The Peoples Democratic Party holds its national convention on Saturday, 150 days after the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the party won its lengthy legal battle with the Ali Modu Sheriff faction at the Supreme Court.
Amongst the top decisions expected to be made at the gathering is the election of a new national chairman who will replace the current interim leader, Mr. Makarfi.
As at Friday morning, a total of nine candidates are in the race, which the party ‘zoned’ to the southern part of the country.
Raymond Dokpesi and Uche Secondus are the two candidates running from the South-South geopolitical zone.
Bode George, Rasheed Ladoja, Segun Aderemi, Taoheed Adedoja, Gbenga Daniel, Tunde Adeniran and Jimi Agbaje are the seven South-west politicians eyeing the PDP chairmanship.
While there are indications that the aspirants from the South-west may eventually resolve to field only one of them at the convention, none of them has publicly backed down as at Friday morning, barely 24 hours to the convention.
Mr. Daniel, a former governor of Ogun State, considered to be among the frontrunners, sat with PREMIUM TIMES’ Samuel Ogundipe and Sani Tukur at his Abuja residence on Thursday morning to field questions ranging from how he stacks up against other contenders to his ongoing corruption case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Thank you for your time, Your Excellency. We understand that this race is going down to the wire, may we know your preparation and how confident you are about your chances?
I think I have a very good chance. I have paid my dues. But more than anything else, I have had unprecedented interaction with all the delegates across the length and breadth of this country.
You must know that just yesterday I concluded a tour of virtually all the states of the federation. Some places I even visited twice.
In the process, I could tell you that I appreciate and understand our party, the people and the challenges.
I have also explained to the delegates the challenges we have as a party and the need for us to do the rightful thing on Saturday. When you look at that, it does appear that what one has been able to do is totally unprecedented. And I have no doubt in my mind that the delegates will do justice on Saturday.
Which of your challengers do you find most threatening?
I don’t really want to call them challengers. Let’s say co-contestants. You can look at this as what we used to do when we have co-debaters. It is not really about it in that sense. All the people who are contesting are people that I know, I have interacted with at one point or the other. I know their capacities. And I have no doubt in my mind that they’re all competent people.
But the fact of the case is that when you look at the challenges of the party today, I think I am better poised in terms of networking. In terms of relevant experience. The fact that I have had the opportunity, as it were, to actually go through serious elections and won. I am not so sure that many of them have the kind of experience that I have.
Many of them, if not most of them, have benefitted from appointments. They have risen through one appointment or the other. I have gone through elections. I have no doubt in my mind that all of them without an exception are my friends. And I know that this relationship will continue beyond this Saturday.
Should you become chairman, how would you handle some major players in the PDP that you have somewhat personal issues with, like Buruji Kashamu?
First and foremost, I’ll plead with you not to individualise a very, very fundamental matter. The party is about people. There’s no doubt about that. But don’t also forget that the party, you know, also has millions and millions of members. My responsibility as the chairman is to unite all the forces. Like I told you, even the one you mentioned and the one you didn’t mention, I have a relationship with all of them. There’s not a single one of them that I cannot call on the phone and tell him that ‘I am coming to your house to have dinner’ or to have lunch.
So, you may look at those things as fundamental, but the fact of the case is that there are no personal issues there. Out of principle, we disagree in politics. We disagree to agree. So don’t be surprised that many of those that you’re mentioning, you can find me going to their house and say ‘hey boy, what’s going on?’ So it’s not as serious as you’re making it look. That is my own opinion.
How would you ensure that your EFCC case does not distract or render you ineffective as a chairman of a major opposition party?
The case is in court. It would be prejudice for me to be speaking about a matter that is already before a court of law.
Not even a word?
I know PREMIUM TIMES is interested in this matter, but the case is still before the court of law.
The role of money in party politics. Former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, recently warned against allowing money to dominate politics and buying the conscience of the people for votes.
Well, That is quite despicable. But you have to also appreciate that because of the level of poverty in the land, people tend to look for means and ways of surviving. Some do it via political action —political activities— and some do it via other actions. Not many people work hard for the money. That is really unfortunate.
