Dr Ogbonnaya Onu is the immediate past National Chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) which has merged with other political parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this exclusive interview with Sunday Trust, the first Executive Governor of Abia State between February 1992 and December 1993 spoke on the challenges and benefits of the new party, the untold stories about APC history and the sacrifice made by the political parties that merged. Excerpts:
How do you feel now that your dream to ensure the registration of APC has been realized?
I feel very happy. This is a major achievement by our country because our dream and our wish have always been that we should have effective competition in the political arena. The emergence of APC has changed politics. Politics in Nigeria will never be the same. We will now have effective competition in the political arena.
Don’t you feel uncomfortable that you are now an ordinary member of APC, considering the fact that you were the former chairman of a big political party, the ANPP?
No. From the word ‘go’, we have always placed the interest of the nation first. We believe that we must put the nation first in everything that we do. And whatever we can do to make our country grow faster, become peaceful, more developed, more prosperous and better respected all over the world. I think it’s good. For us, as National Chairman of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), I knew that once APC is registered, all occupants of positions from the Ward to National level will now have to leave. But I think what is important is what is in the best interest of Nigeria.
There were reports that INEC was going to meet over your registration because of rival APC that was in court. Were you frustrated?
No. The conditions as set out in the Electoral Act and the Constitution are very clear. And we met all those conditions. As far as we are concerned, there is no court ruling. The matter is in court. We need a ruling for INEC to say anything. So, that was why we were never worried. And I must tell you that we were so prepared that even if INEC come and say change your name, we would have done so very quickly because our convention had delegated full authority to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of both ANPP and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). And in my own party, the National Convention even reviewed the period within which we can call our NEC meeting to only three days. So, within a short period, we would have addressed the issue since we have met all the requirements. It’s not easy to have successful convention where everybody will agree on something like that. But we did it.
Why did the leaders of APC go to IBB immediately after the registration?
Don’t forget that political parties will be looking for members, ideas and all forms of support. If a party goes to somebody who has been a Head of State, who has governed this country, I think it’s okay. I believe that the party will reach out to all Nigerians. What is before us now; all those who were in ANPP, ACN, CPC, and then the groups from the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) that came together to form APC are automatic members. But we are now interested in going out to bring in more Nigerians.
Are you saying that they are wooing the IBB to join the party?
There is nothing wrong if he decides to join the party. We know where he belongs to. Should he decide to join the party, it will be a very good thing. He is somebody who has governed the country. He understands the problem of the nation. He has a lot of experience that can be very useful in anything that involves how we can improve on the wellbeing of our nation and Nigeria.
ANPP was once a strong opposition party to PDP before its dwindling fortune. Don’t you think that APC can go the way of ANPP?
The circumstances are different. The nature of the administration that we had in 1999 is very different from the circumstance that we find ourselves now. By 1999, every effort was made to push the nation to one-party state or one party that is dominant. Most policies of government were in that direction. But because our democracy has been maturing over the years that can no longer be acceptable to Nigerians. So, the environment is completely different. And I want to point out now that the emergence of APC; as soon as APC gets registered and is now in the political arena, it has denied the PDP from being a truly national party. APC is now the only party in the country that is truly national. What do I say this? We have six political zones in the country. The PDP, even though they are controlling many States, they don’t have presence in the South-west at the governorship level. They are not controlling any State in the South-west. But there is no single geo-political zone that the APC is not controlling at least in one State. If you really want to look at a truly national party, it is the APC. And that character is very important because it will make APC to be more durable.
Your critics will say that the coming together of ANPP, CPC and ACN is that of strange bedfellows. How will you respond to this proposition? How will you ensure that various interests do not hamper the focus of the APC?
