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Sun, 10 Mar 2013

Agukwe: Why We Want PDP Ticket By Affirmation for Jonathan

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Chief Elvis Agukwe, a former commissioner in Imo State during the administration of Ikedi Ohakim, is the lead strategist of a group, Concerned PDP Democrats, which is championing the cause for President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2015 presidential election without passing through an elective primary. The group is advocating a national affirmative convention of the Peoples Democratic Party, where the president would be given a ticket for re-election without any contest. Agukwe speaks with Chuks Okocha on the reasoning that underlies the demand for first refusal for Jonathan. Excerpts:

How would you explain the relevance of the principle of first refusal to the all-important 2015 presidential election?
This is an arrangement whereby a political party, in a bid to maintain a united and cohesive front, allows an incumbent/elected officials, this time the president and governors under its banner or platform to pick the ticket of the party effortlessly if they indicate interest to re-contest. In other words, except the incumbent president and governors decline to re-contest, the road is cleared for those concerned to pick the party’s ticket effortlessly.

Right of first refusal is a survival strategy adopted by political parties all over the world to reduce bickering, animosity, blackmail, big money politics, and bad blood within its rank.

Party primaries are necessary to choose flag bearers for political parties before the main election. It is dubbed the election before election. Sometimes, the real choice of the people may not emerge in party primaries, especially when the delegates’ system of selection is involved and money plays a significant role in the choices that are made. At other times, the primaries become so acrimonious that cracks develop among party members, leading to disaffection and defection to other parties.

Don’t you think it is better for a political party to device means of managing its primaries to avoid crisis rather than abridge aspirants’ democratic rights to vie for party tickets?
It has also been established that even when a political party, like the Action Congress of Nigeria, adopts the conclave system, otherwise known as consensus, in choosing its candidates, those dissatisfied almost always move against the preferred candidate. The case of Ondo State in the last election, when some ACN aspirants defected to Labour Party, bears mention. What it means, therefore, is that a political party cannot be too careful in the management of its primaries so as to guard against dissension, acrimony, backlash and anti-party activities.

In fact, that was the scenario President Goodluck Jonathan referred to in his last presidential chat when he declared PDP primaries as battle fronts because of the perceived belief that whoever gets or picks the party tickets in a primary election is as good as the winner in the main election. As the ruling party in Nigeria, PDP has faced so many challenges in the management of its internal affairs that even outsiders have expressed concern over its future. The opposition has, in fact, been praying for the implosion of PDP, which has been in power since the return of Nigeria to democracy in 1999.

So is the fear of implosion or crisis the key reason behind your advocacy for the principle of first refusal in the presidential poll?
Political party remains an association of persons of like mind whose sole aim is control of political fortunes of a given society, nation or state. Parties engage in the business of political intrigues and conspiracy for the control of power and resources of a given country or state through elections. Because of the obvious danger and threat to the continued dominance of PDP, it has become absolutely necessary for the party to take a second look at the rules governing the conduct of its presidential primary and also governorship primaries.

Those recurring errors are what should be avoided in the tortuous road of endorsing a candidate for future presidential elections in Nigeria. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Alex Ekwueme and others have severally challenged the incumbent president without success even when they were certain of winning. The truth is that all organs and the processes of power in the ruling party are naturally skewed in favour of the incumbent president. For instance, he is the leader of the party, the contributes over 70 percent of the finances of the party, police, and other security apparatus are all under him as the Commander-in-Chief, the federal executive council, the economy, anti-corruption agencies, just name it , all are under his control. It’s near impossible for an incumbent president to lose his party’s primary ticket. And we witnessed this raw exhibition of power during the primary that gave Jonathan the party’s presidential ticket at Eagle Square in 2010. Every patriotic PDP member must look at this issue purely on its merit and with the experiences of the past. PDP must decide now to realistically re-engineer itself for the future. It is not that there would be no presidential conventions, no, there would be one and this is termed affirmation convention, where the president and the governors concerned are affirmed.

In the United States, for instance, the major political parties adopt the principle of first refusal for incumbent presidents, but do you think Nigeria’s democracy is mature enough for this?

