After an assessment of the All Progressives Congress, a former National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo came to the conclusion that the ruling party has not kept a single electoral promise. He spoke with Wale Ajimotokan who presents the excerpts:
How is PDP repositioning for 2019 election?
Our desire is to elect an executive that will give one, a robust opposition to government of the day, make sure they are on their toes to deliver on their promises to the Nigerian electorate and where they fail, Nigerians will be ready for a change in the next election. The second thing we expect the executive to do is to conduct a transparent national convention at the appropriate time to elect our presidential candidate as well as the candidates of governors in the various states of Nigeria, because there was once a time PDP paraded as many as 24 governors out of the 36 in Nigeria. The membership of PDP has not changed drastically in most of those states. So, we have a very good opportunity once we get the party back and learn from our mistakes, especially the impunity that have characterised elections in the party in the past. To correct those things, we should be able to parade candidates that will be acceptable to those states once more to hand over their destiny to the PDP government. We believe that with the performance of this government today, PDP has a very good chance to get a very good presidential candidate in the next election to win back federal government.
PDP is known for zoning political offices. What is the zoning arrangement now?
Well, we have just zoned two offices principally for now. The presidential candidate of the party will come from the north and the chairman will come from the south. Of course, the other positions in the national executive of the party have been zoned to the six zones and all the six zones have some offices zoned to them they will now go back again and zone to the states that constitute those zones. And as much as possible, candidates for those offices will be nominated at the state level to come for the convention. Our constitution says we must take zoning and rotation of political offices into consideration in order to carry the whole country along in the party.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose is already campaigning for the presidency. Going by what you said, the North will present your presidential candidate, is he trying to contradict what the party's leadership has proposed?
Well, Fayose cannot run. I tell you why. When we formed PDP, it was a battle. The first battle that PDP fought and won as a party was to zone the presidency to the south and those of us from the south made a case that in the First Republic the Prime Minister was from the north; in the Second Republic, the president was from the north; the Third Republic, a Southerner won and the election was annulled. There was no way we would go back to the south and say let us elect a northerner and again without giving the south the slot. It raged on, but eventually a decision was taken that the presidency should come from the south and the chairman of the party should come from the north. That was how Solomon Lar became the chairman and the secretary was zoned to the south, and I filled that slot as the secretary of the party. Now, it did not go down well with some members even after the party had made the decision. And they felt that they must exercise their inalienable right. For example, the Late Abubakar Rimi, former Governor of Kano; he paid for a form to run. I was the National Secretary at the time. I retuned his cheque and wrote him that the party had taken a decision, the candidate can only come from the southern Nigeria. When we went to the convention in Jos, he actually, without having a form, because we did not give him a form, he came to the venue and started to campaign. And then, we had to get some party leaders there to go and counsel him that we did not want to get the security agencies to manhandle him or embarrass him. And good counsel followed and he stepped down. So that was what PDP did and now we have not only zoned the presidency to the north, we have, following the report of the Ekweremadu Committee, at every other opportunity, re-emphasised that zoning would take place. For anybody else who is not from the north, who is running, the party will not collect his expression of interest money and will not issue him a form, will not collect his money to contest and issue him with a nomination form. The party will not do that.
Can you beat your chest and say that come 2019, PDP will bounce back?
We owe it to the country, first of all, before owing to ourselves, because there is no doubt that we made mistakes in the 16 years that we ran the country. And that is why we lost the election. Now we have learnt from those mistakes and we have seen that the party that replaced us has not been able to even fulfil their basic electoral promises. They have not been able to do so. We have also seen a lot of indices in our country going bad as a result of the country being midwifed by APC. Whether you talk about foreign exchange, unemployment, poverty level, quality of education and our hospitals, they promised us that nobody will travel again outside the country for medical treatment, but the president himself is always abroad for medical treatment. There is absolutely nothing that they promised Nigerians that we are enjoying. So, it's the easiest party to beat in an election. And all that we need do is to get ourselves together and know that this country needs PDP like it needs oxygen. And with that spirit of patriotism and commitment we have no alternative but to go to that election with our best foot forward, correct our past mistakes and rescue Nigeria from APC.
