Southeast not ripe for presidency in 2023, we have no structure — Nnaji
Ray Nnaji is a founding member and former National Auditor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU, he spoke on the PDP and Southeast’s interest in the presidency come 2023.
• Wants PDP To Retain Power In The North
What is the veracity that PDP leadership did not lay solid foundation for the party to thrive and as such could not sustain its hold?
I do not agree with that assumption; we laid a solid foundation. I could agree that we are the cause of our problem in the sense that we did not take things seriously. We took everything for granted. There was so much impunity. There was lack of internal democracy, to the extent that members began to fight the party and also looking out to other platforms. That was the basic problem. The leadership of the party at a time did not handle the party affairs with all seriousness. Party supremacy was missing in the leadership and as such certain decisions could not be reached. The party relied greatly on the executive for survival and with that, there was loss of control. There was a platform and that is the fact that, anybody who is an appointee of the party should be paying certain percentage of his entitlement into the party purse, but the leadership never enforced it. So, there was not enough fund to strengthen the party and because of this, the party relied on the executive for survival. This was the reason the zoning principle that was agreed upon was later jettisoned by the former president.
With Jonathan finishing the tenure of Yar’Adua and also doing another four years, power should have ordinarily and without contest been allowed to go back to the north, but we did not do that. If the party had maintained that principle and insisted that the presidency should go to the north in 2015, we would not have lost the hold on power at the national level. Rather, we had a situation where Jonathan came out to contest and the party could not do or say anything against an already established principle that was working for the party. That was why the north became so angry and looked for another platform. The party did it, so much so, that it allowed only one nomination form to be printed, instead of giving room for people to come to the field and try their luck. That was why the problem started and before you knew it, we had lost power. This was what happened, not that we did not lay a solid foundation to remain in power.
Being in opposition for sometime, has the party leadership really learnt anything that could guide it in the future?
The PDP has learnt that it is not easy to be in opposition because it has lost so many things. It has lost followers and the leadership has to almost crawl on its knees to get whatever it wants. The leadership now knows that the party in power cannot accommodate opposition; no matter how well articulated opposition might be. PDP has now known that it is dangerous to play the politics of ‘only our members.’ We have learnt that there is need to be magnanimous in victory and that means we should accommodate various interests to get the society going.
We have also learnt that we lost the last election because we are in opposition. We have learnt that being in opposition contributed to our losing in the presidential tribunal and now we have gone to the Supreme Court and nobody is sure of what will happen. This is because, no level playing ground will be allowed. The party in power will like to muzzle the opposition and that was one of the things we have suffered. We had lost some grounds, luckily for us, because of the attitude of the party in power; we were able to get Atiku Abubakar, who has a pedigree, and the strength and contacts to recover the party. If not for his coming into the party, it would have been so difficult for the PDP. We would have even lost more grounds, but we have gained some and hoping to get more because we are believing that if we have success in the appeal tribunal over the election, it would help us reorganise the party.
But where the Supreme Court appeal fails, it is my conviction that we will still take over power in 2023. This is because the APC is built around President Muhammadu Buhari and after Buhari, APC will not be strong enough to withstand the opposition. This will, however, depend on the way the PDP manages its affairs between now and then. If we continue with impunity that made us lose power in the past, we will still find it difficult to get back to power.
You said depending on the way the PDP organises itself; what do you mean by this, taking into consideration feelers that your last national convention, where Atiku emerged is still unsettling members of your party, especially those who had preferred candidates?
I think what we had was the fact that, some governors believed in their personal interests, which is normal in politics, but that was not in the interest of the party. Atiku has been long in the game and had contested in various presidential primaries. I was one of the delegates at Bukuru, Jos, in 1993 and a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) that partook in the election of the presidential candidate of the party, where MKO Abiola emerged the candidate of SDP, beating Kingibe and Atiku to second and third positions. So, he did not start the race today. What matters in politics is experience. If you have the experience, contact and means, you will always be the candidate to beat.
Politics require money; you must have the structure and all what not. So, when these are lacking, you should not expect victory.
The National Chairman of our party is from Rivers State and the governor (Nyesom Wike) was instrumental to his coming on board. The problem that seems to be resonating is the issue of Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, whereby, Wike’s candidate did not make it. His candidate was the party’s candidate, but Emulelu happened to pick the position. So, Wike was not happy about it. So, it is not Atiku because through him, we were able to mend fences after the convention.
You may also wish to know that the PDP in attempt to pacify the governor recently sent a delegation to him to reassure him that the party meant well. Wike is somebody who does not hide his feelings. He showed his discontent that members did not respect the party’s choice. This is not the first time we are witnessing this; it happened even in the time of Tambuwal.
