Senator Dayo Adeyeye, chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), spoke with GBADE OGUNWALE on the activities of the South West Agenda (SWAGA), zoning and other partisan issues.

Four group has been in the forefront of the agitation for the 2023 presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to be zoned to the South. Don’t you think it’s too early in the day, considering the fact that 2023 is still about two years away?

You may think it is too early but it is not. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine. Nothing is too early in politics. As a matter of fact, it is better to be too early than to be too late. So it’s high time the national leadership of our great party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), stemmed the needless controversy over the zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket.

We are all witnesses to the electoral tragedy recorded by the erstwhile ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 presidential election, as a result of internal disagreements over zoning of its presidential ticket.

How does the PDP come into this and what has that got to do with the APC?

Recall how the PDP leaders bungled their chances by failing to resolve their differences arising from the mismanagement of the zoning issue and how the APC, then in opposition, reaped bountifully from a breach of this gentleman’s agreement by some of the PDP leaders at the time. During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, there were strong agitations among some power blocs demanding that the PDP presidential ticket for 2015 be zoned to the North. Just as we presently have in the APC, the agitators had hinged their demand on an existing unwritten agreement reached before the 2011 elections; that the PDP presidential ticket would be zoned to the North in 2015. The proponents had argued that since the late President Umaru Yar ‘Adua did not complete his tenure as a result of untimely death, Jonathan, who completed his tenure, should be allowed to contest for a term after completing Yar ‘Adua’s unfinished tenure. I learnt that it was even a mutual unwritten agreement that Jonathan himself subscribed to. Based on that agreement, the entire PDP machinery across the six geopolitical zones was mobilised in support of Jonathan’s candidacy in the 2011 elections. Riding on that goodwill, Jonathan had contested and won the poll and everybody in the PDP was happy for it. But when it came to honouring the agreement to cede the 2015 presidential ticket to the North, some powerful individuals in the party, particularly from the South, decided to jettison the unwritten agreement and therefore, threw their weight behind Jonathan for the ticket. The ensuing disenchantment arising from the failure of the PDP to respect the unwritten zoning code, led to the defection of a good number of the party’s prominent chieftains to the APC to joined the Buhari Tsunami ahead of the 2015 general elections. As a result, the PDP had gone into the 2015 elections a divided house, to confront some of its leading lights on the other side of the battle field. And the rest, as they say, is history. A good number of the erstwhile PDP bigwigs and heavyweights that joined our party, the APC, as a result of that betrayal, are still with us today and they can tell the story better.

But, don’t you think that the leadership of the APC may be watching unfolding political events, with a view to enabling it take informed decision at the end of the day?

Already, there are reports in the media space indicating that some political actors across party lines are strategising on floating another platform ahead of the 2023 elections. The reason might not be unconnected with the perceived prevarication by the two existing major parties, the PDP and the APC over the zoning of their 2023 presidential tickets. If this happens, the backlash may not bode well for both the ruling party and the main opposition. Recall that a similar occurrence in 2013 left the erstwhile ruling party with heavy political casualties in the 2015 general elections. We must not make the same mistake. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The APC does not have an elected national leadership in place. Some people have argued that the decision on zoning may be far beyond the Caretaker Committee to take?

Yes, the APC does not have an elected national leadership in place. But that does not mean there is leadership vacuum. Today, the APC has a subsisting leadership in the National Caretaker and Special Convention Planning Committee that can address the zoning issue before the National Convention, which is billed to hold in June. It won’t be an aberration for the Mala Mai Buni led Caretaker Committee to take the right step in that direction. Such decision and any other ones that may be agreed on, can then be tabled before the Convention for ratification. Recall that the Caretaker Committee has been taking similar far reaching decisions since it came on board. For example, the decision on the ongoing revalidation and re-registration of APC membership nationwide was taken by the Caretaker Committee and it is binding on every member of the party. They did not wait for the National Convention to take place before taking that decision. That is why I believe the same decision can be taken regarding zoning. This, and any other decisions that the Caretaker Committee may also take along the line, can then be ratified at the Convention Ground in June.

