How we will decide zoning of presidential ticket —PDP national chairman

Acting national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Elder Yemi Akinwonmi, speaks exclusive to DARE ADEKANMBI on the crisis in the party, the zoning clamour, speculated plan by former President Goodluck Jonathan to defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC), preparations for off-cycle elections in Anambra, Osun and Ekiti states, among others.

Before you became the deputy national chairman (South), you held a key party post in the PDP as the state secretary in Ogun State during the governorship of Otunba Gbenga Daniel. How does it feel now to be acting national chairman of the party?

You got it right, but one thing you did not include in your question is that I have been a member of the PDP from its beginning in 1998. I have been in the party since and will remain a PDP member for as long as God spares my life. I am not the type of politician that will be running from one party to another. I love the philosophy of PDP and everything about me is PDP. Every time the performance of PDP in Ogun State is reviewed, I am singled out. When in 1999, the whole of the South-West did not vote for PDP, we won one local government in Ogun State and that was my local government, Ogun Waterside Local Government. Of course, when I was to become the state secretary of the party, this feat by my local government, which I was instrumental to achieving, was one of the factors considered by leaders like Chief Jubril Martins-Kuye (of blessed memory), Chief Titilayo Ajanaku and others. They said I had been a consistent PDP member staying forthright with the party in the council area. I was state secretary for almost 10 years such that people were calling me permanent secretary.

To be national chairman at this time, it is God’s grace. Before I was made national chairman, I was deputy national chairman (South), which is number two in hierarchy. I am a child of circumstance. I was in my house in Ijebu North Local Government when they beckoned on me. You know I have health challenges, but necessity demanded that I should step in to salvage the party. Right now, I am on a mission to salvage the party and it is the grace of God.

You are presiding over the party at a time when the PDP is greatly challenged. You governors are moving to the APC as do National Assembly members. In fact, there are concerns that your party may have become so weak that it would not be able to stand up to the governing party in 2023…

I can assure you that you will not hear of any defection from the PDP again whether at the state or national level. Since I came on board, we have been able to identify people that were not happy enough about the party and we went to beg and pacify them. I was with former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan recently. You should have read that in the papers. For some time, he has not been attending our NEC meetings. He assured me that he would henceforth be attending. This has laid to rest speculations over whether he is leaving the party. All our governors have accepted me and I have been talking to them warmly. I respect them. They have assured me they will work hand-in-hand with me to take the party to greater height.

Everybody is happy in the party now that there is no impunity in the party again. You can’t do anything through the back door in the party any longer. I will never allow that. I am after my name. If I do this assignment successfully, my name will be in the book of records as one of the national chairmen who did well for the party. Another opportunity could also come my way next time. In my inaugural speech at a NEC meeting, I told them I would not stay one hour longer in office after October 31. I also told them I am not interested in contesting for election. I have had enough of that. So, back to the question, by the help of God, you will not see any defection from PDP again. Rather, it will be other parties who will be joining the PDP.

Are you wooing APC members already or some of them are approaching you?

I am currently working on that. I am on the road 24 hours, talking to people, pacifying them that there is hope for PDP. PDP remains the alternative party for Nigeria. It remains the party that has helped Nigeria join the comity of respected nations. Compare Nigeria under PDP to what it is now under APC. For example, we know the value of Naira now. What is the price of petrol now? It was N87 in 2015 when Dr Jonathan was handing over to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

 

In 2003 Sir, PDP took over five of the six South-West states. Since that time, it has been very difficult for PDP to make any inroads into the South-West zone, except in 2019 when you won in Oyo State through the help of other parties joining the PDP in a coalition. 2023 is approaching, APC is boasting of winning all the states in the South-West, including Oyo State…[cuts in]

They are daydreaming. South-West was our own in 2003. We lost grounds in the zone to infighting among chieftains of the party. We have talked to ourselves and we have closed ranks. We are capitalising on the demerits of APC, on what is currently happening in the nation, banditry all around, mismanagement of economy, the suffering of Nigerians today. Nigerians are poorer than they were in 2015. This is not an issue of campaign. Nigerians can see these things themselves. The economy of Nigeria has collapsed. They said they want to fight corruption, Transparency International judged Nigeria now as the most corrupt nation in the world. This present administration is very corrupt. They judged Nigeria as a country where corruption has thrived very well. So what have they achieved? The APC has achieved nothing.

Back to the question, this is the time for the PDP to regain our lost glory. We are taking over the whole six states of South-West by the grace of God. We are working hard in Lagos now because it is the only state in the region proving difficult for us. But this 2023, we will break the jinx. Even people who voted for APC before did so because they want to gain one thing or the other from the party. Now, they have discovered they can gain nothing in APC. APC has nothing to offer them. By the grace of God, the story will be different for PDP in the South-West in 2023.

