From Judex Okoro, Calabar
In this interview with the former PDP National Publicity Secretary, Vena Ikem, said that no matter the shenanigans going on in our political system, it is the people’s power that will ensure that the APC vacates govt in 2023.
He decried the spate of defections in our body politics and advocated strong legislation to bring in sanity in our democracy. According to him, the defection of Governor Ben Ayade and his retinue of appointees would not affect the fortunes of PDP as the soul of the party is still intact.
In recent times, PDP has lost a good number of their elected political leaders including state and National Assembly members and some governors. What do you think are the remote causes of these defections to APC?
Party management is a very delicate business. It takes a lot for leadership to exert the kind of authority required to keep faith in a party that is not in government. That can only come with a lot of discipline and transparency. The NWC with all due respect needs to step up their game from the experience of the last congresses.
Having said that, it is also not easy to manage a party that is out of government at the national level. I recall that the APP/ ANPP and AD almost died as opposition parties when PDP won elections in 1999. It was a long struggle before the opposition eventually found its feet and voice in APC. The same circle is what seems to be happening with the PDP except that we have done much better in opposition in six years than those inaugural parties did. Maybe because we had been in government; the PDP situation in my estimation is much better and there remains so much hope from the general outcry in the country about the mis-governace of the erstwhile opposition party, now in government. Ultimately, it is the people’s power that will ensure that the APC vacates govt in 2023.
What do you think can be done to forestall these gale of defections especially after or before every election period in the country?
The major deterrence to cross carpeting, especially of elected officials, is the inclusion of a clause in the electoral law or any other law for that matter that will make any elected official who seek to leave their party to vacate the office they were elected into on that party’s platform. In other words, we need strong legislation against defection at least to checkmate it and bring in sanity in our political system. Once that is done, nobody would risk it for all the gold in Fort Knox! As you know, Nigerian politicians love their offices and protect them jealously.w
How do you see PDP by 2023 and what is your advice to the leadership amid these contending issues?
I see a PDP resurgence ahead. I see hope. What I would advise is that the party lives up to its name as a democratic party. The people want their voices to be heard. The young people want to see democracy practised the way they see elsewhere. They want their votes to count and the people’s choices respected. If we can democratise our internal selection processes of candidates, we will win the hearts of Nigerians, especially the young people growing up, who constitute a majority of voters today.
These opaque selection processes have become archaic and build resistance. We must learn to walk away from them. We must consciously adapt to new demands of the younger generation, if we are to succeed in 2023.
Political observers are scared that the mass exit of Ayade’ appointees following his defection about two months ago may signal the death knell of PDP in Cross River. Are you not worried about this movement?
Absolutely not worried. The so-called “mass defection” is the defection of his appointees. Remember Ayade appointed so many people into government without any schedule or work. It was for a moment like this.
But we are encouraged that the resistance has been huge, even amongst some of his “food-on-the-table” appointees. It is true that the governor’s departure will affect the overall standing and strength of the party but not enough to dim our chances at the polls by any stretch of the imagination.
The governor himself is aware that majority of those who decamped under duress with him did so because of the fear of losing their appointments and the unknown. Many of them will hang in there until the tenure is about to end, then he will know what PDP represents to them and very many people in Cross River State. Indeed, we are standing on solid ground.
The observers may be but we the practitioners are not scared. There is no doubt that the initial optics suggested so to the observers, but the resilience of the grassroots base PDP has been admirable. Hardly has any substantial number of party officials moved with the governor, not even those he claimed to have enabled into various positions in the party. The APC may have inherited the Cross River State treasury with Ayade joining them but they didn’t inherit the soul of PDP in Cross River State.
What efforts have some of the key stakeholders been making to restructure the party ahead of 2023?
Majorly, we have collectively and individually embarked on aggressive grassroots mobilization and re-assurance of the base of the party, holding meetings, touring wards, holding rallies and generally assessing how much damage, if any has been done to our structures across the state. So far, we are overwhelmingly impressed, not unsurprisingly, with the strength we still possess.
One of the reasons Ayade adduced for leaving the PDP is that the party took party structure away from him and handed it over to the NASS members. What is your take on this?
It is ironic that Ayade used to boast that he won election as governor without having his own political structures. Is it not surprising then that as his tenure is about to end, he is suddenly bickering about structures being taken from him? He is being economical with the truth. His only regret is his failure to “capture” the PDP party structures and hand them over to APC and enhance his standing as he decamped. That was his plan all along. Unfortunately for him, many of us were aware of his plan and we resisted him. The NASS members are yet to be appreciated for saving PDP in Cross River state from the disaster Ayade had planned for her.