Chief Ishola Filani, a lawyer, is chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party Caretaker Committee for the South-west, which was set up in February following the dissolution of the zonal executive by the party. He also heads efforts to reconcile and reunite members of PDP in the South-west. Filani takes a hopeful and positive view of the reconciliation attempt, in this interview with Vincent Obia. Excerpts:
Are you making progress in the talks to reconcile the South-west chapters of PDP with the various committees you recently set up?
We have made some progress. They have gone round and they have been able to identify the problems. They have tried to find out the number of factions or groups in every state and what their grouses are and how to sort out these issues within the party. By and large, we discovered that there were some establishments that were responsible for the problems. Although, they have not come out with their reports, we discovered that some problems arising from the primaries of 2007 and 2011 involving some of the former governors are majorly responsible for the crisis.
Again, there are some leadership problems, even in states where we have never had governors. But, as is our principle, you don’t blame anybody for anything. What we are interested in is to ensure that whoever is aggrieved is encouraged to make up. I’m happy that all these things have not broken us apart. I will say we have made a lot of progress in the resolution of the problems.
To what extent have you been able to make up with the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and his associates, who many tend to see as the most aggrieved group in the party at present?
It’s very unfortunate that people had to leave their offices because of what the courts considered to be inappropriate in their elections. That was what happened in the case of the former national secretary, former vice chairman, South-west, and former national auditor. Sincerely speaking, it was a court order. Some aggrieved people went to court and the court gave a judgement as far back as April last year. The judgement was never obeyed. But when it came to a situation where a contempt charge was being put up against the NWC and the national chairman, they sought legal advice and the advice was for them to obey the order of the court. Of course, the order of court was that those people should leave office because of irregularities in the congress that elected them. Notwithstanding, we are still one people in the same political party. And like everybody had the right, the national secretary, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, went to court to seek a stay of execution, but the stay was refused.
Have you tried to reach out to Obasanjo since you came on board?
We have tried to extend a hand of fellowship to our brothers who, naturally, should be demoralised by the situation. When the order of court was obey, the media believed that Obasanjo’s men were mostly affected. It was as if the whole thing was done intentionally to fight Obasanjo and his men. Immediately we were appointed, I went to Obasanjo to tell him that the NWC and the national chairman were merely obeying a court order. When our committee was inaugurated, after the first meeting in Ibadan, I also went to him with all our men. Whoever is a Yoruba man and does not accept Obasanjo as a father is just being unrealistic. He is one man that all of us respect. He is one man in recent political history of Nigeria that has achieved more than any Yoruba man, indeed, any Nigerian. We know the value of Chief Obasanjo, we appreciate all his effort to ensure the growth of Nigeria.
Are Obasanjo’s supporters really accommodated in the reconciliation committees?
As for Obasanjo’s aides and supporters, when we were setting up these committees, we put many of them in positions as chairmen and members. Generally, we are prepared to work with them. We are promoting reconciliation by involving them and making them feel we are still one and the same people. We have tried to ensure that they also have roles to play in the affairs of PDP in the South-west. So we are integrating and ensuring that nobody is left behind. We are ensuring that there is unity so that we can lay a solid foundation for the party in the zone, which is the mandate given to us. Our mandate is to reconcile, rebuild, and lay a solid foundation that can make us win elections in the South-west, particularly, the governorship elections coming up in Ekiti and Osun states in 2014. The only way we can do this is to involve everybody in an inclusive committee. All of us are important and we do not want to leave anybody behind.
In a nutshell, our relationship with Obasanjo and his supporters is cordial. Yes, there are still minor issues, but we believe by the time those we sent out on the reconciliation exercise bring back their report, whatever is remaining we would know how to tackle them.
Talking about the court order that caused the removal of the national secretary and the other national officers of PDP, why did it take PDP nearly one year to obey an order made by a competent court of law? And don’t you find it curious that the decision to obey the said order came at a time of apparently strained relations between President Goodluck Jonathan and Obasanjo?
