The Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, South-South, Chief Dan Orbih, shares his thoughts about lingering issues in the party.
Your part’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is up against the challenge from the Labour Party and the APC. How does your party intend to surmount this challenge and win the presidency?
I think 2023 is an election year. You have the presidential election, we have National Assembly election, we have governorship election in some of the states and you have states Houses of Assembly election. For every election where you have registered political parties, people will certainly work for the interest of their parties. So, what you are referring to now is nothing different. It has always been like that for every election. But I think that at the end of the day, only one person can win in any of the seats that will be up for contest and I pray that God will help us.
Now, how many states do you intend to get for PDP for the South-South zone, giving your pedigree?
The South-South is a traditional PDP zone. I know that there are pockets of problems in some of the states, but it is my prayer that our current underground efforts to put those problems behind us will help us to retain our prime position as being the number support base of the PDP in Nigeria.
Are you not threatened by the “Obidients”?
I am not a prophet of doom; I’m a prophet of hope.
What is your view on the claim that apart from Senator Iyorchia Ayu leaving the position as the National Chairman of the party, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is also demanding that he (Wike) should be supported to become the President in 2027?
My first answer is that I am not Governor Wike. I don’t know what Governor Wike has requested; I only heard that from you for the first time. I have not heard it from anywhere else. So, I think that question will be better directed at Governor Wike. I remain Chief Dan O.C Orbih, the National Vice Chairman, South-South. I am not Governor Wike.
But you are a factor in that party.
I have just told you that I am not aware that he has made any such request, but I am aware that there is a call by not just Governor Wike, but also by concerned PDP leaders across the country, that going by our past traditions, when you have a presidential candidate from one part of the country, the chairman will come from another section of the country. I was an active member of the zoning committee that brought about zoning the positions that were formerly in the South to the North. Flowing from that position, a lot of people felt that having zoned the party chairmanship and other positions that were formerly in the South to the North, the next thing to do was to zone the presidential ticket to the South. As you know, that never happened.
In fact, people started selling forms before the Ayu leadership decided to set up a zoning committee. It is like putting the cart before the horse, and as expected, that committee came up with the fact that the party has already started selling forms and threw the process open. How do you now come to now say you have zoned it to an area when some people from some other parts of the country have already bought forms? Faced with that dilemma, the party came out to say we will throw it open and as expected, the national chairman at that time came out publicly to say that in the event that a northern member of the party emerges as a candidate, he will step aside and allow a southerner to be the chairman.
Was it a written or a gentleman’s agreement?
I have heard the tape where he said so and people continue to send those clips of the interview with Arise TV and other media houses to say the chairman did say that in the event of a northerner emerging as chairman of the party, he will step down and allow the South to produce the chairman.
And he has not denied it that he didn’t say it?
I think it is better to ask him. You see, there are questions that are better answered by those who are involved. I am only giving you a background to the call by various senior concerned members of the party saying that the chairman should keep to his earlier promise that he will step down in the event of the emergence of a northern presidential candidate. This is actually becoming a very disturbing issue and I pray that now that members and chairman of the Board of Trustees and other concerned party leaders are stepping into it to find ways of resolving it, I am sure that very soon, it will be resolved because Nigerians are beginning to ask questions. If you cannot keep promises you made to yourselves as a political party, how do you keep the promises you are going to make to Nigerians? These are the critical areas of this issue of agitation that the chairman should come from the South and I think the party must find a way to resolve it.
For instance, if there are potent fears that Wike and some other of his loyalists may even quit; do you have the believe that the party is going to suffer for it if they leave the PDP?
Wike has repeatedly stated that he has no intention to quit the party.
But he will work against the party…
He has never said he will work against the party. I want to believe that Wike has no intention to quit the party. That Wike said he would not quit the party does not mean that as a committed leader of the PDP, he has no right to insist that things must be done properly and differently from the old practice. To this extent, I want to say that, as a party leader, who has watched events, past events in the party, the PDP, if nothing else, should continue to appreciate Wike for his principled stand.
We’ve had cases of people running primaries, nomination in the PDP, the moment they lose, they leave the party. But here, we have a man who lost presidential primary, he has remained in the party and he is exercising his rights to demand for a better party and for the party to improve its chances of winning elections especially in the South by doing what exactly the party should do. I think you should not mix up the issue, I don’t think Wike has any intention to leave the party, but you cannot also deny him his rights to agitate for a better balance of power in the party that will ultimately impact on our success at the election.
It is very unusual for politicians to return money sent to their accounts. What prompted you and five other persons to do so?
I think the positive you will take from my action and the action of the other five wise men is that within the leadership of the PDP, there are people who are committed to having a better party and a better Nigeria. We are very satisfied with the action we have taken and I think all of us can build on the positive of that action. That is not to say there are people even within the leadership of the party who are trying to politicise it, criticising our decision to return the money.
