Mr. C.O.C. Akaolisa, outgoing Legal Adviser of the Imo State chapter of the PDP, revealed to Amby Uneze why there are cracks in the party in the state. Excerpts:
Since the loss of the governorship election in 2015 in the state, the party has not been united. What is really happening?
The loss of the governorship to us was principally shocking because Imo people really looked on to PDP to take over the governorship of the state; to provide good governance other than what we are seeing in Imo today. What Imo people are witnessing today falls short of any standard of governance that is acceptable. So, they really looked forward to PDP to provide good governance as an alternative. Unfortunately, we had all it took to have taken over that Government House but minor carelessness in the sense that these issues were issues that could have been handled but we lost the governorship.
But we expected that after losing the governorship that the principal actors should have gone in to do some soul-searching to examine themselves, allow the party to have a little retreat to study what happened and come up with a good calculated and well-articulated plan to now face the coming elections.
Our congresses are here with us, so the major actors started again to try to maneuver each other. The crisis you are seeing in PDP is not anything short of the desire of the principal actors to hijack the structure of the party to be able to control the primaries that would come up in 2019. It is all about 2019 primaries, that is what they have started.
Some of us who have been in politics for some time are of the opinion that it is too early for anybody to start thinking about hijacking the structure. That is why this present executive is fighting to ensure that nobody hijacks the structure of the party because when we came on board, we made it clear that we were going to stand in with our conscience, having been in this party for a long time, our desire to see that all persons are given equal opportunity to realize their ambitions and interest.
So, we have been working as we did work in the last primaries to provide a level playing ground for all our aspirants. Now we started seeing manipulations, conspiracy that ultimately will lead to more crisis than we even saw during the primaries of 2015, because we minimized the crisis as at that time.
But a situation where a clique in the party would want to hijack the entire structures of the party from the wards to the local government and to the state, incite others by not allowing others to even have any right to the executives and all the structures of the party. That would be very dangerous. We are resisting it because we want to provide a level playing ground for all stakeholders of the party.
This party executive has been accused of not doing much since the loss of the governorship election by at least giving a strong voice as an opposition which is expected in times like this?
It is not actually the work of the party executive to come out every day criticising the state government, but I will tell you also that this executive has been doing that. There is no week that we don’t find issues to tackle with the governance of the state, but the only issue is that people expected us to come every day to denounce Okorocha, fighting him on the pages of newspapers.
Before 2015 and right from the time we lost the governorship in 2011, we took on Okorocha. When he dissolved the local government system, we took it on. When he was accusing the former governor, Ikedi Ohakim of embezzling the whole money of Imo state, I took him to EFCC, we got all the records of all the money that Ohakim left here, and all that, so we didn’t give him any breathing space.
It was the foundation we led that built some sentiment against Okorocha before 2015. So, after doing all that and we could not get the governorship in 2015, it is expected that there would be a little tiredness and that didn’t mean we have abdicated or allowed the government to cruise all the way. If you understood what happened in Imo, when we were criticising the government, the civil servants, the churches, even the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) were all supporting him (Okorocha).
While we were doing everything possible to bring down that administration, many of them were busy supporting him, and it looked like we were fighting Okorocha because we lost the 2011 elections. However, those things we were shouting that time are now manifesting. Everything we had told them before 2011 election he (Okorocha) had revised them; education he had stopped some aspect of it.
When he was having issues with the labour, everybody expected us to come up, but we allowed the labour to fight their fight, because they gave Okorocha a lot of support during the election, so we allowed them to face it squarely with him. But that does not mean we are not in sympathy with them, PDP did not come out in the fore-front to fight with them. The same thing with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), all the time when he started dealing with the lawyers, threatening to reducing the salaries of magistrates and the judiciary staff, we saw it earlier when we were opposing all the things he was doing at that time but nothing came from that angle. That is, why when he now shifted to their turn, we were watching to see how the fight would end, though the fight is still on.
So, there are lots of things that have gone wrong in the governance of the state. Yes, PDP as an opposition is supposed to be in the vanguard of opposition but it is this distraction that has come into us that reduced our collective effort. We have not abdicated that, it is only this crisis of succession that had come in the party that are distracting us because of the congresses and the primaries that would come in 2019 and our attention has been shifted to the issues that have to do with the present crisis, if not we would have focused enough to fight on.
How true is it that the present executive hobnobbed with the Okorocha government to work against the party in 2015 governorship election?
Anybody that says that is not truthful with the facts. This is a kind of propaganda no right-thinking PDP member would believe in. This executive did everything, worked very hard for Chief Emeka Ihedioha to emerge as governor. There was nothing that the executive was supposed to do that we did not do. The fact that we did not make it cannot be attributed at all to PDP executive.
So, those who are peddling that rumour are not truthful to themselves. The forces that were at play that made us to lose the election cannot be attributed to PDP at all because PDP as a party did the campaign, worked hard and the executive at all levels of the party worked for Chief Emeka Ihedioha to win the governorship election.
We failed the election because there was a collapse of the PDP structure in Owerri zone. The leadership of the party in Owerri zone did not support Chief Emeka Ihedioha. Let us tell ourselves the truth. The governorship was an Owerri zone project, but Owerri lost and abandoned the project. They did not come fully as a zone to support their candidate, and they are the people who were agitating to have the ticket; they were talking about equity and justice and fair play. The entire state conceded the governorship to Owerri zone.