My own opinion is that it’s something that should be discouraged. But we must appreciate that it’s a fundamental issue which has to do with the level of productivity of the people, of the country and all of that. My own solution is very, very simple: We must work very hard to create an environment where people are gainfully employed. Where people are busy. Where people have work to do. And it is also my position that we have more than enough work in this country for everybody —if only we can direct them properly. That is probably why some of us have gotten involved with the political process.
As you know, we’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate this practically in the past. When I was governor in Ogun State, at a stage I was boasting that ‘there’s nobody who is unemployed in Ogun State, I have work for everybody’, and I was dead serious. And I think if in our own little Ogun State we could do that successfully, there’s no reason why that cannot be nationalised.
And if you see me now trying to play some kind of role, it is to provide that kind of organisational capacity within the party and within the country so that people can feel challenged.
When people are busy and they have work to do, the incidence of monetisation in this process will not only be eradicated, it will become an anathema. It will become something that is despicable. Unfortunately, what it is today is that it’s all about money. And that is really, really unfortunate. And if we don’t put an end to it, we’re not going to make enough progress as a nation.
You think money will not decide who wins at the convention?
Well, if what we want to do is money, I wouldn’t go round the 36 states of this country. We think that there’s need to interact with the delegates. Although we found that some delegates were interested in money, we were able to convince them that the futures of their children should be more important to them. And they agreed.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo openly dissociated himself from the PDP about three years ago, so why do some of you still go to him for political consultations?
Well, don’t forget that I was a governor for eight years. Four out of which Obansajo was my president and commander-in-chief. So I have a relationship with him. Don’t also forget that Obasanjo is an enigma. In the environment of Ogun State, he’s an elder statesman. And that is part of our culture. If you’re a cultured person and you want to do something like this, it is incumbent upon you to inform the people you consider as key, notwithstanding their political persuasion. It is a duty. It is incumbent. And I assure you, I told everybody, not necessarily partisan people, because, at the end of the day, the party is just a vehicle. It is about public service.
Like other people, I went to Baba and I told him what I wanted to do and he gave me good advice. And I am using some of the advice in whatever I am doing.
Still on Ogun State. We understand recently that you’ve fallen out with Kessington ‘Baba Ijebu’ Adebutu, what happened?
You’re in the realms of rumour mongering and I don’t respond to rumours.
You used to be close to him and now we understand that’s no longer the case, could you please tell us why?
I am saying that you people like rumours and I don’t respond to rumours.
President Buhari is running in 2019. Don’t you think his bid to run as an incumbent would constitute a major hindrance to the PDP’s aim to regain power?
I don’t think so. Quite on the contrary, I feel very happy that as a country and as a people, our democracy has developed. President Buhari is a great Nigerian. He has contributed his own quota. He was there to fight to unite Nigeria as a military personnel. He was military head of state and now he’s a civilian president. He has all our respect.
But we should not forget that he also contested against an incumbent and he won. So what makes you people think that somebody cannot contest against him and also win?
He has been a beneficiary of that democratic principle which we must actually commend the PDP for. If that has happened, it is a very good precedent and I am sure I have no doubt in my mind that come 2019, in that election, PDP would win. And I also trust that President Buhari is not a desperate man. I am sure that he would also cooperate and hand over power to PDP in 2019. That is how to develop democracy.
Your Excellency, you’ve left the PDP before for Labour Party, if you lose the chairmanship Saturday, would you remain in the party?
Name one person in this country today, who is anybody anywhere, who has not moved from one party to the other?Start from the current President Buhari, go to the Senate President, go to the Speaker, go to the governors. It’s just an evolution in the political system that we need to look at. So it’s not a question of X left or Y left. We should look at if the defection is ideological.
Final words for delegates?
My advice to the delegates is that they should vote for their conscience and not allow themselves to be unduly influenced by, you know, material gains. They should appreciate that this is a vote for their future. A vote for their children and grandchildren. They should vote for the people they think can turn around the country by turning around the person.