Democracy can’t last without electoral reforms – Secondus

Prince Uche Secondus is the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with journalists in Abuja, he said Nigeria democracy can’t last without urgent electoral reforms. Our correspondent, Lateef Ibrahim, was there for Peoples Daily.
Excerpts:

What is your take on the position of Minority Leader in the Senate, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe that President Buhari should resign?
We are in total support of the Minority Leader’s position in the Senate who called for the President to resign because he has failed. He is overwhelmed with the security challenges and so the PDP backs the Minority leader’s position that if he can’t secure lives and properties, which is the first charge of any government, then with honour, he should resign. We are not calling for government to collapse but if the President can no longer assure the population of Nigerians that they are safe, he should resign. We also believe that it is time for the judiciary to wake up because it is the last hope of the ordinary man and the judiciary is the conscience of democracy. Without a strong judiciary, democracy cannot stand. We believe that what has happened in the country is enough lesson for all of us to repent and render service to our people selflessly. It is time to wake up because this is a fresh beginning, January 2020. It is time for us to speak out and speak out truth not propaganda. You can deceive the people some of the time, it is a very common adage, but you cannot deceive all the people all the time. You can carry on with your propaganda for long, but one day, one day, the truth will come out.
We are not here to join issues, but we are burdened and pained by what is going on in our country today.
Without electoral reforms and amendment of our electoral laws, we can’t move forward. Look at what happened in Kogi and Bayelsa, and other elections in 2019, it is a shame. Ghana can conduct their elections without any violence and problems, Kenya the same, South Africa, other countries in Africa but Nigeria was a leading country in Africa, where are we today? What is our position? Bans are being placed on our country, travel restrictions, we are being treated anyhow. A giant of Africa is now ant of Africa. But we believe that if you all stand with us and speak the truth, we will come out of it, God will help us to come out of this problems.

The Buhari Media Organisation is making mockery of your party that for 16yrs in office you could not complete you party Headquarters. Why?
It is entirely the business of PDP to determine when we are ready to pack into our new secretariat. We have secretariats, we have offices and as you know, we have one at Wadata and another one at Legacy. That one is still under construction. So, be patient till we pack over there. But we have very good offices.

What is your party doing about one of our colleagues Agba Jalingo, who has been in detention that has been traced to one of your governors in Cross River State?
You are aware that the Governor of Cross River met with the President last Tuesday and on his way out, he was interviewed by your colleagues and he had to explain what happened, how water entered melon, so I refer you to the statement of the governor because we are all concerned and if it is true, a proper investigation will be carried out and I believe that what the governor said, you are aware of it. So you don’t need me to say much about that until a final decision is taken, but we are concerned generally because this is a country that believe and of course it was the PDP that came out with the Freedom of Speech Act and we believe in it. Our then President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, signed it and so we believe in free press and free speech.

It has been observed that a lot of PDP stakeholders, especially the governors, have shown disloyalty publicly to the party, they have not allegiance to the party and it seems your administration has lost the capacity to call them to order, why is this so?
You see, democracy is fast deteriorating in our country because of the style of the federal government. As you can see, it is do or die, or winners take all, people are not patient, hunger in the land, insecurity, that may be what is contributing to what you are witnessing today but our position is very clear.
Even in those states not controlled by PDP, you still know that we have critical stakeholders in those states who are firmly on the ground. And you know also that in 2019 election, we won in those states that are not ours and that shows clearly that we are moving forward with democratic ideals and principles but you never can tell. There may be one or two places where we may have what you just described, but we believe that it will come on and off until we arrive at the right destination, not just for our party but for our nation also.

Where is the party going to zone 2023 presidential ticket?
Today, we are more concerned in rebuilding our party. When the time comes for the nomination of a Presidential candidate, the party will come out with its position. You know the Constitution allows everybody, whether you are from north, whether you are from south to contest. No one is going to stop anyone from contesting, even when it is zoned to a particular region. So every person still has a right to contest. So, if you are qualified and desire to run for the office of the President, you are free to contest.

There is rumour that your party is planning to change its name. What is the correct position?
I am quite glad that you called it rumour and I would regard it as gossip. And everybody, every free thinker is allowed to think, but we never considered name change. It has never happened and no suggestion. But like you said, it is rumour and anybody can throw the rumour to his face. It is not being considered by our party at all, it is not part and parcel of our agenda for now.

Is your party considering a merger?
Why not? When the time comes, if there is need for people to pull their resources and pull their strength together, it can happen. It is possible. Our focus is in making sure that our party is strong and viral and ready to win election.

Following the crises in APC, what is your party doing to clinch the governorship seat in Edo state as the election is moving closer?
We are working very hard in Edo state. We met with the leadership and stakeholders of Edo state last week and I believe that our people are coming together, very strong and you are aware that the state belonged to PDP before the APC took it from us. So we are working hard to regain Edo state.