We expected Owerri zone to take at least 80 per cent of the votes to give Chief Emeka Ihedioha the governorship, but Owerri zone could not muster the courage to give their votes to Ihedioha. In fact, the sabotage of the election came from Owerri zone. The sabotage of the candidate came from Owerri zone. Leaders of Owerri zone abdicated; left what they were supposed to do and some of them even declared on the eve of the election to APC. You know what OZOPOF (Owerri Zone Peoples Forum) and all these structures that were in place in Owerri zone did.
They did not come out to support their candidate, even at Mbaise you could see the volume of votes Okorocha garnered from Aboh Mbaise. How can a governorship candidate that comes from Aboh Mbaise and Mbaise people wanted a governor, and Okorocha would go to Aboh Mbaise and score above ten thousand votes in the PDP’s candidates local government? That is the height of sabotage.
So the Owerri zone has to do a lot of work if they are still interested in winning governorship. As long as Owerri zone is not united, the governorship will continue to elude them if they don’t muster that unity of purpose that can give them the governorship. For now, I don’t see it happening because I have not seen anything they put on the ground against 2019.
Will PDP face another failure in 2019 by giving the governorship ticket to a zone that is not united? When they have not put their house in order?
So instead of fighting in PDP, fighting to control the structure of PDP, Owerri zone should do the right thing. Go in-house put their house in order, come from a united front and then seek assistance. If they do that they can have the governor, but if they continue to believe that once they are given the ticket, that governorship is all about picking the ticket and then somebody maximizing the ticket.
In 1999, when Udenwa (Achike) was running for governor, we went through all round the whole of Imo State. We negotiated power with stakeholders in Imo. In every local government, we knew who had the power there and we went to the person and he would call their leaders and reached an agreement with them specifying what they would get if you win the election. We shared the commissioners and every stakeholder knew before hand, what they stood to get after the election.
That we did not do in the last election because our candidate refused to share the positions. How can people come out and fight for you when you refused to negotiate power? I was one of those who told him it was wrong that in Imo, if you have somebody to support you, that person must be told what would be his stake for such person to pull his resources and everything he has to support your candidacy.
If you want Chief Iwuanyanwu or Hope Uzodinma to help you win governorship, you would negotiate with them because they have a lot of influence in the state. For instance, Chief Hope Uzodinma has a lot of influence in Orlu zone and he must be carried along if you want his support in Orlu zone. So, how can you go to Orlu and you want Orlu people to vote for you without a discussion with Hope?
So, he is supposed to be the person to tell Orlu people what he had negotiated with the person who is coming in as governor, and especially when we have an incumbent governor from Orlu. Therefore, for a candidate that is running for a governor in Imo to tell Imo leaders and stakeholders that negotiation would be after the election was wrong strategy and that affected seriously our election.
From what you have just said, it does appear that your caretaker committee is working for Senator Hope Uzodinma to emerge as the next candidate from your party for the governorship in 2019?
The present executive was not put in place by Senator Hope Uzodinma; it was put in place by Chief Ikedi Ohakim, when he was governor, except for Chief Nnamdi Anyaehie, who replaced Chief Eze Duruiheoma (SAN). Now we know the congresses have started, where the new Exco would emerge. What we are fighting is not to remain in that office but we are fighting that we should not be removed and a new set of caretaker hand-picked by one faction of the party. That is all. If you are experienced in the politics of Imo, you will not allow that.
Before the primaries that led to the emergence of Chief Emeka Ihedioha, several of the aspirants were coming to the party executive to adopt them as candidate for the election, but we refused. And that was why all the aspirants that came, nobody heard that this executive had adopted one candidate or the other. During the previous executives, the problem we used to have then was the polarisation of the executive among the followers of major stakeholders.
That was what tore the party into shreds because the executive we had at that time was polarised along the lines of the aspirants, but in our own case, it did not happen because we were united. All the aspirants came to the party secretariat and they felt comfortable working with the executive, and as far as the primaries were concerned, they had equal opportunity. Nobody could say this executive was for this aspirant or the other, even Ohakim who put us in that office did not influence us.
After the primaries, Chief Emeka ihedioha emerged as the candidate everybody rallied around to work for him. That is why I said there was nothing this executive did that offended our candidate in any form or manner, except if there were personal issues with anybody.
Constitutionally, the time of this executive had elapsed and even the extra three months allowed by the constitution of the party expired last year too. So, why can’t the party choose another set of caretaker committee to conduct the congresses?
That is the issue we have tried to explain this severally. When our tenure expired, there were representations to dissolve us and appoint a caretaker committee. But the majority said no because it was election period. After the elections, there was another move to dissolve us, the senators and the federal house members, who were in court (Election Petition Tribunal) made a representation to the party that these people you want to dissolve are our witnesses and it would not be good to remove them now that we in court, then we were allowed to stay.
But suddenly there was a letter from the national working committee (NWC) of the party dissolving the state executive and appointing a caretaker committee. What is wrong in what was done is that those who did it never did the right thing because the state executive, the LGA executive, and ward executive came together in one election, and when we were made caretaker, all levels were also included. What they did was only to replace the state caretaker leaving the LGA and ward caretaker to remain. Now, if it was about the tenure, why did you dissolve us and leave others?
We failed the election because there was a collapse of the PDP structure in Owerri zone. The leadership of the party in Owerri zone did not support Chief Emeka Ihedioha. Let us tell ourselves the truth. The governorship was an Owerri zone project, but Owerri lost and abandoned the project. They did not come fully as a zone to support their candidate, and they are the people who were agitating to have the ticket; they were talking about equity and justice and fair play. The entire state conceded the governorship to Owerri zone