Senator Rowland Owie is a former Chief Whip of the Senate and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, Owie speaks on the crisis in the National Assembly, faulting the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for picking principal officers for the lawmakers. He admonishes APC leaders to embrace Senate President Bukola Saraki and House Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the new leaders of the National Assembly, to give President Muhammadu Buhari the right atmosphere to fulfill his promises to the people. Owie attributes the failure of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to win the March 28 presidential election to betrayal on the part of some PDP leaders while alleging dictatorial tendencies of people close to former president Goodluck Jonathan. He hints about how the next governor of Edo State will emerge in 2016. He acknowledges that the APC government of Adams Oshiomhole has done better than PDP’s former administrations. Excerpts:
How do you react to the crisis rocking the National Assembly?
I would not have commented because I will be telling the APC what to do. But as a major stakeholder in the Nigerian project, I am particularly a Catholic Knight that has obligation to say the truth both in private and public. I wish to advise the leadership of APC to steer clear of what is happening in the National Assembly so that the country can move forward and so that the party can have peace. This is because when a party in power does not have peace, the government that it produced will not be able to perform. In 1979-83, when I was in the House of Representatives, the NPN, though in power, had 34 percent of the membership of the National Assembly, while the other parties had the remaining percentage. And as soon as NPN and NPP got into an alliance in the National Assembly, principal offices were shared. Joe Wayas became the then Senate President while Ume Ezeoke of NPP became the Speaker of the House, and the principal officers were chosen. And for those four years, there was stability in the National Assembly and Shagari’s budget never stayed more than three weeks in the National Assembly. For instance, the new Benin Post Office, near the Oba’s Palace, was the project I put in the budget even as an opposition member but it was implemented. The current National Chairman of APC, Chief Oyegun, was Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs. It shows the accommodating nature of the NPN Federal Government then and there was peace. Three House of Reps members, Rowland Owie; Dr Sowho representing Ethiope Federal constituency, now in Delta State; and Hon. Iduwe, representing Ika Federal Constituency, now in Delta, jointly put in the budget the Agbor-Evboghae-Oghara Road, the three of us didn’t belong to the same party and Shagari approved it. They started constructing it even though it was not completed before that regime was sacked by the military. That tells you it is good to have a united and peaceful National Assembly. In 1999, PDP zoned their National Assembly offices, e.g. the Senate Chief Whip to Edo and Delta and the Deputy Speaker to Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Bayelsa. On the Chief Whip that was zoned to Edo and Delta, the PDP wrote a letter to the Clerk of the Assembly, the letter was signed by Chief Tony Anenih; Chief Solomon Lar, who was then National Chairman of the party; and Dr Patrick Dele Cole. In that letter, Senator Osunbor was recommended to be the Senate Chief Whip, while the South-South caucus of the PDP said no, it must be Senator Rowland Owie. And we went to the floor of the Senate and I defeated Osunbor. In fact, nobody seconded Osunbor’s nomination by Senator Zwingina. Obasanjo interfered and made Senator Enwerem the Senate President instead of the choice of the senators, Senator Chuba Okadigbo. Also in the House of Reps, he bulldozed Salisu Buhari into becoming Speaker. In no time, Buhari and Enwerem were swept off and replaced by the late Chuba Okadigbo and Ghali Na’Abba. In all of these, the PDP was mature enough and they quickly withdrew from confronting the National Assembly and, subsequently, the PDP at the national level never interfered with who becomes the leaders in the National Assembly apart from the last one that had to do with Hon. Tambuwal. They can advise, but they will not enforce it because the greatest danger in a presidential system is for the President or a governor to have a hostile Assembly. You cannot sack them, you cannot suspend them; even the provision of recall in the Constitution is Herculean to implement. And that is the only arm of the three arms of government that gives the status of democracy to any government in the world. So I advise the National Chairman of APC and the leadership to allow the National Assembly members to handle their affairs and face their party so that they can deliver what they promised Nigerians. They should learn from PDP so that Nigerians can enjoy dividends of democracy. They should allow House Speaker Dogara and Senate President Saraki be and, if they don’t want them in future, they can muster the numbers to remove them. But what they are doing now is complete distraction.
Why do you think your party, PDP, failed in the just concluded presidential election?
