Ntufam John Okon is a former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross River State but currently a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with CLEMENT JAMES, he bares his mind on a variety of issues concerning the 2023 general election
You just celebrated your 70th birthday, how has the journey been?
It’s been a mixed grill, if I have to say so. Many people know the bright side of my journey, that is to say, my being a Clerk of the State House of Assembly and being a former chairman of the PDP in the state.
However, I had a lot of challenges growing up because I grew up in the rural area, where you have to follow your parents to do quite a lot of things. For instance, I can farm, I can paddle canoe, I can hunt and can do so many other things.
The campaigns for the 2023 general election have started, what is your opinion on that?
I think that everything is going to go well because we have been having campaigns and now with the moderation of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and enlightenment, every party will most likely check the excesses of their supporters. But I don’t see things going wrong especially if we maintain an issue-based campaign.
Parties should try and sell their programmes by telling the electorate what they will do if they take over power. I expect the campaigns to be devoid of character assassination and mudslinging. I believe that with security agents being on top of the situation and INEC doing the needful, the campaigns will go well.
You know most of the challenges always come from the youth, who are often emotional, but I think if the leadership of the parties at all levels control, educate and guide them, the campaigns will go well.
There is internal wrangling in some of the political parties even before the campaigns kicked off. Do you think this could affect the chances of these parties?
Those crises are normal.
Political parties are made up of interest-laden people. Everybody tries to make sure that his interest dominates. It is about the control of power and resources and everybody tries to get as much chunk of these as possible.
The crises as you see are just fallouts of the primaries. But in the APC which I belong to, the primaries were very transparent, the presidential primary in particular and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu emerged the candidate.
However, everybody expected him to pick a Christian running mate, but after some strategic meetings, they felt that another Muslim from the North-East geopolitical zone will be of great value to them.
Mind you, every political party wants to win election and how you structure your support base might help you in winning that election. The Muslim-Muslim ticket brewed disaffection but you can see that it is becoming a none-issue right now. So for APC, I don’t think the crisis has that much effect. For PDP, its crisis has been there because it has very strong personalities.
Now, in the case of APC, they have a President who can call party members and talk to them in moment of crisis. That is to say, the leadership of APC rests on President Muhammadu Buhari and he is respected as a party leader. In PDP, everybody is a leader, that’s the problem.
Again, the choice of a running mate is an issue because I learnt that a committee was set up, and if you set up a committee and information leaks that you scored eight and another person scored two, and you now leave the one who scored eight to pick the one who scored two, it will definitely generate some issues. But even then, I learnt that was resolved.
The issue now is that both the presidential candidate and national chairman of party should not come from the North because, according to my information, that was not the agreement. You know it is difficult for Atiku Abubakar to agree to that.
As a former chairman of PDP in the state, I know that the constitution of the party makes it mandatory for the National Deputy Chairman (North) to succeeds Iyorchia Ayu in any case of eventuality. So, it is not only Ayu that will have to resign, the national deputy chairman (North) will also have to sacrifice by vacating his position before the chairmanship position can come to the South. It is not as simple as many people are thinking.
It’s a complex situation and I think that’s where the dilemma is. But a group, and a very strong group, is saying that is what it wants. The fact that this group boycotted the launch of the presidential campaign committee shows the crisis has not been resolved.
As a former chairman of the PDP in Cross Rivers State; is there anything like zoning in the party’s constitution?
Yes, there is. There is a power rotation clause inserted in there but it says it must be rotated among the zones. Some people have been trying to make it a North/ South thing, however, the constitution only talks about zones. There is also the issue of inclusive governance and that was borrowed from the federal character principle in the 1999 Constitution.
The one in the Constitution is more powerful because it is law. That’s why you find out that if a President comes in, he has to appoint ministers from all the 36 states of the country. But basically, every political party picks its candidate based on his ability to rule and his capacity to win the election otherwise there is no need having a political party.
There is this euphoria about Labour Party and its candidate, Peter Obi, ahead of the 2023 election, what do you make of that?
Yes, it is quite correct that considering the economic and other factors in the country, young people who feel they have been shortchanged or left behind, have taken it upon themselves to blow some trumpets. But all that, to me, is euphoria because by the time the campaigns proper begin, you will find out that there are structures that are in APC and PDP that are not in Labour Party and those structures are there to mobilize support.
Don’t be deceived by the one million, two million-man march stunt because they are highly exaggerated. I can assure you that the present euphoria will soon die down because the structure of the major parties will drive the campaigns. I don’t even know the structure of Labour Party anywhere, but I know that there are some people who picked up their tickets because they were rejected by the major political parties.
They did not pick it because they love Labour Party, but because they were rejected and you know that those renegades cannot win any election. Let me tell you, when it comes to election, the structure of the party and that of government are always very strong. That’s my experience.
Are you saying there is no possibility of Peter Obi winning the presidential election?
It can only be possible if the hierarchies of the parties are truthful to themselves. There is no way he would have won the nomination in PDP, that was why he tactically withdrew and after the withdrawal, you know that the whole of Igbo land still support PDP, with a small percentage in APC, with the leaders of those parties still saying that even though Obi is an Igbo man, they will still campaign for their parties.
So, if he starts having those challenges in the South-East, imagine what will happen in other parts of the country. I believe that Obi as the symbol of Igbo has an advantage and also has a disadvantage.
For now many people outside the South-East believe that an Igbo man cannot maintain peace in that geo-political zone because of the tendencies and disposition of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South- East.
So, think all the Igbo man needs at the moment is to continue to work with other relevant structures in the country in order to get the presidency eventually. For now, it is difficult to say.