Those who say that I think they should think again. If you look at the manifestoes of those old parties, you will find out that they all had very progressive ideologies. It is actually the manifesto that will show the difference between one party and the other. So, we are parties that are thinking alike. And if you remember, the CPC came out of ANPP. And then the AD gave rise to AC. And AC gave rise to ACN. If you may remember, the very first day that APC was to be shown to Nigerians, the leadership of AD were brought in to be part of APC. It was just some disagreements that made them left. So, we have been the same people. Look at the Joint Merger Committee, the Chairman of ANPP Merger Committee was Governor Shekarau. The Chairman of ACN was Chief Tom Ikimi and the Chairman of CPC was former Deputy Governor of Bauchi State Garba Gadi. Garba Gadi was in ANPP. He ran for office of Governor of Bauchi State before he left for CPC. Chief Tom Ikimi was in APP before he left. So, you can see there isn’t really any basis for any person to make that comment. They have been making this comment. And we have been telling them that it’s not correct.
How will positions be shared in APC at different levels?
We have an Interim Management Team. We did that for us to qualify for registration. And our Constitution which has taken effect now with the registration of the party had a transitional clause whereby members of that Management Team was given maximum of six months. There will be Congresses and Convention after six months. At least for party positions, that has been taken care of. But for elected offices in the executive like that of President, Governor, Local Government Chairman and the legislature; the State Houses of Assembly, Senate and the House of Representatives, for these positions, it will come later. But you know we want to ensure that there is internal democracy. I can assure you this. In ANPP where I was the National Chairman, there was internal democracy. That was why we didn’t have any cases in court. We adhere strictly to the Constitution of the party and ensure that it is members of the party that decide whoever will fly our flags. So, the same will happen in APC. If you look at the APC Constitution, we even go as far as saying that even where there is a consensus and all candidates agree on it, there will still be Yes and No votes. We want to be sure that we promote democracy. If we don’t show it, then we won’t convince Nigerians that they should allow us to come on board. We can’t be criticizing the ruling party and then go and do the same thing.
At the national level, the Interim Leadership seems to have emerged easily. How are you going to achieve similar feat at the Polling, Ward, Local Government and State levels since it will be shared among members of the parties that merged?
No. We don’t have any problem. The Interim Management Team has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday. You are right. We are the first party to have an executive at the Polling Unit because we are a grassroots-based political party. And we want to be sure that we have our people because we want the people to be at the centre of everything that we do. So, it’s not just the Ward executive, we have what we call Committee at Polling, Local Government, State and Zonal levels. All these will be taken care of. That is why we have a National Interim Management Team. They will take care of that and make sure that everybody is given a strong sense of belonging. Don’t forget that before the registration, we have ANPP, CPC and ACN. But now that we are registered, the eyes of the world will go to the States and Councils. So, we are APC. Let me tell you something, if you take cement, sand and water, you will see how they look weak. But if you mix them, you get concrete. It’s a very different thing. When you sugar and water and you mix them, you won’t see the sugar again. So, that is what is happening. We want to be thinking of APC and not the parties that came together because these parties do no longer exist.
If you look at your Interim Leadership at the National level, it seems to be dominated by people from a particular ethnic or religious group. Why is it so?
No. Actually, if you look at the membership of the Interim Management Team- the 35 members, we have 18 of them as Muslims and 17 as Christians. We have 35 positions because INEC said we must have members from at least 24 plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which is two-third of the 36 States that we have. So, for you to have members from 24 States, then your team must be more than 25. And we shared it in a way that the three parties of ACN, ANPP and CPC had nine (9) each. The remaining eight (8) positions were shared between APGA and DPP because the two didn’t come with leadership of their parties. Each party now has to go and fill up the positions allocated to them. So, that is why we could have this type of arrangement. But by the time we go into our Convention, this thing will be looked into.
When you talk about internal democracy, one thing usually comes to mind. The ACN and the CPC are thought to be controlled by individuals. Don’t you think that issues like imposition of candidates can still come up in APC?