One is impunity in the choice of candidates. Some party leaders arrogated to themselves the power of God. For instance, look at the Adamawa gubernatorial primary. There was no war in Adamawa but they moved the primary to Abuja and Abuja imposed a candidate on the people. It also happened in Plateau, Abia, Benue; they imposed unpopular candidates, forgetting that the electorate are wiser now, you cannot intimidate them. Above all, former president Jonathan was fenced in by a number of unpopular party leaders. Because of what happened to Jonathan, my slogan now is that if a President or governor is elected, he is as good as being in prison unless that President or that governor has the will-power to get out of the prison. That is the type of will-power that Governor Oshiomhole has that made him survive some sycophants who tried to cage him when we were in the party; even though he got out of the prison fairly late, some good people had already left the ACN then. Majority of the governors and Jonathan were imprisoned by people who will not allow good people to get near them. I make bold to say that for all the major actors around Jonathan, the most truthful person was (the late) Oronto Douglas; others were palace jesters who were only thinking about their pockets and not the future of the president or the PDP. For instance, there was the allegation of over N700 million given by a governorship aspirant to some members of the National Working Committee of the PDP. Now, assuming that was true, how can such people attract respect for the party? For instance, the campaign for Jonathan’s re-election was organized by a body outside the party and, with all due respect, Col. Ahmadu Ali, who was made the DG of the campaign, could hardly win his ward and the party became helpless. And in some states, DGs were appointed for Jonathan’s campaign who don’t have credibility to lead a campaign for a presidential candidate especially when some of them had contributed to the destruction of the PDP governments in their states before then and for which PDP was fighting to regain credibility. There were a lot of mistakes made. But the way Jonathan accepted defeat was an indication that we were humbled to look inward and rebuild the party. Also, those who pretended to be reconciling aggrieved PDP leaders all over the country, flying in presidential jets, only to preach peace in the afternoon and privately tell some governors to betray the party and fight Jonathan, know themselves and should steer clear of the party or we will be forced to expose them. I want the Acting Chairman of the BOT of the PDP and other credible members of the body to ensure that there is no extension of tenure for all the executives of the party from the ward level to the national; they should all stand dissolved at the expiry of their tenure. No extension for anybody if they want the party to bounce back. Enough is enough of impunity and imposition in the PDP in Nigeria and PDP Edo in particular. I thank God I have been in this vanguard since 1979 when we formed the UPN. Chief Anenih, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, Dr Ogbemudia, Enahoro, Chief Michaeal Ibru, Chief Orikeze, my late maternal uncle, Chief D. N. Oronsaye, and a host of other prominent Bendelites were all in the NPN. Myself, Tony Omoaghe, Barr. Eddy Osifo, Clement Edo Osagie, Dr Thomas Salubi, Chief B. O. Imafidon, the late Chief Idahosa (Akakasiaka), Chief V. I. Amadasun, we defeated those big names. It was only Chief Igbinedion that won the Ovia federal constituency, the rest lost woefully. So, by the grace of God, myself and some of our colleagues in the state will rebuild the PDP in Edo and ensure that these impunity operators who call themselves leaders are swept away.
Edo 2016 governorship
One, it is not easy to give what you don’t have. Credibility begets credibility, good name, they say, is better than riches. The Binis and Edolites are already aware of what good governance is by remembering the achievements of the late Prof. Ambrose Ali and seeing now too the performance of Governor Oshiomhole. The truth is that the PDP government of 1999-2007 cannot be compared to the performance of the Oshiomhole government because we all have eyes, we can see. You can see achievements in roads, schools and many other spheres of life. The Ugoneki-Ehor Road, which passes through my community, was done in 1974 by the military administration; nobody touched that road until Oshiomhole came. Today, I can get to my village in 20 minutes from Benin. So he did better than my own PDP government of eight years. But the truth is that the poor performance of the Igbinedion administration is not the fault of Igbinedion alone, it is also the fault of some leaders who were supposed to guide him. But because they were enjoying largess from that government, they could not. I am happy when I read the interview of Igbinedion where he said those who contributed to his problem were the over-ambitious people around him who created different groups that disrupted his administration. The 2016 governorship will not be based on political platform, it is going to be who that candidate is. I am going to join other well-meaning leaders of the PDP to bring out a credible candidate who does not have connection with a failed government. For PDP to be seen to have broken ranks with irresponsibility, we have to be sure that our candidate for 2016 will not have any relationship with previous failures of PDP government in Edo. Today, Lucky Igbinedion is being blamed whereas 75 percent of the failure is attributable to those who surrounded him. Take a cue from the last PDP primaries in Edo, look at how most of the giants failed. It is not that those aspirants were bad, the PDP members voting in the primaries were mirroring these aspirants against the background of what happened before. People were very watchful about where the aspirants were coming from, you could no longer fool anybody in Edo.
We are aware you are one of the founding members of APC in Edo, but over time, those who left PDP to join the then AC claim to have built the party including bringing Oshiomhole. What is your take on that?
ACD, which later became AC, then ACN, now APC, is the offshoot of ANPP in Edo State. It was put together by myself, Barr. Gentleman Amegor, who was to be the deputy governorship candidate to Adams Oshiomhole, and it started from my house. It was at that point that Igbinedion’s supporters in the PDP were deregistered and a responsible clergyman led the former governor to my house so that those who were deregistered could work with us. After meetings and assurances, we agreed to work together and shared the party positions in Edo between our group and the PDP people that were deregistered. Lucky Igbinedion brought Tony Omoaghe as Chairman of the party, I brought Amegor as Secretary. Lucky brought Modino Emovon as Woman Leader. I brought Reti Uzzi as Publicity Secretary. Then we shared the local government positions. In Edo South, former ANPP took five local government councils – Oredo, Ikpoba Okhai, Egor, Ovia South West and Ovia North East. Then the people that came from PDP took the Director of Research and two local governments. So those who claimed they formed ACN were with Igbinedion in PDP throughout his administration. The only major operators that joined us openly were Rev. Eghareva and Charles Idahosa. Charles Idahosa was the first National Publicity Secretary and each time he was going to Abuja for meetings, he went with our Royal Link vehicle. He fought openly, so I laugh when I hear people say they formed ACD and brought Oshiomhole, they didn’t form ACD. As a matter of fact, the late Haruna, Enogie Ebue and Oshiomhole worked with the programme I prepared, touring the whole state. Oshiomhole worked hard, he made contacts. Yes, Lucky Igbinedion brought money to support us secretly, but they were not founding members like Pastor Ize-Iyamu is claiming. They didn’t form the party, they were PDP members then. So this issue that they brought APC, they brought Oshiomhole, to me, is laughable.”