It’s injustice zoning PDP presidential ticket to South – Dokpesi

High Chief Raymond Anthony Aleogho Dokpesi is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees. In this interview with journalists in Abuja, he speaks on the zoning controversy in the party, saying it will be an act of injustice to deny the North the presidential ticket in 2023. ABDULRAHMAN A. ABDULRAUF was there.

As a member of the PDP Board of Trustees, what is your view on your party’s decision on zoning, particularly the presidency?

In 1998, when the Peoples Democratic Party was being established, after the G-34 had confronted the military, elder statesmen who believed in one Nigeria and who went through the trauma of military rule stressed zoning of offices. The constitution of the PDP states very clearly that there shall be rotation and zoning of offices, both for the party and political offices. And I have remained very consistent in my argument since 1998.

At the G-34 meeting, Alhaji Lawan Keita had suggested that Alex Ekwueme should become the president. But Alex Ekwueme said it is a group, not a political party, that when it transforms into a political party, you can canvass whether I can be president or not.

When the party came into being, it was agreed by all, including all the northerners, that because of the injustice done to the South-west, the South-west should be given the opportunity to run. It was in Jos, AIT transmitted it live. That was the first live transmission into the United States of America, that President Bill Clinton, and I am saying it very publicly, called President Obasanjo, the PDP candidate at that time, to congratulate him on the floor. Obasanjo was surprised and asked Clinton how he got to know, and Clinton told him he was watching him on a Nigerian station, ‘AIT, you call it? ‘

So, because of the necessity, agreement had been reached that there will be zoning and rotation. But where do we start from? We said, let us start from the South, and we pushed the zoning to the South-west. Don’t forget that in the 1995 draft constitution which Abacha conducted, in the reports and records, they had entrenched this idea of zoning and rotation where it was envisaged that the six geo-political zones will have a turn of five years each, so that in 30 years, we will end up on zoning and would have been one united country. From there, we can start exploiting merit.

 After deciding on the four-year rotation, when Obasanjo came in, there was an expanded party caucus where it was canvassed that the military had done a lot of damage, and the PDP programmes could not be fully implemented within those three years, and would be desirable to extend it as the constitution has provided for them to do eight years. Again, all the founding fathers, including Alex Ekwueme, Ogbemudia and all the PDP big wigs, were present at the meeting.

And again, it was the northern delegates who said ‘we have no objection, we shall exercise patience. We will allow Obasanjo to have another four years, but with a proviso that if you do eight years, we too will do eight years. Let it be understood, and that is the foundation’ and everybody said ‘yeah.’ Ogbemudia gave the vote of thanks, and appreciated northerners for their understanding. So, Obasanjo did until 2007 (eight years.).

What happened to the agreement?

By that agreement, power was supposed to have rotated back to the North. But I was a member of the South South Assembly; I led the delegation to say the South South had not had any opportunity, that the South South should be given. I travelled round, I did not carry a gun, I did not shout, I did not fight. All I did was that I engaged the Nigerian public. We travelled everywhere to lobby for a South-south president. By the time we got to the Convention, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo said ‘look Dr. Peter Odili, you have done very well, if we go into the conventions, you are going to win overwhelmingly, but we have had an understanding with the North, please let the North be the president.’

That is how Umaru Yar’Adua came in. Yar’Adua, unfortunately, did not live long to see his eight years. He did only two and half years because in actual fact, I can tell you for free of charge that by November 2009, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua was not available and, therefore, the vice-president was the one overseeing things. The argument that he didn’t have executive power, he didn’t have constitutional power, let’s leave that aside. He was the de facto head until Yar’Adua died May 6, 2010. That was supposed to be the first term.

 I agitated at that time that for us not to break the principle already established, let us have the North complete the remaining term of four years, so that we can be done with the northern presidency, so that we can come back to the South. Mr. President as he was at that time, if you want to run, prepare yourself and you can even be vice-president to any of the northerners that you want to choose if you feel you want to be relevant.

If you feel you want to leave because you are president (because he was sworn in as president 2006), you can go on vacation and go and prepare yourself to run at the end of the tenure when you come back. ‘But some people in the South South said ‘no, it’s not possible. You cannot be so close to power and relinquish it.’ Crisis set in. So, Jonathan did another four years. By 2015, the PDP had done 16 years in power, if you like, 14 years of the South, two years of the North. That is the situation up till today.

  What next?

