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 Nigeria’s democracy needs rotational presidency to accommodate every section – Dakuku Peterside

Nigeria’s democracy needs rotational presidency to accommodate every section – Dakuku Peterside


A former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dakuku Peterside, shares his thoughts with ALEXANDER OKERE about the controversy surrounding the Electoral Act amendment bill 2021, rotational presidency and politics in Rivers State

What is your view on the raging controversy on the Electoral Act Amendment bill, especially as it concerns the electronic transmission of results and direct primary?

On electronic transmission, I had expressed my view earlier. I am in total support of the electronic transmission of results. The reason is simple: the entire world is moving towards electronic transactions, whether in commerce, learning or whatever transaction. So, it would be a lot easier if we could also conduct our elections through electronic means. The electronic transmission of results is only a first step towards a full-blown electronic process. It is only a starting point.

What about the argument over the choice of party primaries?

There are two positions and they are not contradictory. Now, there is a position that says political parties should be allowed to decide the best mode of primary based on their circumstance. The other position is that the National Assembly prefers that we go for the direct primary and it has its reason for it. The democracy we practise in Nigeria is peculiar; it is not fully adapted to our cultural reality.

One of the challenges they (lawmakers) found out is that because our polity is heavily monetised, delegates are compromised by political actors. So because delegates are compromised, the outcome is not the full reflection of the wishes of the people. So, the proponents of the direct primary believe it would enable all party members to decide who their candidates should be and, therefore, party members are more likely to own the candidates that will emerge from that process than when a select few called delegates choose candidates to represent them.

They also believe that the direct primary would whittle the influence of godfathers or cabals that tend to hijack the parties and impose candidates on them, and that further, the direct primary would strengthen popular participation. It is also part of the education – that people would get used to voting for candidates at the local level and it would be in sync with the popular choice of party members who would enjoy the democratic creed of one man one vote. They believe the direct party would deepen democracy.

Those who are against the direct primary believe that the process through which a party selects candidates should be left for the party and that the government, through an institution, should not get involved in the day-to-day management of parties or how they choose candidates. They are also of the opinion that even the direct primary may lead to people choosing candidates based on primordial sentiments rather than on rational reasoning. We have seen cases where party members stay in their various secretariats and simply fill result sheets and submit them to INEC. So, the indirect primary has its pros and cons.

But my firm position is on the electronic transmission of results because the analogue transmission of results gives room for all sorts of manipulations. You may have observed that from the unit to the ward collation, results change. INEC officials are often intimidated by hoodlums. There is always a delay in the collation of results and announcements. Even, sometimes, INEC officials collude with party officials to change results between the voting booths and various levels of collation – ward, local government and federal levels. The electronic transmission of the result may not eliminate all the challenges but reasonably, it will guarantee a safer, more transparent collation of result.

Since the President has not given his assent to the bill, what do you think the National Assembly should do?

It has three options. As a former member of the National Assembly, I will say this: the first is to get sufficient support of members of both chambers and override the President and there is a historical antecedent in the Niger Delta Development Commission Act. The second option for the lawmakers is to delete the contentious part of the re-enacted electoral act, and there is only one contention, from what I have read – the issue of forcing political parties to conduct direct primaries. So, they could remove that clause and transmit it back to the President. The third option is for them to do nothing and accept that the President has rejected the bill and go with the 2018 Electoral Act which, for me, is no option.

Back in your home state, the Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, was sacked by the governor recently, while the former environment commissioner, Dr Tamuno Igbiks, who was earlier relieved of his job, has not been replaced. What is your view on this?

I do not know the circumstances surrounding the sacking of the commissioner for health. Governor (Nyesom) Wike, like every other governor, has the power to hire and fire and it is expected that he would deploy that power responsibly. The reason is that they (commissioners) are his nominee but they are servants of the state. They are servants of the state because they are nominated, sent to the state House of Assembly screens and endorses them as are servants of the state; so, the people have accepted them as their servants.

So, they are not servants of Nyesom Wike. The position of commissioners are provided for in the Constitution and whereas he has the power to hire and fire, it is expected that that power would be exercised responsibly and reasonably. If what I have read is true – that the man convened a meeting of his colleagues, of players in his sector, was the only reason why he fired the commissioner – the governor acted irresponsibly. Now, on the sacking of the commissioner for environment, the information at my disposal is that he was fired for three reasons. The first is that he requested an environmental impact assessment from Julius Berger on a road it was constructing. He further requested an environmental impact assessment for an asphalt plant owned by Julius Berger; he actually shut down the plant for not having an EIA. The third (reason) is that convened a meeting to discuss the problem of soot in Port Harcourt without the express approval of the governor. If that is true, again, I want to say that the governor has acted irresponsibly in the firing of a commissioner for doing his job.