In the first instance, I do not see a strained relationship between President Jonathan and Obasanjo. I think there is no particular evidence to that effect, except you want to give me instances that show that there is a strained relationship between the two of them either from the actions and speeches of the president or from the actions and speeches of the former president. As far as I am concerned, we would be starting from a very wrong premise if we base our argument on the fact that there is a strained relationship between Chief Obasanjo and President Jonathan.
One instance of the strained relations was the speech by Obasanjo at the recent birthday ceremony of his former minister, Oby Ezekwesili, stating clearly that rather than coming from behind to probe his ministers, he should be the one to be probed by the Jonathan government, if they can.
That was only yesterday (April 28) and it has no relationship with the sack of the NWC members and dissolution of the PDP South-west executive.
On the question of obedience to the court order, in orders issued by the courts, any of the parties may decide, for some political reasons, not to obey the order. But when a contempt charge is being waved at you, you have no choice than to obey. You may delay obedience to an order because you think you can find a political solution rather than the legal solution that the order naturally portrays. But if and when you have exhausted all the political solutions that you think can make the order of the court not necessary, then you have no alternative than to obey the court order.
Isn’t it a bad statement for democracy that PDP, the ruling party in a democracy, seems to pick and choose which court orders to obey and when to obey them?
Even courts advise parties to settle issues out of court. If the chairman or members of the NWC believe that obeying an order may cause more problems for the party and they now decide to find a political solution, such political solution that may even render obedience to the order unnecessary, I think it is in order. What would be their reason for not obeying a court order other than trying to find an out-of-court solution?
Going by the reconciliation exercise you have embarked on, is there a likelihood of the return of the Obasanjo supporters, like Oyinlola, Bode Mustapha, and Segun Oni, to their positions?
The situation has moved from being political to a legal issue. Recall that Oyinlola went to court to ask for a stay of execution, which was refused by the court. All these things are stalling attempts to find a political solution to the matter. If a stay was refused, how do we now turn round and say they should come back, until the matters in court are exhausted? The issues have become strictly legal now.
But you said PDP often explores political solutions that can render a court order unnecessary. Don’t you think returning the Obasanjo men to their positions is a good political solution worthy of exploration?
Things are becoming very complicated. Specific orders have been made. But that does not rule out the possibility of finding a political solution to the issues. There is no problem that cannot be solved politically. But that would be outside my realm because, first, I am not one of the people directly involved. My involvement is to the extent that I was appointed to fill a gap. All the issues now are within the courts and the NWC. But efforts are still being made to find political solutions. However, I am not in a position to make any specific or direct statement on this. The body of governors, the Board of Trustees, the party itself are all coming in. One of the reasons the national chairman went round the states recently is to find a solution to all these problems.
Against the backdrop of your professed readiness to win the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states next year, have you tried to find out what cost you those states, in particular, and the South-west, in general, during the previous elections?
In 2003, we were returned in five states in the South-west. It is only Lagos that we have not been able to win since 1999. In 2007, we again won these five states. But we lost three of these states to judicial pronouncements. That was not an evidence of our inability to win these states. When you go to court, there are technical reasons that guide the judge’s decision, which do not mean that the losing side is not popular. Notwithstanding, we took that as our fate. In 2011, there were no elections in these three states. There were elections in Lagos, Ogun, and Oyo. As usual, we lost in Lagos. In Oyo and Ogun, we lost the elections due to infighting – not because we were not popular in those states. In Ogun, for instance, if you put together the votes of PDP and PPN (Peoples Party of Nigeria), which Gbenga Daniel formed from PDP, PDP would have won comfortably. Ditto Oyo State, if you added the votes of PDP and Accord Party, PDP would have won.
That may just be an assumption because Rashidi Ladoja that left PDP to found Accord Party also hobnobbed with Action Congress of Nigeria…
No it is not an assumption because Ladoja’s last party before he formed AP was PDP. And, though, Daniel sponsored PPN, he remained in PDP.
But in 1991, we had a similar situation when Lateef Jakande, without leaving his party, supported Michael Otedola to defeat his own party. So Daniel could have stayed in PDP and supported any other party without forming a new party.
Let us not engage in this academic exercise.
