INTERVIEW | Putting PDP in the Hands of Governors Will Bring Disaster – @DemolaRewaju #TheInfluencersNG
Demola Olarewaju is a creative writer, political strategist and a prominent youth champion of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with SIGNAL’s THE INFLUENCERS, he talks about the Nigerian economy, the future of his party, the PDP, and bares his mind on the performance of Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode and Nigeria’s Minister of Youth Development Solomon Dalung, amongst other issues.
What do you think led Nigeria into the current economic recession?
There is no doubt about it: it happened on President Buhari’s watch and as a responsible leader, he should take responsibility for it. But I can be more specific: Buhari’s delay in appointing ministers especially the one for the Finance was a very fatal indecision and an example of failure in leadership. In those six months, Nigeria lost two important economic ratings index: JP Morgan and one other one. In the case of JP Morgan, they specifically warned that Nigeria would lose their international rating if the economic direction of Nigeria was not known. Those ratings helped to stabilise our economy by boosting foreign investor confidence. Once we lost it, the economy was bound to spiral. That delay also created a lacuna that allowed fiefdoms within the economy to compete in directing trends within the economy and thereby creating conflicts. Remember NOI was first Minister of Finance under President Obasanjo. When she returned under President Jonathan, she knew the powers she needed and got appointed as Minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy. Without central economic control, Nigeria”s economy went out of control: Emefiele, who is not trained as an economist was the one dictating which items were not valid for forex. And some of these items were basic raw materials that manufacturers need. That had three effects: it caused difficulties for manufacturers and traders, affected customs revenue and smuggling of those products through neighbouring countries increased which led to a clamp down on them by the same Customs officers and their prices in our local markets increased. While Emefiele ran his own fiefdom, you had the likes of Hammid Ali at Customs which is ordinarily under the Ministry of Finance, dictating his own rules and affecting the economy. To make matters worse, when the appointment finally came, it was a former Commissioner in Ogun State whose biggest portfolio so far is at the state level. I have nothing against her but NOI’s shoes are clearly too big for her to fill. As though not bad enough, Budgeting is no longer within her purview, the VP is allegedly the head of the Economic team. And I say “allegedly” because until President Buhari went on vacation, Osinbajo had no real powers. I remember when he released a 6 Strategic and 33 Thematic plan for the 2016 budget. I was on Rubbing Minds with Ebuka to analyse and I said it was a waste of time to discuss it since Buhari may not even have approved it. That document died a natural death. There’s also the matter of hasty implementation of sound ideas inherited from the previous administration and here, I’m talking about the TSA. These were government funds that were lodged in banks for them to trade with. It started under President Jonathan with a phase NY phase plan but eager to take the glory, this government implemented it fully at once. As a result of that, according to Alex Otti – former Diamond Bank MD, a third of the bank capital of all banks in Nigeria was wiped away. I’m not an Economist but one thing I know is that Economy has a lot to do with Confidence. If I am not confident that your 100 naira note is a genuine legal tender that will give me the same value of 100 naira in goods or services elsewhere, I may not give you value or goods equivalent to it. Buhari and his team failed to inspire economic confidence and that is the reason we are in a recession.
You are a vocal member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Do you agree with those who believe the crisis that has rocked the party is partly due to the failure of leadership from within?
It is not failure of leadership per se but the presence of wrong leadership, because we have leaders in PDP who can lead a party successfully and consultatively. Shortly after we lost the election, I was on twitter calling for the emergence of a Third Force within the PDP. What I meant was that between the Governors and the then NWC, PDP would never be killed. Our party managed to get rid of the NWC but the governors became the drivers of the party. With all due respect to them, it is an anomaly. They were the ones who decided to bring Ali Modu Sheriff but several stakeholders resisted them by holding another convention in Abuja. They then wanted to remove him but could not do so surgically, now the party is haemorrhaging and has gone into coma. I saw this coming and that was why I warned. The handing over of PDP to the Governor’s in 2015 was part of why we lost. (emphasis on “part of”.) and I can give examples: Since 2003, PDP had never lost Ondo in the presidential election. Governor Mimiko is my friend and political egbon but Jonathan giving him PDP in Ondo cost us that state. In Plateau, Jonah Jang brought the late Pwajok, his kinsman, to run as Governor. Simon Lalong left PDP in protest and won as Governor with the backing of PDP Senators like Dariye. In Benue, the same thing happened – former Governor Suswam imposed candidates and Samuel Ortom who had only wanted a senatorial ticket defected to APC which lacking structures and candidates, gave him their gubernatorial ticket. He is Governor there today. And in places where we did not lose, we couldn’t turn out huge numbers especially in the East and some parts of the South-South. PDP members were upset with the party: between the NWC that was doing cash and carry with tickets and the governors who had got total control of their respective states in exchange for supporting Jonathan’s second term, PDP was doomed. I will discuss these issues in a political book I have been writing since last year but will not be ready until next year. It is an extensive historical and comparative analysis of Nigeria. Interestingly, if our Governors in PDP, the ones who championed Sheriff’s chairmanship, knew political history, they would know that Sheriff would refuse to be used and dumped. This is because the same thing happened in 1979 between another Kanuri man – Waziri Ibrahim and pro-Zik Yoruba leaders like Adeniran Ogunsanya, S. A. Onitiri, Olu Akinfosile and others in the National People’s Party. Waziri was forced out by the pro-Zik forces and he had to go and form GNPP. Sheriff is not a small boy in politics, especially in an age where even small boys like myself can read history. Again, the governors failed to properly analyse Sheriff’s personality. This is a man who left APC because his ego clashed with Bola Tinubu’s. Bottom line is this: Governors do not have any right to direct the affairs of a political party and in the case of PDP, even less so. This party is too big to be directed by the present governors. A party that has dozens of former governors, hundreds of senators sitting and former, thousands of former and sitting House of reps members, ministers, ambassadors, heads of agencies and so on cannot be directed by Governors. They can try however but the result will always be the disaster that we have seen so far.