No. What you can use to judge how APC will function is its Constitution. If you look our Constitution, as far as nomination is concerned, like I said even when you have a consensus candidate, there will still be a Yes-or-No Vote. We have said that all our primaries should be open and should be conducted in accordance with our Constitution. For example, if you are worried, I gave example of sugar or even salt. The two are white. But once you put them in water, you don’t see anything again. So, judge APC by its Constitution. I don’t know why everybody is always talking of ACN or CPC. They don’t even talk of ANPP. ANPP; if you look at our Constitution, it’s very clear that the National Chairman is the head of the party. All our primaries, INEC and journalists used to witness them. But the Constitution of the APC, which is the most important thing, is what I have told you. And the document is there with INEC. We are going to have internal democracy.
If you look at Nigeria today, the country is deeply divided along ethnic or religious line. Some people have concluded that there is nothing APC can do to win the South-east and the South-south because the two zones are President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. Some say the North and the South-west are for APC. The North-central is neither here nor there. How will APC bring about unity that will make us look at Nigeria as one country?
Actually, we, in the APC, are very concerned about the unity of the nation. We are going to work very hard. We are already doing so to make sure that the country is united because that is the basis of our progress and peace. And like I mentioned to you, we are the only party now that is actually national. We have strong presence in all parts of the country. It’s a pity that as at this time in the development of our country, we share differences-languages, worships. We believe that as we mature, these differences will diminish with time in the future. We believe so. But as at now, we must respect these things. We will take the appropriate measures and put in place necessary policies to ensure that that is achieved. We expect that we will win support from all parts of the country. Nigerians will see us, the APC, as a party that is really interested in effecting change. Our interest is not just to acquire power. I have heard people saying APC is just out to produce President. I tell them no. If we wanted that, then what we would have done is to go into PDP. But we do not do that because we don’t like the way things are going in the country. And we believe that Nigeria can be far better than it is now. So, that is why Nigerians will say we must give APC a chance. When you have two things, there is way of knowing which one is better until you try them
The rival APC has threatened to continue with court action. And they also want to take part in the Anambra State governorship election. Are you threatened by their actions?
No. For a nation to make progress, every citizen must be below the law. No citizen should ever be above the law. The registration of political parties, as of now, is handed over to INEC. It’s their responsibility. We didn’t register ourselves. We look at the Electoral Act. We went to the relevant Section-Section 84. We went to the Constitution. We went to the relevant Sections-Section 222 and 223. And we complied with the provisions of these Sections. It’s very tedious. Can you imagine that all leaders of these parties from Ward to National have given up their positions? Do you know what that means in a country where people want to extend their tenure? If people want to stay, they can go to any extent. And you find Nigerians who have taken a position to give up their positions- the positions that they were elected to occupy. I, as National Chairman of ANPP, I have one year plus to my tenure. But we gave it up. So, it’s a sacrifice. And then, we organized Covention, where in my own party, we had almost 6000 delegates. And everybody accepted in open field. The INEC witnessed it. If anybody is challenging it, it’s fine. But we shouldn’t be disturbed by it because it is INEC that has the responsibility to register political parties and they have discharged their responsibility.
Are you ready for Anambra election because that is the first challenge and the first test for APC?
There is no political party that is put together without that aim of winning election. And we are very ready we have good aspirants. We will get a candidate and we will campaign for the candidate and it’s our wish that we win the election. We will work very hard to win the election.
Some analysts are saying that for now APC is not interested in taking over from the centre. They just want to make their impact by winning more States to broaden the opposition’s base. Are you interested in taking over power from the centre?
I don’t know who these analysts are. But I just want to make it very clear that the reason why APC came into being is because; we, in the opposition, have been dissatisfied with the way the country has been since 1999. Some of us have been in opposition continuously for this length of time. And it’s extremely difficult to be in opposition in a developing country. But we have been there. And we said that the only way we can now win at the federal level is by coming together and making this type of sacrifice that I have mentioned- which is worth sacrifice. That is why merger of parties that control government is very rare anywhere in the world even in developed countries. So, we are determined to see that the country is run properly. But I tell you frankly, if anybody analyzes our situation, we will quarrel with the person. But we are determined to effect change in the country and we want to win at all levels, including the position of President. And we are prepared. By the grace of God, there will be so many changes that will happen before the election to show that we are very determined.