What is your opinion on the report recently released by the Independent National Electoral Commission in which it rejected 12 of the 16 members of PDP’s NWC as improperly elected?
If I may ask, where is that report? Has anybody ever shown you that report?
Are you saying such a report does not exist?
What I am asking is simply, where is the report? Besides, does it make any sense to anybody that INEC is bringing a report on an election one year after it was conducted? What was it that delayed the report till this time? Any reasonable organisation that does not want to put its reputation in doubt would not indulge in that. For an organisation saddled with a responsibility as huge as managing the governance of the country through the conduct of election, it is commonsense that time should be of the essence in whatever they are doing. How could a group of people be in a place for more than one year and it is only now, when some of them are aggrieved, that they would run to INEC to do a report? How serious should anybody take that kind of report?
But PDP seems to recognise the existence of the INEC report by going to court to challenge its contents?
You can go to court to challenge what you don’t believe just to force out all the facts. It is all these irregularities that they use to vitiate elections. INEC should have come out with all these facts within hours or weeks of the election, or would not have conducted the election. The reason they came to monitor the election is to ensure that all the regulations are followed. When they are not being followed, you can say these are the conditions precedent to your conducting an election, until you satisfy all these conditions, we are not going to recognise your election. If INEC had said so and PDP continued with the election, then, it would have been at their own peril. They should have stopped the election. Even though they were not able to do that until after the election, immediately they discovered the alleged anomalies, they should have brought them out within 24 hours.
You tend to doubt the source of the report.
The reason we believe the purported report may not be INEC’s making is that we believe in the integrity of Professor Attahiru Jega. I think something is wrong somewhere. I do not think that the INEC that Jega heads would wait for over one year before bringing out irregularities in a convention that elected the national officers of the party as big as PDP. I would advise we wait for the outcome of the cases in court.
Why has PDP not won Lagos State since 1999, and how do you intend to realise what seems to be your latest catchphrase of capturing the state at the next general election?
We can capture Lagos. We really, really can capture Lagos. The problem PDP has in Lagos is the problem of leadership. I wouldn’t want to single out anybody; I would say there is some wrong with the entire leadership. One thing Lagos people do is to restrict the leadership to Lagos indigenes, as if the entire state is occupied by Lagos indigenes. And it is not so. Statics shows that only 33 percent of Lagosians are of Lagos origins. We have 67 percent which are Igbos, Hausas, other Yorubas, people from the South-south, etc. Because our people believe that this thing is ours, they have never expanded the party to other people.
There are reports that some people in the party do not even want PDP to control government in Lagos State because it would erode their leadership opportunities. Nobody is accusing anybody or quarrelling with anybody. Just get the facts and even if it means us prostrating and begging everybody, we would do so. Lagos State is a national arena, every Nigerian is there.
Sixty-seven percent of Lagosians are non-indigenes, yet they don’t play any major role in the party. PDP in Lagos has become a traditional party.
How can this situation be resolved?
If we can appeal to the leadership of the party in Lagos State to give more and better roles to non-indigenes, you would see that the political equation in the state will change. The grounds are there for PDP to win in Lagos State. Everybody is tired of the yoke of ACN. Individuals and corporate bodies, indigenes, non-indigenes, everybody is tired. Markets are being burnt everyday and when they want to repair the markets, who do they issue the C of Os and the stalls to? You and I know them: people in government. Houses are being demolished to make way for roads everywhere in the South-west. I am from Ekiti State and in Ado-Ekiti, you can still repair and widen the roads without destroying the houses of innocent people who you do not pay any compensation.
All over the South-west now, the ACN governments are borrowing money. Who are they going to leave these debts for? Go to Victoria Island and Ikoyi and look at their roads. Then go to Mushin, apart from the road that goes to Agege through Oshodi, go to Idi-Oro, Olorunshogo, Papa Ajao, etc, Go to Ikeja, inside Agege, what do you see, dilapidated roads. For how long shall we continue like this? Lagos has become a family property. The state has to be taken over.
How would you explain your recent removal as special adviser to the PDP national chairman?
