Daily Times Online

Politics

Our case against INECĖAPGA

THE All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) is one of the second generation political parties registered in 2001 following the clamour for more parties that eventually culminated in the emergence of the current 30 political parties in the country. The party is enjoying widespread support and following in the South East geo-political zone such that it is seen as a party for the Igbo nation even as it has picked a symbol of the Igbo struggle, a former Biafran warlord, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, as its presidential flagbearer. But the National Chairman of APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie in this interview with AARON OSSAI and CHESA CHESA, in Abuja says his party is not a regional concernÖ

It is generally believed that APGA is a party for the South-East. What are the partyís chances of getting significant votes outside the South-East zone?

APGA is a national party. It was registered when the process of registering a political party was like the camel passing through the eye of a needle. The conditions were very stiff, so stiff that people like Gani Fawehinmi and Balarabe Musa chose to go to court. We knew that we needed human beings to meet those conditions, so we got out to establish our presence in the 36 states of the country. When APGA was registered, we were recorded to have made enough presence and other requirements in 34 out of the 36 states, so we have national spread.

In addition, we were then required to have officers from various parts of the country according to the federal character principle. We still have that principle operating in our party today. Our national working committee and national executive committee have officers representing all the states of the federation.

There is no doubt APGA has its strongest base in the South-East zone but that does not make it an Eastern party. We have that strong base in the South-East zone because for the first time in the political history of Igbo people, a national political party was initiated and formed by the Igbos. So, at that time when there were six parties, I was the only person from the entire Southern Nigeria who was chairman of a party. The others came from the North. It remains on record that I am the first Igbo man to be the chairman of a national political party. Even with the registration of additional 24 parties, those are ones that came after. This kind of development perhaps attracts emotions and solidarity from people who are expressing it for the first time.

Again, APGA believes in rotational politics and decided quite early that its presidential candidate would come from the South East zone. What informed our decision was that already power was in the South-West, for four years, and it should now logically go to the South-East, and thereafter to the North. We have this policy of rotation, and that is to last for a term of four years. It appears many other parties are beginning to adopt this policy, anyway. So, that was how Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu became APGAís consensus candidate.

Of course, knowing his antecedents as one who defended his people against planned annihilation, his candidature is bound to awaken the people into some political consciousness. There is no doubt APGA has its strongest base in the South-East, but it is equally spread across the country.

Donít you envisage some kind of suspicion by other geopolitical regions toward your presidential candidate particularly against the background of his civil war role?

No, if there is suspicion, it will just be among a few members of the cabal. Only recently, M.D.Yusuf was asked by a panel of editors to chose between Obasanjo and Buhari as president, Ojukwu was not mentioned at all; but he said that rather than choose any of the two, he would vote for Ojukwu. Also, Balarabe Musa prayed that his choice of presidential candidates would not be reduced to Obasanjo and Buhari only.

The attitude to Ojukwu has changed tremendously. The Tiv people refer to Ojukwu as their foster father. They believe that what he fought for in 1967 remains relevant today. The people of the Niger-Delta regard him as the one who saw tomorrow; that what they didnít see over 30 years ago, they are now seeing it very clearly today. When you look at his records, you will see he towers over and above his rivals. Ojukwu defended his people; he did not attack Nigeria. He has never been involved in any subversive activity, never embezzled anybodyís money, never coveted anybodyís wife, or involved in any contract scam at all.

But look at Buhari, he toppled the democratically elected civilian government of Shehu Shagari, put all the politicians in prison and has been very resentful of politicians; he has never hidden this resentment and should not be accepted in a democratic setting. It is unthinkable that a former head of state should be promoting religious fundamentalism, and it is absurd that after declaring that no true Moslem should vote for a Christian, he is now asking for the votes of all Nigerians, Christians and Moslems.

Again, the PTF records show that what the South-East got as allocation for infrastructural development was 5.3 per cent. Is that sense of fairness? Is that fairness at all? Such a person should not preside over a government that is expected to be equitable in dispensing patronage.

As for Obasanjo, I donít think he is prepared for any election; he is simply getting ready to rig elections. The shoddy reception he received in Makurdi, he will still receive in Odi, and other places across the country in spite of the crowd they will rent. It was not decent for him to have allowed his PDP fund-raising activity to be attended by government institutions like the Nigeria Portís Authority (NPA) to come and donate. If I were in his position, I would never have done anything like that. This is a man who was alleged to have been involved in a coup plot against Abacha, and was also said to be involved in the coup that ousted Gowon. So, he has antecedents of destabilizing governments and now he has had four years of rulership and Nigeria has been the worse for it. You can liken him to someone who failed exams in class one and rather than repeat the class, he decided to move to class two and even force himself to be the class prefect. He has failed woefully in his first term and he is now forcing himself to have a second term. If the elections were free and fair, he would be out rightly rejected.

