Delta 2023: SDP is a social movement, best place to be, says Gbagi
Former Minister of State for Education Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi is the candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Delta State. He spoke to South-South Bureau Chief, GODWIN IJEDIOGOR on his aspirations.
On the eve of Delta State PDP primary for the governorship, you announced your withdrawal from the race and the party, what happened; at what point did it dawn on you that things had change?
That Saturday morning, when I drove in my Rolls Royce to Government House in Asaba, and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s Chief of Staff, Festus Agas, came to meet me that the governor said I should go, that I was not invited to a meeting that was my legal right to attend, as an ad-hoc delegate from my local government.
Despite three or four hours of Agas pleading with me to leave, that the governor specifically said he did not want me at the meeting, it became clearer to me when the governor saw me and drove past without saying hello, indifferent to my position in the state as a former minister of the PDP. It dawned on me when my governor saw me and ran away.
Before that Saturday morning, everything Okowa told me was like God told me Himself. That was when the scale fell from my eyes and I realised that I had been deceived for seven years. I needed to react, and the reaction is what you are seeing right now.
As an elected ad-hoc delegate, didn’t you partake in the state House of Assembly and National Assembly primary, what made you think the governorship was going to be different?
No, I didn’t take part; I abstained.
I know, from what played out that eventful Saturday, I was convinced that my friend, my brother, the governor had been hemmed into a regrettable corner. And at that point, I needed to run a race for myself, professionally and all that I represent.
As a founding member of PDP, how did you feel leaving the party?
The question is, as a founding member of the party, I rose to become a minister, how did the party feel about the maltreatment meted out to me? I needed to hold my head, take a decision as a lawyer and as somebody who had been tested and trusted in taking decisions; hence I took what has now turned out to be the best decision.
Were you intimidated, was your life actually threatened?
What informed your choice of SDP as the next destination?
SDP is the oldest party in Nigeria. Don’t you know that I am very close to the Yoruba people. My father was a bailiff in Okitipupa in Ondo State, Ado-Ekiti, Ile-Ife and Ibadan, where the Gbagi-Dugbe Market was named after him. Most of my half brothers and sisters are still in Yoruba land.
The late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, who was the SDP presidential candidate in the 1993 election and who actually won that election, symbolises a national appeal. So, looking at all the other political parties, I believe SDP is the best platform to realise my ambition. It’s a social movement.
Every major party in the country spoke to me after I left PDP. Come next year, I will win the governorship election in Delta State. Other candidates have nothing to offer; they have no home and businesses here, they are not recognised; they come in only during the elections. But I have my footage here and no less a person than the governor has told the whole world that I am the most visible private investor in Delta State.
So, you are optimistic that SDP can match PDP and All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 election?
Yes! I am sure I would be sworn in as governor on May 29, next year. I am going to win that election by the grace of God, because I am putting everything in me into this project.
It is not unusual to see politicians leave a party and later return. Would you return to PDP at any point later after the election, win or lose?
I will definitely win the election. A number of current and former governors and presidents are asking the same question. But if despite my relationship with the youth, market people and others, my only offence is that I am not controllable, and SDP believes in me to fly its flag. How will I then use that party to win election and later dump it and return to a party that didn’t find me good enough in the first place?
If you had contested in the PDP primary and it was free, fair and transparent, do you think you would have won the ticket?
I would have won landslide. I am contesting because of my love for Delta State and Deltans. If you watch the videos of my consultations with the people and delegates, you will observe that I was the only one that did the same across the 25 local government areas of the state.
One thing that gave me confidence is that the governorship election is not a delegates election. It is one in which the market women, students, teachers, the youth and aged, Christians and Muslims and others will vote for who they believe will protect their lives and make their lives better.
I am happy that for the first time in my life, I am not just an aspirant, like I had always been, but a candidate. This is the first time I have reached the level of being a candidate. I have what it takes to change the fortunes of Delta within one year; Delta has no business being poor.
Why did PDP elders and major stakeholders not intervene to dissuade you from leaving the party?
There is no elder or major stakeholder in PDP in the state; everybody is a stooge of the governor. You either follow what Okowa says or to hell with you.
You saw what he did to Chief James Ibori and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan! I am close enough to know the governor. Okowa sat down here (pointing to a chair in his home) when I made him governor in 2015. For you to know a man, expose him to power and money. If he succeeds and remains your friend, then forever he is a great man.
What would be your focal points if elected governor?
I will remove every Deltan youth from the street, thereby increasing the state’s GDP. I will ensure security for everybody living in and around the state. I will increase business opportunities available for Deltans. I will revamp all state-owned moribund industries, setting up more to harness the state’s abundant human and material resources.
There will be free education up to university level for all Deltans. Delta is well endowed; all it needs is a disciplined governor or government. There is so much in the state that can surpass the current internally generated revenue and federal allocations put together. We will tap into them.
The common man in Delta trusts me to deliver, based on my antecedents. I want to assure them that it is possible to better their lots. The people will stop complaining, with my emergence as governor come 2023.
Who is your running mate or where is he or she likely to come from?
Quite honestly, my running mate will come from Ndokwa nation. I am working on that and have up to July 15 to announce my running mate, and I am working hard on that.
Do you believe in party intervention or interference in the choice of a running mate, given the scenario in some states and the PDP presidential ticket?
I believe strongly that it is not a solo affair for the candidate alone; so I believe that the party should participate in arriving at such choice, probably up to 90 per cent.
What is your take on rotational presidency and clamour for the position to come to the South next year?
My position is that given the bickering and agitation in the country, there was an understanding that power should rotate between the North and South of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari must have spent eight years by May 29, next year and it is only fair that the next president should be from the South.
Anybody who works contrary to that agreement or arrangement is a criminal before God and the people of Nigeria, one without conscience. To that extent, my party’s presidential candidate, Prince Adewole Adebayo, is from Ondo State and that is the man I am going to support and work for.
There are other candidates from the South and it will be ungodly and irresponsible for anybody from the South to believe that after northerner has done eight years, for whatever permutation, another northerner should continue. It means that person is a slave and wants to remain a slave for life. It is a non-starter and we must maintain the North-South balancing in the governance of this country to ensure peace, unity and togetherness.
But your former party, PDP, is most culpable of this?
At a point, I had urged Okowa to run for President, because he is from the South. I even held a prayer vigil in my home for him to be president, because I believe that power must come to the South in 2023. Anything to the contrary will be a catastrophe and against the interest of Nigeria. We must live as a people with principles
What is your view regarding Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian presidential ticket?
A Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian presidential ticket is another foolish decision that will never stand the test of time. You cannot play on the intelligence of the people.
Looking at the sensibility and what we have just passed through and God is taking us through in the next seven months, it is unthinkable to ever dare such an arrangement.
But it happened with the late MKO Abiola and defunct SDP in 1992, why not now?
When Abiola was a presidential candidate and he tried it, there was a Nigeria. Where is Nigeria today? Is it the same Nigeria that is bedeviled with so much insecurity, Boko Haram, banditry, herdsmen menace? These were unheard of during Abiola’s time.
We were coupled together as a country but today we are loose nations. With the situation on ground, to entrust the country with a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket will be barbaric and unacceptable to many Nigerians.