A former Minister of Works and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Sen. Adeseye Ogunlewe, in this interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, speaks on the crisis rocking the PDP in Lagos over the governorship primary that produced Jimi Agbaje as the candidate for the 2015 governorship election in the state
Is it true that the Peoples Democratic Party is making efforts to reconcile with a former Minister of State for Defence, Amb. Musiliu Obanikoro, and others who are aggrieved with the party’s hierarchy in Lagos over the outcome of the recently held governorship primary in the state?
Yes, that’s true. The leadership has invited all the aspirants that participated in the PDP governorship primary in Lagos. It is not just about Musiliu Obanikoro being singled out, all the aspirants are involved.
So far, how many of the aggrieved PDP members has the party been able to reconcile now?
Almost all of them; they are all willing to contribute to the progress of the PDP as a whole and they are committed to ensuring the electoral success of the party in Lagos in 2015. They were receptive to the meeting we called and we have extended a hand of fellowship once again to them. From the look of things, the Lagos PDP will remain one big family. There is no cause for alarm. We are united in our mission, notwithstanding individual differences.
Is Obanikoro among these party members who are willing to ensure the party remains united?
He was not part of the meeting. There is no sign he wants reconciliation. He has gone to court already. Obviously, he is not agreeable to the reconciliation moves by the party hierarchy.
Is the party not making further efforts to placate him?
Party leaders have been talking to him – even President Goodluck Jonathan, the Senate President, David Mark, and others have been talking to him on the need to be in tune with the party. We will see how it goes.
It was alleged that you and Bode George ganged up against Obanikoro. How true is that?
That is not true. If you are running a political party and you want to field a credible candidate, you will have to assess the qualities of the people under consideration and weigh the options: what are the pluses of this aspirant and the minuses of that aspirant? Then, you also listen to what people say: who are they rooting for to represent them in the election? Or else, the party will end up producing a candidate who is a loser before the real election. Besides, Jimi Agbaje defeated Obanikoro. What else does Obanikoro want?
But he alleged some form of rigging. For instance, he claimed that number of total votes cast was more than the number of delegates approved to vote during the primary?
That is not correct. When it was discovered that some statutory delegates were not accommodated, all the agents, including the aspirants who were in the hall (venue), agreed that they (additional delegates) should vote. They are still living. Are they ghosts? Are they external people? They all have names. Are they not members of the party? It was not an external election; we can publicise the names of the delegates who voted in the primary. If there were names unknown to him, why didn’t he say so there? All the delegates that voted were not external people; they were executive members of all the Local Government Areas.
Now that Obanikoro has gone to court to challenge the process leading to the conduct of the primary, what is PDP going to do?
We are praying that he shouldn’t withdraw the lawsuit. Let him go ahead and sue the party. We are going to present before the court all the facts. We are not bothered about that. We are in court with him; we have filed a counter affidavit.
If the PDP had anything against him, why was he allowed to contest in the primary?
There is no way we could have disqualified him; we are not the court. The court will make that decision. One thing we know is that Obanikoro is not electable. That is why majority of the delegates voted for Agbaje.
Recently, you described Obanikoro as not being respectful to the elders especially in the party. What exactly did you mean?
Can you imagine Obanikoro beating his chest that he is bigger than anybody in the party and that all the meetings we were holding were illegal meetings? He keeps bragging, pushing himself against the party leadership. That is the problem.
Don’t you think that if he is not placated before the 2015 governorship election, the PDP may once again lose out to the All Progressives Congress due to his large following in Lagos?
Who are his followers? Area boys? What does he have to offer?
Are you saying Obanikoro, being aggrieved, will not in any way affect the chances of Agbaje in the election?
Responsible people know that Agbaje is better than him; they will vote for Agbaje. Let the area boys follow Obanikoro, if they wish.
Are you saying Lagos PDP does not need the votes of those on the streets?
No. You need to understand this: Obanikoro is used to fomenting trouble. He encourages violence. The area boys being mentioned are not the ordinary people on the streets. The people on the streets are law-abiding and they carry on their daily activities without rancour or violence, unlike Obanikoro’s area boys.
Don’t you think this issue might result in mass defection in Lagos PDP?
What mass defection? Who is Obanikoro? Where is he coming from? Does he have a single supporter in the PDP? He came from the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (now APC). Remember? And when he joined the PDP, he did not bring a single supporter. Perhaps, all the bitterness he is currently expressing is a bid by him to get another appointment after losing in the governorship primary. He adds no electoral value to the party.
Will you, however, agree that he has a right to express his grievances against the party?
