Denying South Presidential ticket will be monumental mistake, says Etta
• Why I won’t withdraw my court case
• We may not have APC in 2023
Amid the crisis of confidence within the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), a former Deputy National Vice Chairman (South/South) of the party, Chief Hillard Ntufam Etta, tells LEO SOBECHI, in this interview why the confusion persists and why he would not withdraw his case against the party from the court.
As a former member of APC National Working Committee, how does the recent state congresses make you feel?
I understand your question perfectly. It is quite comical, let me say that (Comrade Adams) Oshiomole was demonised, whereas the man who was secretary till he became governor, who piloted the affairs of the party with Oshiomole was rewarded with the headship of the illegal contraption called their technical committee Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee).
This is the result, 15 parallel chapters of the party in 15 states. For me, I have no comment to make, because my intention is to prove to the world that the (Governor Mai Mala) Committee is an illegal and unconstitutional contraption. So, I cannot say in one breath that they are illegal and begin to comment seriously on the activities of an illegal body.
What happened in Lagos State, whereas many as three rival factions emerged, made some people conclude that the sweeping away of the NWC was actually targeted at excluding a certain calibre of leaders…
Of course, that is the truth. The sweeping away of the NWC was targeted at Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. It is not a hidden fact. The thinking was all of us were working for Bola Tinubu but they have come to realise that first of all, it was not the truth that we were working for Tinubu and in any case, how did they determine, what was the thing that made them come to that conclusion. They are destroying the party and I am so downcast because we may not have this party in 2023.
Do you think fear of keeping to the promise of ceding power to the South in 2023 is behind the unfolding crisis?
It will be a monumental mistake if the party does not take the APC Presidential ticket to the South. You know there are people who have proffered different kinds of scenarios with regards to the presidential ticket.
For me, Nigeria has four divides and the leadership of today of which I am part of must be sensitive to the four divides and that is the only reason, for me, why we must still rotate this ticket until such a time when Nigeria is politically stable and democratically mature for us to say it may go to anywhere that we can find competent hands.
Good for Nigeria that there is no part where we cannot have competent hands. So, for me, it is a consideration in nation-building that this ticket should go to the South. Like I said earlier on, it will be a monumental mistake if we are to do otherwise.
People say that all the drama is about the lack of concrete agreement written in black and white during the merger process, do you think that lack of clarity of agreement is playing out now?
Before the merger of 2013, I was just a state chairman of the ACN I did not participate in the high-level merger talks. So, there are some things I cannot speak about because I do not have information about those things. But, normally, those kinds of things are never written down. They are always understood. I do not know if it was a mistake, I do not know if it was needed, I just think that the leadership core of Nigeria today found in APC should first of all look at the political health of Nigeria and not be too fastened to regional power quest. That is just my position.
Some of you whose tenures were truncated without compensation or recognising the sacrifice, with what is playing out in the party now, is it a feeling of regret?
It is heart-rending. A lot of people made a lot of sacrifices in 2013 and 2014. Those sacrifices have not been recognised and compensated for. I think that sometimes you need to make those sacrifices for nation-building, it was indeed a good thing for us to have come together to take the PDP out of government in 2015.
It was important for the sake of Nigeria. But, with the benefit of hindsight, I begin to wonder whether we are truly aware of the promises that we made to Nigeria, spoken or unspoken, whether the present core in the APC are conscious of the promises that we made to the Nigerian people. Spoken and unspoken, sometimes, it could be very heart-breaking.
Aspects of Southwest, Southeast, South/South divergence is looming in the party that some describe it as a clever trick to pitch Southwest against other regions in the South for the Presidential ticket so as to give a leeway for an 11th-hour manipulation that would throw up a North presidential candidate. Do you think there is a need to bring this to the table?
There are some who conduct themselves in such a way that you think completely that APC is the only party in Nigeria. The same Nigerians who took out the PDP in 2015, most of them are still here and we continue to behave as if what happened to PDP in 2015 cannot happen to us.
My plea to leaders of the party is to be careful about the way they treat Nigerians, because you may never be able to decide where Nigerians will go in 2023. We need to be careful. The question of South-south, South-west, politics is a game of interest and the Southeast, Southwest and South/South are all part of the country. And if they have aspirations to the Presidency, I see nothing wrong in it, but to attempt to use it to manipulate and plot a northern candidate in the 11th hour as you have said would be devastating to the fortunes of the party.
Everyone should remember that President Buhari, who happens to be a popular figure from the North in recent times, contested presidential elections three times. It took only the calibration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu for him to become President. So, I want to appeal very authoritatively that no region can get the Presidency on its own. And I think God made it so so that everybody will know that to get the Presidency, you will have to stretch your hands like Elijah, for handshakes and I believe that at the end of the day, Nigerians should look first at Nigeria as Nigeria before looking at the regions from where the President will come. Looking at Nigeria also is to recognise the fault lines rather than with scorn and derision.
Some time ago, the Southern Governors’ Forum met and said for the unity, stability, harmony of this country that the 2023 Presidency should be zoned to the South. Should there continue to be push and shove do you envisage Southwest shopping for another political platform?
Nothing is static in politics. Everything is dynamic. First of all, Akeredolu wears a lot of caps. He wears the cap of Chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum. He wears another cap as the governor of Ondo State, a very important state in the Southwest. Then, he wears the cap of the former NBA (Nigeria Bar Association) President. He wears a lot of caps.
So, when he makes opinions, we need to confirm which cap he is wearing at the time. He could speak as the chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum or speak as the governor of Ondo state, a very important state in the Southwest. But, one thing that is very clear is that the attempt to push Tinubu out of the party by some individuals will pose great danger for even the party.
Tinubu has been strategically very silent, despite all that has been done to his structure. He has kept a dignified silence and they continue to use incompetent people, who cannot even superintend over their states and keep on charging at him and doing the things they are doing to the party until it gets to a point where it will no more be tolerable.
And this is what they should understand. New political arrangements have always been part of politics worldwide. It is not restricted to Nigeria alone. They keep doing these things as if a point of breaking is not possible. It is possible. When they push it to a particular point, it will give way and what will happen will be of grave danger to even the existence of the party.
Have there been overtures or pressure for you to withdraw your case?
They enjoy the scorched-earth policy in the sense that, they have power, over everyone. Even if overtures are made, I am not the kind to withdraw a case that is predicated on justice and equity.
Do you worry about the possibility of undemocratic actions to impose a candidate on the party come 2023?
A lot of people have said a lot of terrible things about Nigeria both from the North and the South. I am not the kind of person to comment on stupid things that have been said of a country that I love so much. For me, I know that this rotation of presidential power is to help build one Nigeria until such a time that the one Nigeria is strong politically and democratically to withstand a President from anywhere we can find them within the confines of the country. So, we have to be careful of what we wish for.