Prof. Jerry Gana, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in this interview monitored on Channels Television speaks on the court ruling that led to his emergence as the party’s presidential flag bearer and other issues relating to next month’s presidential election. Excerpts:
You were at your party’s presidential primaries and when that happened, you were obviously not happy. The criticism from the other side of the divide in your party is that it wasn’t a demonstration of good sportsmanship?
Essentially, there is a sense in which that is not a correct position. It wasn’t a question of challenging the processes, but the rule of law is part of democracy and this is very important. If a party agreed together on a particular constitution with provisions in the constitution to govern the processes, the people and indeed the legal system expect that we respect the provisions of that constitution. So, I went to court on the point of law and not on the processes that took place at the convention. Also, Article 15(3) of our constitution, which was very popular, provided for zoning and rotation, and that the two key offices of the national chairman and presidential candidate of the party cannot be from the same section of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I think this is good because we have all agreed that at this point in Nigeria’s that growth there should be a balance of development, so that the people can have a feeling of belonging in the governance of their nation. It was a very popular provision of our party, we all agreed on it, but it was violated in the sense that while the national chairman of our party comes from the southern part of Nigeria, Ondo State to be precise, we didn’t expect that the presidential candidate of our party will come from the same southern part of the country. That was very clearly known, indeed our party chairman, in explaining our constitution, made it abundantly clear to the nation long before the electoral process that we are expecting that the candidate of the party will emerge either from North Central, North-West or North-East.
But suddenly, some two or three weeks before the primaries, we saw former Governor Donald Duke from Cross River State emerging as one of the aspirants and a number of us were surprised that he was coming out to go in for that office. In fact, I knew an aspirant, Yinka from Ogun State, earlier indicated interest to run for the presidential primaries, but when the party’s provision was explained to him, he accepted not to run and said he will wait for the turn of the South. So, it was a question of the agreement we reached and constitutionally provided for that is why I went to court and the court ruled and gave a judgement which confirms that political parties are expected to obey their own rules and regulations in their constitution.
It is, in fact, a very clear Supreme Court ruling and the judge alluded and quoted copiously from source. So, it wasn’t that I wasn’t happy, but was just that I want due process to be followed because we are laying a foundation for democracy and the rule of law is part of democracy. Nobody should, as it were, violate their own constitution to proceed and to do things that are really not right.
Does the absence of your party’s national chairman at your formal presidential campaign launch over the weekend in Abuja signify that you don’t have the support of the party’s structure behind you and maybe it was only the court that is behind you?
No, that is not totally possible because most people who have been very observant about the processes and emergence of the Social Democratic Party in a very vital way this time, know that I played a very key role in reviving, empowering and making the party very popular. We came in around April/May of 2018 and we did an excellent job. I came in as the chairman of the steering committee and made sure that the party that was fairly small became a real nationwide party. Therefore, most people knew that I was a very central figure in the new status of the party.
On the event that you alluded to in Abuja, I want you to know that 90 per cent of the leaders of the party were either there or indicated by text messages that they would have loved to be there except that they were not close by in Abuja. The national chairman himself, I believe, never raised any objection to me as such, it is just that he felt that an aspirant has gone for an appeal, but I am not aware of it because no papers have been served on me. Therefore, we are going by the judgment of the court because we believe in the rule of law and we believe in obeying court orders. So, I was doing something that was legal and proper because the process of appeal, though we have been hearing about it, was not served on us at all.
Going forward, what is your plan because a lot of people are suggesting that your party should adopt a political solution to the issue because the court will set your party back if Donald Duke gets another judgement and it’s just about 40 days to the presidential election?
We have no objection at all to a political solution and indeed we pursued it, but it didn’t come to any serious conclusion. Our people from the North, particularly the North Central, where the party is very strong, just feel that this was not just right, it wasn’t proper and it’s something that shouldn’t really have happened. I agree entirely if there is something of political solution, but it should be very clear who should be considerate at this time. Most Nigerians knew that when it was the turn of the South-South during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I was in the PDP then, I was at the forefront of the struggle.
In fact, I was the chairman of the G-20 when people from my part of the country didn’t give former President Goodluck Jonathan a chance to stand. We stood firm and they asked why, we told them that it was a constitutional thing and they should be given the opportunity. I mobilised, I was in the forefront, I debated and I went everywhere. So, many of our people are extremely sad and angry that this should be happening to me.
What would you say to those who are clamouring for new ideas and new a generation of leaders, some of them who may criticise people like you as part of the old order?
I am sure you remember that I have been in the forefront of political mobilisation way back in the ’80s and ’90s and really mobilising the younger generation to come into this. I have absolutely nothing against the young ones coming up and I can see a number of the young generation who are already in the race. But you see, you also have to respond to a particular situation. Many of our people are supporting my candidature because there are some very serious matters needed to be resolved at this point in our nation-building. These are issues that relate to the very structure of Nigeria and they are saying that on some of these issues, there shouldn’t be in a situation whereby we have people who may not understand history, the issues involved and the matters that should be resolved.
Therefore, many of them know that we are vibrant on these issues and they said we should give Prof. a chance because, on matters like these he has been in the many of the conferences over the years, I am talking about restructuring and other issues. We cannot miss this opportunity to lay a solid foundation for Nigeria’s growth and transformation. We will do a merger of the two, the older and the youth. We will drive the process together with a clear understanding of synergy and partnership. As a teacher, I have taught many of them and they believe in me. The important thing is not about biological age, but it’s a question of ideas. I remain relevant and up to date in these matters.