The Peoples Democratic Partyâ€™s National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, in this interview with THISDAY says that the Peoples Democratic Partyâ€™s (PDP) going into a coalition with other political groups is not about producing the next president to rule Nigeria but to provide a platform for a credible, reliable, and capable Nigerian to take over the reins of leadership and governance -from President Muhammadu Buhari, who has proved largely ineffective – and thus restore the country to a state of oneness, peace and prosperity. He spoke with Olawale Olaleye and Bayo Akinloye Excerpts:
Since the news of the MoU reportedly signed by the PDP and a host of other parties, there have been conflicting figures on the actual number of parties involved in the alliance. How many parties are involved and do you think the union of the parties is auspicious for the country?
We are 39 political groups in all. The coming together is very auspicious. What has been going on in the country in the last three years makes our coming together very beneficial. Nobody, who loves democracy and loves Nigeria, is happy with the situation. There is really no better time for this coming together than now.
Is the alliance influenced solely by the desire to field a common presidential candidate and what modalities are being employed for such a flag bearer to emerge?
What influenced the alliance is essentially to save our democracy and to rescue the country. Every other influencing factor is secondary. The primary motive is to save Nigeria. All members of the coalition agreed to forge ahead along this line. Picking a common presidential candidate couldnâ€™t have been the main motive otherwise you can get an endorsement from a party or group without going into a coalition. In the alliance, we recognize that everybody has an area of strength and we agreed to harness each oneâ€™s potential to achieve result.
It is expected thereâ€™ll be some hiccups in forming and sustaining the alliance. What challenges do you envisage as the 2019 presidential election approaches?
This coalition did not just happen. It came as a result of series of talks and negotiations during which time various issues came up and were addressed. Certainly there would be some challenges but itâ€™s not going to be much to derail the objective of the coalition. What is important is that we are all resolved in our determination to deepen our democracy by rescuing power from the ruling APC through the coalition.
One thing that cannot be ignored in all of this is time. Is there enough time to sufficiently entertain all the interests especially that this is a power game?
I totally agree with you that time is of essence but it was taken into consideration during the incubatory period of the coalition.
Is this alliance mainly about power grabbing or delivering sound leadership and good governance? This question is crucial because recent development indices have shown that Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world and therefore, Nigerians would be making a grave mistake if this adventure is about power again, following in the footsteps of the 2015 experience?
No. I told you earlier the motivating factor in the formation of the coalition. Nigerians across the country, cutting across class, religion and tribe just felt justifiably concerned about where APC administration is taking the country and we need to halt them before they crash our democracy. PDP has ample reasons why it must fight to keep this democracy. We have a very high stake in this project. Our history as a party is full of struggles to restore democracy. Having restored and nurtured it for 16 years, we cannot just sit and watch some unconcerned power grabbers destroy all we have built over the years using their own narrow view of democracy.
Apart from the fact that the nation is sharply divided today, there is an existential challenge, which is security â€“ terrorism and herdsmen menace. What will your party do to contain this challenge if voted into power?
Recall that this security challenge began when we were in power. Some even believed that it was started to mount pressure on PDP to lose. It was then thought that a general should be the man to squarely tackle the security challenges. For that APC anchored their campaign on three points: security, economy and corruption. Three years down the line, your guess is as good as mind what they have done. They have taken us into economic recession; corruption has worsened according to international corruption watchers and itâ€™s the same with the security situation â€“ worsening and spreading from the north-east to other parts of the country. Our party will do a lot differently. We will first reconcile Nigerians with one another and bring about decorum through people-oriented programmes. You cannot mobilize the populace and expect them to galvanize the economy if your policies are anti-people. Remember the saying that a people that are denied justice may not be interested in peace. PDP administration will first restore hope and oneness in the land and other things will follow.
How does the coalition intend to address the issue of health care delivery? Cases of cancer have risen, recording high mortality. How is your party â€“ if elected into power â€“ going to tackle this major health challenge?
You will be amazed to know the amount of damage done to the various sectors of the national life by this government. Recall that even the First Lady once cried out because of lack of Panadol in the State House clinic. One had thought that the health challenge of the president last year would push him to give attention to that sector. PDP is coming up with a pragmatic policy on health to addressing the rising current challenges.
Another problem is education. The UNESCO puts the threshold of budgetary allocation to education at 26 per cent. Unfortunately, Nigeria in the last few years has not gone beyond seven per cent. Are you concerned and what does your coalition hope to do differently?
