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Written by NigerianNews Interview   
Oct 16, 2007 at 01:30 AM

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ojo Maduekwe, was recently in the United States as a participant in the 'Nigeria Meets The World Conference' organized by ThisDay, and the United Nations General Assembly session. He spoke exclusively with NNews at the New York Millennium Plaza.  

Below is the full text of the interview with the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs:

On April 2007 Elections

NNews: Do you think the last election was a stumbling block to the development of democracy in Nigeria?

Minister: No matter how imperfect an election is. I don't see the point you are making about an election being a stumbling block to the development of democracy, can you have democracy without an electoral process? You can complain about the imperfection of the process. You can even talk about electoral malpractices, which of course the tribunals are set up as part of the electoral process to deal with. But I can't understand what you mean by implying that democracy can take place without the right of the ruled to choose their leaders.

NNews: I asked the question because the president himself, the current president, said the election was flawed, almost like self indictment

Minister: He did not say the election was flawed

NNews: Ok what did he say?

Minister: He said there were imperfections in the process.

NNews: (Cut in!) that is flawed.

Minister: It does not make it flawed.

NNews: If it is imperfect, it implies 'flawed'

Minister: There is no place where election is perfect. We make no excuses for what went wrong in the last election. We are honest enough to say, that look, it could have been better, and that is not an indictment of PDP or of government, because the opposition parties did not come out of this looking more so saintly. In Abia State where I come from, and I am National Secretary of PDP, that is being accused of all kinds of transgressions; I don't know what you think that I, National Secretary of the party, of the ruling party that is being accused of rigging, alright, in Abia State, the PDP lost election, now what are you suggesting? that the people of Abia were so opposed to PDP that no matter how capable our rigging machinery might have been, the popularity of a party that did not exist for more than five months was so heavy that PDP rigging machinery, you know, in the home State of the National Secretary, I mean isn't that ridiculous?

NNews: Would you say that the electoral abuses were mostly perpetrated by your party, PDP?

Minister: You see, Let us be responsible in dealing with this issue. An electoral process consists of a day announced for voting. There is also a timetable for announcing the results, and there is a timetable for the aggrieved to go to the judiciary. I think it does not show democratic temper, if you participate in one phase of the exercise, and then you want to rubbish the entire thing without availing yourself of the opportunity of any injustice being addressed. In Abia, we felt that what happened in Abia was not the reflection of what the people of Abia actually had in mind. So we are in court, we are not asking for the roof to be pulled down. So why can't other people who feel that what they suffered whether as individuals or as parties, why don't they have enough confidence in the legal system as to allow the legal system to make a pronouncement?

NNews: What do you think is going to happen at the presidential election tribunal? Is the President also preparing himself for the possibility that he might lose at the tribunal?

Minister: You don't expect me as a lawyer to answer that kind of question. Alright? you are speculative It doesn't deal with...eh

NNews: But is it possible?

Minister: That...what is possible?

NNews: That he could lose the case at the tribunal?

Minister: This question is neither right in journalism nor is it right in law

NNews: (Cut in!) Sir, new age, conscience-centered journalism... I will move on to other topics. At a point, it looked like your ministerial appointment was not going to be approved in the senate because all the Senators from Abia opposed your nomination, what was the problem?

Minister: Go and ask them

NNews: (laughter)

Special Assistant: (Intervenes!) can we talk about foreign...

NNews: It is the time...

Special Assistant: It is the time, yes.

Minister: She has spoken very highly about you

NNews: Thank you Sarah (Special Assistant). On international topic. What is your preferred option(s) to Nuclear Non Proliferation?

Minister: Nigeria is committed to the peaceful uses of Nuclear Power.

NNews: like a now familiar mantra...(laughter). What about the morality implied in nuclear threat by powerful nations to 'lesser nations' that they reserve the right to use this destructive weapon whenever they think their interests are threatened, and a way of reminding these 'lesser nations' of who is in charge?

Minister: (Cut in!)... I am a Minister of Foreign Affairs, I am not a professor of ethics

NNews: I am aware you are Minister of Foreign Affairs, that is why I am asking you the question.

Minister: Let us come back to the election thing

NNews: You want to come back to the election?

