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Ex-Akwa Ibom deputy Governor drops bomb: Why North deserves PDP ticket

Chief Patrick Ekpotu is a chemical engineer and former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State. The chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, spoke to AKANI ALAKA on the controversies over the zoning of the party’s presidential ticket and other issues.

You recently warned that your party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP may shoot itself in the foot by the way it is going on the issue of zoning. But the clamour for zoning is still very loud, why are you afraid that it could be detrimental to the party?

Yes, the clamour for zoning is still very loud and that’s worrisome because if the party had dealt with the issue much earlier than now, the arguments for it probably would not have been as intense as it is now. But that slight oversight on the party of the party not putting a stop to it by coming out with its full position on zoning has encouraged people to talk about zoning, which has now become the most discussed issue concerning this coming election. My concern is that a lot of people have been pushed to take a position, particularly down South where you will find that the main issue being discussed concerning the election is zoning. While the people in the North may look at security as their main concern, it is not so in the South. My position has always been very clear and it is anchored on justice, equity and fairness. This dispensation of democracy started in 1999 and the South has produced President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had his eight years. When it was the turn of the North based on the constitution of our party, unfortunately, Yar’Adua died just about a year, nine months after. And Goodluck Jonathan took over because constitutionally, a vice is supposed to take over from the president in the event of the president’s death. The understanding would have been ‘serve out the terms of the late president’ and in that way, you would have complied with the Nigerian Constitution. And after that, you now look at your party’s constitution which says it is the turn of the North to produce the president. But in Nigeria, unfortunately, whoever finds himself in a sudden position of money, power also acquires some level of lunacy. So, Jonathan went ahead and presented himself. Of course, he won the election and was there until he was pushed out in 2015. So, that way, the South ended up serving – President Obasanjo for eight years, Jonathan six years – 14 years while the North had served only one year, nine months. There is no equity. So, in reality, the party is indebted to the North. And if you should lock out any region from contesting the 2023 presidential election, of course, it shouldn’t be the North that the party is indebted to. But because this matter has been allowed to linger till this time, it will be not very wise strategically to now say you are zoning out any part of the country. That will be a direct indication of chaos. As it is, the best thing will be to allow everybody to run. And the earlier the party made that statement, the better. As it stands now, 17 presidential aspirants have collected their forms. So, how can we be talking about zoning when all of them have already obtained forms and are now facing the screening committee? So, I believe that a simple statement from the party would have doused the tension along that line of zoning and helped the party galvanise its constructive energy toward the coming general election.


Why do you think the PDP is afraid to be categorical on the issue of zoning because the agitations have been on even before the party began to sell its presidential forms. Even when the new chairman was chosen, the belief is that because he is from the North, the presidential candidate of the party will come from the South?

It is difficult to say why the PDP is afraid. But maybe they are also working on their own strategy and that, I cannot immediately see. But I am only concerned about the danger of such indiscretion because every action and inaction attracts a reaction. It’s the consequences of the inaction that we now have to try to manage as much as possible.

You are talking about justice, fairness and equity as reasons why the PDP cannot zone the North out of contenders for its presidential ticket. But some of the leaders of the party in the South including those contesting for the presidential ticket like Governor Nyesom Wike, Peter Obi, Anyim Pius Anyim are also saying it will be unfair and unjust to keep the presidency in the North after eight years of Buhari administration?

While trying to make comments on these issues, we also try to be a bit sensitive because whoever emerges as the flag bearer of the party, we would expect that every other person should come around him, give him support and that the party should work as one. At the end of this exercise, the party is supposed to be one facing APC, the political party in power. Now, the governors from the South or candidates from the South also have their reasons, perhaps, for standing where they are. But I have just done an analysis  – this present dispensation of democracy started in 1999 and between 1999 and now, the party has produced two presidents from the South who have ruled for a total of 14 years and one president from the North that ruled for about a year and nine months. So, when my brothers from the South are talking about equity and fairness, I do not understand from what angle they are coming from. Now, maybe they are trying to take it at the aggregate at the national level because when you talk about ‘President Buhari cannot hand over to a Northerner’, you are mixing it up. I’m a PDP member, not an APC member, Buhari is APC. I’m talking about PDP and PDP has its zoning, and rotational arrangements in its constitution and so far, one side has had more shots than the other side. And so, when we talk about equity and fairness, it should be about PDP. Now, even if you want to take it at the aggregate at the national level, if Buhari serves out its eight years by next year, then, the North would still have served Buhari’s eight years and Yar’Adua’s one year, nine months.  You can say 10 years, while the South would have had 14 years. So, it still does not add up. When you talk about equity and fairness, it tilts in favour of one side whether you view it from the framework of PDP as a political party or you try to aggregate it nationally as long as you look at the baseline of 1999 and the starting point of this consideration.

