Cairo Ojougboh was a member of the House of Representatives and later national vice chairman of the PDP, South-South zone, until the crisis in the party broke out last May. He teamed up with the Ali Modu Sheriff faction where he is the deputy national chairman.
Mr. Ojougboh, a medical doctor, led the faction to the recent reconciliation meeting in Abuja. He spoke with PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete and Ebuka Onyeji on the reconciliation process.
PT: Recently, the two factions of the PDP announced that they have resolved to work together. What motivated that move to work together?
Ojougboh: Of course, everything must come to an end, not to talk of party crisis; and that is how it is. So, when it was time, the voice of reasoning had to prevail. The party elders, the founding fathers, everybody felt that the party was going astray and then they had to talk to the warring factions, and then the political warlords said enough is enough. Peace must prevail. Again, the economic crisis in the country and the need for a vibrant opposition to further democracy in the country also were some of the factors. Furthermore, you have to also understand that Makarfi and Sheriff are two big friends, and it became obvious to two of them that there might be a third party wanting to cause problem between the two leaders. So they have to look inwards. They never had cause to quarrel when they were in different parties and they are like brothers. They understood that there might be extraneous factors trying to separate them. So these are the things that they realized and said they have to come together to solve the problems.
PT: But from the looks of things, it appears the resolution to work together is not working?
Ojougboh: Why do you say so?
PT: Because there is no effort since then, we’ve not heard anything.
Ojougboh: No, you will not hear anything because there are factors working behind the scene to make sure that PDP will not have peace. They will also get the information and work on the information you get. Persons within the PDP family and the people causing this problem who want to hijack the party will also work against the information. This is a political movement; and so you don’t have to see it on the pages of newspapers.
PT: So, you are saying even as you’ve resolved to work together, there are still some internal factors working against the party?
Ojougboh: Yes, there are internal factors within the party working against it. This issue of peace is a task that must be done and we are working on it and we don’t sleep. We are working 24 hours. Today we had a meeting on this issue but we don’t address the press on it.
PT: Can you throw more light on these internal factors, especially those personalities within the party that are working against it?
Ojougboh: You are a journalist; is it everything you must hear from my mouth? We are under obligation not to say anything that can deepen or widen the gulf of the crisis. It’s like a surgical repair and we are stitching up the wound. So that is what we are doing methodologically and we are getting results.
PT: The setting up of a 24-member committee is also part of the process to ensure reconciliation?
Ojougboh: No, the 24-member committee has not been set up. If you say they have been set up, they would have got their letters, they would have been informed. There are two propositions that I can tell you. There is a proposal to have six persons in the committee with one from each political zone or to make it 12, with two persons from each political group to make it 24. We’ve not agreed whether it will be 12 or 24. We are still working on it, I am just coming back from one of such meetings. That is what is ongoing.
PT: Do we take it that there will be no strange bedfellows in the PDP anymore by the time you get together?
Ojougboh: See, that is what we trying to preach; that we must return the party back to the people. Traditionally, the party used to be supreme. If you can recall the days of NPN, the party used to be supreme. If you are a governor, we are happy with you. We give you our manifesto; you go back to your state and execute the manifesto so as to retain the party. While you are governor of the state, you are not the leader of the party in the state. The leader of the party is the chairman of the party. Then at the federal level, the national chairman of the party is the leader of the party. And that is the idea of multi-party democracy. I remember the days of Ambrose Folorunso Alli (former Governor of the defunct Bendel State), the UPN days, the party chairman will sit down in his office and the governor would visit him in his office. And if the chairman visited the governor, it was a very big occasion. That is how it used to be. How can a party chairman visit the governor and stay in the waiting room? No, it doesn’t happen and these are the things we are trying to address.
PT: Are we then looking at amendment to the party’s constitution?
Ojougboh: No, it is the practice that turned the thing upside down. Again, it is because of poverty and penury. We want to address that practice. The governor claims that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. So he now treats the office of the state chairman as a department in his government. It cannot happen anymore.
PT: Are you thinking of a new national convention to elect new leaders?
Ojougboh: That is the whole issue. Let me tell you and quote me – Modu Sheriff has agreed and made it very clear that he is not interested in contesting for the chairmanship of the party. He has accepted that the chairmanship of the party should go to the south. Where the chairmanship will go in the south and the secretary will go to in the north are the things this reconciliation committee will now iron out and then fix a date for the convention. We will look at the state chapters that have problems, address them and then we have one united party and go for the convention.
PT: A major issue in the whole crisis is that some members view Mr. Sheriff as a stranger to the PDP and therefore he should not have anything to do with the party. What is your take on this?
