BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEP POLITICAL EDITOR

…My Akunyili story
FORMER Governor of Anambra State and Senator representing Anambra Central on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige is a reporter’s delight any day. His swift and intelligent response to critical issues always stands him out as a politician of note.

For 41 minutes last Friday evening at a hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos, the senator, who is spear-heading ACN’s promising inroad into the South-East, spoke to some reporters in no holds barred fashion, on why the opposition failed to stop the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in  2011 and how they would prevent the party from actualising its boast of ruling Nigeria for 60 years.

Clad in a black Igbo traditional dress, Ngige, who throughout the chat had on his mind a 60th birthday dinner  being organised for ACN National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for which he was running late, admitted that President Goodluck Jonathan was practically unstoppable at the 2011 elections because of a combination of factors.

He, however, averred that the scenario would not be the same in 2015 because the opposition would forge a granite alliance this time around.

The senator, who last week had his election ratified by the law courts gave reasons he would not join issues with his main challenger, Professor Dora Akunyili of the PDP.

He delved into how the National Assembly, of which he is a member of the Constitution review committee would amend thorny aspects of the code-book including derivation and revenue allocation to boost peace and security and spur economic development in the country.

We’re taking PDP’s boast seriously: Ngige, one of the founders of the PDP and former member of the National Executive Committee (NEC), said he understood the party’s modus operandi, noting that the opposition parties were taking the PDP’s boast to rule Nigeria for 60 years seriously.

“People like us were members of the PDP before we left the party, other members in the Action Congress of Nigeria, at least 65 percent of them, were members of the former Alliance for Democracy (AD). We know the operations of the PDP. We have been there, some of us took part in their covert operations, some of us are repented members of the Nigerian political group, some of us were foundation members of the PDP and some of us were national officers and governors under the PDP platform, so we take that PDP boast serious.”

Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige

However, he said “their luck will not carry them too far. This is because at the last April elections in 2011, the opposition parties failed to do what is the needful and the needful was for them to come together and do a coalition and be serious about putting up candidates, but they were not, up to the last moment.

“The simple strategy they needed was to support one another in a place they know a particular opposition party has greater strength. It is for them to say party A is stronger than party B and C here and they will support the candidate of the party, even though they all are in the opposition. I can bet you that at the next general election, PDP will not be that lucky anymore.”

Ngige lamented that “the strange bed-fellowness of the alliance” in 2011 nailed the efforts of the opposition to come together. “If you will recall, we had a meeting with the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Progressive Peoples Party (PPP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), etc.

“We started a meeting where we had the likes of General Muhammadu Buhari; Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was there through the ACN, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Tom Ikimi and myself among others as representatives of the ACN in that alliance. Jeremiah Useni was also there with their group. Bukar Ibrahim Abubakar Audu, Attahiru Bafarawa, name them; the opposition parties were well represented.

After a time the entire thing fizzled out because of some primordial sentiments or feelings that cropped up. If we had succeeded in forming the party at that time, you know we were at the point of logo and name, believe you me, the story today would have been different.

“The undercurrent of people having presidential ambition was one of the things that tore the alliance into shreds, especially at the last moment. If you remember, my friend Bafarawa later on came up with his Presidential ambition, and so was Atiku Abubakar and Buhari, who later formed his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and later became the party’s presidential candidate. So you can see that personal ambition by individuals was one of the core things that made the alliance to fail.

“Let me still warn that the opposition parties need to get their acts together. We must subordinate our personal ambition to the larger group interest of Nigerians, who are suffering and who are looking up to us to speak for them because as things stand today, the Nigerian people cannot speak for themselves.

“They have been so subjugated, they are now very maleable that you now see everybody trouping to the ruling government party. It is only the South West who are used to opposition politics right from the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo that can stand up and say No.

Reactionary leaders
And it is the progressive leaders among them that are driving it. Of course you know the South West also have reactionary leaders like former President, Olusegun Obasanjo and you can see them aggregate in the PDP. But the progressive leaders, the people who are genuinely interested in the welfare of the masses of the South-West bloc and the generality of the masses in Nigeria are all aggregated in the ACN.

Beyond wishes, Ngige disclosed that the opposition has re-started the alliance moves. “In my party, the ACN, we have put out committees and these committees are all aimed at our getting to other opposition parties for a discussion and I can tell you that we are making progress.

“I am a member of the national contact committee. I, Tom Ikimi and others, we have compartments.  There are people who will do contacts at the different geo-political zones. For instance, in the South East, former governor, Achike Udenwa is the contact person. We are optimistic that this movement will yield results.”

Short circuiting opposition efforts
The senator did not shy away from allegations that Tinubu played crucial roles in short-circuiting opposition efforts in 2011 by hobnobbing with President Jonathan, to the detriment of the ACN Presidential Candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, who won only in Osun State out of the six South-West states, which are considered as ACN’s electoral heartbeat.

He said: “It was the news in the public domain then and we defended ourselves. Then the news was that Tinubu was hobnobbing with Jonathan, and he came to the party to clear himself. It was in the realm of rumour so, I don’t know how else we can look at it.

At a time people even rumoured that I will decamp to the PDP but I am still in the ACN and I ran for the Senate under the ACN platform. Those were mere allegations and not the truth. There was no concrete proof that any of our party members hobnobbed with President Jonathan for any selfish interest. I am of the opinion that the politician, who moves with measured steps will get to his destination than the politician without principles.”

Why Jonathan won: “President Jonathan became the President because of the favourability of the political indices of the time. Those indices were that of religion, ethnicity, party affiliation and above all the person in question, his credentials and amiability. His personal contributions to the political basket all favoured him.