But do you share the view of those who said the PDP may lose the election if it failed to zone its presidential ticket to the South considered to be the strong base of the party?

Unfortunately, I am also aware that zoning itself is not sufficient to deliver the presidency to us. It takes much more than zoning. All the party requires is mobilising the constructive energy of its members and supporters across the country. So, if you zone it to one part of the country and it does not have the support of the other part of the country, the presidency cannot be delivered to the party. So, that’s where the issue of that fairness and equity comes in. And if we have been able to make our people in the South understand that, ‘look, we are PDP and we have ruled for this number of years, out of this number of years, we have produced two presidents for South that have ruled for 14 years, the North has produced one president that has ruled for only one year, nine months,’ I think our brothers and sisters in the South would understand this on the basis of equity. But we have not done that and that also makes our people grandstand and say ‘look, the current president is a Northerner and by the time he is done, you cannot hand over to another Northerner.’ But no, we are talking of PDP as a political party. APC has the right to do whatever it wants. But as a party, do we throw away the content, the spirit of the PDP Constitution because we simply want to screw up issues, screw up facts? We don’t have to. And if we want to build a future that is predicated on fairness and equity, the spirit has to emanate and flow from the rules that guide our activities in the party, which is the constitution.

But do you entertain any fear that the presidential primary of the party may lead to a crisis with the number of aspirants and this undying quest for zoning from the South?

I will not want to speculate that there is the possibility of crisis because every person that is aspiring to be president of this country on the platform of PDP is a strong party member and they have contributed tremendously to the development and growth of the party and maintenance of the party up to this time. I do not believe there is anybody who aspires to be the president who will want to see his house wrecked if he is unable to attain that aspiration. And so, I want to believe that whoever wins, the rest will rally around him and make sure that the party reports victory in the 2023 election.

So, what is your reaction to the argument that people like you from the South who are asking that the presidential ticket of PDP should be left open are working for the North and are not supportive of efforts to zone the ticket to the South, especially the South East which has not produced an executive president for the country since independence?

I do not think that is 100 per cent correct – if it is correct at all. My understanding of the zoning arrangement in PDP is what has informed my decision and position because I stand for equity, fairness and justice. And I have said previously that if it were the other way round – let’s say it is the North that has ruled in PDP, produced the presidents that have ruled for 14 years and then, the South has only succeeded in producing the President that has ruled for one year, nine months, all we would be hearing in this country would be threats – threats of secession, breaking of pipelines, all manners of economic sabotage and all of that. But this is not the case. The reality is that the party is indebted, based on its constitution, to a section of the country. You cannot set up a zoning arrangement and one has benefitted and presented a president for 14 years and the other one has produced for only one year and nine months and you said there is equity. I agree that we cannot do without Southeast. But whenever it is the turn of the presidency being zoned to the South, it is the responsibility of the South to now look at which region has been left out over the years and definitely, equity and fairness and justice will require that we allow the presidency to go to that region. So, as far as I am concerned, I believe the Southeast is better placed to produce the next president on the platform of PDP whenever the party decided to zone its presidential ticket to the South. But for now, based on our party, the party is indebted to the North, so we have to remove that indebtedness first. When we are done with that and the presidency is again zoned to the South, we must allow equity and fairness to play by making sure that the Southeast produces the next president.

So, you don’t buy the argument that zoning the presidency to the Southeast is necessary to curb agitations for secession which many believe is the offshoot of the ongoing violence in some parts of the zone?

I do not see that as a valid argument because there have been similar arguments sometime in the past when the militancy in the South-south was said to have played a role in producing a leader of the country from the South-south. So, we cannot continuously be regenerating crisis and confusion because when an evil seed is sown in some parts of the country and you glamourize it, pacify it and you allow that to be the basis of negotiation, you not only permit, but actually encourage the proliferation of similar crisis from other parts of the country. The crisis in the South-south that started in this dispensation of democracy is what gave birth to other similar things across the country like the IPOB, MASSOB and all of that. And that was because it was not handled the way it was supposed to be handled. The country has a way of running around issues instead of taking care of them and, of course, it has a way of also influencing similar things occurring. Unfortunately, you do not know which crisis from which zone will emanate as a result of mishandling of that first one that will take the nation with it. So, it is wrong. I don’t believe we should use instruments of threat as a means to get power. That’s not what we should be teaching our children. We’ve had enough of this.

