- Akpabio alone cannot determine his successor
Chief Donald Etiebet, erstwhile minister of petroleum, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is one of the leading political lights in the country.
A major political force in his native Akwa Ibom State, Etiebet in this interview reviews recent developments in the country and posits that governors have become a danger to the democratic process. By Gbenga Oke
Do you share the opinion of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) that President Jonathan was insensitive to have made his declaration for a second term a day after 48 school children were killed in a bomb explosion in Yobe State?
Within the context of the security situation in the country which APC is referring to, the insurgency and all that, if the President does not declare, it means that he is giving up because of the insurgency. So we are happy that he has declared and we need to know that when there is war, life goes on and just like he said in his declaration that he is going to do everything possible and take immediate steps to curb, contain and eventually defeat the insurgency and to bring other things into place. We trust he will do that.
Why is your party insisting on pushing President Jonathan as a sole candidate for the election?
That is the prerogative of the party to decide on what it has to do or not. If you read the PDP constitution, it specifically says that it is the party that at the end of day will put up a candidate and campaign for that candidate to win the elections and that is what the Nigerian constitution also says. If the party therefore recognises the attributes of the sitting president, recognises the performance of the sitting president, recognises what he can do, the party has the right to say for your second term, there is not going to be competition. That is the position the party has taken and that is the position of different organs of the party right from the Governors Forum, to the caucus, Board of Trustees and finally the National Working Committee of the party. This decision was reached because the party believes that he is competent enough, that he has performed enough and that he has qualities enough that he can use in selling his candidature.
Given the mutterings in the party, especially over the insistence of governors and federal legislators getting automatic tickets, is your party not in trouble ahead of the election?
You will remember that before Alhaji Mua’zu came in as the national chairman of the party, there were factions within the PDP, we existed in groups of different opinions and that was not good for the party. When Adamu Mua’zu became the national chairman he promised to bring everybody back to the mainstream of the party, he promised a level playing field for all party members to have opportunity to aspire to whatever they will like to contest for.
He promised that all party leaders who had been standing by the side or who had left the party that he would do everything to bring them back to the family for which PDP is known for and immediately he started doing that and in appreciation he was given an accolade called, “the game changer”.
So the party started coming together again with the hope that this level playing field will be put in place for everyone to compete in an atmosphere of internal democracy, but suddenly, the outgoing governors came out and tried to sell themselves to the party that they were the only ones who could win elections in their different states and also win election for the presidency. That is the problem today and that problem is in every state where there are outgoing governors and the outgoing governors in addition to that turned around and said they want to pick their own successors and also to be given an automatic ticket to go to the Senate.
But it seems the outgoing governors are holding the party by the jugular and everything we elders say to the party seems to be falling on deaf ears and I keep repeating, that is the problem. This problem is all over the PDP controlled states especially the South-south, the bedrock of the president’s support base and that should not be allowed to happen because if there is disparity, there is dissension, disagreement and disharmony between the outgoing governors and the other elders who want a level playing field, then that will go on to affect the fortunes of the party in the general elections.
The unfortunate thing is if this is happening in the zone that is supposed to give maximum 100 percent votes to Mr. President is having all these issues, then there is cause for worry. I am using this opportunity to appeal to the leadership of the party to look very deeply into these problems of believing it is only the governors that can deliver their states to the party.
But this problem is not new as it was there during the Obasanjo administration. What does this overbearing influence of governors portend for the country?
Honestly, what it portends for the country is that the outgoing governors want to continue to hold their various states to ransom, they want to continue to rule their state from outside and this is not good for democracy and this is not good for the states because they tend to want to turn the states to their personal properties, turn their states into dynasties so that at every turn, it will be their system, at every turn, it will be their group that will select their successors, select their National Assembly members, therefore they will perpetually have a hold on the state, that is not good for democracy and the action must be stopped this year.
I was running for the presidency in 1999, Ekwueme and myself, were the front-runners, then suddenly they brought out Obasanjo from prison and made him the presidential candidate, he did not have the support of the party before he came out, it was after he came out that he started mobilizing people who were working for us but at the end, he became the president but without party support and it was in this case that he took Atiku Abubakar who was a party man to be his vice-president, it was Atiku who started mobilizing the governors and in order to have a hold on the party in preparation for second term, he and Atiku worked together to mobilize the governors and that was how party structures were given to the governors in their various states. I personally fought the party in my state for two years that it cannot happen and when the structures was eventually given to Victor Attah, then I left the party and it was only when Obasanjo was going that I came back into the party by 2006.