In the advanced democracies of the world, especially United State of America whose presidential model we seek to chart, the incumbent president is not subjected to the indignity of primaries because he is the symbol or the strength and capacity of the party. He is always given the right of first refusal. In other words, except he declines to re contest, the road is cleared for him to pick the party’s ticket effortlessly.

Two major reasons account for that. One, it is a demonstration of the faith of the party on the president.  If the party members are challenging the president and the governors, it simply means that they have not performed. Two, it is a vote of confidence in the president that he has performed and deserves a second tenure. If a party subjects its president to primaries, it is indirectly telling the nation that it has no confidence in him. Even if the president wins the primaries, his ticket would have suffered a collateral damage, including a seed of doubt cast on his integrity, capacity and ability to lead the nation for a second tenure.

Do you have illustrations of this situation from other countries?
After President Gerald Ford served out his first term, which he inherited from the impeachment of Richard Nixon, he was challenged at the party primary by Ronald Reagan. Though Gerald Ford won the primary, he lost the general election to President Jimmy Carter. And jimmy Carter won the primary for his second term against the late Senator Ted Kennedy, but he lost the general election to Ronald Reagan
Based on these experiences, when Ronald Reagan sought for a second term, the Republican Party gave their full support by not allowing any one to challenge him, and he won the general election, and served his full two terms in office. When George Bush Snr. took over from Reagan, Ross Perrot challenged him in the Republican primary, and when he lost to Bush, he went ahead to run as an Independent, further dividing the Republican Party and handing a new comer, Bill Clinton, the presidency. Of course, the Democrats learnt from these experiences: Bill Clinton was never subjected to a second term primary, and when George Bush Jr. became the Republican president, his party made sure he was there for two-terms.

That was why the Democrats in the United States of America rallied round President Barack Obama by ensuring that he had no challengers once he declared his intension to run for a second tenure. Imagine what would have happened to his candidature if he has been challenged! The Republicans would have made a mince meat of him.

It is imperative to note that President Obama was not without flaws. The truth was that Democrats believed in him being the symbol of their party. The bandwagon effect moved down to the American people who also felt that in spite of his imperfection, Obama has something to offer. Granted that we still have a lot to learn in political engineering, Nigerians and, indeed, PDP faithful must begin to trust and support their president in the arduous task of collective-nation building.

President John Mahama of Ghana barely managed to secure victory because he fought a bitter presidential primary, the same fate that befell his predecessor, late John Attah Mills. In fact, that of Mills led to the breakaway of a faction of the party led by his bitter rival and former first lady, Mrs. Jerry Rawlings.

What has been Nigeria’s experience in terms of primary-induced crisis?
We also witnessed how the presidential primary of PDP in 2003 nearly upset our then fragile democracy. These are facts that are self-evident. For us in PDP and other parties, we should imbibe the American or international culture of not dragging the incumbent president to any primary election in the pretext of being goaded by the opposition or dancing to the whims and caprices of godfathers. As the cliché goes, a house divided against itself cannot stand. A house devoid of cohesion and unity becomes an easy prey to the opposition, which is determined through fair and foul means to hound the party out of power.

How would your group convince other stakeholders in PDP to toe your line without inviting even more rancor?
For the avoidance of doubt, this proposal for the National Executive Committee of the party to amend the PDP constitution to abrogate primaries for our sitting president has nothing to do with President Goodluck Jonathan as a person or with 2015 in focus. It is a most patriotic and pragmatic suggestion on how to show leadership to the nation and ensure that we face any presidential election as a united front. Yes, providence has put Jonathan as our president now, but this proposal is beyond him; anybody could be there tomorrow and such a person is bound to enjoy this privilege.

Bickering, animosity, blackmail, big-money-politics, and bad blood often associated with primaries will be spared PDP if it makes it mandatory that an incumbent president produced by the party must get an automatic party ticket for the general election. What is required for the party to do, to meet with the election guidelines, is to go through the motion of affirmation where the candidature of the incumbent president is endorsed at a national convention. This is the culture of democracy in America, be it Democrats or Republican Party, and indeed in all civilised democracies.

