By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor,
On August 19, 1998, some individuals decided that the G-34 group which piled pressures on Nigeria’s maximum dictator, Sani Abacha, before his death, should form the nucleus of a political party. A few disagreed. But today, that party is the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP.
For the party formed by a group of people who fought Abacha’s dictatorship to now become Nigeria’s biggest headache remains confounding to some leaders of the party.
Its National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, says he is on a mission to change the party and transform it.
He came to Lagos last Thursday to preach his message of change.
Apart from the interactive session, Sunday Vanguard was able to exclusively ask a few questions from Nwodo.
In what sounded like a homily, Nwodo’s opening remarks read:
“We have a great mileage to cover because we are yet to fully shift from the mundane issues. Nigerians must begin to debate how to improve their lives. “Failure in the parties or at the elections next year will set this country back.
The story of democracy in Nigeria in the last 50 years has not been a good one, we must give a good account of ourselves and democracy in the next 50 years. The ills of the society are across party lines.
“It’s not been easy and I said I was ready to pay the supreme sacrifice. We have been hit left, right and centre because we want to bring about change in the party but we’re ready to forge ahead because the price will bring change.
“People who are used to short cuts do not want change. When you bring change that people are not used to you meet resistance.”
Once the Consensus Committee of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum, NPLF, announces its consensus candidate, there is bound to be a change in the complexion of the presidential primaries of PDP. As the national chairman, what sense would you make of that?
Individual candidates, in partnership, are allowed to plot their own strategies in any way they like. You know, some 40 political parties have said they are supporting President Goodluck Jonathan. First, President Jonathan is not a member of their political party. Second, is that they do not have presidential candidates.
So, if within our own political party some candidates decide to work together, it is their own strategy.
We have nothing against it and there is nothing in our constitution that says they are doing something illegal.
As we move to the general elections of next year, which would be preceded by internal contest for the party’s presidential ticket, the promise I have made in the past and which I stand by is to ensure that there is a level- playing field.
The imperative of this is that it would engender a situation whereby our party is able to present its first 11 to the electorate to be able to confront the other parties. This is a message that I have been taking round all the corners of this country
The primaries itself, what modalities are being put in place for Nigerians to see that at the end of the day, the choice of whoever emerges would be acceptable as having been the product of a free and fair contest, just as was the case in 1999 in Jos, Plateau State?
The party will definitely come out with guidelines. You know we cannot even bring out our own guidelines without the amendment to the Electoral Act.
So, once the Electoral Act is made ready, our guidelines would be debated in NEC, it would go through the normal procedure.
The best is to get the guidelines correctly. Second, the implementation of the guidelines is also very important.
The quality of the people we send out to go and conduct the primaries is another very important factor in the process.
Definitely, you know as well as I do that I will not be able to watch over all the processes leading up to the main convention neither would I be available in all the states when the primaries are going on.
Once we know who our aspirants are, we will give them the code of conduct, manifestoes and constitution and guidelines for their primaries and we are going to drum this message into their heads so that when they go out to campaign, they know what PDP stands for.
So, what date are we looking at for the primaries where your presidential candidate would emerge?
The way things are nobody even knows whether the constitution is operatable or implementable with the presidential assent or not.
Even the issue of the Electoral Act- when will it be ready and what would the amendments be? Those are other matters entirely.
Even the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is waiting for all the issues I have pointed out.
Some people have expressed fears that with all these mélange of uncertainties regarding the laws expected to guide the conduct of elections next year, there are dangers ahead. Do you also express such fears?
It will be a disaster, so we better not.
If PDP is democratic and it changes, some people have suggested that Nigeria will be the better for it. But, the signs on ground do not suggest that PDP is about to change. Some people see PDP as an omnibus…
It is difficult for people to accept change because of the difficulties change brings.
First, PDP remains an omnibus but how do you bring about change in a party that is like that?
It is about people believing in the change.
If people are not ready for the change and they are not prepared to help us propagate the gospel of change, why then should they point fingers? We will bring about the change because when people believe in it and spread the message, things will change and it is not about any magic.
The National Assembly members, led by PDP legislators, are threatening to take over the political parties in the country and run the affairs of the parties the way they have been running the National Assembly, unashamedly. Is this the type of transformation PDP is trying to wrought?
I agree, PDP is the majority in the National Assembly.Yes.
Whether we are the majority or not is not the issue. Members of the National Assembly are Nigerians no matter the platform on which they got there.
If they are doing something right, we would applaud them.
If they are doing something wrong, we are taking notes.
The national executive of the party that I lead is sensitive to what the people of Nigeria want.
We are not interested in what a few people in the National Assembly may want.
We are interested in what the majority of us, Nigerians, entitled to the Nigerian enterprise, want.
There is a lot we can do together by sensitising Nigerians to what is going on in the National Assembly.
It is about doing what is right in the interest of the generality of Nigerians.
Let it not be seen that some people are more important than others in this project.
I was governor 19 years ago and I am not a governor again today.
Those who are governors today at some point in the future will no longer be governors.
What is important is that politicians buy into this change. We will be making progress when people begin to raise the consciousness level.
Let us not be fixated that unless those who are on the stage today buy into this project that is the only way we can make progress or move forward.
It is not all governors that are insensitive to what we are saying.
