The National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Debo Ologunagba, tells The ICIR in this interview that the party’s leadership will start getting concerned only if the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and four other governors who are top members of the party insisting that the chairman of the party, Iyiorcha Ayu, must resign publicly announce they are leaving the party. Ologunagba also speaks on Atiku Abubakar’s chances in the 2023 presidential election, as well as on Peter Obi and the APC
THE ICIR: The PDP has been unable to resolve the crisis involving its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and Governor Nyesom Wike, backed by four other state governors over Iyiorcha Ayu, the party chairman. How do you see this affecting Abubakar’s chances in the 2023 election if the situation remains that way?
Ologunagba: As symbolic as the party’s name, the PDP’s strength is in the people. We strive to ensure that all members are united to ensure we achieve our mission, which is to build our country and, in the situation it has been plunged now, rescue it. We will all work together to ensure we achieve it.
We recognise Governor Wike as an important member of our party. At some points, he had been a very strong supporter of the party, and I still don’t believe he has ceased to be a strong pillar of the party. However, the party platform itself has provided him the opportunity to rise from obscurity to prominence.
We try not to discuss certain key issues of our party on the pages of a newspaper because we remain together. Whatever the differences that have been existing in the PDP, the party is an organic one. What do I mean by that? The PDP is the oldest political party in Nigerian history by age. Within this period, there have been processes, there have been rules, there has been order. In all we do, at all times, we ensure that we comply with the rules, and the constitution in line with the aspirations and the interests of the people and the members of the people.
We recognise that elections are emotive. We have a robust internal differences resolution mechanism going through the organs of the party – the NWC, the NEC and all of that. The seemingly discordant tunes coming out of the party, we know that the PDP, as a resilient party, we will resolve them.
People should note that despite all the statements credited to Gov Wike, he has maintained he will not leave the party, so I have no reason to doubt his words.
Second, at the convention that produced Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential candidate, Wike said publicly that he would support anybody that emerges winner at the convention. Now that the convention is over, we believe he is a man of his words and he will abide by that commitment.
I know that all the leaders in this party at every stratum are united, which is more important. We are united on the realisation that the country is in trouble. If we are all united in that belief, and we all agree that Nigeria requires rescue, then every other consideration should be subsumed under the interest of the country. And I have every reason to believe that Wike will do that.
The ICIR: You have not really answered the question. To what extent would Wike’s decision, and the decision of the other four state governors backing him not to mobilise support for Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election, affect the PDP in the 2023 presidential election?
Ologunagba: I stress that in the PDP, our strength is in the people and in their leaders. We know they have their contributions. Everyone of them is important, and we need work to ensure that all of us are united going into the 2023 elections. We are still going on with reconciliation; we are having conversations. It is not a 100-metre dash, it is a marathon, because many interests are involved, individuals are involved, and emotions are involved.
In doing this intricate balancing, we must consider every interest and every emotion. There are behind-the-scene conversations, and we have no reason to believe those will not be fruitful. We are very hopeful that before the election in February, Wike will be fully involved. In politics, 24 hours is a long time. We all agreed in the PDP that the rescue of the nation is more important than the interest of any individual or any ethnic or religious consideration.
The ICIR: What makes you think the people you kept talking about – that is, Nigerians – would want the PDP again after they had trusted it for 16 years but were dissatisfied and had to reject it eventually?
Ologunagba: People have been joining the PDP in droves. Why are they joining our party? They know that the APC can never deliver anything good to them. They have tested it. They gave in to them by fraud, by subterfuge, by propaganda. Are they satisfied? Nigerians can now separate facts from fiction. APC lied to Nigerians, who believed them.
The statistics are there. In 2015, the naira rate to the dollar was N176. Today, it is hovering from N750 to N850 +x, where x can be anything tomorrow. In 2015, unemployment rate was 7 per cent; today, by the statistics of the government itself, it is 35 per cent +x, where x can be anything tomorrow. During the PDP government, Nigeria had about N40 billion debts; today, it owes N40 trillion in debts. Some accounts even say it is about N60 trillion. Even for the minutest of things, the sachet water, which is widely called pure water, was N5 for one in 2015; today, it is N20, to show how insensitive the APC has been. These are the issues on the ballot.
The height of all of these is insecurity, through complete abandonment and complicity of government. It is worrisome. You can’t farm, you can’t travel by rail, you can’t travel by road. The economy is almost going into comatose, and the government is unbothered. For them to say they want to continue smacks of arrogance. They should actually be apologizing that they brought this calamity upon the people. The president is always out of the country. Why? For self. He told us he would never be going abroad for medical check-ups. He told us he would sell some of the presidential fleet to save money. But all these are lies.
The ICIR: The PDP once claimed to be the biggest political party in Africa. Can the party still lay claim to that in light of how the APC has emerged and grown?
Ologunagba: The APC has never been a political party. The APC has always been a special-purpose vehicle hurriedly put together to defraud Nigerians. When you create a special-purpose vehicle and it has achieved its target, you wind it down. And that is why you see the APC now winding down and dying by instalment, and they are in liquidation.
