A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Raymond Dokpesi, in an interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, blamed leadership failure for secessionist agitation groups and explained reasons he roots for a Northern Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2023.
You are a member of PDP BoT, a Southerner and you are canvassing for a Northern Presidential candidate under the party amidst calls by Southerners to produce the next President. Is it just a matter of getting candidate to win election or a matter of doing the right thing?
In 1998 when PDP was being put together, you still had elder statesmen who believed in one Nigeria and who went through the trauma of the military torture in prisons, some of them were sentenced, like Solomon Lar to the ridiculous number of years by people who are today occupying the same position. I was arrested and tried at that time. My offence was that I held political office. But your question is very simple and clear. There is a Constitution of the PDP, which states very clearly that there shall be rotation and zoning of both party offices and political offices and I have remained very consistent in my argument. In 1998 after the G34, I was going with Alhaji Bamaga Tukur to all the meetings and it was moved there that Chief Alex Ekwueme should become the next President by Lawal Kaita, a northerner and Alex Ekwueme said it is group G34, it is not a political party, when we transformed into a political party we will then canvass whether he would be or not.
It was then decided that because of the injustice done to the Southwest, the region should be given the opportunity to produce the President. But after deciding on the four-year rotation, when Obasanjo came in, there was an expanded party caucus where it was canvassed that because the military did lot of damage, the party’s programmes would not be fully implemented within those four years and that it was desirable to extend it to as the Constitution has provided for then, to eight years.
Again, it was the Northern delegates that said, ‘we have no objection, we shall exercise patience, we will allow Obasanjo to have another four years but with the condition that if he does eight years we too will have our eight years.’
So, by this agreement, power moved to the North after Obasanjo but unfortunately, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did not live long to complete his eight years. He did only two years or if you like, two and half years. And that was supposed to be his first term. I agitated at that time that for us not break the principle already established, the north should complete that remaining one term of four years so that we will be done with the North and it can come back to south but some people in the South-South refused on the ground that one cannot be so close to power and relinquish it. So Jonathan did another four years. So, by 2015, the PDP had been 16years in power, 14 years of the South and two years of north and that is the situation up till today. You say you believe in justice, fairness and equity, the North has done two years and the South has done 14 years. Is that balanced? What I am agitating for is fairness and justice. Let us still remain one and in doing so, please, let us choose a candidate from the north.
There is this rumour that former President Goodluck Jonathan is hobnobbing with APC, probably planning to cross over. What is your take on this?
Former President Jonathan has not mentioned it to anybody. I am sure of that. He is a statesman who sacrificed his ambition in 2015 because he wanted a united Nigeria. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who we have at the helm of affairs globally or when Africa matters are mentioned today is aging and may soon not be able to move around as expected but President Jonathan is a younger person. He is able to represent Nigeria, promote Nigeria and attract friends and investment to Nigeria. That role will fall squarely on his shoulders and I encourage him to keep that position of being Nigeria’s number one image-maker, to be Nigeria’s reference point. He is well suited to that and I wish him the best of luck in achieving that.
You are reputed to have love for Ahmed Tinubu?
Let me tell you that Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been my friend even before he became governor of Lagos State. As young men, we eat and drink together. And he became governor, God blessed him but does that remove the fact that we were good friends? No. Should I say because he belongs to a political party, he is now my enemy? If there is an interview in which they ask you of your relationship with this man, will I say I don’t know him because of politics? I don’t believe in that, I will never do that. He is a philanthropist, he is kind hearted and he is supportive of the ordinary person. He has brought about giving hope to people. So, why should I be envious or condemn him for that? I praise him and I wish him the very best.
You were a Chief of Staff to a Northern governor even though you are from then Bendel State. Looking at the country today that is divided along religious and ethnic lines, what do you think is responsible?
Bad leadership. You see, when these issues come in, people run away from reacting. It is not the Fulani man that is bad, Shehu Shagari was a Fulani man who served Nigeria in my opinion very meritoriously, very conscientiously. We have had military heads of state that are northerners but they were visionary, they were ready to accommodate all others, they pulled together the best brains that were available to bring about development and they gave them opportunities. When we were growing up, the whole idea was that it is a country that was going to flow with milk and honey but all of a sudden, when you have religious extremists, when you have people who exploit the very thin lines of unity, then you will find yourself here.
I sympathise with people that are clamouring for the disintegration of the country and so on. I am sorry for them but I feel also very strongly that they are in that position because of injustice that is going on in this country, because of different laws operating for different parts of the country. Even, look at the Electoral Law, electronic voting was applicable in the South in 2015 but you allowed free and normal voting in the North. There was no electronic transmission of result in the North.
At the end of the day, Borno where there was bomb blast in the morning and we all understand the situation, returned 1.7million votes while Lagos that is densely populated could hardly get 1million votes.
What is your view about secessionist agitations going on in the country?
It boils down to both leadership and followership failures. I believe that we need to restructure Nigeria effectively. You like it or you hate the word ‘restructure’, it is just the foundation and the first thing we must do to move ahead. So, you need to look for a leader who believes in restructuring and reorganising Nigeria, in moving Nigeria from oil based economy to a diversified economy. We need somebody who believes that creating jobs does not mean taking people, whether qualified or unqualified into the civil service. It is productivity that will bring about the growth of the economy. So there must be industry.
The same people who closed down Ajaokuta Steel mill are running around borrowing money today to build railway lines. Shagari saw this problem way back 1979 and embarked on the Ajaokuta Steel rolling mill and the development of Delta Steel rolling mill as well as the development of Kastina Steel rolling mill, and most of them came to terms. It remained only the Ajaokuta Steel rolling mill, which was supposed to be the backbone of our industrial development. It was the time it was supposed to start production that the 1983 coup took place. We would have generated employment and created opportunities for Nigerians. No country will come to develop Nigeria, Nigerians must develop Nigeria.