ETTA: Proxy fight against Oshiomhole will destroy APC
• Zones Should Discipline, Replace Erring National Officials
Ntufam Hillard Etta, the national vice chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) for South/South, in this interview with LEO SOBECHI, says the Constitution should be adhered to in taking decisions.
What were the major thrusts of the resolutions at the recent meeting of the South-South caucus of APC?
There were just four things that were resolved. First of all, we resolved that we would set up high-powered committees to reconcile our people in Rivers, in Edo and Cross River States. The second thing was that we unanimously agreed that Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, the Deputy Senate President, becomes our political leader in the zone given that he is the highest-ranking political office-holder in the zone.
We also resolved to wash our dirty linens at home and not in the public so that people like you (journalists) will not be made very happy. You know when you wash dirty linens in the privacy of our home, the media will not be happy.
Then we unanimously agreed to stand by our National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who is from the South/South. Our stand is that if positions are allocated to geo-political zones in Nigeria and we find that these people have done things wrong, it is for the zones from which the people come to be made to understand the sins committed.
Also, the zone from where such people come should be the initiators of such removal. By putting these offices in the various zones, we are trying to live in peace with each other. So if you want us to change the man, because of his sins, first of all, come and lay his sins on the table and if we are convinced, we will give you a replacement.
You cannot stay in another zone and begin to tell us that you are the one that will take what was given to our zone and decide for us who will represent the zone in your own thinking. It was on that basis that we passed a vote of confidence on Comrade Adams Oshiomole.
You mean it is wrong for somebody to stay in Gusau and change somebody in Ogwashi-Ukwu…
You have got it and when it is time to change the one in Gusau, they will say ‘leave it for us, it is our own’. The people of Gusau cannot stay in Gusau and be changing their own and also change the one in Ogwashi-Ukwu, to use your analogy, so that is exactly our position in the South/South.
Is this your position subject to the ultimate whims and caprices of the Presidency?
The truth is people use the name of the President and the Presidency at every turn. You know our President is very taciturn and because of this people take advantage and use his name and the name of the Presidency. If the President wants something, he can reach me as the national vice-chairman, if he does not have he can call somebody to give him the number of the national vice-chairman, then I will take it. Nobody should come and tell me that he got information for me from the President. The President is the most powerful man, he gets what he wants within the limits of the law and getting my phone number is within the limit of the law.
Chairman, you will recognise that democracy is a game of numbers. Your jurisdiction appears to be deficient in the number of APC governors. This position that the South-South has taken, does it not amount to an affront to the stance of the Progressive Governors’ Forum?
There has never been any resolution of the Progressive Governors’ Forum to change the chairmanship of the party. You know the Progressive Governors’ Forum is a very critical stakeholder in the APC hierarchy or tapestry if you do not mind, but they have not met and have not resolved.
If there are some governors who think that the national chairman should be removed, I want to persuade them to do the needful. We are not saying the Constitution will be subservient to the whims of the people of the South-South, but we do not want to do things outside of the Constitution and allow you to ride roughshod on us.
We are all aware that there has been agitation to get the chairman out of his office. The Constitution provides for means and ways of achieving that. My plea is for people in a democratic process who agitate for things to conduct these agitations within the ambit of the law.
If for instance, our Constitution allows that if the chairman does not convene a National Executive Committee meeting, that two-third majority can stand up and convene the same, and we are about 120 something people. So if we can get about 86 people to sign up and we can confirm their signatures, you can call for a meeting and if you have 2/3 majority of the people of the National Executive Committee, you can also withdraw your support for the chairman and he will cease to be chairman but until that is done, the proxy fight will destroy our party. It is destroying our party.
But you cannot pretend that agitation or scheme for 2023 is not behind the crisis within your party structures?
In an under-developed political environment like our own, succession is a very tempting and controversial process, especially when you have the kind of false life and dichotomy we have in Nigeria. And you have our recent political history.
It could be very problematic and controversial; but I am saying that even if it is problematic and controversial, we should submit these successions under the law and subject them to the processes of the constitution. And you get your desired results; after all, it is enlightened self-interest that propels politicians in the political process.