Are you saying a commissioner has the power to do such a thing without informing the governor or getting his permission?

He doesn’t need the governor to ask for an EIA for road construction. He doesn’t need the governor to ask for an EIA for an asphalt plant or to shut an asphalt plant. If someone’s committing a crime, and a policeman needs the approval of the commissioner of police to arrest the suspect, he doesn’t know his work and is not worth his salt. So, the commissioner does not need the governor to get his approval to request an EIA for a project site or an asphalt plant. It is, in fact, an abdication if he does not request an EIA. Port Harcourt is one of the most polluted cities in Africa and the commissioner is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that our environment is habitable and conducive.

The governor’s tenure is coming to an end. How would you rate him in the areas of infrastructure and human capacity development in six years?

I thought my position was known. The governor has failed woefully in the area infrastructure. When we talk about infrastructure, we are talking about power, roads, bridges, mass transit, water supply and water resources, waste management, hazardous waste removal. So, in the area of power generation and transmission, you know as I do that the governor has fallen flat, he has done nothing to add one kilowatt of energy since he came to power. I do not know of one thing he has done in mass transit and transportation. The best he can get credit for is the completion of the Bonny-Nembe-Bille waterfront; that is one out of 100 of the jetties in Rivers State he has attended to. Aside from that, he has added absolutely no value.

If one talks about highways, he can lay claim to a few highways outside Port Harcourt, not more than two or three. He has done internal roads that are streets in Port Harcourt and a few flyovers that are unplanned, designed without a long-term strategic view, so those flyovers solve no problems. In the area of water supply and water resources, he has made no investment even when the previous government secured a World Bank loan, till date, I do not know what the governor can point to as what he accomplished in the area of water resources.

If one looks at it politically, the governor, aside from laying claim to building flyover bridges in the city of Port Harcourt, which is one out of 23 local government areas, the governor cannot lay claim to anything in infrastructure and anybody’s assessment would be one over 10, and one over 10 simply means 10 per cent. In human capacity development, you know that he has totally neglected that area. He is not interested in education. The best claim he can make in education is that he has renovated a few schools.

But he received commendations for attracting a law school to the state. Is that not something the state’s educational sector would benefit from?

Law school is not foundational, so you cannot say it will give the people of River State any competitive advantage at the national level. In terms of building the capacity of our people, because he has not invested in education, he cannot say he has built the capacity of our people. Lately, I heard him talking about giving scholarships to a few Rivers people to study at a medical university. Good initiative! But what fraction does that represent? How many doctors will be trained there? This is the same governor who brought back over 2,000 Rivers men and women sent abroad to obtain quality education. He brought back to the country, frustrated them and a number of them abandoned studies. These were the same people who were highfliers in Europe and America. He has literally abandoned all the craft centres and technical colleges in River State. He has made no effort to build human capacity. It is not his priority and in the long term, Rivers people would suffer for it. We would simply be observers of economic development without playing any role. Let’s assume without conceding for a moment that he built all the roads and our people don’t own cars to drive on the roads, of what use are the roads? So, in the area of human capacity, he has failed woefully.

Related to that is employment generation. The data is there. If you check out the data for Rivers State, you will know that we have a high rate of unemployment and it is linked to the fact that he has not provided the right environment for people to come and invest and set up industries that would employ people. He is also not giving people skills and capacity.

Some people say the process of becoming a governor in Rivers State is energy-sapping. What makes you think you can go through this process and have the mental and physical capability to perform as a governor?

I will answer this question in a generic manner. To be a governor, some things are important. First, one must have a clear vision that the people would buy into and help you to execute that vision that you share in the course of your campaign. The second thing is to have a clear roadmap of how one intends to accomplish that vision and the people must see this before voting. The third thing is to have proven competence and character and be seen to be skilled in state craftsmanship. One’s achievement must show that you have character. One must be able to think on their feet and have the energy to inspire and drive people to achieve the result.

The fourth thing that is often neglected is that one must have a team that believes in that vision and help to achieve it. So, it will not be energy-sapping because you already have a team that understands the vision and is ready to run with it. If you have the competence and character then you don’t need to tap energy from elsewhere, that’s enough to propel you. Very often, people come into office ill-prepared or unprepared and without a vision. That way, every day they spend in office as a governor would be like labour because they don’t have a roadmap, character, competence and a team. It becomes a one-man business and that way, the governor would continue to complain and achieve nothing and I’m afraid we have a similar situation in Rivers State.