All the minority tribes in the country said, this is their own time to put a minority man in power. That showed and gave a ray of hope that being from a minority tribe is not a curse, that you can always aspire to the highest office in the land. To that effect, all the minorities from the different zones voted for him. The Igbos said this is their own, being the nearest to them than any other candidate.  You know also he bears a name that is suggestive of Igbo bent, ‘Ebele.’

These are the factors in politics; they can swing the people’s votes because it is the votes that you need. He continued: “If I remembered correctly, one of my deputy chairmen from the North East told me that during the presidential election, his mother told him not to even come back home to talk to anybody about voting for any other candidate, that they had decided to vote for Jonathan and that he should not waste his money to come home for any campaign for another candidate.

“The mother told him that in any other elections, they will vote for the ACN but that he should forget about the Presidency as they have settled for Jonathan. So you can see the indices at work and these are political indices that you cannot take away.

“There is no gainsaying that in some few places, PDP still did their “abracadabra” as usual because you can never stop them from doing it. I remember the Igbos in Lagos, they told me that they were going to vote for Jonathan because he is their brother but that they were going to vote for Babatunde Fashola and return him because, to them he is the best governor. So you can see the degree of political awareness that is increasing by the day. The electorates are no longer as stupid as you think.”

Asked if similar sentiments would count in Jonathan’s favour if he chooses to run in 2015, Ngige said the President promised to do a term and had not said he was running. “I heard him that he wants to run for one term, that was what he said. So, for now, I will hold him on to it. He has not said he has shifted from that former position. When he says it, we will then talk back to him..”

How Akunyili stalled her petition against me
On Akunyili’s allegation that he rigged the Anambra Central Senatorial election and embarked on delay tactics to stall her petition at the tribunal, Ngige said the former NAFDAC boss and Information minister was the architect of her own failure.

Besides depicting Akunyili as a political Batam-weight, Ngige said Akunyili was desperate and failed to handle her petition diligently.

His words: “I want to thank the Court of Appeal in Enugu for doing the needful and the needful is that they obeyed the constitution. The constitution in Section 285, 286, 287 stipulated time limits. It is a constitutional provision and not even an electoral act provision. If it is an electoral law only, we can say the courts; especially the Supreme Courts can overrule it, which they have done many times before.

“So for the law makers of the Sixth Senate, I wasn’t in that Senate but the lawmakers then mandated that it is entrenched into the constitution. It means that they must have good reasons for such action. Electoral cases have been stretched to last more than two, three years in some cases.

“I know of a Senator who went to the Senate with nine months residual period left for him because the aspect of the old constitution, which talked about spending four years from the date you are sworn –in was for the governorship only. So they entrenched this in the constitution to make sure that even legislators, who were coming to the National Assembly are protected.

“You must file your petition within 21 days from the date of the result of the election being announced. It is stipulated also that an election tribunal must give its judgment in writing within 180 days (six months). From the date of filling, the operating word there is “shall” and that means “must”.

“I have always refrained from talking about the issue of Prof Akunyili and the election petition for three reasons despite all provocations. Firstly, she is my family friend, I entered the university with her the same day, she read Pharmacy and I studied Medicine, we took courses together. So she is not somebody I met just yesterday. At the University of Nigeria, the husband read Medicine, so we were contemporaries but he was two years my senior.

So after politics, to me there is still that family relationship. I do know that what she is doing, she knows it is wrong.  She has consistently abused me including my private life. Secondly, politically, she is a batam weight not even a feather weight; she has never contested any election before, so she is not a match. This is her first major contest and she wants to win her first major contest by all means.

“In 1998 when I joined politics, I failed my party nomination to Senator Mike Ajaegbo in a party that we formed. I did not bring the heavens down instead I worked with him, praying to God to give me my own time. Mike Ajaegbo was a joiner to the party but he was chosen. I have never failed in anything I did in my life; I never failed any major examination I took in my school. I thought life was all about, you try and you pass until that time when I had my baptism of fire. So for politically being very new, I will restrain myself from hitting her back.

“Thirdly, she knows that, that election was not between she and I, it was between me and the state Governor, Peter Obi.  Dora Akunyili is not known in my area (Anambra Central) where I presided as governor for 34 months and within those 34 months some political mischief makers said I concentrated all my projects in my senatorial zone. But that was not true because all that I did is still scattered everywhere in Anambra State. So how she thinks she could beat me in an election in Anambra Central Senatorial District is what I cannot fathom.

I know that she knows she is lying but the dangerous thing about it is that she was lying for herself. And once you start lying to yourself you will miss the road and go into wilderness. She knows she never contested that election with me and that was why the governor was very desperate and produced 21, 500 votes from Anaocha, their local government area.

Also from Agulu, her home town where she hails from with the governor, they produced 10, 000 votes. Of course, there were no result sheets on the Election Day for that local government and we complained, State Security Service (SSS) and Police reports show that there was no result sheet up till the last minute of the announcement of the election.

The man that ran for the federal House of Representatives, Dozie Nwankwo, because the election was conducted the same day, petitioned against it and the Court of Appeal in their wisdom cancelled that local government and said that there was massive rigging. More astonishing is the fact that after the election on the 9th of April, they failed in their bid to induce the returning officer, Mr., Alex Anene, an auditor with the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, who believes in proper auditing. He refused to play ball with them and announced the result based on form EC8A.

“Finally on this issue, the Court of Appeal has ruled. We went to the Court of Appeal three times and we were asking them to go to the constitution and see that the case is already dead and you cannot transmit a dead case back and give it life.

The case had died by the 12th of November, 2011 so I am at a loss as to know why she is saying what she is saying, perhaps she may be ignorant of the technicalities of the Court. The truth is that Akunyili did not win. She believes in vicious propaganda and we do not do that in the ACN. She is just being desperate.”

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