In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, a former National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and a House of Representatives aspirant, Sani Zorro, explains why he is in the race, why Jonathan should not implement the Report of the 2014 National Conference and the role of the media in promoting democracy, among other issues.
PT: Why are you contesting for House for Representatives? I recall you contested for the same position in 2011. What is the catch?
Zorro: First of all, it is true that I ran for the House of Representatives seat comprising four local government areas in Jigawa State in 2011. According to official result, I polled 45,000 votes while the incumbent office holder polled 61,000 votes. But it was later discovered that the election was rigged in his favour. But that is neither here nor there because that is in the past. I am interested in the House of Representatives for two reasons: One is that it is the more vibrant of the two chambers in the National Assembly. This is in tune with my own orientation as a trade unionist, a freedom fighter and a journalist. I realised that it is in the House of Representatives that people express themselves most and it affords you the opportunity to meet and network with fellow Nigerians from various backgrounds and competencies and also across gender as well as age groups.
That is where the strategic population is also concentrated because that’s where you have the youngest people with multi-disciplinary backgrounds, exuding energy and knowledge on how the country could be properly governed. That mix will be natural to me as a journalist because as you know very well, journalism is the only profession that serves as an umbrella for all branches of knowledge. In fact the media is the platform and delivery mechanism on which all branches of knowledge rotate or converge. With 33-year background in the media, I am confident that I will be relevant and can bring a lot of experience and professionalism to the table.
PT: What exactly do you want to accomplish if elected. In other words, what is your vision?
Zorro: I have a vision to offer service and collaborate with Nigerians to deliver on three areas. First of all, I will make impact in my constituency. Personal experience has shown that my constituency is probably the most backward and the most disadvantaged in Jigawa State. It is also one of the most poverty-stricken in Nigeria as a whole. This is because this constituency is the only part of Jigawa State that does not have natural water as in either stream or pond or river. It also comprises of two local governments that are already devastated by desertification such that the timeline for rainfall is three months. After the three months, young people exuding energy leave their families to travel to various parts of Nigeria to engage in manual labour. In some cases, they are seen as security risk and so many of them have lost their lives over the years because of this.
Within the context of the ongoing insurgency whose roots are from northern Nigeria, poor and illiterate people who roam about without any form of identification become victims in the operations of security forces. Having watched a presentation titled, “Economic Environment of Villages and Towns,” by the National Bureau of Statistics, I found that we are in a deep mess.
Secondly, I want to be judged as a reformist. I have considered the activities of the legislature and am interested in driving a reform process to make it better. In the course of my career, both as a journalist and as an aide in the Presidency and to a minister, I have benefited from reform programmes which I believe should be extended to the legislature and the public sector in very decisive ways. I will not look the way of oil and gas. I will rather go to the difficult ones and see how I can tackle them with colleagues who share similar interest.
Thirdly, I can’t imagine myself being at any level of government without showing that I am distinctively a journalist. In other words, I want to be seen as a media ambassador. But I don’t like the way public officers abuse the media. The operations of the media transcend every aspect of life and are so amazing especially in the 21st Century. It is the media that drive governance and development.
PT: Going by what you said about your constituency, it seems its current representative hasn’t done anything to improve the lives of the people.
Zorro: I believe that every leader operates within the environment he finds himself. Sometimes it is not even fair to criticise people behind them.
PT: You spoke about the media. There are many media practitioners in the National Assembly. It seems you feel they have not projected the media very well.
Zorro: There are so many issues to tackle at the National Assembly that they sometimes forget they are media practitioners. Issues on the Order Paper are not journalism-based, but issues of social sector which one might not have known. When they get interested and get consumed in them, they tend to temporary forget their professional background. Members are open to a new world entirely and they forget whether they are journalists or architects.
That is not what I am accusing my colleagues. I know that that is what it is all about. While I will perform normal legislative duties, I will also be mindful of my media background.
I did the same thing at the 2014 National Conference. I had no option but keep talking to my colleagues. I had the honour to lead the Nigerian journalists for four good years and made a name. Whatever I became 20 years after I left office, it is journalism that conferred it on me. That is why I will continue to project the image and defend what is defensible in journalism practice.
PT: You were a member of the 2014 National Conference. What do you think about the Report of the Conference?
Zorro: The long and short of it is that the N7 billion sunk into it and the time and energy invested in the whole process didn’t deliver. It was basically a fraud. You will recall that the National Assembly has finished its work on constitutional amendment it began two years ago. It has sent its report to the state houses of assembly for concurrence. In the life of this National Assembly, it will not look at any other input.
As I am talking to you, the Presidency did not forward its input to the National Assembly until after it had finished its work and so the whole conference thing was a waste. They did it to deceive people. That is what happened. Nigerians do not know. Politicians have a disposition to deceive and that is why we journalists are their permanent enemies. It is a cat and mouse game with them because they know we know them. When pressure is too much on a politician he is always looking for an escape route and he will create one to divert your attention because that is the only way he will succeed.
The greatest losers of the National Conference were politicians from the South who came with only two items on their agenda – resource control and new constitution which they did not get. They thought they could achieve this by coming together but they forget that politics is about geography and there are issues that untie people from one particular area.
PT: Don’t forget that the president said he will implement those recommendations? He restated this commitment on Tuesday when he formally declared his re-election bid.
