Dr Eddy Olafeso is the immediate former national vice chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-West. He speaks to Hakeem Gbadamosi on the current state of the country, the crisis in the South-West, reasons for the party’s loss in the last governorship election in Ondo State and other issues.
What is your assessment of the current state of the country, considering the increase in the price of fuel, rising foodstuff prices, the #EndSARS protest and its fallout, among others?
There is absence of government in Nigeria because the first responsibility of government is the welfare and safety of the people and ensuring that the nation progresses and develops. So in all these indices, the government is absent. There is no security anywhere. What you see on a daily basis are kidnapping, killings everywhere, from the North-Central to the North-East. Even in the South-West part of the country that we are, kidnapping has resurfaced in the last few months. There is nothing much about COVID-19 anymore except that we wake up to discover that warehouses loaded with foods meant for ordinary citizens of the country are looted. So the government has failed woefully and Nigerians are just left on their own, suffering with lots of misery and pain. Suddenly, they increased the pump price of petrol from about N142 to N172 and economic indices show zero growth with unemployment escalating. Nothing is happening now in Nigeria and I think this is the worst moment in our history.
On the decision of the Federal Government on the #EndSARS saga, they are scratching the surface and this is unfortunate. They say idle hands are the devil’s workshop and for crying out loud, when are they going to put these children to work? When are they going to go back to schools for training? When are they ever going to be considered as part of citizens of this country that have a sense of entitlement? So, for us, for the government to say they have considered all the issues raised by the #EndSARS protesters and suddenly they begin to clamp down on the people who provided feeding and shelter for the protesters shows the government is not serious and I don’t think they are doing the right thing. The Federal Government has started incubating further violence for the future with the clampdown on the protesters and those said to have given them material support. My own local government is so hard hit that the legacy and our heritage for the last six years was burned down just because government did not care and they still don’t care. For me, what they do is insensitive and I think those in government at the centre should be ashamed of themselves and they must come out with better plans and integrate the youth into what needs to be done to make the country move forward. It is rather unfortunate that, on the one hand, they said they are looking at what the protest is all about and, on the other hand, they are punishing those they believe must have helped in the protests.
The government believes the social media was used effectively to stage the protest. What do you think about the government’s plan to regulate the social media?
I think this is insane, because it is part of our freedom and this is like saying that we all should have to go back to the era of constriction by government and our freedom is dependent on whatever they do. There are laws in our constitution that actually punish anybody that spreads false rumour. So, why can’t they explore that rather than to say people cannot just have the freedom to express themselves. For those spreading lies, the law will take its course at the appropriate time, but gagging the social media contradicts my idea of freedom in a democratic environment
Your party, the PDP, is currently at the forefront of those championing the call for restructuring and there are also criticisms that when PDP was in power for 16 years, it failed to do it. Why are you people now latter day advocates of restructuring?
I agree with those who said we didn’t, as quickly as possible, deal with this matter. We were in the saddle for 16 years, but we know that this constitution is a military constitution and the least we can do is to come together and fashion a new constitution for ourselves. There is nothing you can add or subtract from the constitution that can sustain development for Nigeria. So, we must have to lay that constitution to rest and that was why the National Conference came up in 2014. The conclusion there could have been the bedrock of a new constitution if we are serious about it. So, it is not about the APC alone, it is about the PDP and all of us that we must try to be progressive. How can we have all these resources and continue to live in nightmare of poverty and misery? How come we have these resources and cannot tap them? How come we cannot produce petroleum products for our domestic production and we have to depend on other countries in other parts of the world? Why did God give us all these resources if we cannot even utilise them for the progress, development of our people and creating wealth and prosperity for our people?
To me, it is right to say we must move on as quickly as possible to restructure and we must do everything possible to be honest and fair to ourselves. We are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and that you are an opponent does not make you an enemy. Can’t we come up with a conference along how Nigeria can move forward? Why are we so individualistic and materialistic to the point that we can even steal our own homes when all we need to do is to develop it? People steal the country’s money and take it somewhere else for their own development. God knows the number and the quantum of resources of Nigeria abroad that were illegitimately and illegally stolen from this part that are not serving the people, but elsewhere. We have this constricting extreme poverty that is our lot today.
It seems things are no longer at ease in your party, with so many factions, especially in the South-West. What is really going on in the PDP?
That is really a reference point to what I just said that because we defer does not make us enemies. When I was chairman of the South-West for the PDP, I did everything to bring everybody back and this is part of the reasons I figured that I need to return to complete the job we commenced. Now, across the zone, leadership must begin to act as leaders. Leadership is about enduring criticism and ensuring that you bring them out for the purpose of improving the positivity and recreating a new energy and environment to build a better future. The truth is that at the end of the day, brotherhood would still have to prevail. We all need to sit at a table and discuss this matter. All this grandstanding about this and that cannot help us or take us anywhere. We are moving towards 2023 and the idea is for us to be united, to carry everybody along because politics is not something you do alone. It is consensus in building a united front, creating a vision and continuing to push the same vision that can develop the society and improve on lives and create prosperity for the majority of our people.
It breaks my heart to say we had the clear opportunity of winning in Ondo State and the reason we didn’t win is because the leadership did not provide that platform of unity that can bring everybody together in this matter and eventually I hate a situation when you blame others for all the mistakes you have made yourself. But I know our party is strong enough and we have the internal mechanisms to bring everybody together to be able to do the right thing and move forward.
