*Politicians denying zoning’re being economical with truth
* Founders of APC agreed on North-South power rotation
*What South-East presidency’ll bring to Nigeria
Minister of Labour and Employment, and former Governor of Anambra State, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige, in this interview spoke on the raging debate over rotation and zoning of offices ahead of the 2023 presidential poll.
Ngige, who is one of the founding fathers of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, among others, also spoke on insinuations that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, plans to field a northern presidential candidate to beat APC at the poll, and why South-East should produce President Buhari’s successor.
By Victor Ahiuma-Young
What is your take on the raging debate over power rotation and zoning?
The issue of the rotation of the prime offices in the land, even though it is not expressly written in the constitution of our party, APC, is by implication written in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. First, I take you to Section 14 (3) of the constitution, which talks about the composition of Government at the national level, states and even local governments in such a way that there should be no element or perception of domination by any single tribe or group of persons that come from one ethnic nationality and in such a way that governments at any level is seen to have not been national, to engender confidence and patriotism. That is what the constitution says. So, the wise men that did the 1979 constitution and 1999 constitution, took this into account and all the constitutional conferences and legislative bodies of the country, whether national, state and even local government legislative councils, adopted it. That is why the constitution formed the basis of government at these three levels.
So, in effect, we all agree, flowing from that constitution that government at any level, the legislature, the executive and even to an extent, the judiciary, should reflect national spread. No particular group should dominate the other. That is also why if they are making appointments in the judiciary, zoning comes in.
Does the Federal Character principle cover political parties?
Flowing from this, the political parties adopted it when they were considering those who will govern their parties. That is why when you have a chairman you have a Deputy Chairman, North and Deputy Chairman, South. It is in the constitution of both PDP and APC. It is in the constitution of most political parties.
That is also why you have zonal chairmen for the South-East, South-South, South-West, North-East, North-West, and North-Central.
That is also why when you have the Chairman comes from the South you have the Secretary coming from the North. You also have the Deputy Chairman coming from the North. In some places, they have two deputy chairmen for North and South.
So, all these put in a holistic basket of power, shows you that it is recognised that because of our diversity, we need to have a platform for unity and diversity.
In the same way, when the chairman of any political party is from the Southern part of Nigeria effort is made for the presidential standard-bearer to come from the North. That is why also there is a deliberate attempt when a President from the South has governed for eight years, for power to shift to the North and when it is in the North, it moves to the South. So, there is an agreement, though not written, for this rotation to take place.
Who are those involved in this agreement?
It is an unwritten agreement or convention among all politicians and political parties in Nigeria. Anybody who is telling you that there is no such convention, norm or tradition is a liar.
Luckily for me, I have been old enough in this country to witness the Second Republic when this presidential system of government was born. It is also in that spirit that you see a presidential candidate from the South pickinga running mate from the North and vice versa.
What is the essence of power rotation?
There must be balancing or equilibrium for the nation to move forward. The constitution does not contain everything. In this constitution, it is not written like that, but there are extrapolations and inferences made in that constitution.
I was a foundation member of PDP and when we formed the PDP, it was agreed that the presidency should go to the South. Somebody like Abubakar Rimi of blessed memory said no, that he must contest. I remember Chief Audu Ogbeh, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Chief Solomon Lar and others, taking Rimi to a corner of the room in Professor Jerry Gana’s house but Rimi still insisted on running. Sunday Awoniyi who we all loved, started crying. Awoniyi burst into tears, saying this was not what the founding fathers of Nigeria wanted. We were new politicians then. I and Prof. ABC Nwosu carried Alex Ekwueme’s bag to the meeting. So, we were living witnesses to this.
I am also a living witness to the fact that because of that, Abubakar Rimi went and filed expression of interest and was disqualified. He came to Jos and insisted on running but before the casting of votes, he went round the field to announce his withdrawal from the race and the turf was left for Ekwueme who relinquished the chairmanship of the steering committee of PDP to vie for the Presidency. Solomon Lar, a Northerner was permitted to take over the chairmanship of the PDP because all the presidential aspirants were from the South. They include Ekwueme, Obasanjo, Nwobodo, Gamaliel Onosode and the former Minister of Labour under Babangida.
