My fears ahead of election
Despite the protracted crises facing the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), its Deputy National Chairman, Dr Cairo Ojougboh believes that it is still the party to beat in Nigeria. He believes that if the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) does not compromise the 2019 general elections, it would be what he described as a walk in the park. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he spoke on various issues.
Two years of the All Progressives Congress(APC) government led by President Muhammadu Buhari is here. What is your objective assessment of the administration so far?
One is that it is not the will of man or the design of man that the president is sick and we pray for his quick and complete recovery so that he can come back and continue his job. The number two problem is that the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) has not been able to give a viable opposition because of some of the activities of few members. But as God would have it, the matter would soon end at the Supreme Court. Be that as it may, the good thing is that the PDP remains the biggest party in the whole of black Africa till now. The way things are going, once we are able to get through at the Supreme Court, and reposition the party, the country would be better for it. Let me also say that the correct assessment of the situation in Nigeria is that the last two years have been full of difficult problems. The present government inherited a very bad situation in the North East of the country but luckily, the government has been able to achieve a lot there in terms of security. The government was also able to investigate the situation and make adequate effort leading to the release of some of the Chibok girls. Also, in the area of the anti-corruption fight, they have been stronger than the PDP. The core people of Nigeria who still remain in the PDP have not been able to avail themselves of their intelligence and experience to drive the nation politically and economically. To that end, my wish is that the PDP could come together, resolve their differences, personal interests for the larger interests of the country as a whole so that we can adequately address the problem of the country. Personally, I have no other country other than Nigeria. All my children are in Nigeria and we have nowhere else to go. So, what happens to Nigeria is very important and paramount to me. That is my candid opinion.
But the APC government came on the promise in three major areas viz economy, security and fight against corruption. How far do you think they have gone in fulfilling the promise to Nigerians?
Like I said before, they have done better than the PDP in the area of the fight against corruption. My only advice to them is that they should be true in the areas of obedience to court orders and the rule of law. One of the ways to lose a case in court is the inability to defend your position. They should follow through and be able to defend their cases. This is because where they take a case to the court and they are not able to defend it, it creates a very bad precedent. The axiom is that it is better for all criminals to be set free than for one innocent person to be punished unjustly. So, you must have your facts to prove all provable beyond reasonable doubt before the court can convict somebody. That is what the government should have in mind in the war against corruption. But generally, the government has done well in the fight against corruption but it must also have the milk of human kindness. They must follow the fight up but bear in mind obedience to the rule of law. On the economy, and the personnel, it has not fared well at all especially the Minister of Finance, Agriculture; it is only the Minister of Transport that appears to have made an impact. Look at the ministry of works, they are not doing well at all. All the roads are not motorable. They must rise to fix the infrastructure properly. That brings me to the budget, I would say that the money in the budget cannot move the country forward despite the volume. If you interpret it in dollars, it is declining rather than rising and our problems are increasing; the population is increasing. The government has to put machinery in place to earn more money. In the opposition, we are looking at an economic blueprint that would transform Nigeria which we cannot tell them now because we are not their advisers. If we tell them now, they would steal our points. We are waiting for the election to unfold our economic blueprint.
On the issue of national unity and integration, some insist that the APC government has divided the country more than uniting it. Do you agree with this position?
My position on that is that when you are in government, you have to be able to look at the people that can work with you. For me, this issue of federal character, I feel that it has advantages but I feel that the disadvantages outweigh the disadvantages. It is just that Nigerians would not be fair if you remove federal character, if not why should we be talking about federal character now. If I can select a team from Delta to win a match for Nigeria, why should I go to Sokoto? Go to the private sector and take banking today for instance, it has been liberalised and the people who are controlling the industry are mostly from Delta, even the media. Just like the Fulani, they supply 80 per cent of the meat we need in this country; are you now going to say that because of the federal character, you are going to make the rearing of cattle the mainstay of the Igbo man. The Igbo man cannot rear cattle and the Yoruba man cannot rear cattle. You must look at the comparative advantage. In the area where you are good, we must emphasise it. If you know that these are the people who can move this country forward, you give them the chance. That is my personal opinion.
