Report by: Charles Amadin
Otunba Femmy Carrena is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State and Special Adviser to the National Vice Chairman of the party in the South-West. In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, he speaks about the need to restructure the party in Lagos, even as he appraises the intrigues in Lagos politics and chances of the party in Ondo and Edo states this year
What does the recent election of Engineer Deji Doherty mean for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State?
First of all, you must understand the history of the executive committee of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State in the last 20 years. Having that in mind I can say that this was the first time we actually conducted a congress in a fierce battle to elect the party’s chairman in the Lagos State, not by hand-picking or choosing a candidate. It was a fierce battle of sort.
For me, it is the dawn of real democracy, putting behind us the practice of hand-picking party chairmen at the ward and local government levels. That is in the past now. We have left that type of politicking and I can assure you that none of the parties in Lagos State conducts congresses. So the first political party that had actually gone into congresses to do battle and produce its executives in the state is the PDP. Hence that will fire Eng. Doherty to carry out his duties in agreement with democratic norms like consultation before taking any decision.
What would you say are the challenges he will face in dispensing his duties, giving the fact that PDP has not been very strong in Lagos to win the state in the last 20 years?
I will not agree with you that PDP is not strong in Lagos, rather the problem that we have been having in the last 20 years, I can authoritatively say, is that the country has basically nose-dived into money politics. So to that end maybe the ruling party in Lagos has too much money to muzzle the PDP and do a lot of things. And in the kind of politics we are playing in Nigeria, they have made the electorate more susceptible to cash and carry government.
For example, in the 2019 general elections, Lagos State alone had more than six million registered voters. But at the end of the day, we had less that 1.3 million that came to vote and that has been the pattern. So the question is where are the remaining registered voters that did not vote?
Having said that, let us come back to the basics. How do you determine whether the party is strong or not? What Eng. Deji Doherty needs to do, which he knows, having contested for the governorship primaries, even if he did not get the ticket, is to structure the party first and rally members and say ‘politics is local- and local in this sense refers to the polling booths, not even the wards, not even the local government.’ So how do we get committed members of the party at the polling booths to make sure the one-man-one-vote thing actually works? Secondly, he should now take the party to the electorate at that level to sell the party’s manifestos. He is an experienced politician and he knows exactly what to do.
What PDP has always failed to get right is the leadership, which is the chairmanship. That does not mean that all the chairmen that have been there have not really tried, but when the chairman takes the lead in a campaign in a political party, he dictates the tune. For the first time, the people have elected Eng. Doherty and I believe he will do well.
What do you think accounts for low turnout of the electorate in Lagos in successive elections?
The electorate are apathetic because they knew that PDP will be rigged out from the local government election to the state even if they voted. So they need see a stronger leadership in the PDP that understands the game. That was why I mentioned earlier that politics is local. Leadership doesn’t sit at home during election but goes to the polling booths, because the mindset of people is that whichever way the opposition would have compromised. But now they have elected the chairman they believe you have faith in to do battle.
But another factor is that your party members, including elected lawmakers often defect to the ruling party in Lagos.
I don’t believe that. Yes, few people may have crossed to the other party and you should ask yourself. Why did they do that? Look at some of the answers I have given, though I may not have been elaborate, have touched on the issues. Look, people see politics as a way of getting paid; even those who do not have any kind of job believe that once I cross to this party they will give me a parastatal or an agency to supervise. Do your investigation, those who have defected in Lagos did so because there is no democracy here and that there is no Uhuru, but the shame and embarrassment to come back to the PDP is not there. So they just relax.
Take those who defected from PDP in Lagos, only a few of them may be two or three per cent actually get what they wanted from their new party. If you are comfortable somehow, everybody will come to you. It is not really what the party is ready to offer you.
How would you appraise the performance of the Lagos State governor in the past seven months?
First and foremost, I don’t want to take anything away from anybody who may have emerged as governor on the platform of the APC. But they need to, look, there is no governor in Lagos right now. It is not about how smart or intelligent Jide Sanwo-Olu is; he may have performed very well as a commissioner, but the structure of the party will make anybody look bad. This is because it is about how many leaders are on your side, or how many of them are you feeding?
