From CHIJIOKE AGWU, Abakaliki
Chief Fidelis Nwankwo is a former Minister of State for Health under former President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview with Sunday Sun, Nwankwo who is also a one-time Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Federal Commissioner spoke on the zoning controversy in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other topical national issues.
With the benefit of hindsight as a minister in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, what do you think was the major factor for the PDP losing the 2015 presidential election?
Well, honestly speaking, by the time we lost the election, it was not obvious to us. We didn’t foresee it, but with hindsight, one can begin to hazard some guesses as to the reasons I think we lost that election. I want to believe that one of the factors was the issue of rotation of the position of the Presidency within our party, the People’s Democratic Party. You recall that at the inception of the political party in 1998, the first president was Olusegun Obasanjo, a Southerner. He did two tenures of eight years, and after him there was Musa Yar’Adua whose tenure was short-lived because of death. Incidentally going by the constitution, Goodluck Jonathan who was his vice president had to take over and completed his four years in the first tenure; he did a full four-year tenure of his own and wanted to go back, probably that was a mistake we in PDP made. We didn’t know that this was not well received even by members of the party from the North. But probably again due to the power of incumbency, it was not properly voiced out, and we went into that election thinking that we had a united front, not knowing that some people had resentments and to the point they were either unwilling to sell the Jonathan presidency in the North, and in some cases they were even afraid because the people felt that they were betraying them by joining forces with the South to extend the tenure of Jonathan. So, for me, I think that was the main reason we lost that election. That means that we really have to take the issue of zoning or rotation of positions seriously, I think we can learn from that mistake.
From what you said, the PDP lost the presidency due to poorly managed zoning issue. Are you not seeing the party repeating the same mistake in 2023 going by the sound bites from the PDP?
This is a little bit of a tricky situation sincerely speaking. You talked about rotation in the context of political party. APC just had its own presidency from the North for eight years by 2023, and I think to them it is a very straight forward matter in terms of decision making. So, with that they can simply say we have had eight years of the North, it can simply go to the South. For PDP, it is a little bit tricky because last time we picked from the South it backfired. Should we go back to the same South having had a Northern president or should we stick to the North that felt that they were denied? So, I think it is a tricky situation and the party, thank God the party now has new Executives and part of their job is to give the party a new direction. I think the best thing is to wait for them to assume office and articulate what they think is the best for the party and the country at large because they have to put all available information into use and advise the party either to do zoning by zoning to the South which is the clamour of members especially non-partisan people or zone to the North, to correct the mistakes of 2019 or still the third option, throw it open and let the best candidate emerge. We have sacrificed eight years to APC so to say. But for me, it is better to act from the point of view of knowledge, researched information; we should be able to find out the views of the majority of the party members, stakeholders, what do they think the party members would prefer, what do they think is the message that Nigerians should buy if we are selling because when you are selling this message it is not just to the PDP members, we are selling to the Nigerian electorate, what would they want to hear is very important.
What is your assessment of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency?
Let’s look at security for instance. You don’t need security experts or anybody to tell you the security situation in the country today. It is something that you can see and smell. The insecurity in 2015 was child’s play compared to what we have now. I think we have lost our sense of outrage because when you say 30 killed by herdsmen or bandits, people no longer stop to shiver, it has become a normal thing. I think in 2015, what was common then was just Boko Haram, but more things have been added; the bandits, the herdsmen, the IPOB, the ESN, everywhere is insecure. I think if you judge them by that criteria alone, it is a disaster. We have witnessed a lot of killings and destruction under this APC government that it has got to a stage where nothing shocks us again in terms of insecurity.
What is your reaction to the just held Anambra State election; candidate of your party, Valentine Ozigbo came a distant second?
Let me put it this way, I am not happy that our party didn’t win that election because we have always had the potential to take Anambra State governorship, but lack of proper organization by the party, has always cost us the governorship. If you watch the process of our party primary that produced the candidate, then you will not be too surprised; it was rancorous, disorderly and they got to the point that maybe when we were supposed to have over a thousand delegates, we had less than 20 per cent voting, and the division created by the contest itself, at least two or three candidates left the party to contest in other parties. There was no time for reconciliation. I think it is a very big relief that the party executives that conducted that primary has given way for new executives at the national level. We really need a new beginning; a new thinking from the national executives of PDP. Anambra is essentially a PDP state, but it is a very big shame that we just remain a potential force. But on the other hand, I think the perception some members of a certain party were creating before the election was the one that if it has materialized, it would have been too dangerous for our democracy; where a party that is not on ground was saying we are going to win and people believed that somehow by one magic or the other, they were going to win and that is APC, of course, and they came in with a new method, I can’t call it ingenious; it is disingenuous, and undemocratic. You bought people and ask them to say they are defecting. So, for them, once big individuals defect to APC, the party becomes popular and they can now lay claim to justify their winning. I thank God that Anambra people debunked that. They made nonsense of that. So, power belongs to the people. I congratulate APGA faithful in Anambra State and the Anambra voters irrespective of the number of voters that turned out. Antecedent is very important, what you do yesterday, people will remind you of it tomorrow and the people were not that forgetful. So, I think it renewed a lot of people’s faith in the power of the ballot that the ballot still counts. The vote counts and we hope that INEC will make improvement on what they have done there before 2023.
