The legal adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-West, Mr Sunday Ojo-Williams, speaks with Oluwole Ige on the recent stakeholders’ meeting of the party in Ekiti State; the leadership crisis in the PDP and the 2018 governorship election in Osun State, among other issues. Excerpts:
YOUR party just concluded its stakeholders meeting in Ado Ekiti. What was it all about?
It was a stakeholders’ conference where our leaders in the South-West met to review the goings on within the party in order to fashion out a way forward. You must have heard of the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, which expressed the South-West PDP leadership’s solidarity and vote of confidence in the National Caretaker Committee under Senator Ahmed Makarfi and the zonal executive. It was a significant milestone in the South-West PDP, considering the calibre of leaders that attended and also given the fact the Ali Modu Sheriff’s onslaught is an affront on Yoruba interests in the PDP and the future of the party. This is because it is the turn of the South-West zone to produce the national chairman. Why should Ali Modu Sheriff stand in our way?
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted to have said that the PDP is dead. What is your take on this?
Wherever you see people like Governor [Ayo] Fayose, Chief Bode George, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, former Governor Gbenga Daniel, Professor Olu Agbi, Joju Fadairo, Segun Adegoke, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, Honourable Oladipupo Adebutu, past and present zonal chairman in the South-West such as Alhaji Tajudeen Ladipo and Dr Eddy Olafeso, among others, all these and a host of others, you will know that the PDP is in serious business. PDP is, of course, alive. Indeed, it has become the live issue in Nigeria’s politics today. Only on March 15, the Northern region’s elders met and resolved to support Senator Makarfi and strengthen the party.
Coming back to Obasanjo’s remark, you need to relate it to the context in which he was speaking; a context of a vengeful government at the centre; a government that is at war with all democratic institutions and out to liquidate all voices of dissent, decimate the opposition by killing and outlawing the PDP. It is a war against Nigeria itself. And PDP is a miniature Nigeria put together at one time to salvage the country from the precipice to which Abacha’s totalitarian rule had pushed it. Baba Obasanjo might the not have been apt in his choice of words; he might have meant to say:
“I hope they will not kill Nigeria the way they are killing the PDP.” Whenever Chief Obasanjo speaks, he has a specific audience, who in this context are his colleagues; those who put PDP together and invited him to lead. To me, Baba was sending a coded message telling them that the baby they laboured so much upon was being killed, hoping that the country does not die with it. And you can see his audience charging back instantly through General Ibrahim Babangida, assuring that the PDP will soon retake power and rule for 60 years, confessing that they remained the military wing of the PDP. You can see people like [Sule] Lamido and [Rabiu] Kwankwaso warming up for 2019. So, the PDP is not dead.
So, the problem in the party, is really beyond Sheriff/Makarfi?
Yes and no! Yes, because the APC administration would have used other people, aside Sheriff. They already have a script to clamp down on the opposition, for instance, the EFCC, with this patently partisan anti-corruption crusade and the DSS, which as you can see, has openly taken sides to empower Sheriff. INEC is also there, which could be used to frustrate any candidate as they did in the case of Eyitayo Jegede in Ondo State, whose list of party agents were discountenanced by the INEC for that of his opponent, Jimoh Ibrahim. Of course, the army could be brought in as they have done in a number of places to intimidate voters and opponents of the ruling party. People tend to see the PDP problem as factionalisation but I think the problem is far deeper. It all started as a leadership crisis, but has degenerated into a plot by the APC government to liquidate the PDP just as it happened in the Action Group days under Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Don’t forget that the APC administration has devoted the past two years of its rule to castrate all opposition, rendering them prostrate ahead of 2019. You can see it through its actions and inactions over terrorism; its inaction over the herdsmen menace, its lopsided ethnic appointments, and in the use of the police, the INEC and others agencies. You can see it through its intimidation of democratic organs like the national leadership and the Judiciary. Sheriff has made himself a politically-cheaper option, a cat’s paw for the ruling party in this destabilisation role that you see him playing out, thereby putting into question his credentials as a democrat.
He was to serve out the unexpired tenure of three months left for Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and Adam Mu’azu from the North-East; three months and no more. The tenure did not belong to him personally but to the North-East, which expired even before the Port Harcourt convention. To be fair, some of us saw what was coming and forewarned those that mattered. We were worried about his destructive records in the APP and later ANPP; how he fought with Bola Tinubu in APC for its leadership before joining the PDP to seek vengeance, his family relationship with President [Muhammadu] Buhari and all that. The BoT agreed with us and rejected him outright back then, to the extent that the BoT initially shunned the Port Harcourt convention. But, they came down when they heard that Sheriff had stepped down as chairman in order to contest.
