“People get angry, there is nothing wrong in that, they have every reason to be angry, but they should not cross certain lines”.
With these words, Mr Dele Momodu, the Director, Strategic Communications of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Council, warns Governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers State), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Seyi Makinde (Oyo) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), who have been at the forefront of a rebellion against the Iyorchia Ayu leadership of the party since Alhaji Atiku Abubakar emerged as the presidential candidate of the PDP, beating Wike, among others, to the second position.
In this interview, Momodu weighs in on the issues relating to the crisis bedeviling the party. He also responds to the accusation leveled against Atiku that he is sympathetic to Miyetti Allah and killings in Benue State. Momodu also speaks on the 2023 polls. Excerpts:
It appears your party’s Campaign Council is in trouble. Two governors have apparently disowned your presidential campaign and chances are that you might lose votes in their states, Benue and Rivers. How much of blow is this for your party?
I don’t see it as any blow and before I continue, you know that I am a great fan of Governor Wike and Governor Ortom happens to be one of our good governors but you know they work together and, when you look at the pattern, you will see that it is like a deliberate orchestration for maximum effect and impact. It is not true that our candidate did not want to involve them, our candidate reached out to them, several times, at home and abroad, but they remained very rigid in their position. In every reconciliation effort, it is expected that there would be a shift and they said they are not going to shift and anyone who knows Atiku Abubakar very well will know that he is a man who conducts himself very well. His comportment in fact is unprecedented. He does not exchange verbal attacks with anybody. He has been talking to them and he will continue to dialogue with them.
Even some of them (associates) whose names were published, they pulled them out, saying they will not participate in the in the campaign after the Presidential Campaign Council was announced. So, what do you want him to do?
He can’t wait forever and that is why he has moved on, thinking that maybe one day, they will have a change of heart to look favorably in his direction, but, as it is, he has carried on with his campaign without attacking any governor. Calling him an agent of Meyitti Allah is to the extreme. Anybody who has followed the trajectory of Atiku will know that he is detribalized, has friends in every part of Nigeria. I currently work in his office, where a lot of young men and women from every part of Nigeria are doing their work. Atiku Abubakar cannot be an agent of Miyetti Allah, I think that is carrying it too far.
Is it a coincidence that Chief Femi Fani-Kayode stated part of what Governor Orton is re- echoing; allegations of ethnic bigotry, bias and perceived alliance in the manner in which Atiku is said to have aligned.
Govs Wike, Ortom, Makinde and Ikpeazu are asking for equity in the party and Chief Bode George is saying they need a southern face that could give them some sense of relevance in the party’s presidential election. Is it not equity they are asking for?
It is too late in the day for anybody to be asking for a southern candidate. We had a primary election…
Is it a southern candidate they are asking for or a southern representation that is meaningful?
We have it in our party. In fact, PDP has done far better than any other political party in Nigeria. If you look at our trajectory between 1999 and 2007, PDP presented former President Obasanjo, who served for eight years, then we had Yar’ Adua who was in power for three years, then we had former President Jonathan, who was there for five years. So, we (South) would have had 13 years out of 24 years (of democracy) by next year. So, we don’t have that problem in PDP, you can talk about other parties, but I can tell you that the last President the PDP fielded was a southerner. So, nobody is going to accuse us of entrenching Hausa/Fulani interest. There is a major campaign of calumny against the Hausa/Fulani in Nigeria today, which I find very dangerous.
They are Nigerians. They are part of Nigerians and elections are about numbers. If the Hausa/Fulani are able to manage themselves better than southerners, so be it. I was in that race, and I can tell you that southern candidates never worked together. I even tried to reach some southern governors who would not receive me, whereas when you go to the North, there is open door.
I went to Sokoto, Governor Tambuwal was personally driving me round in the state. In the South I was just like nobody. It is the nature of politics. It is whosoever has the capacity to carry every other person along. Let me warn, whenever in the past we had two strong southern candidates, they lost to the North. We did it in 1979 when we had Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the scenario repeated itself in 1983. The South must learn about politics and politicking. It is not about sentiments.
Are you saying the South is naive, politically?
I didn’t use the word naive or naivety but I am telling you history.
The history you are portraying is that the southern political force has gotten it wrong. Is that what you are saying?
Democracy is different from revolution. We must choose between democracy and revolution. South cannot blackmail the North, just like the North cannot blackmail the South. We must work together. When you refuse to do that, you are heading to failure.
