From TAIWO AMODU, Abuja
Since his assumption of office, the National Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, has left no one in doubt about his commitment to reconciliation. As part of this trouble shooting mission, the Peoples’ Democratic Party National Working Committee set up a committee with former vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, as leader of the team.
Speaking with journalists last Thursday in Abuja, National Legal Adviser of the party, Victor Kwon, also revealed that zonal teams set up by the party to complement the Ekwueme Committee to ensure that aggrieved PDP members returned to its fold, would soon embark on tours across the geo-political zones.
However, he cautioned that only those with genuine grievances would be allowed to return to the party, as he noted that the PDP NWC was wary of readmitting those he claimed could disrupt the smooth administration of the party.
What has been your experience, since you assumed office as National Legal Adviser of the Peoples’ Democratic Party?
Thank you very much.
Like you all know, the PDP is a very large party, the largest in Africa and again, as you all know, politics at whatever level is a competitive venture, so there have been some challenges as expected, because many of these competitive ventures between members of the party and other parties, generally will lead to conflicts and disputes. So, it is part of our responsibilities to ensure that these disputes are addressed, within the party and where they unfortunately go outside the party.
We have to have them redressed. So, there have been challenges, but we thank God that we are coping.
We want to know, how many cases you inherited from your predecessor; that’s number one. Number two, even as the national secretariat has congratulated the winner of the Ondo governorship election and candidate of the Labour Party, Dr Segun Mimmiko, the state chapter of your party has decided to go to court to challenge INEC declared results. Have they reached your office to avail you of the evidence they want to take to court?
I inherited a large number of cases , regrettably, I don’t have the figure off my cuff, but the cases that are pending , which involves the party are in hundreds, inherited from the last working committee and dozens have been filed since we came into office. Now, to the second question concerning the election in Ondo State, I do know that the party in Ondo is gathering data and evidence from those who were in the field and they haven’t come to us with the evidence, but I do know that it is being gathered, to see whether or not there would be grounds by the petition challenging the election.
But what we learnt is that the national secretariat here isn’t favourably disposed to litigations over the Ondo election?
Well, we would take a position after we have seen the evidence gathered and presented.
I want to know if you have a budget that you want to spend on litigations within your tenure, as national legal adviser? Two, what is the position on Adamawa, against the backdrop of court injunction from the dissolved state executive?
It is difficult for you to predict what you are going to spend by way of legal fees for court cases; it is difficult to predict, because, it is also difficult for you to know who is going to sue you —for what, when? So, it is a very difficult question .
But what we have done, you are very correct .It is regrettable that the stage we are at our political development many of these disputes aren’t resolved in- house, they end up in court and legal fees keep piling. So, what we can do and what we intend to do in the tenure of this working committee is to try and cut down on the money we spend on litigations and have these problems addressed in –house.
I am sure you are all aware of the reconciliatory posture of the national working committee that has been endorsed by the executive committee. So, reconciliatory teams have been set up for the zones and the whole idea is to be able to reconcile members of the party, so that we don’t experience the kind of intra-party disputes that tend to divide the party and also that would enable us to cut down on the legal expense, at least as far as intra-party disputes are concerned.
Now, coming to Adamawa, you know, like everybody does that the national working committee has taken a decision on the basis of certain infractions of the constitution by the Adamawa state executive of the party. Since that decision was taken, like a family, discussions have been ongoing with a view to see how we could still address this problem, in-house. It isn’t about personality, or anything; it is about the family, trying to ensure that things are done right as far as the constitution of the party is concerned. I do hope that in the not-too-distant future, if the state executive of the party is able to make good the infractions that they had done, then these are issues that can always be sorted out. The party is a big family, we should be able to address our problems, whether in the public domain, or in court. But sometimes these things are needful. So, it isn’t really a matter that is beyond us.
You came in at the time the party just amended its constitution. Having gone through it, what do you think of the constitution? I also want to know your position on certain provisions of the constitution, which some of your party members claimed that some members of the national working committee didn’t meet up with?
Well, I do know, like we all do that at the 21st March 2012 national convention, the 2012 amended constitution of the party came into operation, it was adopted on the convention ground. Constitution are documents that guide a party in its relationship, not just within its members, but with the outside world. It is a working document, we put it to work, but of course, we are all human beings—no human institution, or human document or human statutes is perfect—- we put it to work and then if there are problems, as we put it to work, we would now note those problems with a view to addressing them. So, my general impression of the constitution of course, is that for now it is workable, we are putting it to work. If problems emerged at a later time those problems would be noted and addressed. The second question isn’t very specific; it is sweeping, I don’t know which provisions of the constitution they are claiming hasn’t been met and by who.
Like the national auditor, some people went to court, challenging his eligibility, because the party constitution says only a chartered accountant can occupy that office. What is the party doing about it?
Yes, you are correct. There have been suits filed, part of which is that the plaintiff to that action hold the view that the national auditor isn’t a chartered accountant . The matter is in court. The party is being represented in the matter and it is now a matter of judicial interpretation of that provision of the constitution, because of course, when the constitution says the national auditor shall be an accountant ; that’s the provision of the constitution. But of course, there is now the question: as far as the plaintiff are concerned, it must be a chartered accountant, but of course, the constitution didn’t say it has to be a chartered accountant. Like I said, these are matters that are in court and would be addressed in due course judicially.
You know, many of you I am sure that the decision of the court in relation to the south-west congress, is what is subject of appeal now. The court hasn’t actually made a pronouncement concerning that provision and that particular allegation by the plaintiff that the national auditor isn’t qualified to contest the position. I hope you do know; the matter was decided and it is now on appeal on the basis of the south-west congress, which was also allegedly not properly conducted.
