As part of our May 29 Democracy Day anniversary series, which we intend to run between now and Mid June, we bring you an interview with the National Deputy Chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Uchenna Okogbuo. He was in Umuahia, the Abia State capital as part of his official duty tour to the South East.
During the visit, he sat down with our correspondent, Nnaya Eziyi, for this interview and spoke on various issues ranging from the re-nomination of Governor Willie Obiano as the party’s candidate for the Anambra 2017 governorship election, the state of the nation, the state of both the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as well as the party’s plan for 2019 presidential election. Excerpts:
Since the advent of the APC administration, Nigerians have been hearing of bail-out funds and Paris Club refunds to state government and yet things aren’t getting better. What do you make of them?
It is a pity that there is no machinery in place to check all these things. The only people that will be victims of the diversion will be people that are not singing praises to this government. If you are a praise singer to the government, you can divert money, attention anywhere. That is Nigeria for you. We have a lot of people that are corrupt to the teeth and they are still in the government. But if you are in opposition you are a corrupt person. And I also want to tell you that the problem in the country is not corruption. So talking about corruption every time is nothing but nonsense. To start with where is the money the government had been telling us it had recovered? What is it being used for? What use has it been put to? That is the question.
What then is the problem with the country if not mainly corruption?
The problem with the country is lack of focus. There is no focus in this country. There is no willingness on the part of government to address of the fundamental problems of this country, which is insecurity, unemployment, hunger, the mono-economy, manpower and institutional development, do you understand? Those are the things that are supposed to be addressed. But most importantly there is no policy continuity in the governance of the country. Any government that comes to power is supposed to continue where its predecessor stopped, but no, any new one wants to start its own policies afresh. Where there is no continuity, there is no stability.
What do you think of the ruling APC after staying almost two years in office?
APC is not better than the PDP it succeeded because it is almost dead also. These are strange bedmates that came together and called themselves a political party and this is why it is not doing well. They were not prepared for governance. They were poised to come and cause confusion in the country.
It was said that they had decided that if ex-President Goodluck Jonathan were declared as the winner of the election, they would use any means available to them to cause confusion in this country. Most of the comments they made at that time were directed towards anarchy. But Jonathan, a gentleman who during electioneering made it clear that his ambition was not worth the blood of a single Nigerian, maintained his stand till the end of the election. So, when he saw the APC candidate, Muhammadu Buhari leading him in the poll he called him and congratulated him even before the counting was concluded.
What would you say about the performance of the ministers?
You saw how long it took them to raise principal officers of the National Assembly. You saw how long it took them to appoint ministers. You see the ministers they put there? Most of them are recycled governors of former PDP states, anyway. Those are the people the President chose as ministers. It is still the same old wine in a new glass, so based on that, both the preceding PDP and successor APC are leading the country nowhere.
How do you assess the PDP as major opposition?
The party as it stands today lacks the knowledge, lacks intelligence, lacks good governance, lacks good management, and lacks what it takes to win an election without rigging. So their problem is not just what you are seeing. The problem is that Nigerians have seen the party, as an incompetent political party that cannot win an election that is free from fraud and rigging.
And also, it was an example of their attitude towards free and fair election that also denied Goodluck Jonathan the presidency of this country. Jonathan himself meant well because he gave Jega (INEC Chairman) a free hand to conduct the last election, but Jonathan was defeated first by members of his party and latter the Nigerian electorate. Many of the party’s candidates, especially those who contested for the Senate, scored more votes than what Jonathan got in their constituencies. Meanwhile Jonathan gave them a lot of money to prosecute the election campaign.
Do you mean the party’s defeat was self-inflicted, more of?
Yes, the defeat came from internal because such candidates were able to rig themselves in and rig him out. So, based on that, PDP as a political party is dead. All what they are saying about peace talks to reconcile the two factions is mere jamboree which will not work because the Nigerian masses detest the party as at now. They don’t have what it takes to achieve peace. Internal democracy is lacking in the party, and of course that is one of their undoing. If a party does not have internal democracy how can it provide democracy for a nation? You cannot give what you don’t have. All that the party knows and was operating with was rigging. They used the entire arsenal of the security forces and money to rig elections and get into power.
What will distinguish your party, APGA, from others on the choice of candidates?
Our candidates must be tested persons who know where free monies are and can get them and use them to develop the nation; not money got from Abuja. That is how we are going to choose one for the presidential elections in 2019. The money from Abuja cannot help anybody. It is like counted money. You give me money to go and pay workers; to go and pay contractors; to run my office. When you do that what next do you have, what is left?
