…If the Caucus Says Zoning Should Stand I Will Stand By It
…Defection, We Will Pursue Ayade Up to Supreme Court,
Says State Chairman PDP, Barr. Venatius Ikem in an interview; Excerpts:
By Andy Esiet, Calabar
How prepared are you for the primaries?
We are very prepared. You can see the atmosphere in Cross River State is predominantly Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dominated and by the grace of God we hope that will reflect in whatever we are doing. Our challenge is multiplicity of candidates or aspirants in almost all positions beyond our wildest expectations but we are guiding everyone to understand that we cannot all win at the same time and we hope that would make sense to everybody. The cardinal objective is to take government and I will be starting a meeting with all the ward chairmen on Thursday to drive home this idea because we will be starting the foundation Congress which is the election of the three ad-hoc delegates who will participate in all the elections. We will be electing them on the 23rd of this month, so it’s very critical that we lower some tension in the field, especially from the base of the party at the ward level. If we can achieve some reasonable level of consensus at that level, we will be able to ride through the rest without much crisis. So I will be running across the state to meet with all the ward chairmen and other officials and stakeholders from the various wards to pass home this message.
How many governorship aspirants do you have now?
For the governorship, I think we have about 12 who have collected forms. For the National Assembly, I have not checked because we are not issuing the forms. For the 25 House of Assembly seats, we have close to 120 aspirants who have collected forms on the platform of the party; it’s that massive so you can understand our challenge.
Are you looking at consensus at all levels?
We are looking at consensus especially at the base of the party which is the selection of the three ad-hoc delegates who will be the electors, so to speak, for the rest of the congresses except the national convention. After that, democracy will have its full reign and I am hoping that the process will be free and fair and how you can win the support of delegates who emerges through this consensus process is what will determine your win ability and for us, the key thing lies at that base as an area where we ensure that our party achieves some very reasonable understanding amongst our stakeholders. Thereafter, politics is in your hands but we don’t want to have a crisis that suggests that the process was hijacked at the foundation. Once we establish the foundation, you can come from Calabar and get your delegates in Ogoja or Yala or Obudu and it won’t matter. We don’t want a situation where a leader would want to impose his will on an entire Local Government Aras (LGA) whereby he is controlling all the delegates in the entire LGA. It’s essential that these things are done by the local leaders from every ward, that’s why we are focusing there.
On the issue of zoning, do you still stand on zoning by elimination?
Of course I still stand by that because it is what we have practiced before. I don’t know why people are making a big deal out of it, maybe it is the usage of the word elimination but right now, the three senatorial districts are at par once again having exhausted the eight years, let me assume that Ayade will be there till the end of his eight years. Having exhausted that, the process we adopted in the first round was very clear where we contested and one person wins from a zone, that zone is taken as having produced their own. That is elimination meaning you are not going to participate in the next round. In the next round of the contest, the same thing will apply and then the last person standing takes it without contention. There are just three senatorial districts, so it is not far-fetched to appreciate how it works out.
So will you support the idea of someone from the North entering the governorship race?
For us in the North, we are beginning to wonder why nobody showed interest in collecting or indicating interest because in our local setup, ideally you should start from the man who waited the longest, so he should have the first shot to enjoy what others enjoyed before him but like gentlemen, the people from the north appreciate them, being that they are still holding the mandate. It would seem unfair to others to be contesting at a time like this. I am suspecting that was just the understanding, not because anything disqualifies anybody from the north from the contest.
Is this position of yours okay for our nascent democracy?
I am beginning to think that we have outgrown this nascent thing. It is a step towards eventual elimination of zoning completely. If we go on with this through the next round, you will realise that by the third round, the idea of zoning would have been completely eliminated. For us, democracy is growing and evolving steadily, despite what anyone might say. The eventual birth will be that anyone can contest from any zone at any time. If you perform well or if you are seen to have the quality, it won’t matter whether somebody had come from your local government the last time or not. That is when we will say democracy has actually arrived at some point but for now, this method is almost close to that except that we are still respecting the geo-political zones.
Do you entertain any fears of protest vote if the South does not get the ticket?
As the chairman of the party, I don’t have such fears. Our passion and conviction of our party has to be founded on something stronger than that. I believe all we need is for the process to be free and fair and to be seen as manifestly so. Once that is done, everybody who has seen what we have been through in the last eight years will understand why we should be more principled about what we are fighting for than “they deprived me of a turn”. I think after about 22 years in PDP, there are basic things holding us together that are stronger than those emotions. While they are contesting, they may experience such things but I think that by and large, in the end, those contesting will see that the stakes are higher where they are than anywhere else.
The Caucus of your party met recently, what was the outcome?
We discussed more about zoning and there were counter arguements about it but for now I would say that we have not closed the arguement so I don’t want to be hasty to make any conclusive statement on that but I think the meeting concluded on a more mature note than when we started and I think people are going to have a better appreciation of where we stand than they did before the meeting.
If the caucus says zoning should stand, will you abide by it?
If the caucus says zoning should stand, of course I will stand by it but standing by depends also on what you mean by it because I am not going to enforce zoning to the extent of stopping anybody from contesting because everybody has the right to contest, even the proponents of zoning said so in the meeting. All they thought they could achieve is that moral suasion that says okay we have agreed that it should go here but someone can say I am not complying but i think that is a recipe for some crisis but we may not get to that point. As chairman, the exco cannot stop anybody from picking his form and running the election on the basis of zoning.
The PDP at national level says no zoning, while South South and South East are insisting on zoning, what is your take on this?
I think the national has concluded their assignment and they resolved from there that there would be no zoning so I think that is where we are at the national level. What I think they are now trying to drum is the idea of reaching a consensus amongst their aspirants. First the aspirants have to speak amongst themselves and then a larger stakeholder forum. If they cannot achieve total consensus at least they can reduce the number of aspirants in the field and that is being worked on. I have no fears because in the past, we have had things like this and we have always risen above them. Now is even more critical to rise above such issues and I know that we will because PDP has a lot of experience in managing crises more than any other party. We have four or five former senate Presidents and enough human capital with so much experience and we know how high the stakes are. Most of all, we identify with the plight of Nigerians and their current predicaments so much that we will do whatever it takes to take positions that will ameliorate the suffering Nigerians are going through. I think selfish ambitions will not override the overall public interest.
What is your reaction to Governor Ayade’s victory at the Federal High court on the issue of defection?
He won, so to speak, in the court of first instance and we have two more courts to go to but our position remains the same. We believe that he cannot sustain a mandate of PDP in APC. The electoral rules are very clear, he did not run as an independent candidate and if he vacates the platform on which he ran an election, he should vacate the office and we are going to pursue that position until the Supreme Court.
What would you say to your party faithful as you approach 2023?
For me, it has been wonderful seeing the passion with which our members have sustained the party. The strength, the energy with which they are bringing into every activity of the party, and recently, I am so overwhelmed with the interest to contest on our platform which tells me clearly that the platform to use to run elections is PDP. So we encourage them and despite the multiplicity of aspirants, we remain one family. In the end, all of us will come together as a party and work for whoever emerges as our candidate at the end of all these primaries