I can boldly state here that this residence is my personal residence and I have been living here since the year 2007. It offends good conscience to collect N28m at a time when the economy is so bad that an average Nigerian cannot afford three square meals. Will I collect N28m as housing allowance when I know I don’t pay any rent whenever I am in Abuja? It is unacceptable on my part to see what is wrong and say well, since others have decided to keep quiet, I should keep quiet. So, I actually feel this is not an issue we should over flog. I have done what I feel I should do, I’ve moved on.
Where do we go from here now?
I believe we all have the responsibility in our own little ways to join hands in bringing about the resolution of the little conflicts we have in different areas, so that the coming election will be a lot easier for us to win. I rest my case.
What’s your assessment of the presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and that of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, ahead of the 2023 presidential election?
I don’t have the habit of making comments about people who are not members of my party and I think it is unfair for you to start mentioning other people who are contesting this position in other parties other than my party. If you ask me today as PDP leader and party member, ‘who do you vote for at the election?’ I will think that question is unnecessary. As a party leader and as a committed leader of the PDP, I will naturally vote for my party, end of discussion.
Why has Ayu not left going by what people say has been the precedent in PDP?
I think it is not fair to asking me this question when you know the person to ask the question. But having asked this question, I just want to correct one wrong perception that is going round within the party. People have said for the party to effect changes, we must go to a convention. I want to correct that perception and the truth is that all previous changes made in the party were not effected through a convention.
Was it when Bamanga Tukur, Adamu Muazu, Okwesilieze Nwodo were removed? And very recently, Uche Secondus, who had less than three months to the end of his tenure, was removed to stabilise the party, to avoid the crisis that was building up, his tenure was cut short and that brought us to the convention that brought the current chairman of the party.
What I am trying to say is that if we are faced with a crisis and the party needs to take steps to address the root cause of the crisis, we should take those steps without people trying to bring constitutionality into the issue. All I am saying is to put the historical perspective of former situations where the party had to take decisions in the entire interest of the unity and stability of the party.
It is also argued that even if Ayu decides to please Governor Wike by stepping aside, the person that will take over will be from the North-East. What is your take on this?
I don’t want to talk about the constitutionality or who takes over, who doesn’t take over if Ayu resigns. Ayu has not resigned; when we get to the bridge, we will cross it. I don’t want us to be putting stories on certain assumptions. As of today, Ayu has not resigned; he remains the national chairman of the PDP. So, let us respect that position until otherwise.
Let talk about your State. How united is the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State?
The PDP is as united as the circumstances allow it to be.
It is exactly what I said. It is as united as the situation we found ourselves has allowed it to be.
You played an active role in ensuring Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State got a second term in office, but along the line, it appears that the centre really can’t hold; do you have any regret for you action?
Let me say that I played a prominent role as a committed and loyal party member in supporting the re-election of Godwin Obaseki. Let me also state quite frankly that I have no regret to the extent that I played a role that was expected of me as a leader of the party in the state.
Your party is really divided into two factions. One is loyal to Obaseki; how will the PDP in the state resolve this disagreement before the 2023 election?
I don’t want to completely agree with your position. There is a world of difference between the party and the government, and it is expected that when the party has somebody in government, the person in government should be able to manage the relationship between government and the party. Unfortunately, I am not in government; so, I am not in a position to manage that relationship. But I have continued to ensure that we don’t allow the political party to die in the state. I have continued to pray or support the party, in my conviction that the PDP has always been a strong party in Edo State.
Don’t forget, before the coming of the governor, during Goodluck Jonathan’s election, the PDP won the presidential election. At that time, we had (Adams) Oshiomhole as a two-time governor of the state and the former governor of Edo State, John Oyegun, as the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress. I led the political party as the chairman at that time to victory. In 2019, while the current governor was still a member of APC and Oshiomhole was its national chairman, I again led the PDP to win the presidential election for Atiku Abubakar in Edo State. I can say without missing words that Edo State was one of the states that Atiku won in the election.
There are people who are making noise now louder than any person in the party, who could not even give Atiku 25 per cent of the votes in their state, but we didn’t have a governor, we won the election in Edo State for Atiku in 2019, we won two senatorial seats and other seats in the Federal House of Representatives. So, my happiness is that the PDP has always been a very strong party in Edo State. I believe I have the responsibility to continue to support that party so that it would not be worse than what it was when we did not have a governor.
There are claims that the crisis in the PDP in your state may not be resolved if stakeholders continue to allow external influence. Do you share in this school of thought?
The problem in Edo State PDP is an Edo State PDP problem. There are no external forces. People are shying away from addressing the problems that are there. They also don’t want to say things that may stop them from receiving pecuniary benefits. For me, they should locate Edo State PDP problem in Edo State and find solutions to the problem in Edo State