The role of competence in national progress is one that has been glossed over for a long time in Nigerian politics. Much emphasis has been placed on zoning of political offices and federal character in public appointments.
But to an opposition party, the National Transformation Party (NTP), competence should not be sacrificed for federal character and zoning of public offices in the country. Speaking in an interview, Emmanuel Mok, national chairman of NTP says: “We have different ethnic groups with different cultures and different aspirations. Nigeria is a diverse country. At the formative stage of Nigeria, federal character was put in the constitution by the founding fathers for equity in the distribution of resources and for even positions in government. Over the years the issue of federal character has become an albatross on Nigeria’s development. You have a situation where examinations are done and you have different cut-off points for different regions of the country. It is the same thing about zoning. In NTP what we are looking at is that there is need for equity but competence should not be sacrificed on the altar of federal character because basically zoning is addressing the issue of federal character.”
Mok says in the first republic Nigerians contested and won elections in areas different from their ethnic regions, adding that at that time there was a lot of emphasis on competence. He cited as example the late Samuel Goomsu Ikoku, who stood for election into the Eastern House of Assembly in the first republic against his father, the late Alvan Ikoku and defeated the elder Ikoku. According to him, the younger Ikoku, from the present Abia State, ran for Calabar seat in the Eastern House of Assembly and not for his own ethnic origin.
The NTP chairman says what gave rise to the clamour for zoning and federal character was the tendency of elected public officers to concentrate projects and amenities in their areas of origin to the disadvantage of other parts of the state or country as the case may be. “Imagine if you have a governor turning a state around people will not remember where he comes from,” he says.
Perhaps besides the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) where the issue of zoning has relegated other important issues confronting the nation to the background, the NTP is one of the few parties that have come out clearly to articulate a position on zoning and federal character as they affect merit and competence in nation building.
For all its effort NTP is a new party that was officially registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) on December 2, 2009. So without the power of incumbency at any level from the local government to the president and all tiers of legislature, how does it hope to confront the behemoth that is the PDP in the 2011 general election?
Mok agrees that it is a disadvantage but quickly adds that it is not an insurmountable obstacle. “The outcome of most of the elections (held so far) have not (really) determined by the people’s votes and that is why you still have governors in court and those cross carpeting. We are mobilising to ensure that votes count. At least (President) Goodluck Jonathan has said that the lections of 2011 would be credible. He has also said results will be announced at polling booths. If votes count, we are at an advantage because those in office have already disgraced themselves, they have not performed. People will want change them,” he says.
If the party’s only hope of making impact in the 2011 election is by ensuring that the election is free and fair and also by mobilising Nigerians to vote, what effort has been made to get people who normally don’t vote to go to the polling booth and cast their vote?
Mok says “We are doing that but I won’t reveal our strategy. We know that we are different from other parties for instance you are not going to see thugs in our party. Some people might be overzealous but you won’t see that level of madness on NTP platform. We know that the only way to win any election is for people to come out and vote and so we are mobilising people.
“From the last (2007) election results only 20 to 30 percent of voters voted. Our strength lies in reaching women, the youth, professionals, ‘okada’ riders, even the armed forces. They (armed forces personnel) hardly vote. It is in the interest of the oppressors for people not to vote. We are trying to get people to vote. We are talking to different groups of the population on the need to register and to come out and vote when the time comes.”
Mok says once someone has no voter’s card, he has already disenfranchised himself. For this, he says his party has gone the extra mile to meet prospective voters in their places of worship. “We have gone out using interest groups like churches and mosques. We have reached out to their leaders to tell their congregation members to go out and register when voters’ registration begins. We are also communicating with professional associations in this regard. The elite hardly vote, so we are moblising them,” he further says.
Nigerians have seen many parties. Even in this dispensation there are up to 60 registered political parties that are going to canvass for people’s votes in 2011. Therefore, what sets NTP apart from the pack?
To this, Mok says: “The difference between two people is character. I have never had the urge of travelling out of Nigeria to live abroad. There is no reason why Nigeria should not be rich. The only reason why we are where we are is that the people leading us do not have the vision. This (NTP) is the party for people who have vision for Nigeria. If any of our elected officials steal, we will mess him up. No party has done that before.”
He says it was because of that his group decided to float a party instead of aligning with any of the existing parties. “We had wanted to use a group as a platform without registering. We found out that we have parties of people with entrenched interests. They formed the parties for different purposes. There are parties where you cannot be a candidate if you are not rich but in NTP you will be a candidate if you are not rich. On NTP platform we are looking for quality candidates. If you have been complaining that things are wrong and you have ideas on how to make Nigeria great this is your platform. We were the first party that announced that we will fund our candidates for election. We are not looking for rich people but people with ideas on how to right the wrongs of the past. We are telling everybody sow what you can. There are those who can sow N10m, there are those who can give N1,000 and if you cannot give anything and you believe in this cause join us. You cannot do this on those other platforms. There is freedom you have in NTP that you cannot get elsewhere. You cannot go to Labour Party or Accord Party for instance and say because you believe in Nigeria you will do things this way. No, they won’t agree so we needed a platform where we could actualise our dream for Nigeria. There are parties who come to us and say that they want to merge with us, we look at the people, their ideas and we are being cautious. We cannot compromise on our principles and we want to make this platform available to Nigerians who cannot compromise on those ideals,” he says.