Of course, this is a matter that is pending in the appellate court. What is the party doing about cost of litigations over election matters? Secondly, the other day we met the national secretary, he acknowledged that the party is experiencing dwindling fund.
Are there no provisions in your party constitution, for sanctions for members who default on their dues to the party?
Taking the first question first: this current working committee, myself as national legal adviser, we are really concerned about the financial burden of litigations. We really wish that it wasn’t what it is and we are putting steps in motion to ensure that we curtail the financial burden. It isn’t just the PDP, it happens across the parties. We all know litigations isn’t cheap, particularly political litigation and so you are correct, litigations expenses are very heavy and burdensome and we are trying to see how we can minimize and curtail that. Now coming to the question of dues; payment of dues and subscription is a veritable means of revenue for the party we all know, members of the party do subscribe but we aren’t satisfied with the level at which our dues are being collected.
The party is taking steps to ensure that we enhance the revenue that comes to the party, but you know that if it isn’t an election year, or if congresses aren’t forthcoming, party members are reluctant to pay up on their dues, because of course you know, if you aren’t a financial member of the party, the constitution provides sanctions. You will not be eligible to contest for office, you will not even be able to nominate—- there are privileges that you lose, if you aren’t a current financial member of the party.
But of course, what experience shows is that members of the party don’t pay up and when it is an election, or it is just a few months before congresses, when they now pay up, in some cases in arrears, to be able to qualify to enjoy the privileges that they seek. In fact, we are working with consultants to see how we could ensure that membership dues are paid as at when due. In most of the campaigns committees set up by the party your name came up as secretary.
The party has lost two elections, consecutively: Edo and Ondo; how do you feel, over such defeats?
Well, I must say that in politics, you win, sometimes you lose. When you win, it is sweet; when you lose, defeat is bitter. In those two elections, we did our best. We campaigned, vigorously, we took the needful steps, but of course, there are challenges which yielded the results that were announced by INEC in Edo and in Ondo States. We have noted the events and we do hope that looking forward, or going from there we would be able to from those experiences, improve on our performance and be able to secure victory in the elections that are forthcoming.
Don’t forget that, in the case of Ondo, we are still collating, it might not necessarily be Uhuru yet for the person declared as winner in that election. We are still looking at information from our agents who were on the ground and pick it up from there when those information all come.
You just mentioned that you are considering using internal mechanism to resolve litigation, because you acknowledged that cost of litigation is enormous. Can you avail us of the cost incurred by the last NWC? Secondly, you are considering using consultants to collect your dues. Have you lost confidence in your men at the wards, councils and the states? Don’t you think you will also be incurring debts, in the course of using consultants to chase members to pay their dues?
Let me take the last question first.
When I say we are considering the use of consultants, of course, it is because we have looked at our books and like I said, we found out that dues aren’t paid on time . It is a matter for concern. But we shall consider all the options possible that are going to enhance our revenue base. The use of consultants is permissible all over the world and the fact that you use consultants doesn’t indicate that it is a vote of no confidence on the officers of the party that are saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring that dues are generated. It is just the dynamics of our situation. Nobody wishes to pay money, even you—nobody pays money freely, if you could avoid paying money for any service that he enjoys, he would do that.
So, we are just trying to be creative and the decision hasn’t yet be taken but we are looking at ways of ensuring that members are sensitized to meet up on their financial obligations as at when due. Coming to the question of the exact figure of the legal fees, I really wouldn’t be at liberty to disclose the exact figure of the legal bills that I inherited but I am at liberty to just say that we inherited legal bills that are substantial . I know that the present PDP NWC is very, very enthusiastic about bringing aggrieved members who had left the party back. But we also know that some states governors aren’t favourably disposed to this.
I could recall that the day the Plateau State governor, led a delegation to the national secretariat , he actually said the NWC should be wary of people it was trying to bring back; that rather than ensure their return, the NWC should encourage them to stay back in opposition parties to ensure its vibrancy.
How do you reconcile that posturing with the reconciliation efforts of the NWC?
I fail to see the conflicts between the two positions. This party is a large party and it is capable of accommodating everybody.
But of course, just because you want to accommodate everybody doesn’t mean you accommodate snakes and reptiles. It will interest you to know, and I say this very seriously that shortly before the last senatorial elections, the party in Plateau State threw open its doors to a lot of former members that had left. Many of these people have been re-admitted. But of course, the question now is, you admit people, but you have to be careful who you readmit, because there are people who have to come in, not to build the party—- there are people who wants to come in to be able to destroy the party.
So, you admit people, but you are conscious in those you re-admit. If you take in people who will rebuild and solidify the party, who have the genuine interest of the party and the nation at heart, not just people who will want to come into the party to weaken the party and create challenges of disruption. So, there is really no conflict in that. The PDP has been in office for over twelve years, but there is no record that it has ever sponsored a bill, or forwarded any to thenational assembly, as it was done in the second republic by theNational Party of Nigeria?
Yes, bills to national assembly as you all know can be brought in by members of the national assembly, or some are sent from the Executive. Of course, we have contributed in bills and motions through our members and caucuses. You cannot divorce the party from bills that are introduced by its own members in the national assembly, or bills that are introduced by its own caucuses in the national assembly. So, as we all know, we have our members there, who in the bills they have sponsored, or supported, are doing so from the framework of the party disposition to some of those issues.
So, you cannot divorce the party from bills or motions introduced or supported by its own members in the national assembly.