Former presidential adviser on political matters, Akin Osuntokun is not happy with some developments in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He is irked by moves and body language of some officials of the party to perpetuate themselves in office at the expense of the party’s future. Osuntokun who served as the Director General of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) spoke to IHEANACHO NWOSU on other national issues. Excerpts:
AHEAD of the convention of the PDP, there seems to be so much confusion as regards the zoning of key offices, especially the chairmanship slot. Are you worried by the development?
I think I will use the right words; what we know as of now is authentic is that the courts resolved that the position of the chairmanship be reserved for the North East until this convention, that is the upcoming convention. In other words, the North East should serve out its term. The present interim chairman is the person to complete the tenure for the North East. Now, the upcoming convention has to resolve the outstanding issue of which zone the next chairman should emerge from. It has become once the tenure of the northeast has expired, they leave that question hanging. The PDP took the position a while ago that the presidential candidate of the party in the 2019 election is zoned to the North in principle. Of course there are three zones in the North, that means that one of those zones would likely produce the presidential candidate.
I don’t want to pre-empt the party; strictly speaking, there is nothing that precludes any zone from the North from presenting the chairmanship of the party. But conventionally, when you have presidential candidate of the party from the South, the tendency is for us to have the chairmanship from the North and vice versa. There is a contest, a supremacy contest within the party and a contest of ideas, contest of visions, the vision of the party, what does PDP want to become? What image does it want to project? What alternative or superior alternative does it want to offer or proffer to the present APC government? How do you respond to the yearnings or opinions of Nigerians at large? How do you position yourself as a party befitting of their trust, their support, and desire and admiration? I believe that the issue of the chairmanship was resolved by the position that was taken earlier on in that the person there now is going to serve out the tenure of the North East. It will be news to imagine that the North East will again retain the position. But assuming that that is the case, the moral thing, the decent thing for the party, is first and foremost, the person who is occupying the position on the premise serving out the tenure, is not supposed to present himself for election at the convention.
South West, your zone endorsed him and the North to retain the chairmanship slot; were you not part of the arrangement?
I do not believe that PDP leaders in my zone which is South West are of that opinion, no, not at all. You can be more specific about those leaders who are plotting for the continuity of the interim chairman.
Senator Buruji who claims to be the leader of the party in the zone led some PDP chieftains in the zone to endorse Sheriff and cede the chairmanship slot to North . Were you not consulted?
I am very happy you used the word “who claim to be the leader”. The leadership of a party is not by claiming or appropriating. So, he cannot claim leadership of South West. He can have his own group in the South West but there is no way he can say he is the leader of the party in the zone.
So, you are on the same page with Chief Olabode George that Buruji cannot speak for the South West PDP?
Of course, it is not a matter of standing with him,, there are rules and regulations. Any society that is not governed by rules and regulations is to an extent, a jungle. There are rules and regulations to define position and attributing leadership position to anybody. Nobody can just stand up and declare himself leader of PDP in any zone. If you have a former President, for instance, from the zone, I think by virtue of the office, he has that prestige, that status . If you have a former vice president, it can be considered. No senator can arrogate to himself, the leadership of PDP in the South West.
The zone has PDP governors and in the hierarchy or protocol in the perspective of the public, governors should occupy a higher position than a senator. So, if it is on account of hierarchy or position, Governors should take precedent over a senator in claiming to be the leader of the party.
But he has the backing of Gov. Fayose?
But there is Gov Mimiko of Ondo State.
What was the key issue raised by the governors when they drafted Sheriff as chairman which made the people to key into the move?
Some of us were not persuaded when they were bringing in Sheriff as an interim national chairman. They said it was just to fill in the vacuum created by someone from the North East. Many people objected to it. Let me state my own position. Personally, I have nothing against Sheriff but I don’t think that he deserves the position of the chairmanship of the PDP. First and foremost, he is a relatively new comer to the party. Secondly, you have to ask, what is he bringing to the party in terms of assets? In terms of pluses and minuses, I don’t see anything he is bringing to the party. In Borno, he is a marginal political leader, not to talk of the North East and the whole North. So, what specifically would PDP benefit by having him as the chairman? In terms of public projection of goodwill, he doesn’t have a lot of it. He is not somebody whose perception in the larger Nigerian politics is good. So, I have problems with his coming in to occupy that office. Anybody coming to fill that position must have a measure of good image.
Didn’t the governors give reasons for settling for him?
I have told you it was an interim arrangement. His coming there is supposed to be an interim arrangement. But the fear of many people at that time is coming to reality. People had feared that in the interim, there is the likelihood, knowing the tendency of Nigerian politicians to want to perpetuate themselves in office; the same is likely to occur. I hope it will be taken care of at the convention.
I have my own ideal, I have a vision of my ideal chairmanship candidate for the PDP. In Nigeria today, there is a vacuum, there is a political vacuum. Nigerians are dissatisfied with both parties. To a large extent, they are more dissatisfied with the APC, maybe because it is the party in government. People are waiting on the PDP to get it right, they are waiting on PDP to offer hope.
Would you say the upcoming convention is the only window PDP has to get it right?
If I want to elect a chairman, I will start getting it right from there. Chairmanship is likely to emerge from the convention, so that is how you can get things right. There is this cliché that fish gets rotten from the head.