I was the special adviser on mobilisation and contact to PDP National Chairman Bamanga Tukur. Quite honestly, I also read it in the newspapers like you did. I was told yesterday (April 28) by somebody in my office that I had a letter and immediately I thought that was the letter they would have written to us before the publication. I don’t know the cause, other than what I read in the newspapers. But Bamanga Tukur is one man I respect very much. He is very civilised, intelligent, and hard working. Any document you give to Tukur, however voluminous it is, he would start reading it immediately you give it to him and by the time you would meet him again and open a discussion on that document, you would discover that he has become even vaster on the contents of the document than you. He is an asset to PDP and Nigeria. He is a man we should emulate in terms his hard work and the integrity he brings to any position he occupies.
You have tried to catalogue a number of woes that you attribute to the ACN governments in the South-west, but is the PDP-led federal government showing good leadership at the national level?
Yes, in every area of governance we are showing responsibility. Jonathan really became president in 2011 after his election. But if you follow his programmes, there is none he has had cause to delay. For a long time, the country’s refineries were not working. I do not need to tell you how much he has done in privatising the refineries. In power, the railways, international trade, Nigeria is returning to the good old days. But these things would take time. That is why I support his coming back in 2015 so as to give him room to finish or pilot these projects to a reasonable extent.
The National Assembly has become stable since Jonathan became president. Before now, almost every year, it is either the senate president is removed or the speaker of the House of Representatives is removed. The judiciary is also more stable now. They are now in a position, through the National Judicial Commission, to regulate, supervise, and ensure the delivery of justice. The lawyers would attest to this. Erring judges are being suspended.
The fact that President Jonathan is not flamboyant does not mean he is not working.
But the Jonathan government has not been able to crack the Boko Haram problem.
Has America been able to crack the al-Qaeda or Taliban problem, despite killing Osama Bin Laden? Insecurity is a serious problem and it takes time to resolve. The federal government is also exploring the dialogue option with Boko Haram.
Don’t you see the formation of the PDP Governors Forum as a hasty decision on the part of the president?
There are 36 governors in Nigeria and PDP has 23. At any point in time, PDP will continue to dominate the Nigerian Governors Forum. We have been seeing the governors of ACN meeting and strategising. Nobody has ever questioned them. But now that PDP that has 23 governors has formed themselves into a formidable forum to be able to lend support to each other, people are questioning the move. We are within the Nigerian Governors Forum and there is nothing wrong in bringing ourselves together for the purpose of enhancing governance.
What is your opinion on the opposition merger plan?
Alliances have never succeeded in Nigeria. Even if they have called it a merger, the fact remains that it is an alliance. In 1959, the then NCNC went into alliance with NPC, but it didn’t work. Government was produced, but when you removed the votes of NCNC, NPC still had a comfortable majority in the house. Besides, the ministers appointed from NCNC were two but before the end of that government those two eventually joined NPC. The Action Group also went into an alliance with UMBC (United Middle Belt Congress), by about 1972, the alliance had fizzled out.
Don’t you think promoters of the All Progressives Congress might have learnt from those experiences?
Each of the parties in APC is just desirous of controlling the federal government. Besides, the parties in the alliance are regional parties – ACN controls the old Western Region, ANPP has been reduced to the North-east axis and Zamfara State, where PDP has majority in the House of Assembly, CPC has just one state – Nasarawa – yet majority of the members of the state House of Assembly are PDP members. Now the question is, how can they take away government from PDP? What is on their table that they want to present to Nigerians? My opinion is that Bola Tinubu just wants to expand his horizon to see if he could get one or two states from other areas, because he knows as a matter of fact that come 2014 Ekiti and Osun will be taken over by PDP, and come 2015 all the other states, including Lagos, will be taken over by PDP.
In terms of philosophy, what do they have to offer? In Yoruba, we say whosoever would give another man clothe has to first look at what he or she is wearing. What is it that ACN, which is the main party in the opposition merger, is doing in the South-west that somebody from Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara or Akwa Ibom would say, oh, let them come and perform this kind of thing in my state? There is nothing for them to sell.