You sound as if you foresee the APC facing serious nomination crisis in the coming months, if the issue of zoning is not addressed in record time…

Of course our great party, the APC, looks towards 2023 with hope. However, mind the old saying that the wise learn from their neighbour’s mistakes, and that only the foolish would wait to learn from their own mistakes. That is very apt. There is no greater folly than waiting to learn hard lessons after one’s own fall and we in the APC must avoid this by doing the right thing at the right time. So far, I believe there are no indications to suggest that insider plots exist to deliberately steer the APC towards avoidable electoral disaster in 2023. However, the ongoing covert and overt moves by some vested interests within the APC in the media space to denounce zoning, appear to suggest otherwise. For me, it beats every imagination that there would still be any contest as to which part of the country the presidential ticket of the APC should move to at the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure in 2023.

Some APC chieftains have argued that if there was any agreement on zoning, that agreement ought to be in writing. One of them has even challenged zoning agitators to produce such written agreement if it ever existed…

Those asking to see a written document as proof of agreement reached by our leaders on zoning should know that honour is not a commodity anyone can purchase in the market place. What defines integrity in any individual or group, is not in keeping to written agreements but having the free will to bow to the dictates of equity, fairness and justice without compunction. I believe this is the virtue which President Buhari had, over the years, laboured to build into his private and public life and for which Nigerian voters massively rewarded him in 2015, with a reelection 2019. We in the APC must strive to build upon this legacy and sustain it in the overall interest of our party and the nation’s democracy. At this point, I am calling on the national leadership of the APC to rise to the occasion and take a decisive step in affirming the much cherished unwritten code for our party’s 2023 presidential ticket to be zoned to the South. That is the right thing to do.

You talk about the APC presidential ticket being zoned to the South. The South is made up of the Southeast, Southsouth and Southwest. You have been championing the cause of the Southwest and that of a particular candidate. Those in the other zones, particularly the Southeast, are also clamouring for the ticket. How do you strike a balance here?

Well, this is politics and other zones in the South also have the right to ask for it. It is a legitimate aspiration and the competition, also, is legitimate. However, when it comes to the issue of who the cap fits, I strongly believe that presently, we in the Southwest can say that we have the right presidential material in waiting. The SWAGA, a group which I lead, has zeroed in on Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the presidential race, even though we are still consulting with other stakeholders in the Southwest. We hope to extend our consultations to the five other geopolitical zones the moment we are able to achieve a consensus in the South West. So far, we are making progress and there is no looking back.

Does your preference for Tinubu imply that your group has foreclosed the possibility of the emergence of any other person(s) from the Southwest?

No. We have not foreclosed the possibility of any other aspirants. What I am saying is that as we speak, Tinubu remains the best product we have on offer. Check his political antecedents and you would see that he has come a long way. Recall his struggles during the NADECO days when he and other compatriots had to confront the Abacha military junta at the risk of their personal safety. Recall also that a few Nigerians also lost their lives to the struggle under Abacha. Tinubu and a few others were forced to go on exile to enable them fight another day. As we all know, by sheer providence, Abacha’s regime came to and abrupt end in 1998 and there was a gush of fresh air across the country. And by  providence, Tinubu got elected as governor of Lagos state in 1999 and got reelected in 2003. Many will agree that Tinubu set the foundation for the growth and development we see in Lagos state today. As a democrat, he has built bridges across the country that have enhanced the democratic process in Nigeria. This was why he could mobilise and rally support for the formation of the APC in 2013, and together with other compatriots, went ahead to ensure the emergence of Buhari as the presidential candidate of the APC in the 2015 elections. For now, he is the best material we can put forward to enable the South West get the desired result. I say this with every sense of responsibility and without prejudice to others who may be interested in the race. What I am saying in essence is that we must put our best forward by projecting the tallest among our political giants in the South West. Like I stated earlier, this is also without prejudice to other interested parties. Given this scenario, we in SWAGA seek the support, understanding and cooperation of our compatriots in the APC nationwide to join the movement for the realisation of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s presidential aspiration. This is a long but steady march towards a common destiny and we call on APC members across the six geopolitical zones to let us undertake the journey together. I am of the strong belief that collectively, we shall reach our destination as a nation.