Dr Usoro Akpanusoh, Member Representing Esit Eket/Ibeno State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has spoken on the Chapter Congress of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) scheduled for March 21, 2020, across the state. He re-emphasizes the need for internal democracy and inclusiveness in the leadership making process of the party. The vocal lawmaker, whom many described as ‘the Conscience of the Party,’ also tasks the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to live up to its responsibility as enshrined in the Electoral Act for smooth conduct of the party congress. Excerpts:
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is responsible for all matters of election including inter and intra party elections. What do you expect from INEC in the ongoing election of party officers across the state, especially in Esit Eket?
Under the law, INEC is empowered to monitor the conduct of party congresses in Nigeria. It is a responsibility that INEC must live up to. INEC is expected to be neutral and also report everything that transpires during the process. The law specifies that primaries must be conducted at the Headquarters of the Ward, Local Government and States. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which I am a founding member, is currently conducting its Congresses and we do not need to remind INEC to be interested in the process of electing leadership at various levels in the party. INEC must come fully prepared to observe as we elect new party officers. In Esit Eket, it is going to be an open process. Peradventure the people of the area decide to go for a consensus candidate, there must be voice votes to affirm that.
You cannot just announce a consensus candidate without the people affirming to it. However, for Esit Eket, if INEC needs to be told or reminded, I am going to write to INEC and urge them to live up to their responsibility. I know that most areas will be peaceful, but where there is no consensus, members must be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice. I think, with the leadership of INEC in the state led by Barrister Mike Igini, a very seasoned lawyer, a man of integrity, whose surname is ‘Due Process,’ he should be able to advise all the Electoral Officers in all the local government areas to open their eyes and watch the process.
We are doing this because we want to guard against unwanted litigation in the future as a result of irregularities in the party congress. We must avoid the Zamfara State example, where the court decided that the party structure at the state level was faulty. If in the general election we are campaigning for people to participate and vote for our party, why can’t we do at least 50% of that by allowing them to participate in the leadership selection process of their own party? So, for me INEC must live up to their responsibility in the PDP Congress.
Your party, the PDP, known in Akwa Ibom as a model in political cohesion, was close to crumbling during the 2019 General Elections and lack of internal democracy and non-inclusiveness were the likely causes. What will be the fate of PDP in 2023, if these issues are not probably addressed?
It’s just like asking what is one plus one and you know it’s equal to two. If we don’t allow due process to take place and we don’t allow politics of inclusiveness to prevail, that means we are not preparing to win elections in 2023. It is as simple as that.
Again, I do not think the Governor is aware that some people are causing disaffection and confusion all over the place. The Governor, as the leader of the party, preaches and emphasizes internal democracy at all time, even at stakeholders’ meetings. It our responsibility, as followers of the Governor, to toe the path that he has set before us in terms of party structure. A situation where people who have opportunity to work closely with the Governor are misusing that opportunity to rob the people and to barred the people from participating in the leadership process of the party, is unacceptable. The act frustrates the Governor’s effort for internal democracy. The level of awareness now in politics is such that we must be able to persuade people to peacefully do what is right.
It is annoying to know that these same people are now asking people who can finance and also help the party win elections to leave the party. There is no way PDP, as an entity, will fund elections all by itself in all the Villages, Units, Ward and all that. It is the responsibility of its financial members. How can you undermine members of the State House of Assembly because you feel they don’t have any financial contribution to make? Assembly members who help the government in making policies and laws for the good of the society, and you ask them to go sit down because you think they are nobody. The party should continue in that cohesiveness. At this point I want to congratulate the State Chairman of the party, Obong Paul Ekpo. He has worked to stabilize the party. I believe that we should practically continue to allow that cohesiveness, inclusiveness and internal democracy to take root for the sake of the party. If we fail to do that, every structure and infrastructure that the present administration has put in place would be gone.
Your have expressed your regrets, what then are your recommendations for the safety of the party?
My party, the PDP, has been good to me. The party has given me the platform to rise to where I am today. I am very grateful to God and to the people of my constituency. As a member of the party, I recommend that the party should, a matter of urgency, allow internal democracy to thrive. We should play politics of inclusiveness, allowing everybody to participate. Even if we can’t guarantee 100% participation, we must not go below 80%. Then try and pacify the remaining 20%. Two people should not take a decision on behalf of 50, 000 others in the local government. PDP must encourage consultations. People like recognition in politics, we should recognize them. I may not have opportunity to be in the House of Assembly tomorrow, but another will come. I should be recognized as former member of the State House of Assembly. I should always be consulted even if I’m no longer holding office. We should practice consultation in our politics, it helps.
We have heard rumours of friction between you and the political leader of Esit Eket, Elder Benji Udobia. What is the true state of your relationship with him?
If you want to go down memory lane, you will know that it is only God that has kept us together. We could have gone our different ways many years ago because as a young man without parents I decided to adopt Elder Benji Udobia as a father. Surprisingly, he has refused to be one. He has not been honest to me from day one. In 2001, I contested for the State House of Assembly seat and consulted him. He blessed me and said “go and try your luck.” He did not tell me not to go instead he worked against me from behind and I failed that election. In 2015, I went to his house with my wife and consulted him again. This time time he prayed for us right there in his parlour. He told us “go and win.” After two weeks, I went back to him and said ‘sir, since I have consulted you as my father and leader, I came to seek permission for further consultation.’ He asked me, “have you met Imo, your brother?” I answered, ‘no, I’ve not met him’ and he told he (Imo) is also contesting. I told him, “sir, you have already blessed me; I don’t need to meet him again. If you want to give your two children blessing, go ahead and give them.” So, I went away with his blessings and God saved me in that election, the rest is history. In 2019, my record in the House of Assembly spoke for me. But then, my political brewed another scheme in collaboration with my younger brother, the Local Government Council Chairman, Iniobong Robson.
So, every time I try to give him that respect, even when I am being suppressed, he will always betray me. The last Ward Congress was the height of his highhandedness and betrayal. I am a member of the State House of Assembly. I know my contribution to some of the projects my political leader is doing. I contributed over N120 million to my party in the 2019 elections. I did that because I needed people to come back to the party. I did that because Esit Eket was written off due to major defections caused by the same Elder Benji Udobia.