But do you think a candidate from the South can win the primary if it is open to every region as it seems likely to be now?

It is possible. It depends on the extent to which the person has worked. I cannot rule out such possibilities because as we have good candidates from the North, so, we also have from the South. But the capacity to carry the flag depends on individual ability to reach out to the rest of the zones across the country. That’s why I said it is not a question of where somebody comes from because, first of all, you are an individual before you become a candidate and as an individual, people will want to assess you based on what you have been able to achieve as an individual. Now, if you are an aspirant and you cannot sell yourself to the rest of the zones in the country, it will be impossible for you to make it. Therefore, I believe a Southerner can emerge, but to the extent to which he can carry other people along.

But who among the aspirants do you believe will deliver the presidency to the PDP in 2023, because even your governor, Udom Emmanuel is also in the race, alongside former vice president Atiku Abubakar and Governor Nyesom Wike who are believed to be the front runners?

If I want to speak about who is likely to win, I will be persuaded to look at a candidate that comes from an area that I think is disadvantaged. As I  have already said, the PDP is indebted to the North. So, I might be biased to the extent of looking at the possibility of such a candidate coming from the North. And if that happens, of course, the only person that I will look at is Atiku Abubakar because he has the capacity, the experience – he has passed through it before – and he is likely to be the only one who can stand up firmly to whoever the APC would present. I have observed,  watched, researched through and I see him as a man who is capable of dreaming with both eyes open – not most of the leaders we have had who would dream with both eyes closed and whenever they wake up, in the dark recesses of their minds, they found out that what they dreamt about was vanity. But this one dreams with both eyes open and is able, therefore, to police his dreams to fruition. But that is not to say I am ruling out the possibility of any other candidate winning the ticket. Now, if you look at the 2019 general election, Atiku contested with Buhari and it doesn’t appear to me that there is a single state in this country that he did not have 25 per cent in that election. Even, the ruling party, the incumbent President did not have 25 per cent in all the 36 states. But he has 25 per cent in most states if not all the 36 states which show his acceptability. So, if we look towards winning the election in 2023, then, we should be looking for a person with that type of wide coverage and acceptability.

But some, including members of your party and aspirants,  are saying aspirants like Atiku are too old and should go and rest, instead of trying to take over the governance of the country…

You see, when somebody tries to dismiss the significance of the other based on age, sometimes, you begin to wonder whether the person hopes to grow old? And if he grows old, is he likely to quit politics before a certain age? I think that age comes with wisdom and in politics across the world when you look at the leadership at certain strata of society; you will find that people who attain a certain age are often called upon to rescue situations, take care of events, take their nations out of difficulties. So, age goes with wisdom. But if in the context of Nigerian politics, we do not believe in wisdom, it is likely that we may not likely eclipse what has befallen us.

The argument is that people like Atiku may not have the energy required to run the country and we may be back to the Buhari era of our president going in and out of hospital for treatment…

I have seen several very young vibrant persons who have been entrusted with responsibilities and unfortunately, not all of them have been very successful when you look at their outings. I do not, therefore, want to consider the question of age. If you are young, have you been able to show us the content of your character and capability? What type of ability have you shown in your previous station of responsibility? So, unless I have been convinced to that extent, it will be difficult for me to key into the argument of a young person being the hope of the Nigerian future. By my understanding, the rot in Nigeria started before this time and it has a kind of regenerating effect and it attracts a crop of people. Even children will begin to admire the unholy scene and they will pray to grow up to benefit from it. That’s how it will attain the larger than life passion. Now, when you talk of a young person today, who mentored him? He cannot be better than somebody that mentored him. So, until the society is fixed where everybody is expected to do things the proper way, you cannot have a younger person who will come up to do anything different. So, I will not like to stress the issue of somebody being young as an advantage, except you show me what you’ve used your useful energy to achieve in the past.

What about the argument by Governor Wike and some other members of PDP that people like Atiku had at one time or the other abandoned the party and may therefore not be deserving of its presidential ticket?

I don’t think Atiku has left the party since he contested the last election. So, if the party gave him the ticket in 2019 and he has not left the party between 2019 and now, such an argument does not stand. The party gave him the ticket in 2019 and this year, he is presenting himself again, roaring for action. So, it will not be out of place too if the party gives him the ticket.