•What we learnt from Ondo election
By Willy Eya
Deputy National Chairman of the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh has said that the main opposition party would come out stronger from the internal crisis bedeviling it. In this interview with some journalists, he speaks on various issues, saying the PDP crisis would strengthen democracy in Nigeria.
What is the state of affairs in your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
Our party is very, very strong. The NWC set a committee on mobilization and strategy and they went round the entire country and when they submitted that report, they said the party is very strong at the grassroots; that the party is well represented in every ward in the 774 local governments in this country and that the people are desirous of PDP putting its house in order so that they can strategise and get ready for election as quickly as possible. That is the state of the party.
Do you think that with the effort you are making amid the protracted crisis that has bedeviled the leadership all this while that the party still has a future?
Well, we are optimistic that the Court of Appeal will give its judgement very soon. The Court of Appeal adjourned for judgement and you know that they have a period of 90 days within which to come up with their judgement. As I have always said, there will be no legal solution to the problem of the PDP but the legal solution is a prelude to a political solution. So, as soon as the Court of Appeal gives its judgement, a general meeting will be called where everybody will know his right and then, we will all sit down in a room and we will take it from there. I am very optimistic that the National Convention of the party will hold within the first quarter of 2017. That is the way I look at it because people have talked about mega party; of course, the PDP is a brand and a lot of leaders have rejected the issue of a mega party; people have talked about change of name. Of course, the founding fathers have said that the reason they are keeping quiet, is for the people of impunity to leave the party and they will return. They’ve said look, that the slogan of the party is “Power to the people”. In fact, it was Bamanga Tukur who said it when we visited him some few days ago and luckily, he too is in touch with most leaders of the party and I am of the opinion that they will not accede to change of name and that is the general conclusion.
Of course, the custodians of the right of the party is Alhaji Senator Ali Modu Sheriff; he is also of the opinion that we rebuild the party and that is where we are today.
When you talk about the National Working Committee, how did the members come into place because we are not aware that they held a convention? How did they come about?
The National Working Committee is still in place because their tenure will expire sometime in 2017 according to the court judgement of Mohammed J. of Abuja, and then also the interlocutory order of Buba in Lagos. And then it was only the unfortunate Liman judgement that of course, the Court of Appeal in Abuja has described as unfortunate, that brought all these crises in the PDP. But basically, the National Working Committee in the last six months, we sat down, set up committees to look properly at the way of repositioning the party and to review the constitution of the party and then we came up with three major additions to what we agreed in May. Number one, that after governors have done their second terms and presidents too and party chairmen, in the subsequent election and primaries, no governor or president or party chairman would be allowed to adopt any candidate. Any candidate who is adopted by a president, by a governor would be disqualified from the party. This is to ensure that all party members have a say in producing the party leaders in the following election.
We have also taken a critical look at the composition of the National Convention. What we feel is that members of both present and past members of the National Assembly, all of them will soon be members of the National Convention. This is because for a person to rise to the level of National Convention especially the House of Reps and the Senate, you know as it is constituted, you cannot be doing a National Convention and you exclude the person, a super delegate. If such persons know that they are so recognized, they will all assiduously work for the party. And these are leaders that at all times muster votes for their people. We’ve also proposed that at least, one member each from each state, one Senator and one member of House of Reps should join the National Exco of the party. Usually, it was one member of House of Reps and one member of Senate from the zones. But this time, we’ve increased it so that a member each from the Senate and the House of Reps would be member of the NEC because we want to make the NEC large enough to carry the opinions of the people so that decisions of NEC will reflect the thinking of the people. These are the three major things we believe should be included in the next NEC we are convening and once that is approved, we will take it to the National Convention and once rectified, we will also work on it.
Then the final one we are also amending is that, if you are a member of the National Working Committee, a member of the State Exco, or a member of the party executive anywhere and you want to return to office after your first tenure, you should not necessarily resign from office because if the entire country vote for you to be the chairman of the party and then because you’re a chairman of the party, you have to lose your position to re-contest, it is unfair, it is unconstitutional. In fact, it runs against the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because even the governor and the president produced by the party, they don’t abdicate their office for them to re-contest. And then members of the National Assembly, they don’t abdicate their offices for them to also re-contest. So what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
Luckily as I will always say, the NWC and Sheriff, they have become the major pillar for multiparty democracy in Nigeria because if what is happening in PDP didn’t happen, we would not have had the opportunity to correct the ills of this impunity-driven members of the illegal Caretaker Committee. If you also look at it, what has happened in the PDP has also helped to stabilize the APC; of course by now, John Oyegun would have been out of office because APC now knows that they cannot mess around with John Oyegun because if they do so, the crisis the APC will get will be worse than that of the PDP. So you can see Nigerians and lovers of Nigeria democracy; that is why till today, they are very happy we are able to say no to impunity and I am using this opportunity to thank Nigerians and party members for the huge support they have given to Alhaji Modu Sheriff and the National Working Committee.