I do agree with you on that; he does have a right to express his grievances against the party. But, let me state it clearly that his expression of whatever grievances he has against PDP has a limit. Did he try to exhaust the party processes to ensure a resolution of the issues he raised? There is an appeal panel; he did not seek any redress from them. He just went to the court to sue the party. That is indiscipline. We have other hierarchies in the party which he could have approached but he did not. For goodness sake, this is a party issue. He did not need to go to the court. The matter could have been dealt with internally. It is simply an internal matter.
But if he begs to return to the fold, will he be accepted?
Yes, he will be accepted; he is one of us. He is a brother. But, is he the only one in the party? He has benefitted a lot from the party. He was an ambassador; he was a minister. He has a relationship with all of us. All that is happening currently boils down to indiscipline. What is happening is simply a party matter that all of us can sit down and talk over. The party is supreme — he can’t place himself above it. The party does not belong to a single person. We should all subject ourselves to it. Why is he stretching his luck? He is acting as if he is part of the opposition. We are seeing traces of the opposition in him.
What exactly did you mean by ‘showing traces of the opposition’?
The handwriting is on the wall; he was sponsoring weaker aspirants to the extent that the primary will end up presenting a weaker candidate but he was not successful in that regard. If he had the interest of the party at heart, he would not do that kind of thing — sponsoring governorship aspirants just to weaken the chances of the PDP in the 2015 governorship election. If he is not for the party, then he is against the party. If you are working against the party, you are as good as being in the opposition.
In the 2015 presidential election, do you think the PDP will take the majority votes in the South-West?
It is too early to decide or speak on that. Let us start the campaign first. No one can actually say which party will win this region or that region.
But the campaign is said to have already started with various groups — including the Transformation Agenda of Nigeria — rooting for President Jonathan?
That is not the real campaign. That is what I call TV campaigns and newspaper campaigns. The real campaign is yet to begin. When it begins, then one may begin to make some projections. But right now, it is difficult for me to say which states are there for our party to win. Mind you, at best, all these TV campaigns can only fetch a candidate less than one per cent of the total votes.
A lot of people are wary of possible electoral violence in the 2015 elections; why are elections in the country prone to violence?
Our electoral process in this country is primitive. It gives room for all kinds of manipulations. All over the world where elections are conducted, things are done properly. Many countries that practise democracy ensure that every citizen has a national identity card. With that ID, the citizens can vote anywhere they are in the world. They don’t stand forever on the queue, trying to cast their votes in inclement weather. Voting on election day is not a thing of dilemma for them. It takes them little or no time to cast their votes and carry on with their daily activities.
Now, compare that with the electoral process in Nigeria: with no national identity cards, people spend endless time to register as voters. They spend endless, needless time to collect their Permanent Voter Cards. On election day, they leave their homes as early as 8am to perform their civic responsibility only to be faced with needless, cumbersome processes like accreditation. These are people who have come out of their homes without eating, standing under the sun. People will always get angry and frustrated with this kind of electoral process where everything is done manually. In the end, violence creeps in; people begin to fight, ballot boxes are stolen, and results are manipulated all in the name of taking results to collation centres. Why can’t we have electronic voting, where results are known almost immediately?
Can the PDP be exonerated from these problems, as the ruling party since 1999?
I do not agree that this is a party issue. The problem is that of the process we have decided as a country to use in our voting exercises. It has nothing to do with the PDP; nothing at all. We know the right thing to do in this country but we have failed to do so. Look at the reforms in the banking sector; you can carry out bank transactions through your mobile phone or through your computer — e-banking. Why can’t we have this in voting?
With PDP’s majority at the National Assembly, why can’t lawmakers embrace electronic voting?
It is the opposition party that is preventing electronic voting in this country. And why are they doing this? Because they want to ensure they keep rigging elections wherever possible. I have experienced what goes on during political elections in this country; there are figure manipulations at various levels by the electoral officers. The whole exercise of carrying ballot papers from one place — that sometimes takes days, like in riverine areas — to the collation centres is an invitation to figure manipulations. The manipulations extend from the wards to the local governments, states and up to the federal level. The process is defective and open to manipulation. That is my experience.
The way we conduct elections in this country is absolutely ridiculous. Is this the system we want to bequeath to our children? We want them to learn much about electoral fraud? How on earth can we still be using our hands to write election results in this age? Tell me why we won’t have electoral violence. Distorted election results can lead to violence. The problem is not about the political party; it is not about the politicians.
Whose problem is it then?
We are not serious as a people. When the National Assembly turned down the chance to use electronic voting in this country, what did the people do? We all kept quiet. We keep blaming politicians and political parties. It is the fault of all of us. You as a reporter, what further noise have you made about the need for the country to reform the electoral processes? All of us should determine the process that we want.