Nseobong Okon-Ekong dialogues with Chief Willy Akinlude, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State on how the party is repositioning itself for the challenges ahead
In the 2019 general election in Lagos, your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not perform as well as it did in 2015, that was not just noticeable in the reduced number of votes, but even in the vibrancy of the candidate. Some people think the governorship ticket should not have been given to Jimi Agbaje again, that it should have been somebody else. What do you think?
What really happened about that is that there has been a particular person that has been in charge of this party for the past 21 years and he continues to hold that position as the leader, but people are not happy with the situation because each and every time, he will call us to come to a meeting in his house. People are not happy. We are getting more people. People are actually coming, but eventually, people are not happy then there was this intra-party squabbles here and there, within ourselves; so we are having factions, here and there. That is what really happened, then the national executive of our party were not helping matters, but now they have listened to the majority. They felt that this person is a big man and he has to control the party, but this time around, we have returning to drawing board to reorganize the PDP in Lagos. That is just the situation for now.
Right now, there is no vocal opposition in Lagos; even after the 2015 election, we had statements coming out from the PDP, but at this time, it is the other faction-those who left the All Progressives Congress, they have not gone to the PDP, they are still in APC, they are the ones criticizing the ruling party, why has the PDP abdicated that role?
We have gone to the drawing board to get another chairman for the party. We are going to bounce back and confront the ruling the party because things are not going on well in Lagos. I agree with you that the PDP has not been playing its part as opposition party in Lagos, sooner or later, we are going to work very hard.
You have personally transformed in politics, would you still call yourself a progressive?
I am a progressive because I do things as a progressive
Then why are in the PDP, progressives are supposed to be in the APC
That is the tag they give themselves, that they are progressives. We have too many conservatives in the APC quite all right. We have conservatives there. They are just saying they are progressives because they feel they can talk. They make noise, but they conservatives. We have progressives in the PDP. In fact, we have more progressives in the PDP than APC. Look at what Governor Seyi Makinde is doing in Oyo State. That is a PDP governor, who in words and deeds outshines the best of the progressive governors.
Do you think Nigerian politics will return to what we had in the Second Republic when you could recognize politicians by their manifesto. You are saying there are progressives in the PDP and there are conservatives in APC, what really is the problem, why can’t Nigerian politicians be known by the ideology of their political parties?
If you see what is happening all over the world, in Nigeria, we just got our GSM, under 20 years ago, whereas in some West African countries, they have been using GSM for the past 30 or 40 years. May be things will come late in Nigeria, but we are learning fast. We can still do all those things here. Some people are mounting a lot of pressure and we are coming out of the woods.
Why do you think ethnicity and religion are still major influencers in Nigerian politics?
Because in politics, ethnicity and religion is very important that is why. Some people do not want to leave their area, they are holding on, saying this is my person, I want to support him, but things are changing right now. If you see the last election, for example you see some people, in the case of Atiku Abubakar, in particular, the southerners, were supporting Atiku very well. In the north now, the thinking has changed. I believe things will change. Those who are banking on religion will be surprised. It will not work again. If you look at the Middle Belt right now, though they are predominantly Christians, things are changing there. Come to Kaduna and other areas now, even the Moslems are now supporting Christians there. That is the way I see it. Things will definitely come to normal.
We have 92 registered political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), people are exploring the constitutional provision for freedom of association to form themselves into political groups and seek registration by INEC and the court has said INEC must register them, do you think that aspect of the constitution should be amended to put a definite number on political parties that can operate in Nigeria?
Yes. Definitely, I think the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu said something like a couple of weeks ago, that they are going to deregister some political parties. Look at that number, 92, even in America and Britain, they don’t have that number of political parties. Some people just want to be known as national Chairman or Secretary, I feel we have to do something about it. The National Assembly should go into that area and scrutinize it properly.
Where do you stand in the debate for either a unicameral or bicameral legislature at the centre?
There is nothing wrong with a bicameral legislature. With the calibre of people we have at the National Assembly, they are still rubber stamp. We need to change a lot of things there. To some extent, I may say we should give them a benefit of the doubt. That notwithstanding, may be, they can perform.
Why do you say, they are rubber stamp, is it because we have a dominant number from the ruling party at the centre?
If you look at the PDP and other political parties, they are still strong enough to make a lot of changes there and they can still do it. With the PDP, APGA and other parties with smaller representation, they can still do it. We need quality deliberation, at that level. By the time they see things the way they ought to, they are still going to make a strong impact.
