Saturday, August 5, 2017 9:18 am
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has gone through a lot of conflicts which were recently resolved by the Supreme Court. What were the factors responsible for the sorry state of the party? These were the kernels of the questions fielded by Ahmed Makarfi, PDP chairman in an interview with Ayorinde Oluokun amd Desmond Utomwen
Q: How would you describe the situation of PDP before this Supreme Court judgment which some have described as a lifeline for the party?
Our experiences are in the public domain because political activities are not something you do in your sitting room or bedroom as the case may be. It has been widely covered. It is not a pleasant experience, but in a way, it’s like good tidings because it actually gave us an opportunity to reassess ourselves; to know those who genuinely are PDP members and those who maybe, one leg here, one leg there. Two, it also makes us more convinced of the need to re-jig , remodel, revamp the PDP and that was why we set up the Jerry Gana Committee which submitted its report long before the judgment of the Court of Appeal. So, overall, it made PDP members to become far more committed to the party. We are not in government, so there is no government patronage of whatever sort, so whatever efforts you have seen and will continue to see are efforts from ordinary party men and women who feel highly committed to the party.
Any political party must be open to new entrants into the party. But before you take a responsibility of leadership- and it is not just political parties- even governors, leaders at whatever level, private sectors, NGOS- before you take the responsibility of leadership and give it to someone, you have to do a background check. You must know the character of the individual, the capacity, how humble he is, all the good characters you need in a leader. I think that was the mistake that was made in the PDP.
It is not that serious objections were not raised. For me, when that decision was to be taken, I walked out of the National Executive Committee meeting because I knew we were going into a disaster. But those who made the mistake owned up to the mistake and apologized to the party that honestly, they acted in good faith, but they didn’t know it would boomerang. We knew they acted in good faith, the apology was accepted, but then, we are all part of the larger political party. And it is not just in PDP. In any political party, even when it comes to national elections, Nigerians should sit back, think twice before they go in and elect, nominate or whatever process they want to embark on to choose a leader.
To what extent would you say the crisis had dragged the party back because some people have said that’s why it has not been able to play the role of formidable opposition to the ruling APC?
That may be so when you talk of PDP. But you know the most harmful opposition is opposition within and the APC is not yet a party. They started with serious opposition within themselves and they continue with serious opposition within themselves. Two, we also thank the Nigerian public because Nigerians are more politically alive, they don’t wait for a formal political party before they air their views on political affairs or anything as the case may be and they have not shied away from opposing any policy whether of the central government or state governments that they found deplorable.
We are all in opposition. But opposition doesn’t mean that because you are not in power, you criticize everything. You do meaningful criticism and Nigerians have been doing that. We also in a limited way because of the division in our party have been doing that. As a matter of fact, the other side that we had conflict within PDP never at any time come out to criticize what the APC government was doing. There was not a time. Every criticisms of the action of the APC government always come from our side because we are the real opposition.
So, are you going to do more of that now?
Yes, especially now that we are getting to the period of pending elections. So, you will see all kinds of opposition would come not just from the political party itself, but even from people aspiring for political offices. So, it is a cumulative of all those opposition that you will see to whatever is not right.
There are still seem to be wrangling as regards the authentic leadership of the PDP in some states, especially in the South west despite the Supreme Court victory. Some of the people who were aligned with the sacked Modu Sheriff faction seemed determined to hold on which those loyal to you want to take over. Some of the exco members said they are taking their members to join one Mega Party of Nigeria. How are you going to solve this problem?
When the judgment was delivered, I said no victor, no vanquished, I stand on that. But again, we say no more to indiscipline. So, what the National Executive Committee of PDP did was to draw a line. Anything that happened before the Supreme Court judgment, draw a line. But the kind of party indiscipline that a lot of people exhibited- court today, court tomorrow, inflammatory statement in the media, calling ourselves this and that and anti –party activities, we said no more. So, we had to set up a standing disciplinary committee that henceforth, any party man or woman that errs will face the committee. At the same time, we set up the reconciliation committee to reconcile with all those that are willing and genuinely wanted reconciliation. And there was a decision that any illegal, parallel structure set up by Sheriff before he left is null and void.
