Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross Rivers State does not belong to hogwash-talking politicians, in this interview with Pointblanknews.com, the soft-spoken yet articulate politician of note insist that the Northern Elders cannot play God as only the electoral process can determine who win the Presidential election. He also spoke about the problems in the NGF.
There have been agitations. We have heard the northern Elders say over their dead bodies will power not return back to the North. And that power will not go back to the South again. When you hear things like that, as an experienced politician, what do you make out of it?
I think it is political talk that holds no water. And of course if not well managed, it can also escalate tension in the country. The only people that can make statements like that are those from the generation that is near extinction. Those are the only people. It is a sort of saying that there can never be a black American president. There were a lot of black people that used to say that because they belonged to a generation that did not know what was happening until Obama emerged. So those from the North who speak like that must belong to a generation that does not understand and appreciate what is going on in this country politically; political reforms and restructuring that is real and will not be reversed.
It is as simple as that. I don’t see how that can be reversed. We have electoral processes that are more transparent, that are more efficient.
When you say power will go to the North and remain with the North, is it through an elective process or by other means? We need an explanation. If it is through an elective process then, they must be playing God. They have no right, no capacity to make such statements. But if it is through other means, they should be queried or questioned by the security agencies. It is as simple as that. But I don’t believe that the country, from where we stand today will take a position that the north or any other region for that should produce and must produce the president.
Beside the northern people’s agitations, the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF elections is also creating a lot of tension. You are also one of the governors. What is actually going on in the NGF?
What happened in the NGF is actually something that has been playing out for quite some time. It culminated in the electoral crisis but it is something that has been going on for quite some time. If you reflect with benefit of hindsight it could be that there was a very strong grain of opposition to the ruling party within the NGF. It didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t happen as a result of the elections. The elections just confirmed the existence of such an opposition to the party in leadership. The NGF, like I said is a body of governors who sit down and interact on matters that affect them and the people they lead similar to the GF in America. The president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was elected by several million Nigerians. The chairman of the NGF was picked without an election by his colleagues. So it behooves on us to appreciate that we cannot elevate the position of the chairman of the NGF as if he enjoys certain rights over and above his colleague governors. I don’t think that will augur well even for the forum. That was what played out.
It is important that we understand the purposes of setting up the NGF. I was surprised that a journalist asked me a question about the NGF being a strong opposition voice to the government in power. I said on what basis?
I can’t believe he can be saying that the NGF should constitute itself into an opposition or whoever it is to the presidency. But that perception is wrong. Our role is complimentary and must always be complimentary in the best interest of the people that we serve. That is the fact. It is as simple as that, it is a non partisan body and should not be divisive.
The NGF had an election. Who won that election?
The NGF reminds me of our own regular electoral process when you have an election and the opposition feels cheated and goes to court. And the court says yes these processes were not followed: this was violated and so on. When we met and tried to avoid an election because we knew election will divide us, we thought we should dialogue. I asked that the two governors who were interested should leave the room to allow us to dialogue. That did not happen. So we were so surprised that an election was prepared for and that those contesting the election were part of the process. We sat in the room and exchanged heated arguments almost to exchange of blows. So there was never an acceptance in the first place.
And there is no provision in any constitution as to the process or the mode of the election. Everyone felt a bit obnoxious about the process, which was what everyone spoke about. And how do you conduct an election where you are the candidate, you prepare the ballot paper, you bring your ballot box from nowhere, the DG who is your employee is the returning officer? So you are INEC, the candidate and the judiciary. That was what we had and that is why there was so much heat and debate for about three to four hours. Everyone forgot that before this so called vote took place, we were in that room for over three hours. And what happened in those three hours is what played out in the so called election. There were people who said we should storm out, others said if you storm out, the other remaining people will still have their election. So if you have one-third of the people, they will stay behind and elect who they want.
So, it was a very contentious issue. Very unfortunate. I still remain of the view that the great mistake we made was that there was an electoral process. There should never be such a process in any institution like the NGF.
So what is going to happen to the NGF now, do we still have an NGF and do we still have Amaechi as the Chairman or do we have Jang as the chairman, what will be the end result of this crisis?
The NGF is still there. Like I said, the NGF that is effective is the one that delivers result. Very recently, we had an NGF situation with the revenue sharing formula. It was resolved in a meeting with the president.
The Jang NGF met with the president, met with the minister for finance and was able to resolve in a matter of an hour all the issues. And all the 36 states, not the so-called Jang faction benefited. When the revenue was shared all the 36 states including Rivers got it. So while they are making noise in the newspapers, there is one effective NGF that is actually working for the benefit of all the governors and all the states of the federation. That is the reality.
How can the PDP withstand the APC in 2015 with its ranks almost in tattered?
(Cuts in) PDP by any definition remain very strong in the south east, south west and majority of the middle belt. The other areas that you mentioned, particularly the south west, nobody in the south west ever won an election by landslide. The current governors, most of them are in office as a result of court judgment not necessarily amazing electoral victories. Even when the court declares them as winners, it was by marginal number. So this perception that we are conceding the south west is exaggerated. PDP will control 40-50% of votes there any day, anytime.
Now the same goes for Buhari and the North West. The North West as it were made an assumption that Buhari was actually unbeatable but you will recall that President Jonathan managed to achieve the one-third in two-third of the states including states in the north west. Whereas in the south east, south south and most of the middle belt, the victory was a complete landslide. I dare say there are no inroads that have been made by the opposition; CPC or APC into these areas. So it is not as simple as they make it sound. We have an incumbent in office. I don’t believe that the incumbent we have in office has underperformed.
If you take my boss, President Obasanjo’s first term and put it side by side with Goodluck Jonathan’s first term, you take the term of late Yar’Adua and put it side by side with Goodluck Jonathan’s term; I don’t think Goddluck Jonathan’s term will be seen to have fallen short. There are other issues that may crop up but not issues of performance, governance and administration. If you look at those numbers, the administration has done well. A lot of people were surprised at the midterm report of the performance of the administration. The administration unfortunately suffers from media perception issues and an opposition that is unrelenting when it comes to the media. This does not translate to victory or support by majority of Nigerians. The position of the political elite does not necessarily translate into electoral victory.
You must understand that, if you are talking about the presidency, it is completely different from gubernatorial elections. PDP governors who remain in majority are not likely to lose their states. So they will still hold their states for the political party. I think as a party, a time will come when we will sit down and resolve these differences and agree on the way forward and maintain the control that we have at the center.