Chief Olusola Oke, National Legal Adviser of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) says the party is prepared to accept former vice president Atiku Abubakar back into its fold if he
can swallow his pride, openly and courageously indicate interest in coming back and readiness to abide by rules and regulations of the party. He said PDP is not rattled by moves in the opposition camp to form a mega political party to challenge it. He spoke with BAYO OHU in Abuja. Excerpts.
What is the agenda of the special national convention of your party scheduled to hold in April 20?
The constitution of our party provides for special conventions when it is considered necessary and when issues cannot wait for the national convention. This special convention that was scheduled for the 20 of April is the one with only one item agenda, which is to update the constitution of the party. As we are aware, democracy is growing in Nigeria especially with the advocacy of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on the rule of law. So, it is the views of members of the National Working Committee of our party that all provisions that are thought to be undemocratic or the provisions of the constitution that we may describe as not being too democratic that they should be removed and in this regard we have in mind the provisions that are related to the appointment of the chairman of the Board of Trustees. You will recall that the amendment we started in 2008 provides that it is only a former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who has been a member of the party that can become the chairman and in the absence of such a person, the former chairman of the party who is interested can become and these provisions have been criticized by members and non-members alike has being undemocratic that in a country like Nigeria and a political party like the PDP everybody who has attained the age and some qualifications must be able to run for any position. So, we reviewed these provisions and according to Alex Ekwueme reconciliation committee report and we revert to the provisions of the old constitution. So, we have now proposed an amendment to the convention and this is the major provision that we will amend and of cause we are also reviewing some of our provisions that relate to the various congresses.
How are you going to handle this amendment on the congresses?
Under the present constitution, the total number of delegates that will be elected from wards to go to the local governments is twenty five per ward and in a local government where you have a minimum of ten wards, we have to bring two hundred and fifty and there are other members of the executives of the ward, councilors, chairmen of councils, party chairmen and many others are also contending and we think that this is too unwieldy and we are now reviewing it. So, in case of the local government, it is now going to be ten delegates from the ward to the local government. And in the case of states, we have been advised to revert to the original provision, which provides that three delegates from local government will go to the state to elect the governor and we think that this is manageable and this is part of what we are amending. We are also making provisions to enable people who have served this party in different capacity to continue to be relevant. So, all former elected officers of the party at various levels will now be automatic members of the state congress while former officials at the local government will be automatic members of local government congress. The same thing applies to officials at the national level who will now be automatic members of the national congress and in this case we will now have super delegates who will be in a position to take informed decisions to build the party.
What other purposes will the special national convention serve?
Yes, apart from the main agenda to amend all the necessary provisions of the party’s constitution, the convention will also provide an opportunity for us to interact, build solidarity for the party and to prepare for the challenges ahead of the party in 2011.
Does it mean that immediately the proposed amendments are ratified by the special convention, former president Olusegun Obasanjo will lose his seat as chairman of BoT?
The amendment that we are effecting has no retrospective effect and it is not going to affect the right of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. The incumbent BoT chairman was elected under the current constitution, so whatever amendment we are going to bring about is going into effect later but not to affect the tenure. Before now, there was no tenure for the chairmanship of the board but we have now prescribed a five-year tenure which means the present chairman will run his tenure for a single term and there will be another election after that. Therefore, this amendment does not affect the rights and privileges or the chairmanship of the incumbent and so the former president remains the BoT chairman.
There is the need for further clarification on the issue of automatic tickets for your elected officials so that Nigerians will know where the party stands on this.
The mission of the present National Working Committee of the party is to entrench internal democracy and there is no provision for automatic tickets in our constitution, even the amendments that we are bringing about does not have provisions for automatic tickets for either councilor, chairman, governor, assembly members or the president. In PDP, we deal with performance and if a governor performs so well and the constitution provides that he can do it a second time, we have no reason to oppose such ambition but it is tied to performance. Therefore, I clarify to you that there is no provision in our constitution for automatic ticket for any incumbent but we will ensure that our governors who are performing and the president who everybody knows is performing are given enabling environment to actualize their ambitions if they want to run for a second term.
