“It was a charade. Even when we dig further they said that the Juliet Ibekaku that was presented, it was the Deputy Senate President that influenced it.”
Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
The Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Osita Okechukwu, is not happy with the way and manner his party handled its primaries.
In this chat, the senatorial aspirant in Enugu State claimed that the primaries that were conducted in his state were defective, leading to him being shortchanged. Aside that, he accused the Osunbor-led Appeal Panel of insincerity and aggravating the already bad situation. On the presidential election , the politician warned the Southeast that it will be tantamount to boarding a ‘one chance’ bus if they vote for PDP in 2019.
Is the huge dust raised by the primaries of your party across the country not an indication that it is not leading by example?
Let me start by saying that it is not unusual in a big market to have bigger noise. The good luck APC has is that the presidential candidate of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari is not being contested by any of the tendencies. That is the golden armour that we are going to battle with is that in all the states of the federation where the different tendencies exist everybody is in support of President Buhari. Everybody believes that it is in the interest of the country that he wins a second tenure. So, for that the crisis might not be as deep as a lot of people are thinking.
If it is not that deep as you claim, why are some chieftains threatening to dump the party?
Even those who are leaving the party know that President Buhari remains their best choice. I know of Captain Orji who was shortchanged in Enugu, he ran for Oji River/Awgu/ Aninri Federal Constituency and actually won, but he was shortchanged. He has gone to APGA. But his leaving APC for APGA does not mean that the man I know is not for President Buhari. Wherever they are, they will vote for President Buhari.
The Appeal Panel seems not to have met the expectation of aggrieved contestants, is the impression correct?
On the issue of the Appeal Panel headed by Prof Osunbor, I was highly embarrassed the way it handled its assignment. I was embarrassed that it was only one panel that was set up for the multi-faceted crises across the country. Secondly, to the best of my knowledge the Appeal Panel never met. I submitted my own petition to the party secretariat. I also went to Prof Osunbor whom I have great respect for, I gave him the petition. We kept on talking on a daily basis. Even when I was traveling home for the marriage of my daughter I sought his permission, I told him that if he needs me I can fly back to Abuja from Enugu. For over a week I was never invited to face the panel. I asked other people who petitioned, nobody said he was met by the panel. It is a big embarrassment. Under the constitution of APC, it provided for the job of the panel. When our kangaroo result was announced at Nike Lake Resort on Friday October 5, my supporters wanted to engage in fisticuffs, I was the one that called them to order. I told them that the constitution of the APC has a proviso for an appeal panel. And immediately the Appeal Panel was set up we sent in our petitions. But to my surprise, the Appeal Panel never met. It is one of those culture of impunity that we have been running away from. I did not know that Comrade Oshiomhole, somebody I have great respect for, would constitute a panel and it will not meet. Unless if there is an agenda to sideline some of us. But I have asked a lot of petitioners and nobody said that they sat anywhere.
Have you informed Oshiomhole about the development?
I have made my position public through the media. I have also made it known to officials of the party.
Why did you use the work kangaroo to describe the primaries held in your district, is it because you were defeated?
No, it is not because I didn’t win. The NWC of the party that derives its authority from the NEC of APC held a meeting and wrote letters to the chapters. They asked, do you want direct or indirect primaries or consensus as stated in the constitution of the APC? The leadership of Enugu State chapter agreed on indirect primaries. It started with the governorship on October 1. After some issues, which is normal in primaries, the panel headed by Prof Momoh started calling the local government areas in alphabetical order. In finishing with delegates in four LGAs a call came from the Comrade Chairman. He even asked of me and sought to know how the whole thing was going, I told him it was going on well. He told me that the panel said everything was going well, but that he heard that it is not going well. I asked if he would like to talk with the Commissioner of Police who was there with us, he said no. I asked if he would like to speak with the Director of DSS, he said no. After an hour, the officers conducting the primaries announced that they were closing down, I asked why. They said it is the order from above. We asked them to please count the votes already cast so that we don’t start the next morning with it. They counted the votes. Our governorship candidate had about 475, the runners-up 153. We closed down with that. The next morning we got a directive that it must be direct primaries. We started working along that line. The senatorial and Federal House that was supposed to take place that day was shifted to Wednesday, governorship to Thursday. We complied. When everything was finished eventually and we collated our results, the results were not announced for days.
Are you saying that the entire primaries conducted in Enugu lacked credibility?
It was a charade. Even when we dig further they said that the Juliet Ibekaku that was presented, it was the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu that influenced it. He said it mustn’t be Osita, that anybody was permissible. He is looking for a weaker candidate.
Is Ekweremadu determining what happens in your party?
You know when a panel that was set up did not keep straight, a lot of speculation had to take center stage. Even in my petition I requested the Appeal Panel to screen the call log between October 1 when the eight-man panel arrived Enugu and the time they left. I challenge the authorities to call for the call log of members of the panel, especially the chairman.
You suspected he worked for who?
A lot of speculation on why they did not keep straight. That is what I am saying. I was even disappointed with our governorship candidate, Senator Ayogu Eze. When I asked him if he was aware of the manipulation, he said it was two days before the result was released that he got wind of it. I said so you were aware that the result was being manipulated and you kept quiet, is that how you want to be governor. The irony is that Ayogu has not stayed up to three months in the party till date.
