Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Former National Organising Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Osita Izunaso, is one person that can be rightly described as a jack of all trades and master of all.
Having excelled as the Chief Press Secretary to the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly, with the rare privilege of being elected to serve at both chambers in addition to serving as national officer of political parties, he is surely one person who knows where the bones of Nigeria politics are buried.
Senator Izunaso, in this interview with Sunday Sun, explained why he temporarily dumbed the APC to contest the 2019 general elections under APGA platform. He suggested that the Southeast geopolitical zone must adopt intense lobbying to get their desired political positions in the 2023 general elections.
You left APC to contest election in APGA last year, which party do you now belong?
I have since returned to the APC. I have left APGA for a very long time now. I returned to the APC precisely since last year. The ruling party hierarchy including the National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, are aware that I am back in the APC. Everybody including my ward and my state know that I am in the APC. The party I belong to now ought not to be a subject of controversy at all. I am back to the house we built which I only stepped aside because we were angered by some characters like Rochas Okorocha. I returned to our party after taking that short exit.
What about Rochas being angry with you, feeling that you betrayed him?
No, Rochas cannot say that I betrayed him or he is angry with me. I don’t want to go personal in my relationship with Rochas because it will be a story for another day when I will chronicle what happened. I still have an untold story about Rochas, but we are now trying to reunite ourselves under the same umbrella in Imo State APC. What is incontrovertible, however, is that there was no party primary for the senatorial seat in my zone. And even those of us that wanted to contest, the party removed our names and those were among the things that angered us to leave the party.
Have you forgiven Rochas?
The situation we are now is not about I forgiving Rochas. Whatever happens in politics is for people to learn their lessons. If he has opportunity, will he still behave the same way he did in the past? By the time we start dialoguing as an APC family in Imo, we will resolve almost all our differences. I expect the governor to start the reconciliation and healing process to bring everybody under one umbrella.
After holding the exalted position as APC NWC member, how do you feel returning to the party as an ordinary member?
The question you would have asked is how many people out of millions of APC members will hold executive positions. The numbers occupying executive position are very insignificantly few. I am not an ordinary member, but a bonafide member of the party entitled to all the rights and privileges in the party. More importantly, there is nothing like ordinary member in APC Constitution. All members are equal and have equal opportunities. So, I am comfortable being a member of the party. Don’t forget that we formed and built the party. There is nothing about the APC from its formative stage till today that I don’t know. My return to the APC is like coming back to our house, the house we built and I cannot be an ordinary member in a house that I built. Did you not notice that even those that joined the party few months ago are holding big positions?
Do you intend to continue the legal action you instituted against the party’s National Organising Secretary, Emma Ibediro, now that you have returned to the APC?
Well, although the case is still in court, we are already working on some consensus. We are working on out of court settlement in a family manner. But as I said the case is still in court for now and if we strike an agreement, we will inform the court accordingly.
What will you miss most now that you are no longer the APC National Organising Secretary?
I won’t miss anything because even as the party’s Organising Secretary then, I never worked alone. We worked as a team in the National Working Committee (NWC) led by Chief Odigie-Oyegun, a perfect gentleman, in contributing to the successes we recorded then. I see it as an opportunity to offer services while I was occupying the position. I am a result oriented person who believes in tangibility. I don’t pontificate, but I believe in being responsive and result oriented which has been my nature.
Did you entertain any fear that the crisis that rocked the APC recently will break up the party?
APC has become a party that come out even stronger whenever people think that a crisis will break up the party. I never felt that the crisis that rocked the party before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic would have broken up APC. However, I am happy that it has been settled amicably, but you should know that a political party is not like a church where everybody obeys the spiritual leader without questioning. It is not the same in a political party where everybody must express their views. It is the divergent of the opinions among the members that made APC a political party. What happened in APC before the COVID-19 was one of those indispensable things in a political party. APC will be stronger, more solid and focused to resolve their differences. We are good crisis managers even if we do so at the last point. Some would think it very surprising that APC governors also went against the National Chairman, but it is part of the democratic processes that aggrieved persons vent their anger. The good thing, however, is that the matter was resolved amicably. This is what made the APC a special bred of party because if it were to be other political parties that the crisis stretched like that they would have broken up.
As someone who knows the party inside out, can you confirm to Nigerians if there is zoning in APC?
There is no zoning enshrined in APC constitution, but we have zoning based on gentleman agreement or convention. It stipulated that certain positions should be zoned to certain ethnic nationality. The constitution specified that all parts of the country should be treated equitably. This means that every zone should benefit from the positions available in the party. Interestingly, there is no zone that has not benefitted from the positions in the party. That is why we have the National Chairman of the APC from the South, Deputy National chairman North, Deputy National chairman South, National Secretary from the North, Legal Adviser from the South, among other positions equitably distributed in a manner that everybody will be part and parcel of the APC family.
If that is so, why are there so much controversies about Igbo presidency in 2023?
I don’t think there is any controversy about anything yet; 2023 is still very far. The second term of Mr President is just barely one year. What we have now are people with interest positioning themselves, which is a normal phenomenon in politics. It is not yet time to openly declare interest to run presidency under APC canopy and when it is time, APC will deploy resolution mechanism to decide the zoning arrangement. We will look at those that have benefitted and those that have not benefitted before taking final decision. We will also look at the chances and capability of the person or zone winning the election, which is the most important consideration in a contest.
