By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Political Editor
The Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) of which you are the Chairman Board of Trustees has been in the news in recent times. First, three national officers of the party resigned their positions in the party. Not long after that it was reported that one of those who resigned had been elected Chairman of another faction of the party. What exactly is going on in PPA?
PPA is very much on course. What happened was that three officers of the party which included the former National Chairman, Chief Clement Ebri, the Vice-Chairman South, Olu Akerele and the National TreasurerÂ resigned their positions in the party. Our partyâ€™s constitution clearly stipulates that in the event of the National Chairman resigning, the Deputy National Chairman (North) takes over as Chairman. In line with that provision, Mustapha Ali has already taken over. There is no crisis at all within our party. There was a mutual agreement when they decided to resign their positions.
Are you suggesting they were asked to resign?
There was a mutual agreement when they resigned. They resigned out of their own volition.
It was reported by some national newspapers that those loyal to you in the leadership of the party claimed that the affected officers were asked to resign andÂ they accepted to do so. Can you clarify what exactly happened?
I cannot say I know why they were asked to resign. That decision was taken by members of the National Working Committee ( NWC) and it is they alone that can explain why they took that decision.
Some of the allegations levelled by the Olu Akerele group were that you were dictatorial and high-handed; That you unilaterally removed state chairmen of the party in Abia and Imo . In the case of Abia, they alleged that you removed the chairman who hailed from Umuahia and replaced him with another man who hails from Igberre- your own community.Â Can you react to these allegations?
Well, I am happy you are in the media. I run a couple of companies in Nigeria and people know that I donâ€™t interfere in the affairs of companies I own. Clement Ebri is alive and he is an honest man. He praised me for keeping away from the party.Â In fact, they used to blame me by asking me why I was funding the party without participating in its decision making process.
I used to tell them not to worry and even encourage them to run the party in line with their abilities. I am happy you know The Sun Newspaper which is located close to the corporate headquarters of Vanguard Newspapers; you try and find out from your colleagues who work there how often I interfere in the running of The Sun. I give the management team of most of my companies independence to operate as they deemÂ fit. I never took any decision for the National Working Committee ofÂ PPA. I never asked anybody to resignÂ in Abia.
Even when they asked the Chairman of the party in Abia to resign I wasnâ€™t involved. The governor of Abia State, Chief Theodore Orji is the leader of the party in the state. I have a lot of respect for the governor and his wisdom. Anybody calling my name as being involved in all these is just wasting his time. Sincerely speaking, why has it taken them 20 months to know that I am dictatorial and high-handed? In the case of Olu Akerele who has accused me of being a tribalist, why has it taken him this long to come to thisÂ realisation even though he served under me as a Special AdviserÂ during my tenure as governor of Abia State? I donâ€™t think it is a fair assessment they have given to me.
There are rumours making the rounds that the relationship between you and Abia governorÂ is no longer cordial.Â How true is this?
I donâ€™t have a political godson. The governor of Abia State was my Chief of Staff when I was the governor. He decided to contest the 2007 gubernatorial election on his own. He contested the election under the banner ofÂ PPA and won. I have a lot of respect for him. I cannot quarrel with him. Why should I quarrel with him?
But it is widely believed that you installed him. This is because he won the election while he was inÂ Â EFCC custody. What do you have to say?
As an individual, I worked for the benefit of the party and God helped us to win.
Given the background of the allegation that you removed the former Abia State chairman of PPA and replaced him with somebody from your town, is there an Igbere agenda within theÂ state chapter of the party?
There is nothing like that. Both the former Chairman of the party in Abia Mr Kalu Eke Kalu and the man who replaced him, Mr Onuoha are from my town. The former Chairman was not from Umuahia as they have claimed. Their claims are baseless. Going by the political arrangement in Abia, if you remove a person from one zoneÂ you have toÂ replace him with another person from the same zone. Kalu Eke Kalu is still alive. I wasnâ€™t responsible for his removal. What happened was that he was given a political appointment. The governor gave him a political appointment so he had to resign his position in the party. He cannot hold two offices at the same time. What is wrong with that?
It has been widely reported that Governor Ikedi Ohakim who recently defected from PPA to PDP reached an agreement with the PDP that he would return to that party after he was elected into office. Did he informÂ youÂ of that agreement?
I was not aware of any agreement. We give glory to God that he was elected the governor of Imo State. I am not angry that Ohakim defected to PDP. I amÂ notÂ opposed to his defection. I am only angry that Ohakim wrote a petition against me to President Yarâ€™Ãdua, the State Security Service ( SSS) and all kinds of peopleÂ that I was after his life. I have no ill-feelings at all. God is a giver of power and he is a taker of power. He gives it to anybody he likes. God gave power to him.