The Rotimi Amaechi administration started a monorail project in the state. Would you continue with the project if you were governor?

If you go to other cities of the world, including Lagos, there are different forms of mass transit systems. A monorail is just one and in the case of a monorail, the difference is that the rail is elevated and it is a single rail or beam. So, it is simply a form of transportation. If I were to be a governor, I would evaluate it, restructure it, make it functional and optimise it. That’s what I expect a governor to do, even if it is to build a hybrid. It’s been proven all over the world that rail remains one of the most expensive mass transit systems. It moves a high number of persons faster than buses and it could be powered by electricity and gas as a form of clean energy. It has a lot of merits. It could be driven by the private sector, meaning that the government would build the infrastructure and bring in private players to operate it.

What it requires is that you study it and make an informed decision, not having a closed mind. We expect Port Harcourt to be a modern city that will compete with any 21st-century city anywhere in the world but we cannot achieve that with a 19th-century mindset. My argument is that the current government in Rivers State wants to use a 19th or 20th-century mindset to solve a 21st-century problem.

You were at NIMASA as the DG. Some critics wonder how you used that position to impact the youth in Rivers. How would you respond to that?

Let them challenge me. Seven thousand persons were employed through the Cabotage Compliance System. Out of the 7,000 across the country, 500 were from Rivers. Out of the 200 persons that we secured approval to employ, if you divide 200 by 36, the implication is that no state would get more than 10. Rivers got no less than 10. Most of the beneficiaries of the scholarship scheme we met at NIMASA were from Rivers and Bayelsa states. We sustained it throughout our stay; there were 1,500 of them in four countries and all of them graduated. Another thing people keep ignoring is that NIMASA is a regulatory agency; it’s not an intervention agency or a state government. The duty of NIMASA is to regulate shipping. So, when people speak from an uninformed perspective, all I have for them is pity.

Some groups are agitating for self-determination. How do you think the Federal Government can handle this issue?

For me, the truth of the matter is that there are issues for which we need to engage as Nigerians. If there is a crisis in a family, the appropriate thing for the head of the house to do is to invite the parties to the table and hear them out. My position is that the government should engage to find out what the problem is and where the problem is coming from.

Generally, how would you rate the performance of the President, Major General Mohammed Buhari (retd.) within the past six years?

The President has done well in infrastructure. There are gaps in security and the economy but by empowering a committee to design a 20-year roadmap for the country, the President acknowledges that we need to rejig our economy and our security architecture, my optimism is that we will obtain a different result going forward.

Some northern groups are against the power shift. Do you think a rotational presidency is necessary for the country?

It is at this stage of our development. We are mostly an ethnic society where democracy is still evolving. Like every other part of the world, democracy is contextualised and made to fit into a culture and a context based on a peculiar circumstance. That is why in Rwanda, there are more women in parliament and there is a hybrid of persons who are elected and persons who are nominated or appointed in that country. In South Korea, as part of its peculiarity, the president is made to serve only one term and its parliament is also a hybrid of elected persons and appointed persons. In Lebanon, people are accommodated based on religion; some are Catholics, protestants, Muslims, so there is power-sharing that accommodates everybody. What exists in Lebanon is not different from what we have in Nigeria. Because our democracy is still in its infancy and we are multi-ethnic, we have to give every sect some sense of belonging. And it plays out everywhere. In our constitution, there is the federal character system. In our various clubs, conscious efforts are made to accommodate people from different ethnic groups in leadership. What I am saying is that people from different ethnic nationalities should be accommodated in the leadership of our country at every point in time. To that extent, I support power rotation as a transitional arrangement until our democracy reaches some level of maturity.

What is your response to those who argue that a rotational presidency would promote mediocrity?

It is not true. In most parts of the country, there are competent people. We don’t have to divide the country into northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria. Nobody can convince that there is no competent person in the entire 19 states of the North or 17 states of the South to preside over the affairs of the country at any point. That is a fallacy.

Elections in Rivers State have been marred by violence in the past. How can this be stopped?

There are three important things: the political actors must speak to themselves, the people must reject any political leader that has anything to do with violence and we need to deal with the issue of cultism and militancy. To the best of my knowledge, we have not had a proper election in Rivers State in the past few years. The youth in Rivers should understand that what we are talking about is their future. It is not the future of those who are above 50; it is their future and they must own it. They must protect and defend it. So, let them choose the option that best secures their future. They should choose the option that would clearly create employment, prioritise education, health care and the environment. Any money they are given to play a role in the electoral process is for a very short period. Long after spending, they would deal with the pain for four or eight years because of the choices made.

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