By Chukwudi Nweje
Dr. Adetokunbo Pearse is a member of the National Campaign Council of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a chieftain of the party in Lagos State. He speaks here on the party’s chances in the presidential election, why Atiku Abubakar will win the poll and the crisis rocking the main opposition party, among other issues.
Your party, the PDP has started its campaign for the 2023 elections, what is your impression so far about the exercise?
I have been very impressed by Atiku Abubakar’s approach to the campaign this time. I think more than ever before; you see him going around articulating his position on issues. He has done very little and almost no comment from the other people running for the presidency. His focus has been on what he will do to protect future generations, what he will do to provide insecurity, what he will do to ensure unity in the country and what he will do on education.
He said the first thing he will do if he gets into office by the grace of God is to increase the number of policemen. So, he talks about issues and he is very energetic, eloquent and very inclusive. I think this time around Atiku will end the way he has started at the top and be the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But he made a controversial statement at Arewa House in Kaduna, when he said that the North needs a northern president like him. What do you make of such statement coming from Atiku?
It is unfortunate that these things happen during election time; people will twist your word and take it out of the contest. I have done a rejoinder to that allegation and I have explained it. One way I did it is to send the full text of his statement to newspaper houses for them to evaluate it themselves. What Atiku said was that ‘we don’t need a Yoruba president, you don’t need an Igbo president and you don’t need a president from the North. We need a president who has traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria, has formed a relationship across the country, is a pan Nigerian candidate, and happens in my case to be of northern extraction.’
That is really what he said and if he had said you don’t need a northern president, if he had put it that way, the northerners will say he doesn’t need them. So, all he said was I’m a northerner but I’m more than a northern, I’m a true Nigerian who cut across. Is it not true that we don’t need a Yoruba president or an Igbo president; that we don’t need a northern president either? We need a president who represents the interest of Nigeria and the interest of the people.
Then for you to say that Atiku is a tribalist; it has to be more than one speech. You have to look at his lifestyle and his record. Atiku’s personal doctor for more than 30 years, whom he depends on, is an Igbo man. His cook, whom he depends on again in many ways, is not Hausa/Fulani. He is a real Nigerian and a man of the people. Atiku’s first wife is a Yoruba woman. I believe the second wife is Igbo. He said it recently that he has three Igbo children and two or three Yoruba children.
If you can say that one of the presidential candidates is not a tribalist, it is Atiku. They know it and everybody knows that. Is it now that you are going to call him a tribalist, when all his friends know that he is a friend to them and has been faithful to them all these years? So, I don’t think that the allegation is going to hold water. Labour Party (LP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) have resolved to attack Atiku because they can’t fight him on issues. They are confused and they don’t know what to do. So, they are looking for some excuses to divert the attention of Nigerians.
The APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, comes from the South-West. Do you think that Atiku stands a chance in the zone?
The day PDP won the governorship election in Osun State, I tweeted that right now if we have the election today, Atiku Abubakar is the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because he is going to win in the South. In the South-East, he can get two states; in the South-South, he can get three states and in the South-West, Osun, Ogun, Ondo and Oyo states are likely to vote for him. This means that he will win the zone but let us just say that he will win four states in the South-West.
We don’t know tomorrow but my guess is that those four states of the South-West will vote for him. Now, if Atiku is able to get four states in the South-West or even three states, the game is over. That means he has defeated both Obi and Tinubu in the South. When we go to the North, I don’t think they can beat him in there. They have lost in their own zones and this has nothing to do with whether you are Yoruba or Igbo, it is the bridges you have built in the past. It is the strength of your political party and alliances.
Tinubu may come from the South-West but he is a figment of his own imagination. He is likely going to win in Lagos because his political machinery is too strong and so well-oiled. But apart from Lagos, I don’t see him winning any other state in the South-West. However, if he is not careful in Lagos, Atiku may beat him this time. If not for Peter Obi, we would have beaten Tinubu flat in Lagos with the votes of the Igbo and other non-indigenes that are mainly for PDP.
Are you in any way underrating the popularity of Peter Obi and the Labour Party in the South-East and South-South by saying that Atiku can win two states in the zone, and is it possible for Atiku to win two states in the South-East?
That was why I said two states, I didn’t say five states. Peter Obi is more popular in Lagos than anywhere in the South-East. If Obi is not careful, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) will not allow them to have an election in the East because they don’t want elections. Let me tell you, if he is not careful, we will defeat him in Anambra State, where he was a disastrous governor. Tell me, what is his popularity? The popularity is on social media. So, Obi is a disaster waiting to happen.
Despite the picture you’ve painted about Atiku’s chances, there is concern that the crisis and division in PDP might hamper his victory at the poll. Don’t you see that as a threat?
Well, it will certainly diminish Atiku’s figures. For instance, rather than garner about 75 per cent of Rivers State votes, he will get 60 per cent. So, it is not as bad as it appears to be even in Rivers State. In Cross River State, even though the governor is APC, the people are solidly PDP including members of the current administration in the state, who were PDP and only became APC because the governor took them to APC.
So, our chances of winning in Cross River State are very high. We are going to win by the grace of God in Akwa Ibom State. We are going to win by the grace of God in Edo and Bayelsa states, so the chances are very good. I’m only predicting because that is the only thing we can do now but based on empirical evidence, my analysis shows that Atiku will win in the South. If he gets about seven states in the South, the game is over. Obi will get four, while Tinubu will get five. That is the maximum they can get from the South.
If you look at it geopolitical zone by geopolitical zone, it looks very gloomy for Obi and Tinubu. If it was not for the very bad image that Muhammadu Buhari has created for the Fulani people, nobody would be challenging Atiku in this race. The only problem he has is that he is a Fulani person. But it is unfortunate that we are stereotyping because all Igbo people are not the same and all Yoruba people are not the same. If you now think that Atiku is going to be another Buhari, I’m sorry you are mistaken.
The opinion is that Atiku has ignored Governor Nyesom Wike and his team and moved on with his campaign, how do you think PDP should resolve the crisis in the party?
If Wike and everybody involved on both sides obey what the constitution of the party says, they will realize that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party is supreme. Iyorchia Ayu said he will resign if the party says he should resign but members of the NEC have said that they have confidence in Ayu. It is only individuals who are saying Ayu must go and those individuals are known by the party.
That is where I stand because you cannot have perfect peace in politics and you don’t even have it anywhere in the world. Therefore, we are going to manage our problem till the end. Wike himself has said that he is not leaving PDP and he has already constituted a campaign council in Rivers State going the entire place appointing people to work on the election. Who are they working for? PDP!
Do you think that Ayu will accept to step down if PDP wins the presidential election?
The Board of Trustees (BOT) met recently and they made the suggestions that if Atiku wins, Ayu will step down. That is an agreement. Again, don’t forget that there is a process and if the party says he should step down, he will step down. The party is now saying we would like you to step down after the election, so I think it is settled.
What are the chances of your party in the Lagos State governorship election?
The performance of this present governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is so poor and he has done virtually nothing except collecting of tax upon tax and making life difficult for the people. All this man is doing is collecting money for Tinubu’s election, therefore, he is so unpopular and he has failed so badly that the PDP candidate is going to be the next governor of Lagos State.