In this interview with journalists in Abuja, the factional chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Ozo Nwabueze Okafor, speaks on the internal wranglings in the party and other political issues. Anayo Okolie presents the excerpts:

APGA has been enmeshed in a leadership crisis. What is the background to this tussle?
One can say that the party was in some sort of crisis, which needn’t be because when the members of the National Working Committee of the party took a decision to save the party from imminent collapse, when they realiSed that the party was drifting and going the wrong direction. They took certain actions, which were to suspend the former national chairman, Dr. Victor Ike-Oye, on the October 5, 2016.

They didn’t know that Ike-Oye will make the party go through needless crisis and turmoil. But all that will be a thing of the past very soon, because the issues are before the court, and I believe that the court will soon put to rest all the contentious issues. But we will continue to appeal to Ike-Oye to save the party from needless litigation and crisis he instigated since his suspension by the NWC. So very soon, the party will get over all these, the NWC led by my humble self has been working tirelessly to reposition the party. We are far from being in disarray. Rather, I will say that the party is now stronger because the leadership is more focused and more determined to put the party on the path of greatness.

Looking at the recent political happenings in the country, particularly as regards the PDP’s losses in the Edo and Ondo states governorship elections, do you foresee the same fate for APGA in the coming elections in the party’s stronghold?
This is one of the reasons why the NWC decided to take the actions they took, in suspending Victor Ike-Oye and two others. One, the way they have ran the party reduced the party in the eyes and standing of Nigerians, and the natural consequence of that is the dwindling electoral fortunes of the party, which was clearly shown in the last two elections, i.e. the Edo State and Ondo State governorship elections, where the party never got a thousand votes in any of the elections, in spite of all the efforts made. This is because the former national chairman didn’t reckon with the constitution of the party. The APGA constitution is a very strong document, another strong document we have is our manifesto. In the past, when Ike-Oye was at the helm of affairs, he observed our constitution more in the breach than in compliance, and the position of the constitution is that out candidates will be given orientation before the elections and it was not followed.

The candidates would have been told what the party stands for, the candidates would have internalised and understood our manifesto. Like I said, our manifesto is a very strong document, all the issues Nigeria is having with the economy, issues of diversification of the economy, are things that our constitution took care off, because the party sees agriculture a the main source of our economy. So if we give proper orientation to our candidates and they understand the APGA message, it will become a tool for them to convince the electorate on the need to vote for APGA candidates, which will in turn increase our electoral fortunes. So these are the things we will put in place and I believe that the present leadership of APGA will do well, not only in the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Anambra State, but also the rerun of the Anambra Central senatorial election, where our former national chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, is contesting to claim the mandate and even the general elections, come 2019. We will be in a better position to contest elections and win states in areas where we were not considered as favourites before this time.

We have seen the PDP move from one court room to another over its internal crisis. Are we likely to experience the same situation in APGA?
The issues of his suspension are the matter before the court, and I lack the power to make statements on it because that will be sub-judice. We will allow the court to do justice.

Aside the issues of manifesto and party orientation, what are the other allegations against the suspended national chairman that warranted the suspension?
There were so many allegations against the suspended chairman. He ran the party like a personal enterprise. The constitution stipulates that the NWC of the party shall be responsible for the day-to-day running of the party, but that was not the case as they were side-lined and Ike-Oye became the NWC. Even the guidelines for the different electoral contests we have had, which equally led to our poor performance in the elections, our constitution states very clearly that the NWC shall be responsible for providing the guideline and direct different primaries that will lead to the nomination of candidates that will represent the party in different elections. But that was never done, which was usurpation of the functions and role of the NWC.
Also, Ike-Oye unilaterally suspended state chairmen and state executive committees. A case in hand is Edo State. He didn’t have such power; the power is vested with the NWC and ratification of the National Executive Committee of the party, that was not done. There are a lot of cases. He unilaterally chose candidates in Kogi and some other states, where he chose candidates and informed the party thereafter. There was no openness, transparency, and accountability in conducting the finances of the party. The national treasurer was completely side-lined, the national financial secretary was side-lined, the national auditor was equally side-lined, none of them was able to perform their functions as enshrined in our constitution. I can tell you that throughout the 17 months or so, that Ike-Oye was national chairman, there was no audit of the party’s accounts, either internal or external audit.
The national treasurer, who should be the custodian of the finances of the party, including the cheque books and other financial instruments of the party, never knew how the documents looked because he never saw them any day, not to talk about managing them. The same with the financial secretary, who never collects any money on behalf of the party. So there were serious issues of lack of transparency and accountability, financial recklessness, misappropriation and embezzlement. In fact, a committee set up by the NWC after the suspension has released their report, which seriously indicted the suspended national chairman. So there were myriads of allegations and the party was just been run as a persona enterprise. All the principal organs of the party were not operating, throughout his period as national chairman. Before his suspension, we never had a single NEC meeting, we never had a single Board of Trustees meeting, we never had a single meeting of the national caucus, we only had about four NWC meetings, even when the constitution states that the NWC shall meet at least once every month. So APGA was dying by instalments.