President Buhari is a Fulani man and Atiku Abubakar a Fulani man too. A school of thought is asking, irrespective of their political parties, is it fair for a Fulani man to hand over to another Fulani man after leading for eight years?
Democracy is not always about fairness. For instance, how long did it take former President Obama to emerge as US President? It is a game of numbers and not sentiment. You and I can cry from now till kingdom come, until we learn to conduct politics properly, we will continue to lose. Look, before former President Obasanjo emerged as President, he made sure he reached out to everybody, the same thing applied before former President Yar’ Adua. As popular as Buhari was in 2007 and 2011, he couldn’t make it; he was only able to make it in 2015, not because of his tribe but because he was able to reach out to the South. Any southerner who wants to become the President of Nigeria must reach out to the North.
The question is that all the comments and allegations of ethnic beliefs and biases are buttressed by what Atiku said at the Arewa Forum in Kaduna…
What did he say in Kaduna?
What he said was in simple English but people decided to cut away the conclusion. It was the North that asked him a question and he replied by urging them not to vote anybody on account of region. A lot of people today are whipping up emotional sentiments; that it is because of where I come from, the ‘Emilokan syndrome’, “because I am a Yoruba man, then I deserve to be President”, “because I am an Igbo man, I deserve to be President”.
Nobody has championed Igbo presidency more than some of us. (But) that cannot be your only qualification. Go and sell your credentials and manifestos. Atiku Abubakar does not need any of that any longer, he has sold his over the years and everybody is familiar with him. You can call him names, he will not respond, but don’t call him an ethnic jingoist. Never!
Are you saying that what Governor Ortom said is wrong?
He is carrying it too far. He is a man I like so much. Of course it is wrong to label him (Atiku) an agent of Miyetti Allah. You can say anything about Atiku Abubakar but calling him an agent of Miyetti Allah, I disagree vehemently with that. It is wrong. If you don’t want to support a man, it is very easy to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it, but it is wrong to disparage a man who has served his country meritoriously, who has done everything he could for every part of this country; but because you are playing politics, disagree with him, you will use such weighty words against him? Well, there is always another time.
If words are weighty, but are true…
That is what I am telling you, that even Governor Wike, who is supposed to be the angriest of them all because he participated in our primary, has not used such word against Atiku. I give him credit. In getting angry, in trying not to work for him, if that is their decision, let us conduct ourselves well. People get angry, there is nothing wrong in that, they have every reason to be angry, but they should not cross certain lines. I have written in the last couple of months to Governor Wike, the closest to me among them, because I call him the ‘poster boy in PDP’, great guy, doing very well, advising him not to cross certain lines. That night, he called, we spoke briefly and we continued to respect his opinion but I will continue to appeal, don’t destroy the bridge you crossed because you don’t know whether you will need that bridge again, if you don’t need it, a member of your family might need it.
Can your presidential campaign team do without the governors of Oyo, Benue, Rivers and Abia states that are not supporting your candidate? Isn’t you party in trouble in these four states?
My party is not in trouble. I am a child of destiny and God is responsible for everything on earth. If it is God’s wish that Atiku will be the next President of Nigeria, 20 governors cannot stop him. It has happened in Osun State where we counted on Governor Makinde, but for whatever reasons, he couldn’t make it.
We never made an issue of it. We didn’t have Governor Wike when we were campaigning in Osun. (But) we were able to defeat the fire power of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who hails from the state. Despite the absence of all those we expected to support us, we won that election, convincingly. That is how it should be. That is why I keep begging Governor Wike not to be found wanting on a day you are needed most. Whether he likes PDP or not, the party has done very well for him, just as he’s has done very well for PDP. Governor Makinde has an election, next year, you think he will destroy the PDP and still use the platform? He won’t do that.
He is a smart gentle man that I know reasonably well; even though they are very angry, I know they are forming a very powerful bloc, but trust me PDP is so big that it can’t be threatened because our governors are angry. PDP will not go into any fight for anything whatsoever. We will continue to appeal to them, we love them like a man would love members of his family and we are hoping that very soon, we will be able to put everything behind us and embrace one another, again.
A lot of people attribute Nigeria’s current situation to non-inclusion and marginalization and you are saying that politics is a game of numbers. So, you are saying that another northerner should succeed President Buhari for another four or eight years?