Now, you say, you believe in justice, fairness and equity. The North has done two years; the South has done 14 years. Is that balanced? The APC came into being in 2014, they don’t have history. Now, in 2015, when we fielded PDP, Jonathan, the North had started clamouring and agitating that it’s their turn. You have spent 14 years, so allow us to complete our four years and we said no we have eaten smateese, we were very smart, and that is what plunged the country into this crisis. That is why we are in trouble.

So, I am a Peoples Democratic Party, I am guided by the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party which in its preamble said for unity, for stability, for the growth of this country, we must rotate such that every part of the country will not be neglected. The APC, on its own, came in and also said they were adopting zoning and rotation. And in their own situation, they chose to pick a northern candidate knowing full well the agitation of the North. They fielded a northern candidate against a southerner. I believe everyone here knows my position and what my comments were at that time. At the end of the elections, I do not agree, I do not believe Jonathan lost any election. But in any case, he didn’t contest it, even when there was ample evidence. He has become a statesman. But that has not solved the problem of Nigeria. It has tripled. So, APC has its own constitution and its own rules.

 If in my own party I want to win an election, I cannot win an election when there is injustice, when there is unfairness, when we are not guided by certain rules and regulations. In the PDP, all I am agitating for is that let us be fair and just. Let us put ourselves in the shoes of ourselves. Let us, as one family, as the party started, still remain one. And in doing so, let us choose a candidate from the North. Some people have come to meet me to say, how can we allow them to do eight years again? I say, sorry, in 2019, we fielded a northern candidate recommended by the Ike Ekweremadu report. But again, the PDP was outmaneuvered.

I don’t agree that Atiku lost that election. I don’t, I am not convinced, I am not persuaded. But INEC has said so. I am a citizen of Nigeria; I must live by the rules. I can only sob in myself, but can’t do anything about that. But I cannot as a PDP person go and adopt APC conditions and situations. I am criticising APC for failure, I am criticising APC for making Nigeria the capital of poverty in the whole world.  Are these PDP policies? They are APC policies. So, I cannot be dragged into APC conditions and situations. So, for me very clearly, I want an undiluted, properly organised party.

It is the APC policy of the lack of adherence to the federal character principles that has brought us to this level of suspicion in the country. And it is because of that lack of respect for the federal character as provided in the Constitution that we have a Security Council being populated by a side of the country. I see Nigeria progressing, and the PDP principle of giving every part of the country a sense of belonging needs to be brought back. 

And the person that can bring back that principle of fairness, justice is from the north. We, the Southerners, had the opportunity to be in power and we threw it away, so we can not monopolise everything and that is what gave birth to the APC. If only we were fair, we were just, we were rational, we wouldn’t have been in this problem. 

On Tinubu

 Let me tell you that His Excellency Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu, before he became governort, when in Mobil, whose headquarters is just directly in front of my house, as young men with Chief Akinyelure, Supo Ade Balogun, Ogungbe- all of us we go to Oniyanrin(entertainment location in Lagos), we drink, we eat, I dare say we womanised together. He became governor, God blessed him. But does that remove the fact that we were good friends as young men? Should I say that because he belongs to a political party, he is now my enemy? He is the godfather of my second to my last daughter who has a master’s degree. Bola Ahmed Bola Tinubu is the godfather. He is a Muslim, but we were so close. So, if there is an interview and they say, your relationship with this person, I will say I don’t know him because of politics? I don’t believe in that. He is a philanthropist, he is kind-hearted, and he is supportive of ordinary persons. There is no journalist in Lagos whom Bola has not touched in his life one way or the other. I praise him and wish him the very best in whatever he puts his hands on. It has nothing to do with politics, but the good relationship we have always had.

On Jonathan and APC ‘move’

He has not told me. President Goodluck Jonathan has not mentioned it to anybody, I am sure. Goodluck Jonathan is a statesman. He sacrificed his ambition and fight after the 2015 elections because he wanted a united Nigeria. Don’t forget that the person we have at the helm of affairs when Africa’s matters are mentioned globally today, is Olusegun Obasanjo. He is ageing and very soon he may not be able to move around as he is now. President Jonathan is a younger person, he is able to represent Nigeria, promote Nigeria, and attract friends and investors to Nigeria. That role falls on his shoulder very well. I encourage him to be in that position and be Nigeria’s image-maker and reference point. He is well-suited for that and I wish him the very best.