Senator Anietie Okon is a founding member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with Vanguard, he bares his mind on the crises rocking the PDP just as he maintained that members of the nPDP are out to intimidate President Goodluck Jonathan from running for a second term in office. Okon, who fingered former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the crisis also speaks on other sundry issues. Excerpts:
As a founding member of the PDP and former National Organizing Publicity Secretary of the party, what is your assessment of the crises rocking the party currently?
What we are seeing in the party today is the tension that has built up within the party because of its enormous internal combustion capacity. We are going through the normal throes and birth pains of a rebirth in the party which seems to challenge the comfort redoubt of some elements in the party.
It would have been business as usual for them to just tell Mr President that we don’t want you to do a second term but because the party is evolving and increasingly embracing the virtues of transparency in the conduct of its business, they are more or less miffed, outraged and frustrated by the direction the party is now taking towards dismantling the normal supremacy and prevalence and reach of strongholds whose modules could not fit into the new open and transparent manner of doing the party’s business.
The G7 governors and the Baraje faction of the nPDP have been saying that peace will return to the party only if President Jonathan reverses his decision to run for another term in office and the Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur is removed. What do you have to say to that?
The chairman is essentially a bridge they need to cross to get to the Jonathan shores and, therefore, their main aim is to hound, intimidate or otherwise creating a picture of despondent of the President vis-a-vis his second term interest.
So, I do not think in our caucus that Bamanga Tukur is anything other than a thorn in the chess game they are engaged in. The ultimate thing is to create an apparent build up of giving impression that there is resentment against President Jonathan running for his constitutional second term bid.
Some people have alleged that part of this quagmire going on within the PDP has been because President Jonathan has refused to declare his stand on 2015. As a national caucus member, do you totally agree with that?
I think President Jonathan is being disciplined about his approach to the issue of second term run for the office. He was elected on a mandate that demands of him to meet some of the basic expectations of Nigerians and I think the season for him to actually come and tell Nigerians that he is going to run has not come yet.
Sometime in 2014 will be a nice, proper and descent time for him to announce that because at that time, he will place before the people of the country his score-card, which is so far, encouraging and impressing and it will be left for the people to determine who continues in 2015 and I believe that as a ranking member of this party, constitutionally and conventionally, he faces no debarment from running and on the basis of performance, I do believe that his score-card allows him a credible rating to run.
But there are people arguing over his eligibility to run for another term in office…
(Cuts in) Those who talk about his eligibility appear to have mixed up the issues, which is quite unfortunate. Some come up with pedestrian interpretations of the constitution that a man sworn in twice cannot be sworn in the third time. I believe they have not examined the basic context interpretations on that. For example, some governors are being sworn in, they are dragged to Court, the Court negates their initial victory and along with it, whatever length of time they have done, unless the Court finds any provision within the law that allows them to make determination that it will be a continuation of the initial swearing-in.
There are also some instances like that of governor of KadunaState, who was sworn on the basis of demise of his predecessor. He would again stand for election, are we going to say because he has been sworn-in before, that he will not be sworn in again?
By extension, it is the same case we have in that of President Jonathan, his own is particularly peculiar because he was sworn-in as an acting President through the application of Doctrine of Necessity because of the situation the country found itself and so they propounded the doctrine.
There is no place in the Constitution of the country that covers that period as part of his prescribed tenure of a holder of office of President of Nigeria, the reason entirely encapsulated and defined a limit of that tenure, is defined by the same instrument that saw him into office and since the Constitution of the country left some gap, it was necessary to construct a legislation to allow Mr President complete the tenure of late President Yar’Adua.
So, the only interpretation you could give to the tenure covered by the legal endorsement thrown up through the Doctrine of Necessity, may be described as indirect necessity and it cannot be counted. So Mr President is properly, constitutionally eligible for another term in office and within the party, we do not envisage and going by party conventions that there will be anybody opposing him for nomination within the PDP. He still enjoys the right of running for another term in office.
Having said that, part of the deal for peace moves within the party is that Mr President must provide a level playing ground in case another aspirant springs up within the party. How do address that vis-a-vis his intentions?
There will be a preclusion because I don’t know where we will be drawing that example from. Is it the United States of America, whose constitution has formed a sort of template for our constitution or is it in the United Kingdom, where sometimes you have rancorous challenges. It is always the current Prime Minister that carries the party into an electoral battle.
Within ourselves and as far as we know, Mr President enjoys the right of first refusal but the party is bound to offer him its nomination and it will be in consonance with party practice in everywhere that you have democracy. I would challenge anybody to produce antecedents on that score.
Some sections of the country share this view that the administration of President Jonathan seems to be dividing the country along religious and ethnic lines. How do you react to that assertion?