How can the PDP overcome its internal crises and rise again to first become a strong opposition party, and possibly a national ruling party again?
I’m not bothered with PDP being an opposition party. I’ll say this as I’ve said before: in a presidential system, parties collaborate in government. The dimension introduced by the APC en-route power is what we are reaping today: a divided country of Buharists and GEJites. Nobody has ever referred to the Democrats as “opposition party” in US. Opposition is the task of a media that is alive to its responsibility of agenda-setting, advocacy or activist journalism and investigative reportage. It’s why you guys are the fourth estate of the realm. Opposition is also a function of civil societies galvanising the people into action on crucial societal issues. The idea of an opposition party is adapted from the parliamentary system which we have moved on from since the Second Republic but APC chose to re-introduce into the polity. Parties that are not in power are to come up with criticism occasionally and also show how they would do differently if in power. Coming to the question: I sense that what is manifesting in PDP is simply that the North doesn’t trust the South not to pull a fast one on it in 2019. This was why some insisted on the chairmanship staying in the North until 2018 before reverting to the south. This is why in elections across the North there are no rival PDP candidates. I also happen to have heard these sentiments from some of our leaders up north. In 2019, if no stronger alternatives emerge, PDP and APC will vie for presidential powers. Whichever party permits internal democracy will benefit most from the defections that will certainly happen. Anyone who loses in PDP will defect to APC, anyone who loses in APC will cross to APC. The best thing PDP can do is to allow candidates emerge freely and fairly so if you are defeated, you will be more likely to accept the outcome than if you were cheated out. A lot of other tactics will be in play but there’s no need to make it public. I will continue to engage with party leaders and suggest my ideas to them and I hope they listen to us this time.
Governors do not have any right to direct the affairs of a political party and in the case of PDP, even less so. This party is too big to be directed by the present governors. A party that has dozens of former governors, hundreds of senators sitting and former, thousands of former and sitting House of reps members, ministers, ambassadors, heads of agencies and so on cannot be directed by Governors.
What have you personally learnt from the emergence of a 39-year old Macron as President of France?
Frankly: very little. I’m still learning from Tocqueville on French politics and I think Nigeria is still somewhere around where the French were in the Age of the Enlightened Man, the days of Robespierre. Lessons from Macron are not replicable here experientially, except one wants to be merely theoretical for the sake of it.
Why are Nigerian youths so divided and unable to forge a common leadership agenda across political divides?
Because Youth is largely a demographic, not an ideology. My ideas on nation-building are different from those of a young carpenter who is my age-mate. His own ideas are different from those of a young herdsman – we’re all youths but our experiences differ very greatly. Even in PDP, my ideas are different from those of some other youths like Maibasira the former Youth Leader for example – ‘youth’ is just an age demographic, built on no fixed ideals. I prefer that youths coalesce around ideas towards nation-building. If our ideals match, we will have common grounds and leadership agenda. If not, we won’t. Division is not a bad thing in politics which should be a contest of ideas. What we should seek among youths is brains that can function fiercely in politics without necessarily being dogmatic. We have several of such in PDP but more in APC (laughs).
There seems to be a growing consensus that Lagos State governor Akinwunmi Ambode is doing a great job as governor. Do you agree?
Every governor of Lagos State comes into office with several positives. You can be a simpleton and private companies will drop proposals and ideas on your table everyday – wanting only your approval, not even your funds. As Governor of Lagos State, you have the most educated civil service after the FG and the most civilised people anywhere in Nigeria. They’re also the least concerned about Government because Lagos is a city of hustlers who only want space to do business, make money and enjoy life. This is why only about two million Lagosians vote in state elections. From Marwa, to Mobolaji Johnson, to Sir Michael Otedola and even Raji Rasaki, anyone who governs Lagos immediately becomes a star and so our bar must be higher if we will propel Lagos higher. Lagos also has the advantage of being in existence along with the Northern and Southern Protectorate, pre-1914. The amalgamation was between Northern Protectorate, Southern Protectorate and Lagos Colony which had been brought under the Southern Protectorate. To judge Lagos by infrastructural development is a low standard because the problems of Lagos have to do mainly with population explosion and how is this government handling it? No new areas opened up, no housing or mass transit plans, no proper statistics, just vainglorious projects like pedestrian bridges and street lights – the first street lights in Lagos came in 1898 by the way. I have no apologies for saying this – the duty of the “opposition” as you call it is to put the government on its toes rather than join the applause. No government is perfect and every government can be propelled to do more. I’m sure The people’s of Otodogbame or Badia who were forcefully evicted and rendered homeless, would agree with me when I say that Ambode may be a better performer than his APC peers but for a state like Lagos, he has performed below expectation.