The ICIR: Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, spoke of Atiku Abubakar, who was his vice, so unflatteringly that he even put it in print. So how can Nigerians repose trust in such a candidate to be their president?
Chief Obasanjo is a respected elder statesman. In politics, people will have their say, but the majority of the people will have their way by votes. Much as we respect his person, his opinion cannot be equated to the opinion of the majority of Nigerians.
I don’t speak for Atiku Abubakar, I speak for the PDP, whose leaders voted for him as the party’s presidential candidate and considered his track record, from his experience as a civil servant in Customs, his experience in government, in the private sector, in developmental projects.
There is the important issue of who can best unify this country now because we have never been this divided. The APC government brought disunity into this country. Now, Nigerians have started to be conscious of where they come from. It was never like this.
The Southeast and Southsouth regions are known to be the PDP’s catchment areas in votes. Political analysts project Peter Obi to encroach substantially into those areas in the 2023 presidential election. Aren’t the PDP leaders apprehensive that could ruinously affect Atiku Abubakar chances?
I don’t know what so-called analysts are relying on to think that. Politics is about structures. There are 774 local government areas in this country. For you to effectively win the presidential election, you must be present in all those areas across the country. And to win, you must have won majority of the votes cast.
Obi of the Labour Party, we know, does not as of today have candidates to contest for most state assemblies, for local government chairmen, even for ward leaders, and you need those candidates to mobilise votes for you if you want to be president. So Obi cannot win the elections.
The emphasis here is on the Southeast…
Yes, you mentioned the Southeast and the Southsouth. Now, I want you to mention one prominent Southeast leader backing Obi. This is politics and elections will tell you the true position. Peter Obi is an Instagram and a Twitter and a Whatsapp president. There are no polling stations on Whatsapp, not on Instagram and not on Twitter. The polling stations are in the villages and in the cities. That is where the PDP has the strength, has the advantage. A Twitter president cannot get the traction because that doesn’t translate to votes. When you don’t have candidates in about 95 per cent areas of the country, how do you win? How do you campaign across board? How do you mobilise enough votes nationwide to secure you victory?
In the Southeast, when the elections are held that’s when we will know who controls the region. Does the current wave concern us? Yes, it does because the motion at which Obi supporters are carrying on is designed enough to dampen other people. But we are up to the challenge. I can tell you that today what we saw a few months ago of Peter Obi in the so-called activism by Labour Party adherents has gone down. Fatigue is setting in. They are beginning to say, ‘we don’t have money, give us money.’ Only recently, an Obi support Group was crying that the crowdfunding account they have at Fidelity Bank has been shut down.
The PDP solidly controls the Southsouth – and that is Cross River, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Rivers. Governor Wike maintains he is PDP and he will vote PDP. He has never said he won’t be working for the party. If he says he won’t be working for the PDP, that is when we will be concerned. We have a unified structure that gives us confidence we will win.
The ICIR: Wike is not the only anti-Atiku, anti-Ayu element in the PDP. There are the governors of Benue, Oyo, Enugu and Abia states also threatening to work against Atiku. Even Chief Bode George, a top PDP leader is backing Wike. Isn’t Atiku having too much intra-party opposition to scuttle his ambition?
Ologunagba: The Ortom you mentioned stressed that if he was not a member of the PDP, he would vote for Obi. But he is still a member of the PDP. One thing I emphasise is that none of these governors has said he is not a member of the PDP. Even the Bode George you mentioned. One thing we should all realise is that the opinion of one person cannot be equated to the opinion of the party. That is very important.
The ICIR: There was this issue of some executive committee members returning huge sums of money to the party. Some alleged those monies were bribes. You responded that no, the monies were housing allowances. The curiosity is: why would members return such huge housing allowances? And didn’t that further show there is division within the party?
Ologunagba: When this present National Working Committee of the PDP assumed office, we decided to do a financial regulation of the party. We realized we needed to do what we called a buy-in of the staff because when you don’t have staff commitment, you will have a challenge of leakages.
The NWC established a signing authority. The chairman can sign a maximum of N10 million, the secretary, N5 million. Anything above N10 million goes to the NWC. That is the standard we have set. So there was no way the chairman could have signed those cheques alone without the approval of all members of the NWC.
When the issue of housing came up, the NWC sat for not less than three times and at every meeting, not less than 90 per cent of the members, including some of those who returned cheques, and we agreed to pay housing allowance in line with the party’s condition of service. The NWC asked the administration to advise us and guide us.
The payment was approved in July. And we started the implementation for everybody. All of us agreed that we should pay. The records are there, the rules are there. It wasn’t immediately implemented until October. And in the pay alert members received, it was clearly stated it was two years housing allowance.
There was no issue of a bribe here. It was not a bribe; it couldn’t have been a bribe. If it was a bribe, why did we pay the junior staff? Why did we pay even the personal staff?