Minister: Oya, go, let me make one or two observations. When I was National secretary of PDP, I issued statements, warning our members about electoral malpractice by PDP members, and I did say that we didn't need to rig to win that election. We are already in control of 28 out of 36 states and for us, usually message is as important as the results announced at winning. We don't need to rig. We control the Federal Government and several state governments. As a matter of fact, as you know, all State Governments were folding up their party identity, ANPP, whatever, and coming over to PDP, and the way to win elections really, is when you have people coming over to your side. So I issued that statement. I asked the law enforcement agents, arrest any PDP member, no matter how highly placed, who is found in electoral malpractice. This statement was published in at least four Nigerian newspapers. Full page advertorial, not just as news. Paid advertorials, a lot of money - over one million Naira. We now also issued a separate statement condemning electoral violence. No other party did that. We are not the police, why I am saying this is that, unless people are ready as civil society and other interested people, get involved in the political process, eh look, my friend, you are rigging, and blow the whistle, and get the police to do their work, it is going to be difficult for us to begin to get it right. and the sooner we begin to get it right the better, because a nation is better off when there is not only a free and fair election, but when there is perception that it was free and fair. Because then you are not distracted from defending your victory and all that, to make sure of issue of illegitimacy is taken care of. Our problem is that.. eh and here... I want to continue to remind myself that I am no longer the national secretary of PDP, so I don't get too much accused of partisanship here. I am a PDP member, PDP leader, I am a Minister in the PDP government, so there is no way you can take away PDP from me. So, the truth of the matter is that, you know it yourself, that before the elections many of the opposition parties certainly gave up. Rather than spending time to campaign, to educate people about the power of the vote, to educate people about how to vote, and how to defend their votes, they just spent the money they have coming to America, going everywhere, blowing the whistle that there is rigging, there is rigging, there is rigging, ahead. It appeared that they had already made up their minds that they were going to lose any way. That is what is going on now, so its like people had already made up there mind that the election would not take place. We have to now get back to a situation where, and it is important, and people like you can help here, that a politician should know the mere fact that they are involved in the election, no matter how imperfect it is, it is a contribution to the democratic process. And If it is not right this time, it is going to be right next time. The practice is to just keep on, keep on saying that, because  it is not possible that everybody in PDP is a rigger or is malevolent and all that, just like I would not say everybody in ANPP or AC are riggers or people who don't believe in fair and free election. And I can tell you, I can defend the opposition parties on this issue, and I expect them also to be able to concede to me, PDP, the same amount of decency I want to give to the opposition parties. At the leadership level of politics, I can say this that I have been involved for nearly 30 years now, people do not sit down my brother, say, national secretary, national chairman, eh governor, eh this that that, people do not sit down, and if I can say this about PDP, I can also say it about the other parties, and say look o, this election is coming, gentlemen, oya, we want to rig it, how are we going to rig it. It doesn't take place. So, without my condoning rigging, and that is the last thing I want to say, and I will listen more to you. Without my condoning rigging, wherever rigging takes place, all rigging, like all politics is local. What we need to do, for me, it is not possible that AC or ACP or any of these parties would sit down, even what happened to us in Abia, it is not possible that PPA, the other opposition party could have sat down at the national level and say we PPA we are going to rig in Abia. I don't see leaders doing that kind of thing no matter how terrible those leaders are. They should also be able to acknowledge that there is no way, Ojo Maduekwe, National Secretary, Ali National Chairman, Annenih, chairman of the board of trustee, ok the leader of the party then President Obasanjo, we would have sat down in a place, this election o, ah we must rig it. It doesn't happen like that, and that is why we issued the statement we issued to say, please if anybody is involved in rigging, please, please, police, do your job. So what we need to do since and for instance, as despicable as rigging is, all rigging like all politics is local, is that each one of us come from somewhere, we come from a village or a local government, we are not just people in Abuja or people in Lagos. The national elite that is generally interested in democracy, in electoral integrity should go back home where we come from, spend time with the people and let them know that this thing does not have to be something that we must win at all cost, no, let us do it right. Failure to do it right hurts everybody, both the winner and the loser. It is a local responsibility on the part of the national elites

NNews: Before the election, Chief Obasanjo said, It was going to be a do or die election...

Minister: He was misunderstood. As always, as often...

NNews: He is also being demonized now by everybody, Is he a demon?

Minister: I couldn't have served a demon. He was misunderstood. It was his own way of explaining the importance of the election. You know the way people describe how the thing is so important? It is just a matter of speaking

NNews: Is the rule of law now translating to the "ruse of law" in this new government of President Yar'Adua? And are there moles in this government planted to protect some privileged individuals?

Minister: (laughter) That is a very interesting question, because while I was sacking people, I am sure you would have followed my story while I was Transport Minister, controversial as it was. I mean, nobody sacked more people as minister in the cabinet of 1999 to 2003. No minister sacked more people than myself. The cause are there. I have a very heavy ministry at Transport, NPA there, NML, name it, now when people were complaining about oh, Ojo, the rights of the people who are being accused of some wrong doing, those rights are not being adequately protected, even as a lawyer, I just had to be philosophical on this issue to say; the law should not just be a shield for the wrong doer, it should also be a sword for doing what is right. My views about this are quite well known, that the rule of law should not become a shield for the wrong doer, it should also be a sword for doing what is right.

