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The contest for the position of National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zoned to the Southwest is hotting up. Many leading politicians from the zone have indicated their interest in vying for the office at the convention of the party scheduled to hold in March next year.

One of those warming up to contest for the office is Chief Dapo Sarumi. In this interview, he argued that he, more than any other contestant deserves to be the party scribe. He gave reasons he is confident of clinching the party post after the convention.

According to him, he is one of the 18 PDP stalwarts that decided on what the PDP should look like when it was formed in the house of Professor Jerry Gana in 1998. Consequently, he is one of the few who knows the aims and objectives of the founding fathers of the party.

He disclosed that he is known as the political lion of Lagos in political circles. This according to him is because leading politicians in Lagos today learnt the art of the game under his tutelage in the Primrose Circle in the 1990s. He regretted some of the things that happened at the time. He also gave hints that correction would soon be made and his group would bounce back to its old glory.

He is unhappy with the rival Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) members in the House of Representatives who refused to vote for a son of Oduduwa to occupy the number four position in the country. He described politicians in the rival party as commission takers.

Sarumi spoke on other issues.
Is it true that you are contesting for the position of National Secretary of the PDP zoned to the Southwest?

Yes. It is true.
How prepared are you for the job?
I was one of the 18 people that decided what PDP would be at a meeting before it was launched in (Professor) Jerry Gana's house. I know the terrain. Our party desires a strong person with the knowledge of the country. We need somebody who knows the aspirations of the founding fathers of the party to create a very strong broad- based party; we need a party that is strong internally and externally, that not only preaches democracy but also demonstrate strong internal democracy. No other party in the country can boast of that. That we are the strongest party, the largest party is not contentious. The question mark is on our internal democracy. And even in that area, internal democracy in PDP is stronger than in any other party. My pedigree is well known. I was the founding National Vice Chairman of the party in the Southwest. I have been active in politics. We have to underpin that strength and ensure that it is maintained. That is why you need an able hand, a tested hand, a courageous person and somebody with the stamina who understand the intricacies of setting up the party and maintaining it and ensure that PDP remains the strongest party, not only in Nigeria, but the largest party in Africa. I think I fit that bill more than any other person who has offered to serve so far.

There are speculations that the party may zone the secretary post to Oyo State.

I am a politician. I don't know about speculations. I don't work on rumour. But nothing of the sort has happened. I don't see anything like that happening. Oyo currently has House leader in the House of Representatives who is a member of the national caucus; it has Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate and it has a strong cabinet position. I would not rank them in the top two or even top three when the zone sits to zone the position. And even at that, it depends on the validity of zoning within zone in the present tendencies. Maybe somebody is being clever by half. A justifiably disillusioned Southwest was out of the nation's mainstream. Working in concert with S. M. Afolabi, Haruna Elewi and Titi Ajanaku, we pioneered and engineered the drift into the PDP in the Southwest. I know the zone, its purse, its feelings and its terrain. I know some people may be flying a kite to introduce that. But I am not aware that any such zoning arrangement has taken place.

It is believed that you belong to the Yar'Adua camp of the PDP. Is it true?

The position of the National Secretary is not a position that is zoned or to be contested or determined by camps and caucus. I am aware that we have a very broad party that has several tendencies. It is true that my pedigree was firmly rooted with late Shehu Musa Yar'Adua. Just as I was with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I am very proud of this pedigree. But, that is not the platform under which consideration is going to be made. Consideration is not going to be made on any sentiment. I am not interested in this position because of my antecedent or my pedigree.

I am not presenting myself as somebody who has and at some point in time emerged as the leader of what you call the Yar'Adua camp in the Southwest. No. I am presenting myself for consideration based on the concept that we would chose the best not on the basis of an accident of association or accident of birth, religion or sex.

People belief that you are not in the camp of those who decide on where positions zoned to the Southwest go. Are you sure the leaders in the zone will back your aspiration?

I don't know what you are talking about. Are you saying that these leaders are not the leaders I accept or respect? I have excellent relationship with most leaders you know and those you don't know. I have regard and relationship with those who have been there before who are elders and I have excellent regard and respect for whoever had the opportunity of serving. I am however not campaigning or sniffing for camps when with all humility I can say that am fit for the job.

So, Chief, what are your chances of becoming the elected Secretary of the PDP?