Most of the states are not even developing any Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) because they don’t have what it takes to do that. The only IGR you see most states develop is to call tugs on the streets and then give them sticks to start harassing market women, start harassing drivers, start harassing motorists, and start harassing people when they park their vehicles. Is that the only where to develop IGR.?
Governor Willie Obiano stopped that nonsense because they were using it to bring bad names to him. He stopped it. This is not our vision and mission in APGA and in our manifesto.
What part of the country will the candidate come from?
He can come from anywhere. He may not be an Igbo man. APGA is not a regional party. By the time we have a consensus candidate and we say this man is from any state in the country; once we understand his pedigree; we know what he can do, then we give him the ticket. So we are not limiting what we do in APGA to those of Igbo extraction.
Unfortunately, APGA has the misfortune of being tagged Igbo party, how correct are those who hold this view?
APGA is a national party. Remember that we won election in almost most states of the federation, including the one we won in Gwagwalada Municipal Council in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja?. APGA flag is flying there and that is one of he best and biggest municipal councils in Abuja. Our man there is doing very well. So APGA is not limited to Igbo as people may think.
After all when Alliance for Democracy (AD) started from the Southwest socio-political group, Afenifere, some Nigerians said it was a Yoruba party, and the people said yes, they have agreed. Latter they changed the name to Action Congress (AC) from where they became Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). From ACN they merged with other parties to become APC, which is now the national ruling party. Those are the progression that they have gone through. Trying to do what? They were trying to integrate the South West as a solid political block in the country. After getting it right there, they now looked for partnership from the North with the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and CPC with which they then formed the APC.
What about APGA, it was part of it?
APGA was never part of that party formation because Rochas Okorocha (Governor of Imo State) went there for his selfish interest. He didn’t consult the leadership of the party. In fact at that time there were crisis in APGA. He thought he could pull a quick one by going to take a faction of the party to the APC, but when he was cautioned, he dropped the idea immediately. So Okorocha went there as a party-less person. And that is why he cannot do more. Can you imagine him recently nominating somebody above 80 years for ambassadorial appointment? Can you imagine where he is dragging us? If we have to accept that then he is not qualified to be a governor on the platform of our party. When we are trying to bring in new ideas, new brains, younger people into the polity of the nation and you are taking us to 80 something year old professor to be considered as an ambassador. That is crazy.
What are your party’s plans for 2019 with regards to the presidential election?
By 2019 APGA will produce a presidential candidate that will be supported by Nigerians. If you look around the achievements of Willie Obiano, and using him as our example of leadership, you will realize that this is a man that has a vision.
We are crying and shouting of recession, the man is going on with his agenda for the state. He is the only governor in the country that is paying staff salaries as at when due; the only governor that is paying pensioners as at when due. Can’t we learn from him? You must be exposed to the realities of the time to be an effective governor.
Dr. Alex Otti during his governorship campaign in Abia state on the party’s platform said that the money to develop the state would not come from Abuja. As an economist, he knew there is a lot of free money here and there ready to be given to people that can develop states in developing countries. But the money givers must know you before you get that money. I think that is what is going on for APGA because we have the men, we understand the terrain, we are exposed in APGA and we want to develop the state and the country.
Is that why it was easy for Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano to pick your party’s ticket for a second term in office for the 2017 governorship election?
In APGA we believe so much in development, which is replicated, severally in our manifesto and even our constitution. In our constitution it is very much encouraged that members should be able to represent the party very well by speaking possible things about the party even when they are not in government.
Speaking positive things about the party will also bring positive things to the party. Now, if you are in government, doing positive things will also bring positive things to the party.
So, Obiano is seen to be exceptionally doing well among all the governors in the country. And this is a time of recession in the country, but it is not affecting anybody in the state. Is that not magic? That is why he is getting the awards; and people asking him to come and tell them how to do it.
What is the aspect of these achievements that impresses you most?
Take the area of security for example, there can be no meaningful development in any society without security and he has been able to get that on ground. We were in the state few days ago and we were surprised at the level of nightlife we saw there. If you go to a state or a country where nightlife is booming, you will know that there is security. Get into the state at 1a.m, 2 a.m, people are still everywhere, you know, doing one thing or the other without being harassed.
So giving him the ticket is as good as telling him my friend you are doing well. So, first of all the ticket had been given to him by his people who have seen the enormous job he is doing for them.
So the party latched on to what the people of the state had earlier endorsed?
Yes, exactly. What the party did was a ratification of what the people had already said. If the people were negative about him, we would have had a rethink. But since the ticket already has been given to him by the masses of the state, the party only had to ratify what the masses want because the party is for the people and not the people for the party.