That is absolutely preposterous and if I may ask, what is the basis for saying that it is his candidacy that is dividing the country? Why did the candidacy of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo not divide the country? Why did the candidacy of Shagari not divide the country? What has he particularly done wrong to divide the country? Postulations and statements
All those postulations and statements come from politicians who find their agenda being nipped in the bud. Why hasn’t the candidature of Buhari divided the country? Those who promote this kind of cause, people like Ben Nwabueze, have not proven and have not told us that there is instability anywhere in the country as a result of protest against the leadership of the country under Goodluck Jonathan.
It is essentially a self serving ploy because it fails miserably when you apply the principle of logic to it. And in reality, who are those claiming these things, on what basis is religion dividing the country?
Truly there are certain elements who say they want to Islamise Nigeria and their actions are no-thermal to the basic truths and principles of Islam.
I think that is political posturing and carries no intelligence particles in it. If it were possible, the security and intelligence services of this country would have dropped indications that the candidacy of Mr President is threatening to break this country.
In any case, what is the element of veracity in those claims? For those sources that claim his candidacy is dividing the country, they should be called in and asked some basic questions and they should give us reasons. Religious leader
So far so good, I have not seen any respectable religious leader either from the North or South that has come to say that the stand of their religion is that you must not run and if you run, we shall die or balkanize the country. I think it is all part of the campaigns meant to intimidate or hound the President out of his rights.
What of the assertions by the Baraje-led faction of the PDP that the President must jettison his ambition?
Baraje and his gang of travellers evaporated when they came up with very provocative demand that Mr President should not run. What gave them that impunity to think anything like that? They want some shadowy rings of people to determine who is going to be the candidate of the party and by some intrigues and back-broom driven agreement and understanding, that their various rackets and rings will produce and come and announce to this country that the candidate of the party is this or that fellow.
We have said that our position is very clear, they are frightened by the imminence of the freed economy and the transparent legacy the President is building at ensuring transparency in public life. Out of all the whole lot, the only man I can say his pronouncements have been quite sanctimonious is Governor Sule Lamido of JigawaState.
He was there at the beginning and he alone can really claim long run concern about the fate of the party. I don’t want to talk about the people who left the party and came back claiming abiding love for the party.
You earlier accused ex-President Obasanjo of causing disaffection within the party. What is the basis for your assertion?
I fingered ex-President Obasanjo and if you look at the dramatis personae on the other side, you can point to a number of his foot soldiers and the principal among whom is Olagunsoye Oyinlola and it is quite disappointing that Obasanjo, who rose from the wreckage of his prison status and achieving the same status like Mandela, it would have been better for him to rise to an elder-statesman.
At the same time, we understand his addiction to power and this now appears to be incurable. When you look at somebody of Obasanjo’s status as a former President of this country, who is also engaged in the internal civil war in his home state, for me there is a lot of grounds for disappointment. His penchant for instigating all manner of controversies, appears to be eroding whatever respect he may have earned as former military and democratically elected President of this country.
Look at the background of the ill-fated gambit, it reduced him completely and for us, it is quite disappointing and to see his foot-prints in the present crisis, again further calls to question his capacity to intervene without being accused of partiality and of partisanship in the whole event.
You call yourself a former President and you are reducing the aura that is attached to that office. We do not see that Obasanjo is above the party in putting forward himself as an habitat for peace in this present situation, we are convinced beyond imagination, that he is an instigator because we see his footprints all over the place and it is quite rural madness to think that he can turn around and dance after his shadow, beginning to pretend he is intervening on some basic neutrality.
He believes in this messianic delusion that he is the solution to all Nigeria’s problems and we believe it belittles the status of a former President to prank about on the political platform, after he has vowed that he is out of politics. What Obasanjo is doing is very unfortunate but I will implore Mr President to completely shun his offers and overtures to be a peace maker in this whole saga.
The sacking of some Ministers by President Jonathan has been politicized. Many claim the President sacked the Ministers, who are loyalists of the rebel governors. What is your take on that?
Running a government and holding public office has something to do with politics and I do not see the President politicking about re-tooling his cabinet. We arrived where we are through the mandate of the people and government has stated clearly they needed to re-tool to re-energize and meet the expectations of the people. Government of technocrats
I believe if you want to run a government of technocrats, get them and let those who made promises before the populace be in the position to tell that same populace what they are doing. I am not going to be apologetic about the changes in government, if we were running the type of government that you have in the United Kingdom, will any non-politician get into cabinet? You have to be elected and the process for election is to be on a party platform, so all the hue and cry about political undertone is misplaced.
I believe the President has started in good faith and he feels he needed to have some expertise in his government.
I don’t think he owes anybody any explanation. If they say it is political, yes government is about getting your political notches right.
Do you think various peace moves will eventually resolve the log-jam in the party?
What do you mean by resolution? We are going to get a surrender. There is no question about resolve if the demands are untenable.
Do you ask the President to abdicate or to forget his right to run for a mandate given to him which is still subsisting and will be renewed?