• Promises to bring fresh ideas to party
Former Cross River state governor, Chief Clement Ebri and frontline aspirant to the seat of national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in the forthcoming national convention of the party has picked holes in the evolving culture of endorsements of aspirants, describing it as alien to Nigeria’s political culture. The former national chairman of the Progressive Peoples’ Alliance, PPA told Sunday Sun in Abuja that a wrong choice of candidate would create divisions and destroy the party ahead of the 2019 General Elections. He speaks more on his aspiration and chances among other national issues. Excerpts.
The race towards the 2019 general elections is hotting up. What do you see in the race and the elections proper?
In 2019, I expect a very robust electoral contest. There are a lot of desperadoes who will leave nothing unturned to make sure that their impact is felt in the elections. I see a very competitive election. My prayer is that people should not resort to self- help, generate crisis and engage in killings and other wicked acts that are likely to destabilize the country. So as long as they pursue their political ambition with decorum and wisdom, there will be no problem. It will produce a winner that will be generally accepted and who will be deemed to have won fairly rather than by foul means. I also know that the president has said several times that there is going to be a level playing field for all which inevitably will lead to peace, progress and tranquility. For me, I expect a very serious battle. In fact the months to come will showcase what to expect in 2019. There will be an upsurge in political activities which will define the 2019 elections.
From all indications, the elections will be fought on a tripod. You have the ruling APC, the PDP and what has come to be known all over as the Third Force. How do you think the game will play out on these fronts?
I belong to the APC and I believe the party is in pole position to win the elections. No doubt, there is a lot of opposition from the other camps, but the fact that they are struggling to have an understanding with the other parties, whether through alliance or coalition is a clear indication that they are weak. Before now, the PDP was saying they will rule for 60 years. But today they are talking about going into alliance with other political parties’ .As long as they do it legally and constitutionally, I have no problem with that. On our part, the party is positioning and is poised to get a chairman that will reinvigorate it and put it on the path of victory. By thinking of fusing together with other parties and creating alliances now shows that the PDP is shortsighted and is only beginning to see what the APC saw several years ago.
There are many views that hold that the APC has under- performed. What do you say to that?
I will answer that with the parable of the blind men and the elephant where each one of them describes the shape from the perspective of where he touched. One says it is round, the other says it’s long, and yet the other one says it is oblong. There is no government you look at and say it is all okay. It depends on where you are coming from and your persuasions. My feeling is that when people are in opposition they get blinded to the good performance of the government in power and will not want to give it credit for any reason. The current government of President Buhari is doing well and that is not to say there is no room for improvement. He has only been in power for less than four years and you can see significant things on ground. It is unrealistic to expect that everything will be solved in three years. For 16 years, this country was in the hands of the PDP and what did the country get in bargain? Conflicts and retarded progress. At that time, oil was going for $100 per barrel. What did they do with the boom? Every government exists to solve problems and advance the interest of the people and the country. Did they do that? This is not the case today. At a point oil was going for $28 dollars and yet you can see what this government has been able to achieve with it. Again, it is a new government. It took quite some time for it to grapple with the dire situation it met on ground before it began to move towards a steady path of progress. I think we should give it some time. This is even the more reason some people are clamouring for a second term in office for the president so that he can take time to completely overhaul the country. Things are not deteriorating .Unemployment ratio that they are talking about has been there for a long time and it has not increased under this government. Definitely not. Those problems that have been difficult to deal with are being reduced.
How about the relentless orgy of bloodletting in the country?
