TEXT OF A SPEECH BY CHIEF OLABODE IBIYINKA GEORGE, CON, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL CHAIRMAN OF THE PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP) AT A PRESS CONFERENCE IN LAGOS ON THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 15, 2022.
Gentlemen of the Press,
Let me start by quoting this philosopher, Heraclitus: “The content of your character is your choice. Day by Day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is what you become. The choice is yours.”
With two weeks to the commencement of campaign season, that we believe will usher in a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government into Aso Rock in 2023, unfortunately, I am compelled to address a ‘clear and present danger’ that might thwart this window of opportunity afforded the PDP.
Our party, the PDP, is at the precipice of a dangerous looming crisis, if pending critical issues are not urgently addressed. Party unity and inclusiveness of all members are ingredients to a viable strategy for our election victory.
Pitiably, some of our leaders are, directly or indirectly, responsible for the present crisis in the party because of their flawed personal interests, which are targeted at disrupting the unity of our great party.
I want our party members to know that as one of the party fathers and as a former Deputy National Chairman of our party, it is not in my character to belittle the interest of our party but when issues arise that may dent the progress of our party one has to speak out and speak loud enough to arrest the attention of our people.
Aside from the fact that I retired as a Navy General with postings all over this country, I am nationalistic by blood, orientation and global view. As a tireless defender of democracy; I have always fought for equity and justice for all with respect to the constitution of this nation and our party. I have never left our party, no matter the situation that besets me. In addition, I have no iota of tribalism in my blood, but will continue to fight tirelessly to ensure inclusiveness for all Nigerians in the political process of this country and especially in this party where some of us have suffered great injustice for the fight of equity and justice for all.
While I reiterate my solidarity to the tenets of our party constitution, I will not remain passive when the collective unity of this party is fragmented. How we collectively address the issues at stake will be a major determinant of the fate of this party at the next general elections.
It is pertinent to state, at this point, that I come from a very diverse lineage, with a Nupe great grandmother paternal, and as a descendant of Papa Helas Herbert Macaulay, who by the way in 1946, went to the North to preach politics of inclusiveness but on his return to Lagos caught pneumonia and died. In fact, the first political party in Nigeria was established in his house in 1922.
Therefore, I repeat that I have no iota of tribalism in my blood and will always fight for inclusiveness for all Nigerians in the political process of this country and especially in this party where some of us have suffered great injustice for the fight of equity and justice for all.
As leaders of the party, we must not pander towards ethnic affiliation because PDP is the only true national party. The APC is just a mere congregation of strange bed fellows.
Members of our great party must be ready to seize this opportunity to move this country forward. This cannot be achieved when leaders of our party insist on peddling ugly rumours and throwing mud at each other.
We should not allow any sentiment – ethnic or religious to divide us. Unfortunately, with what we are presently witnessing, our party may lose the next presidential election if we continue to disregard or fail to address the feeling and grievances of ‘alienation’ being presently experienced by the entire Southern population of this great country. If this issue is dismissed, we cannot expect votes from them.
We should be seen to pursue noble causes and not ethnic agenda. Ethnic groups in this country are at the precipice of collapse. It has never been this bad historically and Nigerians are waiting for us to change the situation of things for the better.
Until this party returns to the founding fathers principles of unity, with equity, fairness and justice being the pedestal for any political decision taken in this party; and ensuring broad-mindedness to accommodate the concerns of all zones in this country PDP becomes vulnerable to disaster in the 2023 elections. Unless we are united, with equity, fairness and justice, our party may be fragmented before 2023.
In May this year, we elected our presidential candidate in the person of HE. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, setting aside the principle of rotation as enshrined in the constitution of our party in the interest of peace and unity of our party. Today, we are in a situation in which our National Chairman is from the same zone as our presidential candidate.
Some people are insisting that there is nothing wrong with this present arrangement. Some have argued that this happened during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, where the candidate and the national chairman were from the same zone.
Let the truth be told, there are remarkable differences in the scenario then and now. Then we had the leader of the party who was then a sitting president from the South and the candidate was from the North.
In addition, the National Chairman, Dr Ahmadu Ali, was then on his way out. Today we have no sitting President from our party in Aso Villa so, that argument falls flat. We need to stop playing games and being zombified.
Let me summarise the genesis of the current crisis.
As envisaged by the founding fathers of our party, there are six top positions in our Country: President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and National Chairman of the party.
Presently we are not in government, therefore we only control three of these six positions namely: Presidential, Vice Presidential Candidates and National Chairman.
I remember that Dr. Iyorchia Ayu said pointedly that if the Presidential Candidate emerges from the North, he would resign for a new National Chairman to emerge from another zone before the presidential campaign starts.
The other three positions are futuristic. It is only when we win the elections that we will fill these positions namely: the Senate President, the Speaker and the Secretary to the Federal Government.
As a result of the need to have inclusiveness, oneness and togetherness, it does not make any political sense for the Presidential Candidate and the National Chairman to come from the same zone. Now, we have a situation in which some elders are saying “it does not matter”. Can we go into the election with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, from the same zone, leading our National Campaign?
This will be an affront, an impunity, and an insult to the electorate and party members from the South.
Dr. Ayu promised openly, before the presidential primary in May, to resign, if the Presidential Candidate emerges from the North. So, why has he refused to honour his words? Why is he reneging? What is driving his reluctance not to resign?
We are promising Nigerians that when we get to government, every tribe will have a say in government but now, how do we want Nigerians to trust us when we cannot fulfil a simple promise? Our National Chairman made a pledge and in such a short time he has broken the pledge.
Our party members from the South are now asking the following questions patently:
Have we thrown our integrity to the dogs?
