Former National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) (Southwest) Chief Ishola Filani recently celebrated his 70th birthday in Lagos. He spoke with Group Political Editor Emmanual OLadesu and Musa Odoshimokhe about his political journey, the PDP crisis, why the party lost last year’s presidential election and other partisan issues.
How do you feel at 70?
I feel very happy and great at 70. I praise God that He is gracious enough to let me be 70 years of age. There is no way to describe it because a lot has happened; my primary school to secondary school, university and call to bar days. I also thank Him for my practice of the law, political activities. I thank God that He has been generous to me and I have not had cause to stop glorifying Him. I am really fulfilled because it is an attitude of the mind; some people feel fulfilled, some don’t feel fulfilled. but, I have cause to thank God because I think I am fulfilled. Everything that I want to be, I am contended with it. I think I have made my impact and I thank God I am in good health. He has given me good children and I thank Him for everything I have been able to do within this 70 years. I am not going judge myself. it is left for the people to judge me.
Why did you study law?
It was a thing that just happened to me when I was in the primary school. I remember when I was in primary six, our teacher asked from us what we wanted to become in life. I said I wanted to become a lawyer and he continued to remind me. He monitored my life and after secondary school, he reminded me of my ambition. My inspiration did not come from the example of anybody. Although we have many educated persons in my family, I happened to be the first lawyer. It was not as if it was my family that gave me the inspiration. It was my own decision.
What circumstances made you to join politics?
If there is anything that I regret, it is joining politics when I did. As a good lawyer, I should have waited for another two or three years or maximum of five years, to be called into the inner bar before venturing to politics. That one aspect of my life is what I regret that I have not achieved. I still hope that now at this age, I should be able to devote more time to law practice, to be able to achieve that goal, to become what you people call Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). We call it the inner bar.
Why did you join the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and not the National Republican Convention (NRC)?
I have a very big brother then, very intelligent, a professor of Chemistry from the University of Lagos. The late Professor Ade Adegbite, was my big brother and we were very close. He and Babagana Kingibe went to the same university in England. And when Kingibe came back to Nigeria, it was through him that I met Kingibe. Kingibe and I became friends and Adegbite was our big brother. When General Shehu Yar’Adua was now looking for intellectuals for the Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN), Kingibe was one of the people he invited first and, in turn, Kingibe introduced us to him. That was how we started. We were like consultants, but because I was free, I was now seeing him more frequently than Prof. Adegbite. That was how I went into politics and we drafted all the papers. And of course, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was part of us. The PFN could not be registered. Some of us had to move to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The position zoned to us in my state was the position of ex-official. I contested it and won. That was how it started.
The leadership of the SDP abandoned M.K.O Abiola…
The party did not subvert Abiola’s mandate. all that I know as an active participant during Hope ’93, which was what we called the Abiola Campaign Organisation. Dr. Jonathan Zwingina was the chairman of the campaign committee, I was the director of publicity of the campaign committee. Some of the people that we were in the publicity team were Dele Alake, Tunji Bello and Dr. Doyin Abiola, who was always at home receiving materials from us for publication. With this background, I had insight into what happened. We won the election and it was annulled and lot of protest ensued. At the end of the day, people had accused even Kingibe of betraying Chief Abiola. I want to say with all sense of responsibility that it was not so. What happened was that after the election was annulled, there was this move by General Sani Abacha. Members of the defunct parties were to nominate people to serve in his government. The feeling of people then and strongly too, was that he was not going to be there more than a year. Abiola called us and briefed us about it. He told us that this was what he got from Abacha. The consensus of opinion then was that we should join. The reason given was that, if we do not join, the NRC will join. And if NRC joined, it would be a disadvantage to us. If in a year’s time, Abacha now decided to supervise the conduct of election, it would be like we were not cooperating with him and we would not be favoured. That was a good reason and Abiola submitted the names with the consent Kingibe. Being a democrat, he called all the leaders; it was as if taking permission from them. So, you can’t blame anybody for the circumstance of the time. The insinuation that Kingibe betrayed Abiola by going to join Abacha is not true and if there was anybody that gave Abiola the needed support during his trying period, it was Kingibe, particularly when he became the Minister of Internal Affairs. When he was in charge of prison, he was able to do a lot to assist him. That was what happened. Until Abiola died, I know that the relationship between Abiola and Kingibe was very cordial.
