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Southwest PDP needs change of leadership, says Arapaja

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Taofeek Oladejo Arapaja

A former Nigeria envoy to Jordan and Iraq, Ambassador Taofeek Oladejo Arapaja promised to surpass the achievements of former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George if elected as the national vice chairman PDP Southwest in the coming congress. Arapaja, who was recently endorsed as the zone’s candidate by Governor Seyi Makinde’s faction told ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE, he has what it takes to win.

Your party used to be vibrant in Southwest during Chief Olabode George’s era as deputy national chairman, what has gone wrong now?
That is exactly what we are trying to put in place because if you are leading a party and there is no improvement something must be done. That time I was in the House of Representatives and PDP had five governors out of six in the zone. Only Lagos was left out, we had the Federal Government along with the five states in the Southwest. But now we have only one state; we are struggling to cope with just one state. People at the helm of affairs of the party are not concerned about winning elections. What they are concerned about is something else. It shouldn’t be like that. That is what we want to change but there are some people who still want to sit tight.

Unfortunately, they are not bringing any progress and success to the party. Today, all the state chapters of PDP are polarized. We want to bring people together and ensure we reconcile all the warring factions so that we can win elections. The most important thing to us is winning elections, not just being on the seat as chairman of Southwest zone.

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In 2015, people voted against PDP because they thought we were not doing enough. Now, what is really happening?  PDP is not taking advantage of the situation and people at the helm of affairs in PDP Southwest are not concerned.

How would you react to the postponement of the congress? 
The congress was postponed because they were against the venue. They cited the example of when they held the congress in Ondo, Osun and other states. They failed to realise that it is a constitutional matter. Constitutionally, the congress has to be held at the headquarters of the zone, which is Ibadan, Oyo State. This is where the congress is supposed to be held. But they are afraid because they don’t have the number of delegates that we have. They are just trying to buy time. At the national level, they’re trying to reconcile all. That is a good step for the party. 

How far has the party gone about the reconciliation process? 
They’re trying to reconcile, watching things the way they are unfolding. The tempo is coming down. At the national level, former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is the chairman for the Reconciliation Committee, is making necessary efforts and inviting people to Abuja, talking to them on the need to forge a common front. 
   
PDP has the opportunity of reclaiming the mandate that belongs to Nigerians. That is why the PDP needs to come back and that’s exactly where we are going. We have to put our house in order and that is the more reason we must change the present leadership at the regional level. We’ve not been able to achieve anything throughout the tenure of the current leadership. If you look at the zone that concerns me, every chapter of the party is sharply divided.

What changes are you planning to bring if elected?
My main plan is uniting our people and members. PDP was so strong. This is a PDP state. Ditto other states in the region. It is only Lagos that we can say belongs to the opposition party. Now, we’ve lost all those states except Oyo, due to lack of unity. The main responsibility of the zonal chairman is to reconcile and unite members and ensure that credible and acceptable candidates that can lead the party to victory are presented for elections. Obviously, when you bring up a candidate that is not popular and not acceptable to the electorate, there won’t be positive results. 
 
We have to go back to the winning days and ensure that we win all the six states, not even five out of six anymore. I want to surpass what Chief Olabode George did as the zonal chairman. Apart from that, we will be able to control the centre, winning the presidency. That is my objective. What is their objective? 
 
Therefore, the leadership of the party has to change. If it doesn’t change, we are going nowhere and we will be pushing Nigeria towards one-party state. So, we need to be up and doing and reconcile in the interest of our party, PDP and Nigeria in general. 

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Many believe you couldn’t be trusted with the zonal leadership, having defected to many parties in the past? 
This is the problem, when there is no justice but impunity. Look at what is happening now.  People are in the party, calling themselves leaders but working against the party. 

Former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State said you are not qualified for the office because you worked against PDP in 2015 and 2019.  How would you react to this?  
In 2015, that he said I worked against my party was when we had problems. My own local government area was taken away from me. That was when Senator Teslim Folarin, was presented as the standard-bearer of the party. The party wasn’t really strong then. It was embroiled in a lot of crises because the candidate could not have delivered his local government, not to talk of winning the governorship poll as candidate of the party.  
   
In 2019, it was a known fact that I was incarcerated for supporting PDP. I didn’t want to be with All Progressives Congress (APC). Hence, a former governor was annoyed and sent some assassins after me.  Luckily, I escaped but one of my aides was killed. Eventually, they roped me, saying that I was the one that invited those who killed the boy. I was invited to Iyaganku Police Station where I was incarcerated for a day. After that, I was taken to Abuja for four weeks. I had to tell my people in Ibadan to vote for PDP, which they did.  

But you were in African Democratic Party (ADC) then? 
There was a coalition to work for Seyi Makinde in the governorship election and they knew that we were working towards Makinde’s success at the poll. That was why they were after me.

Is that the reason Makinde endorsed you for the office?  
Well, because he knew that I worked for PDP. But what will you say about those who call themselves leaders of the party but still campaigning for the 2023 presidential ambition of a leader of another party?

Olafeso said Governor Makinde, who is now sponsoring you, promised he (Olafeso) should return to his office if he lost his governorship bid. How true is this?  
Who promised him? I am not Governor Makinde that made the promise. If he had promised him, he wouldn’t have reneged on the promise. He didn’t. How can you promise someone who worked against his party in his state, ensuring that his party lost and wants to come back to lead the party in the zone? 

Could it then be that Makinde is supporting you so that he could become the godfather of PDP in Southwest?
No! If you look at it, before you would endorse someone, you must at least know about the person. You’ll know his achievements and antecedents. We were together in this state and he knows the type of person I am. The governor knows that my ‘yes’ is ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ is ‘no’. I can never be bought by anybody. If I have wanted money, I wouldn’t have left a former governor when he was alive. With all his money and everything, I left. I said I didn’t want to be part of all that. So, that is where the coalition came in and we won. Without the coalition, we wouldn’t have won.

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What is your message to party leaders in Southwest? 
The party leaders should let us close ranks and allow someone who we believe can do it to do it. For God’s sake, why should we be satisfied with peanut! We can take government from APC because the ruling party has failed to deliver on all it promises. We have the opportunity but it is now left for us to take charge or else we will be disappointing Nigerians.

What is your message to your fellow contestant? 
I don’t have any message other than to allow a change in the leadership so that we can work together for the greater interest of the party. It’s not to work for our pockets. To me, Fayose’s case is a different one entirely because he is looking for respect but the irony of it is that is not ready to respect people.  You abuse this and that, no regards to anyone.  In a sane society, someone like that shouldn’t have been a governor. My message to him is to retrace his steps. 

Does PDP stand any chance in the coming 2023 presidential election?
We have a very bright chance to coast home to victory, because Nigerians are tired of this current administration. Nigerians are tired of APC. All promises made are all deceit. Banditry, insurgency, kidnapping and insecurity are still there, even at the backyard of the President. The governors were involved, negotiating with bandits. What is a country!  Everything is upside down from the economy, to security to healthcare and others it is a gloomy story.

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