Zorro: There were three levels of recommendations. There were some that came as policies – those ones are implementable either by the president or governor as it affects the different tiers of government. The second level of recommendation could only be processed through constitutional amendment. For instance, if they want to create states, they have to amend the constitution. The constitution has listed the number of states and local governments. The final level of recommendations can be achieved through the federal or state legislature.
Why I said that the 2014 National Conference was a sham is that they tried to smuggle in a new constitution, which they called 2014 Constitution into the Conference and we told them ‘no,’ we have seen where you are going and you will not use us because the president is mired in a third term controversy.
The only way he can escape from this controversy is to contest on a new Constitution because the one we are operating now is time-bound. He cannot do more than two terms. The controversy now is whether he has done two terms and he is going into a third term. He has taken oath twice. So, the only way is to contest on a new constitution. He wanted to benefit from the judgment given in the suit involving former governors like Abubakar Audu, Bukar Ibrahim, etc. That is why they assembled us. There were many unsuspecting delegates among us but we exposed them. When they received the conference report and in line with what government and civil servants do, they attempted to tamper with it. For instance, when we ended the conference, we declared support in principle for the creation of additional states from the South East but that the request and all other requests from other parts of the country must be duly processed by the National Assembly. But what happened? PREMIUM TIMES scooped a story and we saw a new partition of the states. They added 18 new states. For instance, Apa State. Apa is just the Idoma-speaking part of Benue. So you cannot be wrong if you say it was allocated to the Senate President, David Mark.
PT: When you discovered the deceit of the presidency, why didn’t you opt out of the Conference?
Zorro: We exposed them. There was a committee headed by Ibrahim Gambari. The beauty and excitement of politics is that at plenary you disagree and rain abuses but at night or at the foyer, you meet because it is interest.
PT: When we started this interview you said some complimentary things about the House of Representatives. How would you assess the current House?
Zorro: To validate what I said about the House of Representatives, even in the United States of America, you discover that members of the House of Representatives are more dynamic as opposed to their counterparts in the Senate which is somehow conservative. Some senators there have spent over 40 years in the US Senate and so you cannot expect any radical thinking because the operating system is old.
PT: We appear to be moving in that direction in Nigeria. Already, some senators of the PDP are agitating for more years in the Senate. But it seems you are critical of lawmakers staying more years?
Zorro: Politicians are gamers and selfish people. This debate in favour or against them staying in the Senate forever is wrong. They should go and impress it on their constituents. Political parties should not decide whether you should stay there forever or you should leave there before Christmas. The electorate should decide that. But because they are selfish, many of them have come with the intention to accumulate money and to use their positions as a license for looting the treasury and impoverished the country with the executive.
PT: In clear terms, what are you saying?
Zorro: Let the electorate decide whether an individual senator should serve many terms through a free and fair election. We missed what we should have debated at the National Conference. We didn’t debate the suitability of either the presidential or the parliamentary system. I would have opted for parliamentary system. The Northerners, like the South-West delegates, also believed in that. The North is a plural society unlike the southern part of the country. The North is a made up of more ethnic nationalities than the South. There are 357 linguistic groups in the northern part of the country. It is about 100 in the south. To achieve a consensus in the North is difficult.
PT: The Northerners never pushed for parliamentary system
Zorro: No. Initially, it was Southern Nigeria against the North. It was later we tested ourselves and understood we could not do without each other. When the South-South people came with resource control what we did was to research into allocation of funds. And then we started horse-trading. That was how we agreed in principle to support an additional state in the South-East. It was the presidency that came up with 18 states. We never knew anything about 18 states. In the Conference report, we mentioned those who submitted memoranda for the creation of states but we didn’t approve the creation of states or local governments. It was the presidency that cooked up the number because they said they want to bridge the gap between the north and the south. With what they have done, 8 new states are allocated to the North while they gave the South 10. Now we have equal number of states.
PT: Are you saying that the Conference Report sent to the presidency is fake?
Zorro: That is what we are saying. It is discredited. We don’t have a report because it has been discredited. We don’t have a report because we have disowned it.
PT: Back to your political ambition, on which platform are you contesting the election?
Zorro: APC. In 2011, I contested on the platform of ACN and this time I am of the APC.
PT: Is APC visible in Jigawa State
Zorro: Yes it is. We won the election but were rigged out because the federal government used its coercive forces. I can assure you that APC is visible.
PT: What is your strength this time around compared to the other time?
Zorro: So much has happened. The gentleman that has been in office for three terms has been refused automatic ticket by the PDP. So, naturally his support base has been collapsed into my own structure and he too has now defected to the APC. Another thing in my favour is that the ACN is one of the three parties that merged, and from 2011 to date I have been active. I do visitation. When they lose dear ones we go to see them, I don’t have any problem with anyone, and I am for the people. I am pro-poor. My father was a NEPU activist. He was also a member of Kano State House of Assembly – then we were with Kano under the PRP. I was a member of PRP youth wing while in school. I started with the Socialist Party for Workers, Farmers and Youth.
In order to secure ourselves in the North-West we embrace APC. PDP has failed to provide security for the nation and so APC has the capacity to bring insurgency to an end once and for all. Our people believe this government cannot tackle insurgency. In fact they believe the government is fuelling insurgency. Our people want a government that can provide security.
PT: Does APC have the capacity to dislodge the PDP?
Zorro: The APC has the capacity politically to dislodge the PDP in a free and fair contest. It also has the capacity to bring this insurgency to an end in one or two ways – through the military or negotiations.