Why did you leave Alliance for the Democracy (AD) for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
When Bola Ige died, the cohesion in the AD was no longer there. Some people took over the party, running it as if it was a personal affair. The kind of leadership Ige offered was no longer there. The party was now taking the form of a sectional party; it was almost taking the dimension of a Yoruba party, whereas one had a broader view of the party, in terms of ideology. The ideology was no longer strongly pursued like when Ige was there. In term of administration, it was no longer democratic.
Why did you not contest for elective office throughout your political career?
I was more devoted to party administration; the only time I decided to contest for elective office was in 2007. The contest for the Ekiti State governorship election was in top gear. I and other people were disqualified during the screening to contest the primary. I appealed and at the appeal committee, it was there we learnt that it was because I did not submit my primary school leaving certificate. It was also discovered that certain influences that worked against some of us. Even where the argument was accepted, that I was qualified in view of all certificates presented, but when we went to the headquarters to collect clearance letter, the primary had ended. That was the first and last I contest for elective position. Apart from that, I was more interested in party administration, which got me into an ex-officio member of the SDP. There, I became the National Publicity Secretary and member Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party. In the AD, I did not hold any position, but I was a very good point of contact. In the PDP, I was elected into the national executive Committee and later, I became the National Vice Chairman. I served in so many committees to regulate the party. There was a time I was the Sole Administrator of the SDP in Delta, Edo, Imo and Abia states. During campaigns, I was chairman of one committee or the other. I have been seriously involved in party administration. I think I even prefer that because I am challenged by the responsibilities.
Why was the PDP defeated during the Presidential election?
The PDP lost the election because we did not field a northerner. It can be explained that as at then, the PDP had been in power for 16 years. Out of the 16 years, the South held power for 14 years; Chief Olusegun Obasanjo eight years, Goodluck Jonathan who took over from Umaru Yar’ Adua spent six years. And by the unwritten convention of the party, it was that south and north would have eight years each. And if during the period, the north had only two out for the 16 years and we still gave it to the south, if Jonathan had won, it means South would have spent 18 years as against the two years held by the north. Many of us who could think deeply advised against Jonathan coming up and that was the result.
What is your position on the PDP crisis?
When people talk of PDP crisis, I laugh because the crisis in our party is better than the one in the All Progressives Congress (APC). One thing that is happening is this, if it is not true that Ali Modu Sheriff is being sponsored by external forces, then, he should see reason to cooperate with the man stream of the party. If all the governors, the National Assembly caucus, state chairmen, other executives, past ministers, the board of trustees and everybody is on one side, all we are doing in the PDP, is like the biblical Jesus Christ who said if you have 100 sheep and one is lost, you abandon the 99 and go about searching for the lost one. The PDP asking Sheriff not to do this or that is just a fulfillment of that biblical injunction. That is to say nobody is useless; the more the merrier. It has become a parlance that when people in the party lost primary, they will say they are contesting under Sherriff faction. Our prayer is that Sherriff should see reason so that we can carry on with the party affairs.
Why was the Southwest PDP unable to agree on a candidate for the national chairman?
There was an agreement, but people breached the agreement. I was at the meeting held by the Southwest caucus in Akure, where we zoned the positions that were zoned to the Southwest. The position of National Chairman, National Treasurer and Deputy National Publicity Secretary, were those that were zoned to the Southwest. Again, we have our own internal zoning arrangement in the Southwest, we gave National Chairman to Lagos and Ogun, We gave the Deputy Publicity Secretary to Oyo and Osun and we gave the National Treasurer to Ekiti and Ondo. We now said that, going by what is happening in Nigeria, we needed an experience politician. We need somebody who can go all the way through whatever difficulties, we are passing through, we need experience person to lead the party. We believed that because of the experience of that Chief Olabode George has in party administration; he was the National Vice Chairman and Deputy National Vice Chairman. He was the coordinator of Yar’Adua Campaign Organisation. We believe that such a person has the experience to lead the party, so that what is zoned to us, we will put the best of men to occupy the position. We nominated him. but, some people insisted that they would contest against him. Even, some people from the Southsouth, despite that they were not favoured to do so, contested. It was a pity that the convention did hold; maybe we would have been able to see what the result would be. So, we presented a consensus candidate in zones for the Southwest, but, two people came from Lagos.
Source : ThenationonlineThenationonline