Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Dr. Leonard Nzenwa is the Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC). In this interview, he spoke about 2023 elections, IPAC, school feeding programme and others.
How has it been managing IPAC, considering the different interests involved?
It has been an interesting and exciting experience so far. Managing IPAC is like managing other corporate or business entity which is usually not easy because of human element and the kind of system we operate in Nigeria. But despite that, we have maintained our harmonious working relationship with all stakeholders and that’s why we have been making significant progress. We are also working to realign the system so we can make more progress in developing and strengthening Nigeria’s political system. It might take some time to achieve these goals but we are continuously reaching for support and cooperation from stakeholders and I am hopeful that things will get better in no distant time.
There would be elections in two states, Edo and Ondo, in few months, how ready is AAC for that election?
My party, AAC, is ready for the elections. Chairmen in those states are working tirelessly with other members to ensure we pull surprises in the election. INEC has directed state offices to reopen after the weeks of lockdown declared by the government to contain the spread of COVlD-l9 in Nigeria. In this case, neither the INEC nor the political parties should be blamed for the shift in the election date but COVID-19 that has had negative impact on socioeconomic, political and other activities in the world. Stakeholders including the political parties were forced to make some adjustments and we had no problem with that. But whatever the case maybe, we are ready for the elections and we would make our mark at the polls.
Are you impressed with the level of transparency and preparation of INEC so far?
It’s very instructive to note that, in political system, INEC is just a stakeholder, and a core lead stakeholder in electoral system. The political parties are the sub key stakeholders. The political system is made up of you and I. In electoral system, political parties must ensure that its members act properly as expected in any democratic society. INEC’s responsibilities, in this case, is supervision of the political parties activities. They encourage the practice of internal democracy by ensuring equal opportunities for all eligible members, particularly at their primaries. INEC has the powers to come down hard on any party that fails to follow the rules.
What’s your assessment of the Federal Government’s efforts against COVID-19 pandemic?
The management of COVID-19 so far has not been impressive, but God has been very helpful. I must confess that, evidently, the God factor has been with us and that was why we have not recorded the kind of casualties expected. Nigeria is so uniquely blessed that when you have crisis of monumental dimension, the God factor intervenes. With our large population and inefficiencies, we seem to be winning. However, this situation has exposed the rot in our health system and the need for urgent action to transform the healthcare delivery system.
How easy do you think Nigeria can recover from COVID-19?
I must tell you that Nigeria will bounce back stronger and better as it has been in the past. I may lack the capacity to explain how it will happen but expect Nigeria back on its feet as soon as possible. Just the way Nigeria came back from defeat in Atlanta 1996 Olympic football match to win the medal, so we would do again with COVID-19. However, we should not rely on Grace of God and not put our house in order. Every country of the world has experienced harsh socio-economic problem this period. Ours is bad because we operate informal economy. Our people live on daily earnings, so it’s very imperative that the economy should be reopened for people to work and earn a living. Historically, Nigeria is not a social and physical distancing country. It’s the bond that kept us together as a country. These practices are alien to Nigerians. Howbeit, we should maintain and enforce it alongside high level of hygienic protocol. Undoubtedly, things would change greatly. Church activities, political activities and other things that would involve mass gatherings would be changed.
You were against the proposed home feeding of school children by Federal Government. Why?
From all indication, the proposed home feeding of children is a scam, drain pipe to siphon tax payers money in order to enrich few unscrupulous Nigerians just the way it was with the disbursement of N20,000 to vulnerable Nigerians. We are shocked by this ill-conceived, irrational, undigested and not properly thought out programme that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, would incubate at this perilous time when there are better and creative ways to manage the concerns and needs of Nigerians amidst COVID-19 pandemic. It is outrageous, embarrassing and a mockery of our national intelligence. The exercise, evidently, is riddled with corruption, hence the insistence that the programme should be stopped forthwith. It will be an uphill task to locate these children in their respective homes as most of them are resident in rural areas. We are disheartened that Federal Government has refused to allow well patriotic Nigerians originate credible, high impact people-centered policies, but all they have gotten so far look more as ego enhancing and reactionary policies to suit their whims and caprices. We are still wondering if the proposed feeding effort is school feeding or home feeding of school pupils. We see it as feasting on the people than feeding Nigerian school pupils. It’s inconceivable that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar-Farouk, who earlier described the programme as a disaster will now be so passionate about it and going the extra mile of extending it to school children at home. We suggest that Federal Government pay the funds allocated for the purported feeding of school children to Nigerians with bank BVN as proposed earlier by government. It will make more impact if paid into bank accounts of Nigerians who are parents of these school children. This way, the funds will be properly accounted for, because to do otherwise is to further institutionalize corruption in the polity through phony programme.