Even in PDP, my ideas are different from those of some other youths like Maibasira the former Youth Leader for example – ‘youth’ is just an age demographic, built on no fixed ideals. I prefer that youths coalesce around ideas towards nation-building.
What is your take on the Not Too Young to Run Bill?
It is commendable and I commend those behind it.
There have been concerns that Nigerian youths will be worse than the older generation they are clamoring to displace from power. To what extent are these concerns accurate?
I am sure that those who mouth such foolishness do not have the powers of prognostication, neither do I. What I do know is what Franz Fanon said, that “every generation must out of relative obscurity find its mission and fulfil it or betray it”. My generation must brace up for that challenge. Furthermore, do they know who will be what in our generation? I always say that those of us who are in the political system at this time may not necessarily be the ones to come into power. I personally have no ambitions to run for public office. If you then look at me or any of us, and conclude about my generation, that would be very foolish indeed. I’ll also add that I am not one of those clamouring to replace anybody, older or younger. Our time will come – it’s only a matter of time because biologically, nobody lives forever. What we will do when our time comes is where my energies are focused: to prepare my generation for leadership whenever it comes, sooner or later.
No government is perfect and every government can be propelled to do more. I’m sure The people’s of Otodogbame or Badia who were forcefully evicted and rendered homeless, would agree with me when I say that Ambode may be a better performer than his APC peers but for a state like Lagos, he has performed below expectation.
What is your assessment of the Buhari change administration, two years after?
First of all, there is no change. This government is either same of the previous same or more of the previous same. For a government that was voted in with so much goodwill, this government has let so many people down. Having spent 11 trillion naira since June 2017 and incurred debts of about 7 trillion, this Government has nothing to show for it. Nigerians are in a worse economic condition than they were before the so-called change. Politically is where this Government has absolutely ruined confidence in Nigeria. By embracing ethnocentric statements and actions, this government has exacerbated ethnic tensions and one hopes Osinbajo understands his role in the polity at this point in time. A thorough assessment would require much space and time but the long and short of it is that this government has failed, not only to bring change, but even to deliver on the basics.
Many vocal Nigerians, especially youth influencers are being arrested and detained for comments in the social media. How has this affected your social media engagement?
I have always maintained a public standard of speech that is insidious but not uncouth. I believe that young leaders of thought have a duty to spread wisdom and uplift the quality of thought of those who choose to follow us. I also do not post things that I know to be untrue. So my engagement on social media has followed the same standards that I am known for, nothing changed or affected.
The best one can hope for with intolerant leaders such as we have presently is that if I am arrested, one or two people will surely start an online movement for my freedom, and SIGNAL will definitely make it a burning issue I hope.
Do you subscribe to the formation of a youth party as the solution to scaling the wall of exclusion faced by Nigerian youths in politics?
No, I do not. What I can subscribe to instead is a youth movement within the political system and major parties. Youth is not a unifying ideology especially when the experiences of the average Nigerian youth differs from zone to zone. The good thing though is that the proponents of such ideas do not need Demola Olarewaju to subscribe to it before they do it. It may be a part of their assignment on earth but it is surely not a part of mine and I wish them well.
One has to perform in order to be assessed and Dalung has only occupied space but contributed nothing whatsoever to youth or sports. There is simply nothing to assess except you want me to make comments about his eccentric mannerisms and entertainment value – which again contribute nothing substantial to any discourse outside a beer parlour. History will forget him and we also must do our best not to remember him right now.
What should Nigerian voters look out for in a presidential candidate for 2019?
They should not wait till 2019. From now, every prospective voter should develop their own ideals and ideas about what Nigeria needs in order to become great. Identify it, research it thoroughly and refine it. Look for countries that have gone through our own challenges and see if their lessons are applicable within our system. Having done that, in 2019, vote for the person whose ideals are most similar to yours and do not be swayed by rhetorics. If for instance you believe corruption is our biggest problem, vote in line with that. If you think it is ethnocentrism, identify with a candidate who can cut across ethnic barriers and forge nationalism.
How would you assess the performance of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, under Solomon Dalung?
There is nothing there to assess. One has to perform in order to be assessed and Dalung has only occupied space but contributed nothing whatsoever to youth or sports. There is simply nothing to assess except you want me to make comments about his eccentric mannerisms and entertainment value – which again contribute nothing substantial to any discourse outside a beer parlour. History will forget him and we also must do our best not to remember him right now.
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