Former Governor Ayo Fayose and Governor Seyi Makinde are leaders in their own right and I believe that at the appointed time they will come together. I want to appeal and encourage others too that, rather than dividing them, they should find a way to unite them. For us, we have sacrificed so much. I have been in this party for the last 20 years and I have committed my all and done everything to promote the party. When I became the national vice chairman in 2016, I was in court in four places: Lagos, Abeokuta, Abuja and Ado Ekiti. I was roaming the entire place until I won at the Supreme Court in November 2017. We were unable to do anything. But immediately after that we began to work; you saw what happened in Ekiti in 2017; it was a narrow defeat. It was a victory stolen by the APC. In Osun State too, they did the same thing. But we thank God that we retain Oyo. The leaders that worked with me at that time are still around. So, we should reduce this bias and calm down the temperature, come together, unless we want to continue to be a serial loser that will continue to lose elections. This is the moment we must have to take a deep breath and my worry is that consistently we recruit very incompetent people to handle sensitive things. Managing human being is the most sensitive thing on earth and that means you have to have quality education, experience, knowledge and you must humble yourself adequately to be able to listen to others and do the needful. For me, that is the best way out and that is exactly what I feel we should do in the South-West and in other zones and Ondo State in particular. We must bring back our people; they must return. If they don’t return home, we cannot win alone.
Engineer Seyi Makinde became the governor of Oyo State during your time as the chairman. Why then do you think he is against your return as the South-West chairman of the party?
For me, politics is about choices and self-interest and I don’t even think Governor Makinde is against my return. By believing that Oyo State should produce the national vice chairman does not make him to be opposed to me. We are going to go into a congress and if he wins, we will all celebrate and work together and if I win, I know Governor Makinde will work with me too. So, I don’t see it as a personal issue. We are brothers and we remain brothers.
In Ondo State, the PDP candidate in the last election has gone to the tribunal, any hope?
Well, I pray so. We want our party to win at all costs and at all times. I have never wished them otherwise.
But what were the factors that led to the defeat of your party in the election?
We were not ready. There was lack of preparation. The party was divided and leadership too was divided. There was total disrespect for everybody and there was no moment of rallying anybody. The division was so rife that it is only God that could have made us to win.
There was an allegation that some party members engaged in anti-party activities during the election, especially after the party’s primary.
I wouldn’t know and I could I know. I know Eddy Olafeso cannot be accused of sabotaging the PDP. I have a track record. I have been in the party in the last 20 years and I have committed my all to it. I worked with one of the greatest, Dr Olusegun Agagu. My party is my party and at no time did I do anything whatsoever to want to undermine the party. That’s why, when you look at your face in the mirror, you must be able to accept the reality that is staring at you. If we have failed to plan, we have planned to fail and the truth is that we never did much to unite the entire people, even those that eventually defected to the ZLP. We did not try adequately and quickly to bring everyone under the same umbrella like APC did whenever any of their contestants went to any other party. They rallied and brought them together.
Many of us were not even consulted and I begged, I pleaded for a cap at the inauguration and when they were doing their final rally in Ondo town, I was with Fayose when his cap was removed. What message are we sending to the electorate that are going to vote for us? A divided party can only bring about a mediocre government and the truth is that we must as quickly as possible learn and retrace our steps. I said something when I was conceding defeat at the primary, I said the worst thing you can do in life is to seek power when you do not know what to do with it. Seeking power means you have the clear vision about what you are going to do when you come to power. You have researched, committed and have opportunity to learn from others, listen to the rest of the world. Everybody is blaming every other person for the feeling that we know was obvious. How did we fair at the night of debate? What new formula, connection did we declare to the people on the field? Though we know politics has been monetised, I can tell you we ought to have actually asserted ourselves quickly enough and we would have been able to get closer to the people. People are suffering; salaries are not paid; emoluments are hanging; pensioners are just abandoned. Nothing is going well for the state, insecurity, everything and yet we lost that moment. I want to use this opportunity to appeal to everybody. Let’s go back to the drawing table. Let’s be united; otherwise we are incubating a future and vision that will never bring about success.
Why is the PDP in Ondo State opposed to your return as the zonal chair?
This is not true. They are not. They went to do zoning in Ibadan and people were kicking. I want to thank everybody that believes Ondo State is not a province that will be handed peanuts while everybody else will be enjoying. We have lost the governorship and I pray we take it back in court. But what have we got now? They zoned the position of an ex-officio to us. But I am in the race and I thank God for those who have given me their own mandate, those who have endorsed me. Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti have all endorsed me. Even in Ondo, majority of our people are with me and ready to vote for me and I am excited. We must face the reality and deal with equity and fairness and ensure that everybody is considered in whatever we do. That is when a party can develop. I learn from the master and I kept on repeating it, Dr [Olusegun] Agagu will leave nobody behind. But most of these people don’t care with their arrogance and sense of entitlement which are the killers of quality leadership that can bring about change. When you acquire power without knowing what to do with it, that is the worst crime against humanity. You’re going to mislead a lot of people, destroy their future and their hope and their aspirations. Care must be taken for us not go in that direction any more. Let us prepare ourselves. Who are we putting in position? Is he competent or just exhibiting emotion that will filter and fade away and at the end of the day nothing will happen? From February 1976 till date, this is Ondo State. We suddenly no longer have much reckoning among the 36 states. It is about time the leadership of the party in the state came together.
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