Rahman Akanni Owokoniran is the new South-West Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Secretary. But he has been around— since the Second Republic. Owokoniran was part of the formation of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and became a member of Lagos State House of Assembly in 1983. He became Chairman of the Congress for National Consensus, CNC. He moved to Alliance for Democracy, AD, and was appointed Chairman, Lagos State Local Government Council Creation Committee, which created 20 LGAs and 17 LCDAs. He was Director-General of Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s campaign organisation for a second term. He was appointed Commissioner for Housing(2003) and then Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Boundary Affairs (2006). He spoke about rebuilding PDP for 2023 elections and the failings of APC in this interview with Agbonkhese Oboh.
How popular is the newly-elected South-West PDP exco?
We have every reason to be thankful. The congress was successful. There were no winners or losers. Our internal democracy is very much intact. At the same time, the leadership of the party in the South-West has been engaging themselves to bring unity to the party and carry everyone along.
We all have the same goal and that is to win elections. We also recognise the huge task ahead of us, which is taking over come 2023, in order to salvage Nigeria.
As the new South-West PDP Secretary-General, what new ideas and changes you will like to see?
The changes I would love to see are already taking shape: internal democracy, restoration of confidence and legitimacy, and enabling people to have a sense of participation.
This is what I would like to see more in all our primaries and elections, so that there will be no doubt when a candidate emerges at the end of the day. This way it is easier to resolve differences than when candidates are imposed.
It is good when people participate in the due process. As the people’s party, I also want to see more activities and involvement with the people in the local government and ward levels. This will enhance the confidence and trust the people have in PDP.
Even as the opposition party, you have crises. Especially in the South-West. Are there specific plans to restructure the party?
Yes. In Lagos, for instance, we are fortunate that we have not done our congresses. This will be a very good way to heal the party. Also, we are talking with all the stakeholders; that we should be more focused on building the party rather than just contesting for the sake of it.
And, hopefully, those who are doing their congresses will bear in mind that everybody has a role to play. Having different groups within the party is a thing of the past as everyone has recognised the fact that unity is key to our success— from ward levels to the top.
We have a government that is non-functional and a country in serious crisis. For these reasons, it is important that PDP put their house in order.
The last six years of APC have been frustrating to Nigerians. So if we, PDP, want Nigerians to trust and have confidence in us as a party, we have to earn it. And the way to earn it is to demonstrate the seriousness of purpose and sell our package—what we have to offer them.
You’ve seen it all (UPN, SDP, NCP, APP, AD and PDP). A lot of Nigerians believe there is no difference between PDP and APC. As a political scientist, how do you respond to that perception?
I don’t know what APC’s ideology is. But certainly is not the same with PDP’s. We are very much left-centre. We work for the interest of the common man, so I believe we just have to sell our programmes so that people can see what we have in store for them.
For instance, President Goodluck Jonathan achieved a lot for Nigerians. But unfortunately, people did not realise it until he left office. So I believe PDP needs to project the image of the party and not individuals. When we sell the party, people will realise that PDP is a party working for them and distinguish it from other parties. PDP is about the people. But we can’t say same about APC. Nigerians have come to realise this fact.
2023 elections are not too far off. What is PDP’s strategy for the South-West?
First, we need to unite, which we are making great progress in achieving. The PDP has been a party with delivery records, but unfortunately, the challenge has been the division in the leadership.
However, we have learned from others that suffered same fate that if we are divided we stand no chance. Therefore, we are successfully working on uniting everybody. That’s how we can come up with the best programmes to salvage Nigeria.
What is the Federal Government doing wrong concerning insecurity?
I have said this before, Government is not attracting the best of hands to tackle insecurity. We are not in the 70s. Things are happening differently now. This is a technological era. Government should pay for the right services. There’s no reason for Ghana and Togo to be safe while Nigeria is not safe.
It is either there is internal sabotage or the government is sabotaging itself. There is something fundamentally wrong. Abacha said any government that cannot arrest insurgency within 24 hours is responsible for that insurgency.
Would you say the present Lagos State government is doing well?
I rate them three out of 10. Governance is about the people. But I have not seen pro-people governance in Lagos. Everybody is a local government of their own: you generate your own electricity and provide your own water.
Where does the government come in? Even the roads they said they are constructing have become deathtraps. In Lagos today, you can’t go to three places. People go to work and come back home. Anything else, you will sleep on the road.
The Lagos State government is insensitive to the need of the people. They say they are spending money on roads, but the traffic situation is getting worse, then what kind city is that? No good health services. The rate of inflation and unemployment is unbelievable. So in my opinion, the state government is doing very badly.
If Nigerian politicians want to serve, they should act it. If the money is available, pay the people well. If it is not, reduce your own salaries. That’s why we are losing talents and professionals.
They are acting like CEOs. They should stay at home and allow people who want to serve to take over. People who want to make money in government should be discouraged.
Nigerians are fed up with politicians failing to deliver on promises. How does PDP intend to win back their confidence?
The people have tried APC and the difference is now very obvious. PDP had a government that listened and took decisions based on what the people desired. The people want a government they are sure they can be part of.
That’s one major reason I believe PDP should be given a second chance. We will improve and fix the shortcomings of the past.
We are all in this together. I do trust that the people are yearning for PDP to come back in 2023. The fact remains that as it stands PDP is the only party that is people-oriented and will take Nigeria out of our present economic disaster.