The merger talks between certain opposition parties, which were recently consummated with the formation of All Progressives Congress (APC), were rebuffed by the national leadership of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Chief Maxi Okwu, the interim Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, in this interview, justified the aversion of the leadership of the party to the merger deal, even as he noted that his party doors are still open to merger talks.
The major challenge before you now is reconciliation. How do you intend to bring every aggrieved member back into the party fold?
It is an aspect or an arm of our strategy, we call it the 3Rs': that is re-integration, reconstitution and reconciliation. I have tried to reach out to all those who made APGA possible; certain groups came together and packaged APGA and we were able to achieve registration in 2002. Most of those groups have become alienated. We have reached out to some of them, some have made commitment that they cannot reverse.
But let there be atonement and reconciliation so that we can partner. We don't have to be in the same political boat. So, we have achieved in that regard and I am overwhelmed by calls from aggrieved members, both at home and abroad. In fact, last night the leader of the strongest group, on-line called me that we are going to work together.
So, this is the way it has been running maybe some die hard or very negligible few who refused to go along and even abused me.
As you are preaching reconciliation, we still have Victor Umeh, insisting that he is the chairman of APGA. Isn't that a challenge?
Well, he is privileged to do so. The position as at today is that there is a court of law, a competent court of law restraining him from parading himself as the national chairman of APGA. So, any utterance he makes, any paper he signs, which he has been doing is total contempt of the court of law. He is showing disregard for the rule of law and it shows… I don't want to use harsh words, because I am still preaching reconciliation, but the way Umeh is going it is clear that he has burnt his boat on the issue and he now wants to bring the house down.
So, what we are trying to do, as of yesterday when we saw the way he was going, was to now find a way to ease the bull out of the China shop because he is poised to destroy everything and hang the party, because the party potentially is hung. Right now there is no leadership recognized by INEC and that’s the truth — not us, not him!
So, the party is headless, decapitated and we are going to address that finally this week. We have made a number of moves but it isn’t yet conclusive, but I have supreme confidence in what we are doing and God almighty who loves APGA, that by Saturday, or Sunday we would have a breakthrough. Just watch the news; we would pull through and find a way to gradually forget about the Umeh era.
You lay claim to leadership, but you don't have the national secretariat. Where do you intend to operate from?
Well, we have a liaison office at Area 10, where we can use as national secretariat and just stay there. That house at Libreville is Umeh’s personal house, we concede it to him. So, we don't intend to even use it further, because we cannot throw him out of his house.
Though one of his surrogates in court at the high court here in Abuja, swore that we have taken over the secretariat in the affidavit in support of their originating summons, but we concede Umeh’s house to him; we wouldn’t take him out of his house. Let him take his house, we no longer want to use it as APGA secretariat.
The two governors that you have in Imo and Anambra States aren’t on same page over the running of the party. What are you doing to reconcile them with the party?
Well, we have to move from known to unknown. One governor is totally committed to APGA and has been so for the past seven years; never shaken, never wavered in his commitment, when he has opportunities to have abandoned APGA and decamped — to use the Nigerian parlance.
One governor is just two years in the saddle and he has already declared for APC. In fact, I read in This Day of today, where he was making a strong case, why it must be APC. That's his privilege, of course it is unfortunate and I will continue to respect his right of expression, but this things are limited by the stark realities. The realities that after so many years in political wilderness, he found a safe haven and success in APGA on the reputation and performance especially made by Governor Peter Obi.
Governor Obi is the face of APGA; he has given APGA an address. I have been privileged to be chairman of a party that enjoyed no elected member, except one or two councilors. Nobody called me, or fraternized with me. But surprisingly having emerged as the interim chairman of APGA, I am now hot cake. You see the difference? Thanks to Governor Obi.
So, it is unfortunate, but we hope that all hopes aren't lost. The APC is still an association, or a name. It hasn't been registered, it has a long way to go. There is no formal application before INEC. I applaud what they are doing: bringing some people from the trenches to a platform big enough to make the PDP blink. But until they write a letter to INEC, requesting INEC to approve the merger and twenty one days notice to come and witness their special conventions to agree on a merger — each party will write separately, as required by section 84 of the electoral act, 2010, as amended], they are still shadow boxing. The real game starts when the request is made by the three parties, inviting INEC to come and observe their conventions to adopt this merger.
Are you saying once, the normal processes are observed, you would be willing to be involved in the merger?
I think it is now late, we don't want to be a joiner, we don't want to be a junior partner. APGA is big enough to be the convener. There are three conveners, in fact two essentially; one just made it by the door. ANPP just made it by the door. So, the conveners actually are ACN, and CPC. I think APGA is too big to be a joiner in an arrangement already concluded. So, in the circumstance, we cannot join.
But that doesn't remove the fact of reality in politics; that at the political door or junction, somewhere down the line, we may discuss, and may possibly work together. So, don't rule it out because politics is about what is possible, in terms of power, in terms of attaining power.
So, somewhere down the line, if it is necessary and it is desirable, the APC, at that door and APGA may discuss. I wouldn't rule it out. But for now, the issue of merger is ruled out as far as APGA we know is concerned.
Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, while reacting to the denials in certain quarters of APGA involvement in the merger process, said, those who are against APGA involvement in the consummation of APC, are APGA-PDP; that the original APGA- APGA wants to be involved in APC.
Let me talk about myself and my political life. I started my political life in 1998 as a member of the AD. I was a foundation chairman of AD in Enugu state. It was when AD got trapped in court that I moved on to APGA, when it obtained registration in June, 2002. I have been with APGA until it ran into stormy waters in 2004 and I joined a party originally registered by Olisa Agbakoba as Green Party. We had a convention in Abuja and we changed the name to DPP and I emerged as chairman.
But the first statement I made when I came out of the convention was that I was only away on sabbatical from my own party: that I needed to be somewhere, active and alive politically that whenever the cloud were cleared I may go back to APGA and I am now back.
I have been consistent. Some of us have been consistent; Governor Obi has been consistent. Will it then be somebody who has joined all the parties in Nigeria and chanced into APGA that will now begin to qualify APGA membership? I don't think so, but I want to leave it like that so as to allow room for reconciliation, because I could go further. So, let me in my capacity as the chairman, let me hold my punches.
As we approach 2015, what are you doing to give APGA a national appeal, because when you mention the party some see it essentially as a south-east movement that cannot even be detached from MASSOB?
Yes, APGA by definition is a national political party. If you look at the requirement for registration in the electoral act, you must have a national spread, to be registered as a political party. But the fact of dominance by a people in a particular section of the country is not a negative attribute. APGA has a dominant caucus from the south-east.
That's the truth and we have no apology for that. APGA can be strong in so many areas, if the people in that area do their home work. The ACN is a national political party, with a south-west dominant caucus and controls the south-west. It is its strength.
Part of my agenda is to create around APGA, make it the hub of the third leg in Nigeria political equation, come 2015. I think the arrangement going on in APC, may be one of the legs. I concede one of the legs to PDP, APGA will be that third leg, as our fathers did in NCNC and in NPP, we shall do it with APGA. But then, we shall meet at a junction, maybe at the confluence, Lokoja.
Will you be fielding candidate for the 2015 presidential election, or still concede to PDP?
We ought to, but when we get to that bridge, we’ll cross it. PDP has been saying it would reclaim Anambra in 2014; it has attributed its loss of last governorship election in the state to internal wrangling and the towering influence of the late Ikemba, Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu.
My understanding of the politics of Anambra State is that the PDP Anambra is in tatters. Take it from me, APGA will not lose Anambra election come December, 2013,because the information we have is that election will come before the tail end of this year. APGA will not lose that election. In fact, Governor Obi said on a podium, at the rally we shall beat PDP thoroughly.
But why is Governor Obi afraid to conduct council polls in the state?
PDP stalwarts have consistently challenged him to conduct the election to test his strength. Look, that's a joke. You and I know that local government election is the most discredited polls throughout Nigeria. Any governor do what they like and score 99 percent, whether it is ACN, whether it is PDP, or ANPP, even CPC. If you conduct local government election in Nasarawa State today, CPC will score 99 per cent. So, let nobody joke, because Governor Obi can walk away with victory in Anambra state whenever he wants it, the way it is going throughout the country.
So, take it from me that isn't an argument presented by anybody. At the appropriate time, election will be conducted for the local government council in Anambra State. The information I have is that it would be conducted around June. So, there would be election; it may be delayed but better late than never.
Finally, the trend in political parties in the country today is that governors call the shots, in virtually all the political parties. Why is it so?
Well, it used to bother some of us during my advocacy campaigns in CNPP and in other fora in the civil society arena. The trend is essentially caused by retarded development of our democratic process. You find out that the people right now aren't prepared to own their parties. The commitment to pay dues and contribute or volunteer isn't yet there. It used to be there before the civil war, it was killed by Babangida and the military people particularly when he came with his idea of equal joiner in SDP and NRC and paid for the parties, funded their manifestoes.
That killed the time tested ideas that members pay for their parties; you subscribe to be a member of a party, you contribute. In other developed democracies, like in UK and United States, the culture of voluntarism is so deep that people beg to participate.
So, we have to win our people away from this idea that it is a governor or the president, or a big man who should fund the party for them. It is a problem. In states, governor is the leader of the party and the sole financier: he determines who gets what, who is to be nominated or not. He also picks the party chairman and council chairmen.
The President owns the party at the national level and there is so much public fund being used to play politics and that's why smaller parties have no room to maneuver. It is a problem, but it is only with time that we shall move away from that obnoxious practice and go back to the old days of NCNC, of Action Group, NPP, PRP, when people owned their parties and the fact of being minister or Premier didn't give you any extraordinary power over the party. We would get there.
But we must thank God for nearly fourteen years of unbroken civil rule. We have never had this before, since 1960. Gradually, we are improving.
Still talking party supremacy, will the party reprimand Governor Okorocha, for engaging in merger talks without carrying the party leadership along?
We don't want to face too many battles at the same time; it is a serious battle to recover the soul of the party. After convention next month in Enugu, we would address the issue of indiscipline.