Your party sprung a surprise win in Oyo in the governorship election…
It was not a surprise. That man there is a progressive, Engineer Makinde. He is a person who has been in politics for a very long time. He is blessed. He has the money and the connection and he is a right hand man to Atiku Abubakar, so definitely things are going to change because he is performing. He is the only governor right now who has declared his assets publicly. With that one, in Oyo, there will be surprises when the next election comes. It will even influence votes for the PDP in other South-west states. He has started doing a lot of good things. He has brought his own charisma to that party. That is going to do a lot of things there. In the next election, this will help. He was the chairman of the PDP governorship campaign in Kogi State and you can see the PDP made a good impact. I was at a recent meeting he held in Ibadan. When you hear him speak, you will know that this man is determined to do a lot of good things for Oyo state.
Even if you do not discuss it in detail, does the PDP have a strategy to win back the South-west states like it did in 2003?
We are going to do better than what is happening now. With what Makinde is doing in Oyo State, people everywhere in the South-west can see that it is not about party colour and dogma, but about performance. If a PDP governor will serve them better, they will vote in that direction in 2023. If you look at the result generally, the PDP has been able to win in some stronghold of the APC. In Imo, we won. They thought they were going to win Benue, but we won it again. We won Adamawa. In Kano, it was a controversial win for the APC. They used the inconclusive gimmick to make Governor Ganduje to come back. If not, the PDP was actually winning in that election. Definitely, PDP is bouncing back. This time around, Nigerians are hungry. When the PDP was there for 16 years, Nigerians were not hungry. With only four years of the APC, Nigerians are hungry. Many of them have had a rethink.
That was the sing-song going into the 2019 elections-Nigerians are hungry and all that, yet the results came out the way it did…
It is not that the PDP did not win, we know what happened with the judiciary and other things. Look at Osun State, what happened? PDP won Osun State. There were documents that proved this. With only seven polling units they won the election back in Osun, but we have our strategy with which we are going to bounce back. The noise we were making that Nigerians are hungry, they did not see that one because APC was telling them that the PDP is telling lies, but after that election Nigerians are still hungry. They will never vote for them again.
Will the PDP still be there because it was Atiku Abubakar’s magnanimity that helped to bring PDP back for the election, if he is not running in the 2023 election, do you see any individual in the PDP who has the influence to pull all the factions together and make them work together again?
If you look at the APC also what made the APC to win that election, both in 2015 and 2019 was because of Buhari. People felt that with Buhari’s personality, APC will do well. However, Buhari is not coming back again, but Atiku Abubakar is coming back. APC has started hinting that its presidential candidate will come from the north. If that should be the case, we are going to challenge them with Atiku Abubakar also, even though he will be a much older person in 2023, but he still has that charisma to work for the PDP and he is the person that they fear. They were desperate to destroy him. He is coming back and Nigerians will now know that Atiku is the strong person that can handle this country because he is a detribalised Nigerian. Among the staff in his companies are Nigerians from every part of the country. This is the kind of person that can make this country work. Though he is Muslim, his greatest friends are Christians. A tree cannot make a forest, but when you see a very strong tree like Atiku, he won’t leave PDP alone. PDP is his last bus stop.
What is your stake in politics now, do you still operate at the level of Mushin?
My stake right now is to see that PDP returns to its rightful place, not in Mushin alone, but in Lagos state. That is why I keep telling you that we have our strategy of bringing back PDP, APC members are even coming back because they are not satisfied. Majority of the people that went to the APC are coming back. They are not happy there. I am not going to contest for anything, not even for a party post. But definitely, if PDP can win any election and they want me to work in any parastatal, I will be willing to do that. I want to be in the background, supporting PDP here and there; grooming the boys here and there. That is how to go about it. I believe the goodwill is there.
We are going to do better than what is happening now. With what Makinde is doing in Oyo State, people everywhere in the South-west can see that it is not about party colour and dogma, but about performance. If a PDP governor will serve them better, they will vote in that direction in 2023. If you look at the result generally, the PDP has been able to win in some stronghold of the APC. In Imo, we won. They thought they were going to win Benue, but we won it again. We won Adamawa. In Kano, it was a controversial win for the APC. They used the inconclusive gimmick to make Governor Ganduje to come back. If not, the PDP was actually winning in that election. Definitely, PDP is bouncing back