A Chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi speaks with OLUSOLA FABIYI about the crisis in his party and the roles he played in the formation of the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance
Do you think that the crisis which almost consumed the Peoples Democratic Party was avoidable?
The crisis that the PDP unfortunately went through for about 14 months was avoidable if all of us had carefully read the (Ike) Ekweremadu report that reviewed some of our failures at the 2015 general elections. This has to do with the overbearing influence of certain groups and power blocks within the party. The report also talked about creating a level-playing ground for all the contestants and stressed the need to discourage imposition. We should have respected the rules and the constitution of the party. It was unfortunate that a group of persons, especially led by Ali Modu Sheriff, who in any case, was a new comer to the PDP then and was not conversant with the constitution of the party and its rules, took over the party. But thank God, the Supreme Court took over the case from the very beginning to the end and reaffirmed the supremacy of the national convention of the party, over not only on the PDP, but on all political parties. It is reference judgment for every political party.
With what is still happening, do you think the party has actually learnt anything from its numerous mistakes?
We have learnt quite a lot from it. You can see what the national caretaker committee is doing. I’m sure you can see the changes that are taking place, which would be glaring after the December national convention. The new constitution of the party is likely going to be adopted and also changes are expected to come in as far as the issue of a level-playing ground and internal democracy are concerned. Apart from this, there will be party discipline while the major groups in the society like the women, youths, and the physically challenged would be integrated into the management of the party. Then there will be transparent primaries of the party to be coordinated with strong and purposeful leadership.
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Are you surprised that there’s still leadership crisis in the South-West zone of the party which may still affect the party in future?
Let me say that the South-West has always had the Nigerian media headquarters. All the newspapers, until recently, are based there. The focus of the media is still the South-West and the people there take the advantage of this sometimes to confuse issues.
Are you saying the PDP crisis in the South-West is a media creation?
The leadership crisis in the South-West is normal but it is not good to make it a media affair. The factions there can come together. Buruji Kashamu should appreciate the fact that he is an indigene of Ogun State and must therefore limit his sphere of influence to his domain. He should be talking about leadership tussle in Ogun State and not in the whole of South-West. I’m not aware of any type of leadership tussle in Ekiti State, yet there are contending groups in the state, but this is also fuelled by Kashamu who has set up structures of people that are loyal to him in the state. He has them in Ondo and Osun States as well. In Osun State, we have those loyal to the former national secretary of the party, and are also loyal to Buruji. It has nothing to do with Sheriff and Makarfi quarrel. I believe that what the party is doing right now is to get all the parties together. It has proved useful in Lagos State, it has proved useful in Oyo State, it has proved useful in Osun State in spite of a few disagreements. Many are not interested in the good of the party but in their personal ambitions.
As it is now, don’t you think there are plans to deny the South-West the opportunity of producing the national chairman of the PDP ?
I think that there is a total confusion here. Let me make it very clear that, there was no time that the PDP zoned the chairmanship of the party to the South-West. The PDP zoned the presidency to the North and the PDP zoned the chairmanship to the South. I’m sure you have listened to what the chairman of the caretaker committee has said over and over. You have also listened to what the secretary has said. The presidency is zoned to the entire North while the chairmanship is zoned to the South. The PDP in the South has not zoned it to a particular geopolitical zone. However, because the media is strong in the South-West and some people have personal interest there, they are now using the power of the media to confuse issues.
What type of chairman do you think the party needs now?
The party should look out for people with exemplary leadership and people who have shown commitment to the party; People that have stood by the party and are committed to the ideals of the party and the wars that will come up in 2019. It is those who are afraid of competition that are saying it was zoned to them. All the three geo-political zones in the south are entitled to vie for the position of the chairman of the PDP. There was no where it was said it had been micro zoned to anywhere.
But the governors during the August national convention said they agreed to zone the chairmanship to the South-West, while the deputy should go to another place.
The issue we have now is that the party wants to carry every segment of the party along. It wants everybody to participate. There was a Jerry Gana committee, which came up with explicit recommendation.
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It recommended that the presidency should be opened to the entire North while the chairmanship should also be opened to the entire South. It also said that delegates from the entire Nigeria would vote for the presidential candidate and also vote for the chairman of the party. Some party chieftains should stop confusing the public. You can go and interview all the officers of the party on this matter.
Do you think whoever is chairman should be able to call the bluff of the governors because of their over bearing influence?
Let me turn it around and say that the governors are an important group within the party at this level of its development. The governors have been important because they contribute to the sustenance of the party. He who pays the piper, calls the tune. You can’t ask the governors to continue paying all the charges and then you turn around to say you don’t need them. They are needed in the party and you can’t say they should not have opinions.
Are you still interested in becoming the chairman of the party?
I know that’s where you are going (laughs). At this point in time, all I can tell you is that I’m consulting; I’m receiving numerous calls from people who are telling me that “you came down to our state and you asked us to vote for you. You are still fresh in our memory. Do you want to run and why wouldn’t you want to run now?” and I said I’m still consulting. Whatever I will do for the PDP, I can do it with or without holding any office. It is not the office that will be my inspiration to serve the party. As an ordinary member, I will be contributing. In leadership position, it will confer more responsibilities on me.
What was the relationship between the PDP and the APDA?
Let me say without equivocation that time has passed and a lot of water has passed under the bridge. I, Alegho Raymond Dokpesi, admit that I founded and funded the APDA from the registration to the point when the certificates was issued by INEC. There was nobody that could be in doubt that I’m an unrepentant member of the PDP and a staunch supporter of the Makarfi-led group of the party. I never belonged to the Sheriff group. A lot of things were going on that time and the PDP needed to have a second address. And it was I and a group of others that agreed that the PDP must be given a second option irrespective of what was going to happen. That was why we came up with the idea of registering a new political party, the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance. This is because the PDP was negotiating with about 17 political parties for alliance that time. It was my contribution to creating an alternative for the PDP, but which was done with the knowledge of all the organs of the party.
Was everyone in the top hierarchy of the PDP aware?
I apologised to those that did not know, and it must have been as a result of oversight. Those that needed to know that time were consulted and carried along, athough not all of them agreed to that arrangement but we were given the go ahead.
Will APDA merge with the PDP now?
We are trying to do our best, but the APDA has a lot of people that were not part of the PDP from the beginning. Then there are people who departed from the PDP and who wanted to remain in politics but do not want to join the PDP or the APC. But they believe in the ideals of the PDP. The reforms we are going to carry out in the PDP which INEC is aware of, is the outcome of the Gana reports. We have a lot of them in the APDA constitution, which we have reflected in the new PDP constitution. A time is coming when we would implement them in the PDP.
I thought that the PDP said it didn’t need merger?
The All Progressives Congress embarked on merger before it can sack the PDP in 2015. It merged with some political parties. They are strange bed fellows, agreed, but they achieved their aim. We also need to learn from that lessons and I believe the APDA is a good alternative.