Prince Uche Secondus is the National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, the opposition leader bares his mind on plans by the party to merge with some parties to unseat the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2023, the alleged failures of the APC administration, and the urgent need for electoral reforms, among other issues. SOLOMON AYADO brings you the excerpts:
There is a view that the PDP under your leadership has been lethargic, not really playing opposition roles. Beyond the issue of press statements, it has not been able to mobilise Nigerians to against the failings of the ruling party. Have you made attempts to understudy the role of opposition parties in other climes and how they were able to take over power from the ruling party?
The PDP is the strongest opposition party in Nigeria. And you know, we don’t behave as if we’re on the street. We have men of high integrity in the leadership of the party. We do our opposition constructively; it must not be out of place and within the laws of our land. We cannot be seen on the street carrying weapons; maybe what is expected is that we become violent, no, no. We are very constructive, we are very strong and if you are in government, you know the feelings. Today (Tuesday) alone, the Minority Leader Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe gave a bombshell; he called for resignation of Buhari. So it’s not by press conference or issuing of statements, and of course, you know what happened last week. The entire country was grounded to a halt, not only in Abuja but across the states. When occasions demand, we will let the people know. But our plans and our strategies are in place. We are also aware of the other countries like Ghana, Kenya, even the United States have passed through what we are passing through in opposition and we’re doing better. It is those who are in government that are behaving like opposition because they are used to be in opposition. So, I believe that we will do everything within the laws of our land and we’re doing quite a lot, planning, strategic initiatives that are in place. We have the intellectual arm that is the PDI; people are walking silently. You are aware that in the last NEC meeting we also announced that we’re establishing a committee to review and assess what happened in 2019. All of these are towards putting our party in the right track, walking towards 2023 if all the electoral laws would be amended to conform to modern day technology where even people can stay in the confines of their homes to vote and their votes will count. So, all of that we are working towards.
Last week, we called the National Assembly to quickly take their first front agenda and let them make it a priority, about the electoral laws because all of these issues that are happening in our country today: insecurity, bad economy, corruption, have to do with those who are in government. So, that should be first and foremost thing that the National Assembly in this New Year should do. They should amend all our electoral laws, bring everybody together so that the people will have the right to vote not like that woman in Kogi, who voted and was burnt alive. So, we will keep this going on and that woman became the symbol of democracy in Nigeria. So, we are on the right track and we want to assure you that we can do it and we can do it better.
The Buhari Media Organisation is making mockery of your party that for 16yrs in office, you could not complete your party headquarters…?
It is entirely business of PDP to determine when we are ready to pack into our new secretariat. We have secretariats, we have offices and as you know, we have one at Wadata and another one at Legacy. That one is still under construction; so, be patient till we pack over there, but we have very good offices.
What is your party doing about one of our colleagues, Agba Jalingo who has been in detention, and the matter is traced to one of your governors in Cross River State?
You are aware that the Governor of Cross River met with the President yesterday (Tuesday) and on his way out, he was interviewed by your colleagues and he had to explain what happened; how water entered melon. So, I refer you to the statement of the governor because we are all concerned and if it is true, a proper investigation will be carried out and I believe that what the governor said, you are aware of it. So, you don’t need me to say much about that until a final decision is taken but we are concerned generally because this is a country that believes and of course, it was the PDP that came out with the Freedom of Speech Act and we believe in it. Our President, Goodluck Jonathan signed it and so we believe in free press and free speech.
A lot of PDP stakeholders, especially the governors have shown disloyalty publicly to the party; they have no allegiance to the party and your administration has lost the capacity to call them to order. What is happening?
You see, democracy is fast deteriorating in our country because of the style of the Federal Government. As you can see, it is do-or-die, or winner-takes-all; people are not patient, hunger in the land, insecurity and that may be what is contributing to what you are witnessing today, but our position is very clear.
Even in those states not controlled by PDP, you still know that we have critical stakeholders in those states who are firmly on ground. And you know also that in 2019 election, we won in those states that are not ours and that shows clearly that we are moving forward with democratic ideals and principles but you never can tell. There may be one or two places where we may have what you just described but we believe that it will come on and off until we arrive at the right destination not just for our party but for our nation also.
Where is the party going to zone 2023 presidential ticket?
Today, we are more concerned about rebuilding our party. When the time comes for the nomination of a Presidential candidate, the party will come out with its position. You know the Constitution allows everybody, whether you are from north, whether you are from south to contest. No one is going to stop anyone from contesting even when it is zoned to a particular region and I am talking about in the past. So, every person still has a right to contest; if you are qualified and desire to run for the office of the President, you are free to contest.
There is the rumour that your party is planning to change its name?
I am quite glad that you know it is a rumour and I would regard it as gossip. And everybody, every free thinker is allowed to think but we never considered name change. It has never happened and no suggestion but like you said, it is rumour and anybody can throw the rumour to his face. It is not being considered by our party at all, it is not part and parcel of our agenda for now.
Is your party considering a merger?
Why not; when the time comes, if there is need for people to pull their resources and pull their strength together, it can happen, it is possible. Our focus is in making sure that our party is strong and viral and ready to win election.