That is very unfortunate. Since this Boko Haram insurgency started around 2009 and then we got into the militancy scourge in the South -south, we have been really worried. We need peace for progress to take place. We need peace everywhere, in the school, within the family setting and if peace continues to elude us at this rate then we really have a serious problem on our hands. President Buhari has done his best to curtail this evil especially in the North-east where Boko Haram had occupied some local governments in the past. Today, no piece of land in Nigeria is in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists. There is however some isolated prevalence of this insurgency. Sometimes when you think it is all over you have some attacks. In Benue, it is one of the areas where we even have an air force base. What are they doing about improved aerial surveillance? The latest killing of Reverend fathers and their parishioners is most shocking. Is it not possible to have stationed equipment around that area to detect some of these things a forehand? Essentially, the government cannot afford to neglect a complete review of the security architecture and stop this mindless bloodletting. Look at what is going on in Zamfara, Abuja – Kaduna road; people are being kidnapped frequently. It is quite worrisome. Is it unemployment that is causing it? What is it? I think this thing goes beyond unemployment. It appears that people are really out to hurt this government and I believe it is time for the president to turn attention towards finding out the people behind all this. I believe they are fifth columnists. What I don’t understand is what they are after. Are they trying to rubbish this government? Are they trying to destroy this nation? What are they after? Once that is done, I believe it will be possible to identify these criminal elements and ensure that they are wiped out.
Whether they are fifth columnists or not, the general contention is that this government should have the capacity to provide security for the people, which is one of the tripods on which it came to power. Why is it not happening?
You can see that the president recently made a request for $1billion to be able to tackle this problem. Anyone, or institution that stands on the way of the government in its bid to tackle this security challenge headlong, I will see the person as being unfair to this government. Here is an emergency situation and we are hearing about some calls for impeachment because some monies were paid out to procure some war aircraft. The noise being made about it is unjustifiable. Section 5 of the constitution empowers the president to spend money under emergency situation to maintain the peace and stability of the nation and face the consequences if any. I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the National Assembly members to please understand that there are certain exigencies where the chief executive would have no option but to spend outside appropriation and later make it up through supplementary budget proposals. As a young man, when I left school to get a job with Nigerian Chronicle, I was employed by the management of the company before it was presented to the Board for ratification. The Board queried the rationale behind employing me and two other people and the management explained that when they interviewed us, they found out that we were very good and a few other rival companies were looking for us and that if they had not issued letters of employment to us , other people would have snatched us. He had to do that to keep us away from those people and later bring it to the Board for ratification. Things like that happen most times and those involved should show understanding. Anything legally possible to make this government prevail against the insurgents should be allowed. In this particular case, there was a deadline for payment. And even after payment, it takes about three to fouryears for delivery. So it was not wise to miss the opportunity. It should also be remembered that before now,, the American government was not disposed to giving us this level of cooperation in arms purchase. What we should pray is that those equipment should come in as fast as possible so that we can put this security challenge behind us.
In the race for the National chairmanship of your party, your name has popped up a number of times as frontline aspirant, but somehow it has been subsumed with the candidature of former Edo state governor, Adams Oshiomhole. With the new turn of things, do you think you still have a chance?
It has been alleged that the president endorsed him. The president has not told anybody he endorsed him. The president is a democrat. Those who are making the insinuations are doing so on their own. Even Governor Ganduje who has been in the forefront of that said it within a particular circumstance and context. They did not say that they had foreclosed other possible contenders to the seat. The president is the father of all and he would like to put his best foot forward. It is presumptuous to say that there will be no room to even accommodate or assess other people for the position. The president has not endorsed anyone when he has not assessed others. He may have mentioned it informally to someone and it was taken out of context. The forms have not even come out. At the end of the day, you may see that up to 10 aspirants or more may emerge and it is left for members of the party to make their choice. What is happening is hearsay and those who are championing it cannot even prove it. In a democracy, people are not shut out like that. The campaigns for the aspirant you just mentioned cannot be an emphatic shut out for others who are interested.
Are you saying that the politicking and horse-trading is like putting the cart before the horse?
Like I said earlier, this is mere hearsay. Nobody has come out to categorically say the president has anointed a particular aspirant. The processes will continue until a final winner emerges. Statements pertaining to this had been taken out of context. I am not the only aspirant. The party is well honed in democratic aspirations and models. I am hopeful that at the appropriate time, the president will know that there are quite a number of aspirants who can even do the job better.
What are you bringing into the race?
