By Ismail Omipidan
Former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel is a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national chairmanship aspirant. He spoke on his plans for the party, and why he remains the best choice for the party.
Why do you want to be national chairman of the PDP?
Since the collapse of the Berlin Walls and the emergence of China as the bastion of communism, there has been a convergence in the ideological disposition of major political parties that the economy should now be the focus, about the survival of our people. Some of us who have had opportunities to serve at various levels have also discovered this. But, when you look at the process by which people who go into service emerge, sometimes, it is faulty; I don’t want to say most times. And that affects the quality of people who they have presented to serve. And if you intelligently look at the quality of people who had served in our country, from the First Republic, the kind of personalities that occupied the space, even up to the Second Republic, you will understand my point.
I can use my own state as an example. In the days when a person like Senator Abraham Adesanya was a senator, and the kind of personality that we have today, there is a decline. When you look at it across board, it is the same thing. We are witnessing a decline in the quality of representation and leadership. That is so because it is through the party that this emergence occurs. So, if we say we want to right the wrongs and create a better environment, get good people to participate and by extension, improve the quality of leadership, then, we need to organize the party, beecause the party is the engine room. If you remember the politics of the Second Republic, for example, the UPN under the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was very well organised. They had their four cardinal programmes-free education, free medical care, rural integration, gainful employment. It was clear. That was the Bible. It was not complex at all. Everybody knew the programmes.
On the other hand, if you look at the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), they were also quite clear-the concept of one nation and they believed that the agricultural revolution was the way to go. In moving forward, you could expect what to get from the governors of the NPN and the governors of the Unity Party of Nigeria then. The NPP of Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe also had its own strategic focus. The party must be the engine room of governance. The party must provide the strategic direction. If it does not get it right, the government will suffer. So, the party must be the monitoring agency of governance, based on the party manifesto and what the party promised the people. My own take, therefore, is that, if we agree that the quality of governance is declining, as we look for good individuals and encourage them, there has to be a vehicle and that is the party. And that is why some of us feel that, having had the opportunity to serve in executive position, we know where the issues are. If there is no good party, there can’t be any good governance. If we are all passionate about good governance, we have to take more than a passive interest in the party administration.
In concrete terms, what are the reforms you intend to carry out, if you become the national chairman of the PDP?
The very first thing is to return the party to winning ways. And in returning the party to winning ways, the first thing is to create a party that can relate with the aspirations of the people, or put differently, the party must be about the people. Power must be returned to the people, which mean that the era of impunity, which happened in various instances in the last few years, must be relegated to the background.
The concept of internal democracy must be practicalised. Everybody must feel a sense of belonging, and not that the party belongs to some cliques or some few people at the various levels. Our party must be the people’s party.
For instance, while I was in charge in Ogun State, there was no time when anybody had to pay for ticket as it is experienced these days. It didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, we looked for people that we thought were competent. And if they did not have enough resources, we found ways and means of supporting them. You don’t have to pay so much money to certain people to get the ticket. Then, you look at the process of recouping your money back. You now have people who go into service, not because they have any passion to serve, but they see it as a business venture. They see it as an investment and they must garner returns from their investment. How can that type of people make any positive change in our country? It is impossible. Part of the reform we think we should be able to do is to reduce the incidence of illicit money collection in the process. And top of that is the fact that in these days and age, many of our people fail to appreciate that when they started playing politics some 15 year ago, at the beginning of this Fourth Republic, which was 1999, and we are now in 2017, it means that children that were born around 1999 now are 16 years old. So, people who were two, three, four, five years old at that time are now over 20. And they are the people who will vote now. So, it is important that the party should appreciate that there is a passing generation. And the older generation is not as strong as before. There is a preponderance of an explosive youth population, who are in a hurry to decide how they go on with their lives, the kind of environment that they want to live. We have not done enough in appreciating their situation. The level of unemployment is high. Part of what we should do is to begin to act as a party that the young, energetic and fertile youths can relate with. Hitherto, the perception was that it was a party of some old people, who the youths cannot relate with. Part of what some of us are suggesting is the increased participation of younger people in the process. If we are able to do all of these, as we reposition the party, the party should be ready to go places.
What is the assurance that you will beat other contestants-Chief Bode George, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, Jimi Agbaje- at the convention?
Everybody you have mentioned, without exception, are very good party people. All of them are people I have deep respect for. All of them I have had cause to interact with. They are all very intelligent people. They are all very patriotic people. They are all very passionate people. Chief Bode George, you know, is our boss. He is our leader and he will remain as our leader and our boss as long as he lives. Jimi Agbaje is my personal friend of 40 years or so. I am not very close to Professor Adeniran, but I know he is a responsible Nigerian. I have met Prof. Taoheed Adedoja; very intelligent kind of person, very hardworking. Our party is lucky to have the array of very committed people, who want to lead the party. I also think all of them in various ways believe that this party has a chance, as I do, that this party remains the largest party. It is still the beacon of democracy; closest to an ideal democracy in our country.
We must look at the interest of some of these patriots. From my own perspective, there is none of them that is not qualified. There is going to be a morning after December 9. All of us must sit together when someone might have won the election and talk about how we want to move the party forward. Once we come to that perspective, there should not be unnecessary tension. My own take is that everybody should go out there in a civilized manner; present themselves to the people, the delegates.
The delegates will do justice and somebody will be chosen. We should put everything into it. But, it should not be a do-or-die affair. We should not go to the field to destroy ourselves. The objective is how to win the election in 2019. I have no doubt in my mind that I have what it takes, the required network, the required connection to do what should be done.
Do you think the PDP has learnt any lesson from its protracted leadership crisis?
It is quite clear that the political environment has matured over the years to the extent that people are well informed; they are enlightened. They know their rights. They know their obligations. Hitherto, the environment we had politically was such that all manners of people, caucuses and interests were moderating the direction of politics. There is nothing absolutely wrong in that, provided that such dictations are in line with the aspirations of the people. The responsibility of leadership is to aggregate the opinion of the led and, as it were, put their own experience in place and provide the compass and dictate the direction. But, I think that, over the years, the party, the PDP, has become, if I may put it this way, over-confident. All sorts of mini lords emerged. And they felt that their words were laws, notwithstanding the aspirations of the masses of the people they led. The motto of the PDP is ‘power to the people.’ Democracy is about the people. And when the party at various levels begins to relegate the interests of the mass of the people to the background, it is bound to create a disaster. I think in a nutshell, that has been the experience of the party. But, I believe what is good in all of these is that, quickly, the party has recognized and appreciated the problems and a conscious effort is being made to direct and to reinvent the strategic direction and modus operandis of the party administration.
How can the party avert a rancorous convention?
What people are saying is that they are tired of dictation and imposition. If there will be some kinds of dictation, it should be in tandem with the aspirations of the people. We won’t have problem with the convention, if that principle is adhered to. When you have a convention and the right kind of candidates emerges, you will see that the mass of the people will be excited; they will jubilate. But, if people are trying to play games; the usual games; that it must be A or B or C; or those they think will protect their interests, they may not avert crisis. Like I said, I think the totality of what is on ground is that it is going to be a very exciting convention. I am sure democracy will be at play.