By Dayo Benson, Political Editor and Gbenga Oke
Chief Harry Akande is a founding member of All Nigeriaâ€™s Peoples Party, (ANPP). He was also former Chairman, Board of Trustees, BOT of the party. A one time presidential aspirant, Chief Akande who is seeking to become the party’s national chairman believes that ruling Peoples Democratic Party PDP has over the years not only poached on ANPP but polarised the party, hence his desire to restore it to its past glory.
In this exclusive interview with VANGUARD, he spoke on sundry national issues including state of the nation, 2011 poll, zoning, President Goodluck Jonathan ambition, Professor Jega led Independent National Electoral Commission INEC and the crisis rocking his party, which has seen it postponing its national convention twice. Excerpts:
But unfortunately the constitution does not provide for what you have just proposed ….
(Cuts in) How long does it take for a constitution to be amended if we sincerely believe in what we want to do. What is important is we want a free and fair election, we want a situation where nobody has advantage over others and if there is need for constitutional amendment, it really does not take time if there is sincerity and people believe in it. But it will be a tough one because people donâ€™t want things done right in this country and that is the problem. But if we really want things done right, it does not take time.
I think quite a lot them are very good amendments but am not too sure why they discarded the issue of independent candidacy, I think an independent candidacy is something that will be in the interest of this country in the sense that you might not belong to any party especially when there is no internal democracy in that party and you believe you are the one people want in your area whether as a councillor or as a senator or House of Rep member.
If you seriously believe that the people want you, you should have the right to go and exercise your credibility as a candidate and people should be able to respect that but for some reasons, we understand it wasnâ€™t approved at the National Assembly and the states. Having said that, I think maybe because we have so many parties but when we have been able to trim down the parties to a sizeable number like 3, 4 or 5, then maybe the issue of independent candidacy can be looked into again.
The argument is that our democracy is not yet ripe for that. What is your thinking about such arguments?
(Cuts in) Excuses, Excuses, Excuses, when is our democracy going to be ripe? We have been practicing it for several years now, the point is that independent candidacy is an aspect of politics in other countries and it works. What am saying is that if we donâ€™t have 57 to 60 parties, if we are able to trim down the parties to 4 or 5, I think independent candidacy will work. It did work well in the First Republic where there were lots of independent candidates, some of whom lost their deposits but I think it is something that should be encouraged.
Some weeks ago in Port Harcourt, the South-South governors openly endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan to run for the presidency in 2011 and there seems to be silence in the South-West and it is only in the South-East that their governors said they will support the best candidate while there is serious division in the North. If you are to speak on behalf of South-West, what do you think its position should be?
I think the South-West is only watching because even the North that is very critical about it is divided. South-South said substantially that it will support Jonathan but as time goes on and after a lot of these governors might have received their endorsements for second term, you will be surprised what some of them are going to say next because you canâ€™t really depend on what we are seeing and hearing in terms of zoning right now.
People are saying it because of selfish interest and because they are afraid of their own situation and their position because some of the governors that want to come for second term will have to make sure they toe a careful line so that they donâ€™t hurt their chances. For instance, even in ANPP, the governors say they believe in zoning but when they come back to the party, they do things that are not consistent with zoning. So a lot people will come up with different ideas about this zoning thing, but you can only assess it in light of their own personal interest and that is really what is governing their decisions.
As far as we are concerned in South-West, personally I believe let the best man win, let us open the terrain and let everybody come and sell their credentials and let see their pedigree and on the basis of that we make a decision on who becomes the president of this country. But basically individual interest is really what is guarding the decisions now and if you see what a lot of people are saying, even people in the North with their governors are changing their positions; they are saying this is not what I said, that is what I said. So we donâ€™t really know what anybody is saying for the time being but as time goes on when we get close to the election time, I think the truth will start coming out but I will like to see in the future a situation where everybody is allowed to exercise his constitutional right to vote and be voted for.
So what do you say about the position of Northern governors who say the president has the constitutional right to contest but did not come out openly to endorse him unlike their South-South counterparts?