If you can congregate and get the right number to get your enlightened self-interest through the law or a lawful process, nobody will quarrel with that. Of course, it is not rocket science that 2023 is what is driving all these agitations.
Do you factor in the fact that almost 60 per cent of those agitating for the removal of the National Chairman happens to be those antagonistic to the presumed presidential ambition of the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Tinubu?
I do not know how you came about the percentage. (Drawn from the northwest, north-central and southwest…). You cannot say that everybody in the Northwest is against the supposed aspiration of Asiwaju Tinubu.
You cannot also say that everybody in the Southwest is in support of his proposal. He is a national figure and people are bound to be in support of his supposed aspiration because as I speak with you now, I have not been briefed of his aspiration and he is not a stranger to me.
In fact, he is a political associate. My political history cannot be complete without mention of Asiwaju Tinubu. Even at that, nobody, not even Asiwaju himself, has briefed me of his aspiration for 2023. Even if one is antagonistic to Asiwaju’s aspiration, we all know that it is not the national chairman that will conduct it, if they look at our calendar, they will come to the realisation that it is not this National Executive Committee that will preside over it.
There and again how are we sure that all of us that started this journey will be present in 2023.
A lot of us would have disembarked on this journey of life and gone to the beyond before 2023, so even if you must plan, I am not saying that because our lives are not in our hands, that we should not plan, but we must not be so vicious that we forget that it is God Almighty that knows tomorrow.
Does it worry you that the party has not come out categorically to speak on power shift?
Let me say that it gets to a point in the life of a nation that some things become very important and some things lose their importance. I believe that Nigeria has got to the point where we should pay less attention to zoning.
I told you earlier that the South-South must resolve its own, but I will also say that going forward, there are some things that we must pay more attention to. There are some things that we must pay less attention to, like in which city or zone does the presidential material come from.
We must pay more attention to capacity, vision, love and to courage. These are the things we must pay greater attention to. So for me, I am one of those that should not be bothered about where our presidential candidate comes from. The only thing I bother about is if he has the capacity, the vision, the courage, love, and understanding of the issues.
At the end of the day, what do you think of this so-called dichotomy between President Buhari, the Presidency and the management of APC?
Every Nigerian President is very powerful, given our constitution and I will not sit down and say that the party is so independent that the President cannot influence it. I will not be correct if I say so, but this President has shown that in his personal conduct and in his political desires and aspirations, he has shown that he will allow institutions to work, make mistakes and grow. He has not interfered as much like other Presidents since 1999 that have interfered in the running of their political parties.
He has allowed APC to make its mistakes and run the party and grow. Even though I will say that much of the agitation is disruptive, but agitation for good governance for best practices within the party is in order for us to grow.
As an experienced politician, if you recall in 2008, late President Umar Yar’Adua had to come out forcefully to warn those campaigning for his second term to desist. Do you think that as of today, that the Presidency has come out with such force and voice to condemn all the distracting talks about 2023?
He is not contesting any election. Yar’Adua was talking about himself so that he will not be distracted. This President is not distracted, because he is not contesting for any election. For those agitating that the President should contest in 2023 like one gentleman that I read about from Ebonyi State, I think he should have a re-think, not only should we expel such a man from our party, I think he should be subjected to psycho-analytic evaluation. The President has vehemently stated his case and told us, in fact, he jokingly said, even though the opposition twisted it the way they liked, but I think he jokingly said that he could afford to be carefree because he knows he is not contesting any election.
But within your South/South area, what do you make of the challenge posed by the catfight in Edo State?
Of course, it is worrisome and that is why we resolved to set up a committee. The committee is to go and beg our brothers to come together to forge ahead in unity and in harmony. It has nothing to do with who is wrong and who is not wrong.
We are in a human organisation and in any human organisation, there is bound to be misunderstanding and acrimony. Even in a nuclear family not to talk of an organisation that constitutes people from different backgrounds and cultures. I am a peacemaker. I believe that development can come much quicker in an environment of peace and not in an environment of consensus. They are two different things.
I also believe that one of the tenets of politics is the ability to resolve conflict. So I believe that, as a good political institution, you must always have the ability to resolve the crisis. The crisis in Edo, Cross-River and Rivers is not beyond our party.