With other candidates from the South East in the presidential race, is there any plan by APGA to harmonise position and pick a consensus candidate in order not to jeopadise the chances of the South-East zone?

Igbo people are very republican in nature. My own idea of coalition or alliance is that it is better done when you have had a few elections so that when you invite someone for discussions he would be coming with his bargaining chip. If someone has not been able to deliver a ward or local government, there would be little basis to waste time discussing over a presidential candidate. Even the coalition of NCNC with NPC in the First Republic was after elections, same with NPP and NPN accord. So, going around asking people to come for harmonization or coalition now might get someone bighead, thinking he has become very important. Undoubtedly, APGA is the mainstream party for the South-East zone and to a growing level, the South-South as well. The other parties will be. We will not condemn them; they will make their efforts. Perhaps, they will be useful when the time for coalition comes. Who knows, we might be ending up with a coalition government at the center. We will not dissipate energies at this level trying to harmonise anything. After all, M.D.Yusuf, former chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum is now a presidential candidate, Balarabe Musa is a presidential candidate, so is Sarah Jubril, and they are all from the North. In the West, Tunji Braithwaite and Gani Fawehinmi are presidential candidates. People tend to make too much of the Igbo case. There is nothing unusual in the South- East that is not going on elsewhere.

Did APGA attend the meeting on coalition of parties called by Balarabe Musa?

I was not around but I directed our officials to attend. For whatever it is worth, you should be able to rub minds with your colleagues in the field on anything that will bring about harmony in the process of this electioneering. We will encourage that but not what I saw in the papers that 28 parties would get a presidential candidate, that is a tall order. We are all of different ideological inclinations.

But such a meeting or forum can achieve other things, like urging the electoral commission to publish the voters register, which is yet to be published at this time, or to compel the National Assembly or INEC to intervene to see that state electoral commissions are reconstituted to give all the parties equal representation so that we can have some confidence in the electoral body as partial body, electoral commissioners are known to be card-carrying members of the PDP and this will not make for a level playing field.

How would you assess the performance of INEC so far in the electoral process?

INEC is suspect! Their independence definitely cannot pass the test. Their reflexes show that they are being dictated to from Aso Rock. Sometimes they disregard what the law says and that is why for every case that has gone to court against INEC, it has lost. The people should be ashamed that they have a legal department, yet they go on committing legal blunders just because they want to satisfy their pay master, which is the ruling party. So, INEC cannot be trusted and that is dangerous!

How do you think this will affect the electoral process and a smooth transition? Besides, what advice do you have to give to solve the problem as you see it?

Well, if they continue this way there will be fears for Nigeriaís stability and its corporate existence. My advice is that it is not late in the day for the commission to tread the path of honour, and be fair to all and to protect the independence the constitution confers on them.

This is not to say that the executive has no blame because sometimes the executive arm makes it difficult for INEC to get fund to do what it has to do in good time, forcing the commission to almost always go cap in hand to the executive. That gives it the opportunity to arm-twist INEC.

We have to appreciate that difficulty. But it is better to protect your integrity than to compromise. If the INEC chairman is, a man of integrity, then of course at a certain stage of his relationship with the government, he is expected to resign and tell the public why. That will surely jolt the establishment to some consciousness. He is so pliable, and the executive feels they have an easy tool to manipulate but there should be a limit. Obasanjo could not control the anger of the ordinary Benue people, so, it would be difficult for INEC to control the anger of the Nigerian masses once provoked. Prevention is always better than cure, so if they know they canít do this job, they should resign. If they must do it, they must do it with integrity, sincerity and honesty or be held accountable for whatever that might happen to the corporate existence of Nigeria as a result of their being manipulated in the process.

Have you received any response to your complaints of partisanship and interference on the part of INEC commissioner, Shehu Musa?

Although, I have just returned from a trip outside the country, I donít think any reply has come. I am not surprised. INEC never responds to matters like this. They will just keep quite until things get out of hand. It is unfortunate and this is a very serious matter. Amember of the INEC showing very open partisanship that ought to earn him instant removal. But in the typical way of sweeping matters like this under the carpet, I am not surprised that we have not received any reply.

Besides, who is actually going to reprimand the other? They are all partners in crime, like Ali Baba and the forty thieves.

From the foregoing, do you have the confidence that the judiciary will perform creditably in this electoral process?

The judiciary has done wonderfully well, I must admit. The way it is going, I think it remains the last bastion of hope for the ordinary person in Nigeria.