By Dapo Akinrefon
DR. Doyin Okupe, former Senior Special Adviser on media and publicity to former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in this interview with Saturday Vanguard speaks on the implication of the crisis on the polity especially as it affects Ogun State. Excerpts:
Recently, the attempt to reconcile the internal crisis in Ogun State chapter of the PDP failed. What actually happened, especially against reports that your group walked out on Governor, Gbenga Daniel?
It was not that we walked out but the circumstances that prevailed immediately before the incident made it clearly obvious to us that the atmosphere was no longer conducive for a peaceful reconciliatory meeting. I will tell you what happened.
The meeting commenced â€“ and it was observed that governor Danielâ€™s group came with 13 people as opposed to seven. The issue was raised by Senator Martins-Kuye but the governor insisted that the 13 would stay but that we should discuss it.
In the course of the discussion, one of us spoke and also mentioned that apart from the number in the governorâ€™s camp as represented in the meeting, the bone of contention and one of the major pillars of disagreement was the legitimacy of the party structure as it existed in Ogun State.
So, if that was the question, you cannot bring the chairman of the party and the secretary to now come and sit in the same meeting where we wanted to discuss issues concerning them.
Of course, you will agree with me that it was a very valid point. Then, the commissioner for water resources in the state, Kola Onadipe started shouting, said shut up, observation sir and Iyabo was next to me on my left and she asked the commissioner why donâ€™t you allow this man to finish what he is saying.
Then she shouted at Iyabo to shut up saying who are you, what do you think you are. At that point, may be she felt quite unsafe in the circumstance and environment and she stood up and told me â€“ look, I donâ€™t think I can stay in this kind of environment.
It is not good for me if this is the way the meeting is going to be conducted. She stood up and hardly had she passed me than the gentleman sprang from his seat, walked across to her, accosted her and tried to block her, and asking, where are you going?
While all those were going on, the governor was just watching. If I was the governor, and knowing that the man is not a political leader or anything in the state but a mere worker of his government, all the governor would have done was to call him to order to be seated. That would have been it.
The fact that the governor watched that melee and did not say a word communicated to us unarguably that the whole drama was pre-arranged by his camp. And we did not know how many other things were pre-arranged. We felt that it was better for us to leave quickly before other issues came up.
To my surprise, the governor instructed that the security officers should lock the door and not allow us to go out. Five of us who wanted to go out had to physically over power the two security men and wrestled the door from them before we could go out.
You can see that how the whole thing happened speaks volume. It was not that we walked out. It was simply that the atmosphere was no longer conducive for me to do anything or to have any further meaningful discussion.
But was Iyabo Obasanjo actually assaulted?
Definitely, Iyabo was assaulted. We had a struggle. We were trying to open the door and the security details were under instruction not to allow us to get out. We felt that even if an individual wanted to walk out, he should be allowed to do that freely.
I may be persuaded to come back but you cannot prevent me from going. I was not in jail or neither was I in detention. My staying in the meeting should not be by force. It was wrong.
We had good intention by attending the meeting in the governorâ€™s office rather than a neutral ground as should be the case. I remember having collected over 200 text messages of people saying, Doctor, I heard you are going to Gbenga Danielâ€™s office, you have to be careful, donâ€™t drink water or sit down and so on.
I received a lot of warnings. We ignored all that and went for the reconciliatory meeting only to be embarrassed. It is a shame.
Where does the Ogun chapter of the PDP go from there?
We are principal stakeholders of the party in the state. Before the governor emerged in that state, we were there. When the governor leaves, we will still be there. I have been in politics for up to 30 years or more and I have never been known to make trouble. I am a focused person and I work for success.
I am not interested in hooliganism, grandstanding or hero-worshiping. But we have invested a lot in the politics of that state. I am not talking about money. We have invested our lifetime and everything in the game and the state. We are not going to allow it to spoil. I want to assure Ogun State people that we will resolve the crisis by all means and at all cost.
Even if it will mean closing our eyes to insults, injuries and all manner of embarrassment, we will try to resolve the Ogun PDP crisis. But I must tell you that we are in a precarious period in the timetable of political developments in the country.
You know that very soon, there will be election. This is a state that the opposition did not exist before. I know that Ogun State people are knowledgeable. They are highly educated people and very much informed. The voters are perhaps just watching us now. We in the PDP need to do something quickly to halt any negative insinuation in Ogun State.
