Politics Sunday Magazine

Eddy Olafeso: Umahi’s defection dangerous for his political career

The fact that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is facing leadership crisis is an understatement. First was the parallel zonal meeting of the party in the South-West and next is the crack created in the party in the South- East by the defection of Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi. In this interview with ADEWALE MOMOH, the immediate past National Vice Chairman of the party in the South-West and former member of the National Working Committee, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, speaks on the issues within the party and why PDP lost in the just-concluded governorship election in Ondo State, among other burning national matters

 

 

 

 

 

How would you described the current situation of the country, particularly the recent increase in pump price of petrol, the third time in four months?

 

There is absence of government in Nigeria because the first responsibility of government is the welfare and safety of the people and ensuring that the nation progresses and develop. So in all these indices, the government is absent, there is no security anywhere, what you see on daily basis is kidnapping, killings everywhere in the country from the North Central to the North-East to even the South -West part of the country that we are, kidnapping has resurfaced in the last few months.

 

Look at banditry which has claimed thousands of people in the North-West. No serious government will tolerate that. Recall that following the abduction of an American recently, the U.S. sent its troops all the way to Nigeria and rescued him, but here lives are lost daily and what we read is presidential condolences.

 

There is nothing much about COVID-19 anymore except that we woke up to discover that warehouses are looted with food items that are meant for ordinary citizens of the country.

 

So the government has failed woefully and the Nigerians are just left on their own, suffering with lot of mystery and pain. Sadly and suddenly they have increased petrol price from about   N142 to N172 and economic indices show zero growth. Unemployment is escalating; inflation has gone off the roof; nothing is happening now in Nigeria and I think this is the worst moment in our history.

 

What’s your take on the end SARS protest?

 

On the decision of the Federal Government on the #EndSARS saga, they are scratching the surface and this is unfortunate. They said an idle hand is a devil’s workshop and for crying out loud, when are they going to put these children to work? When are they going to return to school? When are they ever going to be considered as part of citizens of this country that has as a sense of entitlement.

 

We all knew this protest was coming for the last forty years since these youths have been neglected. Look at the massive destruction throughout the country My own local government is so hard hit that the legacy and our heritage for the last six years was just burnt down just because government did not care and they still don’t care.

 

So, for the government to say they have considered all the issues raised by #EndSARS protesters and at then suddenly you said you have acceded to them and apologised for everything you have done, and suddenly you begin clamp on people providing feeding and shelter for people who are protesting, it shows the government is not serious and I don’t think they are doing the right thing. If care is not taken they have started incubating another round of violence for the future.

 

So, for me what they do is insensitive and I think the government should be ashamed of themselves and they must come out with better plans and integrate the youth into what needed be done to make the country move forward but it is rather unfortunate that in one hand they said they are looking at what the protest is all about and in the other hand they are punishing those they believe must have helped them get organized it. It’s unfortunate.

 

Are you bothered about the move by government to regulate the social media in the county?

 

I think this is insane. It’s insane because it’s part of our freedom and this is like saying that we all should have to go back to the era of constriction by government and your freedom is depended on whatever they do.

 

There are laws in our statute books that actually punishes anybody that spreads false rumor so why can they explore that rather than to say people cannot just   have the freedom to express themselves.

 

Those that are spreading lies, the law will take its cause at the appropriate time but gagging the media like that is not my idea of freedom in a democratic environment

 

Your party, PDP is currently at the forefront of those championing the call for restructuring of Nigeria and there was also criticism that when PDP was in power it failed to do it…

My take on this is that I agree with those who said we didn’t as quickly as possible deal with this matter; we were in the saddle for 16 years but we know that this Nigerian constitution is a military constitution and the least we can do is to come together and fashion a new constitution for ourselves, there is nothing you can add or subtract from the constitution that can sustain development for Nigeria.

 

So we must lay that constitution to rest and that was why the National Conference came up in 2014. The conclusion there could have been the bedrock of a new constitution if we are serious about it. So it is not about APC alone, it’s about PDP and all of us that we must try to be progressive.

 

How can we have all these resources and continue to live in nightmare of poverty and mystery? How come we have these resources and cannot tap it? How come we cannot produce petroleum products for our domestic consumption and we have to depend on other countries in other parts of the world? Why did God give us all these resources if we cannot even utilise them for the progress, development of our people and creating wealth and prosperity for our people?

