Truly, it’s difficult being an opposition politician —Ogbonnaya Onu

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Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, erstwhile national chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
In this interview, Onu bares his mind on how he was shortchanged at the 1999 national convention of the defunct ANPP in Kaduna, his role in the emergence of APC, he assesses the Jonathan administration, the security challenges in the country, among other issues.  A chemical engineer, an administrator, Onu was the first executive governor of Abia State.

BY HENRY UMORU, ASSISTANT POLITICAL EDITOR

You left the Government House a long time ago. How has it been?
We have done many things since I left Government House Umuahia. We have played national politics and we are interested in making our country a better place. It’s been quite a challenging period and also very rewarding.

What happened in 1999 in Kaduna when Chief Olu Falae was declared the Presidential Candidate of the then APP?

What happened was that I aspired to be president of our great country and there were so many other people which is a normal thing. The party at that time, if you remember the parties had just been formed; there were only three parties: APP, AD and PDP. So APP decided to form a screening committee to look at all those aspiring to be president.

The screening committee did its work and brought out three names and my name was one of the three. So the three names were now sent to the national executive committee of the party and there during the NEC meeting there was voting. I emerged the winner because I had the largest number of votes. So the party in line with its constitution still decided to summon a national convention, which was held in Kaduna. Then during that convention my name was now presented for ratification and the whole convention ratified me, so I became the legal flag bearer of the party.

But at the same time, the party wanted to enter into an alliance with the AD. So all of us felt that at the particular time, the APP had or controlled nine states and the AD controlled six states. Now the APP controlled states in three geo-political zones, whereas the AD controlled in one zone, and then in terms of vote that APP got, there was a local government election that had taken place and even governorship elections. And the number of votes almost doubled that of AD.

So most people now felt, if the two parties entered into an alliance which was to enable the alliance defeat the PDP, the two parties had a total of 15 states, whereas the PDP had 21, so coming together will make it easier to challenge and defeat the PDP in the presidential election.

So the thinking that most people thought the APP would now be given the presidential slot because of its strength, but when we got into Abuja nobody told us that a committee was meeting and I was not consulted and that a decision has been taken on Chief Olu Falae, my good friend because he had emerged as the AD flag bearer, that he was now going to be the joint APP-AD Presidential candidate. It angered so many people. Many people even decided to leave the party, that is the APP, because they thought it was not right, but I felt that I should stay because I didn’t want to be an instrument to abort that match to democracy in the country. So the then national chairman, Sen. Mamoud Waziri publicly apologised to me, letting Nigerians know what happened, that I was never consulted and there was nothing like I stepped down as some people reported and withdrawing like some others did. On the basis of that, I had to accept it for the best interest of the nation.

Onu: ANPP leader

Onu: ANPP leader

Subsequently all other personalities, those who held positions in the party including even the national secretary also kept saying yes, that the way I was treated was not fair. But I just felt look, in life once you have faith in God things like that happen, by my own religion, you thank God and then keep hoping for the best.

What role did you play in the merger of ACN, CPC, ANPP to form the APC?
In 2004, August 3rd I believe, the caucus of the ANPP, APP had then become ANPP, which comprised about 23 Senators, about 96 members in the House of Representatives, invited me the first person ever to be so honoured to speak to them. I used the opportunity to emphasize the need for all the opposition political parties to come together in order to challenge and defeat the ruling party.

I also used the opportunity at that time because the ruling party kept saying that they will be in office for up to 60years and nobody challenged them to show that that cannot or shouldn’t happen in our country. The same year by December 2004, the Lagos State House of Assembly invited me to speak to them and it was the same thing; I said that opposition political parties should come together so that we can form two dominant parties that can now give you effective competition in the political arena.

Now when I became national chairman, end of September 2010, I now requested from the ACN, I said to the ACN that I would like to come and talk to you. They didn’t invite me, I requested. Now they invited me and the meeting held at the Lagos Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja and then I talked about our coming together. It was on the basis of coming together and working together, it was on that basis that they set up their committee under Chief Tom Ikimi and we set up our own committee under then Deputy Governor of Bauchi state, Alhaji Gauba Gadi who later moved to CPC.

If you remember at that time, it was very close to election period that was why we didn’t make much progress because shortly after that, the parties had their conventions and it became difficult who would step down for the other.

But shortly after that, all parties went into the general election. Then Gen. Buhari went to court, the candidate of ANPP, ACN and SDMP didn’t go to court. So I waited. As soon as the Supreme Court gave its final ruling in February of 2012, by March 3rd I believe, I wrote a letter to all the national chairmen of opposition political parties that control at least one state; APGA was involved, Labour then ACN, ANPP, CPC.

We kept meeting and the essence was just to develop trust because you know if you trust one another, you can easily do business together. Then we now moved  into formation of  a large committee whereby former governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano was chairman for ANPP, Chief Tom Ikimi  was chairman for ACN  and then Garba  Gadi who was chairman initially for ANPP became chairman for CPC and it was a large committee and that was how they started meeting. And from there, the name, the logo, all the details came up and we are about the first to indicate and said, look, we will surrender our position in order for this to work. So that was how we gave up our positions to make sure that the merger worked.

And are you are still not given that recognition as one who initiated the merger?
I didn’t do it so that I would be given recognition. I did it because it is important for our country and I am so happy that we have two dominant political parties.

Your reason for having the APC is to challenge and defeat PDP, how realistic is this?
That is not the reason, our aim is not just to go and challenge and defeat PDP, that is not that. Our reason is to provide Nigerians the alternative.

The APC was formed not just to defeat PDP, but to provide Nigerians the opportunity to now have a government that will always realise that if they don’t do well, they will be removed and for that reason they will start doing well so that we can build a new and a modern Nigeria.

Is there any difference between the PDP and the APC in terms of ideology and members?
Of course there are lot of differences. I must tell you, I have always believed that we should not have a one party system in the country and that is why I never changed and it is very difficult to be in the opposition particularly if you have risen to a certain level. It is extremely difficult, particularly if you are in the opposition in your state and at the federal level.

But the APC is very different from the PDP. One, we are committed to internal democracy and our constitution is very strict as far as I am concerned up to the point that the constitution has said even where you have a consensus candidate,  there will still be voting, that is one and you know that if you have internal democracy,  then you can now project.

Also we are committed to reduction of corruption. You can see the level of corruption that is in the country and it is very worrisome, it can be reduced. There are some many differences. As a matter of fact, the difference between PDP and APC is clear, it is almost as that between day and night.

Is it true that APC is going to run a Muslim-Muslim ticket?
No. I must tell you that that matter has not been discussed and there is no way that something as important as that will not be discussed.

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