By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Marine engineer turned media mogul cum politician, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi is a front-line candidate in the contest for the office of national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the forthcoming National Convention of the party.
Dr. Dokpesi recently took time of the campaign to sit down for an interview with Saturday Vanguard during which he fielded questions on his aspiration, the inspiration and challenges among others. Excerpts:
You recently met with President Jonathan on your consultations for the office of national chairman of the PDP. Is he backing you?
President Jonathan was the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a foremost leader in the Peoples Democratic Party; he represents an embodiment of the values, vision, and hope of the People’s Democratic Party. I went there to notify him about the possibility of my aspiration, and he was very warm, he was very receptive, he outlined what he envisages as the values or the characteristics of whom he expects to be chairman of the party, which was a description of the things I represent.
But let me be very specific, as a national leader, as a father of the party. I was not expecting him to, in any way, support or declare support for my candidature because all the other aspirants will also come and as the father of the party, he will be expected to also bless each one of them and encourage them to go.
But his body language, the prayers, the statements he made will leave nobody in doubt that we need a strong-willed and competent chairman to take the PDP out of the woods.
What exactly do you intend to do if you become the chairman of the PDP?
First and foremost, we need to reunite the party; we need to rejuvenate the party, we need to rebuild the party, we need to enforce the reforms that are required in the party. There must be a level playing ground for all aspirants and contestants in the party. We must have a chairman that will not be extorting money from candidates and aspirants. There must be respect for zoning; there must be discipline in the party, the supremacy of the party must be appreciated and enforced. There is no gainsaying whatsoever that the immediate and remote causes of why we failed the election in 2015 must be fully addressed, and that rot did not start in 2015. It indeed started in 2003 with the underground spread of rumours as regards what the PDP itself stands for. So we must address all these issues, and there must be somebody who understands, appreciates and is knowledgeable about what the possible solutions are. We need to be able to have a good network, a bridge builder who understands and can bring everybody together, all these I believe are the major challenges that we have to tackle very squarely.
The issue of funding the party is very well known. We have to put it to the party, we have tried it, and we have put the models up, and I surely believe that we can get it perfected for the good of the party.
You talked about the issue of zoning. It has been reported and alleged that there was a consensus in Port Harcourt to micro-zone the office of national chairman to the Southwest in the sense that it is the only geopolitical zone that has not occupied the office.
Well, let me say that the PDP constitution is very clear. There is no chairman that can call himself chairman except he was elected at the convention.
Amodu Sheriff was approved up to NEC level and was recommended to the convention. The convention is the highest organ of the party that will determine whether or not it is possible for anybody to become chairman. If the convention does not approve you, you are not a chairman.
Ahmed Gulak went to court, and the court of law nullified the period and decisions that the deputy national chairman who acted as chairman in the absence of the substantive chairman. Anything he did after 90 days was cancelled because within 90 days he ought to have convened or gotten the zone from which the last national chairman came from to replace him. So any action he took then was null and void.
So how can you come out because you want cheap publicity to now say that the South-South has produced a chairman? The South-South has never produced a chairman otherwise, they should tell me the convention where Secondus was presented, and he was approved as chairman.
Chief Olabode George, our revered leader and friend was a deputy national chairman just like Secondus. So there cannot be any claim in that area. Now, as regards the question about the Port Harcourt convention, I must be very, very respectful and appreciative of the position of leaders and elders of the party. But is that position necessarily in line with the provisions of the constitution?
We say we need to fight impunity, we need to impose the supremacy of the party, the national party under the chairmanship of Ahmed Makarfi set up an 88-man committee, also with the governor of Ebonyi as chairman and the governor of Gombe as co-chairman and former Governor Suswam as secretary with 85 other members including former governors, senators, and other high ranking party members. They came to the inevitable conclusion that there should be a paradigm shift, that we needed to correct the absurdities in the zoning that we have been doing. Therefore, they decided that in order to encourage the very best in every region (and region being defined as Northern Region and Southern Region comprising of three geopolitical zones in each) should be encouraged to contest for the position of president and national chairman.
They, therefore, said that the best candidates from the Southern Zone should contest (for chairman). It is written and so how all of a sudden, a group of persons now came and said that this is what they have decided.
The May 2016 Convention and the August 2016 Convention concluded that there would be no micro-zoning for the position of president and that there would be no micro-zoning for the position of chairman.
We must respect the supremacy of the party.
Before the Port-Harcourt convention, you made an elaborate campaign for this same office, but the governors moved against you. How do you intend to tackle the governors’ grip on the party given the fact that past chairmen like Bamanga Tukur who tried it were rebuffed?
I believe that every member no matter the privileged position that anybody owns now must subject himself to the supremacy of the party. We must be guided by the provisions of the constitution of the party.
The governors are a very, very important segment in the life of the party and cannot be shoved aside or disregarded and they must be accorded the respect that they deserve and they have earned. They are concerned with the welfare and wellbeing of the party and this we must recognise.
But we must also appreciate that they are human beings, they cannot know it all, and they too must be ready to interact with the elders, with the youths, with the women in their various constituencies. It cannot be about their own interests alone.
PDP needs to be reborn and to move away from the old ways that they had acted in 16 years and be more democratic. Respect the constitution, respect constituted authority, and part of the constituted authority is the governors; but the party is made up of almost seven million persons, and only a handful are governors, and in this case, we have only 11 governors.
It has been said in some quarters that you are facing a trial and that the APC administration could use the trial to blackmail you?
When I speak, I speak with all sense of responsibility and confidence. Since 2015 the Buhari led Federal Government has oppressed, attacked me and has attempted to cripple even the businesses that they think I put up. The very first pronouncement when Buhari came to office was that AIT would not be allowed to come in. Then I came out of retirement, I put on my gloves, and I told them that AIT is a national broadcaster and not even the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has the right or the power to stop AIT. I came out! APC has made several overtures to me. They have looked for compromise, they have looked for agreements, I have never been daunted. I have never retraced my steps. I have never believed for one second that APC was right or won the election. INEC has declared them as winners, so I have no choice but to accept their victory, but what is left in me is to fight, to recoup, to recover for the PDP the mandate which I believe was illegitimately and illegally transferred to the APC. So, we must defend our people. We must protect the interest of our people.
Any person in the PDP saying that because I am standing trial and should not stand for national chairman, I want the person that is not standing trial to come and show what he has done to project and prosper PDP. Let him come out and tell me what sacrifices he has made to get the PDP to go ahead
If I am being maligned, If I am standing trial, I am standing trial because I am standing for the PDP, because I am defending the PDP
Why are you risking your interests this way?
For the good of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because of my faith and belief in the corporate existence of Nigeria.
I am pained that the youths and the women of this country are still at the level of development; I believe I have a role to play. I cannot abandon this world without trying to contribute my quota in transforming and in reforming and repositioning lives of the black race. I am proud of the Black Race, and I want the black race to be respected, and Nigerians constitute a quarter of the black race the world over.
Of all your fellow contenders like Bode George, Rasheed Ladoja, Gbenga Daniel, Tunde Adeninran, Adedoja if you were for one reason or the other to step aside from the contest who would you back as the best candidate?
They are all eminently qualified and all eminently experienced. They are strong, respectable party members, they are people that I have worked with, they are people that I know are very, very passionate about the party. It is not fair for me to pick one.