 

So to me, it is right to say we must move on as quickly as possible to restructure Nigeria and we must do everything possible to be honest and fair with ourselves. To define opinion does not make you an enemy; we are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the fact that you are an opponent does not make you an enemy. Why are we so individualistic and materialistic to the point that we can even steal our own homes when all we need to do is to develop it?

 

People steal, the country’s money and take it somewhere else for their own development. God knows the number and the quantum of resources of Nigeria abroad that were illegitimately and illegally stolen from this part that are not serving the people, but elsewhere you have these constricting extreme poverty that is our lots today.

 

It seems things are no longer at ease with the PDP with so many factions, especially in the South- West. What is really going on?

 

That is really a reference point to what I just said. The fact that we defer does not make us enemies. The reality of it is that when I was Chairman of the PDP in the South-West, I did everything to bring everybody back and part of the reasons why I figured that I need to return to complete the job we have commenced. Now across the zone, leadership must begin to act as leaders. Leaderships is about enduring criticism and ensuring that you bring them out for the purpose of improving the positivity and recreating a new energy and environment to build a better future.

 

The truth is that at the end of the day, brotherhood would still have to prevail; we all need to sit at a table and discuss this matter, all these grandstanding about this and that cannot help us or take us anywhere. We are moving towards 2023 and the idea is for us to be united, to carry everybody along because politics is not something you do alone, but it is consensus in building a united front, create a vision and continue to push the same vision that can develop the society and improve on life and create prosperity for the majority of our people.

 

It breaks my heart to see what happened, we have the clear opportunity of winning in Ondo State and the reason why we didn’t win is because the leadership did not adhere to provide that platform of unity that can bring everybody together in this matter and ventually I hate a situation when you blame others for all the mistakes you have made yourself.

 

But I know our party is strong enough and we have the internal mechanisms to bring everybody together  to be able to do the right thing and we move forward. Former governor Ayo Fayose and Governor Seyi Makinde they are leaders in their own rights and I believe that at the appointed time they will come together. I want to appeal and encourage others too, rather than dividing them, they should find a way to unite them.

 

For us, we have sacrificed so much, I have been in this party for the last 20 years and I have committed my all and at no time have I done anything but to promote the party. When I became the National Vice Chairman in 2016, I was in court in four places, Lagos, Abeokuta, Abuja and Ado Ekiti, I was roaming the entire place until I won at the Supreme Court in November 2017 we are unable to do anything.

 

But immediately after that we began to work, you saw what happened in Ekiti in 2017, it was a narrow defeat, it was a victory stolen by the APC and in Osun State too, they did the same thing but we thank God that we retain Oyo.

 

The leaders that worked with me at that time are still around, so we reduce this bias and calm down the temperature, come together unless we want to continue to be a serial loser that will continue to lose elections, this is the moment we must have to take the deep breath and my worries is that consistently we recruit very incompetent people to handle sensitive things.

 

Managing human being is the most sensitive thing on the planet earth and that means you have to have quality education, experience, knowledge and you must humble yourself adequately to be able to listen to others and do the needful.

 

For me, that is best way out and that is exactly what I feel we should do in the South-West and in other zone and in Ondo State in particular. We must bring back our people, they must return, if they don’t return home we cannot win alone.

 

 

Makinde became the governor of Oyo State under your leadership. Why is he opposed to your return as the South- West chairman of the party?

 

For me, politics is about choices and self-interest and I don’t even think Makinde is opposed to my return. The belief that Oyo State should produce National Vice Chairman does not make him opposed to me. We are going to go into a congress and if he wins, we will all celebrate and work together and if I win, I know Governor Makinde will work with me too. So I don’t see it as a personal issue, we are brothers and we remain brothers.

 

In Ondo State the PDP candidate in the last election, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede has gone to the tribunal. Any hope that he can get the tribunal to upturn the election?

 

Well, I pray so. We want our party to win at all cost and at all times. I have never wished them otherwise

 

But what were the factors that led to the defeat of your party in  the last governorship election in the state?

