As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) elects a new National Chairman ahead of 2019 Elections, ABIA FACTS NEWSPAPER spoke with Ita Benedict, a mediapreneur and convener, Dream Nigeria Project on burning national issues, including PDP Covention, Atiku’s return amongst others.

Sir, the Peoples Democratic Party National Convention have just elected members of the National Executive Committee of the party there were signals indicating various contentions including the zoning of the National Chairmanship position. This claim was strong among the South-South and South West zones. What were your expectations?

You see, for a party that held the centre for 16 years, lost it in 2015, stayed the course and navigated through the post 2015 tempest is clearly a party of focus, and one that is committed to sustaining Democracy in Nigeria for our common good.

Remember, between this periods in question, a lot had transpired including the bitter and contentious claim to the National Chairmanship of the party between Sheriff and Makarfi. Within the space of political discourse, there have been various analogies to the crisis that befell the party including the conspiracy theory that, the ruling All Progressives Congress was the unseen hand behind the PDP troubles. It had also been in circulation that the APC led Federal Government was desirous of stifling and rendering the PDP ineffective. I think the crisis has helped the party come out stronger.

Politics is about negotiation, building alliances and ability to marshal out your position in a manner that will be acceptable to your audience. It is defining and balancing of interests. The South-West has a right to the position as well as the South-South regions. I read the position of the South-South stakeholders at their meeting in Port Harcourt before the convention. Nyesom Wike and Governor of River State put forward a strong position that, during the locust years of 2015 and now, it is the South-South geo-political zone that had sustained the party. For me, this is a statement of strength, commitment and responsibility. As an opposition party without a centre, the zone has demonstrated a great sense of duty and loyalty to the party.

Don’t you think that the party’s permutations for 2019 have changed with the return of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar?

Alhaji Atiku Abukakar – Former Nigerian Vice President.

The fundamental in all of these is that, the convention has been held, the zone to produce the National Chairman was ceded to the South which comprises the South-South and the South-West. Today, a National Chairman has been elected from the South-South. But to be definite about your question, you and I know that the dynamics of the game will definitely change because of the Atiku political brand.

But it was speculated that Uche Secondus was the candidate of Nyesom Wike and Godswill Akpabio even before the convention? Do you think the two-some were instrumental to the emergence of the National Chairman?

You omitted Fayose in the speculation. To be candid, it is politically faulty and pretty mischievous. Wike and Fayose are PDP Governors and Akpabio is the Leader of the PDP in the Senate. These are three strong pillars of the party and I know that their passion, commitment and loyalty to the party is unquestionable and unshakable. They are leaders who understand the language of negotiation, mobilization and political marketing. So, if they had thrown their weight behind Secondus, then they were politically right. Uche Secondus has been around and I do believe that he’s got the experience, exposure, understands the job and has the pedigree. So, rather than view the trio of Wike, Fayose and Akpabio in that light, I see them as assets of the party especially, in these times of rebuilding and repositioning of the party.

Talking about Atiku’s return to PDP, don’t you also think that he will be a liability to the party in view of what has been described as his “baggages”? Or do you think his return is timely, that he has a chance of winning the PDP’s presidential ticket?

I don’t think Atiku’s return will amount to liability of sort. He has always been an asset to the party. But my opinion of his return at this point puts him as the party’s biggest bet. Don’t forget that he co-founded the party in 1998 and was elected Governor of his State, Adamawa but was later to become a two term Vice President. He would later lead the new PDP into APC in 2015 which also contributed to the emergence of the current Buhari administration.

Since Atiku’s notice of resignation from the APC became public, I can assure you that the centre is no longer holding and the rumbling has just begun. What Atiku takes to the party with his return will determine a lot, but I can bet you that, the dynamics has changed with Turaki’s re-entry into the PDP turf.

What about this question of corruption which is hanging on his neck as the “Sword of Damocles”?

The burden of proof lies with those who feel very strong about the corruption allegation. I am not aware of Atiku being convicted of corruption nor found guilty by the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has said that, anyone with incriminating evidence against him to this effect should come forward. For me, the corruption narrative against Atiku is an elitist conspiracy. As it stands today, Nigerians need a prepared leadership with demonstrable capacity for productivity. A  Leadership that is practical with the soundness of mind and resourcefulness. A leadership that is bold and courageous to take on the challenges of nationhood. Atiku has pledged to restructure Nigeria and vowed to shock Nigerians on the fight against corruption. I also believe strongly that the benchmark for discussing 2019 should be anchored on effectively restructuring this country. Nigeria will be better for it, but anything short of that will leave us running in circles and that is my charge to the political oligarchy.

Do not forget that the PDP is seeking to return to power and as I noted earlier, Atiku’s come back will definitely upstage the cart. So his return is not only timely but the greatest thing that has happened to the party. The convention has provided a strong platform to assess Atiku’s political clout and how much he will bring to the table.

Chief Olabode George, a contender for the Chairmanship in his withdrawal statement alleged that the election was highly manipulated, hence his withdrawal. He also called on Gov. Wike to tender an apology for his roles.

Politics is a very interesting game. Some hardliners view it from the perspective of power conspiracy. But it takes the art of negotiation, trade-offs, building of alliances to achieve the desired objectives. In a convention such as the just concluded PDP convention, you should expect high level trade-offs and negotiation of interests. That is the language of the game. So I suspect that Chief Olabode George couldn’t withstand the fireworks. But let me also state that his withdrawal was the most honourable thing to do. You know democracy is about the majority and the majority have spoken clearly through the election of Uche Secondus. For me, Gov. Wike merely played the majority game and that shouldn’t be offending to anyone.

The All Progressives Congress strategists have dismissed Atiku’s return to PDP as being inconsequential. What’s your take on this?

For a man who left his former party with five Governors and other top-notch loyalists, a man who is said to have been behind the emergence of the current Senate President, Bukola Saraki and whose strategic insights contributed to the election of the APC – led Government cannot be said to be inconsequential. It is political talk show. I am sure that Atiku’s outing at the convention has sent the APC strategists back to the drawing board.

President Buhari during his working visit to Kano State recently expressed surprise over PDP’s quest to return to power noting that the atrocities of the party is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians. What is your reaction to this?

The power to elect leadership in any democracy resides with the people and that was demonstrated in 2015 when Nigerians voted out a sitting president. That to me was the turning point of our democratic evolution. It spoke volumes that Nigerians can determine their destiny.

Today the President is the greatest beneficiary of that revolution. And I think what the President should concern himself with is the delivery of the social contract he entered with Nigerians. As a man of strong will, high integrity and leadership appeal, he should work to build institutions that will tame leadership excesses. A country whose elites are stronger than the institutions goes nowhere. He has a constitutional obligation to show leadership while citizen’s constitutional obligation is to express through voting the kind of leadership they want and 2019 is not an exception.

He has also been labeled a serial presidential aspirant?

It falls within his fundamental right to seek elective office as many times as he wishes provided it is within the ambits of the constitution. And his fate lies in the hands of the electorates. Above all and most importantly, God gives power to whom He pleases. President Buhari got power on his fourth attempt. President Nana Addo of Ghana got power after several attempts. What about Abraham Lincoln? The list is endless.

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