Those validly elected must return to office and we referred to the structures set up after the Court of Appeal judgment as the illegal ones. He was the one who did not show magnanimity when the Court of Appeal announced him as the Chairman because he went around to dissolve state chapters. Any chapter that did not support him, he dissolves them and set up caretaker committees. That was why we lost all local government elections in Benue, in Jigawa where he, as a matter of fact, connived with the APC State government and jailed our people. We didn’t do that and that is why we didn’t field another person to run in the Osun West Senatorial District election. We didn’t. We said PDP is PDP, if any faction submitted a name to INEC, it didn’t matter to us at the end of the day, and we want to go into the election as a single PDP family.
But if you look back- he did parallel in Edo, he did in Ondo, so who has shown magnanimity, compassion, inclusivity? So, we are dealing with people who talked from both sides of their mouth. There has been nothing we have done in the past or now that indicate that we don’t mean well. And a number of key elements on his side have been with us either in the office or in my residence and we know that in the states, we have to reconcile them, harmonise them, but they have to be willing to be part of the process.
Some of your governors, especially Governors Wike and Fayose of Rivers and Ekiti State respectively seem not to be on the same page with the party leadership. They think Sheriff and members of his faction are like devils that must be shown the way out of the party, unlike this reconciliation the National Caretaker Committee is preaching…Particularly, I have not heard Wike said something like that; maybe he may have spoken about one or two individuals
But he said something like that during the thanksgiving over the Supreme Court judgment…
He may have said so, but they are governors. I am the National Party Chairman and the party is supreme and it is what we say as a party that people should actually listen to. No governor would go to a particular state and discipline any party man or woman. It is the party that can do that.
What if you come under strong pressure from the governors that people like Sheriff and his supporters should not be allowed to continue to exist within the party…
You see, nobody has sent anybody out. But once beaten, twice shy. Before you give somebody that has betrayed you a responsibility, it will take time and it is at different levels. There are those that followed them because of purely local political differences- it didn’t matter to them whether that National Chairman is Sheriff or even I. Their own difference is at the ward, local governments or even state level. We do understand that. So, we cannot punish them just because they have local problems and they have to align one way or the other because that’s politics.
And that is why we said we draw a line – any view that any had had, any position that anybody had taken, anything that anybody had done before the Supreme Court pronounced the judgment, let it go. But the kind of indiscipline that helped in bringing PDP down must never be allowed to come forth again. And people must be able to understand this. If we are a serious party, that is part of the cleansing mechanism, you must behave will within the rules of the party. That’s why I said the governors can take decisions in their states, but the party is supreme, it will take decisions on issues affecting the party.
Some have argued that the major cause of PDP problem was impunity, lack of internal democracy and at a time the party became arrogant thinking it cannot be kicked out of power. Do you agree that these are the problems and how do you think the party can overcome them?
That’s what I mean when I said at the beginning that we have understood where we erred, we must revamp, reorganize the party, enhance internal democracy, avoid imposition and this will be seen when we come to conduct the National Convention. We are going to make it open- if we zoned something to the North, anybody in the North can go for it, if we zoned something to the South, anybody in the South can go for it. We are not going to be zoning a position to anywhere- let’s say for example, South and you limit it to only people from certain part of the region, No. Anybody from the South should come and contest for it. They should go round the country and make themselves known and all delegates should be free to choose who they want because if you don’t get it right in the election of the executives, you will hardly be able to get it right in the primaries. But if the process of choosing members of the National Executive is democratic, is guided by the principles of internal democracy, that is the principle they will carry to the stage of nomination of candidates for national, states or local government elective positions.
So, how will this play out in the coming convention, especially the elective convention, would you still be contesting for the position of the National Chairman?
I will not be contesting for the position of the National Chairman when the time comes. The party has found it difficult to conduct elective convention in August if we are not going to impose people because like I said, we should open the space; let people go and campaign, let Nigerians know them. It is not an appointment, it is an election and so, people will want to know who wants to be the chairman, the secretary, who wants to be this and that and we will choose the best. So, when we looked at the Electoral Act and the Party’s Constitution, it is absolutely impossible to conduct an election into offices on or beforeAugust 17. And in that case, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the Convention is supreme and the caretaker set up is valid.
Your members in the South west are saying you should reserve the position of the national chairman for them and not made it all comers affair for PDP members in the South…
When we say South, it is South; we didn’t zone it to Southeast, Southwest or South- south. And in all the positions we have zoned to the North, we didn’t say Northwest, Northeast or North central. But if there is only one candidate from the South and he or she happened to be from the Southwest, then it means that we have only one candidate standing for the election.