Elder Yemi Akinwonmi is the Acting National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), after the controversial removal of Prince Uche Secondus. In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, the first since his emergence as leader of the opposition party, he speaks on the current leadership crisis in the party and its reconciliation efforts ahead of its October Convention
How do you see the challenges ahead as the chairman of the party just before the convention?
My job is very simple – to galvanise the party and prepare it for the National Convention to ensure the emergence of a leadership that will pilot the affairs of the party into the 2023 elections and beyond.
We have been holding a series of meetings, consultations and reaching out to the leadership of the party across the board and we have no doubt that we will come out of this very stronger.
There are fears that the party has another river to cross respecting its zoning of offices ahead of the convention?
We are yet to set up the committee to handle that. That will be done this next week, but one thing I can tell you is that we will hold a transparent convention. We have a record of conducting peaceful and rancour free convention and this year’s own will not be different.
How do you see the ongoing reconciliation efforts in the party?
It is going on fine. You are aware of the activities and the report of the Senator David Mark-led Committee which we are working on. Not too long ago, the Senator Bukola Saraki Committee went round and it has been able to resolve issues concerning our aggrieved members.
He was in the South-West and recorded an impressive outing, following the grievances that trailed the congresses and you can see that we are now back on the same page.
Also, the Committee headed by the Governor of Bauchi State on the factors that led to the loss of the 2019 elections by the PDP had also submitted its reports and their recommendations are very vital for the party moving ahead.
So PDP is back and better. Besides, the other day, I led a team of our leaders to visit former President Goodluck Jonathan, where we discussed vital issues affecting the party and how to form a formidable front for the task ahead.
So, I can tell you that we are on course respecting our peace-building efforts in the party.
But the PDP is engulfed by a new crisis, leading to removal of Prince Uche Secondus, an action that had led to one injunction after another…
No party is free from crisis but the ability to manage such crisis makes us a better party. We are working round the clock to ensure that we bring everybody to the same page and move on. The National Convention is around the corner and its outcome will position us for the battle ahead- winning the 2023 elections.
But it has been said that the crisis has to do with the 2023 election ambition of the former Vice President Abubakar Atiku and Governor Nyesom Wike…
Everyone is at liberty to have ambition within the party. It is their constitutional right and the party leaders you mentioned have their respective leadership positions in the party.
But the fact is that we are discussing with all leaders and addressing all issues. One fact is very important- the party must be united before it can field candidates, campaign and win elec
tions. Last week, Governor Aminu Tambuwal said we cannot win any election if we are divided as a party and that is the point the leadership of the party is making. We are closing our ranks to move ahead as a united party.
But don’t you think these crises will affect your chances in the elections?
The next major election is about 18 months away. So, we still have a lot of time to assuage failed nerves and cement the party together. We have our internal mechanism to achieve this and I am confident that we will resolve the crises.
On Thursday, the Senator David Mark committee was in Port Harcourt, where they met with Governor Wike and party leaders in the state. We are expecting the outcome and I’m sure it will be peaceful. Like I said, it is a family squabble and we can always resolve it.
The party is also hit by defection. Don’t you think that this spells doom for the party?
Much as we don’t like it, defection is a common thing in Nigerian politics and the defectors have their reasons which may be personal and others very selfish. Some are even borne out of inducement from the ruling party, which is currently poaching our members. You will recall that a number of party leaders have changed parties many times in the last years.
So, it is not peculiar to the PDP. Some party leaders, even governors have defected to the PDP in the last six years.
Do you recall what happened before the 2019 elections or even after? That is the point I am making. But one thing is certain: we are appealing to our members to uphold the principle and manifestoes of the PDP to remain in the party in the interest of entire Nigerians, who are tired of this current rudderless administration.
Talking about the current government of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), why do you say it is rudderless?
It is an understatement to say that the current government is rudderless. It is a disaster and even the blind can see. Let us look at the economy. Right now, the exchange rate has shot as high as N526 to a dollar. Inflation is high and cost of living is deplorable. More and more people are flooding the unemployment market. The common man is finding it difficult to live and the
crime rate is also high. What are we talking about? Go to the streets and you will know what I mean. Forget about the propaganda that the Nigerian economy has recorded some growth. It is all false.
They should show us the growth in practical terms. Our debt profile is rising. Nigeria’s total debt, foreign and domestic, as at March this year stood at N33.107 trillion ($87.9 billion) according to the Debt Management Office (DMO). This is shocking to say the least.