NNews: The Minister of Foreign Affairs is not liked by most of our readers .... sorry, the Attorney General

Minister: Actually, when you said Foreign Minister, you corrected yourself, It is possible to say it is a Freudian slip.... May be the truth of the matter is what you said earlier on... (laughter)

NNews: Our opinion of you is different from this AGF. When everyone was on siren as a minister, you rode your bike ...

Minister: (laughter), you must be one of the very few who appreciate that kind of gesture.

NNews: responsible people in responsible places do things by example, small gestures like riding a bicycle can make a difference.

Minister: We are running late, I will give you more time on Friday, once the President leaves, The President is going... Thabo Mbeki is expecting us. In this kind of situation it is difficult to give quality interviews. Friday, in the morning hour, we will have more quality time. For now let me say that it is a tight rope, ok, what you are referring to is really a tight rope, I understand how you feel, and I understand the crusading zeal that eh obviously the system requires, and I have myself, if it is wrong to have a crusading zeal, I have already pled guilty to that. So many of the people I sacked in the transport, I was told, no, I shouldn't have done it that way, but I said if they didn't like it they should go to court, but they did not go to court because they knew that even if there was procedural flaws in what I did , the substance...

NNews: In order word, you were trying to use the Transport as a 'sword' for doing what is right?

Minister: what they did in the place, they cannot hide under some fig leave of procedure to stop me from cleaning that place.

NNews: Is that not what they are doing now, are they not hiding under the fig leave of procedure right now?

Minister: I understand what you are talking about, but let us put it this way, the thing is that ok, today, a nice person who means well might run roughshod of procedure because he has a clear goal about what is right and what is wrong

NNews: So you think the Attorney General means well?

Minister: No, no, I am putting it in certain kind of context. Then the whole issue of rule of law, do you understand it? and I am still telling you as a lawyer it is not just the outcome that is important, why are people talking about the last election? Even those people who are complaining about the last election, many of them are saying Yar'Adua is a good man, is it not so? They are not quarreling with the outcome, they are talking about the process. And it is that process we are now beginning to address. I have not heard any one saying Yar'Adua could not have won, PDP could not have won. I have not heard anybody who is saying that. They are saying the PROCESS. That goes to tell you that as important as it is to get the right outcome, we should do everything to... If we want to be real musket tee, I will tell you look, one of the Nigerians I admire most is Nuhu Ribadu. He has done a lot for the image of Nigeria. To me he is one of the greatest Nigerians, and I want to be on record on this; He is a great man. He is fearless, he is courageous, he cares about Nigeria, He is passionate about Nigeria, and puts his life on the line in doing that. We need many more Ribadus. I also know that the same Ribadu himself, has a number of time spoken with passion about the process, about doing things right. We are in a situation where things are just beginning to gel.

NNews: Does the President believe in him - Ribadu?

Minister: Of course the President believes in him

NNews: How can he believe in him and also believe in Aondoakaa at the same time?

Minister: I am sure the two of them can work together, and they are already working together, and good people like you should not help to widen the gap ... (laughter)

NNews: We would like to talk to the Minister (AGF), may be you can help arrange an interview before he returns to Nigeria?

Minister: I believe you need to talk to him, I did not know him before this government, but I believe you should talk to him.

NNews: With the current feelings about Chief Obasanjo, do you think he has any future that has not been destroyed in Nigeria?

Minister: Even he himself has said this matter should be left for history. I believe that was a wise word to say. He did a lot of good, he did a lot of good, and nobody is perfect. He did a lot of good. He is a very talented man, and sometimes, being talented can come with a very big price. Relations can afford to be more appreciative of such talent.

NNews: We really appreciate taking your time to talk to us at the NigerianNews, we hope we can continue where we stopped on Friday. Again, thank you very much for having us Sir.

Minister: We have only one country, you know, my plea is, as they say here in America with the MoveOn.org, we should just move on. If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we may lose the future. and in this matter, in this matter I think you put little more introspective, and rather than I looking at the other person and say that one did this and that one did that and all that, I should look at myself and say no matter how good I am, Is there anything extra I could have done for Nigeria that I have not done? Even if the best of us ask ourselves that question, we would find that there is still little extra we could do for Nigeria we have not done. Let each of us be the change we want to see in that beautiful country, and it can be done

NNews: Thank you  Mr. Hon. Minister.

Footnote: The planned Friday continuation was not possible because of the Minister's schedule.


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