September 05, (THEWILL) – Rahman Owokoniran is a former member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, a former commissioner and the current South-West Zonal Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with AYO ESAN, he speaks on issues affecting the PDP at the regional and national levels. Excerpts:
After the South-West Regional Congress where you and other members of your executive were elected in Osogbo, have you been able to foster unity in the South-West PDP?
Well, it is still a work in progress. Every day we are making progress. We are working and talking, but we haven’t got there yet. We are hopeful that very soon there is going to be a meeting that will bring everybody to the table so that we can have a heart to heart discussion. We are having this to make sure that we make meaningful contributions.
How far have you reached out to the Fayose group, which was your main opposition at the regional congress?
We are not interested in groups. We are interested in individuals and the leadership in the various states. I can tell you about my state, Lagos. I can also tell you about Oyo and Ondo States. Let me say that our regional National Vice Chairman, Ambassador Taofeek Arapaja, has been talking to a good number of people in Oyo State and he has been achieving tremendous success in unifying most of our members. I can tell you that a similar effort is being made in Lagos and a good number of these people you called Fayose’s group are already talking with us. We are talking. At the end of the day, it is about our states. All politics is local. We believe that we have been sharing common goals and a common objective in the progress of our states. Therefore there is no reason why they should continue to encourage divisions. I can go state by state like that. That some people are in somebody’s group is not the way we see it. That is not our approach to this issue.
Between June and July 2022, there will be two governorship elections in the South-West, specifically in Ekiti and Osun States. How is the South West PDP preparing for both elections?
Like I said, we are working with the leadership of the states. We are working and talking, but we will not make it public yet because it is still a work in progress. When the final result is out, you will see how much effort has been made.
Some members of your party believe that with your experience you are going to play a useful role in lifting up the party in the region. How do you see their optimism about your performance and how are you taking such task?
I am working round the clock to make sure that we get it right. The most important thing is that all of us believe there is a need for us to unite. The task of unifying the whole body has to do with interest. We have to look at how we can accommodate all those interests. We are working very hard. We believe in the party and we share the same interest in the party. Most of these people that you talk about as being in the Fayose group share the same sentiment with us.
How is your executive positioning the South-West for the forthcoming national convention of your party in Abuja?
Those who are interested in the race have started showing interest. We haven’t taken any serious position yet. Let me say that we have not even started treating this issue because before you go into that you must first of all wait for how the positions are going to be zoned. As we stand now, the composition of the steering committee has not been decided. This week or the next week one, we will get somewhere with the composition of the zoning committee. When the zoning committee completes its task, we can then decide on how to use our strength to support our own candidates from the South-West .
Between 2003 and 2007, the PDP was controlling five states in the South-West . Today it is only governing Oyo State. What is the regional executive doing to improve the PDP’s fortune in the South-West, come 2023?
The South-West PDP has always been strong. I recall that in one of the interviews I granted the media, I said the All Progressives Congress (APC) is not a dominant party. Go and check the result of 2015 general election; the APC scored between 48 and 51 per cent. In the 2019 polls our presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, did well in the South West. If you go back in history, you will find that the South-West has never been a one party region because of the diverse interests within the region. So we are working very hard and we are serious about it. We want to win a good number of the states in the South-West, if not all .
The PDP at the national level is currently witnessing a crisis. How do you see such development, especially now that the 2023 general election is close at hand?
Every complex organisation experiences a crisis from time to time. The most important thing is that the mechanism for solving crises is already within the constitution. And we are applying it. Some of the resolutions taken by the National Executive of the PDP has to do with the fact that we are law abiding. We believe in the rule of law. Therefore we must allow that to guide the process of the mechanism that is in place in our constitution. Soon you will see that the crisis that you talked about is really not there. It is being overblown by some individual interests so that they can use it to blackmail the party into submission . But it is not working. If you have anything, go to the party mechanism and you will get the result .
What is your advice to PDP members in the South-West as we move into the future?
That the world thinks the APC has killed Nigeria and we are the viable alternative to take power in 2023. That the larger goal should be more important to us as a party to ensure that we unify and rally round the party to fight this coming election and to be victorious.
How do you advise the Independent National Electoral Commission as we move towards the 2023 general election?
I don’t know the problems that INEC is having. But the Commission is not doing enough in terms of advertising for support for democracy, which it is supposed to midwife. The people have given up on elections. They don’t want to come out to vote. The turnout at elections has continued to decline. And INEC does see this as failure in its duty. Its inability to produce the results of elections, in accordance with the voting pattern in the states or local government areas, is discouraging a lot of people from coming out to cast their votes. People believe the results hardly reflect how they voted. If INEC continues this way, it is not going to help our democracy.
INEC should encourage people to come out in large numbers to vote during elections. One of the things that officials of the commission do is hoard voter cards. They don’t give voters cards out to the people. If you go to register today or you registered two or three years back and you moved out of that area and later you request another card in your new location, you will not get the old one and you will not get a new one. So that is systematic disenfranchising of the people.
I have attended a meeting where I learnt that politicians are supposed to go out and persuade the people to come and vote. Yes, they are supposed to do that, but what about INEC? INEC also has a duty to ensure that people come out in large numbers. If it encourages people to come out to vote and tell them that if they are not voting, they are not helping democracy, the turnout during elections will be higher. That is the duty of the commission, but it is not doing its job. And this is not good for our democracy.
INEC should stop discouraging voters through some of its actions and decisions. It should stick to the duties that have been assigned to it by the Constitution. Most of its officials behave as though they belong to the ruling party. They should do everything possible to disabuse the minds of the people of this notion. They should let the people know that theirs is to midwife elections and ensure the right candidates win.