Is your faction of the PDP headed by Ali Modu Sheriff optimistic that it would get a positive result from the impending case over the authentic leadership of the party at the Supreme Court?
There is no faction. The court is the Supreme Court. You cannot browbeat them. You cannot pull wool over them. The court of Appeal was very straight. It said the tenure of Sheriff ends on so date and that there is a court process in Abuja saying that nothing should be done to remove Sheriff and the National Working Committee(NWC) until that date. The Appeal Court said if you did not like this judgment, you should have come back to Lagos and Abuja and since you have not challenged it, Sheriff remains the chairman. That is the judgment of the Court of Appeal and that is the same case they took to the Supreme Court. There would be no surprises at the Supreme Court because God is great and justice is the truth and truth is justice.
The fears in many quarters are that even if your faction wins the pending case at the Supreme Court that there would still be factionalisation in the party? The contention is even that majority of the critical stakeholders are in the Makarfi faction.
Let me correct you, there are no factions in the party. To start with, all the governors are with us except Fayose, Wike and Okowa. There is no problem. The party is coming back. A lot of critical stakeholders would come back as soon as we are through with the case at the Supreme Court and the party would spring back to power again. The 2019 general election would be a walk through the park for the PDP.
You have been very close to Sheriff, what man and leader is he? Many think that he is very controversial. Do you agree?
He is not a controversial man. He is just a good man who people would like to take advantage of. You know that political opponents can do anything. This is a man who means well for this country. He is not a man who can play around with the rule of law. The governors wanted somebody who could do their bidding but when they saw that he was not ready to do their bidding and that he would return the party to the grassroots, they started making trouble. Sheriff’s ambition is to make the party what it was in 1998/1999. In that period, if you attended the meeting of the party, they did not give you money to go back. A lot of people who became ministers in 1999, they were using night buses to attend meetings in Abuja. They were not given money to go back but if they were given money and they come for a meeting, they would be mindful of what to say. The man that gives you money would thereafter set up the structure that he wants. So, Sheriff said this form of paying money for meetings, let it stop, whatever we have, we use so that we can go and deliver our ward because on the day of elections, you are not going to leave Rivers State and you go and deliver somebody in Maiduguri. The man in Maiduguri would be working and you in Rivers would also be working. That was what happened to the PDP. Godfathers! What Sheriff is saying is let us bury the issue of godfatherism in the party so that we can now reform the party for the public.
So, on the road to the next general elections in 2019, what do you think would be the chances of the PDP?
As far as we are concerned, it is going to be a walk through the park.
What would be your reaction to one of the conspiracy theories that Sheriff is an APC mole in the PDP?
If he is a mole in the PDP, then the persons who employed the mole is Governors Nyesom Wike and Ayo Fayose.
But they have acknowledged that they did not know him and that it was indeed an error of judgement on their part of who Sheriff is.
If that is true, who do you now blame? They are the moles. You cannot just wake up and say I want this man to be chairman so that he can do what I want. No. Sheriff wants to do what the generality of the people want. He wants to take the party to the people. That is the only offence he has committed and they are accusing him that he is a mole. Sheriff was in the APC and he came to the PDP to contest Senatorial ticket and they gave him ticket overnight. Adamu Muazu collected the ticket from him and did not allow him to run. Sheriff did not go back to the APC but remained. Have you ever heard that the APC gave Sheriff a contract or that they are paying him money? So, the whole allegation is the figment of their imagination. You look at Sheriff who is a two-time governor and three-time Senator and you say is a mole; I hate this issue of calling people names. He is a responsible man and he has a family and children. To be talking to him like that is not fair; Nigerians should learn how to respect our leaders.
Even if you win the pending case at the Supreme Court, are you not worried over the gale of defections in the PDP?
Who and who are defecting? By the time we are through with our case, they would come back. This is Nigeria and this is politics.
But do you have any fears for the future of the PDP?
I have no fears for the PDP. The only fear I have for the PDP is the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC). I trust President Buhari and he knows that he is a product of free and fair election. My prayer is that he would not allow his cabinet to compromise INEC. Once INEC is not compromised, the PDP would smile.