By Ndubuisi Orji
Dr. Remi Akitoye is the former Acting National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In this interview, he bares his mind on the quest of the South West chapter of the PDP to produce the next national chairman of the party and other issues.
What is your reaction to the visit by some of your party members to Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff over who becomes the next PDP National Chairman?
It is not the South-West advocating. The zoning formula placed long time ago is now to be implemented and automatically, South-West will have a shot at the chairmanship of the party. So, if some caucus went to Abuja to greet the new chairman, a gentleman by every standard, a competent man, Sen. Ali-Modu Sheriff, who I believe will surely lead the party well, it is good. But it is not behoving on them to say South-West does not want the chairmanship now. We want it. It is zoned to us in the papers of zoning that is already there, except some people want to change it now and it is only the NEC that can change it; it is not just the visitation of some people; a small group of people who are not the leading leaders of the South-West to go and talk on behalf of the South-West.
Thank God our respectable Senator, Buruji Kashamu has come out to say he is a leader and he is truly a leader. Kashamu spends money to mobilize. If tomorrow, you ask Kashamu to mobilize to fill the National Stadium, he will do it. He is a true leader for mobilization in the South-West and I thank God for people like him to have come out and say I am not the leader, the arrowhead of the South-West but a leader in the South-West. We have leaders like Bode George, who is the arrowhead presently and until further developments, he remains the leader of the South-West, of Lagos State.
There are other people like Babatope, there are other people like Shuaib Oyedokun; there are other leaders in the South-West that will sit down and decide what comes to the South-West and what comes how to be handled. It is not just some people paying visitation to Abuja – social visitation to Abuja to start talking about South-West. Nobody has made that decision. The decision at present is that the chairman should come from the South-West. And we in the South-West desire it; we want it and we will take it.
But the party is yet to release its zoning formula for this coming convention?
It is that zoning formula that we all are waiting for. NEC in its last meeting decided that Sherriff with the present core of the National Working Committee people should constitute a committee to do the zoning. So, two issues are developing now. If we are going to look at what has been zoned in the past, because the zoning in the past is what has given the North-East the chairmanship and that is why Sherriff himself can come in now and other people – Mu’azu; even Bamanga Tukur. That is the zoning of the past. If it is going to be rearranged now, which NEC has asked that it should be done, we will be demanding the chairmanship for the South West.
Are you saying that those who went to Abuja do not have the mandate to speak for the zone – that is the South-West?
No! They don’t have that power. Power generates from the grassroots. So, there must have been some consensus of caucuses of elders’ meeting of those that said okay, this is our stand. When they went there, you can’t see any officer that is from the zone. You can’t see national officers representing the South-West.
But the National Vice Chairman for the Zone was there?
Because of caucuses, one thing you must emphasize is that PDP as whole must be thanking Fayose for now. We must honour him. We must hold him tight because he is the frontrunner for the reestablishment of the reengineered PDP. So, we must thank Fayose. If you call Fayose today, he won’t tell you that if the South-West wants the chairman, he would rather even want it to come to the South-West. So, if they say some people gathered themselves for solidarity visit and start making decisions that affect the whole South-West, if Bode George, if Shuab Oyedokun, if all our other leaders were there, we will say oh! they have met on our behalf and they are going there to say a policy that affects the whole of South-West.
Since last general election, the Lagos chapter of the PDP have been in crisis, where does it lead the PDP in the state?
You see! It is the problem that we must face squarely. If just one person called Musuliu Obanikoro can reconcile himself, can be submissive to discipline, and the constitution of the party, Lagos State has no problem at all. We have only disagreements. That’s no problem but like we’ve rightly said, this disagreement is from here to here and here to here. I don’t want to call it like the personal ambition of one person; it is either I get the governorship of Lagos State or I scatter it and that is what is happening in Lagos State now.
They have changed names severally. LSM, Patriots, “I No Go Gree”. It is the same set of people who believe in Koro and the party does not say Koro is bad or good. The electorate are the people who decide who and who is elected, not selected; elected.
After the last congress, Agbaje came out, won openly, Koro didn’t give peace a chance, until the Presidency had to cajole him; something I don’t believe should have happened. So, let there be some discipline, some maturity, some give and take in political situations
At the Exco level, there are people who are truly established and there are people who said I’m for Koro and it is either we get it or we destroy it and that’s the problem. I am sure if the party stands up to allow discipline to reign in Lagos State PDP, the problem would be resolved once and for all.
One of your party men, Mr. Willie Akinlude said the problem in the party won’t be solved if Chief Bode George does not step aside as the leader of the party. Do you agree with him?