At the end of the day, they will want their decisions to be fluid such that when they change their minds they can justify it. I donâ€™t think there is anybody that can come out openly now and say Jonathan cannot run, infact I would want people to come out now and say that Jonathan cannot run or Jonathan you should run, not saying I support zoning or I donâ€™t support zoning. Let them drop the issue of zoning.
As long as we are hiding at the back of this thing called zoning, you really donâ€™t know the interest of people because everybody has his own personal interest apart from the interest of the party and until we do that, I think the debate on zoning will just continue to go on and on; we wonâ€™t really know the reason why XYZ is supporting zoning and ABC is supporting zoning.
So what is the interest of your party, the ANPP on this zoning issue because the governors of your party were also present at the Northern Governors Forum meeting in Kaduna?
I think the interest of the governors at that meeting can be regarded as personal interest, that is not the parties decision. Our party has not sat down to discuss issues relating to zoning and in our constitution, we have zoning but what we are going to do as a party is what we all have to sit down and discuss. This constitution was written several years ago and people at that time were talking about zoning, but now with the current discussions, some people are having different ideas about what zoning is all about and as such it has become an issue.
We really need to sit down and discuss the idea even within our own party because at moment some people are saying let’s zone the presidency to the North and let’s zone the chairmanship of the party to the South but we have not really sat down to take a decision on that. Everybody is just talking based on his own idea.
Talking about your party ANPP, would you say it has played its role as an opposition in Nigeria the way ACN is doing bearing in mind how it won 9 states in 1999 and in 2003, 7 states and now left with just 3 states. What exactly is the position of things in the party today ?
I am sorry to say no, we have not. ANPP has not been able to be what I can call opposition, we have not been able to be what I can call an option. The option, that is what Iâ€™ll like ANPP to become. The reason why I am running for the chairmanship is because I want make sure we become the option to the PDP, we have not really provided the opposition that we should have legitimately done in terms of our success at the polls. First you have to understand there has not been any credible election in this country in the last 3 elections.
But having said that, we used to have 9 governors as you said and that could have given us the edge to be the opposition but unfortunately, we sold out in our party because we were not being democratically run. There is a cabal which consists of 4 to 5 people in a group that were running the party and what they did really traded the party away just like the Government of National Unity.
The decision of the party to join that GNU was taken by a cabal, just a handful of people got together and sold the party to the PDP and in exchange the chairman, Chief Ume Ezeoke got his son, a young boy who just joined the party to become an adviser to the president, some even wanted to bring their wives to be ministers. So they actually sold the party off to the ruling party.
I remember there is one of our governors who received the president in his state and he made a statement that Mr president, we are going to vote for you in the next election and that is an opposition party man saying that. To me that is anti-party and I expected the party to call him to order and put him to shame that how can you an ANPP governor say we are going to vote for a PDP president in the next election and nobody said a word in the party.
So, a handful people had been dominating the party so we have not being as aggressive as AC had been in terms of speaking against the misdeeds of PDP. So to answer your question, we have not really been a good opposition party and those are the things I want to change and that is why am running to become the chairman of this party. I want to bring the party back to the people and we want to be the option and I can tell you that if I become the chairman of that party, we are going straight to Aso Rock in 2011.
But majority of the big-wigs within ANPP have always maintained that the decision to join the GNU was a collective responsibility not individual?
It wasnâ€™t a collective decision because I was the first chairman of the Board of Trustees of this party and one of the founders of APP and I wasnâ€™t part of any of such decisions. So it was a handful of people who got themselves together and started this issue of Government of National Unity. It wasnâ€™t a decision of anybody in the party but that of cabal. When I talk of decisions taken by the party, I expected that an issue of that importance should have tabled at the NEC meeting, in the Working Committee meetings where people can debate and take a decision.
We were just hearing that we were going to be in the GNU, that was Ezeoke and his few friends making such decisions, that is not the decision of the party. I am still against it and will still speak against it today and tomorrow and if I become chairman of the party today, the first thing Iâ€™ll do is to get us out of it. We are supposed to be in opposition but they gave flimsy excuses that they did it because the country was in trouble; the country was not
in any trouble, they are just trying to have their palms greased and whatever they have got from the GNU is not in the best interest of the party because that is why the party has been losing positions.