You understand what I’m saying. It is not about the how smart or intelligent a governor is but it the structure of the political party that determines whether the party will be effective. Without that, definitely there is nothing the governor can do. Look I’m in the opposition in Lagos State, but you cannot just condemn the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode. Like him or hate him, there are still a few things you can point to as his achievements in this state- and not only point to but be proud of, but they took him out. That is the very point I’m making. So as far as I’m concerned they are making a mockery of this democracy for the people.
I don’t see a Sanwo-Olu getting his feat, doing things he wants to do besides the fact that they will finish the treasury in his face. So he is just there to satisfy the interest of few leaders of the party from the minute he emerged as candidate of the party. So you need a strong structure of the party and they need to come and learn new things from the PDP in the way we picked our chairman.
What do you make of the Lagos State House of Assembly’s refusal to review jumbo pension for former governors and their deputies?
I have already answered that. If you don’t have a well-structured political party; look in APC in Lagos State, you don’t have a political party, rather what you have is a proprietorship and in this proprietorship, there is a sole administratorship. Nobody in the ruling party in Lagos State is somebody except the ’emperor’.
And again, those are the reasons for the apathy there is no mathematics about it. When you have more than six million registered voters, but on the day of election you don’t have more than 1.3 million people, and 20 per cent of this figure are hoodlums, because they are the ones that man the polling booths since the security personnel have been compromised; the very few that will come out are core politicians like me.
So what do you call such government? It is not because they love the ruling party in Lagos State, rather it is because they have been choked, and they don’t have a choice. Look at the kind of elections we do these days? Look at what happened in Oshodi-Isolo, because they believed that majority of the electorate there are from the South-East? Where they had to bring people from their garrison to disrupt the polls and the authentic security people looked on while the atrocities were committed. At the end of the day it is all about money.
What is the outlook of the PDP in Ondo and Edo governorship elections this year?
Fortunately, I have been a member of the executive of the PDP in the South-West for some years now, and as we speak I’m still a Special Adviser to the National Vice Chairman of the party in the zone. So having said that, you must give Dr. Eddy Olafeso kudos for the good job he is doing to restructure the party in the zone. He understood what the problems were and mobilises his people well in addressing the issue.
Starting from Osun to Ondo, Oyo and Lagos states he conducted activities of the party and made sure the members are all together, such that we even won in Oyo State. And by the grace of God the first election that will be coming up this year is that of the governorship poll in Ondo State, and he has thrown his hat in the ring that he wants to contest, having seen some lacuna which he believes he can correct and I’m sure he will emerge not only as the party’s candidate but also as the favorite of the Ondo State people and be elected governor.
In Edo State, though I’m neither it within state or zone, the fact remains that the kind of garrison politics being played in Lagos State is also prevalent there, where the National Chairman of the APC is embarrassing the party, among other things, makes you wonder why Governor Godwin Obaseki is going against his so-called godfather in the public.
This is because once upon a time, Adams Oshiomhole was the governor of that state but he never allowed anyone, not even the Tony Anenihs of this world to make any impact, not to talk about being their godson. So that is the kind of politics APC is extending to other states. As far as I’m concerned, it well-managed, PDP will emerge the winner in these two states.
Recently, a former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Chief Bode George indicated interest to contest for the presidential election in 2023. What is your impression about this?
Chief Bode George is eminently qualified to become president of Nigeria. However, how much consultation has he done to get the support of his party, his constituency in Lagos and the zone? When those consultations are done, the agenda of the party will be made clear to him. What are we going for? Are we going for rotational presidency? Is the presidency coming to the South this time? Is it coming to the South-West?
He had been around. He has been a leader all his life – having gone through the Navy and became the governor of old Ondo State. He was the National Vice Chairman, South-West and later became the Deputy National Chairman of the party and he attempted to contest for the National Chairmanship position. For me, he is qualified. However, he should get the buy-in of all structures of the PDP to enhance his acceptability and possibly become a consensus candidate. For us in Lagos, it is a plus that he has indicated interest in the highest office in the country.