What do you have to say to the controversy generated by the government white paper on report of the electoral reform committee?
I think the issue of electoral reform has gone very far. The president constituted a committee, which has submitted its report, and both the Federal Executive Council and Council of state have taken some decisions along the line. This is no longer an issue of PDP. Our fear has always been that the major obstacle to democracy in Nigeria is succession but we thank God that we were able to manage the last one. Proposal has come as to whether the president should have a single term of five or seven years, but I think that the issue now is squarely on the shoulder of the National Assembly and whatever the PDP desire or not does not really matter but we know that the National Assembly is motivated by national interest at all time. Party affiliation and alliances play a major role but they do not becloud their wisdom when it comes to national matter. They suggestion about seven and five year single term was to avoid a situation where we will have crisis during transition.
Your party is on daily basis under heavy criticism and antagonism by individuals and opposition parties. Why do you think PDP is so hated like that?
Well, it is understandable that PDP will be crucified, criticized and condemned. And the simple reason is that all other political parties are also aspiring to occupy the position of power and authority that we occupy now and if they go on singing our praises, that means they can never get near it. But unfortunately, they do not have the kind of strength, organization and hard work that we engage in. So, all they can do to derogate us is to distort, criticize and condemn and we have developed a shock absorber, thick skin and we have also prepared for the challenge and what we encourage our governors and others in offices to do is to deliver dividends of democracy to the people and at the end of the day the people will decide who they want to be their leaders. But if the people want to be fair, they will know that PDP is the only party that has the national spread, organization and work hard to earn respect and support of the people. If Nigerians will be honest to themselves they will notice that during electioneering campaigns, it is the PDP that went round all states of the federation with the incumbent president, party machinery and its candidates to campaign vigorously to justify our requests to be elected. Therefore, when they go out to criticize us that is the only instrument they have to show their existence but they have no organization to win the hearts of Nigerians and some of them are not in government and so, whatever we do, we expect that they will criticize us. But our own philosophy is that we should justify the confidence repose on us by the Nigerian electorates. Some of these parties are also in government in some states but they cannot perform to win the respect and confidence of Nigerians. So, even where they have a little window of opportunity to deliver, their performance is very abysmal such that they cannot justify their existence as political parties. Therefore, we are ready for the attacks and we are also prepared for the necessary challenges that they may want to give to us at the appropriate time.
Don’t you consider the security implications such attacks on PDP by the opposition groups will have on democracy and the polity?
The president is the chief security officer of this nation and we must marry the need for security with the right to freedom of speech and to express opinions. If what the opposition parties are doing is merely to do criticisms, vilifying PDP and its government and there are no funny moves to change the government other than the process as provided in the constitution, then that will be legitimate. But the moment you cross the border to engage in acts that are capable of undermining the authority and integrity of the supremacy of Nigerian government or you engage in acts that are calculated to bring about a change without following the constitution, then the long arm of the law is capable of catching up with those elements but I am sure that the security agencies are on the alert watching those who may cross the border. Recently, we alerted the nation of moves by some individuals to bring down this government by a process other than as provided in the constitution and a few of them have come out to deny. We are watching and the security agencies too are watching.
There have been so many talks about reconciliation within your party. Do you sincerely believe that PDP is pursuing genuine reconciliation of its members?
Yes, we are interested in genuine reconciliation. You cannot have a big party like this and you will not expect that there will be internal disagreement and good leadership is the one that tries to reconcile its members when they disagree. We have set out the machinery for reconciliation and you can see that a lot of people who were disenchanted and left the party in protest have been brought back and what we do is to create equal opportunity for people who may want to aspire to any position or express opinion within the party. As far as the leadership of the party at the moment is concerned, I can assure you that we are committed to genuine reconciliation and we are reaching out to people. But that does not mean that we should compromise the standard because we have rules and guidelines for our activities and anybody who is willing to operate within the rules will be genuinely readmitted into the party and be given the freedom to operate like any other members of the party. But those who have sinister agenda and who are not ready to work within the guidelines or who want to overlord themselves on the party without complying with guidelines and the constitution of the party will not find a place within the party. So, I can assure you that we are sincere, determined and committed to bring back those that have one reason or the other to disagree with us.
