For Navigating Nigeria this week, Citizen spoke to Ose Anenih, son of former minister and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Anthony Anenih. He’s a member of the PDP presidential campaign council and deputy director for polling. He spoke on various issues including his party’s chances, the breakaway G5, PDP fumbling the bag, and why he thinks Peter Obi’s campaign would’ve never taken off without EndSARS.
Editorial Note: Navigating Nigeria is a platform for Nigerians to passionately discuss policies and politics with little interference to individual opinions. While our editorial standards emphasise the truth and we endeavour to fact-check claims and allegations, we do not bear any responsibility for allegations made about other people that are founded in half-truths.
Icebreaker. Have you ever seen any of Citizen’s work?
I have. I feel like I’m Daniel walking into the lion’s den because of your work and because of your audience. Most of your readers might see politicians as the antithesis of everything they stand for. I’m hoping you guys will be gentle.
Haha. Off the bat, could you answer whether you have any relations to the late Chief Tony Anenih, a legend of Nigerian politics?
He’s my dad, yes.
Wonderful. Your dad was a former minister under President Obasanjo yes?
Former minister of works. My dad and Anthony Enahoro — who moved the motion for independence — come from the same community. There must be something in the water.
Lol. Tell us, what was growing up like?
We always grew up around politics. My mum is a politician and a former minister of women affairs as well. One of my earliest childhood memories was during a meeting held in our living room in Benin. I peeked out the door and saw Shehu Shagari, the then president. He had come to Benin for a visit and we hosted him.
I’m from a polygamous home and we grew up politicking. Politics is in my blood. I’m, however, more than just a politician. I’m a hotelier and businessman. My brother and I run a property development company which pays the bills while we go about trying to convince people to vote for us.
Before your dad passed, he was chairman board of trustees (BOT) of the PDP, correct?
He was chairman in 2015. After we lost that election, he stepped down and adopted an elder statesman role.
Did your dad influence your journey into politics under the PDP?
Yes and no. I say yes and no because on one hand you have to join a political party. It could have been NNPP, LP or APC. On the other hand I know a lot of these people because I interact with them across divides. I feel a sense of fellowship with them and know what they believe in. So in deciding what party to belong to I asked myself which community I’d like to work out of and I picked the PDP.
I like the PDP’s ideology. We’re progressive and pro-business. I’m a firm advocate of free speech which is something my party also believes in so it was natural for me to work with the PDP.
We made some mistakes in the past but looking forward, our party’s Nigeria’s best choice for prosperity, security and growth.
Supporters of other parties won’t agree with this assertion. Why should Nigerians give your party, not just your candidate, another chance at leadership?
I’m a fan of Kingsley Moghalu and I read his books. He’s one of the best presidential candidates I’ve ever seen. I’ve interacted with him and interrogated his ideas and he’s solid. But, he always seems to pick parties that don’t appreciate what he brings to the table or stand no chance of winning. I say this to highlight that you can’t separate a candidate from its party.
When we took over from the military in 1999, we had an almost negative GDP growth. We grew it to 15 per cent in 2002. I can point to that to say we’ve been in a similar situation as we are now where we’re bankrupt, there’s insecurity and skyrocketing inflation. The PDP fixed that then and did it within three years. One of the stewards of that success, Atiku, is vying for the top office today.
We did some stuff that was great, but we also made mistakes. The beauty of Nigerian democracy is that in 2015 Nigerians clearly showed they can punish bad behaviour. However, they were only able to do that because the PDP produced a candidate that allowed free and fair elections.
Jonathan signed a presidential amendment to the Electoral Act a few weeks before the election and it was that same amendment that kicked him out of office.
My worry going into the 2023 election is, on one hand we have a ruling party that doesn’t have a democratic bone in it and on the other hand a divided opposition who if they don’t band together, will find it difficult to unseat a ruling party desperate to hold on to power.
But Buhari signed the Electoral Act into law which has benefited your party. For example, governor Adeleke’s emergence in Osun. What do you say to that?
If Buhari had signed it in 2018, my applause for him would’ve been more enthusiastic. Right now he has no skin in the game as he’s not contesting. He did it in pursuit of a legacy. He wants to be remembered as the president that advanced our democratic process. If he was sincere he’d have signed it in 2018. All he’ll get from me is a one-handed clap.
You spoke of mistakes your party made. One which many people have talked about is the emergence of Atiku who’s of Fulani ethnicity to replace Buhari who’s also Fulani. How do you respond to those who say it’s unfair?