We are going to find a way to regain the confidence of the people into the party. We may have to ignore the officials and go to mobilize people at the grassroots for the success of the party.
But some of the Elders Council members stayed back in the controversial meeting. Donâ€™t you think it gave the meeting
I have heard people say that Martins-Kuye was left behind. Believe me, Martins Kuye and Chief Dayo Abatan were the people that were left behind. You know they are elderly people. I told you that we engaged them in a physical struggle to leave the venue of the meeting.
Martins-Kuye couldnâ€™t have been able to struggle like we did. They were actually held hostage because the state government did not want a report that the meeting again ended in a deadlock. But in actual fact, when Kuye finally came to meet us where we were, he personally drafted a letter, which was delivered to the chairman of the National Elders Committee, Senator Ike Nwachukwu. The letter, which he signed, contained everything I told you about the meeting.
The letter went further to state that it would appear as if any peace meeting could be meaningful any longer. The peace agreement was seriously scuttled by what has happened.
Are all these part of the political struggle ahead of 2011 election in the state?
I do not know what relevance I, Doyin Okupe would want. For the past six years, once I noticed how the administration was going about its business, I left them alone. I did not fight them and you cannot recall until recently any statement credited to me against the state government, Gbenga Daniel or the PDP in Ogun State. I do not know about other people but for me, I am not looking for any political relevance.
Except for when I went to contest for governorship of Ogun, the state politics is not my turf. Having said that, I know those who were with me. What relevance is Martins-Kuye looking for? What relevance is Alhaji Sule Onabiyi looking for? The problem is that we are committed to PDP.
There are few things we know which we do not want to state on the pages of newspapers. We have problems and we are beginning to doubt the sincerity, commitment and honesty of those who we have put in front now as flag bearers of the party. We do not know where they belong or where they will belong. So, it is this fear that has galvanized us together to ensure that in case our fears materialize, we will have a platform on which the party could be rescued. Our case is not like Anambra.
I donâ€™t want to be a governor and neither Kuye nor Onabiyi want to be a governor. But I am a politician and I still have sometime to play it. Now, there are two major political forces in Ogun State. There is a very visible political force, which the governor represents but which is not PDP.
That is strictly speaking OGD. That is the truth. Go and check out all the thousands of the billboards in Ogun State, you will not see PDP on them. What you will see is only OGD and the governor had said it publicly that he had no apologies for that.
I am not OGD and I cannot be one. There is PDP, OGD and others. But I want to say that the OGD can become anything later on but we are body, soul and spirit PDP. That is the crux of our disagreement. The governor claims to be Afenifere and to tell you the truth, Afenifere and PDP are not coterminous. It is because the governor wants to be a leader of the Yorubas that he is undecided which path to toe.
He is neutral but I am not. Our group is focused on what we are. We are PDP. But those who are not sure of themselves are undermining the PDP, promoting a neutral body which can be transformed to anything or anywhere. This is what our leaders at the national level cannot recognize.
They are dealing with two characteristically distinct groups. That is why the secretariat of the PDP in Ogun State is not owned by the party. It is owned by Otunba Onabanjo and the governor has boasted that all he needs to do is to change the sign board and the flag and a new party will emerge. He said this at the national secretariat and I am not lying. I am not going to anywhere but Daniel seems to have alternatives.
The party ought to give us full backing without antagonizing him. Jesus said those who are not against us are for us. If he wants to work with us, we will definitely work with him. We donâ€™t want to be compromised and paralysed come 2011.
But what is the implication of the situation to the fortunes of PDP ahead of 2011?
There is a looming disaster for PDP in Ogun State and there is no argument about that unless critical views are taken by those who need to take them. Because of the precarious situation, we are now going to re-energize our strategy and ignore the seeming struggle and strife with Gov. Daniel and concentrate on the grassroots.
We are going to meet to discuss these issues. This is our new thinking. This is because if we are not careful, we will be fighting with Gbenga Daniel and another party will come and take the votes and go. Whatever the governor wants, let him do it. He has a limited time. In another 18 months, he will leave office.
In your view, how central will Gov Daniel be to the success of PDP in Ogun State come 2011?
The PDP can win an election in that state with or without Daniel. I have no doubt about that. I want to say that with Daniel, it will be easier, but without him, we will still win even though it will be more difficult. The governor advertises that he is fighting for Yewa people and the governor came to the meeting with 13 people and only one man from Yewa was there in the state.