 

We were not ready. There was lack of preparedness. The party was divided. Leadership too, there was a total disrespect for everybody and there was no moment of rallying, nobody was rallying anybody. The division was so rife that it’s only God that could have spared us to win.

 

There was allegation that some party members were engaged in anti-party activities during the election and sabotaged activities especially after the party primaries…

 

I wouldn’t know and how could I know? I know Eddy Olafeso cannot be accused of sabotaging PDP. I have a track record; I have been here for the last 20 years and have committed my all to this party and my greatest desire is for a victory even in my life time, I worked with one of the greatest, Dr. Olusegun Agagu.

 

My party is my party and at no time did I do anything whatsoever to want to undermine the party. That’s why when you look at your face in the mirror you must be able to accept the reality that is starring at you. If we have failed to plan we have planned to fail and the truth is that we never did much to unite the entire people, even those that eventually left to ZLP, have we tried adequately and quickly to bring everyone under the same umbrella like APC did? None of their contestants went to any other party; they rallied and brought them together.

 

Many of us were not even consulted and I begged; I pleaded for a cap at the inauguration and when they were doing their final rally in Ondo town I was with former governor Fayose when his cap was removed. What message are we sending to the electorate that were going to vote for us?

 

A divided party can only bring about a mediocre government, and the truth is that we must as quickly as possible learn and retrace our steps. I said something when I was conceding defeat at the primary, I said the worst thing you can do in life is to seek power when you do not know what to do with it.

 

Seeking power means you have the clear vision about what you are going to do when you come to power. You have researched, committed and have immunity to learn from others, listen to the rest of the world; you are compassionate and consumed by that desire for change. I have not seen it. Everybody is blaming every other person for the feelings that we know that was obvious. How did we fair at the night of debate? What new formula, connection did we declare to the people on the field?

 

Though we know Nigerian politics had been monetised but I can tell you that if we have actually asserted ourselves quickly enough we will be able to get closer to the people.

 

People are suffering; salaries are not paid; emoluments are hanging, pensioners are just abandoned, nothing is going well for the state, insecurity, everything and yet we lost that moment. I want to use this opportunity to appeal to everybody, let’s go back to the drawing table; let’s be united, otherwise we are incubating a future of the vision that will never bring about a success.

 

Why is the PDP in Ondo State opposed to your return as the zonal chairman?

 

No. This is not true. They are not. They went to do zoning meeting in Ibadan and people were kicking. I want to thank everybody that believes that Ondo State is not a province that will be handed over for peanuts and everybody else will be annoyed.

 

We have lost the governorship election and I pray we take it back in court but what have we got now? You sent to us ex-officio but I am in the race and I thank God for those who have given me their own mandate; those who have endorsed me, Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti chapters have all endorsed me.

 

Even in Ondo State here, majority of our people are with me and ready to vote for me and I am excited, but the party for whatever reason is looking elsewhere. We must face reality and deal with equity and fairness and ensure that everybody is considered in whatever we do.

 

That is when a party can develop. I learn from the master and I kept on repeating it. Dr. Agagu will leave nobody behind, and that means that I am not going to leave anybody behind.

 

But most of these people don’t care; arrogance, sense of entitlement, those are the killers of quality leadership that can brings about change. When you acquire power without knowing what to do with it, that is worst crime against humanity. You are going to mislead a lot of people, destroy their future and their hope and their aspirations.

 

Care must be taken for us not go towards that direction any more. Let us prepare ourselves, who are we putting in position? Is he competent or just exhibiting emotion that will filter and fade away and at the end of the day nothing will happen? Here we are.

 

From February 1976 when the state was created till date, this is Ondo State. We are suddenly no longer much in reckoning among the 36 states. It is about time leadership in the state come together.

 

What is your take on the defection of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State to the APC?

 

It’s very saddening that Governor David Umahi left. He was one person that rose through the ranks to become the Governor of Ebonyi State under the flag of the PDP. It is still very strange that this is happening at this time. We’re all still putting ourselves together to be able to present the best of time in 2023.

 

He has every opportunity within our party to contest for any position he needed to but changing from PDP may portend a very grave danger for his future politically, APC is not the party for anyone who wants to transform the country. Tell me, which of their electoral promises in 2015 and 2019 have they fulfilled?

 

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