Seventeen Southern governors, both from APC and PDP met in Lagos, and said power has to come to the South in 2023. But there are those in PDP who argued that the last PDP president came from the South and it will be immoral for PDP to again pick a southern candidate. Chieftains of PDP have also argued that the sixteen years of PDP since 1999, about twelve or thirteen of those years were spent by Southern presidents. Is that the case sir?

Your analysis is very correct, but I reserve my opinion for myself alone. This is because I am a party man to the core. I follow the dictates of my party. One thing is obvious: our last presidential candidate was Atiku Abubakar who is from North-East. They did not declare him winner. We, therefore, cannot regard him as the winner. It is on record that as far as PDP is concerned, the North has never had it as much as the South. The party will work on it and consider so many factors before arriving at a zone from which our presidential candidate will emerge. The decision will be a collegiate one, We will all agree, after all indices have been considered. I believe we will never make mistake about this.

But the handwriting is already on the wall. Majority of those jostling to replace Uche Secondus are from the South and this probably forecloses the presidential candidate coming from the South, just as those who are being touted as presidential aspirants are mainly for the North.

Your guess is as good as mine. But wait for the party’s decision and you will see the parameters that will be used. I can say exactly when. The zoning committee will come out with a very good outcome for us.

Is PDP in a good shape in Ogun, your state, to want to upstage the ruling APC?

The song on the streets in Ogun State is that PDP is going to take over power form the APC in the state in 2023. I am so confident about that. To start with, the current governor of the state, Prince Dapo Abiodun, left the PDP to join the APC. The blood in his veins is PDP blood. Two, the crisis in APC now is too much for him to bear. I know he can’t survive it. Ogun State is an enlightened state and one of the most sophisticated politically in the country. People have seen the limitation of his capacity to deliver. There was real progress in the state during the last PDP government of Otunba Gbenga Daniel.

 

But Daniel is in APC now…

Yes, but you know he still has the blood of PDP in him and then, when he was in government, he had many lieutenants of which I am one. All of us remain in PDP. There is eternal enmity between him and former governor Ibikunle Amosun.

Do you ever think they can work together? Can they agree? The state is for PDP to take in 2023. In the state APC is divided into two or even three. But PDP is not divided. Rather, we have closed ranks and the party is back together. Since the death of Senator Buruji Kashamu, Ogun PDP has become a big united family waiting to take over in 2023. Kashamu has been a major factor militating against the unity of Ogun PDP. We were not seeing thing from the same angle before. But now, we are one and wax strong. For Ogun PDP, it is uhuru.

Anything that will disrupt the peace and unity in the party, we elders will work against such thing and not allow it to happen. The people of the state are yearning for the return of PDP, having tasted the bitter pill that APC represents. We are ruling the state in 2023, by the grace of God, with Ladi Adebutu as our candidate.

 

Former military president, in a recent interview, advised that the next president should be in his 60s. Do you consider age as one of the factors that should determine the choice of presidential candidate by your party?

Age, for me, is not a serious factor. After all, the current president of the United States of America, Joe Bidden, is in his late 70s and the country is going on well. That notwithstanding, as much as we will not count age as a factor, I will see anybody from 50 and above can be president. If you a 78 years old man can run America well, why can’t we have a person of that age bracket as president in Nigeria well? After all, some of the governors in the country today are over 70 years. For instance, Aminu Masari of Katsina and Abdulahi Ganduje of Kano states, are over 70 years. Age should not be a delimiting factor. Rather, what I consider to be a good quality of a good president is being the choice of the people, a president who has people’s confidence. He must not necessarily be wealthy, but a man of the people with a fear of God.

 

Nigerians generally don’t see any major difference between PDP and APC. If anything, they see them as two sides of a coin…

I disagree with you on this. There is a world of difference between us and them. PDP has a philosophy, but they don’t have. They don’t have a clear-cut manifesto. They are just jumping from one thin to another. But in PDP, we have a philosophy guiding us. This is reflected in the slogan of our party, ‘power to the people.’ Our party is people’s party, not a party for the bourgeoisie. PDP is a party that caters for people down to the grass roots. You will remember that during the Jonathan presidency, he appointed Dr Akinwunmi Adesina as Agriculture Minister. The minister designed a very robust agric policy that ensured that fertilizers got to the farmers in the remotest part of the country. This is one of the major things that the farmers, who are mainly common people, need. But what has happened to that programme now? It is no longer within the reach of the poor common farmers now. I am a farmer myself and if I can’t get it, what is the fate of other farmers? It is only the bourgeoisie farmers in the North that have the thing. APC has got nothing to offer ordinary Nigerians. Anyone who equates PDP with APC or says there is no difference between their party and our own is telling a lie.

 

What is the philosophy or the ideology of PDP?

Our philosophy is the people of Nigeria.

 

How?

Our party is centred round the people. This is built into our slogan of ‘PDP, power to the people.’ And if you look at it very critically, power truly belongs to the people of Nigeria and not just the political class. Our strength is derived from the people. The welfare of Nigerians remains our focus as a party.