Does this proposal to abolish primary for incumbents also extend to elective positions in the legislature?
As earlier canvassed, if the system is adopted, the party will pool resources from all heavy weights’ to face the main election. It will also avoid the distractions of bitter rivalry. Most importantly, it will checkmate the threats of decampment by aggrieved aspirants, thereby depleting the needed arsenal for the main election. The expected target will be retention of leadership by the PDP at the centre.
The amendment must not include other elective positions such as National Assembly, Houses of Assembly and local chairmen and councillors. The supremacy of the party is symbolised in the presidency. This is where all efforts are needed to give direction to not just the party but the nation. A presidential primary is, therefore, totally unnecessary for an incumbent president produced by the PDP. Therefore, it is our prayer that any incumbent president from our great party, PDP, must not be subjected to party primary.

How would this proposal sail through, considering the controversy over an alleged deal the president had made with some PDP governors to do only one term?
Without prejudice to whatever decision President Goodluck Jonathan might take regarding his re-contesting the presidency in 2015, it is a settled matter that he is constitutionally entitled to two tenures of four years each. Irrespective of whatever political arrangement he might have made with any group or interest bodies, it is the exclusive preserve of his party, PDP, first and then the Nigerian people to decide whether the president deserves a second tenure or not. In other words, it is neither in the hands of a cabal nor over-ambitious politicians to usurp Nigeria’s constitution or the rights of Nigerians over who governs the country at a given time.

That is why the current controversy being stoked by Niger State governor, Aliyu Babangida Muazu, over a phantom agreement, allegedly, signed by President Jonathan to serve only one tenure, is totally unnecessary, morally offensive and legally not binding and, therefore, a political time bomb for the nation.

But for the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, it was also a fait accompli that he would have been given a second term ticket on a platter of gold, the same way President Shehu Shagari was re-elected in 1983. So if Shagari from the North and Obasanjo from the South-west could be re-elected, why would Jonathan, who is from the South-south not be re-elected?
It does appear that some Nigerians have forgotten so soon what the Jonathan presidency means to the nation. Apart from cementing national integration, the election of Jonathan closed the chapter of domination of one part of the county over the others. It offers hope to all Nigerians to aspire to the highest office in the land irrespective of where they hail from. Therefore, any attempt to scuttle the Jonathan presidency is akin to returning us to the days of Egypt. That is what some of us would never endorse.

Do you think this kind of regional sentiment is still strong in the country?
Indeed, we don’t want to remind the people of the South-south that the oil in their backyard had been used to build the mega Abuja city and other parts of the country while they live in squalor and degradation. I believe we don’t want to return to those days of armed militancy that crippled the economy of Nigeria.

What Babangida Aliyu is doing is akin to the street parlance of “Inyanga dey sleep, trouble go wake am”. Curiously, Aliyu and his cohorts in the Governors’ Forum who are pushing this satanic one term agenda against Jonathan are enjoying their second tenures facilitated by no less a person than the president himself! If they could serve two terms under PDP, why won’t Jonathan do same?  In fact, it is baffling that the Governors’ Forum which has majority of members from PDP has constituted itself into an opposition party within PDP. Instead of acting as a stabilising factor and support base for the president and his administration, the forum has lent itself to be manipulated and used by enemies of Nigeria to achieve their pre-determined selfish agenda. Ironically, the so-called influence they seek to wield at the federal level is what they can never allow in their states.

Give a little insight into your group.
Concerned –PDP –Democrats is a group of intellectual strategic think-thank within the PDP. We are committee towards creating an enduring, united party that would deepen our democracy. We aim to encourage the party leadership to adopt measures that would reduce rancour, acrimony and tendencies that could weaken the growth of the party. We aim to strategically reposition and rebrand the party for the next generation members. Our members cut across the NEC members and members of the caucus and the Board of Trustees. With the new structures in the party with Chief Anthony Anenih as the chairman of the PDP BoT and Governor Godswill Akpabio as the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, we are nearing our goal in this matter. Only time will tell.


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Disclaimer: Content is the Opinion of the Author and is not in anyway representative of the Opinions of the Nigerian Election Coalition, WANGONeT, or the MacArthur Foundation except otherwise stated.


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