I ran for the PDP primaries to contest for the House of Representatives (HOR). Bro, if you see my manifesto ehn? I had a beautiful manifesto. I had a campaign team which was structured off of Obama’s when he ran in 2008. We were everywhere on social media including Twitter and WhatsApp. My constituency has 21 wards and we covered everywhere. Went to the markets and broke kola with everyone.
Omo, on the day of the primaries hahahaha. That day the conversation wasn’t about manifestoes. It was about what was in the best interest of my community. I was running for HOR and my community also had someone running for Senate. My delegates, people for whom I hired a bus to take to the venue, decided that they were better off having someone in the Senate than in the HOR.
Chai, that must have hurt
That’s the dark underbelly of politics. In the end these things come down to negotiations. You may not like it but as a democrat you should accept it. I wasn’t rigged out.
I say this to answer your question. Democracy isn’t perfect. The PDP presidential primaries had Wike, Atiku, Saraki and a host of others. There was a lot of horse-trading and in the end the delegates said Atiku was the best choice. The primaries weren’t rigged. Delegates across the nation came together to form a consensus on Atiku.
I hear people talk about fairness a lot and it makes me cringe. When you begin to have these ethnic arguments under the guise of equity and fairness it becomes problematic. Because you’re setting a precedent that we’d put ethnicity and religion over character, competence and a track record. The threats we face today from insecurity, displaced people, out-of-school children are markers of state failure. Ethnicity or religion won’t solve this.
So to answer the question of if it’s fair my Twitter bio reads, “It’s not fair, it’s politics.”
That’s interesting, because Atiku himself has slammed the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket and called for a “balanced” ticket. Doesn’t this contradict your previous point?
Speaking for myself now, let’s not deceive ourselves. Tinubu is a Yoruba Muslim. How can he pick a northern Christian if he’s serious about winning an election? Elections have historically been determined by bloc votes from the northeast and northwest. When Tinubu is looking for a running mate will he aim for competence or for the person most likely to deliver him the most votes?
So you’re saying Tinubu sacrificed competence for the sake of winning elections?
What I’m trying to say is, Tinubu was hamstrung from the get-go. Nigeria still has these conversations about where you’re from and who you pray to and Tinubu knows this. If it was a smaller party you could get away with a Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim ticket and no one would bat an eye about it. I’m deputy director of polling for the PDP and what shows up in our polls is that people tend to vote along ethnic and tribal lines. So I understand Tinubu’s decision. It was a cold and calculated move although I don’t think he’ll get far with it but I wish him well.
In 2019 you wrote that the next Nigerian president should be Igbo and you even mentioned Obi. So what changed? Why aren’t you supporting him?
The arguments I made in that piece are still valid, which was about recognising Nigeria’s diversity. I penned it around calls for secession at the time by Nnamdi Kanu. The thrust of it was that a certain section of the country felt they were still being punished for events from the Civil War which made them feel like they didn’t belong and couldn’t aspire to the highest office.
These issues aren’t anecdotal, they’re systemic. For instance, the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) was established because of the Boko Haram devastation as well as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to deal with the issues in the south-south. You don’t have anything similar in the southeast. This is a region which was the theatre of the Civil War and you don’t have anything set up to fix the infrastructural and physical damage they suffered. That was the background in which that article was written.
If you’re from the region — my mum is from the southeast — you’ll see how the state pushes back at you or doing tokenistic projects like the Second Niger Bridge. If after eight years the only thing you can give back to an entire region is a bridge, then it’s tokenistic.
But the PDP ruled for 16 years, how come they didn’t at least deliver on what you say is a tokenistic project?
That’s a brilliant question. We talk about bubbles of national sentiment and during Jonathan’s time the South-East didn’t feel they were being persecuted. Even though there was Nnamdi Kanu he was more like an irritant. There wasn’t a full blown agitation to leave the country. That only began to rear its head when Buhari got to office and made the “97 per cent, five per cent” remark.
Fast forward to 2023. Nigeria’s problems have gone beyond giving a certain section of the country a sense of belonging. Yes that too is important, but there has to be a Nigeria before anyone can hope to get a sense of belonging or anything like that. I mentioned earlier that to my mind, Nigeria’s at the edge of state failure. We need to fix that before addressing subnational agitations that are ongoing.
