From IHEANACHO NWOSU, Abuja
National Chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, is not known for loquaciousness, but he does not keep mum when it comes to speaking his mind on issues. He did exactly that in this interview.
He spoke on happenings in his party, the corruption in the country and why ANPP is going into merger with other opposition parties.
Recently, you marked your two years in office. Looking back, would you say you’ve transformed the party within this period under review?
We are very happy with what we have done so far. When we came in, the party had a lot of problems. People were leaving virtually on a daily basis. We had crises here and there. But we are very thankful to God and I must thank all my colleagues. We have worked together as a team and today, All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) has a new image. It is very stable. Those who left us are now coming back. Many people are very hopeful and I must say there is so much going on in the ANPP.
In specific terms, what are the things the party has achieved since you took over?
We contested elections in 2011, shortly after we took over. You know that in 2003, the party entered elections with nine states and came out with seven. In 2007, it entered with seven and came out with five. Now, two defected. But in 2011, we went into the election with three states and we came out with three. It is the first time the party is coming out with the number of states it entered into elections with. Right now, the party is far stronger than what it was when we took over. Right now, if there is any general election, it will show.
You’ve talked about some people returning to the party, but these are people that have their own baggage and problems. Do you think their coming back to the party will help the fortunes of the ANPP?
Governor Sherrif never left the party. Governor Barafawa is an important politician who is well known in the country. He ran for the office of the President and he is a two-term governor. So, he is a very important person. If you look beyond him, there are many people that are coming in. I was in Kano recently and even our former state chairman in the state confirmed that people are coming back. It is the same all across the country. We are really praying that God will help us to continue in this path.
In your home state, how strong is the party because we know the PDP still holds sway there. What has the ANPP done in two years to boost its fortunes in the state and South East generally?
Yes, in my home state, Ebonyi, we have a member in the House of Representatives. He is the only person from our party in the whole of the South East, who is a member of the ANPP in the National Assembly. In Abia, we are getting stronger and we hope to do well in future elections.
Recently, you raised an issue in the United States, calling on South East politicians to take advantage of the options offered by ANPP instead of remaining in PDP. Was that an indication that politicians from the zone are not coming to your party?
Actually, what happened was that during the World Igbo Congress, where I was invited to speak, they chose a topic, which was on 2015 Igbo Presidency and I was asked to speak on that. I just said to them, before you produce a president, there are certain things you must do. First is that our constitution doesn’t allow anybody to run for office on the basis of being an independent candidate. You must have a political platform. If everybody in the same party, as it is now, during the period of nomination, they cannot obtain it and this is a fact.
Also, if we decide that, as Igbo, we must have a regionally based party that controls all the five states and we want to produce a president, there will be a problem. This is because the second condition is that for you to be a president, you must have a quarter of the votes cast in two-third of the states of the federation. So, you must have 25 per cent of the votes cast in 24 states, including Abuja. In that case, if you get all the votes in five states, what are you going to do in the remaining nine states? That was when I told them to look in the direction of the ANPP. I told them this because, if at any time, the ANPP decides to give a ticket, nobody will stop the South East.
Can ANPP, which is known as party for the North, go outside the region to give someone from another region its ticket?
It is possible. Besides, the ANPP is a nationally based party. This argument has always been there and I also addressed it in my speech during the World Igbo Congress in the United States. I said to them that the founding fathers of the APP, which metamorphosed into ANPP, include people like the late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dr. Sam Mbakwe and Chief C. C. Onoh, among others. With people like these, the party has a very strong root in the region.
These people you just mentioned left the party, maybe because they believed the party had a bias for the North. Contrary to what you just said, was their departure not a message that the South East didn’t have a future in ANPP, especially as you were denied, at the last minute, the ticket of the party you won?
I don’t think so. You know, the thing is that, for a developing country like Nigeria, it is very difficult to be in the opposition. Many people would not want to be in the opposition. That can account for many of these movements. In my own case, it is a very unfortunate thing and I apologise for all that happened. At that particular time, I believe the joint ticket, which was given to someone else not from the South East, perhaps, because of certain conditions in the country, was in the best interest of the party and the country. These are matters that I don’t think we can adequately address in this interview. But I think in the ANPP, any person from any part of the country has a chance. We are in the opposition and for us to win elections, we have to be looking at the mood of the nation as well as competence. We need somebody that Nigerians will easily vote for. Therefore, every Nigerian has a chance in the ANPP.
Why do you always shy away from commenting on the 1999 event, even when what happened touched on your integrity, as there was an insinuation that it was pre-arranged. Why have you not been able to clear the air regarding this issue?
I have cleared it. Nobody talks about it because it is quite clear. You know for the first time, a political party on its own apologised to an individual. It was made public and signed by the national chairman. This is a matter that has been adequately addressed and it’s not right for me to look at something that took place many years ago and has been over taken by other events and I come back to keep talking about it. Don’t forget I was a governor and the first Nigerian to be the Chairman of Conference of Governors. It has never happened before. I believe that the thing has been sufficiently explained and the people have accepted it. If there was anything wrong, today I wouldn’t be the national chairman of the party.
