In this interview with journalists in Lagos, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Martin Agbaso, spoke on the crisis in the party, among other issues. Anayo Okolie presents the excerpts:
Alot has been said about recent developments in APGA, but is it true that after the 2007 governorship, you abdicated and abandoned your stakes in the party?
You donâ€™t have your records right. After 2007, I was in court for four years fighting the injustice that was meted to me. And when the case finally came to an end at the Supreme Court, I helped APGA win election in 2011, when we won two seats to the National Assembly, both at the senate and congressional levels and won the governorship by defeating an incumbent. So, it is not true that I left in 2007. And abdication is not the right word, because it is not a throne.
But Rochas Okorocha came and bargained with you in 2011 to contest the governorship on APGA?
He did not approach me to cede whatever rights. In fact, what people donâ€™t know, but which I have started discussing in the last few days is that my battle with Rochas was for the heart and soul of APGA in Imo State. Our governorship tussle at the primary was the fiercest political battle I ever had to overcome in my career, because it was violent; it was just crazy. It was towards the end of that tussle that we now relied on the National Working Committee to decide on whose list of delegates should be upheld, because basically he came into APGA and had some people compromised against me. I am synonymous with APGA.
He came in from Action Alliance or whatever party. They gave him a line up. So, the issue was whose list of delegates was NWC going to approve? The only time I accepted to work with him was when Victor Umeh told me that Rochas has compromised all the members of the NWC from Imo north, and we have twelve local government councils in Orlu zone out of the 27. Umeh said all the 12 chairmen from Orlu had been compromised, in addition to a few other key people that (Umaru) Shinkafi brought, had been compromised, that the best bet was for me to make peace with him (Okorocha).
I told him I wanted us to fight all the way, but he (Umeh) said it was not necessary. Of course, at that time a lot of water had gone under the bridge. Umeh now brokered â€œthe peaceâ€ that put Rochas on the slot for four years. He (Okorocha) was to be governor for four years and hand over to me after the first four years. I was to provide the deputy and in my turn, he would provide the deputy. Again I was to use my structure, this is in an agreement and I can avail you of a copy; and also provide funding. That after four years, he also would provide the structure and funding to help me become governor. That was the agreement. And we had just two hours to decide on that, because at that point we were speaking at about 1.00pm and the NWC meeting that was going to determine our fate was holding by 4pm.
So, by the time we had finished the preliminary discussions, I had two hours. I consulted with two or three stakeholders within my (campaign) organisation and people that I knew very well, as well as, my family. Everybodyâ€™s attitude was, leave this whole thing and just walk away; it is not worth it. You can see that people you relied on have betrayed you. That Umeh in particular has betrayed you, because what he is telling you that others were compromised, he was the key person that was compromised.
As national chairman, he would have over-ruled those other persons. But, in any case, I have deep-rooted affection for APGA. I said if I walk away, APGA will lose the election, rather let us go and fight. That was what happened. And of course, there was no pecuniary considerations, no money exchanged hands. If anything, I was the one that spent money. I brought the money that was invested in the campaign and the structure.
Are you saying Okorocha left APGA just to dishonor the agreement he entered into with you?
I cannot speak for Rochas, but all I know is that from day one that we reached that agreement, his motives were less than honorable. I donâ€™t think he wanted to keep that agreement.
Was that also why he caused the impeachment of your younger brother as his former deputy?
Absolutely! My younger brother worked very well with him, never did anything wrong. They were best of friends. But because of the agreements that we had, he needed to find a reason to walk away from the agreement.
What happened to the money in question, does it tell about the character and person of Okorocha?
Well, by my training, I donâ€™t chase shadows. What was important for me then was to prove to the world that as an Agbaso, my brother will not take bribe, an Agbaso stands firm. I needed to prove that to the world that my brother had nothing to do with the (alleged bribe) money. Of course, I hired forensic auditors, who investigated the matter and the money was traced to Rochasâ€™ brother-in-law and in Lebanon and Dubai. The records are still there and I can avail you a copy. It is in the public domain, all over the place and on the internet. The issue should have been how come the authorities never did anything about Imo State money they discovered in Dubai and Lebanon in HSBC bank accounts.
Is the current crisis in APGA not related to your nomination?
What happened in 2004 between Victor Umeh and Chekwas was completely different. Umeh took two members of NWC and concocted a meeting that they had sacked Chekwas and took over. APGA constitution is that when you suspend a national chairman, the next in line from the same zone automatically takes over. Umeh was the national treasurer and Maxi Okwu, the deputy national chairman (south). He (Okwu) would have been the next in command, but they out-manouvred him.
Of course, he was not from Anambra State, that was the reason given at that time and he played into their hands. It is a totally different thing. In my case, Oye convened a meeting of the NWC on his own and members of the NWC â€“ I was not a member of NWC â€“ tendered a 13-point charge against him, some of them bordering on criminality, selling nomination forms on cash basis and never reported it to the party. Those issues are being investigated now. So, those are the things his fellow NWC members raised and he could not defend himself.
A seven man disciplinary committee was set up to find out from him why he did what was alleged and they affirmed the charges, saying that his answers were not satisfactory. And they suspended him from office, alongside his two deputies, who were his cohorts in that case, because he was running the party as a personal enterprise. So, when he was not leaving the office and still parading himself as national chairman, the NWC under the leadership of Ozo Nwabueze Okafor took him to court. They asked the High Court in Abuja, incidentally same Court, where Chekwas and Umehâ€™s case was thrashed, to order Oye to stop parading himself as chairman and vacate the office. He refused to do that on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter. The court ruled that it had jurisdiction and he appealed against that ruling. The appeal has been adjourned to December 14, 2017.