Within three weeks, the convention that ANPP was supposed to hold was cancelled twice and some party stalwarts including you are claiming that the leadership of the party is trying to sabotage the ANPP by extending their stay in office. How true is this allegation?
It was not the decision of the Convention Committee that it should be postponed, it was Chief Ezeoke and his cohorts who donâ€™t want to leave or have decided they want to stay as long as they could and it is terrible people donâ€™t know that you cannot be in power forever. After a while you have to go and leave the scene for others. Ezeoke and his cohorts think they will continue to sell this party to the PDP and that is what they are doing because the postponement of the convention was a decision taken by very few people.
Kumo as the secretary and Ezeoke as the chairman wrote to INEC to postpone the convention, it is not their responsibility to do that. NEC in Maiduguri put up a Convention Committee headed by Governor Geidam and if you see lots of personalities on that list, youâ€™ll see respectable people there like Senator Gaya, Chief Kunle Ogunade who is a successful businessman. So if you look at the list of the members of Convention Committee, these are responsible people and they have done their best to have that convention on the 31st of July but the executive wrote a letter to INEC saying we are postponing it.
The NEC has put in place Convention Committee which is supposed to pronounce on everything that has to do with the convention including the election of the officers and zoning if there is need to. What Ezeoke and Kumo are trying to do is to continue to hold on to the party as if it is the only thing they have in their lives.
What we are saying is that enough is enough and by Godâ€™s grace we are going to stop them because they cannot continue to sell the party, they have actually mortgaged the party, only waiting to dispose off the carcass but we are not going to allow that happen because there are some of us who believe strongly that ANPP is still the most viable party in the country because almost everybody you find in PDP now started from ANPP.
The party should be a leading party in the country but because of selfishness and poverty, people gravitate towards where the action is, where the government is but someI will personally try to go in and bring all our old members into the party but there is still some rules that guard the emergence of such people so that they can take part in electioneering of us have been in the party for the last 12 years.
This is because we genuinely believe in the party; we are not enjoying preferential treatment and in fact somebody like me lost 5 big contracts just because Obasanjo does not like my face. He invited me to PDP and I said no that I would rather remain in ANPP, instead of going to PDP and because of that he stopped my projects and these are 5 big projects that I started before he even became the president but he used his position and his so called might to stop all the projects.
I still didnâ€™t move to the PDP because I was a successful man before he ever got into politics. A situation where a man can single-handed alter the policy of a country for a political disagreement should not be encouraged in this nation and nobody should be that powerful to decide the life of businessman or politician and legitimately stop the future or the progress of individuals in
There has been this rumour that if PDP decides to give the presidential ticket to President Jonathan that the governors and some other people will decamp to ANPP. Are you aware of this development and is the party ready to make its platform available for such people?
Let me first of all say that if President Jonathan gets the PDP ticket, then we will see a natural tendency for an exodus of some people to come into our party and we will welcome them with open hands and to lots of them, it will be an homecoming. Having said that, in fact if I become the chairman of the party, I will personally try to go in and bring all our old members into the party but there is still some rules that guard the emergence of such people so that they can take part in electioneering.
There are some rules in the party except the party in some instances decided to waive them but we can never say never. We have to look into the situation because there are lot of people who have been in the party and suffered for the party for years, if they are eligible and they are credible, we will respect that; others who come to fill some gaps, we will think about it and take decisions but I cannot give a blanket decision that those who are coming in cannot do this or cannot do that. We are to examine the situation when they come and look at what is on ground.
But would the party allow General Ibrahim Babangida to contest the presidential election on its platform if he decides to come over?
I think that is a decision the party will have to take, all I can say is that the party is open for everybody to come into. The decision as to who runs in the election and who cannot run is a decision the party has to take. I have also heard the rumours that if President Goodluck Jonathan clinches the PDP ticket, General Babangida will like to come to our party.
We will very much like him to come to our party but the leaders of the party will have to sit down and see whether he can run or he cannot. That is not a decision one person can take and that is what have been saying about internal democracy.