Why is ANPP going into merger with other party? Is it a realisation that it has been hugely weakened and cannot form a government on its own?
Whatever I do is guided by the love for my country. I believe that for Nigeria to be truly great, there must be competition in the political arena. If we allow our country to become a one-party state, what it means is that any person who is elected will not have the urge to perform in office. If you know that there is only one party and once you get the nomination then you will win election, what you do is to look for those people who will determine your nomination. That will only make Nigeria a nation where only a handful of people will dictate what happens and those in office will only want to satisfy their godfathers and the people. For me, if I can make the sacrifice, work very hard and be in government one day and making my people better, then I have achieved a lot.
We want to work with other opposition political parties. We believe that if all the opposition parties can come together, then we can have a bigger platform Nigerians can trust. We believe that things haven’t been going on the way they should in the past 13 years. We need change and if we have that change, it will bring progress. It will make Nigerian citizens happier. It will make our nation greater and people outside Nigeria will treat Nigerians with respect.
I don’t see things the way you just described them. I will ask those perceiving the ANPP in that light not to do so. The truth of the matter is that, yes, ANPP can do it alone or make the attempt. But there is no way you can compare them with a situation where all the major opposition parties come together. The success will be better guaranteed when that happens. For us, we think that Nigerians have suffered enough. Look at the level of insecurity and poverty in the country. Look at the level of unemployment and the state of our healthcare when people now have to travel outside for treatment. Even our schools; our children now travel to neigbouring African countries. There must be change. These things are happening even when Nigeria is receiving more money from oil than what it has got before. What could have happened if the revenues were dwindling? That is why those of us in the opposition want to see change. We don’t want to remain in the opposition forever. We want to be in government. We want to show that many of the problems the government has today can be solved.
How do you actually think the alliance will work because similar attempts were made in the past but they failed?
I am very confident. As the national chairman of this party, I should know when things are going well. I am not acting alone; I am acting with the mandate of our party. The national executive committee of our party has given us the authority to go into this discussion. Actually, what we are looking for is not the alliance; we are looking for merger. It is when the merger fails that we can form alliance. Now, we are doing something that has never happened before. It is true that all these efforts used to fail in the past. Don’t forget that normally it used to start very close to elections when people have already made up their minds. Now, we are starting very early. We have tried in the past to build some level of confidence among ourselves. All these will depend on God almighty. If He blesses our effort, then we will succeed.
Yobe and Borno states, which are both ANPP states have been contending with high scale insecurity. How has that affected ANPP as a party?
I must tell you that we are indeed, very worried and as a party, we express our condolence to those who have lost their lives. We are very disturbed about what is happening in those two states. We have very excellent governors. We are just praying that these two people can just be allowed to do their work, so that their people will benefit. These two states have given the ANPP victory since 1999. They have not voted for any other party because of the confidence they’ve in the ANPP. We hope that everything that has a beginning must surely have an end. So, the insecurity situation there will definitely come to an end.
Is the ANPP happy with the way the Federal Government has handled the security in these two states?
It is very clear in our constitution that the protection of life and property is the primary responsibility of the Federal Government. Even in our constitution, if a state governor asks a commissioner of police to do anything, he gets instruction first from Inspector-General, the president or the Minister of Police Affairs. Security is purely the responsibility of the Federal Government.
If you were a president, would you have handled it differently?
You cannot be asking me that. I don’t need to answer that. Our constitution, which is our supreme law, says it is the Federal Government that should take care of the security. They have to do their work and Nigerians know this.
What is your take on the Ribadu-led committee’s report and how would you advise the government to act on its recommendations?
It is not a question of shouting. We don’t shout about anything from here. Our position is very clear and there is no Nigerian who doesn’t know that the greatest problem facing this country today is corruption. We have always said that for you to solve the problem, you have to begin with free and fair elections. If you allow corruption during elections, you cannot stop it in the economic and social arena. It is not possible. About the report you just mentioned, it is very disturbing. If all that has been said in that report is true, then the Federal Government must find a way to ensure they recover the money.
Considering the way and manner in which the Federal Government has handled the fuel subsidy scandal, do you think it will implement the recommendations?
For us in ANPP we made it clear on why refineries can function in other countries, even in neigbhouring Niger and Cote d’Ivoire and ours cannot work here. If our refineries are working, there will not be any need to import fuel in the first place. It is very disturbing that a country, which prides itself as the biggest producer of crude oil in Africa, exports its own products from outside. Again, government must ensure that things are done in a manner that is clean. If you don’t have clean government, you cannot have development. Every effort must be made to ensure that we reduce the level of corruption in our country. It is very clear, with what you see happening with pensions’ funds, the oil industry or even the subsidy issue that you mentioned. These are very worrisome issues. We cannot allow this to continue.
Some ANPP governors have been accused of corruption-related issues. The current governor of Kano State has been shouting that Shekarau’s government milked the state. Doesn’t that show that ANPP government is also guilty of the same offence?