You were the Director General of Divine Mandate Campaign Organization that brought Governor David Umahi to power first in 2015 and again in 2019. People were surprised you didn’t defect to the APC with him. Why did you choose to remain in PDP?
Was I expected to defect with him? Yes, human being is the most unpredictable animal that you can think of. Human being is not like natural science where you can take an object to the lab to study and predict to confirm its properties or the way they behave. If you boil water to 100 degrees, you know what you will get or you mix sodium and chlorine, you know what will come out from it. Human behaviour is not predictable, but what was steady for me is the principle of PDP, I believe in PDP and I am a foundation member of PDP. I was one of the seven members that were given the flag in 1998 to come and form PDP in Ebonyi State. So, the principle of the party remains dear to me and I remain faithful to it. Well, for reason best known to him which I think he tried to explain, he decided to leave PDP. I haven’t seen any reason myself and nobody was able to convince me why I should leave the party that I formed, and go for another one. The party that still holds promises and the party that the people in this state have grown to believe is their own party. PDP has not lost any election since 1998. No other party has even won even a senate seat, it is only one, two or three instances. And all the times, they claimed their victory in courts, not by outright win, like the only seat now by the APC in the state was won in the court. It could be by technical default or whatever. So, I still believe in PDP and if the constitution permits a sitting governor to defect to another party, well maybe it can be morally questioned, but if it is constitutionally permitted, people still talk about it. Maybe there is need to take a second look at the constitution because I think it is wrong for a party to give you a mandate and you move away with that mandate. If you are going, you should leave the mandate for the party. Like I said, that should be a constitutional matter that has to be looked into.
Umahi said he left PDP because the party was not willing to zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the Southeast. Are you not pushing for the presidency to come to Southeast in 2023?
Well, if you belong to a political party or political associations like age grades or society or club; there are rules guiding them. As an organized party, PDP has a rule. If the rule says categorically that there are rules or regulations or guidelines that say the presidency should go to Southeast at a particular period, then you hold on to it and the party can be held accountable if they fail to give the Southeast the presidency, but if otherwise, then we can only be pragmatic about it. If it requires lobbying for you to convince your party that it is proper for the party to give the ticket to your region or geopolitical zone; then you should muster every means available to you and legitimately pursue that, and when you pursue that and it fails, then you devise another strategy. Good enough there are some powerful politicians from the Southeast who have declared intention to run for the position of the presidency under PDP, so let’s just watch and see.
What is your take on the zoning of governorship of Ebonyi in 2023; some people are saying it could start from anywhere, including the South where the incumbent governor comes from since the rotation has gone round?
My advice and what I think, is that in my own party, the PDP, zoning has served us right. It has helped us to maintain orderliness in the party and it should be continued and if we are continuing the zoning system, the sequence has to be maintained. The sequence started from Ebonyi North and moved to the Central and ending up in South now. It has to start from where it started initially which is Ebonyi North, after that it goes to Ebonyi Central; that is if the party says that they are continuing with zoning. It will serve the party better if they continue with the zoning. Zoning has come to stay everywhere. Even in the instance of Anambra, the three frontline candidates all came from the South and not only from South, but the same local government. One would think that somebody from another zone will even clear one or three local governments from his own zone, but though the three candidates came from the same local government and the same zone; they came second and third. This shows that the issue of zoning has gone beyond political parties, it is now taking roots even in the mouth of the people, the electorate. I am not sure that the case of Ebonyi will be different. In 2015, somebody from the North tried to defy the zoning and ran under the Labour Party, everybody and major stakeholders of the state PDP ruled against it even those of us from the North sided with the Southerner to become governor so that the zoning system will be preserved and also the oneness of the state. That would have been the most dangerous thing that would have happened to us if a Northerner had become governor in 2015 at the expense of somebody from the South and you know one thing that happened that time that made it more audacious; the Northerner picked somebody from the central as his running mate.
Will you run for the governorship of Ebonyi in 2023?
Well, let me put it this way; I am a process person. I belief in due process of things. We have a political party; and a political party sponsors a candidate for election. At the appropriate time, they will issue notice. Those who are interested in running for governorship will indicate interest and until the appropriate time, we will wait and see when that happens. But suffice it to say that if you wake me up from my sleep and say Fide become the governor of Ebonyi State, I will start the job immediately without forming a committee.