Mr Clement Ebri, an aspirant to the office of the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is a former governor of Cross River State who went on to become Chairman, Presidential Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution between 2000 and 2001. He later became the National Chairman of the Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA. In this interview with OMEIZA AJAYI, he speaks on several issues, arguing that the ruling party is deeply afflicted and does not need a combative individual to steer its ship ahead of the 2019 general elections. Excerpts:
Why are you in the race?
Four years ago, the major political parties the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and the All-Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP – recognised the imperative for united action to confront and take over the reins of power from a long-sitting but poorly performing political party. They successfully merged to birth the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The coming together of a group of political parties to secure electoral victory at Federal Government level and in several states, however, is one thing while the provision of the needed party leadership to truly weld the different cooperating platforms into one united organic party that effectively dissolves and defuses pre-existing parties and tendencies, achieve stability by managing size and success, embrace expansion, offer a definite programme direction to its members in government and religiously monitor and hold both itself and the government to public accountability, is quite another matter. This latter weakness stands out as the greatest challenge confronting our great party today.
While Nigerians agree with the new culture of change we have introduced in the way of doing things, both party members and non-members, including the international community of which Nigeria is a visible member, recognise the challenge that “Change must begin with us.” Across the length and breadth of our country and at different platforms/levels of our party organisation, there is visible evidence of poorly handled, unresolved and lingering intra-party crises, disagreements and conflicts all of which create internal contradictions that have the potential to derail us from the primary goal for which our great party was established, namely to take, expand and retain governmental power at all levels.
I believe that a fundamental task of the APC is to win elections. After this is achieved, it should offer its elected officials a means for organising government as it becomes the primary link between the people and government. The tragic content of life in Nigeria is directly linked to the quality of party governance. If we can cause party governance to acquire the veneer of responsibility and integrity that is the hallmark of our central administration under the leadership of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, we would be half way to Uhuru for our people.
Some analysts have argued that since the outgoing national chairman is from Edo State, and the position has been re-zoned to the South-South, that it would be more plausible to have a replacement from Edo State. What is your take on this?
As you know, the position of the National Chairman has been zoned to the South-South Geopolitical Zone of which Cross River State is a part. The general thinking of many well-meaning stakeholders in the party is that the rotational principle, which is so central to the sense of equity within APC, should be demonstrated within this geopolitical context. The states, which are the constituent parts of the respective geopolitical zones, should, where conditions allow, produce credible officers on an equitable basis.
You talked about crisis in the party. Why then are you seeking to superintend over a party in crisis?
I am an experienced mediator and conciliator who can bring highly developed conflict management skills to the table as APC National Chairman. I believe that an abrasive personality and intolerant attitude are not helpful if one presides over a heated system. This is because I have been schooled in the ancient African notion that birds do not build their nests in trees that are troubled by tempestuous winds for, otherwise, the nests can be easily displaced. Instead, they seek trees that are stable and ordinarily calm but which have deep taproots that enable them safeguard all the nests of interests that their branch carry.
As National Chairman of the APC, I will advance the idea that the ability of our party to recruit the best candidates that will win elections will be the root of its future victories. We must make adequate provisions to offer our party’s candidates functional training and support. More than this, we must not only help those who need to raise funds, but we must do our best to turn out voters on election day.
The party will invest in a party newspaper to provide a forum for sharing positions on national issues as a place for members to share opinions. I will also organise periodic meetings with government officials to monitor consistency in the implementation of party platforms.
How confident are you with regards to getting a bulk of the 6,800 delegates on your side?
I have spread my message. As we speak, people are moving around the country through some established contacts; people who have known me in terms of my capacity to do this job. You know I have been in the arena since 1991.
I have a track record which is difficult to duplicate. Transparency, integrity, focus and grip on the masses. I have always been masses-oriented and that is why I pledged in my campaign to ensure that every voice counts.
There are allegations that you are being backed by Rotimi Amaechi. How true is this?
No, not at all. I have not even had any contact with him. I am just going straight to the people and that is the truth about me. Even the election which I won, I approached people. I approached the youths. All these things that people are doing here saying they are being backed by governors or ministers, it all ends here in Abuja.
A lot of them do not even go back to tell the people anything about them. So, what I have done in my own case is to go straight to the people. I am not depending on anybody at all and so, I have no minister backing me. But, if they are backing me, it is just because they believe in me and they know that I have the capacity but I do not really have anyone sponsoring me in that sense of the word.
So, are you bothered that the president is reportedly aligned with an aspirant?
I still want to treat it as an allegation against him. It is speculative because the president I know has consistently said he wants to distance himself from running the party and he would like democracy to take root in this country. So, I rather go that way than begin to think that the race has been foreclosed.
The party has a lot of crisis on its hands. What makes you think you can resolve them?
I believe I can resolve the crisis because it is something I have done in the past. Even when I was governor, a lot of my colleagues who had problems in their states maybe with the state assembly, I was the one who went to mediate and solve the problems and the reason is that people believe me because I tell the truth. As much as possible, I try to do things right. I am a stickler for the rules. If someone is wrong, I tell him that he is wrong. I cannot be used to do a hatchet job. For me, I don’t belong to any of the tendencies in the party. I am neutral and coming in as a neutral person, I want to look at issues precisely the way they are and resolve them headlong. It is so easy.
Like in states where you create parallel structures, some people were sent out there as congress committee members and they went there to do a hatchet job. It was done even in my state. It was a huge mess when you have the chairman as the head and then the secretary just went behind to submit fake results and then they were accepted as against the results that came properly through the chairman and these were the same people that said chairmen were the ones to deal with, but they now went behind to deal with the secretary.