I’ve paid my dues, am ready to serve — Dokpesi

dokpesiA chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Raymond Dokpesi, tells OLUSOLA FABIYI, why he should be elected as the party’s national chairman at its forthcoming convention

WhAT do you think are the problems the Peoples Democratic Party is facing?

The major challenge being faced by the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) today is having to operate within the context of a party which had ruled the nation for many years, and playing the role of an opposition. Having lost power at the last general elections, the vacuum created by the absence of a national leader traditionally played by the president, was obvious.

A number of PDP members chastised former President Goodluck Jonathan for allegedly betraying the party and mortgaging their political future by conceding defeat to President Muhammadu Buhari after the election. In the process, a significant number of these politicians, who had paraded themselves as fanatical loyalists of Jonathan exposed themselves as mere sycophants when they defected in droves to the newly elected (government of the) APC (All Progressives Congress). The PDP lost the numerical strength of its members in the process.

When the APC formed its government, staunch believers and supporters of the PDP were relentlessly hounded and maligned with various spurious and malicious accusations by the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) and the propaganda machinery of the APC. Those ex-PDP members who defected (to APC) have been treated as saints whilst those who stood firm (didn’t defect) have been branded as corrupt. Against this background, one of the major problems the PDP is facing is one of political harassment and intimidation. Internally, the vacuum caused by the loss of leadership at the centre was exploited following the legal tussle over the leadership of the party when the erstwhile Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, was compelled to step down for a chairman from the North-East to complete the tenure of Ahmed Muazu.

Today our party is weak at the centre and thus cannot properly articulate its positions in offering a vibrant opposition to hold the incumbent government accountable for the benefit of our democracy and the generality of Nigerians. We are unable to defend our leaders, our party positions and even electoral victories.

How can these problems be solved?

The emergence of a popular and resolute will can ward off internal squabbles and provide direction for the party at all levels. We need to be in a position to speak with one voice and provide credible opposition to the government including standing up for the civil liberties and rights of our leaders.

Why do you think you are the best person to lead the party now especially when you have never led the party in any capacity before ?

You mean I have never taken a leadership position within the constitutionally defined party structures before? I joined PDP since its inception in 1998. As a pioneer member, I consider myself the only contestant with a direct link and connection to the vision and mission of our founding fathers. Our founding fathers wanted a party that would form a platform of unity for every citizen, a political party that would attend to their needs, pay attention to job creation, health care services and the social infrastructure that would make life more meaningful to them. Unfortunately, we have eroded these values over time, allowing impunity, and disregard for the constitution of the party to reign supreme. As a pioneer member, I am an embodiment of the noble ideals of our founding fathers. While I have not held any elective position in the party, I am not coming into the contest without any requisite experience. In the days of NPN (National Party of Nigeria) in the defunct Gongola State, I served as DG (director general) for Alhaji Bamaga Tukur Campaign Organisation and won over 70 per cent of the votes. I later served in the administration as Chief of Staff, effectively making me the first Nigerian to hold such office.

Even when I have not held any position, I have made significant sacrifices for the party. I have over the years pulled resources, human and capital from my radio and TV stations to project the PDP.

I have paid my dues; I am ripe, tested, trusted and ready to serve PDP. All my life, I have been a builder. From being the boy who hawked akara, (bean cake) for my mother on the streets of Ibadan, I have built some of the largest business empires in Africa and successfully run them.

Can the candidates for the position of chairman reach a compromise and agree on a consensus?

It is possible but not desirable. I welcome other challengers for the exalted office of National Chairman to compete for the position. With our experiences over the past 17 years, I believe the PDP should move past the notions of consensus candidates. We must as a political party project our democratic credentials and demonstrate that we are democratic not just in name but in action. This is what Nigerians expect of us and this is what we must achieve that will endear us to the hearts of Nigerians again. We should be talking about guaranteeing a level playing field for the contestants to compete, as this will bring the best materials out of the PDP and who to lead our great party.

Would you be ready to step down for such a candidate?

The chairmanship of the PDP is not by any standards, something I can’t live without. I am merely an applicant for the position of national chairman. However having already toured 27 out of the 36 states of our country, I’m perhaps in a privileged position to express the mood of our members who no longer see this contest as an election between Raymond Dokpesi and any other aspirant. They see it as a contest between what my campaign has come to symbolise versus the old ways of selecting leaders. Our delegates across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria have rejected the imposition of candidates by a handful of leaders in air-conditioned hotel rooms in Abuja. They want to engage applicants for the exalted positions of our party. They want to interact with them. They want to express their concerns, pains and challenges and assess for themselves the capacity and sincerity of the contestants before entrusting power to them. We all have respected leaders in the party which must be consulted and ultimately, most delegates will align with their leaders and speak with one voice.

How do you want to run the party and unite all its factions?

There is no gainsaying that sacrifices will have to be made. It is better to have one per cent of something than 100 per cent of nothing. We need to forgive one another and embrace ourselves. We need to forge a common purpose for the progress of the party. And where leaders are unreasonable, we need to inject fresh blood into leadership positions of the party to eschew bitterness where party elders cannot agree. The youths are ready to take over from us, the older generation. And they deserve the opportunity to serve the party particularly where their leaders have let the members down due to unreasonable squabbles. The party’s interest must override our selfish interests. Once we are able to restore confidence in the party, with a leadership that is committed to the principles of fairness, equity and justice, upholding the constitution of the party and enforcing party discipline, I am confident that the foundation for a united and resilient party (PDP) will have been laid.

Can PDP’s lost glory be regained?

All hope is not lost for the PDP. I know that the wish of those who attack and demonise the party is for the party to die. PDP will not die. The party would rise again to reclaim lost ground. For a start, we must acknowledge our mistakes and make amends. In making amends, the party needs to be rebranded, reformed and restructured. The era of impunity and gross indiscipline must give way to a new culture of discipline and respect for the party structure and constitution. We must forge unity amongst us and be willing to forgive one another.

Do you think PDP governors are part of the problems facing the party and how do you want to handle them if elected chairman?

I absolutely reject that postulation. The governors are the political leaders of PDP members in their respective states and they have their rights to influence and shape the political direction of the party. If you look at the calibre of governors representing the PDP today, none was imposed on their people. They worked hard. They organised and mobilised their party members. They consulted their leaders and the people and won the trust of the electorate. They are political generals and our legion of PDP supporters and sympathisers have, to their credit, credibly demonstrated that they are in charge of their respective states. It is only a weak national chairman that can be intimidated by the influence of his governors and attribute the problems in the party to them. In any organisation of political endeavour, you are as strong as your weakest link. If elected to lead the PDP, I want our governors to be as strong and as influential as possible within the ambit of our party’s constitution and respect for party discipline.

If elected as national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, I will work together with our elected governors to define the vision for our party and in developing the strategies for achieving success.

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