Ojougboh: What party does the Speaker of House of Representatives belong? Is he a stranger to APC? The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was in PDP. Is he a stranger to APC? Are you aware that Modu Sherriff contested for senate under PDP in the last election?
PT: So what could have informed this position they held?
Ojougboh: It is because Modu Sheriff does not conform to the upside down arrangement where the party is not supreme. All he asks for is for the party to be supreme. Of course, when you want to hang a dog you give it a bad name. See what you are bringing out. This is why we are told not to address the press on this matter because what we say in trying to defend Sheriff or not will deepen the crisis. So if you want to ask such questions we stop this interview. Let me tell you – the success of this reconciliation committee is paramount to my own political life and interest, and in fact, the political life of this country that PDP will come together and be one and function properly as an opposition party. 2019 is not even the issue. The issue is how do we now return the fraternity that normally flow in political party politics. That is why we don’t want to talk to the press, because the press is a major problem we are having. That is why I like the law court. The law is like an axe. The judges can’t give judgement against themselves. They can’t give judgement that can cause problem. They can’t give judgement that can cause war. They do not give judgement even when it’s clear what the judgement should be. If it’s going to cause problem, they won’t give it. So also politicians should be mindful of what they do or say because it is the press that can make this peace move not to work. So I am appealing to the press to encourage the party, encourage the participants in this democratic dispensation, especially in the PDP and not to lure them into saying things that can cause crisis. The position I hold today, whatever I say people will say ‘look, this is what Sheriff has said’ and they cannot separate it from my own personal opinion and it is quite a problem.
PT: Okay, what are you looking at by the time this crisis is over? What are your major goals as Nigeria’s main opposition party?
Ojougboh: First and foremost, we want to play true opposition party like they play it in advanced countries of the world like Britain and America. National interest is paramount. In America, for instance, they do not seek the downfall of government in power. They only wait for the next election and so when issues of national interest come to the fore, they seek for a bipartisan approach. These are things the PDP will to do with APC. We are not going to say because we are not in power we will disrupt government. We will keep the federation one and we will keep the country going, so that when we come to power we can have a country to rule over. Let me tell you, we are not going to do those things APC did before they came into power by insulting the president. We are hoping to be decent. Our criticism will be very constructive even when the country is in crisis. We are going to be part of the solution. We are going to control our members, control the opposition so that we will be in partnership with government.
PT: Ultimately, your target is to take over in 2019?
Ojougboh: That is the target of any political party and we are not shy to say what we intend to and that we can offer solutions to the problems in the country. We are going to tell the country what we intend to do. We are going to bring our manifesto. We are going to raise an economic team and tell the people, look if we are in position, this is what we would have done. So, when we are campaigning, we will tell the electorate this is what we are offering, this is our landmark when we left office and this is where we are today. Compare and tell us. Will you prefer where we were when we left government or where we are today? These are the things we want to present.
PT: In this peace process, are there areas of disagreements?
Ojougboh: No, we have a common meeting point
PT: APC functionaries and government officials have repeatedly blamed the PDP for the problems the country is facing and you have just raised a point now. Would you agree that it was the PDP that led the country into this mess?
Ojougboh: I tell you this, PDP always says this – government is a continuum. We left office on May 29, 2015. There are indices on the ground. So it’s your problem. When PDP took over in 1999, a barrel of petrol was $11 and the PDP didn’t say ‘look, Abdulsalami, you are the cause of our problem or Buhari or Babangida you are the cause of our problem.’ We managed what we met on the ground and luck came in. The price of crude improved. As we are speaking today, the price of petroleum is $50 per barrel. So it is improving. We didn’t know where it’s going. So, at the end of the day it is you the steward that will be asked.
PT: So, What is your assessment of the APC administration?
Ojougboh: If you ask me to grade them in security I will give them A+. They have managed the crisis, especially Boko Haram better. In the Niger Delta crisis, I will give them B or C+. Other sectors like anti-corruption, I think they are doing better than we did in spite of the fact that people say the fight is not holistic, that they want it to be holistic. We are yet to assess them in other sectors. And then the management of the economy is a big problem. But I believe Buhari is running a closed government, he should open the space in government.
PT: Are you suggesting all-inclusive government?
Ojougboh: Yes. Let me tell you, the brains, the human resources in this country are still in the PDP. A lot of people who can contribute positively in governance, people who can make the change, they are in PDP. A lot of people in the APC have not been in government for a long time and so they have not been able to catch up with the current mode of doing things. So, a government of national unity would work better for the president. And he still needs to open up the horizon. And decision making is still slow and appointments should be made quicker.
PT: But in all the 16 years of PDP in power, you never toyed with the idea of a government of national unity?
Ojougboh: We did so. When Obasanjo came to office in 1999 he did so. He appointed people in AD and the then APP. He had an all-inclusive government.