Our party is in dire need of a new direction. I don’t want to use this as a campaign tool but I am bringing on board fresh ideas that will propel it to victory. I am going to be a poster – boy of excellence for the party. The party needs a detribalized man to lead it. I am one person who stands on principle. We are going to be accommodating, creative and focused on the collective goals of the party and not one who will be a bully and use underhand tactics. We will show understanding to the aspirations and wishes of our members. We will call a spade a spade, call black, black. Not that we will say something is black and the next day we will say it is red. We have a clean record of service. Nobody can come and say I did this or that. That is I put that as my policy in all the public offices I have occupied. Why; I keep saying that I am a true son of my dad. My dad always told me to always draw a distinct line between public funds and private funds. And this is what I had done in all the public offices I had occupied in the past. For those who know me or have encountered a bit of me, I am going to tell you that I will not change. I am going to be my old self, down to earth; believes in inclusion, does not discriminate, absolutely detribalized a team player who holds nothing against anyone. I am not someone you will put somewhere and after a few months he begins to go after you. Honestly, that thread is not in me.
Given the unique way politics is played in Nigeria, do you give yourself a chance?
I want to say this is not a do or die thing. I am one person who does not want to be part of the problem of anybody or group I belong. I play politics with the spirit of sportsmanship in me; try to do things the right way, consult as much as possible. But if at the end of the day some other person is preferred, I will give him 100 per cent support. I will not be disappointed because I always believe that whatever will be, will be. I pray to God that if this thing is for me let it be, and if it is not for me, no problem. I have had situations in the past where I felt bad that I missed something, but I later realized that it would have consumed me if I got it. I always abide with the words of Winston Churchill who said that “Success consists of failure without losing enthusiasm no matter what; as long as the enthusiasm is there, you continue to forge ahead. Abraham Lincoln struggled until he became president from 1861–1865. He ran into several problems and at some point he even had nervous breakdown. He decided to go to the Senate. He failed. He even tried to be an elector, just a delegate and lost. But in 1868 he became president. This is a story of perseverance. I am one person who can persevere in the face of adversity without showing it. I don’t show desperation,. If something doesn’t work, I move on. All I want is an APC that will be rancor free, because if you allow divisions to continue, that will be the end of the party, especially when other parties are trying to come together to face us. If you divide APC, there will be problem. That is why we need a personality who will not divide the party. Any division will create a problem for APC and that should be of paramount concern.
Have you been endorsed by the governors who from all indications are holding the ace?
No, I don’t think endorsement is part of it. Like I said, the president has not come out to say he endorsed anybody. It is hearsay. Endorsement is one new thing that has come into politics, like in my state now, it has taken an upsurge. It is something we see in the US, but I don’t think it is something that will happen in the system that we have now. No governor that you visit will come out to say I endorse you and perhaps, at the end of the day you claim that 12 governors have endorsed you. It is alien to our political culture. After the claim of the presidential endorsement, how many governors followed suit? I think that what is happening now is that after what was believed to be an endorsement of a particular candidate, they are all taking a deep breath and are making their calculations. Maybe as a group, they may go back to the president again and say this is what you said; this is what is on ground. That is where we are. Things are still unfolding and no one can wrap up an event before it begins.
As a former governor and national party chairman, what do you consider as the most challenging task?
There had been several other top positions in my life. Even before I became governor, I was director of banks; I was a director of Mercantile Bank when the Federal Government had controlling shares in it. I was also the chairman of the Committee for the Review of the 1999 Constitution; I have been chairman of task forces and many other organizations. Most of them were arduous assignments which stretched me to the limits and brought out the best in me. I would say that my assignment as governor was most challenging. Running a state that was more of a civil service state was not a walk in the garden. It was quite challenging and you can see that after me, people who worked with me are still with me. Donald Duke was my commissioner, Lyell Imhoke , I sent him to the Senate, Florence Ita- Giwa went to the House of Representatives, the current deputy governor of the state was my Commissioner for Agriculture, The chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, was my Personal Assistant, and so on. For some reason, I was able to develop a new generation of people and that is why they say that you cannot be said to be successful unless your generation succeeds. To that extent, I have left a strong legacy.