It is very excellent. My chance of becoming Secretary is better than any other person that I know. What would be the chance of somebody who with all humility is regarded as the lion of Lagos politics? What would be the chance of a person who can say I am an excellent swimmer because I have swun against current? Who is out there who made an impact not because he went to where everybody was then – somebody who had the mind of his own-who worked tirelessly to fight injustice, fight anti democratic tendencies and say yes he has done it? Who is the man out there? Mention one if you know who did it better than Dapo Sarumi? I know how to fight opposition and I fought it over the years. I have fought tendencies that are regarded as the norm. I have tried to be on the side of those who believe that this country belongs to every one of us. It is not an accident of creation. How many can come out and boldly say that of those who are aspiring. Unfortunately, all of them, even the few ones that we know are currently aspiring and many may still come out. They are all my friends and colleagues. I embody all the qualities that they have and more. Forthright? Yes, I am. Bold? Yes, I am. Courageous? . Yes, I am. But more than anything else, I have been at the battlefront. I am a dogged fighter.

People are bound to ask this question: The lion of Lagos politics is in PDP and the rival political party has been controlling Lagos for the past 12 years. Why? What went wrong? Why is this so?

You miss one major point. Even in the rival political party controlling Lagos, the foot soldiers; the warriors there were original members of this singular army that eventually -the Primrose group that eventually mutinied and went the other side. Several things were wrong. It is unfortunate. But we would correct all that. Honestly, I do not exclude myself from blame.

What actually went wrong?
You see I have lived by the norm that no matter who you are and no matter what you are, the past you cannot relive. The past is gone. What you need to do is not allow yourself to be condemned to those errors of the past.

Do we take it that since you contested gubernatorial primaries in the 1990s, you did not seriously contest for other strong positions but took appointments, why?

It is not the issue of not wanting to contest or contest for any other one. When you participate in politics, people look at you as eventually contesting for the ultimate and probably winning. It is the participation. In fact, some very excellent sage said that the journey itself is the reward. It is the process of getting you there that is the joy. I have enjoyed the struggle that I have had. I still enjoy them. When I remember, I am happy with who I am. I have not been bothered. At a stage, I tried to be the national chairman of a party. It has transformed itself to whatever you know now in the Southwest. Apart from contesting the gubernatorial, I have always been there. I do not believe or ascribe to the concept that a politician must always do all he can to open his mouth to make comment on all issues. If people call for comments on issues that I believe bothers on the party policy, the appropriate person to speak is the party organ, which is the Publicity Secretary. The fact that I am a leader in the party does not mean that I should open my mouth and talk about it.

I am disturbed when I read, or hear my leaders or elders jump into making comments not carefully well thought out. They want to rate the President of the country or the governor or rate former Presidents. Such things don't interest me because I don't think they are appropriate. They have been there and they have done their bit. If there are defective programmes, we can look at them. I have not been quiet and I don't make noise for the purpose of making noise so I can be noticed. Without making noise, I believe I have been making my contributions.

You are also known to be a close political ally of Atiku Abubakar, the former vice President of Nigeria. Are you still together?

I don't drop my friends. When people are my friends, they are my friends. We may not agree on all issues. But that does not detract from the fact that they are my friends. Turaki is more than a friend. He is my brother.

Why is there so much division within Lagos PDP?
Lagos and the manner in which politics has been played make it easy to fall into factions. But the factions should not be responsible for failure. People have not been able to manage those factions. If they have been managed correctly, the fact that there are divisions should not create a problem. Are there no divisions in the country in terms of 370 ethnic tribes? Is there any particular area even in the world that there are no divisions? But it must be managed. It is the management of it that calls for skillful people to handle. Perhaps we have not been lucky enough to have people who are sufficiently aware that out of our diversity must be unity of purpose and the unity of purpose must mean the ability to secure the greatest good for the greatest number of our people.

This culture of give and take and understanding has not been ingrained in us. It is the tendency that people think that perhaps there are things in our DNA that make it difficult for us to manage success. We struggle and we cannot manage success. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to do the best that we should.

At the National level of the PDP, the Southwest lost out because you could not secure the position of the Speaker of the National Assembly zoned to it. People wonder why the Southwest should lose out so badly.

You base your question on too many misconceptions. The reality is that after the last election, the PDP in the Southwest did not have sufficient large number of members at the National Assembly. It did not have enough strong voice to secure adequate positions. We needed to be supported by the rest of the country. Zoning was put in place .The unfortunate thing is that the misguided people from our zone who are not members of the PDP and who if we are looking at the zonal issue should recognize that beyond party, what we are asking is the interest of the Southwest. They should have collaborated to make whatever was zoned to Southwest work in Yoruba interest. The bulk of our representatives worked against the Yoruba interest. They destroyed Yoruba interest. This is where the problem is.