As an insider, what are some of the challenges you expect to tackle in the next few months as a new political party?
As a new political party, definitely, there are challenges. We have a lot of experience. Don’t forget that ANPP started as APP about 14 or 15 years ago. So, we have the experience and we want to improve on that. First, like I did say much earlier that all members of the parties are automatic members of APC. But we want to broaden that base. So, we have to go out to look for new members. And there are so many people who have shown interest, coming from places you least expect to join our party. So, when that is done, then the process of making sure that you get every person to think in the same direction. It’s such a challenge we will overcome. I think we are now ready to prepare for election.
What about PDP moles in APC because it was an issue in the ANPP?
In ANPP, people kept saying Chairman, are you sure, you people will go into this merger. And we started it. I always assure them that we have a new ANPP. As soon as I took over, we used the term new ANPP. The ANPP since 2010 has been very different from ANPP much earlier. In the past, ANPP used to work with government in power. But we stopped that. That will show that it’s completely new. And I think that from the beginning to the end, ANPP had no rancor. We don’t have crises. We were able to get ANPP to be crisis-free and peaceful. They moved in one direction as there was unity in the party. So, I don’t know how those moles will operate. You will be amazed that before long, I’m sure that PDP will even be talking of APC having moles when they find out that we are getting ver strong. APC is a very strong party. Don’t make mistake about this. All those analysts don’t understand the strength of the party.
Can you mention the roles you played in the emergence of APC?
Oh! Many. The National Chairman (the interviewee) was the very first person who sought audience with the leadership of the ACN in 2010. He went and addressed the national leadership of ACN. That was how the whole process started. And it couldn’t materialize before the election because there was no time. As soon as the case was over at the Supreme Court, again, the National Chairman of ANPP started the process of asking all Chairmen on the need to start working so that they can build trust and so on. Within the time that the Merger Committees were constituted and a Joint Committee was formed, ANPP played very important role. If you look at the Constitution of APC and that of ANPP, you will know the contribution. If you look at the manifesto of APC and the manifesto of ANPP, you will also see the contribution. So, we made very strong contribution. Contributions came from everywhere. Everybody made contribution. But it’s important to also recognize that ANPP made very important contribution. Like I said it is completely misplaced. You can see that ANPP had been together. Our convention was very successful. We have never done anything contrary to agreement we reached with our brothers and sisters in the other parties.
Finally, what would you want to add or want Nigerians to know about the new party; the APC?
The new party has come on board to change the way politics is played now. We want competition in the political arena. We believe that many of the problems we have had over the years have remained unsolved. They can be solved. It’s because we didn’t have effective competition. With this competition in the political arena, we can now have the right candidates. The first thing that will happen is that; even the ruling party now must change. If they bring a candidate who is not good, and we bring a better candidate, the difference will be there. We will now find out that over time, the quality of those who can win election and become servant of the people will improve. But the most important thing is that all this impunity in government, arrogance and abuse of power will be reduced. And then, we will now have an improvement in the quality of governance. Look at Ghana, the party that is in government now lost election to John Kuffour. Kuffour came in and spent two terms. It took the party years to come back. So, you have a situation whereby one party was in government, then it went back to be an opposition party. It later came back to government. And the other one returned to its initial position of being an opposition party. It’s going to bring a number of things. Unless people like us in Nigeria, many will just go and join the government. It’s very difficult to be in government. But if you find out that you can in opposition today and tomorrow, you are in government, then there will be no reason for you to move from one party to another. This is one problem that the emergence of APC will solve. Integrity in politics will improve. You see leaders are role models. When you have this competition, another very important thing is free and fair election. The strength is there. It will be more difficult for one to manipulate election. If you want to do so, the penalty will be very heavy. So, because of this, free and fair election will be allowed. When you allow free and fair election, most of the violent acts we have in the country will be curbed. So, it is the same people you use to cause violence during election that will rise against you after election and start creating problems for the society. There are so many benefits the emergence of APC will bring to the nation. And they are very good benefits.