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Posterity won’t be kind to us if PDP fails to win 2023 polls –Elder Yemi Akinwonmi

In the last one year after he left office as Acting National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Elder Yemi Akinwonmi has been in the background, leaving the stage for his successor, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu. But in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, he addresses the post-primaries crisis in the party, its chances in the forthcoming elections and the victory of the party in the Osun State governorship polls

 

Since you left office as Acting National Chairman of the PDP, where have you been?

I left office precisely on December 10, last year after the election of Dr. Iyorchia Ayu as my successor, and I left for India, with the hope to get treatment for my ailing health. You must have observed that while I was in office as chairman, I was not okay physically. I just managed to cope and coped well, but deep inside, I knew I needed good medical attention.

I was in India for almost four months. They tried their best for me there and my health today is better off, though I still take physiotherapy and walk unsteadily, I am better off than I used to be. That is why you have not seen me in the political arena.

The emergence of His Excellency Atiku Abubakar as your party’s flag bearer has culminated in crises in the party. What is your view about this?

You cannot rule out minor squabbles in a big party like the PDP. Squabbles are bound to happen. When I was in India, their leading party there, because apart from my treatment, I took pain to pay attention to their political activities and campaigns through their media, they had big squabbles, and you know India is the largest democracy in the world. So political party squabbles are universal, not peculiar to the PDP.

You will remember that a political party is an agglomeration of people coming together, people from diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups, coming together with the purpose of getting the electorate’s mandate and taking over power. So in the course of this you cannot but have squabbles within such organisation.

So what is happening in the PDP is normal, because PDP is a very big party, but it would take the combination of the wisdom of God and that of man as well as national interest to manage what is happening there. Such crises are common among big political parties.

The major crux of the matter is the failure of your successor to keep his words following the emergence of Atiku as presidential candidate. Is this not a major one?

You see, personally, as the immediate chairman of the PDP, what I don’t like is the idea of addressing our issues, or opening our secrets on the pages of the media. I have unfettered access to all leaders of the party to address all issues. We are bound to have issues in any big party, but there are also internal mechanisms through which we can resolve those issues. That is why we always tell our members to avail themselves of all opportunities in the party because you seek legal redress.

Such internal mechanisms will be explored and they are being explored rather than going to the press. If this group goes to the press, and the other goes to the press to announce or even polemise the matter, that is not good enough. I personally feel unhappy about it. At a point, PDP became the butt of every joke and even the media went frenzy, feasting on it.

But the appointment of Senator Adolphous Wabara as the BoT Chairman, considering the outcome of such internal efforts by the party’s leadership has not solved the problem?

Let me first thank the former BoT chairman, Alhaji Jubril Wali for displaying his commitment to the unity of the party by stepping down. It speaks to his spirit of sportsmanship and he made a good sacrifice.

You see, Senator Wabara is my friend and the combined effect of the action is the kind of solution I think we should find to lingering problems. If this did not work, however, we should think of more for it to be balanced. So I thank Wali for taking the bull by the horn.

The press will not solve the issues in the PDP, and that is why I feel bad each time I see some leaders of the PDP running from one media house to another to grant interviews that often worsen the issues. No. Leaders should not go that route.

To me, the problem of PDP is that of leadership, by that I don’t mean the executive or the National Working Committee. We have natural leaders. People like Alhaji Sule Lamido, Dr. Babangida Aliu, Chief Bode George, Senator Ben Obi, Chief Tom Ikimi, Senator Adolphus Wabara, and a host of others.

All these should come together, lock themselves up, and objectively discuss the issues in order to find solutions to the problems in the party. They should not take sides with any group. This is the way we have been solving our intra-party problems in the past.

From the benefit of hindsight, you can recall that sometime in 2014, this was how five governors left the PDP, culminating in the exit of the party from Aso Rock. Are you not afraid that history is about to repeat itself?

It is dangerous, I agree with you. But the little difference with this is the fact that I can assure you that these aggrieved governors will not leave the PDP, unlike what occurred in 2014. We talk and I have been discussing with them on a personal level. They will not leave PDP unlike what happened then.

Look, that was the Genesis of PDP’s failure in the 2015 election, but if PDP fails this time, posterity will not forgive us the party leaders – all of us. Should PDP fail to return to power in 2023, it would be unfortunate, because everything that can return PDP to power is in our hands now. Public opinion, followership, everything is in our favour. If we don’t capitalize on these now and launch ourselves back to power, posterity will not forgive us.

You see, everything that is bad is in the All Progressives Congress, (APC), the party currently in power. What proof of good governance do they have – starting from the economy to security and value of naira today? Insecurity, have we had it like this before?

Today, the Naira is the weakest currency in Africa, at least in the West African sub-region. It is now exchanging for about N800 to a dollar. Do you recall what it was when PDP was in power? It was around N190 to a dollar. I can even recall when naira was the strongest currency in Africa, even a time when naira rivaled the dollar or was stronger than it. A bag of rice which is the staple food of Nigerians was sold for N10,000 then but now it hovers around N42,000.

Hunger is rife in the country today. Recently, even the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said over 133 million people are living in multidimensional poverty. Nigeria is even divided among ethnic and religious lines. Since I knew Nigeria as my country, it has never been this divided.

