Monday, 12 January 2015

Ekwueme Explodes: PDP And President Jonathan Have Neglected Me

Though it was not a Sunday, Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President, who had a scheduled interview appointment, took The Sun team to his chapel, a sanctuary in the upper chamber of the right wing of his house.

He had led the way from his living room to climb the staircase to the chapel, explain­ing that it was the only place the interview could be held without much distraction from visitors.

After we had ascended the ‘holy’ up­per chamber, we began the business of the day that lasted for about two hours, with the octogenarian looking at the country, remembering what had happened as if they occurred just yesterday, appraising power equations from independence in 1960 till now.

Dr Ekwueme, who co-founded the Peo­ples Democratic Party (PDP) with some other illustrious Nigerians, also looked at the current state of the party, saying that things have fallen apart in the
PDP envi­sioned to be a mass movement that would rule the country for 60 years.

He also told the story of how the party has derailed from the original vision of the founders, and how the leadership has aban­doned him.

Looking at the crises rocking the PDP across the country, he said that he was not sure if the successes of the past would be the same during the February elections.

He pointedly said that President Good­luck Jonathan may not be fortunate again to have overwhelming support like he had in the past in the South-East, saying that he had taken the zone for granted.

Dr Ekwueme spoke just as there are vo­ciferous voices from the South-East, alleg­ing unfair treatment by the Jonathan admin­istration. It would be recalled that when Dr Ekwueme turned 80, the president did not attend the ceremony, but he was in Lagos to attend the birthday of Dr Tunji Braithwaite. Former Abia State governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, had written President Jonathan then, pointing out the possible oversight, but the president reportedly minuted the letter to Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who merely laughed the matter off.

Just on New Year eve, Catholic priest, Father Ejike Mbaka, had also delivered a sermon, which was very critical of the Jona­than administration. In fact, the priest asked the president to step out of general elections coming up next month, as he would not get a second term in office.

Excerpts of the interview with Dr Ek­wueme:

The truth is that the PDP as it is today was not the PDP we founded in 1998; that is the truth, I won’t hide it from anybody. It is not the PDP I risked my life to found in 1998. Now, PDP has been hijacked by peo­ple who have no philosophical or spiritual attachment to the precepts that informed formation of the party in 1998. What I en­visaged for PDP in 1998 was that it would be a mass movement, satisfying the needs of the masses and having membership from all over the country.

But at a stage, the political party decided to do registration all over again and every­body lost his membership and had to apply again to register your name and those likely to dance to their tune were registered while the others found it difficult to register in a party they helped to found, so that is it. So, the problem started from day one, election of President of Senate, the first President of Senate was elected by votes of only 22 PDP Senators, all the other Senators who voted were not PDP Senators. Whereas PDP had 66 Senators out of 109, they refused to use their votes to elect the President of Senate and from there opposition started.

From the picture you have paint­ed, it appears that the foundation of the PDP is now shaky, do you think it will be able to stand the opposition of the APC that is strongly rooted in the North and in the West in the 2015 general elections?

Strongly rooted in the North and in the West. Until you get to the ballot box you don’t know where you are strongly rooted because what I can tell you is that the PDP will not have an easy walkover this year as it did few years ago, seven years ago, and 11 years ago; in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 be­cause the party is finding it difficult to man­age its successes. The person contesting for governorship in Sokoto is PDP elected Speaker, Tambuwal, the person contest­ing for APC governorship in Katsina is a former PDP elected Speaker, Masari, it’s like that everywhere. People who founded and worked for the party are alienated by poor management of success, and those who do not have the patience, some of us have decided to find new channels to ful­fill their political ambitions. I, for instance, the chairman of the party, first chairman of Board of Trustees, first chairman from the civil society to G34 and so on, if I was not myself, I’m not bragging, I am being mod­est, I have no reason to be in PDP today. All I have received throughout the years is humiliation and neglect.

When there is crisis, they remember that I’m around. The late Yar’Adua, when he came on board as the President, invit­ed me and said he knew our party was in a shambles and he felt that I was the only person, as the person who started it at first place, that could bring people around and together and he put up the reconciliation which I handled all over Nigeria, visited people, talked to those who are disgruntled, people who had issues resolved and made our recommendations. Unfortunately, those recommendations were not fully fulfilled, President Yar’Adua himself passed on.

For the fact that we do not have enough opposition is to my view a natural develop­ment. When IBB decreed two political par­ties, NRC and SDP, he called me and asked what I thought of that, I told him in princi­ple that I am in support of two party system where there are two strong parties. But I have reservations for the two party system being created by a decree. So, now in this dispensation we have the PDP, we have the APC which is the major opposition party which I think is healthy one provided we base our decision making on issues rather than abuses.

Why has the party you formed turned around to neglect you?

I told you that I have no business being in PDP today because I am not a noisemak­er. I am not created to be a noisemaker or to create trouble, they are using it to deny me whatever is due to me. Because you are a gentleman, you won’t disturb, rather the people who shout and make noise, they try and accommodate themselves so that they don’t create problems, I think it is an unfor­tunate approach to life. But those who don’t make noise and don’t create troubles also have feelings as human beings and they should not have been denied what is due to them.