Today, Sheriff has betrayed the trust and confidence reposed in him by those who rooted for him at the time and has liquidated the little political goodwill that he had. Even his Borno State chapter of the PDP has declared support for Senator Makarfi.
Coming to Osun State, how is the PDP faring and how prepared are you for the 2018 governorship election?
Well, the schism at the national level also has some kind of ripple effects here, I must admit. But we are relating with the misled followers of Sheriff and the response is heart-warming. Already, the Sheriff faction has declared their acceptance of Omisore as the PDP leader in Osun State.
On 2018, we as a party and the majority of Osun indigenes are tired of the APC administration in the state. [Rauf] Aregbesola’s government, (if you can call it one), has run the economy aground. Grinding poverty, capital flight, youth unemployment and general discontent are pervasive. Even in the APC itself, complaints are rife. For seven years now, no council elections; for two years, there have been no board appointments, only Ogbeni and his Lagos boys alone are having a field day. I tell you the people are ready to send the APC packing.
Recently, the director of publicity, research and strategy of the APC in Osun, Mr Kunle Oyatomi granted an interview, stating that Aregbesola’s two-term tenure has put an end to Omisore’s governorship ambition or dream. What is your reaction to this assertion?
That statement is very preposterous. What gives him that notion? We all know how Aregbesola came into government through the Appeal Tribunal way back in 2010. Aregbesola lost the 2007 election to [former Governor Olagunsoye] Oyinlola but succeeded in manipulating the judiciary, a police security report and the Appeal panel that heard his petition. You remember the controversial judgment of Justice Clara Ogunbiyi and the role of retired Justice Ayo Salami. I was involved. Where was Kunle Oyatomi then? Coming to 2014, Omisore won the election with nearly 300,000 votes but through INEC connivance in inflating votes at questionable and illegal polling units tagged voting points, Aregbesola was declared winner. Again, I was involved and saw it all. Prior to that election, we had confronted Professor Attahiru Jega at the Leisure Spring Hotel, Osogbo with hard facts about detailed APC rigging plans already perfected. We told him how voters from Alimosho in Lagos, and Abidjan in Ivory Coast were recruited to Osun to overload the voter register; how fake additional units called voting points were created for the purposes of rigging. Jega remained adamant and I led the PDP to walk out on him. Osun traditional rulers, in solidarity, followed us. But the Osun electorate are wiser now and they are the ones, not the likes of Oyatomi, who will decide over Omisore’s ambition to rescue the state from the debilitating debt regime and social backwardness into which Ogbeni Aregbesola has plunged it. Let Oyatomi face the multifarious factional problems in his crisis-ridden APC in Osun State and the disgrace they have foisted on the country at Abuja. Genuine indigenes of Osun State will decide their future in 2018.
On Wednesday, the Senate, again, rejected the nomination of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). What is your reaction to the rejection?
It is a reassuring development coming from the Senate. Legally speaking, the Senate has supervisory roles over all commissions and agencies of the Federal Government; so under the theory of separation of powers, you will know that this is one the checks and balances we are talking about. Mr President has power to hire and fire, but that does not stop with him. It doesn’t begin and end with him. He has to rise above partisanship, tribal and ethnic affiliation and he should comply with the principle of Federal Character Commission and also see that things are properly done. That is one the reasons the Senate must reassert itself and we are happy that they are doing that exactly now. It is unfortunate that Magu has been serving illegally for the past two years, presiding over the affairs of a sensitive agency like EFCC illegally.
Why did you say illegally, he could be in the position in acting capacity?
Yes. But what the Senate has come to hold a second time is that he has no business being there at all and anything he does now is subject to litigations. You know; going to judges’ houses to go and start looking for money, breaking into their premises in search of so-called loots in the name of anti-corruption crusade without authorisation of the law of the Senate. Similarly, getting hold of notable opposition leaders in the guise of anti-corruption crusade, arm-twisting them to collect millions and billions of naira of their hard-earned money on the pretext that these are monies received from Dasuki. All these things are still going to be subject to litigations in the future, because the Senate has rightly found he is not a competent person to head EFCC. And if he was not competent to head the agency, then all actions taken under him becomes illegal. That is my view.
How do you think the matter should be handled by President Muhammadu Buhari?
The president should accept the fact that there is separation of power under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Senate has done its part; he should look for any other credible person and forward the name of such person to the Senate for confirmation.