We came to the meeting with seven people including two each from Ogun East, Ogun central and Yewa. One person was a female, which was the directive we were given. The last meeting in Abuja, it was the same thing. Only one person from Yewa was represented.
He barely tolerates them but he knows that he can hide under that kind of shadow. We represent the political family that controls the majority of potential voters. Events in the past have proven that. We are all tested people. We know the people and they know us equally.
But where does former President Olusegun Obasanjo stand in all of this?
I must be honest with you. The former president has nothing to prove. He was once a military president, then civilian president, elder statesman, chairman of Board of Trustees of the PDP. It is just by chance that he comes from Ogun State.
There is no way he can be part of this crisis. This is because at the end of the day, if the crisis becomes national and all of that, the BOT still has to adjudicate on that. So, I can understand the position of Obasanjo to distance himself from all of this. And I can also understand that this particular governor is not the type that can have respect for anybody. So, I donâ€™t expect Obasanjo to cheapen himself and meddle into the state politics. But we should all know that without Obasanjo, Gbenga Daniel could not have ever become governor of Ogun State.
Does it mean that the National Working committee (NWC) of the party is incapable of resolving the crisis?
I can see from their point of view. If you are in Abuja, you can only assess things superficially. In taking a decision, how will they know if it will be to their advantage or disadvantage? In their calculation, they will consider a lot of factors including will our decision hurt Obasanjo, Martins-Kuye, Daniel or even Dimeji Bankole. There are major issues in the state.
They need to be careful because of those involved and that is what is happening. That is why they expanded it and allowed mature, revered and well-known politicians to handle the crisis. I donâ€™t think all hope is lost. I believe that we are closer to the solution than when we started.
Do you share the opinion that the PDP lacks internal democracy?
I agree with you but it is going to take some time for all these issues to be straightened. It is going to take serious political restructuring and re-engineering for us to be able to achieve that. The internal democracy is a major issue.
The issue of deceptions is also one.
I have said openly many times that PDP must internally restructure itself for it to be relevant in the coming years. There is no argument about that. If this group doesnâ€™t do it, another set of people that will come will do it.
But the problem with the elites in the country is that they do not seem to have patience. Democracy is not something that becomes perfect in one day. Many people have said that democracy is like raw gold. It needs refining for you to get the real product.
Everybody should be part of the refining process. I believe we will get there. Everybody will agree with me that we have made progress in this country. Look at the present efforts by Sanusi Lamido. He is continuing from where Soludo stopped. The EFCC boss, Farida Waziri is continuing from where Ribadu stopped.
We are constantly making progress but it is slow. We are moving slowly in a positive direction.
Many people criticize Obasanjo but whether we like it or not, Obasanjo moved the country in a particular positive direction. The present administration under Yarâ€™Adua is moving from where Obasanjo stopped. You do not expect Nigeria to turn into America over night.
It is not possible. This is a very young democracy. Also, this is a multi diverse nation with different religions, cultures and values.
Some are saying what Sanusi is doing is a northern agenda and I remember that when Obasanjo came, they said he was implementing the agenda of the Yorubas. When Obasanjo carried out the privatization policy, they shouted it is South Western agenda to allow the Yorubas to buy over most parastatals in Nigeria.
The problem with Nigeria is that the elites of this country have not decided what they want from the country. Whether we do constitution review or not, until the elite class agrees that this shall be a nation, we will not succeed. If we are not convinced, let us disabuse our minds about the existence of a Nigerian nation.
Are you still optimistic like you have always been about Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s administration?
I agree that the administration is moving slowly but you must agree that things have changed in this country.
I cannot say I am an insider but I happen to know that barring any eventualities from the Niger Delta, this country will produce between 4,000 and 6,000 mega watts by December this year. That will be the first time in 50 years that Nigeria will achieve such a feat.
Obasanjo came and removed mushroom banks, moved on and consolidated the banking sector and the managers because of money available to them, went on a spending spree and made mistakes.
But Sanusi lamido has come now with his policy to further strengthen the banking industry. The outcome of this effort will be a better financial sector in the country.
So, we are making progress. Anybody who is not unduly biased will agree with me. And I want to say that none of the components of Nigeria today including the Niger Delta will be better off alone without being part of the larger body called Nigeria.