This brings us back to Obi
The good thing about the Peter Obi candidacy is it addresses part of that agitation and I absolutely love it. I’m up and about in Abuja and I see people in their isi agu outfits and you can feel the general sense of pride in being Igbo because they’ve put someone who for me is a great candidate. His candidacy has also, to a large extent, doused tensions in the South-East. Agitations have shifted from ”we want to leave” to “this is our guy” which is amazing.
So I don’t think overall my position has changed. I just think there’s a list of priorities now brought about by the APC’s bad governance. As a result other more pressing issues have overtaken the sentiments expressed in that article.
Given the growing support Obi has gathered in the race, do you think the PDP fumbled the bag by not fielding him?
I think it’s a disservice to your audience to ascribe what’s happening to just Obi, instead of being the result of a protest movement of young, energised, organised and mobilised Nigerians.
Even you could’ve picked up a ticket and if that movement had gotten behind you, we’d be talking about you the way we’re talking about Obi. It’s not about the LP either, which literally doesn’t exist.
In my village, Uromi, people who contested under the PDP platform and failed to get a ticket were the ones that took up the LP ticket.
I don’t think it’s quite the same thing comparing me with Obi, a former governor with experience running a national campaign under the PDP
I’m saying that between 2019 and 2023, several people have been posturing for president. Wike, Seyi Makinde and even people like Tony Elumelu, Atedo Peterside and Pat Utomi were making the right noises. So it’s not just Obi. Without EndSARS there’d be no Peter Obi.
We’ve seen youth involvement in politics before. Young people were involved in Buhari’s presidential campaign. What we hadn’t seen before was organised young people working together on a large scale and with efficiency. The first time we saw young people band together to push a political agenda — even though they say it wasn’t politics — was during #EndSARS.
Young people across the nation said they were tired of police brutality and were demanding police reform to the point where the president thought there was a plot to overthrow him.
I was out of the country on October 20, 2020 and I saw the evil this government did. My heart broke and I worried they’d crushed the spirit of Nigerian youths. So to see that spirit re-emerge now is a brilliant thing to watch even though I’m with the PDP. Although I think they’re backing the wrong horse, the engagement they’ve promoted in our political space has made it worth the while — whether Obi wins or not.
So I’m saying that if young people hadn’t led campaigns outside of the LP structure, Obi’s movement wouldn’t have gained any traction at all because the LP is struggling to even hold rallies. I’d rather give credit to young people instead of Obi who only left us in May. Obi’s one of us, he’s an old breed politician and not new.
He just happens to be the tip of the spear of a rebellious movement that wants to transform the country for the better. And I envy him for that. I wish we’d been able to draw that attention to our campaign, we haven’t been able to.
So is this you admitting the PDP fumbled the bag?
If the PDP fumbled the bag it’s not about Obi, it’s that we didn’t appeal enough to the youth demographic. Even the young people say that this isn’t about Obi but about them and their future and I 100% agree.
You’re part of the PDP presidential campaign council. Give us the amebo, how’s the PDP dealing with the agitations of the breakaway governors of the party, the G5?
As e dey pain them, e go dey sweet us. Let’s talk real politics. I think they made a tactical error in showing their hand too early. Because it allowed us to ask ourselves how we’d manage if we lost any of the five PDP states. Can we chart a path to the presidency without these states? We spent the last four months developing that pathway to victory.
That’s why you still see confidence in our campaigns. Even if we don’t get those states back, we stand a good chance of competing and winning the election. If they’d waited a bit longer and caught us unawares then things would have been different.
Can you speak more on the grievances of the G5?
The G5 are saying they aren’t happy because the party appears to be top-heavy. They’re saying the presidential candidate is from the North, national chairman from the North, campaign DG from the North which lacks equity and justice.They want the chairman to step down so a southerner can take over.
The problem with that is it’s a disingenuous argument. Governor Wike is a lawyer and he knows the PDP constitution. Because of past issues regarding replacing chairmen who step down, we inserted a clause in the constitution. If I, Ose, from Edo state, steps down, someone from my zone will have to replace me.
We have a national chairman, Ayu, a deputy chairman one from the North and a deputy chairman two from the South.
Here’s the point to understand, Ayu is a middlebelt Christian. Forget the fact that he’s called a northerner. Wike is saying Ayu should step down so that a northerner, a Muslim from the northeast would take over as chairman. How does that address Wike’s agitation?
Or will Wike also lead another campaign for the deputy chairman one to step down so the next person becomes chairman? It doesn’t work. The proposal made to him was a simple one. We recognise your grievances and we’ll address them as soon as the candidate emerges as president. The chairman will step down.
