We still see Saraki as our brother —Ekiti PDP chair

Gboyega Oguntuwase, a lawyer and former Commissioner for Information in Ekiti State, is the current state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He speaks with SAM NWAOKO on the party, its government in the state and beyond and sundry issues. Excerpts:

SINCE you were elected the chairman of PDP in Ekiti State earlier in the year, how would you describe the challenges of the new office?

We bless God because we inherited a party with good structure. We inherited a party with good elders and leaders; we inherited a party with a powerful youth vanguard, we inherited a party with a viable women’s vanguard. It is also gratifying that we inherited a party with a visionary leading the government in the person of Dr. Peter Ayodele Fayose. So with all these, it becomes rather easy to handle the affairs of the party in the state, because all the arms making up the party are more than willing to cooperate with a reasonable, respectful, accessible, humble and patriotic chairman. And I’m ready to make myself exactly like that.

But the impression out there is that your party in the state is in factions?

There are no fragments or factions in our party in the state. Before you can talk about fragments, there are four to five groups in the party but we have none of such in PDP in Ekiti State, neither is there a faction. However, in any normal political setting, it is normal to have people with dissenting opinions. Since we are not ready to muzzle opposition, since we are not ready to prevent people from airing opinions that are contrary to the majority opinion, it may appear as if there are some people who are not sagging the thing as had been agreed upon by the majority of the people. It does not mean that we are in faction. It does not mean that we are fragmented, we are only exhibiting democratic tendencies as it is known with the PDP.

The PDP, even at the national level, offers a very fertile democratic terrain for everybody to air their opinions, freely mix and assemble, and freely canvass for votes. In Ekiti, we allow people to state their opinions within the party and even when they are not agreeing with acceptable opinions of the party, we allow them to use the party’s structure to achieve whatever would be in the interest of the party. This is because, whether you agree with the party or not, all of us must always focus on the success of the united party. Interestingly, those that went away at a point in the party, I’ve seen them come back to the party and we welcome them as leaders and members of the party. We’ve not seen them as estranged and we are back together.

This variant of unity doesn’t seem to be the same thing at the national level of your party. Given what we see of the big picture, doesn’t it worry you that the PDP doesn’t seem to be cohesive as it should be?

In any democratic set up, there are various challenges. As far as I am concerned, the current Modu Sheriff versus Ahmed Makarfi issue in the party is transient. It will be over. That is the opinion of people who believe in the real soul of the PDP. Our body may be bruised but our soul is vibrant and is getting more magnetic everyday and every time. Those who truly believe and who genuinely believe that no matter the challenges, they have nowhere to go but to remain in PDP, know that this is transient. We have even come to see from the current realisation that it is better for us to settle our differences internally than for you to protest and say you’re going to any party, including the ruling party at the federal, which is the All Progressives Congress (APC).

For instance, look at the travails of our man, Dr Bukola Saraki, the President of the Senate. He left us. Even though he left us, we still see him as our brother. But he spent the entirety of all he had to exalt the APC because he was protesting against PDP. Today, the same APC wants to dehumanise him and destroy the entire Saraki dynasty. This clearly shows that there is no greener pasture politically than the PDP for a real and genuine democrat. For those who want to try it, when they leave us, they get there and they are disappointed because they don’t have a place where they can air their opinions.

About Alhaji Sheriff, it is a normal situation, he is airing his opinion and we allow him to so do. However, we are urging him to do so in such a way that exhibits reasonableness. We urge him to act within the limits and the confines of party discipline and we are appealing to him to see the future of PDP as more important than anything he may be considering personally for now. The governors are not divided. The members of the National Assembly are not divided because 90 per cent of them are with Alhaji Makarfi. All the party state chairmen have pledged our support for Makarfi. We are not fighting Sheriff because he is our brother, we only ask that he sees our cooperative hand.

You don’t seem to agree with a section of your party which believes that Sheriff is a mole in your party, sent to destroy it as we inch towards another general election?

Some leaders have expressed that opinion. I respect those leaders. But as far as I am concerned, I am still giving him time before I make up my mind. If this attitude of recalcitrance continues, then the position stated by those leaders may appear to be the truth.

