By Oguwike Nwachuku, Baba Negedu:

Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said that the nation’s resort to the Acting Presidency as a way of stabilising the polity in the absence of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua should not be regarded as a permanent solution.

Instead, he said further steps ought to be taken to arrive at a more dependable and permanent solution to the existing political uncertainty in the country.

But from Kaduna on Saturday came a resolve by the North West zone stakeholders that they will not let go the office of the Presidency with or without President Yar’Adua’s poor health situation.

Obasasnjo spoke in Abeokuta on Thursday while fielding questions from a United States-based news magazine, NEWSWEEK, which excerpts were posted on the Internet at the weekend.

“The president was ill; anybody can be ill. I don’t believe a ‘permanent’ Acting President is a permanent solution, so I think more steps have to be taken,” Obasanjo said.

The former President’s comments on his successor, the second in this month, has also heightened concern over the ability of President Yar’Adua who has been away from the country to Saudi Arabia for more than 90 days to retain his position in the present circumstance.

It emerged at the weekend that President Yar’Adua may be impeached any moment from now, particularly if members of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) who were selected to visit him in Saudi Arabia could not bring a convincing report on the state of his health.

The former President also spoke on other national issues, including the Umar Farouk Abdulmuatallab saga, decay of infrastructure in the country despite oil money, the growing interest of China in Nigeria’s economy, corruption in the country among others.

Below is the excerpts of Obasanjo’s interview:

NEWSWEEK: For the past two months, your successor has been medically incapacitated. Has the recent appointment of Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President defused the crisis?

Obasanjo: The president was ill; anybody can be ill. I don’t believe a “permanent” Acting President is a permanent solution, so I think more steps have to be taken.

NEWSWEEK: After the Christmas bomb attempt by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, should we be worried that Nigeria is the next terrorist launch-pad?

Obasanjo: That is absolutely false. A young, impressionable boy was captured and brainwashed. That should be regarded as an aberration. But we were slow in reacting. We should have condemned terrorism everywhere. The father of the boy was a minister when I was military Head of State, a complete gentleman. What did he do or not do? How did this happen? How can we prevent another Abdulmutallab? All this, we want to know. The U.S. authorities should know Nigerians are serious.

NEWSWEEK: The majority of Nigeria’s wealth comes from oil, yet its infrastructure and development lag behind much of Africa. Is there truth to the oil curse?

Obasanjo: I believe God knew what he was doing when he put oil under our ground. It should be a means to an end. (But) when we realised we were an oil-producing country, we neglected sectors like agriculture. Every Nigerian started to live on oil. We were not leaving anything for a rainy day. But for the first time since independence, our agricultural sector grew by seven per cent for four years (during my term).

NEWSWEEK: What do you say to China’s increasing economic domination—some would call colonisation— of Africa?

Obasanjo: I take offence to calling it colonisation. The Chinese are investing in Africa just as they are investing in America. The Americans are in the greatest debt to China today, so is that colonisation? We regard America and Europe as old friends. We keep old friends but we make new friends in Japan, India, and China.

NEWSWEEK: Is Obama not doing enough in Africa?

Obasanjo: I was not expecting that he would open the U.S. Treasury for Africa. President Obama is an American, and what is paramount for him is the American interest. If Obama tried to do too much for Africa, it would be counterproductive.

NEWSWEEK: You attempted to reform the notoriously corrupt bureaucracy. What are the lessons here for other African leaders?

Obasanjo: Eradicating corruption is not a one-day affair. Before I came in, corruption was a way of life, particularly in the ministries. But we cannot load the ministries with all party men. It’s a question of finding the right person for the job.

NEWSWEEK: Who on the continent is doing a good job?

Obasanjo: A country that has managed very well is Botswana. They don’t do things to please anybody; they do things to satisfy their own country. If you want to take an individual, (Rwandan President) Paul Kagame, maybe because of what the experience of genocide has taught him.

NEWSWEEK: Are you optimistic about Africa?

Obasanjo: When I left office in 1979, I was about the only one who had really left public office on my own. Today, we have almost a dozen in Africa. When I was in government, I had in the reserves $3.7 billion. After eight years, after paying a debt of $34 billion, we still had $45 billion left, and the growth of the economy was between six to seven per cent per annum. So, you see, it has been done before.

Meanwhile, the North West zone of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said on Saturday that not withstanding the poor health situation of President Yar’Adua the zone must complete its tenure of eight years in the Presidency.

The zone said that the Constitution of the party that zoned the seat to it must be followed and that it is not ready to let go.

The zone said the PDP zoned the seat of the Presidency to the North and the North West in particular just as the South West, during the era of President Obasanjo, enjoyed theirs. It said the zone is determined to ensure that nothing stands on its way as regards completing its tenure of eight years.

Briefing newsmen after its zonal executive meeting in Kaduna on Saturday, the zone noted that it is quite aware that mischief makers are trying to truncate that objective, adding that its members in the National Assembly have been sensitised on the need to support President Yar’Adua to make sure he completes his tenure.

Baba Lawal Aliyu, the party’s zonal Secretary who briefed newsmen said that “it has become a tradition of the party to always seek a second term in office for its members as the situation always enables them to complete any project that must have been started in the first tenure.”

“The party has zoned the Presidency to the North and to the North West zone and it is our tenure and we intended to proceed for the next eight years tenure irrespective of its occupant. Even in the event that the President cannot continue we are still laying claim to that eight years tenure.”

Among those present at the meeting included Governor Namadi Sambo (Kaduna), Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), Usman Dakingari (Kebbi), Mahoud Shinkafi (Zamfara), the Vice Chairman North, Bello Haliru, FCT Minister Adamu Aliero, Minister of State Information and Communications, Ikra Bilbis, Vice Chairman PDP North West, Danladi Sankara and the members of the National Assembly from the zone.

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