There are six principal offices that parties share that are mapped out to the six geopolitical zones. The president, vice president, senate president, speaker of the house, secretary general of the federation and the national chairman. Okowa is already VP and from the south-south. Any imbalances that exist will be addressed when Atiku wins the presidency.
Like I explained, our constitution makes it impossible to give him what he wants. Unless he’s asking us to hold another national convention. The irony is, Wike was among those who conducted the last national convention and financed Ayu’s campaign. He was also among those who moved against the former chairman, Secondus, his kinsman.
Governor Ortom was a part of the committee that insisted the contest be thrown open without zoning. So it’s all, for want of a nicer word, somehow.
I’m a politician and I’ve been blessed enough to have personal security when I travel. How many Nigerians can afford that? How many can travel without being kidnapped? I get a huge amount of DMs soliciting help. However, you can’t crowdfund governance or healthcare. So when I see my leader like Wike acting in a manner that allows the APC to continue in office, it concerns me. I also ran for office and lost. The pertinent question is why? I ran to help my people and was willing to set aside my ego and act in a manner that yields positive outcomes. Can you honestly tell me the way Wike is acting is going to help Nigeria? It’s not.
That’s your opinion
Well, Wike came to Lagos and endorsed Sanwo-Olu. Let’s be serious. I keep saying that you shouldn’t be involved in a democratic conversation if you’re involved in what happened at Lekki Toll Gate. So how do you come to Lagos and say someone anointed by a godfather and imposed on Lagosians deserves a second term? I don’t get it.
How do you go and meet with Tinubu? After the last eight years how are they still an option? You asked if we made mistakes, I said yes. 2015 was a referendum on PDP’s 16 years in power. Nigerians said they wanted more and voted us out.
As a PDP member do you consider this unforgivable?
Forget my partisanship. I think as a Nigerian it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Beyond the theatrics a lot of us loved Governor Wike because he’s very hardworking. When you have someone you hold in such high regard acting in an emotional, scorched-earth way, it’s a dangerous game to play. It’s the politics of attrition with the lives of 200 million Nigerians.
What’s the PDP’s plan to woo back young Nigerians disillusioned with the party’s conduct of in-house elections? Case in point, the Banky W experience
Banky’s an example of how you should take part in politics. His candidacy was initially disputed but he fought for it. He took his case to every single member of the party leadership. Fresh primaries were conducted and he won.
A lot of people think because they have good plans or went to Harvard they’re entitled to power. Nobody gives you power, you have to take it. That’s why this election is different. Young people are no longer sitting on the fence or waiting for the PDP or APC to cede power to them. They’re going for it.
On our internal primaries, I think we should adopt direct primaries. Once you have delegates you’re creating a captured structure. Independent candidacy has to become a thing too. If we get into office that’s one of the reforms we’d try to push.
Is this a promise?
Yes it is, hold me to that. And not just independent candidacy, diaspora voting as well. We’ve committed to it in our manifesto. It makes no sense that you work abroad, send money here but can’t vote because you’re geographically displaced.
I want to say because of the youthful audience, that I appreciate their involvement in this conversation. I’m on this platform because I recognise the importance of speaking to that demographic. This isn’t necessarily an appeal to vote for our candidate, I think by this time lots of minds have been made up.
This is just to encourage young people to say they’re doing an amazing job. We have lots of youths in our campaign as well. Regardless of the outcome, an Atiku-Okowa presidency will prioritise young people.
Are you confident in INEC’s ability to conduct free and fair elections this time around?
Real talk, there’ll be violence. I believe the ruling party will deploy violence in areas they aren’t strong. There’ll also be lots of vote-buying. But, the new Electoral Act and BVAS means this election will be the most transparent and most reflective of public opinion we’ve ever had. On that score I’m confident that regardless of the outcome, it’ll be representative of the will of the people.
So kudos to Buhari right?
Kudos to the INEC chairman. Because BVAS isn’t in the Electoral Act, it’s in INEC’s guidelines. So let’s keep praying for him. As long as BVAS stays in place, I’m confident that we’ll have a free and fair election.
Does this mean if the outcome doesn’t favour the PDP it won’t seek redress in court?
You saw what happened in 2015. We lost the election and there were issues with it. But you always have to look at the greater good. I think it was important for us to reinforce not just confidence in INEC but confidence in the electoral process.
We could’ve challenged it but the president decided not to and I belong in that school of thought. But I’m speaking for myself, not my candidate. And we don’t know what might happen between now and February 25. But fingers crossed, it all comes good.
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