Now it was at that point that these gentlemen started exerting pressures in search of someone with enough muscle, character and capacity to turn APGA into a national party, because APGA as a national party cannot be controlled by a small cabal, who are just using it as a meal ticket led by Victor Umeh. Basically, this is the only job Umeh has done in his entire life. He has not done any other job apart from APGA â€“ from a two-bedroom tenement structure where he was living, he now owns huge estates. He has never imported one pin; he has never done one contract. Umeh has never done any professional job or provided professional service. So, APGA is his job and he wants it to continue that way and kept pushing for his crony to remain there. So they pleaded with me to join the battle to save APGA.
When they suspended Oye, Ozo Nwabueze Okafor, who was national vice chairman, from Enugu State, took over and nominated me as acting deputy national chairman. Unfortunately, on January 8, 2017, Ozo Nwabueze died. We buried him. After his funeral and all that, naturally as nature abhors a vacuum, on January 30, 2017, I accepted the position of acting national chairman. We compiled all these records and sent to INEC.
Having waited one week, two weeks, one month and INEC was not reacting, APGA and all its chieftains in Enugu, where this thing happened, went to court, asking the honourable Court to determine if due process was followed to arrive at the point where Agbaso is now our acting national chairman, and if we acted according to the guidelines and constitution of APGA. We went back and forth and the Court on May 22, 2017, issued an order of mandamus, which is a mandatory order, compelling INEC to recognise me as the authentic acting national chairman of APGA.
INEC and police appealed the matter naturally, and Oye applied to join as an interested party. At the second sitting, INEC withdrew, followed by police through a motion that being a party affair, they had no interest in the matter. Oye now prayed the Court to vacate or stay that order. When you stay an order, it means stop the execution. The Court weighed the merits of the application and aligned with the decision of the lower court, by affirming that the court took very competent action. That is where we are.
Are you a product of gang-up against Governor Willie Obiano of Anambraâ€™s second term?
If you know my antecedents, I have no time for that kind of thing. I am a beneficiary of Godâ€™s mercies, why should I go plotting for another personâ€™s downfall? All I am looking forward to is a way to ensure that APGA becomes a truly national party that will observe internal democracy and run the party the way it should be run, so that it becomes an all-inclusive party and all those who were aggrieved could return. We have lost about 90 per cent of our membership and I want to bring them back.
People like Peter Obi, Senator Uche Ekwunife â€“ we lost four members of House of Representatives in one day, because of poor leadership. We need to bring all those people back. And we cannot keep running around Anambra. We have to win positions in South-east, South/south and we need to get into north and western Nigeria and win positions. In each of the 774 local government councils, if you remove the indigenes, the next in population are Igbo. So, there is no way we cannot take advantage of that mass of people, for the benefit of the party. That is what we are trying to do. I have no interest in vilifying anybody.
What do you want do differently in APGA?
First of all, all these arguments, skirmishes, law cases and all, I believe will come to an end very soon, because there is nothing that has beginning that doesnâ€™t end. APGA has history. These are all strangers. This Oye only got his party membership card the day he was nominated for chairmanship. That day, Victor Umeh, wrote it. His party card was not signed by his ward chairman or secretary. It was signed by Victor Umeh, who issued him with the card at the convention ground?
There are many people who witnessed that, not just two or three persons. They are living witnesses. So, technically, he (Oye) has only been in APGA for fourteen months, before he was suspended. The day he became national chairman was the day they issued him membership card.
So when a character like that, talks about Martin Agbaso being a stranger in APGA, it is laughable: a man that has contributed immense financial and human resource into APGA, a man who is synonymous with APGA and won the first congressional seat for APGA in 2003. In 2007, I got myself elected in the freest and fairest governorship election in this country, but it was canceled and I suffered because of APGA for four years. In 2011, I won for APGA through a proxy, when Okorocha came in, one senatorial seat, through Chris Anyanwu and others. Then here is a man who has never brought one vote for APGA so far, talking about Martin Agbaso being a stranger.
These are people without pedigree. Look at Labaran Maku, a character from nowhere, whose tenure in APGA is less than two years, Anambra State government pays him N5m every month for his upkeep. Instead of him being grateful and shutting up, he is busy running his mouth about strangers in APGA. Who are the strangers, when he just joined two years ago? So, technically, apart from these strangers, who donâ€™t have the DNA of APGA, who donâ€™t even know how APGA was founded, who donâ€™t know the vision of APGA, we would have closed ranks already, in the old APGA fashion.
But, going forward, my assignment when we are through with Anambra election is to carry our message of hope to Nigerians. Look for Nigerians that are completely disenchanted; and there are quite a lot of people you find in that category, who are looking for good governance, who want due process, access to infrastructure, good education, good health; who want windows of opportunities to be opened for their children. Those are the people, who are naturally APGA. And it doesnâ€™t matter what part of this country you are coming from, once you are in that category, you are an APGA. That is the platform we are bringing so that we can have a healthy country, a robust country, where opportunities abound, where it wouldnâ€™t matter where you come from, as long as, you are a Nigerian. You enjoy clear equal opportunity whether you are man or woman. That is the vision of APGA and that is the message we would be taking throughout the country in the coming months.