Since Dr. Goodluck Jonathan ascended the presidency there has been a raging debate over whether he should run in next year’s election. Deputy Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba, who represents Central Senatorial district of Cross River State in this interview with TOM MOSES in Calabar argues that President Jonathan is free to run, arguing that the zoning arrangement in the ruling party is not cast in stone. It is his conviction that Jonathan will be breaking no agreement of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) if he chooses to contest the presidential poll. He also speaks on the amendments to the 1999 constitution and the possibility of states being created. Excerpts:
Q: The PDP is now grappling with the issue of zoning and this too has attracted public attention. What is your opinion on zoning of the presidency in your party?
A: I don’t think the zoning issue was a permanent arrangement. It couldn’t be a permanent arrangement because in politics, you don’t have a permanent arrangement. The zoning would be determined by the dynamics of each situation and I think that the dynamics have now changed. You know, we now have a president who has a constitutional right to run. So, you cannot ignore that development. So, the zoning cannot be a permanent immutable arrangement; it’s subject to the dynamics of the times.
Q: As a person, would you encourage President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 presidential race?
A: If he wants to run, he can run and I don’t see anything stopping President Jonathan from running.
Q: There is the fear that the crisis in your party may affect the supposed supremacy of the party in subsequent elections, especially the 2011 elections
A: Well, the PDP has its problems but I don’t think that those problems are that fundamental to disrupt the PDP and, fortunately, every other party no matter how small the party is, also have their crisis. So, it is not a situation that is peculiar to PDP; the other parties are also in crises.
Q: That of the PDP is seemingly worrisome because of the capacity of the party in terms of strength, financial disposition, and the personalities in the party and of course, being the ruling party?
A: You know, every hiccup in the PDP is magnified because of the size of the party but it is not every hiccup that is threatening and, you see, what we’ve seen now is not new, it’s not strange. We’ve had these changes made in the past. If you remember, Chief Solomon Lar left and Chief Gemade came in, then Chief Audu Ogbe. All these changes had been mid-term changes.
Q: Why has the PDP in Cross River State subscribed to caucus arrangement for the selection of candidates in spite of the fears that the caucus members may be biased and that outright primary elections would be more transparent?
A: Caucuses do not substitute the formal structures of the party. The caucuses are borne out of our own peculiar experiences in Cross River where the process for picking of candidates for elections became unduly acrimonious. So, we thought that we should introduce a preliminary step to the primaries and the caucuses were conceived as that preliminary step where aspirants are filtered out and the more serious ones are given a chance to now go for primaries so that we have streamlined primaries. If at the end of the caucuses a consensus is arrived at, so be it but we still need to go for primaries for an affirmation of the candidacy. So, the caucuses do not take any decision as such. If they manage to arrive at a consensus, so be it but even that consensus will still need to be affirmed at the primaries because that is what the party recognizes. So, what the caucuses are doing is just some filtration exercise but they don’t take binding decisions.
Q: You are enjoying quite some enormous popularity in the state such that one would have thought that you were not going to have any challenge in your Senatorial ambition, but contenders are emerging from your district. How do you intend to handle the situation?
A: I think I would have felt more nervous if I didn’t have any challenge. I would have felt a little bit uncomfortable if I didn’t have any challenge. The seeming challenge for me is welcome; it’s exciting because it’s going to elevate me, it’s going to energize me and challenge me to do even more.
Q: You must be happy at the victory of Cross River State for its oil income to be reinstated. How was the battle won?
A: Well, it wasn’t a National Assembly matter as such; it’s just that we members of the National Assembly tried to make our contributions towards redressing the situation to the appropriate quarters. And as the governor explained, it wasn’t the oil-wells that were returned, it’s the revenues that were reinstated. The issue of oil-wells is still outstanding, it’s still pending.
Q: There is this exciting news that the Senate has the capacity to create states and not just the military and incidentally, Cross Riverians have been agitating for another state. Given this opportunity, what do you suggest should be the name of the new Cross River State?
A: I am not part of any movement for the creation of any state, so, I don’t know the name.
Q: Are you not in support of a split of the state in terms of expansion for more developmental opportunities?
A: I will like to discuss things that are visible and things that are practicable. Now, we have very, very urgent issues on our hands. We have the urgent issue of reforming our electoral process and those reforms would necessitate amendments to the constitution and amendments to the Electoral Acts. So, realistically, I don’t see states coming that soon. There is possibility but in my view, it is far-fetched possibility.