Mr. Ifeatu Obi-Okoye is the Special Adviser to Anambra State Governor on Political Matters, a former National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, he fields questions from David-Chyddy Eleke on the current crisis in the party occasioned by the recent primary election
Political pundits believe that the relationship between the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) presidential candidate, Gen. John Gbor and President Muhammadu Buhari informed his choice?
Let’s take the issues one after the other. First is why we choose Gen. Gbor, a presidential candidate from the Middle-belt and the second is about the rumoured relationship of our presidential candidate with President Buhari.
We choose a presidential candidate from Middle-belt for very strategic reasons. There is something going on in the Middle-belt states, namely Plateau, Benue Nasarawa and Taraba. In those states, we have very strong governorship candidates who are all Christians. In fact, all the governorship candidates across the parties are Christians. We have not chosen a Moslem in any of those states, same way our presidential candidate Gen. Gbor is from the Middle-belt.
Today in the middle belt, it is no longer about party politics, it is about survival of the Middle-belt people who are threatened by Fulani herdsmen. The ordinary Middle-belt man believes that if they do not fight back, they will be wiped out.
To that extent, we have noticed that in all the parties in the Middle-belt have Christian candidates.
Muslims are very small in that area. It is only in Benue State that the Muslims have 50/50 ratio with Christians, the rest are less than 30 per cent. So, all the tribes in the Middle-belt have closed ranks and are fielding Christians. Before now, the Muslims did exploits, they have always prevailed by manipulating the large number of Christians, but today, because of the threat they have decided to speak with one voice. It will be a total referendum of the desire of the people of the Middle-belt.
So we have fielded our presidential candidate from there, believing that we will be able to gather strong support from the Middle-belt.
What effect will that have?
In the event that we cannot win the presidential election, I can tell you that when we win the Middle-belt, none of the two major parties for the election will win.
APGA will be the party that will determine the presidential election. I make this permutation today, not out of euphoria. The defunct Nigeria People’s Party (NPP) played same role when we controlled the area of the old Plateau and the Gongola area and NPN could not win the presidential election in the first ballot, neither could UPN, so it required the alliance of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and NPP to form a government at the centre. It has also happened at the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and National Council for Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), so that is what we are exploiting in this election, and mark you, I said if we cannot win the presidential election, then none of the other political parties will be able to do so at first ballot. What it means is that, APGA will be the party to determine who wins the presidential election between All Progressives Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
I hope that explains to you the reason for picking a Christian/Christian ticket from the Middle-belt and the South-east.
The second issue is the relationship between our presidential candidate and President Buhari. Before now, you were not aware that Buhari and Gbor had any special relationship. That is speculation. They both come from the military background and they may have known each other, but that does not create any special intimacy. When you look at the background of Gbor, you see someone who has been in education and has served the military without blemish. This is a man who has trust and honour. That is what we believe we can leverage on. We have a presidential candidate among the three leading parties and his person is not in question. He has a PhD. The candidates of the PDP and APC cannot say that. Some still have questionable school certificate, but ours, his educational background is unequalled.
One would have expected the Anambra government to congratulate Peter Obi when he was nominated as vice presidential candidate of the PDP by Atiku Abubakar?
Let’s get something clear, I don’t think Obi’s nomination as VP candidate calls for any congratulatory message. If he becomes the vice president, we will congratulate him. We are running for the presidential election against PDP and we fielded a candidate who we believe can beat the the PDP candidate, so we have no reason to celebrate Obi. If we do that, we are saying we have already acknowledged that they will defeat us. As someone who is from here and was in APGA, if by any chance he becomes the vice president, we will congratulate him. For now, we are planning how we can win the election for APGA.
You may not believe that we have chances, so also would you not have believe that a footballer would become the President of Liberia, or would not have believe that the current president of Ghana would have defeated an incumbent. There are many factors that are coming to play in 2019. We have come to a cross road in this country, where the PDP cannot fulfill its promises, and the APC has performed abysmally low. I have always said that the APC and PDP have failed so the presidential election affords us an opportunity to define a new route for this country. That informed our choice of candidate. We brought someone who has a humble past and who falls into a new expectation of a new Nigeria. There are so many factors that came to play, the ethnic factor, security factor, the lack of governance, the inability of politicians to keep faith with the people. What we should all watch out for is that the election is not rigged. Few weeks ago, we saw what happened in Osun State. The Dancing Senator clearly won and that was because the people wanted a change in the system. A governor who owed six months salary was bringing in a candidate for election. These are the things that will come into play in 2019. So we expect that a real change will come next year.
But what is APGA doing to check the grievances of members who feel shortchanged during the primaries, before going into the election?
Like every other party, APGA has its own crisis. The PDP has, the APC does too. What happened in APGA regarding the primary election is a fall out of the governorship election in Anambra State last year. The euphoria that followed the landslide victory allowed all sorts of people to jump into the party and before long, these new comers became aspirants.
We have our own guidelines which spelt out that you must have spent 18 months before you can run, but that was not adhered to. We also had a condition where new comers were carrying cards that showed that they had been in the party for long. We had an unnecessary avalanche of aspirants, and no responsible party would have allowed that number to go for primaries because you have to deal with the aftermath.
In very many places, we had more than the required number and what I expected also was that you pay for the expression of interest form and then go for screening before you can buy the nomination form which is non-refundable. That is the right practice, but people went and bought the two forms and went to screening and some were disqualified.
Admittedly, we are going through the process of reconciliation. Election is in February and by the end of November, we should have been able to put our house in order. It’s been a lesson for us and we are going to use it to prepare ourselves. We need to take the lessons of this primary to build the structure that we require to drive this party to the next level.
Beyond that, APGA is not driven like the usual political group, there are fundamental structures upon which the party has been built. We have not won elections because we are strong politicians, but because there are strong institutions upon which we are built. It is not about the behaviour of politicians but the institutions behind us. The likes of Peter Obi came and left but APGA has remained because of such strong institutions.
Was that why Ojukwu’s widow was treated the way she was, during the primary election of the party?
It’s regrettable that she contested that election. She should not have. I am sure if our leader was alive, he would not have allowed her to contest. It was unnecessary for Bianca to have run. If you decide to run, you either win or lose. She did not run because she was the widow of Ojukwu, but she ran to test her popularity. If there is anyone who should complain, it is Chief Ifeanyi Ubah. He was disqualified for nothing. At least, there should have been a better reason. Then looking at the primary election, the man that won is Nicholas Ukachukwu. He has been around and has been in the National Assembly and contested for governor in Hope Democratic Party, PDP and ANPP. He is not new in politics.
Interestingly, Ukachukwu had wanted to go to senate in 2015 but was disqualified at screening for which he went to court and court decided it was a party matter and they could not adjudicate on the party’s reason for disqualifying him. I would have been okay if the wife of our leader did not contest at all, so that the question of how she was treated would not have arisen. In this business, it is quite rough and once you come in, you expect anything to happen.
Is it that she was not advised?
She was. On one occasion in my presence, it was the senatorial candidate from Abia south, Bourdex Ogba that moved a motion for the wife of our leader to become the vice presidential candidate and everybody accepted that. The motion was however not binding on the BoT of the party or on Bianca, but she stood and opposed it. I believe that in asking her to be the vice presidential candidate, it was a succinct way of telling her not to run. We preferred her to play a more nationalist role, I also know that at a private meeting, Sir Victor Umeh begged her not to run, but she decided to join the fray and now she is hurt about it, but we hope that all will be settled soon.