If I am a trouble maker, Obasanjo would not have been civilian President because that Jos convention where he was elected, after the returning officer announced the results, I had in my pocket a copy of the NEC decision of November 1998 show­ing that to qualify you must win your local government. All I needed to say after the candidates’ result was announced is ‘I’m sorry, this election which we just finished there is supposed to be seven candidates but in fact only six, the person whom you said had won is not a candidate and can­not be because the NEC has taken a deci­sion and only a convention can change that decision and no convention has been called to change that decision, so I expect that of the six candidates left, Don Etiebet, Fran­cis Ola, Philip Asiodu, Jim Nwobodo, my­self and Douglas, of these candidates left I scored the highest votes; so I expect the party to forward my name to INEC as the candidate of the party and Secretary of the party then was Dr. Okwy Nwodo and the constitution which the party was operating at that time for the administration of the party, the secretary of the party is the chief executive of the party, the chairman was just like the chairman of a board of a company. It was later that we changed it and made the chairman chief executive of the party. And if I had done that, Nwodo would have been bound to forward my name to INEC. And Solomon Lar who was instrumental in Oba­sanjo running in the first place by asking the screening committee to give him provision­al clearance, which was never substantive before the election, would have forwarded Obasanjo’s name to INEC, so PDP, which was a frontline party would have had two candidates and there might have been crisis and the military might have postponed exit for us to resolve.

And I don’t want my personal ambi­tion to be the reason for prolonged military rule in Nigeria, which I risked my life to fight against. So, I embraced Obasanjo and greeted him. Three weeks after that, at the dinner fund raising for him, I chaired the dinner at the conference hall of Hilton and in the East here I paid for broadcast in all the nine FRCN stations in the former East­ern Nigeria, saying that they should support Obasanjo. So, as I said maybe because I am not a troublemaker I have been taken for granted, anybody can step on my toes and I’m not given what is due to me but there is a limit to one’s acceptance of humiliations and provocations and one will come to say enough is enough.

If you had gone ahead to become the President of Nigeria, we know that Presidents run the country based on party manifesto, would you have made any difference bearing in mind that you have same PDP party manifesto to guide you?

Of course, yes. Presidents make impacts because of their personal stamp of adminis­tration. For instance, you don’t tell me that Obasanjo’s presidency, of course, they were on PDP manifesto, was not different from Yar’Adua’s or Goodluck Jonathans,’ the incumbent president. The presidency must have an imprint of the person who has the presidential power, so I would have given Nigeria something different.

So, in essence the Yar’Adua/Jona­than presidency is better than that of Obasanjo?

No, I am not saying that, each one has its merits and demerits.

How would you assess that of the President Jonathan. How would you see the presidency under Jonathan?

Well, it’s not a question you should be asking me really, as long as I’m in PDP, I cannot come out to say PDP president is rubbish, except that each president must have his own decision making capabilities and must make a personal input in the presi­dency for which he will be remembered. Some are remembered for what they have done and some are remembered for just having occupied that seat.

But many believe he has lost grip because of what is happening in the country. You can see insurgency in the North, kidnapping and all the rest of them in the South, because of all these people said he has lost grip?

Well, you should bear in mind that this trouble in the North-East didn’t start with Jonathan. At a time insurgents were occupy­ing local government headquarters in Yobe State before Jonathan even came on the scene, but it escalated after Jonathan was elected and 2011. Stories connect it to some statements made in 2011 that if Jonathan wins, they will make the country ungovern­able. And after the election, insurgents took over a whole region of a country that out of 26 local government areas in Borno State, Boko Haram is in charge of 22. So, it’s a situation that is not necessarily of Jona­than’s making.

 However, his approach to it, it’s a matter of approach. In our time we had Maitatsine, I think in the same Borno State, the same Maiduguri but President Shehu Shagari didn’t waste time in crushing them. They resurfaced in Kano, we faced them again squarely, surfaced in Sokoto State, his own state, in area that was our showpiece for rural development, irrigation, there they were finally crushed, they didn’t rear their heads again until we finished. Then when Buhari came in 1984, they resurfaced again this time in Yola and he dealt with them as well. Some people said that you can’t kill insurgency with the force of arms, but even insurgents are not immortal, except for few who are suicidal elements; many of them don’t want to die in the final analysis. So, if you face them squarely, they are bound to retreat.

How is your relationship with President Jonathan?

Well, if I should describe, I will say the relationship is cordial, but that doesn’t mean that he gives me my due or that I endorse every action he takes, that’s how I can put it. I try to make our relationship as cordial as I could.

But he has been going around seeing some of the party leaders, recently he was in Minna and we have not heard that Jonathan came to see Dr Ekwueme, yet you said you have a cordial relationship with him?

It’s a good question to ask him because Obasanjo was here in this house in No­vember 1998. While he was President and on visit to Anambra State, he slept in this house in my bedroom. He came here and we had dinner with Anambra leaders, tra­ditional rulers, political leaders and others and he spent the night here and the next morning he went on visit to some projects and he left. When he came again on a state visit, he couldn’t sleep here because the governor insisted that he sleep at the Gov­ernment Lodge but he came here for lunch. I’m giving you examples, Jonathan since he became President has visited Anambra State severally but he hasn’t come to this com­pound, so I’m using it as an example.

Does it not mean that your rela­tionship with him is not cordial in­stead as you claimed?

It is cordial, but maybe he doesn’t appre­ciate that without my risking my life there would have been no PDP and the popular­ity that made it possible for him to become the President of Nigeria. Okay, I know, for instance, my friend Braithwaite of NAP had his birthday, the President went to Lagos to celebrate with him but I had my 80th birth­day and he did not come.

Keep the conversation going, please drop a comment. 

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