tea party, which is the challenge the party has to face.