A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and one of the national spokespersons of Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential candidate during the 2019 general elections, Umar Sani in this interview, speaks to Daily Sun on the decision of his party to give its ticket to Governor Godwin Obaseki. He says the culture of sidelining long-suffering party members who strive to ensure the survival of the party in favor of those with more resources and power should end. He also insists that his party is very likely to zone the 2023 presidential ticket to the North.
The former Governor of Benue, Gabriel Suswam recently said that your party would be zoning the 2023 presidency to the North. Has it been decided by the party hierarchy that the North would have a shot again?
Coming from someone like Suswam, I would say that even though it hasn’t been made official by the party, it has an element of truth in it. Like I always say, zoning is dependent on the political party. The PDP had zoned it to the South and the South did eight years under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. It zoned it to the North and the late Musa Yar’Adua was able to do three years and the South took over and did five years. As far as PDP is concerned, the North hasn’t completed its eight-year tenure, so zoning it to the North is very appropriate and in tune with the reality.
Notwithstanding the fact that the APC has a Northern president, that is their own internal arrangement and it has nothing to do with the PDP.
If APC zones the presidency to the South as is being speculated, isn’t it going to work against your party if it insists on zoning it to the North?
Why would it work against our party? Our party has given it to the South West and it has done eight years, so it should be viewed as being generous because it came at the time of the agitation for the actualisation of the June 12 election. When our party zoned it to the South West, it was able to assuage the hurt feelings at the time. Obasanjo and Olu Falae were the ones that contested and they are from the South West, so anyone of them that won, it would still be taken that the South West has already gotten it for a period of eight years. Our party should be commended for its magnanimity, because so far, apart from the South West, no region within the party has enjoyed eight straight years.
In the 2019 election, our candidate was from the North and the VP was from the South East, so if Atiku had won, then it would have been fair to say he should do just one term and allow the South to take their turn. In our internal democracy, our zoning arrangement is between the North and South. It is the micro zoning that takes place within the respective places. For instance, if we zone to the North, they would now meet and decide if it should go to the North West, North East or North Central. If it is zoned to the South, they would have to meet and decide if it should go to the South West, South South or South Central. For instance, during our party convention, the national chairmanship position was zoned to the South and because it was zoned to the South, the South West and South South tussled for the position and the South South eventually won.
Would you say it’s a good strategy to support a candidate that may not have the resources to win an expensive election than a candidate who just joined the party but has more resources?
There are two fundamental things that have happened in Nigeria, although people haven’t made it an issue but it is something that we should ponder on. In Kano, Rabiu Kwankwaso was a governor, yet he was defeated when he contested for a second tenure. He went back and re-strategised even when he didn’t have the resources and the incumbent governor was supporting someone else, yet Kwankwaso was able to defeat that person and come back. If you consider this illustration, it would tell you that Nigerian politics is not only about resources, it is about strategies, tactics and acceptability. In Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose wasn’t even a governor, yet he defeated an incumbent who contested. We should strive for a situation where people who would be elected would be by the votes of the people and not by imposition.
We heard in Ondo state how the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) was boasting that they were the ones who helped Rotimi Akeredolu win by going to INEC to change the figures. Now, if someone can say that, yet he hasn’t been arrested for electoral fraud, then you know that the future of democracy in Nigeria is very bleak. Most people who occupy public office were not really elected.
How do you situate the illustration you have made to what happened in Edo State where Governor Godwin Obaseki was denied the APC ticket, moved to your party and was given the ticket?
It is always an issue when we talk about the national question. Most Nigerians don’t understand the national question and when you talk about it, they believe that you are talking about marginalistion. The national question is about equal opportunities for all at every level. It means that someone from a minority group can one day aspire to become a leader provided he is able to break all barriers. Nigeria should not be looked at from the prisms of either Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo.
In Edo State, the PDP was maintained by certain people. They were the ones who have been taking care of the party, giving their time, energy and resources, keeping the party alive because they want to realise their ambition. Now, all of a sudden, their hopes were dashed because someone couldn’t get a ticket in another party. In the last governorship election, the person who got our ticket was with the APC, he crossed over to the PDP and was given the ticket; now he crossed back to the APC and was given the ticket there. Tell me how that type of arrangement makes sense.
What we had in the last election was Obaseki of the APC and Ize-Iyamu of the PDP, but now we have Obaseki in the PDP and Ize-Iyamu in the APC. How do you reconcile that? If there was a primary election and he won the election, there would be no problem because the internal democracy mechanism has been used to situate the matter. But in this case, people were persuaded to leave the ticket for Obaseki. Perhaps they are aware that if they do not step down for him, they could still be denied, so instead of them to waste their resources and time, they just decided to throw in the towel, not because they wanted to but because they didn’t have a choice.
Again, once you have a governor, you must have a deputy governor. The deputy governorship candidate of the PDP is still the person that came in with the governor, so it means that no PDP person is qualified to even become deputy. The condition that Obaseki gave was that he cannot come into our party unless he is allowed to run with his deputy. In our situation in Nigeria, when a governor wins an election and he wants to defect, there is no way you can stop him. Even if you go to court, it could take about four years before the case is judged and by that time, he would have finished his tenure. If Obaseki now decides that he is moving back to APC, what would happen? It means he has just used our platform to acuatlise his second term ambition but he has gone back to his old home.
If you take a holistic look at the situation, you would discover that even before he left the party, he had to seek counsel from President Muhammadu Buhari, and also when he was disqualified, he went to confer with the President to tell him that he wasn’t given the ticket. What we have been hearing from the grapevine is that most of the APC governors are also supporting him to win. Now, if they are supporting him to come back, do we know the arrangements that they have made? So, the issue is that our democracy may have lived long, but I still want to refer to it as nascent.
There are speculations that some members of your party are already planning to use litigation to destabilise your party in Anambra state as the governorship election approaches. Are there any plans by the national body to ensure that the issues that have always caused crises in Anambra state chapter are resolved?
Anambra is a very important state in the South East because it is a state where we have a lot of millionaires and billionaires. You know when people have too much money, there is bound to be much trouble because everybody wants to assert himself and once people want to assert themselves, there won’t be any agreement.
Peter Obi used to be in charge but of late, it seems he has been facing some challenges within the party. In the last governorship election, people were not happy with the choice of Oseloka Obaze because many of the aspirants and stakeholders believed that the primary was not well done and that contributed to his defeat. I just hope that this time around, they would work in harmony.