If you sample public opinions today from Borno State, North East, the whole of the North and Nigeria in total, I do not see how Sheriff will win the support of majority of Nigerians. So, tell me, what is it that PDP stands to gain from his chairmanship.
Now, let me tell you something, I am not sure, precisely, the time he joined the party but it is likely to be a year ago or so or less than a year or thereabout. How can somebody on that account alone become the chairman of a party like PDP? It is wrong. Is it that in the PDP we don’t have materials? Is it that the party does not have materials, that it has to wait for somebody to join you? And that it is not somebody that has the standards of Nigerian public opinion and perception. He doesn’t have credibility, I am sorry to say it.
You did say that many Nigerians are not satisfied with APC as at today. Are you not engaging in exaggeration of facts?
In what way? From the generality of opinion, Nigerians are dissatisfied. Of course, if you want to be nice to the government, you will say that it would have done better. Now tell me that Nigerian who is fully satisfied with the way things are going?. The APC still has three years to perfect their ways but things are not going well at the moment.
If truly Nigerians are dissatisfied with the government, is it not safe to say that they are in a hurry?
They should be. One of the reasons why they are in a hurry is because of the APC promises. When they were campaigning for presidency, the party promised the people that when it gets to office, it will do this and that. They practically promised to solve every problem. But look at the fuel scarcity, something as little as the provision of fuel, government is struggling with it.
Do you see any sense in the commendation of the incumbent administration in the way it has approached the war on corruption by some Nigerians?
Yes, I agree. I agree that it has done well, although it could have done better. It could be done with less propaganda, and more discretion and genuine commitment. Government has done well in the fight against corruption but that doesn’t mean that it is flawless.
Apart from the few areas like non availability of fuel which you said government has performed woefully, are there other areas you feel government has failed?
Economy. There is no person who will give the government a pass mark on how they have handled the economy. Look at the budget and how it has been ridiculed. It is the first time in the history of this country that we have different budgets floating around.
In blaming government over the poor state of the economy, do you take into cognizance that the 2016 budget is yet to be passed?
Part of the problem of the economy is that the budget has not been signed. A better economic management team should have ensured that the budget started operating from January but we are entering May now. I don’t know how they manage their own economy. They should have known that budget is intrinsic to the economy. If therefore, the government that assumed power in May cannot have a budget ready by January this year, that, in itself is an indication of mismanagement. We are yet to start operating with the budget even by May. Also, you and I know that it is not only one annual budget that will have a conspicuous positive impact on the economy. There are so many fundamental things. In the management of the currency policy, can anybody honestly say that the government has gotten it right?
Beyond politics, is there anything wrong in the President’s frequent foreign trip in search of investors?
Yes, it’s not mutually exclusive. He is looking for complementary relationship with other nations. The only problem is that it should not be at the expense of the domestic management and governance. That is where the problem lies. Personally, there is nothing wrong with the president going around to establish rapport with the global world. We want people that can come and support the Nigerian economy. Definitely, I am sure we will get some benefit from it. The only area of reservation is when it now seems to be like it is being done at the expense of managing the economy at home. That is where the problem lies.
Do you agree with people who argue that this administration has reduced impunity in government circle?
That is true, I agree with that assessment.
In the area of security, do you agree that the country is safer now?
Actually, it is not a question of giving the government pass mark. I think they have done well. The problem is that they exaggerate their own successes. They stress things to the point of credulity. Just as the Minister of Information and the President said in December that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. I mean! What does technically defeated mean? And the problem is that, it is this APC government that created the perception it has now. They raised a template of expectation they cannot meet. That is part of the problem. How can you say you will give N5,000 to unemployed Nigerian youths? You see, these are the kind of things they say. Is that a reflection of seriousness? To say that and not consider the implication of what they are saying. They are the ones who raised themselves high and they are now feeling it. Their propaganda was so bad that it can’t stand the test of credibility.
Are you also saying that Nigeria, as a matter of necessity, must look towards the report of the Jonathan’s conference?
Yes of course, you see, these are not rocket science. If you have a constitutional structure and the state governments are bankrupt, what do you say? We should continue like that? There are so many indications that this is not working and this is what will work. I am not theorizing, I am drawing my observations from what we are facing presently in the nation. This is not working and it will not work. Decentralization of power in the country is what is needed. For Nigeria to work, you have to find a way to draw correlation between sacrifice and reward. We need to have a configured process by which you can exert sacrifice from your citizens, in expectation of reward, one that is not partial and vulnerable to nepotism.
People have spoken about corruption but the structure we have now encourages it. It encourages non -accountability.
What do you make of this move by the Senate to amend the Criminal Code Tribunal (CCT) Act?
It is a reflection of the deficiency we are talking about; where people make laws that suit their own personal interests. That is the kind of abnormality Nigeria permits. The question Nigerians should ask is, to what purpose is the amendment? What is the objective of the amendment? What is it they want to achieve? Others might say they want a certain level of protection but then, that is not it. We are talking of the Nigerian law. It is wrong to design a law for the interest of 109 people. The fact that you are subjected more to a test of accountability than the executive, what you do is to make the executive more accountable, not the other way.