Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The National Organising Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Emmanuel Ibediro, a lawyer, is one of the political leaders in Nigeria, having been a Local Government Area chairman, several times State Commissioner in Imo State and now a national officer of a ruling party.
Speaking to Sunday Sun in Abuja, Ibediro addressed many issues bedevilling APC, the sunshine side of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, the political tension ragging in his home state, Imo and the survival strategy APC will adopt after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari to remain relevant.
He equally spoke on the faith of the Southeast geopolitical zone in the clamour for presidency of Igbo extraction in 2023, warning that the APC will not prioritise zoning above the party constitution in the emergence of its presidential candidate for the 2023 election.
How deep has COVID-19 affected Nigerian politics?
I strongly believe that the current COVID-19 pandemic has really uttered the political, social and economic activities not only in Nigeria, but also globally. We also know that government, both at state and federal levels, had no choice than to introduce measures to keep citizens safe, control the pandemic and give out palliatives to cushion the effects of the virus. The catastrophic impacts of the lockdown have equally been very profound especially to the very vulnerable members of the society. It is more severe when you consider the fact that about 60 per cent of the population of the country are informal income earners. These are people that earn their living on a day-to-day basis and the moment they are not working, they are finding things difficult. These are parts of the impacts of the pandemic. Zeroing politically, it is a natural phenomenon that if people are on lockdown to check the spread of the pandemic, there is no way political activities can take place. Naturally, the pandemic has affected the political activities in the country.
Don’t forget that only recently due to the lockdown, INEC has suspended most of the supplementary elections earlier scheduled in some states including Imo, Bayelsa, and Plateau, among others, before the outbreak of the deadly virus. INEC said that the commission may not have to postpone the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, but it admitted studying the situation. I think we have to thank God that the COVID-19 pandemic did not happen by this time last year when we conducted the presidential and other elections. It would have been worse if we were caught in a web of constitutional crisis because of the virus. You can imagine what the country would have been if we could not conduct the presidential and other elections. Obviously, the impact of postponing the presidential and general elections last year would have been more severe than the postponement of this year’s staggered elections. For those still in doubt of the magnitude of impact of the pandemic on our political lives, who would have imagined a situation where the offices of the ruling party, APC, the opposition, PDP and other political parties are locked up at the national and state levels based on the effects.
By your calculations, do you see it also affecting the activities for the 2023 general elections?
It will be a very wild speculation to conclude that it may or may not affect the 2023 general elections at the moment. We can only presume that we overcome to pandemic and life returns to normalcy by the grace of God before the 2023 elections. It is still very far away.
Should Nigerians assume that permanent peace has returned to the APC fold or that it is a Coronavirus pandemic-imposed temporal peace?
I don’t need to remind you that we have been able to sort out ourselves in APC even before the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. I want to emphasise that whatever happened in the APC should be regarded as a family affair. I think the problem we had was the perspective of people looking at the crisis as a bottle from half empty or half full.
Many Nigerians will mistakenly conclude that political parties will be destroyed by any crisis even before finding the solution to it. For me, I did not see the APC crisis as strong enough to cause implosion in the party. In every big institution like the APC, there are bound to be misunderstanding which has been sorted out. Resolution of conflicts is part of politics, but it surprises me when people look at the crises in APC as insoluble and insurmountable. Crises are bound to happen within a big family, but they will naturally fizzle away with time. Good enough that in APC we have leadership that we respect regardless of the faction one belongs to. The president is a big factor in our party as our national leader. He is like a father intervening in his family crisis. When Mr President stepped into the crisis, it was resolved because nobody opposes him. People have right to express what they believe in and even raise voice, but our differences did not get to the extent of killing the party.
How confident are you that the crisis in Edo APC will not result in APC implosion?
I think people are taking the misunderstanding in Edo too far. There should be no special interest in Edo State. It is just a chapter of the party. If the crisis at national level should be sorted out, there will be no big deal about Edo State. Nobody should bother themselves over Edo because we will cross the bridge when we get to the river.
How certain are you that the crisis will not deny APC the Edo governorship seat after the election this year?
I don’t think the crisis will rob the APC of the seat in the state. I urge the members to be calm, avoid overheating the polity in Edo and wait to cross the bridge when we get to the river. I want to assure that at the appropriate time, the party will come together to sort itself out everywhere there appears to be crisis.
Do you support the speculation that there will be no APC after Buhari’s tenure?