 

Earlier you claimed your party, unlike APC, is not owned by the bourgeois. But one of the socio-political realities in the country is such that parties are not actually owned by the mass of your members. The moneybags have hijacked the platforms and are the ones using the parties to achieve their political interest…

Good enough, you have said it all. But I can tell you that in PDP, our members pay their membership dues. There is a column for this in our party register. Our members pay annually, though it is very low. It is there and that confers the ownership of the party on the people. This is unlike the other party, APC, where one man will just make funds available and control the party. PDP members and the leaders jointly own the party. You will remember one of our songs is ‘This PDP is for all,’ whether rich or poor, young or old.

 

Nigerians showed their preference for APC in 2015 when they voted for Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Six years after that election, how would you say Buhari has fared?

My conclusion is that the choice has turned out to be a disaster not just for Nigerians themselves, but also the economy of the country. Nigerians who voted for Buhari are regretting their action now, including the core North. We have never had insecurity this bad in the country. The devaluation of naira, has it ever been this worse? The price of a bag of rice, when Dr Jonathan was president, was about N6, 000. Today, it is about N25, 000 and unfortunately this is the staple food of the common man. So, how can anybody be happy about this kind of government? If some Nigerians say they are happy, they must be the bourgeoisie. The ordinary Nigerians are not happy. APC will meet its Waterloo in 2023. APC will be ridiculously defeated by the PDP.

They are aware that defeat is staring them in the face. That is why they are running away from electronic transmission of results from pooling booths to the collation centres. But the policy will come to stay. Nigerians are keen on transparent elections in 2023 and are determined to give what it takes to make this happen. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, at a point in history, said a time would come when people would fight for themselves. That time is here in Nigeria. It does not matter whether the controversial bill has been passed. Nigerians will rise and defend their votes.

 

Are you confident INEC will live up to expectation in 2023?

The fears Nigerians have about INEC is because there is no trust in their leaders. INEC is not as bad as people take it to be. The case of INEC has not given me sleepless night. INEC will try to do the best, but it is only the Federal Government that can put pressure on INEC to do against the will of the people. But that won’t happen in 2023 because Nigerians are fully charged and are ready to cast out APC like a spell out of the body of the country. The greatest threat to free, fair and credible 2023 elections is not INEC, but the APC-led Federal Government.

 

In November, PDP is up for popularity contest in the governorship elections coming in Anambra State and the ones following in Osun and Ekiti states next year. How hopeful is the PDP about winning any of those states?

PDP will have an excellent performance in Anambra election.

 

With the fragmentation you have in the party in the state?

All these problems you see are like a storm in a tea cup for us in PDP. When the chips are down, we will sit at a conference table and we will resolve all issues. If we are able to put our house in order, Anambra will come to the PDP. Counting on the numerical strength of our party in that state, we have more members than APGA which is the ruling party in the state. All indices point to the fact that Anambra will be ruled by the PDP come November 6.

As all Nigerians know, Osun people voted for PDP in 2018. But the APC-led Federal Government did not allow the wish of the people to become reality. But in 2022, God sparing our lives, we will resist such an attempt. The security forces were deployed to frighten people only APC members were allowed to vote in the supplementary election. In the first ballot, PDP had led the APC and it was clear the people of the state preferred our candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke, to the current governor of the state.  They devised the means of white handkerchief during the supplementary election. APC members were given white handkerchiefs to go and vote and anyone who did not have it was not allowed to vote. The international observers condemned the development and adjudged the election as short of any credibility. They called it a crude election. Such wicked disenfranchisement and any other means they might want to devise will be resisted this time.

Concerning Ekiti, the best government they witnessed in the state was that of Ayodele Fayose. What the people of Ekiti want is different from what they want in other states of the federation. Ekiti people want a governor with people-oriented programmes like Fayose. When he was governor, he identified with the okada riders, he would eat in bukas like the common people. He brought himself down to the level of ordinary people and that is what they like in Ekiti. In addition to this, he built infrastructure in the state. It is on record that he built the first and the only flyover in the state as we speak. My wife is from Ekiti and I have traversed the whole of the state, I have never seen any other flyover in the state. Every Baale, every community head was involved in the running of government during Fayose’s era. This is unlike what is happening now with the elite government they have in the state. In Ekiti, next year, I am confident another governor who will be as popular as former governor Fayose will be elected on the platform of the PDP.

 

What advice do you have for President Buhari on how to tackle the insecurity issues in the country?

What advice do you think I will have for a president who cannot resolve the security challenge in his Katsina State, which has one of the worst insecurity issues in the country, let alone attend to that of the whole country? The truth is that the situation in the country is beyond Buhari’s capacity to resolve. If it were in a civilized country, he would have been forced to resign because he cannot address the challenges in the country. The problems in the country have overwhelmed him and he can’t solve them. Buhari has no answer to the issues confronting the country, particularly on insecurity, which is a nationwide issue. People are leaving the country in large numbers to settle down abroad. Things have become so degenerate that nobody is safe anymore.

 

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