We are all concerned. PDP is bitter watching the situation in the area of education. The laudable programme initiated by PDP administration to address the poor education in the north through the almajiri programme was abandoned by this government and it never introduced an alternative. PDP will give education all the attention because the future growth is dependent on it.
Whatâ€™s your view about Nigeriaâ€™s rising debt profile under President Muhammadu Buhari. Do you think there are justifiable grounds for the borrowings?
Economic experts will always tell you that there is nothing wrong in borrowing. But the problem is borrowing to do what? Borrowing to pay salaries or what? APC administration has no reason to borrow because they do not have any concrete programmes to use the funds for. From what we have seen in the last three years, they lack the capacity to come up with solid economic ideas.
Allegations abound of alleged sleaze going on in the NNPC, especially concerning the issue of subsidy brought in under the cover of under-recovery. Why is the opposition silent about this or do you agree that the argument on cost recovery is genuine?
We are not silent. We are privy to the enormous corruption going on in the NNPC, maritime, sea port, and other agencies of government â€“ and how activities in these bodies have been hijacked by some powerful interests. We are compiling them and soon we will expose them including those pretending to be incorruptible. We will soon let Nigerians know what they have been doing while pretending to be fighting corruption.
There are allegations about direct violations of certain provisions of the constitution by the president, particularly in the area of funds released without legislative appropriation. Do you think the National Assembly has acted responsibly here by glossing over the issue?
In the circumstance they found themselves, the National Assembly members are doing their best. The executive ensured that the legislature does not operate freely. Since June 9, 2015 when the leadership of National Assembly emerged it has been harassment and intimidation all engineered to cow them. Because they are not democrats, they make sure that other arms of government â€“ the legislature and Judiciary â€“ are harassed to frighten them out of their statutory function of checking the executive. This president has committed so many impeachable offences but the legislature is embattled to do the needful. But by February, 2019, Nigerian voters will do it with their PVC.
Although the PDP had reacted to a Supreme Court ruling penultimate Friday about a case of alleged false asset declaration against the Senate President Bukola Saraki, what is the import of the judgment?
The significance of the Supreme Court freeing the Senate President is that no unjust action lasts forever. It shows that despite intimidation and blackmail Nigeriaâ€™s judiciary has proved to be the last hope of the person being deprived of justice. It shows the beauty of democracy and of the rule of law. The huge import is that no matter how long a dictator holds sway, democracy laughs last.
What is your assessment of the government in the area of respect for the rule of law, bearing in mind the cases of Dasuki and El-Zakzaky?
By all standards this administration has performed poorly in the area of rule of law. But we are not surprised. You canâ€™t give what you donâ€™t have. Even though President Buhari claimed to be a converted democrat, we have seen from the activities of the last three years â€“ especially in the area of rule of law â€“ that a leopard never changes its colour. The rating of the government in the eyes of the international community is so poor in this area because of the handling of the Dasuki and El-Zakzaky matter. But typical of a dictator, they are irresponsive to the views of the public.
It is said there is no credible alternative to President Buhari in 2019. What alternative is your coalition going to present?
Nothing can be more irritating and insulting than that kind of argument. A country of over 180 million people: you are saying that the best is a person whose three years of terrible governance has dragged the country to dyke. Those saying that are selfish persons around the president, who have held him hostage by telling him what they want him to hear not what the situations really are. The alternatives abound from every corner. If every registered political party in the country were to pick a presidential candidate, any of them would do better than the current APC president. In PDP we have a reservoir of presidential aspirants â€“ the worse among them will do better than what APC has been offering Nigerians since 2015.
As an active player, what is your reading of the forthcoming 2019 elections?
Itâ€™s going to be a watershed. Itâ€™s going to determine the future of this country. Ordinarily, given what PDP did in 2015, relinquishing power willingly after losing election and ensuring a smooth transition for the opposition, 2019 would have been easy using existing precedent but not with dictator on the throne. But Nigerians are resolute and must ensure that their will â€“ not somebodyâ€™s will â€“ prevail. What we are doing in the opposition is just to harness their will and ensure that it prevail.
This coalition did not just happen. It came as a result of series of talks and negotiations during which time various issues came up and were addressed. Certainly there would be some challenges but itâ€™s not going to be much to derail the objective of the coalition. What is important is that we are all resolved in our determination to deepen our democracy by rescuing power from the ruling APC through the coalition