BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
Hon. Ernest Irieka is a former member of the House Representatives from Cross River State and a member of the Zonal Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the South-South. In this interview, Irieka gives insight why many leaders of the APC in the South-South oppose the return of the incumbent National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, saying APC was dying and needed to be reinvigorated.
According to him, the adoption of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the choice of the South-South for the national chairmanship of the APC was done in the best interest of the party.
Some persons disagreed with the APC in the South-South after you adopted Adams Oshiomhole as your choice at your zonal meeting. What were the issues at stake?
I do not know why people are complaining. In a democracy, the minority must have their say while the majority will have their way. Once you imbibe that culture, when this kind of thing happens, you take it in good faith. Most of us have suffered in our areas. In my state, there was a time they came to conduct one ‘kangaroo’ congress. Knowing fully well that we are going to hold congresses in May, they came to put somebody as State Chairman. The man was already working in Abuja as Chairman but I decided to work with him to avoid trouble.
Now some people came to the meeting complaining that we had no agenda, but we had an agenda that made provision for AOB and in AOB anybody can come up with a major issue, then they said it was not important. Due process was followed. They came up with two motions, one was in favour of Oshiomhole and the other in favour of Oyegun but the majority voted in favour of Oshiomhole. As far as most of us are concerned, we see nothing wrong with what happened at the meeting.
Yes, we agreed that the national chairmanship has to be zone to the South-South; yes, we have agreed it has to go back to Edo State. And we have the right to make our choice and we have made that choice and said it is Adams Oshiomhole. I am already dancing the victory song because most of our people are convinced on why we need a change. With due respect to Chief Oyegun, I think it is time for him to take a back seat; he should go and rest so that this party can move forward.
And I think Adams Oshiomhole has the energy to move this party forward. Recall that I come from Cross River State; and somebody from my state, a former governor, Chief Clement Ebri, has declared interest. We were all rooting for him, we would have loved to have our own as the National Chairman but it is not everything you desire in life that you can have. This is one of them, it has happened. Normally, you cannot expect everybody to be on the same page in all issues, it is impossible.
What are those areas you think Oyegun failed that Oshiomhole will perform?
Things are very bad in many states. I gave my own state as an example. Oyegun knew that we are going to hold a congress soon but he went to have a special congress to elect a Chairman for Cross River State. He was deceiving us all along because he wanted to push this tenure elongation thing. But the President has shut it down. You are aware that there is no way anybody else would have brought that out unless the President wants it because people would have shouted down the person. But the President is the leader of the party and that is why things have turned around. He is a man of integrity.
We lack firmness in the Oyegun leadership; he comes from the South-South zone, but he never put on ground any machinery in the zone that will protect him. At least he should be able to have four states in the South-South or five solidly behind him. The main opposition party, which is the PDP, their strength is actually in the South-South.
Everybody is watching what is going on in the region; so it will be morally wrong to sit down and allow them that leverage here in the South-South. Oyegun is always sitting down, he only concentrates in taking positions when, during elections, he loses his unit and ward and local government. Some of us don’t play that kind of politics. I was in the House of Representatives. I have been a councillor. I have never lost any election in my ward. That is what makes you a leader; when you can’t win elections and you insist you want to be in charge, who is going to do the job for you?
Second, there is this issue; if you are a National Chairman, you should be table to talk to your people and they believe you. You should be able to address the issues.
So I believe that we have a man who has the track record, we know how this man fought the godfathers in Edo. And god fatherism is the problem with Nigerian politics and that is how Edo became strong. Somebody was telling me how N25billion was saved by Oshiomhole while he was governor and that was how the roads in Benin were built. If he was not prudent with money, he would not have built those roads.
Now we have such a man and you expect us to waste his talent? No way. And I know that Oshiomhole will not insist that only Edo State remains under the APC, he will want to extend it beyond that, a few of our leaders in the South-South have the same desire but the terrain is difficult. The South-South is a very difficult region but Oshiomhole fought the PDP cabal which some people who are claiming to be APC leaders in the South-South have failed to do in their states. If we don’t manage the problems here well, we are going to run into trouble and that is why we came together to say Oshiomhole is the answer.
We are in government at the federal level, even some governors in the South-South from the opposition party have seen the need to join us, but if they see we are not serious they will not come. So we need a man who is firm, honest, dogged, fearless, to lead us to the promise land in the South-South and that man is Oshiomhole. I know that we have the potentials to win the 2019 presidential election, but we must be sure that we get there. So let Baba go and rest and let Oshiomhole lead.
But leaders such as the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, are opposed to Oshiomhole. Why?
Let me tell you our problem in the South-South. We have so many languages and ethnic groups; if one man says he wants to be the Alpha and Omega here, he will lose. Everybody is supposed to go to his territory and hold his turf. If you are from Rivers, please stay in Rivers State. If you are from Cross River, leave us with our leaders; don’t come and impose anybody on us because you have money.
All you need to do is to convince the other people and not impose people on them. Let Amaechi not arrogate to himself the leadership of the party in the South-South because he does not have it. What have we achieved in Rivers with all the money there? Nothing. So he needs to talk to people not to go and interfere in other states. Look at the crisis in Rivers APC, we think he should sit down and sort it out by carrying others along; that is the only way we can win elections there.
So Amaechi is not the determining factor in the South-South, he only took a gambit and it worked out for him. So he should allow other people to take the same gambit and not be a dictator. And, above all, he should sit with other leaders of the party to strategize on how to defeat Governor Wike (of Rivers State) and not to create confusion where there is none.