Your party spent 16 years in office and the only thing it could put in place regarding electoral reforms is the card reader. Many Nigerians believe that if your party was honest enough and not benefiting from electoral fraud, there could have been a more solid reform which could made it difficult for individuals or groups or parties to rig elections?
If you recall, when PDP came into power in 1999, I want you people to rewind a little bit because we must know where we were coming from and where we are now. It took 16 years for us to carry out electoral reforms which gave us what we have and which was not implemented. First the laws were analogue. Second, there have been several reforms within the 16 years and it became like rhetorics and you know part of it. Part of our challenge was that the Constitution of our country must also conform with the desire of the change and reform which we proposed before we handed over in 2015. It was the PDP that equipped the INEC with all the data and with all the machine and also the transmission of result sheets electronically, but when this government came, they discarded all the structures that were put in place, even though the electoral law didn’t quite capture it because of the impediment of our constitution, because a major aspect was that we need also to change a major aspect of our constitution as regards to the electoral reforms and this requires everybody. When we called, a few days ago, for electoral reforms we were not calling only the APC, the PDP everybody in our nation because we must move forward. Now, 16 years was not a joke. I suppose you should appreciate that the PDP has done very well bringing us to where we are today and it is left for those in government now to quickly, all the structures are there, in fact the last amendment that was done, in the 8th Assembly, this President, President Buhari refused to assent to that Bill to become law. Election results can be transmitted from the voting point to the centre. The President refused to sign it. So, why are you putting the blame on PDP? The 8th National Assembly amended the electoral laws, so you don’t put that blame on the door of PDP, put it squarely on the door of APC government. They are now in government for five years running. So, put that on their door step. And we believe that if we don’t do the needful and reform, we cannot move forward as a nation, we can’t.
So we don’t want to join issues with APC, we don’t want to join issue with anybody but what we want is electoral reform that will be good for everybody. People should have right to come and vote and not be killed and that is the right of all citizens.

A sitting governor of your party was publicly campaigning for a governor of another party in another state. Why couldn’t the party call him to order?
Being a governor does not deprive an individual from airing up his own individual view, I am quite sure you understand that. He hasn’t come out openly to say ooh, this is PDP position. If he has aired up his views in terms of Edo, I am quite sure that people can, in a democratic world and free speech, have the right to do so. But that is not the position of PDP. Our position is very clear, we are going to contest for the election in Edo, we are asking for reform and that is the position of the national leadership of our party.

There is this view that whatever happens in Wadata was planned in Rivers State and that your leadership is tied to the apron string of Governor Nyeson Wike, who tells you what to do. How do you respond to this?
Anything that has to do with our governors and the altercation between the governments of Rivers State and Bayelsa state, I think we should just be careful. The issue has made headline news, and we don’t want to go into it. I don’t think that is going to help to build a party. Those who want to destroy would want to dig up emotions. So I believe that enough is enough. What we do behind the scene is not to the knowledge of the press and we are not ready to disclose that because we have our strategies. You may think that is a weakness, but that is the sign of strength. The way you think, it may not be the way we think and I have been in this party long before Governor Wike became governor. I have been the Chairman of PDP for River State for eight years, the national organizing secretary for four years, Deputy National chairman and acting National Chairman. All that time, where did I take the directive from? When I was acting National Chairman, where did I take instruction from? Is it now that I am full National Chairman that I have to take directives from somewhere? That is a rumour and blackmail and we are not ready to pay any attention to such. In politics, normally in Nigeria, people gossip and then carry rumour from one place to the other which gets to Media executives like you. You have rightly asked your question. I don’t know where you’re coming from, you can go and do your investigative journalism, whether any of the things you have said here is the truth and you also know the truth and the truth will prevail at the end of the day.

A gale of defection has hit the Imo State House of Assembly and many of your members are decamping to APC. Are you not worried about these developments. What are you doing to stem the tide of defection?
On the issue of defection, of course, it is a Nigerian syndrome. It is part of the deteriorating situation of governance given by the APC, starving the people and causing insecurity, that is what we are experiencing today, not only in Imo but in some other states too. And our position has been properly articulated by the press conference of the National Publicity Secretary and that is our position.

There is a view that the PDP under your leadership has been lethargic, that it has not really played its opposition role well. Have you made attempt to understudy the role of opposition parties in other climes and how they were able to topple the ruling party?
The PDP is the strongest opposition party in Nigeria. And you know, we don’t behave as if we are on the street. We have men of high integrity in the leadership of the party. We do our opposition constructively; it must not be out of place and within the laws of our land. We cannot be seen on the street carrying placards; maybe what is expected is that we become violent, no no. We are very constructive, we are very strong and if you are in government, you know the feelings. We are also aware of what other countries like Ghana, Kenya, even the United States have passed through. We have the intellectual arm that is the PDI, (Peoples Democratic Institute), where people are walking silently.

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