Enugu State chapter of the APC has been in crisis, is it likely that the reconciliation that was said to has been brokered was a ruse?
What you should know is that there is a general culture of impunity and imposition. What caused it in one state, or constituency might not be what caused it in another. You can imagine, if not that we are lucky that Mr President was not affected. The party could have been in a big mess.
Are you saying the leadership of the party at the national level didn’t do its homework very well?
Comrade Oshiomhole that I know, my little assessment of what happened to him is that he was like coming into the office with a blackboard. Anything that the previous Chief John Oyegun did, he placed it on a blackboard and thought he had a white handkerchief on the other hand which was a big mistake because it was the same congresses that Oyegun conducted in 2014 that gave us the edge and it was the same platform that produced him as the current chairman. I think he came with a very wrong mindset. Either he felt he wants to clear the Augean stable when there is none or any other reason. He now entered the party into big crisis as we go for 2019 general elections. But the only saviour is that Mr President is on safe bath.
Do you think Mr President is doing something to resolve these problems?
Mr President is a person that believes sincerely that the party leadership should be capable enough to handle the matters of the party. He doesn’t want to be accused of interfering in the running of the party. Things can still be resolved, there is a window for substitution. After submission, going by the Electoral Act, there is a window for substitution.
The state chapter of your party before now has been in court. Do you see this development leading to possibly aggrieved members going back to court?
Personally, I will go to court if my matter is not resolved. I have followed the democratic process and rules set out by the party. I followed the process by buying forms, getting into the election, appealed our grievances. That is internal mechanisms of the party. So, what is the other democratic handgun that I have, it is the court. I am going to go to court if at the end of today my name is not submitted and some of those that we built the party with over the years that were trying to be shortchanged, then we head for the courts; but we would not allow our supporters to resort to violence.
There are accusations that you and some members have sympathy for the Enugu State governor. Is this true?
We have a governor who is friendly with almost everybody in the state. I’m not the only one he is friendly with. Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is friendly with everybody in the state. He has no boundaries. The road he awarded in my town, he told the Minister of Foreign Affairs to nominate the contractor. The Juliet Ibekaku they imposed on us, he has been very kind to her. He granted her request for an autonomous community in her village. My relationship with the governor is based on three matters. One of my agenda is to revert to Enugu coal, which Mr President agrees with me and when it was becoming difficult, I was advised to meet with the governor to do a letter to Mr President. He did that. Then there was a bid for water scheme for one per geopolitical zone and my friend happened to be the Minister of Water Resources and when I met him, he said if your governor would do this and that. I had to meet the governor to get that and then he is a beneficiary of the $15 million scheme. Will I because I’m in APC deny my people such project. When people talk about this; I remind them that in 1981, 39 years ago, as a student at University of Nigeria, we were in the NPP students wing. We were mobilized to go to Nanka to protest the award of a road by the late Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme of blessed memory. The then agitation was that it was a state road and Federal Government should not do it. So, we as students went there to protest. So, if I protested and that road wasn’t completed and I knew the consequences of stopping that road, 39 years after, if I find that there is a cassava farm between the governor and the anchor…programme that I’m doing for my state I will gladly do it. Will I because I am in APC not talk to the governor of the state again? Four programmes – the Enugu water scheme, revamping of Enugu coal, the cassava plant, integrated farm and the rice farm that would be located at Aninri where Ekweremadu comes from, these are four programmes. I cannot do any of them without a liaison with the Enugu State government.
Don’t you think that mishandling the fallout of APC primaries may take a toll on your party in the general election?
No, it won’t take a toll because the president is popular and has a strong reason he should be re-elected. In the East, we have enough reasons to vote for him next year. For instance, we are chasing the Eastern corridor rail line that would pass from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri and Mr President in a meeting had agreed that it must be done. He said it was going to pass through Enugu, it’s going to get to Abakiliki, Awka, Owerri; it’s going to get to Maiduguri. It is covering 18 states. Before December it will have traction. The Enugu coal before December from all indications will have traction. The water scheme would soon be advertised, that is the 50 million Enugu Water Scheme.
Are you recanting your comments that Southeast support of Atiku and Obi is tantamount to boarding a one-chance bus?
I insist on that. I am telling my Igbo people that the Economic philosophy of a hardworking group, an industrial group is how do we get infrastructure, critical infrastructure and that is what the 5,000 kilometers of federal roads Mr President has in his plan in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). The 5,000 kilometers of standard gauge rail line, not the old gauge; experiment is between Lagos and Ibadan that would soon be completed. Additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity, 3,000 has started with the Mambila project and by the time it is completed, it’s going to produce 3,000 megawatts. If we get the Enugu coal, it is designed to produce 1,000 megawatts. Then they makeup the 5,000 additional megawatts Mr President is pursuing from renewable energy. These projects can’t finish in 2019, but if you re-elect President Muhammadu Buhari, before 2023, it’s finished. Do you know that Mr President has a gas plan in Igbo land and other parts of the country, whereby industrial groups can hook up gas directly so that the cost of production process in Nigeria would be very low. His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, I have tremendous respect for him. I also have great respect for our brother, His Excellency Mr Peter Obi. I was in school with him, very close, but what I am saying is that what they are bringing to the table is a one-chance bus. Atiku said he would restructure in six months, I said it’s not possible, that is a one-chance bus.