Judex Okoro, Calabar
One of the chairmanship aspirants in the pending PDP state congress in Cross River State, Venatius Ikem in this interview speaks on various political issues ranging from in-fighting in PDP, zoning arrangements to his mission to rescue the party in the state. The Obudu-born politician has held various political offices ranging from chairmen of council in 1991, Special Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and PDP National Publicity Secretary.
For quite a while now, there seems to be in-fighting in Cross River PDP as some founding members are said to have been engaged in a ding-dong battle with Governor Ben Ayade over who controls the party structure. What do you think can be done to restore peace among members?
There is nothing personal in the disagreements among stakeholders in the party. Without sounding immodest, I think I understand the issues clearly. Understanding them is the first step towards a solution as they say. The governor has skewed information on the history of the party and her decision making mechanism. His vision is further beclouded by his encouragement of sycophancy as a legitimate means of politicking, which I think is unfortunate. This has enabled many people who were hitherto on the periphery of party decision making, now with personal agenda to deliberately misinform and mislead him.
For instance, he believes that previous governors always dictated who holds party positions! Nothing can be farther from the truth. Party leadership was always a result of consensus building from late Rev Ikobi, Amb. Sunny Abang to Ekpo Okon etc. He has refused to make any effort at building such a consensus in the mistaken belief that he has the absolute authority to dictate who takes what. Yes, he might have such prerogative, but it must be exercised through consensus. Otherwise, it becomes absurd. That is obnoxious political thinking. The way forward is clearly to rebuild that consensual way of arriving at decisions such that even if the governor’s preference prevails, it would be seen that other stakeholders were carried along in arriving at that decision. The summary of the problem is simply lack of consultation in major decisions making. This is not what we prided in calling ourselves “the PDP family”!
Are you not worried that such in-fighting can destroy the party ahead of pending state congress, Northern senatorial by-election and 2023?
It is in the nature of political parties that there must be infighting. It is usually about contestations for power and other contending interests amongst power blocs and interest groups. In Nigeria where the dominant determinant for wealth creation and distribution is government, this takes a particularly desperate dimension. It is the management of the issues that lead to in-fighting that comes into question. If issues are managed honestly, sincerely, ensuring that agreements are kept and fulfilled, they never boil over. But if party leadership is dishonest, insincere and in the extreme, corrupt, the party will lose focus because the problems will become intractable.
The party leadership is accusing you of aligning with the Abuja-based politicians to fight Gov Ayade’s administration. What is your reaction to this?
I am not fighting anybody. I am exercising my democratic right and contesting an election to an office for which I have been adjudged eminently qualified, given my experience and pedigree. I enjoy the robust support of majority of members of the National Assembly from Cross River State, who by virtue of their mandate are based at Abuja. They are all high ranking stakeholders in the party. If that’s my crime, I plead guilty but I don’t owe anyone any apologies. For now, I have the support of two Senators (one is late), five Members of the House of Representatives, altogether I have seven out of the eleven members of the National Assembly and two are supporting my opponent or the governor. Remember one is APC. So, this is not support to dismiss as “Abuja-based politicians.” I also enjoy the support of the majority of the stakeholders of the party.
What motivated you into the State PDP Chairmanship race even as the state leadership is said to be opposed to your candidature?
It is true that I am in the contest for the office of the Chairman of PDP in Cross River State. My motivation, if I need any beyond the sorry state of affairs in the party, is the need to bring a new lease of life to the party, encourage consensus building as a veritable instrument for leadership recruitment and dialogue as a sine qua non for peace building without which “development” will remain a hollow aspiration. To achieve these lofty objectives, we need to return to the path of democratisation of our processes; uphold the idea of supremacy of the party as well as build a culture and temperament for democratic practice. This is my broad vision for the party ahead.
But let me state here that, in the first place, it is not true that the “leadership of the party” in that wide sense is opposed to my candidature for the chairmanship position. You can say some leaders of the party are opposed to my candidature. And this is normal and healthy in any democratic setting as ours. Does this deter me? Absolutely no! In fact, it excites me completely because I like to be part of a competitive process, especially a democratic process. It clearly brings out the fundamental values of democracy that are becoming extinct in our political process, especially in our state.
The notion that one can’t contest against the wishes of a governor, for instance, is becoming alien to our political culture. Therefore, young men, who were born in this Fourth Republic and are chanting campaign songs, can learn something different than what they seem to have come to believe that the governor is an Emperor whose opinion is sacrosanct. No! And as we move closer to the congress, I can tell you that my chances are brighter because I am more a product of the consensus of the larger majority of stakeholders than my opponent can dream of as he (my opponent) can only boast of support as “governor’s candidate”. That is not a talisman for electioneering. The people still ultimately determine elections, when they exercise the will power to resist imposition.
The party leadership is said to have zoned the position of party chairmanship to Yala in the Northern senatorial district and you are from Obudu. Is your running not contradictory to party decision and amount to anti party?
Absolutely not! In the first place, which organ of the party did the zoning? A group of sycophants who are appointees of the governor cannot gather in Government House and presume to have zoned an office as important as the state chairman of the party and expect compliance. Second, historically, zoning is advisory. Thirdly, we must distinguish between the noble political arts of zoning from the obnoxious practice of imposition. The two are diametrically opposed ideas. What they tried to do in the case of the chairmanship position is an attempt at imposition. That is why there is no compliance. Resisting zoning when it is not done in good faith is a patriotic act that can advance the cause of democracy! It encourages people not to accept imposition in a democracy.
No doubt, zoning is good as a policy, ostensibly introduced in the Second Republic by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) as a way of accommodating all contending interest groups and ethnic nationalities in the country. It was also not intended to be permanent just as it was not supposed to be an imposition. It was basically advisory. Unfortunately, sometimes some people have chosen to abuse it and make it sound like something sacrosanct. In its ideal practice, we are always advised that if you are not in agreement with it, you can go ahead and contest because zoning does not take away your democratic rights to contest as guaranteed by the party constitution.
Therefore, the zoning of the state party chairmanship position to the Northern senatorial district in the 21 years history of the party is ideal, and attempting to micro zone it to a local government is mischievous. When the governorship was zoned to Cross River North senatorial district, nobody zoned it to Obudu. It was open to all aspirants from the North. That’s how zoning is done if it is intended for good. But if it is not done honestly, it faces resistance.