Do you think your emergence as acting national chairman followed the APGA constitution?
Yes, because all the steps they took, which culminated to the suspension of Ike-Oye and my appointment as the acting national chairman, strictly followed our constitution. Our constitution in article 22(2) 1 states clearly that any officer at any level, who is not performing and whose conduct has become inimical to the growth and development of the party shall be suspended.

How do you see the hope of AGPA in future elections, especially in Imo and Anambra states?
I don’t think the present situation is really going to affect the fortunes of the party, because I know that Victor Ike-Oye will listen to wise counsel and reason with some people who love the party and have been appealing to him to save the party from the needles crisis. Considering the amount of injury he has done to the party, I think this should be a period of restitution, where he will do everything within his power to make amends. So what befell PDP will not be our lot. Rather, what we have just is to put our house in order, and I will tell you that moving forward, we will never contest election where we will score less than1000 votes. If you check the curve of our performance since 2015, you will see that it is taking a downward slope. But having taken care of the rot in the party’s head, the body is about to grow headily and moving forward, the curve should move in upward progression.

What can be done to expand APGA’s reach?
APGA is not a regional party, it is a national party. But sometimes, like in the case of the suspended national chairman who wrongly at some forums described APGA as an Igbo party, and it was one of the reasons why we had to suspend him, because that was discrimination against other ethnic groups and it violates Article 21 (1) C of our constitution. And when I asked some of my colleagues in the NWC why they decided to nominate and appoint me as the acting national chairman, some told that they believed that having been the national president of the Association of Local Government Chairmen that covers the 774 local governments in Nigeria, I had the reach and the network to ensure that APGA truly becomes a national party, because I have contacts in all the 9,572 wards in the country. We believe we can leverage on such contacts and network to ensure that APGA exists and operates in every local government and ward in Nigeria and that will truly make it a national party.

Is it true that APGA is planning a merger with the UPP?
Does a big political party merge with a small political party? APGA is a beautiful bride and given the fact that we have put our house in order, I will not be surprised to see members of other political parties being attracted to join the party. But there is no issue of merger, especially with a party as small as UPP.

There is a rumour that the only APGA governor, Willie Obiano of Anambra State, is planning to defect to another party so as to achieve his second term ambition. What is your take on this?
As the acting national chairman of APGA, I will not work in the realm of rumour and speculations. The governor of Anambra State is the chairman of APGA’s Board of Trustees, and a national leader of the party. Anything about joining another political party is in the realm of speculation.

Why has APGA seemed to be been silent on national issues in recent times?
That is one of the reasons we did what we did. We realised that we were not playing our role as a good and effective opposition party. Perhaps, the suspended national chairman does not understand the issues of governance and didn’t understand our own manifesto, which has made provisions for every sector of the economy with which we have been providing an alternative platform and narrative on how the party can come out of the woods. But I assure you that moving forward, the current NWC as constituted will provide an alternative platform, message and narrative to Nigerians on how this country can come out of recession and bounce back to economic prosperity.

So far, what is your assessment of the current federal administration?
I have always known that when you have a new party coming into government, especially after another party had been in government for a long time, the initial period is going to be like a learning curve. Anything beyond that are just electoral promises used in garnering votes. That initial period is not going to be easy, though I know that APGA would have done better if we were in government. But I think with the core areas chosen by the government, like the fight against corruption and insecurity, the present government has not done badly. But an APGA government will do better. Government should do everything possible to find solution to the economic recession and provide employment for our teeming youth because that is the permanent panacea to youth restiveness which leads to insurgency and militancy.