And in our neighbouring APP, everyone collapsed for a Southern candidate. We had Ogbonnaya Onu. We had Olu Falae. We had the billionaire from Ibadan, Chief Harry Akande. They all slugged it out there. Shinkafi and others stepped down. So, it is not novel in Nigerian political history that you rotate or shift power. It is done to make for stability, unity, equity and progress of the country.
If anybody, coming to 2023, says that there is no rotation or zoning that person is being economical with the truth.
You were one of the founders of APC. Does rotation of power exist in APC?
We started the discussion even before I went to Senate. We started the discussion for the formation of APC between ACN and CPC. After the election, ANPP joined us. Then, I now brought APGA with Okorocha. Some people falsified issues to say that Okorocha brought APC to the South-East. It is not true. I and Ogbonnaya Onu were the fathers of APC in the South-East. I specifically brought in Okorocha, Annie Okonkwo and Osita Izunaso. They are the three leading people we brought into the formation committee. I introduced them during the first meeting at Tom Ikimi’s house as APGA faction, with Ikimi presiding. So, there is nothing there that will be told me as a story.
After formation, we put in a 32-man Interim Management Committee, serving like they are all working committee members. They were drawn from ACN; we were the senior partners coming with six governors. ANPP had three governors, CPC with one governor, APGA with one governor and then, DPP with one Senator and some House of Representatives members. I was the secretary at our first convention and I took all the minutes. We had an agreement that our standard-bearer was coming from the North and after North, it would come down to the South. So, those who are talking today were not there when this agreement was made. Was it written down and signed by politicians from both sides, no. But we had minutes of the meeting. They are there. It was agreed that it would be a movement between North and South.
As we were doing the convention, we narrowed down our candidates to about two or three. But among the candidates, General Buhari was ahead. All of us from the ACN caucus had agreed that he was our candidate. CPC had agreed that he would be their candidate. ANPP was split into two. So, when we went to the presidential convention, he emerged with a wide margin. That is the truth of the matter.
With the National Convention fast approaching, what are your expectations?
We expect that our national chairman this time around will come from the North and our Presidential candidate will come from the South.
Where exactly in the South?
Where it will be from the South, I cannot tell you because politics is all about interest. If we carry moral grounds to go there, one will say let the South-East take it because we are the only zone that has not tasted it among the South-East, South-South and South-West. But again, you cannot tell the man from the South-South not to vie. If you want to tell him not to vie, you have to convince him. It has to be through persuasion, negotiation and horse trading; the same for the man from the South-West.
The South-Easterner is saying on moral grounds, equity and justice, you should leave this for me or support me for us to bury all the hostilities, all the bad blood, following the civil war, all the resurgent separatist agitations, based on perceived marginalisation, since there is a thin line between perception and reality. For me, it is Southern President. This President has done his best. He didn’t get this area that South-East Igbo love appointments. But the President concentrated on giving them infrastructure and things that will help them in their business. He resuscitated the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. He did the roads. One lane of Enugu-Onitsha is now completed. Enugu-Okigwe is ongoing. Chinese contractors, RCC and others are involved. Some other roads like Aba-Owerri, Umuahia are not yet finished but you can see work is ongoing. So, these things added to the presidency, can bury ghost of the civil war and separatists’ agitation. You can then use your resources to bury security situation in the North-West and North-East. That is my interest. To cut a long story short, let us bring it to the South and let the Southerners decide where it will go.
It is being speculated that PDP is delaying their decision on zoning in anticipation that APC will go South so that they go North. What is your say?
The PDP top apparatchik think they are smart. They want to play a fast one. They are waiting for APC to say ‘South.’ Their calculation is that when that happens, they will go North. Number one, that will be an act of bad faith because it will mean that they have taken the people in the South-South and South-East that have all along supported PDP 90 percent in all the elections, for a ride.
