Sen. Ben Obi is the immediate past national secretary of the National Caretaker Committee (NCC) of the People Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the PDP chieftain speaks on the new leadership of the leading opposition party, the restructuring debate, presidency going to the South-East and how he spearheaded the charge against the alleged third-term agenda when he was in the Senate.
Now that the caretaker committee has handed over to elected national officials of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), what will be their role in the party?
We don’t have any role in the party; we have just relinquished our position as members of the caretaker committee which lasted for over 18 months. We are just ordinary members of the party, though the chairman and myself are members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) caucuses and the rest. We will be available to play roles that might be assigned to us. We are firm, loyal members of the PDP.
Were you surprised when Prince Uche Secondus emerged the national chairman of the PDP?
In an election like that, you have to see how the pendulum is swinging. Forty eight hours to any serious election, you will see that another picture will emerge. Being an experienced politician myself, it was clearly zeroed down to a few of them along the line, which was indicated by the withdrawal of some of them. It was either going to be A or B. You cannot undermine the influence of governors in our politics. For a start, he has the entire governors behind him. That is not a small feat.
Most of those that stepped down are from the South-West. Is anything being done to pacify them?
We in our wisdom set up a post-reconciliation committee headed by the governor of Bayelsa State, Hon Seriake Dickson. His deputy is Aminu Wali. They commenced work before the convention. Knowing Seriake Dickson, he will not relent until he gets the job done. He will make them understand that the party must be one family for us to achieve our goals in 2019.
During the convention, there was this talk about unity list, what was it all about?
Unity list is nothing new in politics. People go and negotiate during election. It will be agreed that it will be zone by zone or it is marketed to a particular person. In our case, the chairmanship and other positions were zoned. For instant, in the South-East, our positions were zoned and nothing changed during the convention. The leaders of our zone took our list to other zones and told them, this is where we stand. The other zones also showed us their list and said this is where they stand. You cannot come and tell zone A to drop their candidate. That will be wrong.
What is the impact of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s return to the PDP?
There is no question that is he is one of the founders of the party. He was a major stakeholder and has been a vice president of this country. He has friends across the country. The PDP is pleased to have him back. He paid us a courtesy call when we were in the committee. We are also expecting quite a number of people who left as a result of misunderstanding in the party to return. Now that we have put the party in solid footing again, the new leadership has taken over and promises to continue in our footsteps by stopping impunity, and ensuring that everybody is carried along.
Now that the new leadership has taken over, what are your expectations?
There won’t be impunity; there should be internal democracy within the party. They should make the states strong and zones formidable so that the stress at the headquarters will be less for them to focus on how to regain power. I hope they will be able to work assiduously towards that. We hope they will give good account of themselves.
Is the PDP prepared for the Ekiti governorship elections?
In Anambra State, we are not the government of the day, we contested against an incumbent. Some of our leaders disagreed with the candidate of the party and decided to cooperate with the incumbent. It affected the party. But in Ekiti State, the party is still popular. The governor is strong and popular. I don’t envisage any problem in terms of the PDP winning.
Coming back to a national issue, are you in support of agitation for restructuring?
Of course, there is no question about that. We as a people and region have met and a position has been taken. Various institutions have also made their positions clear about that. There has to be devolution of power where you allow the zones and states to compete. It was what set the pace in the First Republic. In the North, you were talking about the groundnut pyramid, cocoa in the West, palm kennel in the East. We were ahead of many countries at that time. We were ahead of Malaysia, India and the rest, but today we have abandoned those things because we found oil. Restructuring is the best way to go. States will have fierce competition. But when you pull everything together to make everybody to come cap in hand to Abuja every month, we have many God-given resources imbedded in the lands. I am happy with the state our agricultural system is in now. We have to bring back agriculture so that we can feed ourselves and create jobs for the young people. We cannot continue to rely on a monolithic economy.
The South-East has been complaining of marginalization, do you think the presidency will solve this problem?
Whatever happens, we hope that by 2023, the presidency will definitely move to the South-East. I have seen firsthand how the South-East is treated. We don’t have the same number of states other zones have. Something must be done to equal the distribution. I hope that whoever emerged from there will not only concentrate on the South but once you become president of Nigeria, you must take every party like your own…
Do you still have faith in this entity called Nigeria?
I do. I believe God brought us together. We have lived together where nobody asked where you come from. But things fell apart when the military intervention started. The military is responsible for the setback we are seeing today. We must heal this wound and move on. We need leaders who are patriotic and focused to build bridges of understanding. Let us reduce the tension in the land. Nigeria is a big country and it is blessed by God, what’ve you sow into the land grows…..
But is federalism working in Nigeria?
That is why we are talk about restructuring. It will reduce the pressure at the centre. It is something that nobody can run away from. It will happen sooner or later.
From the benefit of hindsight, do you have any regrets working against the alleged third term while you were in the senate?
I am happy that I coordinated that movement. I started that meeting in my house. The first joint sitting of the Senate and House against third term was hosted by me. I have no regrets, if anything, it gives me great joy. I made sure the constitution of this country is respected. Even though I paid dearly for it by being denied of my rights. But it doesn’t matter. We have democracy today because that monstrous project was pulled out.
Are you worried with the dimension insecurity has taken in Nigeria?
Of course I am worried. It’s all about leadership. In the face of unemployment and injustice, a man who is meant to suffer injustice in any shape or manner, will never have peace. Like the saying that those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent one inevitable, we must respect the constitution of our country. We need to balance the zoning of offices. No one should be denied his or her position because they did not vote for A, B or C.
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