I don’t know if he has been doing so, but we know that Shekarau did very well. Incidentally, he is the first governor to govern Kano State for eight unbroken years. He has been exonerated of any charges. I don’t know if shouting is the right thing to do. If you have evidence against somebody, you know what to do. For us, the people of Kano were very happy in the eight-year period ANPP government was in power. We are hoping that in 2015, we will be able to get back Kano State.
Is ANPP disposed to zoning of offices?
That is why I want every part of the country to embrace the ANPP. Whatever is in the constitution, we uphold it. We are not other parties that put one thing in the constitution and do another. For us, the constitution of the ANPP is supreme. It can only yield to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Which zone is the presidency going to?
Our party is very democratic. We have many organs of the party. We work as a group, as a family and then we put everything on the table and then determine which zone gets it.
The zone that you come from has been agitating for presidency and you’ve repeatedly said that they can take advantage of the platform. Should that be taken that the party will hand over its ticket to the South East?
As I said, when the time comes, the mood of the nation will be taken into consideration. There must be zoning and in our constitution, it has not changed. What we are looking for is to create a very large platform and we will be happy to have a merger. If that doesn’t work, then we will form alliance or go into coalition. The people you’ve mentioned are very important and respected Nigerians. What is paramount in the mind of the leadership of the party is what will make us win elections. The mood of the nation and the competence of those who present themselves will come into play. We must give to Nigerians somebody they’ll accept and they are very sure that he is competent.
What has been in the opposition taught you?
Being in the opposition has been very expensive to me. I tell you frankly that what I am getting and what I will get are far more. I am not somebody that likes talking about what should or shouldn’t have been mine. What makes me happy being in the opposition is that it is good for development. Secondly, I know there can be no democracy without opposition. If Nigeria is a one-party state, the situation will be so bad and we cannot make it the way we want it. So, if tomorrow, Nigeria my country is so great, can I still be talking of my personal norms? No, I cannot be thinking of myself. I should rather be thinking of my country and how Nigeria will move forward.
When you were the governor of Abia State, you made a promise to make the state look like Japan, but couldn’t. What were the obstacles?
Maybe I should describe what happened in Abia State. In Abia State, I happened to be the governor of a people that are very enterprising, creative and highly innovative. We did a number of things. We established the Technology Village, which if those who came after us had continued, Abia would have been a completely different state. Secondly, we were to bring information technology into our primary and secondary curriculum at a time that the United States hadn’t even done that in their public schools. If that had happened, this outsourcing of jobs that has made billionaires in India would have been in Abia State. We had that foresight. Regarding Ebonyi State, I think I will leave the question for now. I will be able to respond to this later.
You blamed the last election you contested in Ebonyi State on electoral malpractices. Do you have more confidence in this current crop of the leadership of INEC to deliver credible polls in 2015?
Conducting free and fair election is a work in progress. It is very important for the growth, peace and development of our country. We saw some improvements in the last two elections conducted in Edo and Ondo states. We have not got to where we should be, which is still very disturbing. We have made some improvements with the case of Edo and Ondo, even though there were still problems with logistics, which shouldn’t be. We are still a long way from where we should be. I hope INEC recognises this and keep working hard to ensure our elections aren’t only free and fair, but also peaceful and credible.
After the last elections, the CPC described Professor Jega as a pretender. Do you see the man as a pretender?
Those of us here in the ANPP, we try as much as possible to be very objective. We see some improvements, but we are worried that we are not yet there. We have to move very fast because the world isn’t waiting for us. Let us not think that the world ends in Nigeria. We are part of the world. We have to work hard in order to get to where we should be. The level of poverty in Nigeria shouldn’t be there with all our resources.
Is poverty tied to the elections?
Oh yes! If you elect the right leaders, you will see that there will be wealth creation. Our industries will start working again. Agriculture will be working. Strong infrastructure will be built and the economic activities will be more. Jobs will be created. That is how you fight poverty. Our schools will work. The school system is very important in fighting poverty.
The National Assembly is currently amending the constitution. Has ANPP as a party sent a memorandum to them on areas you feel should be amended?
All the political parties met. The last meeting was somewhere in Port Harcourt, where we articulated certain areas of deep concerns. We are really concentrating on ensuring that we have free and fair elections. One of our demands is that elections should be held the same day. It is very important in ensuring that the bandwagon effect is stopped. It will increase the interest of Nigerian citizens in the electoral process. By so doing, it will help to check attempts to manipulate elections. We also want a situation where all matters relating to an election are handled before someone is sworn in. We want to ensure that the selection of the election officers is done with the best interest of the nation at heart so that you select the best people. People who will be unbiased. These issues are critical to having free and fair election.
Is the ANPP satisfied with the way the National Assembly has handled the whole thing?
Mistakes were made in the past and they are promising us that this is a new era. We have our members, who are there and they are doing very well. We are very hopeful that they will correct the mistakes of the past. I don’t think there is any Nigerian who doesn’t desire change considering the way things are going on in the country.