Then there is also the allure of the APC. Not a few of your party’s members are of the opinion that the APC provides a ready platform to express themselves. Are you not worried?

Anybody who goes to APC is embarking on an expedition into political perdition. We all can see that, increasingly, the APC is becoming more unpopular everyday. This is a reality and nearly all Nigerians are aware of this.

How do you mean?

I mean that anybody who goes to the filling station to buy fuel at N145 per litre instead of the N87 he was buying the same quantity, will not be praying for APC. Anybody who does business and was getting foreign exchange at a much lower rate than what we have now that Naira to a dollar is about N411, cannot pray for APC. The economic consequences of these on manufacturing and on other sectors of employment are there and they are glaring. The impact of these on the prices of all goods, including feeding each family, has become so terrible. Unfortunately, the APC, through its policies, is daily telling Nigerians that it was not prepared for governance and that it had no economic agenda that could make Nigeria better. All these make the APC canopy to be tearing to pieces and is even ablaze. So, anyone who wants to rush there is doing so at his or her own risk.

As far as I am concerned, a few people might not be fully satisfied with the PDP but the party has a viable and vibrant structure that could take care of all those things without even resorting to litigation or publicity. Our party structure is sufficiently prepared to do justice to any complaint anybody can have. If anybody is talking about APC today without looking at the economic realities, they are just making a mockery of themselves. Check Edo State, they are losing ground and they will lose the election in Edo. They can’t even access Ondo State, and that tells you their situation outside frantic, vigorous propaganda. So, where are they? Which new state are they getting? Where is their popularity?

Isn’t your conclusion that APC is unattractive applicable to your state, where the belief is that the inability to pay salaries and accompanying economic hardship is a doing of your PDP?

Everybody is affected by the non-payment of salaries, a scion of the poor economic policies of the APC-led Federal Government. In fact, this is common to about 30 states of the federation. The governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Ayo Fayose, has that advantage of history. He was a governor of this state and at no point in time did he wait till the 26th day of the month before he paid salaries. And of course, the people of the state had come to realise that the financial situation was caused by the APC government of Dr. Kayode Fayemi. They took loans and bonds that have resulted in monthly deductions that cripple the state’s income from the federation account.

In this state, the majority of what we spend comes from the Federation Account but more than half of the state’s allocations, amounting to nearly N1.2 billion, is deducted to repay the loans. So, for a state whose allocation is N2 billion on the average and N1.2bilkion is deducted, it is left with barely nothing to take care of the expenses. That is the result of the economic crimes by the former APC government. The second angle to it is that Ekiti people understand that the Federal Government bailout is a farce. All they did was to try to see if they could elongate our repayment of loans. It is not as if they were sending in any money to take care of the outstanding salaries and a reasonable Federal Government ought to have taken care of that when you know it is a common thing to almost all the states of the federation. You would have declared an economic emergency. Our people in Ekiti know that the state government is acting within the limit of its capacity and the limits of the realities it had met on the ground.

Is that you message to the people of the state?

I would rather tell my people in PDP that it is our own and that all other land is sinking sand. They should not go into self-captivity. PDP is home and you can attain the height that you want in the PDP without anybody harassing you. Under my chairmanship and by the grace of God, anyone who wants to contest for any position will be encouraged to do so so long as such ambition will not jeopardise the the intest of Ekiti people.

There is freedom of expression in PDP and if there are complaints anywhere, we have the relevant machinery go take care. The PDP in Ekiti State will continue to allow Ekiti to be at peace. For instance, under this regime, we have not recorded any murder or assassination. We have not recorded any intimidadatuon against any party, contrary to what we experienced under the Fayemi regime. Then PDP was under siege. In Emure, they killed two people; in Erijiyan, they killed two people; in Ado Ekiti, they killed Omolafe Aderiye, in Omuo, they killed another PDP man. We assure that we will not experience any bloodletting or anything untoward meted out to anyone because of politics. Under the PDP, we will give everybody the platform to operate democratically and everyone will achieve his or her ambition as ordained by God.