The presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Prof. Jerry Gana, in this interview with OLALEKAN ADETAYO, spoke about his five-point agenda and his desire for credible elections. Excerpts
What inspired your ambition to run for the highest office in the country?
I started as a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University. I was teaching an area that has to do with how to transform the lives of people. I later went into politics and in 1983, I was elected into the Senate. It was then that I discovered that if you really want to affect the lives of the people in a transformative way and as quickly as possible, the best path is not the Legislature but the Executive. I have always been a development-oriented person and I wanted an opportunity to be able to have the power to affect the lives of millions of ordinary people in a short time. So I linked up with members of the progressives. So during the transformation into civil rule after years of military rule, we gathered to form the Peoples Democratic Party from the G34 and the party came into power for 16 years. I tried in 2006 to offer myself but there were some problems with the primary election then. I subsequently decided to watch issues and support the government that was elected then with the hope that there would be a qualitative change in leadership in such a way that the things that affected the people in a very deep way could be resolved. I must confess that they tried but it was not qualitatively different. My own coming into politics is in the area of leadership with distinction, orderliness, good ideas and vision. So, when the opportunity came again, I offered myself under the Social Democratic Party with the hope that a social democratic platform will give me the opportunity of addressing the issues I love to address.
What are those issues you will love to address and that you think the present government is not addressing well?
I must confess that the present government does not have a strategy. There is no strategically arranged programme from the government that will drive the process of transforming Nigeria, and that is unfortunate. Even in the area of security that we think they should do well, the government has not really excelled. We have studied the situation and we came up with five major programmes in response to the cry of Nigerians. That programme is codenamed SWIFT. When we did our survey, the item that came top among issues that Nigerians are interested in is the issue of security, peace and safety. They are interested in the safety of lives and property. That is why the first item among our five programmes is Security Reengineering because we believe that life is precious. In fact, our Constitution says the security of the people is the primary purpose of government. It is the first thing that government should worry about and we have given details of how we are going to address this in the shortest time possible. We will provide the kind of security situation that will allow people to live their lives peacefully, quietly and properly. We will not only reform the security agencies and institutions, we will restructure Nigeria. That of security is coming because the federal structure is not functioning the way it should. For example, in a federal structure that is properly federal, the federating units should have the power to look after security matters. Also in the area of power, nobody should be relying on the government at the centre for power generation. You should use the resources in your state to generate enough power, look after your people, and send the remaining to national grid. The issue of over-centralisation of security is one of the causes of insecurity in the country.
Apart from security which you said is the first item on your agenda, which other areas are you considering giving attention to if elected?
From our survey, we discovered that people’s second concern after security is about poverty and hunger. There is hunger in the land and it is threatening lives on a daily basis. That is why our second programme is Wealth Creation. We will utilise all resources to create wealth so as to conquer poverty. We also discovered that we cannot address security and wealth creation if we don’t have excellent infrastructure by way of highways, railways, roads and power supply. Every economy must have efficient infrastructure. Infrastructure is very important. Apart from this, we also saw the need for a genuine and transparent fight against corruption. Ours will not be like the one happening now that if you want to escape from anti-graft agencies, you run into the ruling party. In a real fight against corruption, those who will suffer most are those close to the President. If they are found to be corrupt, they will be dealt with appropriately. Those in government must show leadership by example. Our fifth programme is about Technology, Education and Human Development. Our programmes are therefore tailored to address the yearnings of Nigerians: that of insecurity, hunger and poverty, lack of infrastructure, cry against people stealing public money and education to develop the people. That is our package for Nigerians. Development is comprehensive, it is not piecemeal. The All Progressives Congress government has a piecemeal approach to development.
Despite these your lofty programmes, there are still many Nigerians who are not looking beyond the two leading political parties to make a choice as far as the presidential election is concerned. How do you intend to convince them?
That is where people are making mistakes. People who think the coming election is between the two leading political parties are underestimating the millions of Nigerians who have decided to go beyond parties this time and look at the quality of the candidates. The issues of character, competence, courage and efficiency will come to play. These issues will determine who becomes Nigeria’s next President. Added to that is the issue of younger generation, there are about 40 million of them. They won’t be looking at parties but the quality of the individuals. If the elections are based on voting, as it should be, the outcome will surprise you.
You gave a caveat there that if the elections are based on voting, the outcome will surprise many. Do you then believe that the elections can be credible or are you entertaining any fear
I think the Independent National Electoral Commission needs to show to Nigerians that it means to deliver free and fair elections. A few things have emerged that have given us a lot to worry about. Recently, a popular decision was taken that incidence form should not be used. We welcomed the decision and asked that they should just make the card readers work well. But later, because there was pressure from the ruling party, they backed off. People are worried about that. The second leg, although they have denied that she is not related, we understand that a member of the INEC who is a relation or somebody close to one of the candidates is the chairperson of the Ad hoc Committee on Presidential Election Collation Centre. In a civilised society, a relation of any of us should not even be in INEC. Even if she was there before, she has to resign. This is because perception is very important. So, INEC has to really make sure that people are convinced that the commission is truly independent. The commission should be independent of the government, parties or anybody. We are appealing to the electoral body to give Nigerians free, fair and credible elections.
There is an ongoing crisis in your party as regards your candidature. How do you intend to resolve this and bring all stakeholders together to work for your victory, especially as we learnt that the party leadership is not with you?
I don’t think that is correct. If you say may be the national chairman is not with me, fine, but that does not suggest that the party leadership is not with me. About 90 per cent of the party leadership are with me. Most of them were with me at the event I held last Saturday. The party’s National Working Committee has about 11 or 12 members, eight of them are directors in my campaign team. We are all together. I am saying to you that majority of the members and the leadership of the party are with me. I respect Chief Olu Falae and that is why I am not fighting in the media. People know that majority of the party is with us. It was because we are building democracy and I respect the rule of law,that was why I went to court to define the constitutional provisions and our party’s constitution. The court has given a sound ruling that the Supreme Court had earlier ruled clearly that parties must obey their constitutions. The High Court has ruled in our favour and that is why I am here today as the presidential candidate of our party. I know there is an appeal, we will wait for the decision of the Court of Appeal. I want to assure you that the leadership also loves this party and we are looking at ways of resolving this matter amicably. It is not really a crisis, it is a failure of integrity on the part of a few party leaders. That was what led to what happened, otherwise, majority of our members know very well that we all agreed that this time, the candidate of the party must come from one of the Northern states.
On your own part, are you reaching out to your main challenger, Donald Duke, on this matter?
There is no problem at all. I am reaching out to everybody. I am a party man and I love to see my party win and make the difference because we have very good programmes. Nigerians would like to see a credible alternative. Our recent survey showed that about 70 per cent of Nigerians have not yet made up their mind on who to vote for, so even one week is important in politics.
As the elections draw near, what will you be telling Nigerians?
We will ensure that our campaigns are issues-based. We will not be abusing people. Rather, we will try to emphasise our five-point agenda codenamed SWIFT. So, we have a swift action agenda. We shall be telling them what we are going to do if given the privilege of presiding over the affairs of Nigeria. Secondly, we are going to be mobilising Nigerians to vote and to vote in such a way that we will win. We will also be mobilising people to ensure that INEC does not rig the elections in any way. Let there be free, fair and credible elections. We will also appeal to everybody that there is the need for peace and stability. Without peace, there will be no free and fair elections. We say no to violence. We must commit to peace, security and safety. This democracy must be allowed to be deepened.