*Our problem with Orji Uzor Kalu
LISA Olu Akerele , a seasoned administrator, former personal assistant to Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, former national publicity secretary of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and the deputy national chairman, south of the party, was, on Friday, at Halal Palace Hotel Wuse, Abuja adopted the acting national chairman of the party. In this interview, Akerele bares his mind on issues surrounding the party. Excerpts:
By Henry Umoru
WHAT is the problem with your party, Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA)?
As you are already aware, the sudden resignation of three top officers of the PPA, two weeks ago, inevitably, brought to the open the crisis of leadership bedeviling the party.
Unknown to the public and even the generality of party members nationwide all along, our party had been hijacked by one man, Mr. Orji Uzor Kalu, and all our efforts to save the party from a self_inflicted internal crisis did not succeed. Under this sad situation, the former national chairman, Mr. Clement Ebri, voluntarily resigned, followed immediately by the former deputy national chairman (south) Lisa Olu Akerele and the former national treasurer, Emma Omokwe.
What are the unfolding issues now?
Only a few days ago, precisely, Wednesday, 26 August, 2009, concerned stakeholders of the party held a meeting over the developments in the national secretariat, at the end of which they addressed a press conference. Without any equivocation, the stakeholders decried the way and manner the smooth running of the party has been undermined by Mr. Orji Kalu, and his use of cronies to sabotage the National Working Committee of the party. They also stated unequivocally that â€œEnough is Enoughâ€ and their determinationÂ to wrest the party from the clutches of autocratic and dictatorial tendencies of Mr. Orji Kalu.
Ironically, the same lackeys of Mr. Orji Kalu convened what was termed an â€œextraordinary meetingâ€ of national zonal and state officers of the party on Thursday, 27 August, 2009. This was obviously an unconstitutional meeting since the constitution of the party does not provide for Extraordinary Meetings. While some of the people called to this meeting had no status, the bonafide zonal chairman (south west) was forcefully prevented from participating at the meeting, a situation that led to the entire south west delegation to abandon the meeting. No specific reasons were advanced against the southÂ west delegation.
However, in an unsigned, undated spurious address to the meeting, the â€œchairmanâ€ decided, once again, to smear the integrity and reputation of the former national officers who had resigned on their own volition. Let me quote directly a â€œrelevant part of the said address that sought to blackmail and malign the ex-officers:
â€œTo begin with the changes, most of you are aware that prior to the inception of this new executive, their interactions with the national body was little or non-existent and a lot of you might have heard of the complaints of neglect, alienation and non-remittance of indispensable materials and other things necessary for the running of zonal, state and LGA offices of the party.
Following this, the national secretariat became inaccessible to the party officers at the periphery, a situation that technically truncated party grassroots relations and posed imminent danger to the partyâ€™s interest and future.
â€œThe party leaders in cognizance of the fact that the grassroots are the sources of its strengths, opted to sacrifice certain individuals in order to save the future of the party hence the resignation of the national chairman, national treasurer and deputy national chairman (south) for reasons of anti-party and financial improprieties.â€
Nowhere in the address was there any concrete evidence or proof of these allegations provided. Neither did they indicate ever confronting the officers with such allegations. This is simply pure fiction, and it is intended to tarnish theÂ image of the former officers to please their overlord, Mr. Orji Kalu.
While we do not attempt to hold brief for Mr. Clement Ebri, we hasten to say that the main grouse against his leadership was his desire to build a proper party organization that can play an effective role as a true opposition party, devoid of booty sharing!
But there is this notion that Orji owns and funds the party. How true is that claim?
Since 2007, Mr. Orji Kalu had refused to fund the party. Rather, he chose to use his cronies to continually disrupt the smooth running ofÂ the party in most of the states, especially the south east.Â In many instances, Mr. Ebri had to bail out the party. There is no funding from him as being insinuated, the national secretariat can only boast of three vehicles; maybeÂ after this interview, they may decide to go and buy more.
At the national secretariat at present, his cronies have verbally sackedÂ nine administrative staff without recourse to due process and simply because they worked directly with the former national officers. They have bluntly refused to pay these staff even the salaries they had earned for this month. Looked at itÂ from another angle, this seems to be a deliberate â€œethnic cleansingâ€ because nearly all of the said staff are from the south-south and south-west. They do not pretend to run a national secretariat any longer, just so in order to please their master. This is unacceptable.
You have just been adopted as the acting national chairman of the party. Why?
We are left with no option but to act decisively to preserve the vision, values and ideals of the PPA. We can no longer fold our arms and watch while the party we laboured to build is systematically destroyed in order to massage the bloated ego of one person.
Your resignation was rejected by the National Executive Committee of the party and you are made the acting national chairman. Why was Clement Ebri not asked to come back and retain his position as the chairman since you said the letters were all rejected?
He has said that he was no longer interested in the position of chairman of the party. Those of us who are close to him, he even made it clear that he was no longer willing to lead the party as chairman, but to be with us as for my own emergence today(Friday); the arrangement is that if a national chairman leaves the office, the deputy national chairman from his zone takes over and that is what we have done, we assume that we still have a deputy national chairman in the north.
Yesterday (Thursday), they said they hadÂ made him acting national chairman; as far as we are concerned, he is still the deputy national chairman, north. We have acted rightly. Now I have become the acting national chairman, that is the national chairman to come from the south, that is what we have done. What this house has done is that they rejected my resignation and that of Emma Omokwe, we have accepted that Ebri has resigned honourably and he is gone.
With these developments in PPA, are you people not acting a script ofÂ the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
MyÂ pedigree is that of progressive, I have never beenÂ a PDP member.Â I was in Alliance for Democracy(AD) before the formation of PPA and uptill today, I amÂ in PPA.Â I have not told anybody that I was going to PDP. No body is hijacking this party, the only thing I am aware of is that the suspended BOT chairman, Kalu, has been hobnobbing with theÂ PDP which is known to everybody.
At the formation of the Government of National Unity(GNU), he played a leading role. In fact, he got the PDP to make him the minister of works because I was part and parcel of the negotiating team from PPA;Â he sent his name as the firstÂ on that list, the records are there, but,Â at that time, Mr. President said he was not going to take any governor that just left office. The question is who has been hobnobbing with the PDP, is it us or Orji Uzor Kalu?
The meeting where you were made the acting national chairman was the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party. Did you invite the Abia State governor, the BOT, the senators, ministers, others to the meeting and why are they not here?
If we invited them, will they come? Letâ€™s leave the issue at that.
Like I said earlier on, when we get to the bridge, we cross it. Those of us who are insider hope that the overbearing attitude of Orji Uzor Kalu has been the bane of PPA. Yesterday (Thursday), they convened an illegal meeting and the minister of state for the FCTA, Chief Chuka Odom, was there, the deputy governor of Abia, if you look at these persons, there people did not say anything openly when the resignation issue started because Orji has asked them to and they were at the national secretariat to give support.
Where are you going to be operating from against the backdrop that you have one secretariat and you are the acting national chairman andÂ Orjiâ€™s group has Mustapha Habib as acting national chairman?
We are going to take certain decisions and what we are trying to do is to bring sanity to the party and letâ€™s be realistic, in the history of political parties in Nigeria, there are some who claim to own a party, that building belongs to Orji Kalu, definitely, we wonâ€™t deceive ourselves that they will fold up their hands to allow us take over the building, if need be, we will also have our own office. We are willing to talk to them if they want to talk to us. They have their own people and we have our people, that is it.
What is the future of PPA?
The future of the party is very bright.