What will you say about the impression that Sheriff is a mole in PDP and that he is just there to cause confusion and ensure that the APC comes back in 2019?
I’ve answered this question over 50 times in the course of the last one month. The answer is very simple – Sheriff was sitting in his house when Governor Fayose and Governor Wike went to invite him to become the Chairman of the party. Governor Fayose and Governor Wike gave him three months to be in office. At the end of three months, they went to Sheriff, they said, Chairman, you have repositioned the party; look at the number of ‘Agbada’ in the PDP Wadata Plaza, you are the only person who can lead this party to the promise land, we therefore want you to continue. Governors Wike and Fayose, they set up a convention committee and they made Govenor Udom of Akwa Ibom the Chairman of the zoning committee. The zoning committee in their wisdom, they went to Sheriff and said: Sir, we are going to zone the chairmanship of the party to you. So we are zoning it to North East and to Borno especially. The North East met, they said look, Sheriff we have endorsed you to continue as chairman of the party at the zonal congresses.
My very good friend, so you mean the whole of the North East, you mean the whole of the governors, you mean the whole of the PDP people, all of them are working for APC? That is the question. There were six governors in the zoning committee of the PDP. The six governors endorsed Sheriff and endorsed the zoning project. So you mean it is the APC?
So my very good friend, my answer has always been that it is not President Buhari and APC that sourced and zoned the PDP chairmanship to Sheriff and that the coming of Sheriff is a blessing to multiparty democracy in not just the PDP, but in Nigeria because today we now know that people can ask questions and we are very happy with the teeming grassroots. You can see the people with the illegal Caretaker Committee; they are people who like money, who will want to go and collect money from the people. But if you actually love PDP, you love multiparty democracy, you love one man, one vote, you are with Sheriff. Go and look at the grassroots, all of them, they are waiting; the people are praying. They are saying prayers that this Caretaker Committee should go. Since the emergence of the Caretaker Committee itself, it has been one problem or the other. Since their illegal emergence, PDP has not even rested. So it is time for Nigerians to appeal to them so that they can find their way and go. And look at also the issue at Rivers State, where normally the PDP will not have a problem but the illegal Caretaker Committee would not allow PDP to work.
The fortunes of PDP keep dwindling especially with the recent loss of Ondo State. Do you think your party will bounce back?
Of course, some lessons were learnt in Ondo and Edo states especially in Ondo. In Ondo, it was clear that the masses, the people sent a message to the PDP in Ondo that never again will any governor adopt a candidate and not allow for a free contest. Number two lesson, never again will somebody come from another party and then you give him the entire structure of PDP; it should not happen again because as soon as Mimiko returned to the party, every member of the PDP left and they left with Oke. Oke secured 125,000 votes in the last election, PDP secured 155,000 votes, APC scored 250,000. The votes given to Oke are all PDP votes. If Oke didn’t leave and Mimiko was able to manage his coming back into PDP as a sportsman, we won’t be where we are. So, that is the lesson learnt there.
And again, things have to get worse for it to get better.
So do you think the PDP has the potential to upstage the APC in 2019 and maybe if you could also assess the present administration under Buhari?
APC as I have always said, is not a party yet. There is only one party in Nigeria and that is PDP because if you were to put APC in a basket, you can very easily in the basket pick out CPC, pick out ACN, pick out the APGA faction and pick out the PDP inside the APC in the basket. But PDP still remains one; that is what you have to see.
So luckily, until APC is able to become homogenous, until they are able to become a party, it is not expected that they will give serious challenge to the PDP. The mistakes that PDP lost the election are being corrected one by one. That mistake is especially what is happening now in the PDP where the PDP people now coalesced into the Caretaker Committee of the party. So that is the issue as it is today.