The only governor who can be insensitive is that governor who can not present himself to the people; it will be that governor who would still want primaries to be done in the house; it is that governor who would want INEC to write election results for him. But that governor who is working with and for the people cannot oppose the need for change. We are trying to convert ourselves and convert others.
Back to the issue of the people in the National Assembly! If the people in the National Assembly are not saying the right thing, let us expose them and write to change their minds and let us tell them that what they are doing is not right. It is not about me as chairman of PDP lamenting or complaining, it is about all of us as a people, as Nigerians. It is for our country.
Your e-registration project that you said was supposed to bring about a transformation of the party with a view to handing the party back to the people was shot down at the National Executive Committee level of your party. What went wrong?
The e-registration will be, is still and must be on course.
Let us face the elections first and get it over with.
We will get back to the e-registration.
This transformation project you have embarked upon, has it been discussed with the state governors? Are they being carried along? How would you ensure that it goes down the line?
How do we ensure that the transformation that we preach goes down the line?
We do not have the system of communication that I would like to have in PDP.
However, I am striving to establish it in PDP where we’ll be online in real time with states, local government and ward offices of the party.
So that when we preach this message of change, it will go down to the people at all levels. We have no choice as a party but to embrace change. We have no choice.
You don’t have to like me, Okwesilieze Nwodo, all the party members and leaders need to do is to buy into this message. People should drive the message.
Nigeria’s democracy has no choice but to follow this road of change.
Nigeria has to survive and we have no other country.
We cannot and we must not and we will never joke with the need to change if we love our country.
It’s not whether Dr. Nwodo will succeed as chairman. I don’t want to be the man who will succeed but it is about Nigeria succeeding.
What we are talking about here did not just start overnight, it is the product of something I had thought of before I became chairman of the party and once I became chairman, I went all out to actualise it with my other members of the party.
What we are trying to do is to establish the core values that will drive democracy not just in PDP but in our country, Nigeria.
What about the National Working Committee, NWC?
I am happy that the National Working Committee, NEC, of our party has also bought into this project of change and that is why we are propagating it. I don’t have to go and sell this to every governor or every local government chairman.
It is about publicising this message so that Nigerians, our children, will be the beneficiaries of this change.
It is not for those from whom we are trying to take the party from and hand it over back to the people. These people who have taken over the party will resist it and we know they will. That would not make us fail.
Let us talk about how our country will accept these changes and how we can build a better country. We should convince those who will resist it. I don’t want to be despondent.
I’ll be kidding myself if I think everybody will dance and accept it. No.
That will be too naïve of me but we are convinced and we are not afraid because this is the only way to go.
I don’t think it is about liking the face of Nwodo to key into the project of transformation.
When you talk about resistance, who are those you are referring to and what does it portend for the party in the event that change doesn’t come because some people just believe that PDP can never change?
What is important to me is that if this message is resisted, PDP could lose some states when the votes begin to really count. This is more so because Nigerians want to vote for true leaders and once votes count, this change we are talking about remains the only road to follow.
If I don’t succeed or the PDP NEC or PDP NWC do not succeed, we will be imposing the same quality of leadership in a transparent general election where the votes will count and then we may lose elections. But in the event that we are able to foster the change we are talking about, then we will win more states and we will also win the hearts of the people and that is more important.
There is this issue of the PDP presidential primaries and the issue of bias on the part of the party leadership…
I am not in any campaign organisation of any of our aspirants. What we have done in the party is to provide a level playing ground.
The other time we invited the Directors-General of the campaign teams of the presidential aspirants and tried to refocus their attention to the issues affecting Nigerians and we don’t think that it is right to embark on character assassination of one another. And, I also told them that suppose the person whose character is most assassinated becomes the candidate, then we would have given the opposition enough ammunition to deal with our candidate.
From the way you people have structured the payments and fees for participation in primaries in your party, is there any room for poor people to participate, not to talk of winning?
When I was growing up in my village -and I’m sure this is true in everybody’s village – people went to retired headmasters or headmistress who served well, who cared and begged them to come and stand elections. Those headmasters didn’t have money.
Today, they buy us and buy our votes. It is for us to compare which one is better and which one produced our true leaders.
That is the message that we are trying to push. You do not have to be rich to become a leader.
All that you need are leadership qualities. That is why if we are able to provide a level playing ground, then the rich and the poor can present themselves to the electorate.
We haven’t got there yet but that is our destination.
How do you plan to create a level playing field for all when there are moneybags?
Where is the money coming from if the members are not paying?
That is what I met. PDP and all the political parties in Nigeria are living on donations from well-to-do members but with e-registration, we have put a target – although we call ourselves the largest political party in Africa we are not carried away.
We put a target of 10 million members and I’m sure in a population of about 150million people, it will be more than that. I know how much we use in running the party and it is not funny.
The man who pays the piper dictates the tune. PDP and the other political parties in Nigeria must be freed from all those big donors.
We need the party to be more independent in their finances so that they can act more independently.
The re-run exercises in the states pursuant to establishing new state executive committees portrayed the national headquarters of the party as the underdog because the state governors simply had their way, including your own state, Enugu. What happened?
The style of leadership that we have piloted at the party’s national secretariat is not one that goes into confrontation with branch chapters.
When the NWC takes a decision, it stands and at the end of the day, the NWC is a supreme organ of the party so we don’t need to be dragged into any confrontation.
In any case, we are working with INEC and the courts are there to resolve thorny issues.
Ours is a constructive mature leadership.