Look at insecurity, even the home state of the President is not safe. How many cases of mass kidnap have we had in the last two years? Do we start with the Dapchi Girls in Yobe to the 70 Burnin Yauri girls kidnapped in 2021, some of whom are now pregnant and bearing children for their abductors? What a shame!

Don’t you remember the mass kidnappings of over 30 in Kagara and another 300 in Kankara in Niger and Katsina states respectively? I don’t want to talk about the over 100 people kidnapped in the hijack of the Abuja-Kaduna train. What about the killings of thousands of Nigerians in Southern Kaduna, Benue and other parts of the country?

Now APC has collapsed everything. Look, the party does not have any idea about governance. People have said that APC’s rise to power was not by design but by accident. They ganged up to hijack power, but not to govern because they don’t know the rudiments of governance at all. They don’t follow the features of good governance.

Nobody in this country today would not agree that Goodluck Jonathan’s government was far better than that of APC. Have they fulfilled the promises they made? They claimed the economy was collapsing at about N190 to dollar then; that they had a retired General as presidential candidate, but he could not end insecurity.

Is it not ironic that we have a retired Army General as President yet kidnapping is everywhere? Even in his home state, Katsina, it has come to the level where even Governor Bello Masari is almost weeping every day. I am very familiar with the politics of Katsina and I know the number of people who have defected to PDP in Katsina State.

And all Nigerians, irrespective of their tribes and political parties are affected by this insecurity and that is why I said PDP is at advantage now to capitalize on the collapse of the economy and security to produce the next president.

How prepared now is your part for the 2023 elections, because it is a party in crisis?

The preparation of PDP is in top gear. I can say that with authority. The party is going about its campaign steadily. You remember that a couple of days ago they were in Ondo State and you saw the turnout and rousing welcome given to the party’s presidential candidate compared to what happened in 2015.

There is nothing wrong with the PDP; rather the only issue is the misunderstanding within the party. I have to salute the organizers of the Atiku Presidential Campaign because they do not allow the crisis to distract them. They are trudging ahead with their plans and they are gaining ground. I am very happy about that.

I want to appeal to all Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora to rally round the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar to ensure that he wins the 2023 elections in the interest of the nation.

How does your presidential candidate compare with those of other parties, especially in the area of blueprint to address Nigeria’s needs?

Atiku Abubakar has no rival in the presidential race and governance of this country as we speak today. He is the solution we have to the Nigerian problem. As it is often said, he who feels it knows it. He has been in the Villa before as Vice President he was part of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s success story. It was the two of them- Obasanjo/Atiku administration which got debt forgiveness for Nigeria.

He has said it and he knows what Nigeria needs. He has one advantage and that is the fact that you cannot separate Atiku from the Yorubas, because he is married to a Yoruba woman. You cannot separate him from Igbo people; neither can you separate him for the Hausa-Fulani people. He did not start the preparation yesterday, rather the preparations started long ago, and God will put him there to return Nigeria to its old glory.

Is the party not disturbed or threatened by the candidate of the Labor Party, who was the running mate of Atiku in 2019?

Obi is a future president of the country. His time has not come. I laugh when I hear people   talking about Obidient and all that buzz, he does not have the national spread. From the ward to the national level, go and check. I can tell you about my ward, he does not have any representative in my ward in Ogun State.

The only place where you hear of Obi in the state is Abeokuta and probably Ijebu Ode and some urban centres. Obi is only popular on the pages of newspapers, television and social media. He is not popular at the grassroots. So Obi should be preparing himself to take over after Atiku Abubakar. He is preparing himself for the future, the time is not ripe for him.

And I must state this. Obi’s defection from PDP cannot alter the political equation.

Our support in Igboland is sacrosanct. Even I can assure that if care is not taken Obi may not win Anambra, his home state. You are a journalist and you know what I am saying. You heard what the governor of his state, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo said about him recently and you are also aware that APGA has a presidential candidate.

How do you see the victory of the PDP in Osun State?

It is a well-deserved victor. We expected it and we worked for it and I am happy about the outcome. It goes to show our growing popularity in the country. I was part of it. When I was chairman of PDP, the matter of Osun State came up and my position was clear. From the facts on my table I could see that Jackson Adeleke would become the governorship candidate in the election.

I neither minced words nor regretted my decision to support him. You see that is the beauty of party leadership. If you know the terrain and your popularity of a state, you should know the aspirant that has the followership and can perform the magic. There is no doubt that Adeleke is a man of the people.

But how about his initial actions considered to be hasty? Some people believe he should have settled down and sought legal opinion before such actions?

I have heard people talking about what they called his initial false steps, alleged sack of the people and reversing of some decisions. You know that the governor has started and with time he will learn the art of governance.

The initial actions were informed by his newness on the job. By the time he appoints his commissioners and special advisers, things would change. You know the role of commissioners. They are experts in their respective ministries and would be able to give expert opinions. Before a governor makes a pronouncement, he would have consulted the Commissioners, Special Advisers.

But he was elected in July and he had the Transition Committee and all the time to have consulted and received legal opinion…

It is not so. Those people have limitations. He has not made any appointments.

Look, before I became Commissioner in Ogun State, I never dabbled into the affairs of the Ministry of Education. But immediately I was appointed. I knew it became my responsibility. It was after my appointment that I consulted widely and carried people along in all my decisions. By the time he appoints his commissioners things will go well.

 

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