The country borrowed heavily to finance the 2021 budget unlike previous years. We are now neckdeep in debt, and we are still sinking by the day. In the 2022 proposed N13.918trillion, we read that the Federal Government has submitted a proposal to borrow the sum of N5.62 trillion to finance deficits in the 2022 budget. Recall that the sum of N5.60 trillion was recorded in the 2021 budget. What does that tell you?
We are in a mess in the hands of a government that promised to revamp the economy before the 2015 elections. In the area of security, of course, that is a no-go area. Last week, the Nigerian Defence Academy which teaches national security was breached and senior military officers were kidnapped and killed.
This is the height of it all. It is not about politics, but this is shameful. For a government which campaigned on the plank of security, this current development is shameful.
In a developed country, Buhari, by that singular act, would have resigned. Look at what happened after the attack on the Pentagon, the American Defence Headquarters.
The then President Obama reorganised internal security to have what he described as Homeland Security. That led to the onslaught against Al- Qaeda and at the end of the day, they got Osama Bin Laden. He also fortified the security of America against terrorism.
What did we have after the attack at NDA? We were told it will embolden the military on the war against banditry and all the rest. What is the outcome? There is nothing up till now.
That is our worry. Nigerians are seeking for alternative and that is the PDP. Do we talk about kidnapping? Just today (last Thursday), it was reported in the newspapers that 73 students of Government Day Secondary School, Kaya, in Zamfara State were kidnapped.
This is coming about a week after the release of about 100 children was secured in Niger State after spending 88 days with kidnappers.
The home state of the Mr. President has suffered a series of kidnaps, affecting about 100 children, such that the state governor who has earlier taken photographs with alleged repentant kidnappers has turned around to call on his people to take to self-defence.
Schools have been shut down in Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Niger states because of so-called bandits, yet the government gives us excuses everyday while our people are dying.
This is shameful, and like I said, in a developed country, the president would have resigned by now. The reason for the government’s existence is security of lives and welfare of the people.
But what is happening right now is the direct opposite of that. That is why I said Nigerians are looking for the alternative; they are looking up to the PDP to rescue them from this spate of insecurity. We cannot continue like this.
But they are making lots of success against the terrorists and over 5,000 have repented…
Where are the repentant Boko Haram? What have they done to deradicalise them and what assurance do we have that a leopard can change his spots? A situation where these terrorists are pardoned and reabsorbed into the society whereas they return with our daughters cuddling two children is laughable. Not only has the life of these girls been blighted, worse still, is the fate of women who have been violated and their children who now languish in IDP camps.
They have become widows and orphans overnight. We are also aware that in some states, these terrorists rule over villages and are imposing tax on communities in the country. What could be more disturbing?
This is very shocking especially when we have a government in place. Look, we know that capacity of our soldiers but the state of security in the country is most disturbing and it requires urgent action. My concern is that the Federal Government is deceiving us. Have they forgotten that they informed us three years ago that Boko Haram has been decimated?
Three years down the road, the story is the same if not worse. Look at so-called bandits rampaging the country despite the various military operations. This is highly disturbing.
The war on corruption seems to have lost steam. What do you think of this?
They are just making noise about corruption. Even the international community is aware of that. Nigeria is 149 on the global corruption perception index carried out by the Transparency International, despite the whole brouhaha and media trial in 2020.
You begin to wonder about the impact of the anti-corruption war. To me, it is just a ruse. The whole talk about war on corruption is to persecute political opponents.
Remember that the then Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, once told politicians to ‘join APC, you’re your sins or crimes are forgiven’. That is why governors are defecting now and then, because they are afraid of prosecution after leaving office.
Have you forgotten that shortly before the inauguration of the Senate, a governor who had a N25billion fraud case pending against him had the case dropped the moment he dropped his ambition to become Senate President. Is that what you call anti-corruption war?
Look at the way corruption cases are being thrown out of courts by judges? The whole thing is a charade and media trial.
But the report of the forensic audit has just been submitted and a can of worms has been opened?
I have always said that NDDC is a cesspool of corruption. It is a bundle of failure. Right from the beginning and it has derailed from the dreams of its founding fathers.
Many parts of Niger Delta today are impassableno road, no drinking water and the ecology of the place are deplorable. Sadly, this is the eagle that lay the golden egg but contractors handling the projects have messed it up.
I saw the report of the committee last Thursday, stating that about N6 trillion was approved for the commission in the last 19 years, and that the Federal Government will soon commence criminal investigation into about over 13,777 compromised projects.
It was also revealed that NDDC operates 362 bank accounts without proper reconciliation. That goes to support my point. Corruption is endemic under this government.
Remember the other day, even the Minister of Transport said that stealing is going on quietly under this government. We have stated our position on this.