Your party is divided especially in the House of Representatives where the issue of Minority leader has split members of your party. Can your party put its house in order as it approaches 2023 elections?
I want to assure you that our Distinguished Senators are working hard in the Senate. Yes, we have issues in the House of Representatives and we are working hard to resolve them. And we believe that any member of PDP, not necessarily those in leadership, is free to voice out what is going on in government and so that is why we are working hard to reconcile those in the House of Representatives but Senate is in order and the Senate is moving forward.
There is crisis in APC. What is your party doing to take advantage of the crisis and clinch the governorship seat in Edo State as the election is coming closer?
We are working very hard in Edo State. We met with the leadership and stakeholders of Edo State last week and I believe that our people are coming together, very strong and you are aware that the state belonged to PDP before the APC took it from us. So, we are working hard to regain Edo State.
Your party spent 16 years in office and the only thing it could put in place regarding electoral reforms is the card reader. Many believe that if your party had been honest enough and not benefiting from electoral fraud, there could have been a more solid reform which could have made it difficult for individuals or groups or parties to rig elections?
If you recall when PDP came into power in 1999, I want you people to rewind a little bit because we must know where we were coming from and where we are now. It took 16years for us to carry out electoral reforms which gave us what we have and which was not implemented. First, the laws were analogue. Second, there have been several reforms within the 16years and it became like rhetoric and you know part of it, part of our challenge was that the Constitution of our country must also conform with the desire of the change and reform which we proposed before we handed over in 2015. It was the PDP that equipped the INEC with all the data and with all the machines and also the transmission of result sheets electronically but when this government came, they discarded all the structures that were put in place even though the electoral law didn’t quite capture it because of the impediment of our constitution because a major aspect was that we need also to change a major aspect of our constitution as regards the electoral reforms and this requires everybody.
When we called a few days ago for electoral reforms we are not calling only the APC, the PDP everybody in our nation because we must move forward. Now, 16years was not a joke. I suppose you should appreciate that PDP has done very well bringing us to where we are today and it is left for those in government now to quickly, all the structures are there, in fact, the last amendment that was done in the 8th Assembly, President Buhari refused to assent to that Bill to become law. Election results can be transmitted from the voting point to the centre. The President refused to sign it, so why are you putting the blame on PDP? The 8th Assembly amended the electoral laws so you don’t put that blame on PDP; put it squarely on the door step of APC government. They are now in government for 5years running; so put that on their door step. And we believe that if we don’t at all do the needful and reform, we cannot move forward as a nation, we can’t. So, we don’t want to join issue with APC; we don’t want to join issue with anybody but what we want is electoral reform that will be good for everybody. People should have the right to come and vote and not be killed and that is the right of all citizens.
A sitting governor of your party was publicly campaigning for a governor of another party in another state. Why could the party not call him to order?
Being a governor does not deprive an individual from airing his own individual view. I am quite sure you understand that. He hasn’t come out openly to say, ooh, this is PDP position. If he has aired up his views in terms of Edo, I am quite sure that people can in a democratic world and free speech, people can have the right to do so, but that is not the position of PDP. And it is time for our country to move from a situation of sentiments and emotions and all what not. We don’t listen to gossips, some may be correct, some may not be correct, but let’s drop this idea of rumour or not rumour and you link it to PDP. Our position is very clear, we are going to contest for the election in Edo; we are asking for reform and that is the position of the national leadership of our party.
The PDP under your watch is being perceived as being weak in terms of discipline. Some time ago, governor of Rivers State accused his counterpart in Bayelsa of anti-party activity, insisting that you are aware and you did nothing. Again, there is this view that whatever happens in Wadata was planned in Rivers State and that your leadership is tied to the apron string of Governor Nyesom Wike who tells you what to do. How do you respond to these issues?
Anything that has to do with our governors and the altercation between the governments of Rivers State and Bayelsa State, I think we should just, because it has made headline news and we don’t want to go into it. I don’t think that is going to help to build a party. Those who want to destroy would want to dig up emotions. So, I believe that enough is enough. What we do behind the scene is not to the knowledge of the press and we are not ready to disclose that because we have our strategies. You may think that is the weakness, but that’s the sign of strength. The way you think it may not be the way we think and I have been in this party long before Governor Wike became governor. I’ve been the chairman for River State for eight years, the national organising secretary for four years, deputy national chairman and acting national chairman, all that time where did I take the directive from when I was Acting Chairman? Is it now that I am a full-fledged chairman that I have to take the directives? That is rumour and blackmail and we’re not ready to pay any attention to such. In politics, normally in Nigeria, people gossip and then carry rumour from one place to the other which gets to Media executives like you but you rightly ask your question. I don’t know where you’re coming from, you can go do your investigative journalism, whether any of the things you have said here is the truth and you also know the truth and the truth will prevail at the end of the day.
A gale of defection has hit Imo State and many of your members are decamping to APC. Are you not worried about this development?
On defection, of course, it is a Nigerian syndrome. It is part of the deteriorating situation of governance given by the APC, starving the people and causing insecurity that is what we are experiencing today not only in Imo but in some other states too. And our position has been properly articulated by the press conference of the National Publicity Secretary and that’s our position.