But God used you to give him power.
God used me to give him power; I cannot question Godâ€™s decision for giving power to Ohakim. It is only God who knows why and I give glory to him. But we would challenge his decision to defect in a court of competent jurisdiction; whether his action was in order or not. We would pursue it to the highest court in the country.Â I have confidence in the judiciary that the courts would do justice in our case against Ohakim.
Before Ohakim left PPA, the party had enjoyed relative peace and stability.
(Cuts in) The exit of Ohakim was not responsible for the resignation of some of our national officers. It had nothing to do with him. I am telling you this as a committed Christian.
Can you comment on speculations thatÂ Governor Orji might also defect to PDP?
It is not true. Governor Orji would be the last person to go to PDP. It was PDP that put him in jail and left him there; they never wanted him to be a governor. We can not go back to PDP when Obasanjo is still the Chairman of its Board of Trustees.
But some leaders of the PDP have said any past member who has a demand should return first and present his demand.
No,Â no. What they are saying is not possible.
What do you have to say aboutÂ the activities of the Olu Akerele faction of PPA?
There is nothing to comment about. Olu Akerele resigned from the party and therefore has no locus standi to continue calling himselfÂ an officer of the party. It is only in a country like Nigeria where people make a mockery of the democratic process that such a thing can happen. Otherwise Akerele should be arrested by the police because he has resigned from his office.
But there was a statement that was issued by a group which was loyal to Akerele and …
(Cuts in) I wish them well. Let them continue to align with Akerele but our party is intact and remains a single party. If any other person in another political party is trying to cause trouble within our party it would not work. We are totally in charge. We are going to surprise Nigerians in 2011. We are an opposition party that is focused. Those who are spreading rumours that I intend to leave PPA are making a great mistake.
Can you respond to the Akerele groupâ€™sÂ demandÂ that PPA should pull out from the Government of National Unity?
It is not their business to say that. The National Working Committee ( NWC) is competent to decide whether the party would still remain in the GNU or pull out of it.
But does it not contradict the aims and objectives of PPA to still remain in GNU at this period?
No, no. The purpose for joining the GNU was that the nation must stabilise first. We must look at the long-term consequence of anything we want to do. This country is bigger than any group or individual. The PPA and ANPP had to join the GNU to stabilise democracy. This was necessary because Obasanjo wanted democracy damaged. So, our purpose for joining the GNU was to stabilise democracy and have another election in 2011.
But it has been argued in several quarters that PDP is using the GNU to penetrate the participating parties from the opposition with an intent to destroy them. Can you comment on that?
They cannot swallow PPA. All our political appointees are still intact and remain loyal to our party.
Apart from Ohakimâ€™s defection to PDP there had been two others from governors of ANPP controlled states.Â Do you think this phenomenonÂ is healthy for our democracy?
This phenomenon makes mockery of the constitutional democracy we are practicing now. Based on what we know it is very clear that all those involved have violated the law.Â Based on the Supreme Courtâ€™s decision in the case of Rotimi Amaechi versus OmehiaÂ we now know that no individual was voted for in his individual capacity; that it was the party in that case it was PDP that was voted for.
If that is the ruling of the supreme Court it means that a governor cannot abandon his party. It also means that once you have abandoned your party as a sitting governor it also means that you have also lost your office. There shouldÂ not evenÂ be any election in such a case. The party is supposed to nominate one person to the State House of Assembly so that he can be confirmed as governor. Such a governor can then pick his deputy. It is a disgrace that people no more have honour. This is part of how democracy has been sabotaged in this country.
As the momentum towards 2011 is building up are you considering re-contesting the post of president as you did in 2007?
I am seriously thinking of running again for the presidency on the platform of PPA.
But there are speculations that you may return to PDP.
That is not true. I will be the last man standing. I have no plans of returning to PDP. Although I was a foundation member and pillar of PDP, I am not sure I would go back to PDP.
As a foundation member of PDP now that your arch-enemyÂ ex-president Obasanjo is out of the way in addition to the fact that there is a reconciliation process going on within that party,Â would you reject the partyâ€™s request if it reaches out to you to return?
No, no, despite the fact that discussions have been going on for two years I cannot do that now especially when PDP is the major problem of the nation. When you look at what they have done you would realise that they have destroyed almost all aspectâ€™s of the nationâ€™s life be in the socio-economic and political realms. Almost all aspects of governance is gone. So, how can I go back there? I would rather leave politics and return to my village rather than go back to PDP.
President Yarâ€™Ãdua has already spent over two years in office. Can you compare his administration with that of Obasanjo.
There is no basis for comparison. President Yar’ Ãdua is much better than Obasanjo.