As a staunch chieftain of APC in the Southeast, will you support Igbo presidency in 2023?
Instead of pre-empting me, why don’t we wait until the time to decide that comes? If you recall that in 2015 presidential election, APC threw its door open to every aspirant to contest, resulting in about six persons contesting for the APC presidential ticket. However, in this case, we must wait to see what the party will come up with because I know that it will come up with something. APC is a very organised party that people should not underrate. Again, we are at a fix for now because COVID-19 has eclipsed everything about politics. I will announce my position about zoning the presidency in 2023 when the time comes. I don’t want to waste my advice now when attention is divided and distracted.
Do you also entertain fears that APC will crumble after Bugari’s tenure?
I don’t need to tell you that APC will not crumble after Buhari’s tenure in 2023. Those harbouring such thought are the ones struggling for power. Buhari as our president today is a product of a very credible electoral party primary process. The process that brought him was an embodiment of very fair internal democratic process which took place in Lagos. He did not impose himself on party members and vice-versa. Don’t forget that as beneficiary, he will still be there to superintend affairs when the time comes. He will not allow APC to crumble after his tenure. As a fair minded person, he will ensure that APC conducts proper primary to guarantee that whosoever emerges will be acceptable.
Is there anything that can force you out of APC again?
I never left APC in the real sense of it. I only went to contest election and returned. How can I leave the APC when all my people are still there? Even when people thought that I have left the APC, I was still there. If you are referring to the possibility of leaving APC because 2023 elections, I will say that I am not thinking of anything for now because it is still very far. For me and my supporters, we are back to the house we built and we are working hard to mobilise the party from the ward to the state.
What role did you play in the emergence of Hope Uzodinma as governor of Imo State?
What role could anybody have played when the Supreme Court gave final judgment to our party after the election litigations? It is our victory and we are happy about it. The situation was not the type anybody could claim to have played this or that role especially in a matter that ended in the court. Unless one wants to claim that someone influenced the court judgment. We are not only happy about the judgment, but also enjoying the government. People may or may not like the judgment, but there is nothing anybody can do again because they don’t have any choice again. But we should not loss the sight of the fact that Imo is basically an APC state; forget about the internal wrangling that divided us. I know that all the APC members in Imo State will reunite again to work as one indivisible entity. We should not only make the APC strong in Imo, but also in the entire Southeast. The zone stands to gain a lot if APC becomes strong in Southeast because that is the best way to lobby for any positions available in the party and government that the zone so desire.
Has your governor, Uzodinma, impressed you so far?
I will say so far so good because I don’t have any worry yet. I will rather approach him as a friend, party member to express any reservation if I have any. I have never been a praise singer and I will complain if he is not doing well and commend him where he is doing.
How has COVID-19 affected Nigeria politics?
I will say that the pandemic took the whole world by storm. They are not prepared for it and nobody expected that it will be this devastating and far-reaching. Apart from keeping everybody at home now for weeks, the pandemic has affected all politically, socially, religiously, economically, and only God knows when the situation will normalise. There has been no serious political activity in the country since the index case was reported. Efforts are rather concentrated on how to come out of the pandemic. Yes, we have staggered election in Edo and Ondo states and INEC has even released timetable for them, but everybody has to be sensitive to the situation because we have to be alive before playing politics. For now, politics in the country is at low ebb. We are concentrating every effort to give out palliatives to the physically challenged through my NGO, the Kpakpando Foundation. What we have done was to reach out to these disables under our umbrella across the country. We have done that in Imo, FCT, among others. We did not go into celebrating it in the media. We have extended both cash and materials directly to them at their homes at various localities. They have been appreciative and we are still going to do more because we noticed that persons living with disabilities are ignored in the distribution of palliatives. We forgot that they are vulnerable even before the pandemic. Many of them don’t even know what is happening. What we should do is to get a database of disabled persons in the country. We have over 25 million of them in Nigeria and the number will continue to increase because the factors of disability are still with us. It has become more auspicious more than ever before for Mr President to establish the National Commission for Persons with Disability. Over a year ago, Mr President had assented into law the Disability Rights Bill from the National Assembly, but the most important aspect of that Act is the establishment of that Commission. We also commend him for appointing the Minister of Humanitarian Services which domiciled the Act, but we appeal for the establishment of the Commission, which would have taken up the responsibility of reaching out to the disables. There are also international donors that might want to deal directly with an agency of government. We have to also set up a trust fund for persons with disabilities.
What is your take on appointment of Gambari as Bihari’s Chief of Staff?
I am happy with the appointment because it is what Americans will call buy one, get one free. Prof Gambari is an erudite scholar and an international diplomat. Nothing could have been better than his appointment because he is a global citizen. I am sure that Nigeria political actors will have much respect for him. He is not a character that people will disrespect, but we appeal that he brings to bear those qualities that made Mr President appoint him. Nigerians expect so much from him as a Chief of Staff, especially in this period. I expect him to be a Nigerian not Kwara man in the discharge of his responsibilities.