PDP ran the country for 16 years and APC is just into its third year now. APC also said that most of the crisis facing the country now were caused by PDP, what is your position on that?
My position is that when PDP came into power in 1999, the price of crude oil was $8-$9 per barrel. We inherited an empty treasury -Gen Abdulsalami handed over an empty treasury. There was nothing. We were able to rescue the country from a pariah state, we were able to restructure the economy with $8 per barrel. By the time oil hit $20-22 per barrel, we left this country with a buoyant economy in the sense that the strategic reserve of the country went from almost zero to a couple of billions of US dollars. We were able to begin to think about doing railway. Before Obasanjo left, a 25-year railway plan was in place. We were able to get debt forgiveness for Nigeria. The economy changed drastically. There is no doubt, no matter what you say about Obasanjo, he left this country better than when he got to power. And when Yar'Adua came in, you can imagine an elected president, his first reaction in his inaugural speech was he was not satisfied with the election that brought him to power. And he set up the Uwais Panel to review the electoral laws and having done so will continue to improve on performance of elections in this country from that time on. And I believe that President Goodluck Jonathan kept that tradition. Elections became much more transparent and better organised. Therefore, I also want to say again that the growth rate of the economy at the time PDP left the office was 7 percent, inflation was one digit, about 9 per cent or eight percent. Today inflation is double that figure hovering around 17 percent. The exchange rate before we left was N160 per dollar. Under this regime, it's close to N500. How can I explain that other than the strategy the government is using faulty? So, if you look at the 16 years of PDP from when we took over from Abdulsalami to the time Jonathan left, every index in the country had monumental improvement from the day we left. There was nothing we met that went bad. But since we left, everything has gone down. So, I want to be proved wrong that the country is doing badly because PDP left the country in a bad shape. We met the country in the worst shape than we handed over to APC and people know what we handed over to APC. The GDP was growing at 7 percent, anywhere in the world you don't see any growth of more than eight percent.
But the GDP growth was predicated on oil prices that was making a rally in the global market ...
... No, there was just what we may call acceptable international indices for looking at the figures. It was the fastest growing economy in Africa and we were looking forward to 2020 to be one of the 20 best economies in the world. Today no one is talking about 2020 anymore. Nobody is talking about we are growing at about 3-4 per cent now. Can you imagine that from 7 percent it was in comparison to anywhere in the world. Something is wrong somewhere. If you say that PDP stole all the money, you may have recovered up 50 percent. So that should bring us back to somewhere. There is no person in the country today who is feeling better because money has been recovered. There is no food on any body's table because money has been recovered. You don't see where the money that is recovered is being injected in order to improve the lot of the common man. Is it in road construction or agriculture? Where is the money? So, it is as good as we should have left the money with those who stole it because it is not impacting on the country. They should have built factories and employed people.
What is your position on the future of the south-east in the PDP since the party has zoned the presidency to the north, which will likely keep the presidency in the region for another eight years. Where does that arrangement leave your zone?
What it means to our zone is that we are not interested in running for the position of the chairmanship of the party. I was Chairman and Ogbulafor was also chairman in the past. The people who are showing interest for chairmanship now are south-south and south-west. Secondly, we are not interested in presidency of the Senate because we had five Senate presidents when it was our turn. The only position that we have not held that we are interested in is Vice- President. We prefer to have Vice-President rather than to have Speaker, we have been Deputy Speaker. But the other zoning will come after we have secured the Northern presidential candidate and southern chairman. Then we will know where those can come from. Then the other four zones will now be left to choose the other four positions -the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker and Secretary to Government of the Federation. This is how PDP will zone its principal offices in the 2019 election.
It is as good as we should have left the money with those who stole it because it is not impacting on the country. They should have built factories and employed people.