Also, when Victor Attah wanted to impose his son in law on the party, I kicked against it and took all measures to stop him and that was how Godswill Akpabio came about and from then on, the governors started with the Governors Forum and they took steps and because they have voting rights at the National Executive Committee of the party and since they control the party in the states, they always have a chunk of the voting rights at NEC and as a result, we cannot change some of the actions they brought about.
So this is the war that is waging right now and we hope that the national leadership of the party would see the danger of wanting the outgoing governors to have their succession plans because this will eventually make them turn their states to their dynasties and themselves into monarchs. They will all move to the Senate and having a lot of resources, they will go there and make laws that will make them even be the ones to pick presidential candidates. So the party should see this danger ahead.
What is your reaction to the defection of Speaker Tambuwal to the APC?
Tambuwal has not been a faithful member of the party, I can tell you that. He is my friend and we were together in the ANPP with his governor, Wammako, we all wrestled and got the control of the state from the former Governor, Bafarawa, so I know all about them. Right from the beginning, he showed tendencies of not obeying the party. You know that in this country, we still have to equalize the administration to reflect the difference ethnic and zonal interests. The speaker of the House of Representatives was zoned to South-West but through some machinations in the House, Tambuwal and Ihedioha emerged which was not pleasing to the South-west and it was not pleasing to Obasanjo himself who at that time was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees and I can tell you that if Obasanjo is annoyed and has not been working for the party as he should have done, it is because the Southwest is not represented in the top six positions in this country, the President, the vice-president, Senate President, the Speaker and the national chairman of the party. So, if you look at his actions right from time, from all intents and purposes, his actions do not make him a party man because he has been working against the interest of the PDP in the House, so if he has not been a good party, you just have to go out but when you go out, you don’t go out with the booty and that is the problem. He should be democratic enough to know that he became the speaker on the platform of PDP and if he wanted to leave, he should also leave the speakership.
The constitution says when there is a division in a party, then you can leave, but there is no division in the PDP, not even in Sokoto. Even if there was a division in Sokoto PDP, there is no division at the national level of the party.
So he cannot eat his cake and have it same time, so I would have expected that now that his associates have picked up a presidential form for him, he should have just said thank you PDP, I am now in APC and therefore, I will vacate my position.
Why are many elders of the PDP in Akwa Ibom State still against the congresses that were held?
Honestly, I cannot hide my feelings and I have already expressed that at many fora. Immediately after the November 1 date, I told everyone that there was no congress in Akwa-Ibom State according to the guidelines of the party. The party has guidelines and issued guidelines as to how to conduct congress on an A4 basis, this did not take place in any ward. If the congress took place anywhere, that is the governor’s ward which he showed to everyone.
The electoral committee that was sent to the state did not do any good to the party, in fact when they came, and made a statement that they didn’t come to conduct a congress but to monitor the congress. So I asked, if you are monitoring, who is conducting? Many elders tried to see him, (chairman of panel) he refused seeing them and he distributed materials and we asked to see the materials, he refused. When they opened the materials, they were all photocopies and before you realize it, the reports were already in Abuja of what he did. I am telling you on my honour that there was no congress in Akwa-Ibom State and with all our complaints to the national leadership of the party, they will not attempt to use the results produced by Ibrahim Abdul-Aziz.
I mean at my age, 70 years, why do I want to come and tell a lie that there was a congress when there was no congress.
Zoning of governorship in Akwa-Ibom
After the national chairman of the party had stated that there will be a level playing ground for all the aspirants, they turned around and issued a statement that they have zoned the governorship to one senatorial district. Does it mean it is only in one senatorial zone that we can have a candidate that can win elections for PDP in Akwa-Ibom State? Or are they talking about fairness and equity? Why did they not also say that the senatorial slot for Ikot Ekpene should go to Abak federal constituency which is what is due? Abak has never produced a senator in Ikot-Ekpene district and the governor’s federal constituency has produced a senator including a member of his own family. Abak has not produced and everybody is saying this time, the senatorial seat belongs to Abak federal constituency. But he says no, it has to come from Ikot-Ekpene federal constituency. Where is the justice that he is preaching? Where is the equity that he is preaching? Is what is good for the goose not good for the gander? These are the questions we the elders are asking that these things are not done in good faith and that the national leadership of the party should come to our rescue to make sure that proper action is taken to forestall peace.