In the 2011 election, I was the only opposition candidate in the former Eastern region that won election. I was the only one among the entire three senators per state, in the five states of the South-East and six South-South states, except Edo where we had Uzamere and Domingo Obende. Those who later became APC were those who cross-carpeted after the victory of APC, like Senator Magnus Abe and others.
For PDP to say they are waiting for APC, they are playing games. It’s going to be a costly venture for them because during election, it is like a drought game. You anticipate the opponent to see the seed he wants to play next. That seed of PDP of going North will backfire. They better align with APC and if APC comes South let them come South. So, it becomes an all South affair.
However, if they go North, I can tell them that as it is today, they will lose the presidential election, no matter the candidate they bring from the North. The South-Easterners will feel that they have been used and dumped. The South-Southerners will feel that they have been used and dumped. The South-Westerners will feel it is the turn of South as the Southern governors said.
In the North-Central, there is a minority sympathy in the Middle-belt. There is also minority sympathy in North-East. Those who are doing the calculation to go North and bring a million votes will be disappointed because even those voters, you think will be doing North for North, Muslim for Muslim, will not go with you. The voters are wiser. What has past Northern leaders done? Did they do things for the North like Ahmadu Bello did? Did they do things for them like Tafawa Balewa? Did they do things for them like Aminu Kano? The answer is no. So, if the PDP makes that mistake, they will have a severe beating more than they received from Buhari.
You said for now, you don’t know if it will go to the South-East or South-South or South-West. Already some people are declaring themselves as the best for the South-East. We have Orji Uzor Kalu. We have Pius Anyim, we don’t know if you are interested.
Orji Kalu, my APC party man has not declared for president. Pius Anyim is of PDP stock. His declaration is welcome and I will urge more of the South-Easterners in PDP to come out and declare. When it is the turn of APC to start declaring, you will see people from the South-East. I am quite sure about it. PDP has just finished its convention for officers and once you finish convention for officers, the next thing is a convention for the nomination of your presidential candidate for the next election.
We in APC have our convention fixed for February this year. And it will be precocious for anybody to start declaring that he is running for the president or Senate in APC when you have not crossed the first hurdle. Convention is a major hurdle we will cross to elect our officers. Of course, you know that we passed through a crisis that gave us this Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, CCEPC, and Caretaker Executive Committee for the party. It is a double barrelled committee. They are now entering the next phase of their work because they have started. They organised local government and state congresses from bottom up. The next thing is to give us members of the National Working Committee and Executive Committee and then, populate all our organs like Board of Trustees and National Caucus, so that we move ahead.
Can you bring us to speed the situation or crisis in Anambra State Chapter of APC? Is there any crisis? What is the suspension all about? Somebody was suspended and he is still laying claim to the leadership of the party.
Nobody suspended anybody. Everybody you see now in any position is on a caretaker mode. And caretaker means that it is an interim thing. You cannot even exercise all the powers of the substantive leadership. So, who are you suspending when all of you are caretaker? They have no such powers. That was why when we met as an expanded caucus in Abuja where we had the officers and the 17 local government chairmen and all the statutory members as enshrined in our party constitution, we appealed for people, asking them to sheathe their sword and even go back to their old positions while we await the congresses of the party and go to the National Convention.
However, you cannot tell people not to claim whatever they wish. Some people claim that they are leaders. I am not their leader. Leadership evolves. There is no appointment for anybody to be leader. There is nowhere in the constitution of APC that you see the word, ‘leader of APC.’ So, anybody parading himself as leader, that is his business. If you like to answer provincial leader of APC, you can do so. If you want to answer State Leader, you can do so.
If you want to answer local government leader in your locality, it is your business. If you want to answer zonal leader, nothing stops you. It is not in the APC constitution. So, when they call me leader, I feel it is a mark of respect. After all, when we formed APC in the South-East, they were calling me leader because we brought the party. So, if someone calls me leader, you don’t say no, don’t call me leader.
Leader has its own different connotations. That is the position. So, we don’t have any crisis here. We will hold our congresses to elect leaders at ward level, state level and then, elect our national leadership at our convention in Abuja.