Nothing is impossible. I am a very frank person. I am just giving you an example of America, we have the same style of democracy. If it took America over 200 years to produce Obama, it can happen anywhere else in the world. People must work. Sunak just became the British Prime Minister, he didn’t do it by sentiments; he did it by working towards his goal, by reaching out to everyone. Nobody can hand over power to the South free of charge. For instance, when former President Jonathan wanted to contest the 2011 election, a lot of people opposed it. Did he not eventually contest? He did. When he came out for second term, people opposed it again, PDP allowed him. We don’t have the issue of marginalization in PDP.
You referred to the British situation of Sunak. That cannot apply because they operate a different system. They go into election because it was the mandate of the party from the 2019 election. Your party has a constitution that provides for rotation and balance. You have it cast in stone.
We don’t have it cast in stone. As a matter of fact, it was this same Governor Ortom who sat on the panel to look at the issue of whether we should zone or not. Some of us even kicked at that time, asking why he allowed aspirants to buy form before their meeting on the issue. They recommended to the NEC of the party which asked to have favourable competition in the party, “let us throw it open”. No governor opposed it at that stage. Trouble only started after those who thought they would win lost. There was never a time that…if I didn’t believe in it when they set aside the zoning, I will not contest.
Do you think Atiku will win this election?
Oh…his time has come. Every man has his time. By God’s grace, his time has come. He has paid his dues and has conducted himself well. He has gone through trials and tribulations, they have thrown dirty things at him and he has remained focused. In fact, his story will be one of the biggest stories in Africa; of a man who pursued his dream and on the 30th anniversary of June 12, on the 25th anniversary of the late Chief Abiola’s death, that he will be President. He stepped down for the late MKO in the 1993 Jos Convention. I was there, barely 33 years old at that time and, today, I am honoured that, after working for the late Chief, nearly 30 years after, I am here and we are about to crown the man who gave my adopted father that opportunity to get a ticket
You think he can beat the likes of Peter Obi and Bola Tinubu?
Oh! Let’s be fair. I won’t write off anybody but I have stated it historically and maybe I won’t be right but I am right. There is no way you will have two strong southern candidates like we have now and anyone of them wins and Atiku is the only one who can penetrate the South more readily than either of the two penetrating the North.
What about the permutation that most of the votes from the South that will go for Peter Obi were traditionally for your party?
Peter Obi is not Goodluck Jonathan, and Atiku Abubakar is not former President Jonathan; the most formidable force who has always had his network in PDM with the late General Yar’ Adua is Atiku. None of the other people ever built such network in the North, now they are struggling to catch up in the next four months. The ready-made President of Nigeria is Atiku Abubakar.
If Atiku does not win this time, that will be the very end…
If Tinubu does not win this time around, that will be the very end. That is not new but I am telling you that…
Will you be surprised if Atiku does not win?
There is nothing that can stop him this time. A man if his time has come…
What if voters don’t want him?
Who are the voters? The voters are from every part…I am telling you he is the only one who has been the bridge builder. He is the only one who has been able to cross to the South, the others are struggling to build up network in the North.
You see the kind of crowd that Bola Tinubu is commanding in the North in some of the rallies and the ones Peter Obi is getting. Is it not enough threat for the party?
Have you seen the level of crowd Atiku is pulling without having a rally? In Bauchi State, the sea of human beings, I couldn’t believe it. We were in Edo, we have been to Uyo. The only man today who readily cuts across every part of the country is Atiku Abubakar. Hate him or love him, you can’t take that away from him.
You said that when two strong southern candidates are contesting, there is always a problem, historically. What about Atiku and Senator Kwankwaso, both from the North?
I didn’t forget Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso. He is a man I love and respect. We have come way back and I am telling you, the North understands the game of power. Whether we want to accept that power or not, that is the truth. In the South, I have told you how difficult it is for us, even as aspirants, to work together.
In the North, if the decision is that Atiku is favoured to win ahead of Kwankwaso, the North will converge and give it to Atiku. That is what is going to happen. I know it for a fact. Why do you think our Director General, Governor Tamubwal, stepped down for Atiku? It was a game of numbers, that was the master stroke which a lot of people did not see coming.
In fact, that was why the governors are very angry because they didn’t see it, coming. But a few of us saw it coming. As far back as March, I had written Governor Wike, telling him precisely what was going to happen, I copied Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, telling them how the thing would flow.
Two weeks to the primary, I wrote in my column, I asked Governor Wike not to spend money hoping that he will carry the day at the convention. Two days later, he dismissed me in a television program. People called me to complain but I told them that Wike is my man. He is our best governor; no matter what he says, I will take it; if he slaps me on the right cheek, I will turn the right but, today, I am right and they were wrong