Again, the PDP will win 2023 elections, if it presents Atiku Abubakar as candidate. But anything short of this, may not be in the interest of the party. Atiku has demonstrated that he has enough goodwill to win elections, at least for now.
When you say Atiku should run the 2023 elections, are you ruling out Ndigbo, who are saying it is their turn to be there? Don’t you think PDP should compensate Ndigbo by zoning its presidency to the southeast?
Let me be frank with you; the Southeast zone has given the PDP support right from 1999, which is reflected in the elections won, but the issue of compensation should be treated with care. It, however, depends on what the party wants. If the decision of the Supreme Court is not favorable to the party and it wants to win election in 2023, it should allow the zoning to remain in the North, but if it wants to lose the next election, it should zone it to the Southeast. The North is plotting very seriously against power shift and knowing full well that the arrangement on ground is in their favour, any candidate from that area would always defeat a candidate from the Southeast. So, it will be difficult for a candidate of the Southeast to beat a candidate from the North because of their population and other indices that are in their favour. If the PDP does not make it at the Supreme Court, I will still appeal to Atiku to contest as its candidate because he is still acceptable in the north.
Buhari is said to have won the election because his party is in power, not that he beat Atiku. Buhari plotted his said victory through many ways, by descending on the judiciary, using the security and even INEC.
For the Southeast to gain the presidency, it must work with the North and in that regard, if power is zoned to the North and the candidate happens to pick a Southeasterner as running mate, it will facilitate the process of the zone achieving presidency. The North is not interested in allowing Southeast produce president in 2023, but with Atiku, it is achievable. It will only come by subtle means. The agitation from pressure groups like IPOB is sending the signals already that the zone is not happy. This was what the Southwest did that made them bring Obasanjo. The Southwest could not have achieved it without the support of the North, likewise the South-South.
To be frank with you, if you don’t have structures; you cannot win elections in this country. The North has a very strong structure, but the Southeast has no structure to win a national election in 2023. So, the best bet is to play along with the North to give them the presidency. If Atiku had made it with Peter Obi as his Vice and being a nationalist, who is married to Yoruba and Igbo women, I believe he will allow power to shift to Southeast. So, Southeast is not ripe for presidency. We don’t have structures on ground; even if the PDP zones the presidency to Southeast, they still do not have structures to win elections.
Not giving Southeast the presidency may mean the people should continue in their agitation?
The agitation can stop if the leadership of the country is rational. Agitations increased because of insecurity and insincerity on the part of the leadership. As much as we will agitate, the Southeast needs to get a solid structure and work with the majority zone to get it.
The Southeast zone sees their inability to get the presidency as part of their marginalisation in the country?
Marginalisation is not an understatement; it is true. The government has not helped matters. The Southeast Development Commission bill has continued to linger after first reading; that of the North has been passed and is being implemented. It is very unfortunate and this shows that the Southeast people are not strong enough to get things for themselves. There are many other things that are not the way they should be.
The APC has continued to accuse the PDP for the unfortunate situation of the Southeast; that PDP actually under developed the zone?
A party does not work in vacuum. It works with human beings. What you have to blame is the people that represented the zone and not the party. If the people did not do anything or bring out their best hands to represent them, why blame the party? It is not the party. The zone elected people they want, who got there without knowing why they were there. We have reports about certain contracts that were awarded in the zone, where the money went into private pockets of some elected individuals.
How true is the assertion that politics of interest has caused the underdevelopment of Southeast?
Most of our leaders are selfish because they would always want their own before others. They are greedy even when they have got enough for them and their children, they would want to acquire more as status symbol. They want more that will outlive them. Our mentality is very bad. That is why there are many problems in the zone. The industries are not there, our people have remained unemployed year in year out, and there is no improvement anywhere.
Again the policies of the Federal Government have not helped matters. The Federal Government behaves as if the zone is not part of Nigeria. Go to the North and see the kind of development going on there, while nothing is done in the Southeast. Look at the yearly budget and see what comes into the zone. That is why we must look for credible people who can play the politics that would have positive impact on the zone.
Will you recommend zoning in 2023 for Enugu State
Zoning has helped to solve a lot of problem in the state. It has given sense of belonging to the people. When you make the contest open, there will be crisis of the survival of the fittest. If we did not have zoning, Udi/Ezeagu could not have made it to the government house because they are in the minority. That is why I said since the West had taken and the North now in power, it should return to Enugu east. It is not as if the East is afraid of going into contest with any of the zones, but if we fight to get it, there is no way power can be relinquished to anybody without fighting.
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