That is an opinion. You may ask somebody the same question and they will say it is only Bode George that can make sure that this party is steadfast in Lagos State. So, I am not querying Akinlude. He is a man I know very well, a man I respect, we are very friendly. But to start saying that somebody should step down and that’s when there can be peace in Lagos PDP, I don’t believe in that.
You will then destroy experience of leaders, experience of elderly people. In our culture and custom, when there is problem in the community, they call the elders, they don’t call the youth. It is when the elders have met they will now say call us two or three youths to let them know what we’ve decided, because they are the ones who will go and manifest what the decisions are. No, I don’t believe Akinlude is saying what is important.
If in a party everybody must step down before the party gets better, then everybody must step down; there won’t be members of the party again.
So in your view, how can the party come together considering the fact that you’re approaching another congress which is another opportunity to reunite the party?
The party will come together if at the congress, we give a level playing field to everybody, especially those at the grassroots, who are the key members of the party. Reward people who are conscientious; who are steady in the PDP, not people who go to APC in the morning and come to our meeting in the evening. Let people be aware of the missing link. Let us fill it up.
Since your party lost power at the centre, things have not been smooth in the party. Some are even saying that the party might even disintegrate?
No. In fact, all that is happening, some people who have committed crimes must be punished for that but individuals don’t matter in political groupings but the larger party is greater than the individual. So, if we have been defeated by the APC the last time, what says PDP cannot rebrand, regroup, mature more, look at the mistakes of the past, and win the next general elections? It is a continuous process. Two parties in London, at times Labour will come in, Conservatives will come.
You can’t say PDP has died because of this. And you can look at the writings on the walls now, look at elections after the last general elections – the presidential and governorship elections; see what PDP is winning back. Look at Benue, look at Abia, look at Rivers, look at Bayelsa.
So, are you now saying that a dead party would be that successful and would be articulate enough to win the governorship elections?
Yes, PDP may have made mistakes, which brought us into this but mistakes are meant to be corrected for improvement.
If you make mistakes and you keep making the same mistakes then you are a stupid person. But once you learn from a particular mistake and you merit from it, then you are a successful individual or a party.
Where did you think the PDP got it wrong?
You see, because PDP was in power for quite a long time, they were not too watchful of infiltrators, betrayals from other parties, who just wanted to gain out of PDP but didn’t have their heart with PDP.
Right from governorship level to individuals, a lot of people used PDP to get what they wanted, but their heart, soul and body was not with PDP and the PDP as a party didn’t see them when this started to keep them at arms length. You can’t turn them out of the party, but you keep them at arm’s length and don’t give them such position to destroy you. There were lots of betrayal, disloyalty even in the Presidency of Jonathan at that time.
A lot of persons at one point or the other predicted for a total rebranding of the PDP including the change of name. Would you subscribe to that?
Whatever it is! APC metamorphosed from AD, ANPP, CPC (Buhari’s party). What is wrong with change of name? But if you ask me, I will still say whatever rebranding should be rebranded around PDP, because it is a genuine party, the largest party in Africa and nothing has changed that except that we are not in government and that doesn’t mean anything.
It means we are in opposition and we can be in government the next time. So, if anybody asks for my opinion, we should rebrand around PDP.
What do you make of the deployment of soldiers during elections?
I will suggest that we let soldiers be around for elections, but with moderate intervention, just for security of lives and properties. There is nobody who will doubt that our electoral days, even before elections, thuggery manifests and our police alone cannot secure such incidents. Even with soldiers in Port Harcourt, see how many lives got lost; I mean in Rivers State this last election.
So, soldiers’ intervention is important. Look at America, peaceful elections. Every time they have to change government between governments. But look at one man, Trump. He has brought thuggery into America’s election processes. It is even worst in Africa where you see men and women brandishing machetes and guns and whatever.
Our police in our own belief and conscience cannot withstand the thuggery that accompany pre and post elections. So, our soldiers, we will need them for now, but with strict order for security alone, not getting involved in transportation of ballot boxes or helping one candidate or the other. That is when it becomes messy. But their presence alone, just to make sure they are stern-looking, well-armed, even thugs will move back from polling booths. But if our soldiers go there now to even take part into the thuggery and whatever, then we have failed the good intention.
Taking a look at the present administration in the country, ten months down the road, how would you assess President Buhari?
I will still give him the biggest opportunity in this world. Buhari and his team may just be settling down. Let us see what they can do. It is too early to start making decisions about Buhari’s administration, but not at this time. Anybody would say oh, it could be better, it’s almost nine-ten months, it could be better, but they are in government and they see the larger pictures. Let us still give them a better chance. But then, like I said, they have taken ten months but it could be better.