By Iheanacho Nwosu
Sen. Buruji Kashamu represents Ogun East. In this interview , he shared his thoughts on a number of issues including the ceding of the chairmanship slot of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to North by the South West zone, how PDP can reclaim power in 2019 and his agenda for the party in the zone.
The South West PDP is said not to be interested in the party’s chairmanship, what informs this position?
On Thursday, the 17th of March, 2016, I was part of a delegation which visited the National chairman of the party. The delegation included all six state party chairmen, leaders and elders in the zone and was led by the National Vice Chairman of the party in the South West.
The visit was the forum we needed to express our solidarity with his leadership as well as to keep him abreast of the challenges threatening the peace and unity of the party in our zone. Without prejudice, we clearly stated our conviction that the National Chairman of the party should emerge from the North.
Our opinion was informed by the fact that while the PDP controls 10 of the 17 states in Southern Nigeria, the PDP only controls two states in the whole of the 19 states in Northern Nigeria. Thus, the need to strengthen the North to pre-empt the branding of the PDP as a regional party if the National Chairman emerged from the South, as it was already being pushed. The choice of a National Chairman from the South West will be too devastating for the party that is still smarting from the losses it suffered in the last general elections.
It was for this simple reason that we posited that a reversal of the current choice of leadership will certainly shrink our party into a regional party that lacks the capacity to sustain itself. However, I am convinced that our party leaders do have a good sense of history and can clearly recall the fact that once upon a time, key leadership positions like the BOT chairman as well as office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the nation were occupied by leaders from the South who were empowered and highly influential because the PDP was the ruling party at the time. Unfortunately, the huge resources at their disposal could not guarantee and secure victory for the party at the polls. It is even a much more daunting task for anyone wanting to be party chairman right now because we have lost the privileges and advantages of being the ruling party.
It should also be noted that the South West had the Presidency for eight years as well as the Speaker of the House of Representatives for four years; these positions are more influential than the chairmanship of the party which some now argue must be given to the South West because no one from the region has ever served as National Chairman.
Are there other reasons the chairmanship must go to the North?
I must say that we need the cohesive political character of the North to re-build and reposition the party, going forward. It will be easier for them to pull the needed resources for rebuilding the party. This possibility is already evident in the way the north has rallied around the National Chairman in spite of their previous disapproval and criticisms of his person.
We are witnesses of how activities have picked up at the National Secretariat since the emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as National Chairman. Our prestigious national secretariat that experienced a lull is now alive and busy with prolific political activities. There are measured steps being taken to appease the aggrieved and bring estranged party men and leaders back home. Since Senator Sheriff came on board, the PDP has been winning most of the re-run elections. There is a ray of hope in the horizon and it will be utterly irresponsible to put off the flicker.
Besides, no one can discount the fact that Senator Modu Sheriff is a man with great political antecedents that speak of the quality of his political service to his people; it takes an extra-ordinary man to win successive elections into the National Assembly and the office of the Governor. We must learn to and be willing to give honour to people when it is deserved.
Is the step taken by the South West PDP leaders not likely to haunt the zone in future?
This is the auspicious moment for the South West to position itself for other political offices like the Vice-Presidency that will certainly emerge as we walk the road to 2019. We do not need a National Chairman that is without the critical mass that is imperative for meritorious service. Without denigrating us, we, the people of the South West, are rather contentious and engrossed with tackling each other through petition-writing. This is sadly evident in the fact that since the emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff most of the petitions that have flooded the national secretariat are from the South West zone.
From my conservative estimate, it would cost millions of naira monthly to run the National Secretariat. Anyone who wants to be National Chairman must be able to source for the money. It is baffling that since our party lost power at the centre, not many of our respectable leaders in the South West have spent a dime on the party at the ward, local government, state and zonal levels; let alone at the national level. If core constituencies are left unfunded, how will the national hub of the party be revived and empowered for mandatory political activities?
With all due respect, most of those agitating for leadership are simply positioning themselves for the spoils of political office and not service. Gone are the days when the PDP was in power; the party is certainly not in a position to attract funding like it did in the past. Thus, those aspiring for leadership must have the capacity to fund the party either directly or through a credible fund raising drive. It is immoral for anyone to look for party positions so as to leverage on it to line their pockets by cornering party or campaign funds.
Our proposal, however, is not cast in stone as the only logical option to choose. Let those with contrary views join the debate and I will be willing to defer to superior arguments. Hopefully, in line with our zoning policy, when a presidential candidate of Northern extraction emerges in 2018, the various organs of the party will meet and decide where to take the National Chairmanship to.
What are the challenges facing the party in the South West?
There are crucial issues such as the current internal conflicts, rivalries and misgivings that must be progressively resolved. We do not need further recriminations and back-stabbing in the ranks of the party in the South West. The conflict flash points have been identified and we look forward to the reconciliation and healing processes. No single interest is greater than the collective interest of our great party. Every true, faithful and loyal party leader should be focused on reconciliation and healing and not parochial interests.
Let me state from the outset that going by the constitution of our party, the highest decision making organ of the party in a zone is the Zonal Executive Committee which comprises of the National Vice Chairman of the zone, the state chairmen and other notable leaders and elders. If these leaders at a certain point in time decide to defer to a particular individual, there must be a reason for it; the most important being the person’s commitment and dedication to the party.
An objective account of the events of that fateful day will reveal that it was simply a spontaneous expression of their esteem and appreciation of the leadership I have provided so far. I must say that I was so shocked and speechless. The National Chairman even urged me to say thank you to my people for the honour, but I could not. It was when I got into my car that I began to say “Thank you, Allah”; “How did it happen?”; “Oh Almighty Allah, You have always got my back”.
It was indeed an honour and privilege to see eminent party leaders and political juggernauts pronounce me their leader. While I remain humbled by their action, I must acknowledge that leadership is earned. If they have decided to reward my unwavering sense of responsibility and commitment to the well-being of the party this way, what option do I have other than to rise to the occasion?
I do reckon that they see me as a rallying point, even though I have superior leaders ahead of me. I do not assume that I am the No.1 leader of the PDP in the South West. I am just a rallying point. I am reminded of what Jesus said to his followers in the Scriptures that those of you who are ashamed of me before men, I will also deny you in the presence of my father in heaven. Frankly speaking, how would anyone expect a people they never catered for to validate them? Even some of those who managed to spend for the party did not go beyond their respective states.
Thus, if over 70 per cent of the functional leaders across the states spontaneously bestow their confidence in me as the rallying point at this trying time in our political history, it should be seen as a necessary inevitable step and not a superiority contest. I have always, without reservations, acknowledged other superior leaders who have served the party in various capacities. The likes of Chief Bode George, Senator Seye Ogunlewe, Alhaji Yekeen Adeojo, Alhaji Shuaib Oyedokun, Chief Clement Awoyelu, Chief Abiola Ogundokun and others too numerous to mention.
To most of them, I should either be a political son or associate and certainly not an opponent. Now is the time for us all to unite for the sake of our great party even as we inevitably swap batons; the old giving it up for the young. The future is now and the young people who own the future must be accommodated and empowered. With great humility, I am grateful to be the rallying point for this vision which I have committed the best of my ideas, time and resources, to promote and sustain.