Then why is it that the party or some leaders of the party are afraid or not comfortable to have former vice president Atiku Abubakar back into PDP?
Well, I can also tell you that nobody is afraid of bringing or having back any aggrieved former member of the party, including former vice president Atiku Abubakar and the doors of this party are too wide open for people who may want to come back. If there is any disagreement with Atiku, it is in the media that he has been throwing mud at the PDP and trying to vilify the leadership of our party and the government and that is why there is disagreement. Again, we don’t like double standard or procrastination. What Atiku seems to be doing is in one breath give the impression that he want to come back to PDP whereas in another breath he engages in acts that are calculated at bringing down the party. So, we cannot understand his inconsistency and that is our grouse with him. If he wants to come back to PDP and he rises up today to genuinely and courageously open up that he wants to come back, we will open our doors provided he is also ready to abide by the rules and regulations of the party. But what he was doing at the moment is to engage in self-contradiction. He gives the impression he wants to come back, he was talking about a mega party and he is running down the PDP. We just want him to appreciate the fact that he does not have the monopoly of throwing mud at others and that is why we reacted recently because he has been doing that for quite some time and we kept quiet but the practice is becoming a trauma or give the impression that he has monopoly of attacks.
What do you have to say to complaints by some returning former members that the party has not properly rehabilitated and absorbed them into its fold?
Well, this is a big family and what we have done was to extend hands of fellowship to our brothers and sisters who were either sitting on the fence or crossing the border out of the party. The number is such that we cannot know everybody and it is not possible for us to be moving from door to door to look for such individuals. But the moment we extended the arm of fellowship, those who indicated their desire to come back we embrace and welcome them back. If there are individuals who have not fully come out to indicate their interest to return to the party or who have not made contact, there might not be a way that we will know that they have such a desire. So, my appeal to everybody is that we are still calling on those former members who are aggrieved to come back and if they indicate today and we know where they are, we will look for them. But the truth is that it is not possible to know everybody who has such aspiration or intention. We say to them again that we are extending our invitations to our former members to come back and reconcile with the party because the PDP remains the only mainstream in Nigerian politics and it is a big umbrella capable of covering everybody.
Talks about the likelihood of emergence of a mega political party to rival and challenge the PDP is gaining ground among the opposition politicians. Is your party not rattled by this move?
Our believe in a Yoruba adage that says, that a house that was built with saliva will be dismantled by dew is strong. The idea of a mega political party is a giant conspiracy that is being muted by some politicians out of frustration and their inability to build a virile party that can stand the challenge against PDP and they are now calling on their co-conspirators in other parties to come together and work against us. But the same mission that is bringing them together will dismantle them because they are not compatible and they are friends of strange bed fellows who will not be able to work together since most of them could not find themselves reconciled with PDP due to their inordinate ambitions and they are going into their so-called mega party with the same irreconcilable differences and ambitions. So, we in PDP believe that it was just a propaganda. Secondly, we are also not sleeping as much as we are not rattled and we are doing our homework but we don’t have to make noice like them since it is them that need to make noice for people to believe that they exist. We work underground and reach out to people. So, just as they are forming their mega party, PDP is becoming bigger and in the past two years we have brought on board two governors and governor Yuguda of Bauchi state has also joined PDP. Therefore, if they bring two credible people to their side, we will bring ten here and our party has already become an octopus and beyond mega. PDP has become something that even if you cut and cut it cannot be reduced to their planned mega party. So, we are not rattled but we are not also under estimating what they can do and because of that, we are working hard and reaching out to credible Nigerians.