Honourable Fred Agbedi is a member of the House of Representatives representing Sagbama/ Ekeremor Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State. As a fourth term member of the House, he is fast becoming a veteran of the legislature. In this interview with General Editor, TAIWO ADISA, he speaks about the forthcoming guber election in Bayelsa State, the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the politics of the House of Representatives.
Your state is looking towards an election in November and you have PDP and APC as major contenders. I am not sure the Labour Party is coming strongly. But what are the dynamics and how is the election looking like for the PDP?
First, if it is in terms of strength of the parties, I think Bayelsa is a PDP state and that can still be sustained. Then, if you analyse the strength, acceptability and capacity of the various parties, His Excellency, Governor Duoye Diri, who is going for a second term has created a lot of impact in the state; impact in development projects, impact in bringing peace and tranquility, ability to galvanise people of different shades, political groupings and stakeholders in the state together such that there are no aggressive political divides.
So, a lot of people tend to say that with the peace we are enjoying in the state; the capital development projects, which are going on; with the attention to workers welfare; with the attention given to pensioners and debacle they suffered in the previous administration, it is very important and convenient to work with Governor Duoye Diri. It will be more convenient to support him to have his second tenure so that he cannot only complete but also execute more of the projects he started. The extent of empowerment that he has given to youths, women can continue. The peaceful disposition to the people and the peace in the state can further be enjoyed by the people. The accommodation he is giving, irrespective of whatever party anyone belongs, and to all and sundry in the state, is enough testimony for the people to say they know who to surrender their mandate to, and that is Governor Duoye Diri.
Looking at the last general election, the APC appears to be coming stronger in the South-South. The Labour Party also did very strongly in the South-South states. In fact, the PDP just struggled in the South-South and it was nowhere to be found in the South-East. But looking at the trend of that election, don’t you see the APC or even the Labour Party as a major threat to the PDP?
In this forthcoming election, I can tell you that the PDP is still good to go. Looking at the South-South really, if one has to analyse the perception you are painting in your question, PDP still showed his major pouting in the South-South, in spite of the Labour Party incursion. Though the LP incursion came like a whirlwind, it had its strength in the urban areas where you had the concentration of the South-Easterners considering the fact that a South-Eastern person, who Nigerians largely believed in, was running the LP flag. So, you can see the South-Easterners conceding to their son rather than playing party-bias in the election. Now, when it comes to the South-South, like I said before, the urban areas where you had concentration of South Easterners and then the young ones, the youths, who felt that they should move away from the traditional parties to someone they can trust and connect with, actually, was what threw up the figures in those urban areas. But you see, once you move away from some of those cities to the hinterlands, where you don’t have a major fraction of the population of such people around, you will see that the PDP, the traditional party had its way. So, in this situation, we believe very strongly that, in Bayelsa,yes, the candidate that will be running in LP will no longer be a candidate that has the South Eastern connection. Now you have indigenes of the state, being in the ballot and the people who are voters there from the other parts of the country have been there. They know who is who. They know who and whois running and they have associated with these people, tasted their leadership before. So, they know who is right and who is not to be supported.
Your party at the national level seems to be going through some crisis. Right now, you don’t have a substantive national chairman. So, don’t you think the politics at the national level could affect the fortunes of the party generally going into this election, for instance?
First of all, you should know that after a general election like this, you have a lot of issues to contend with both in the party that won and the other that lost the election. But the party that lost has more challenges because banters and accusations are thrown at one another and all that. That is what happens but, you see, when you go back to the state level, particularly when you are an incumbent and that party is in power in that state, you still have that coverage to galvanise the people and move them to give a winning support. And because we have that stability, as a state, you will only have a minimal attention from the national level to strengthen you to go through the election. I think we are leaving no stone unturned and believe that victory is going to be sure for the PDP and our candidate who, in any case, for the first time, was returned unopposed. In spite of the fact that people were given the opportunity to pick forms to run primary against him, none did, which goes to tell you the extent to which he is acceptable to the people.
In Nigeria, you know that in every election, you will see many coming out to throw their hats to the ring but, in this case, it was not. This shows that the governor has done well. He is acceptable to the people and the people believe he should be allowed to have a second term in the office.
This is your fourth time in the National Assembly and looking at the configuration of NASS, some people have expressed the fears that the ruling party appears to be in full control of both the Minority and Majority parties. That is fuelling the fact that the NASS might turn out to be a Rubber Stamp Assembly. As a member, do you have that fear?
Well, for an Assembly to be a Rubber Stamp one, it does not necessarily follow whether the majority party is in total control or not. I, from my analysis of the situation, have always said that as a nation, our politicians haven’t bought into the politics of majority and minority. We tend to play bread and butter politics where the majority feels everything should be available to it. And for the minority, instead of rising to play their role of opposition, they want to also believe that whatever the majority gets, they should also get a share. And in that kind of situation, it is not the majority party that is going to be coercing you as you have surrendered your sovereignty. That is the way I see it.
Until we rise to say, as a minority, our duty is to police the excesses of the ruling/majority party and ensure that checks and balances are entrenched, things can never be right. But we are not seen to have matured to that level at all, and I think that is largely what our problem is all about. You will even see a situation where the majority and minority are even hobnobbing and the minority will want to carry the burden of the majority. So, in that case, who is coercing who? You are making yourself vulnerable and you cannot complain at the end of the day.
Going forward, how do you see the fortunes of your party at the national level? In the last election, the PDP lost so much ground in the North-West to the APC and even in the South South. Now, if the party that used to dominate the country before now managed to win two out of six geo-political zones in the country, what do you think will be the future of the party?
Considering the results of the last election, yes, APC was the party in government during the elections and still muzzled its way in to have as much way as it could. But I can tell you that they also lost some states. So, it was a game of losing and winning. Then, much of what Labour Party came to do was, in some cases, to collect from the PDP and also collect from the APC in some areas. They have only come to reduce numbers on both sides. Until the litigation is over, we may not be able to talk about the final figures as to what each of the parties scored and states that recorded victory.
One interesting thing we must say is that the incursion of LP into the 2023 elections made the political environment much more interesting, lively and competitive. If at the end of the day we are able to tweak some aspects of the Electoral Act to further block some of the loopholes in the last election, I am sure that we will be heading to a quite better, trustworthy and transparent electoral process that will give confidence to the results that will emerge.
Some politicians have always talked about the Third Force. Somehow by chance, the LP came on board and showed its strength. Do you see the party as one that has come to stay as the Third Force we are looking at?
You see, the signals of the Labour Party are quite worrisome in the sense that maybe the majority party in government is taking some strategies to further disorganise them. You can imagine that even when people were contemplating Third Force, they were not looking at the LP as one. They were thinking the LP is just an accidental one that just came like a phenomenon and people lashed into it, thinking they can use the party and Obi to express themselves. It is not about Labour Party and I think what happened was largely about the individual, Obi, and I am believing that Obi will continue to play that role, making himself visible as an opposition; as somebody who is interested in the Presidency and will speak in any available fora to ensure that he uses it to continue to sustain his relevance till the next election. That is what we should be looking at. So long as Obi plays that role, we may be shocked that the movement may double and likely upstage the traditional parties we know.
Again, it also depends on what the present government can do – If they are able to change the status quo in terms of the hardship that the nation is going through; in terms of the deficit in infrastructural development; in terms of the security challenges that have bedevilled the nation and quite a lot of issues that concern the ordinary man. Also, looking at age and health factors, they sometimes think these factors affect our leaders. So, they want the younger ones to come on board because the people can have some trust in and propel a movement to upstage the traditional parties that feel they are in government and can do and undo.