How will Southern PDP leaders convince their electorate to vote for our candidate when there is no substantial National position in the Southwest?
How can we go into the election season with this type of division and expect to win the February 25 presidential election?
Unless we are united, unless we have fairness, equity and justice in our system, the party and the country are heading nowhere.
I am not a soothsayer, but I have traversed the length and breadth of our country and have learnt so much politically. What I have predicted above will come to pass unless reason prevails and we apply the brake immediately.
It was the same myopic and unpatriotic reasoning that led to the collapse of the First and Second Republics.
My intervention is about the future of this country because what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Peradventure, let us reverse the scenario and think of these consequences. What do you think will happen if our Presidential Candidate and the National Chairman come from the South?
How do you think our Northern brothers will feel and handle the situation?
What is happening now is that many Southerners are feeling alienated, two weeks to the commencement of the presidential campaign.
I know that the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) and Chairman, Governors’ Forum have resigned but of what importance is this? In our party hierarchy, Chairmen of BoT and Governors’ Forum are not that powerful. They are not even among the top six positions of our Country. They are not important to the present discussion.
Let me declare categorically that the positions of Presidential Candidate and National Chairman cannot come from the same zone. Period!
I am shocked about the quality of response from some of our friends, so divisive and arrogant.
The largest vote in this election will come from Lagos, which is more than seven million. Do we want to do away with seven million votes? Will that make any political sense? With respect to our Presidential Candidate, in the interests of the corporate goal of our party and the future generations of Nigerians, it is my considered request that our present Chairman must bow out with dignity and candor. This will be the hallmark of nobility and decency.
At my age, I cannot be canvassing for any party position but as one of the fathers of PDP, we must be bold enough to tell the truth to power.
The tribal mistrust in the land is unprecedented. Nigerians are waiting for us to vote APC out of Aso Rock but now, probably due to selfish interests or ethnic attraction, some of our friends are becoming less and less patriotic in their decisions.
Our presidential candidate in the person of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has emerged, so what is wrong if Dr. Iyorchia Ayu steps aside honourably? Is our party an ethnic business enterprise or a private organisation?
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that there is crisis ahead. The need to revisit this decision as quickly as possible is urgent.
The general public perception, today, is like we are encouraging a Northern Peoples Democratic Party (NPDP) and a Southern Peoples Democratic Party (SPDP) instead of the undivided and united National PDP.
I want to say that the vote of confidence supposedly passed on Dr. Ayu and the NWC at the last party National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting cannot hold sway because most of our Southern members of NEC were absent from the meeting.
What Dr. Ayu has succeeded in doing by refusing to step down is simply telling PDP members from the South that they are of no importance and that he is not ready to build a united and progressive party.
My advice to HE. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is that he needs the votes of the millions of Southerners and that by leaving Dr. Ayu to remain the National Chairman of the party at this time is a high price to pay and a gamble that most likely will cost the PDP another election loss at the next polls.
We must, therefore, objectively defend the interest of our party. What can be greater than peace? It is when our party is united, peaceful, focused and organised that we can take the country back from the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Let me restate that the position of National Chairman must revert to the South now and not after the general elections. If we don’t do that, then you are telling some Nigerians that you don’t need them to win in 2023 and that will be very unfortunate. This will be a direct insult on Nigerians because no party can win massively from one side of the country without the other side. We need majority of national votes to get to the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
This intervention is about ensuring that we do what is right, just and equitable to all stakeholders.
Let me reiterate again that the will of the people must be respected and the six top offices in the country must be distributed equitably and fairly because PDP is not a private company. The office of the National Chairman must come to the South before we commence the presidential campaign if victory is to be secured in the next general election.
Nigerians will be happy and eager to elect us next year when they see that our national offices are distributed equitably. If this issue is not addressed urgently, it means some members of our party are working for the opposition or against the interest of our party.
If PDP collapses today, Nigeria may also collapse because this party is the engine room of our country.
Obviously, the voice of the people is the voice of God and we should not be pedestrian in our approach to this issue. Let us think of the corporate future of this country and our party.
The PDP is a good vehicle to drive this country to a safe, secure, democratic, prosperous and viable destination. But how will the vehicle get to the desired destination when some people are busy removing its tyres, battery and engines?
We should avoid a situation in which some members will move out of the party or mobilise Nigerians to vote for another candidate.
Every human being created by God must be given his or her due regard. In politics, we must love our neighbours like ourselves by ensuring that everybody is equitably recognised and rewarded.
Tribal and religious sentiments will never help us. These were the ingredients that caused the civil war.
What South westerners in our party are asking for is very simple: we don’t want the position of Director-General of the Presidential Campaign, rather, we want the office of the National Chairman, this we have made very clear.
In a situation like this, people must not be fixated but approachable and dependable. We must give the Southwest a sense of belonging, and a sense of inclusiveness by producing the National Chairman before the commencement of the national campaign. It is not justifiably equitable to have a brother from the North leading the campaign for a Northern presidential candidate. Where then is justice, equity, fair play and inclusiveness?
This is an appeal am requesting our party leaders to consider, so that we will be at ease to convince the people from the Southwest to support our party. This tribal mistrust was not created by our party but by the ruling party, the APC. We must learn to flow with the political tide and not against it.
If Dr. Ayu resigns today, heavens will not fall. In fact, millions of PDP members will rejoice and prepare, as War Generals, to ensure the victory of our party in 2023.
Our party must do the needful now. Anything else will be suicidal.
Let me leave you with this trustworthy saying: “Life looks better when we have something to look forward to.”
CHIEF OLABODE IBIYINKA GEORGE, CON
THE ATONA OODUA OF YORUBALAND
SEPTEMBER 15, 2022.