But President Yarâ€™Ãdua has been accused of being too slow?
It doesnâ€™t matter. Yes, he might be slow but after all the confusion Obasanjo left behind you cannot blame him. This is because Obasanjo never wanted to leave; he wanted to stay there for ever. I am sure you people in the media know. This is the reason why he made the process of leadership so difficult in this country. It would take at least 20 years to repair the damage Obasanjo did to this country. When I was shouting about Obasanjo about six years ago people thought I was shouting for myself but I was shouting for Nigerians to hear. If you look at whatÂ happened in all the sectors; be it power or oil sector or any other sector you would realise that Obasanjo ruined this economy.
What do you think is responsible for the high level of insecurity prevailing in the South-Eastern part of the country.
Let me tell you something, what is happening is an indication of a failed state. It shows that the system has collapsed. There are two basic responsibilities every government has towards its citizens; these are the responsibilities of providing for the security of lives and property in a given state. That is purely the duty of government. If the Federal Government can no longer guarantee the security of lives and property of its citizens, then it has failed. I am not talking about the state governments because the issue of security falls squarely within the domain of the Federal Government. In the past, we called for state police and it was ignored.
Although, I am no longer a governor I still insist we need a state police; because the state and local governmentÂ authorities should have their own police. One of the major problems of this country is that the Federal Government has allocated all powers to itself. I can describe what we have in place as a democratic but unitary system of government where virtually everything is centrally controlled.
But this cannot work in a multi-ethnic state like Nigeria. You can see the distress in whichÂ we are presently. The kidnapping scourge wanted to rear its ugly head when I was in office but we fought it. I cannot see this nation moving forward economically under the present situation because things are getting worse but people cannot do anything about this kidnapping saga. It is a simple problem to handle. I am sure that the governor of AbiaÂ has put in a lot of efforts to arrest the situation in the state. I had the opportunity of discussing this issue with him for about one hour on phone.Â I am sure that based on what the State Government has put in place, the city of Aba is already returning to normalcy.
The story ofÂ how GovernorÂ Orji emerged as governor of AbiaÂ appears not to have been fully told and it is believed that it was you that made it possible. What can you say about this?
It was God that made it possible.
But we canâ€™t see God with our physical eyes but many people believed that instead of seeing God, it was you that was seen to have made his emergence as governorÂ a reality?
It was God who made it possible and the people you saw who actualised Godâ€™s plan were the people of Abia State.
What is your assessment of the Yar’ Ãdua administrationâ€™s achievement in the anti-corruption crusade?
To be honest with you when I was governor I initiated the publishing of Abia State Government accounts in newspapers. I was the first governor to do that in the history of this country. In addition to that I was named the â€˜Action Governorâ€of Nigeria by then presidentÂ Â ObasanjoÂ before he started quarelling with me. The only offence I committed was that I was opposed to his third term ambition and I was also against him doing things the way he wasnâ€™t supposed to do them. If you remember on four occasions I was nearly walked out of Council of State meetings but I resisted this.
I insisted thatÂ Abia State could not be excluded from the Council of State meeting because it is a constitutional right of the people of Abia to be represented and not just Orji Kalu. These attempts were madeÂ just because I protested against certain things that were wrong. I think that Nuhu Ribadu could have done very well as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) if he had not allowed himself to be used against enemies of former presidentÂ Obasanjo.
Although many people have criticised Mrs Farida Waziri I cannot join such critics. From what I have observed she takes her time to investigate cases before taking any action on them. I believe that with time and with the practice of the rule of law we would be able to get to our destination as far as the anti-corruption crusade is concerned. Corruption is not an easy phenomenon to fight. We need the likes of former Russian leader Putin- somebody who has a lot of courage – to fight the corruption scourge in this country. He must be somebody who should be able to stand up for the people. We have not seen any leader who loves the people of this country. Despite all their claims of loving Nigeria it is not true. So, change is coming to this country.
Sometime ago you were reported to have called for a revolution in Nigeria. Could you have been serious about that?
Why not? IfÂ I have to lose everythingÂ to sanitise Nigeria, I wouldnâ€™t mind. Sometimes I think that Nigerians are soft. If I had thought of what I stood to lose by fighting Obasanjo I am not supposed to have fought him. I lost two banks because of my anti-third term stand. I lost HallmarkÂ and South-Gate banks. I also lost an oil block and Slok Airline but I didnâ€™t succumb. This is what a leader should be known for. A leader should stand up for what he believes in. I actually sympathised with workers of my banks and those of the airline who lost their jobs but I had to stand up for something.
Since both ofÂ you left office have you ever met Obasanjo?
I have never met him since I left office.
If you meet him would you shake hands with him?
I donâ€™t know yet what I would do if I meet him.