I am very aware that President Buhari has urged party members to ensure that the party remains alive even after his tenure in office and I believe that all members of the party are strongly working towards that. There is no doubt that he has serious influence on the party considering the kind of person he is. His character, integrity has also been able to help the party a lot. Having helped the party get this far, I believe that he will also find a way to keep the party alive even after his tenure. I don’t think that the end of his tenure will negatively affect the party in any form. The party, on daily basis, has begun to assess and reassess where it has done well and will improve on that aspect. The fears in many quarters about the party crumbling after Buhari’s tenure is just part of human nature and the way we have found ourselves in Nigeria. People tend to believe the worst of every situation. We can only capitalise on his current influence to improve the party in future.
The problem we have in Africa politics and especially from people thinking that there is no other father figure in the APC outside President Buhari is the mistake of building an institution around an individual. Mr President has also suggested that we diffuse individual strength and concentrate more on building strong institution instead of strong individuals. I believe that the earlier all of us in this country de-emphasise strong individuals against strong institution the better for all of us. The president having realised this has insisted that we do things constitutionally for a better party and country. Granted that he is a father figure, but he is not imposing that father figure on anybody. Come 2023, the APC will as usual bank on institution not on any individual and it has always been so even before now. Party constitution has always been the number one reference point of our activities.
Can you confirm to Nigerians if there is zoning especially for the position of presidency in APC constitution and/or convention?
I think we should for now de-emphasise this obsession for 2023 especially now that all the political parties seem to be united in finding ways to curb the world health pandemic affecting this country. We should know that it is only when we survive the pandemic that we should start to talk about politics of 2023. However, responding to the question, I will tell you that the constitution of our party is very simple on the modalities for the emergence of candidates of the party. I can tell you that zoning is not the number one priority in APC constitution on the emergence of party candidates. The constitution stipulates among other things that the candidate must be a member of the party. We should also continue to de-emphasise ethnicity in our selection of political leaders in this country. We should rather go for the best person for the country. To nail the question, zoning is not stipulated in the constitution of the APC.
As an indigene of Imo State, what role did you play in the emergence of Hope Uzodinma as the governor of the state?
I am an APC member and a national officer from Imo State. So, whatever role the party played in his emergence as governor, I was part of it. He is my governor and of APC extraction and I feel very proud to say that I have no regret playing any role in his emergence.
There has been crossfire between Governor Uzodinma and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, as a political figure in Imo, what do you advise the two gladiators?
What is happening in Imo is expectedly a natural occurrence that will fizzle out with time. Although the PDP has no choice than to accept the Supreme Court judgment, they still naturally feel that it would not have been so. We have also seen the ripple effects of the judgment on the protests from both sides, but they are natural reactions from people who felt short-changed. The PDP should not forget that you don’t get everything you want in life especially when you don’t even deserve it. The final court in the land has given a judgment which was very sound. But the way people react to issues are not the same and it is expected that there must be ripple effects. The good thing is that the present government in Imo has not been overtaken by power, as to do things not expected of it. What they have done so far is in line with a government who wants unity and progress of the state at heart. We also know that Uzodinma got into office and adopted most of the policies of the past government, believing that government is a continuum. It is not also true that it has become difficult for an average Imo indigene to accept Uzodinma as their governor. That could only be someone’s belief or imagination. Many Imo people are very comfortable with the emergence of Uzodimma as governor of Imo State. I am not given to comparison on who will be better between Uzodinma and Ihedioha, but what I can say is that I am confident that he will make a good governor for the state judging by the way he started.
What should Southeast political leaders do to integrate into the mainstream Nigeria politics especially ahead of 2023?
I have always warned that you cannot play politics from outside, but inside. The Igbo political leaders must key into the mainstream politics in Nigeria whether in APC or the PDP. They cannot be an island unto themselves. We must play politics of cooperation and integration. That is the only way we can be close to where the national cake is shared. Let me use this opportunity to appeal to Nigerians to support the efforts of the federal and state governments in fighting the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. The virus has no political colouration. It does not treat members of the APC and any other party separately. The role we should play is to encourage ourselves and do whatever we can to put the pandemic behind us as soon as possible. We have to appreciate whatever government has given out as palliatives. We should not play politics with this pandemic especially the issue of spoilt rice which has become difficult on whom to believe hearing people claiming that the one they got is good while others claimed theirs was spoilt. But, it is not out of place for few bags to be spoilt out of the several bags given out. It is not enough to castigate the government and undermine the good efforts they are making to curb the spread of the virus.