What do you make of the new appointment by the President. I mean the new Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari?
Personally, I am not comfortable with the appointment not on the account of qualification but age. AAC believes in providing opportunities for younger Nigerians to take up leadership positions in Nigeria as against what has been the practice over the years. But the President, from all indications takes pleasure in appointing old people into key sensitive political positions. Howbeit, we must recognize that it’s his constitutional right to choose his aides based on personal conviction and other factors. But we expect him to be bringing younger people into his government. However, I am sure many stakeholders are not happy with the appointment, but they have no choice but to accept the appointment because it’s the President’s choice as his Chief of Staff. As a political party, we feel that age is a factor for us. By now, President Buhari should be looking the way of younger persons to occupy key political offices instead of the old people that he prefers to occupy such positions. But don’t get me wrong. Neither me nor the party has any personal issue with Prof. Gambari. He is an accomplished, versatile, well rooted and trusted friend of the President. That might have earned him the appointment.
What’s the place of trust and confidence in such an appointment?
The place of trust is very crucial and cardinal in such appointment. The Chief of Staff is like the engine room of the government because he holds the records of the President. The President confessed that he trusted late Abba Kyari so much and that was why he chose him as his Chief of Staff in 2015.
There’s argument that the North should retain presidential power in 2023. Do you support that argument?
Our party, AAC, does not believe, rigidly, on zoning formula, which has, obviously, destroyed Nigerian polity completely. We believe in giving chance to people with credibility, integrity, intelligence and not corrupt people to seek political offices through our political platform irrespective of region, faith, ethnic background or other factors. However, given our uniqueness in Nigeria and the importance of not concentrating power in the North, there’s need for political power to shift down South in 2023. If we want to be fair and just to all, power ought not to remain in the North. But we need not emphasize that, when you see a leader that will break the rank of ethnic hegemony, sectional rigidity and nepotism, nobody will tell you. And that is what we need now to move forward as a country.
Do you think the President will openly support power shift to the South going by his body language?
It’s not in my place to begin to think or look into the mind of somebody else. But the President has his goals and desires for Nigeria whether good or bad. But our own role as Nigerians is to ensure that he did not get what he wants by deeply participating in the political process that will herald the emergence of new political leaders. He may want continuity in government and based on that, he will choose someone that he thinks will continue from where he stopped. But it’s Nigerians that would decide what they want in terms of political leadership and not the President. This is where the youth come in. Because they have the largest voting power, they are very crucial in determining who becomes Nigerian President or occupy other political offices, and that was why AAC was formed to provide such a wonderful opportunity for the youth to participate in the political process.
What are you coming with, that would make people leave PDP, APC or other parties to join you?
AAC is one political party that is making waves in Nigeria on the account of its solid foundation, professional background and individuals behind it. We are bringing in a just system, equal opportunity, digitalisation of political system, and regular interactions with Nigerians. It was AAC that started political town meeting in Nigeria before others took after us. AAC is the most formidable, youth based political party in Nigeria that is ready to take over the political leadership of Nigeria in this 21st century technology driven world.
Can you assure Nigerians that this party cannot be hijacked by other superior interests?
This question has been a recurring one. Undoubtedly, we have challenges, just like other political parties. Pressures are coming from all angles, and that was because of the potential we have. But the question is, would you throw away every person on the account of being scared of hijack. The Nigerian Constitution and Code of Conduct of INEC which we subscribe to, does not isolate or encourage discrimination against any individual. We don’t entertain “hear say”, rather we deny opportunities to anyone that has been duly convicted by the court for corruption or other crimes. We are not gods neither are we satan, but our assurance to Nigerians is that we will make Nigeria better than what it is today.
As IPAC Chairman, what should political parties expect for you in terms of leadership and proper representation?
Undoubtedly, political parties play great role in political systems. Good political party system heralds good political leadership in any country. The bad leadership we are experiencing today is a function of bad political party system that does not encourage internal democracy, and that is robbing off negatively on us. What IPAC under my leadership is set out to do is to elevate the credibility of political parties; to work endlessly to ensure that political parties serves as vehicles to seek and achieve political office by identifying credible individuals and giving them opportunity to contest and secure political offices. I want to bring that level of respectability to political party leadership where we don’t have every Dick, Tom and Harry, claiming to be a political party leader or executive, when they are miscreants that are out for some interests. Nigerians should expect more proactive, pragmatic, focused, credible IPAC that would take the bull by the horns; IPAC that will be courageous enough to interface with stakeholders to strengthen the political system and give Nigerians better governance and dividends of democracy. We are not over-promising, but we would not under-deliver.