From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Chief Austin Umahi is the National Vice-Chairman (South East) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, he spoke on how his party targets to take power from President Muhammadu Buhari, Igbo presidency, and how the PDP is reconciling its aggrieved members among other national issues.
After your party’s convention that produced a new national leadership, what is next?
By the special grace of God, that was the most transparent, freest convention since the inception of the PDP in 1998 and I must commend the electoral panel. I must commend Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State; the 11 governors of the PDP, and everyone that participated in that election.
My dear brother, the truth of the matter is that the PDP is repositioned. And what is repositioning? It is about re-engineering, it is about rebranding, and it is about getting it right where we have missed it. And I can assure you that the successful convention is a big plus and it has jumpstarted us because as we are talking today we have hit the ground running.
Some aggrieved persons who reportedly participated in that convention have gone ahead to form their parallel leadership. How would you react to that?
Well, those are the people that want to be noticed. First and foremost, those of them that answer Igbo names; whether they are Hausa and they are bearing Igbo names I do not know, but I had to contact each and every one of them. I wanted to know the reasons for this kind of attitude. And I saw that everything was geared towards ‘notice me.’ They just wanted recognition. They don’t have anything.
In a contest, you must have victor and of course, people that will lose. When you are going into a contest, it is options of you win, or you lose. So having lost an election that was the best election ever; people were satisfied with the conduct. Come to think of the Unity List, at the age of 18 nobody forced me to vote where I wanted to vote. It was something very clear. Yes! It is possible that I could be given a name but is an option. When I enter inside that polling booth I vote the person I want to vote because I am an adult.
So, the way and manner I voted should not trouble anybody. That’s the way my conscience has directed me. And the people voted. What is democracy? It is all about the people. What is the splinter? I see the splinter as charlatans; I see them as people that want to be noticed. And I feel so sad because I saw some South Eastern persons involved. We are not known for that kind of hooliganism. But it is unfortunate that they are Abuja gorilla politicians. They are not politicians from South East. We don’t know them and they don’t know their wards. Ask them the names of their wards and their chairmen, they won’t know. They just stay at Wadata and make noise.
There is this concern that the All Progressives Congress (APC) might be using these individuals to destabilise the newly reformed PDP. What’s your reaction?
Well, in the third word, you are bound to see anything. Yes! There is a possibility of that but the most important thing is that if you know that you are, for example, going to Abakaliki and you know the road to it, you must focus on your mission and avoid distractions. The most important thing is that PDP is repositioned; it is repositioned to regain power. Those things, we see them as distractions. We are not going to be perturbed because the class of these people that are making this noise, I see them as nonentities. They are the people that when you go to their wards you won’t see their names. Yes! It could be hijacked by the ruling party but the most important thing is that we are not giving them recognition. We are forging ahead because we know our destination and we are focused. We cannot be distracted.
Given that in politics, number is important. Does it mean the party do not have any intention of finding out their grievances and possibly offering solution for a more united PDP?
I have to tell you the truth. First and foremost, as a zone, all the people that contested the election, before the election, we as a zone invited them. We said ‘come let us reason together as brothers because we, from the East, are wise and reasonable people.’ We said ‘let us agree and discuss as brothers’ and then know what belongs to who so that we don’t go to Abuja as house that is not united. That was exactly what we did.
Again, and most importantly, there is serious internal conflict resolution mechanism in the PDP. Before the convention, we have already had a committee headed by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State. He actually moved into action. We didn’t want to be reactive this time, we had to be proactive and he has contacted all the people that vied for the national chairmanship position of our great party. That apart, we sent a text message and as well as communicated in writing to all the people that vied for different positions in that convention to meet with the Reconciliation Committee because we see people as very cardinal point. This is because the PDP is about the people. We want to carry everybody along.
We just finished our convention and all of a sudden they want to start seeking unnecessary notice. We have provision to see each and every one of them. We want to accommodate them. The umbrella is too big and large to accommodate them. If they decide to come back today, we will welcome them but if they continue to display this level of rascality, we will not hesitate to sack them if they are at all members of our party.
I have called the chairmen of the PDP in Imo and Abia States and asked them to find out if these people are real. If they don’t retract that the statement they made in Abuja within 48 hours, we will not hesitate to sack them from the party and we will forge ahead as a stronger party. We want to strengthen this PDP. We want high level of discipline. There is no room for rascals again.
In politics, what matters most is interest. You get your interests negotiated. What is the South East negotiating for? Are we ready for the presidency?
I continue to tell people that the united we are, the better for us. Power is not given but taken. You go and take power. You negotiate right but you must have to see a united front. You must have to see people that are dogged and determined. We must have to see people that are focused. When we get to the bridge, we cross it. The issue remains that we are very much interested in repositioning the party. When the time to share offices come, we will discuss it. And I assure you that the south east under my leadership will not be relegated in Jesus name.
With all these skirmishes, does the PDP still have the capacity to dislodge the ruling APC?
My dear brother, the truth of the matter is that in no distant time, you will see a political tsunami in this country. And what is it? Everybody is disenchanted. The truth is that you cannot deceive the people for too long. The country is becoming too enlightened. Even the village woman, if you tell her that you provided light, she would want to see the light; if you tell her that you’ve built a road she would want to see it. Whatever you claim as achievement, she would want to see evidence. And those are the indices. The people are hungry and disenchanted. The people are ready to vote out any government that fails to take care of their stomach infrastructure and that is why people are yearning for the return of the PDP to power. The indices are clear and glaring and the people are speaking. Nobody will deceive Nigerians again because they have compared and contrasted and of course, know which way to go and 2019 will tell you where we are going.
Before the Anambra governorship election, PDP had vowed to take over power from Governor Willie Obiano. To many of us, it was a litmus test for the party. Now, with their failure to achieve their target, don’t you think ousting Buhari in 2019 is going to be a herculean task?
The issue of Anambra State is not a good case study because I actually mounted the podium and I said that we are taking back Anambra State. But the issue of Anambra State is one that the PDP will go back to the drawing board and redesign and re-strategise. The people that voted out PDP in Anambra State are PDP members. That problem of Anambra, we have set out to ensure that we get it right. How do we get it right? By making sure that we install elected state exco and that is going to happen in a couple of weeks.
And by the time we do it, it will instil a lot of discipline. Some people felt the party was hijacked and out of anger they decided to work against the party that they belong to. Therefore, you cannot use it as a measure to judge our future engagements, especially as it relates to next year’s election. So our defeat in Anambra is not a good litmus test because if you come to think of it, you will have to ask yourself this question: the people that actually worked for Gov. Obiano, where did they come from? They are PDP people and if they had put 1/10th of that effort in our election in Anambra State, I think I would have been celebrating now as somebody that has a governor in Anambra State. So, it is not a good test because we know the reasons: the immediate and remote causes and we are addressing it. Something better will happen in 2019.