From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
His name rings bell for both positive and negative reasons especially in his home state Akwa-Ibom where he has become a household name. Like or hate Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, what is incontrovertible is that he has built himself into a saleable political brand especially after climbing to occupy his current enviable position as the National Secretary, All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee.
Fielding questions from Sunday Sun in Abuja, the former governorship candidate, took a retrospective view of the journey by the Caretaker Committee, claiming that though they met a homeless party, they are on missionary journey to make the APC, a mass movement party.
The National Secretary of the ruling party also appealed passionately to the Southeast geopolitical zone clamouring for the zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket to them to go beyond agitations. He equally blamed the hostility against President Muhammadu Buhari, despite the laudable performances he has recorded, on the decision not to continue with business as usual by sharing the common patrimony.
How would you describe the journey so far, months into the life of the APC Caretaker Committee?
I will first appreciate the Almighty God for assisting us thus far. What happened is not by chance, but a creation of God who knows everything. In reality, none of us expected to be here, but God in his own wisdom made it possible. I will say that the journey has been so far so good. With all sense of modesty, I can proudly say that we have done tremendously well. We met a party that was far away from its secretariat. APC was a party operated outside its headquarters. We breathe life into the party through the commitment and experience deployed into productive use by the National Chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni. I always like to give him credit because it is the disposition of the head that determines the direction the follower will take. He is a man of peace and a destined fellow. His strategy is entirely different from the others and he goes about it quietly. As a master strategist, he woos people and his efforts are yielding unprecedented results. We already have two governors from the Southeast. And we are expecting to have more. The little hindrance we had was the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted our initial plans and halted party activities. We will keep to our mandate and I honestly think that we have done very well. For example, the reconciliatory efforts so far have been very commendable and genuine. That some people are still aggrieved because they are out of power equation does not mean that we have not done well. We are very focused and determined to reposition this party. And it has been so good that a National Assembly member, some few weeks ago, advised us to extend our tenure because of the setbacks of COVID-19 pandemic, but we thanked and told him we will stick to our mandate. What is incontrovertible is that the Caretaker Committee has brought life into the secretariat and the party. Many people don’t know the importance of this registration exercise we embarked on. The Western Nigerians that are well educated might have different opinion, but truth be told, for the North and some parts of the South, we are, for the first time, going to have unit executive in the South. We are also going to have dues card which will enable party members pay dues to maintain the party to the wards. We are going to have register domiciled with the ward chairman where any new registrant can enrol. The exercise is not only revalidation or updating; it combines everything that will make us improve on the foundation we met.
We have also opened up the party to new entrants especially young people, women, the physically challenged, among others. The logic is, instead of forming another party, why not seize the opportunity the registration exercise opened up to vie for any position in the APC.
Did the initial hostilities from party members against the registration come as a surprise to you?
In the contrary, I can tell you that it is expected. You can see that even those that criticised it still went ahead to register perhaps because they understood the body language of Mr President. There will not be sanction for any member who fails to revalidate, but what it means is that he or she must have disqualified themselves technically.
You know that one of the qualifications to contest is that you must be a member of the party. Do you think that those that criticised and still went ahead to register don’t understand the strategic importance. After the registration, we will go ahead with the congresses to elect our party leaders across board. It is part of our mandate to put our national executives in place.
Why are there still hostilities against the Caretaker Committee despite the achievements it has recorded?
In politics, it would have been surprising if we don’t have such hostilities. Don’t forget that APC has become a very strong party and people have realised that. The natural thing is that only a tree with fruits will attract stones. Everybody is fighting for the soul of the party, ours is not to give the structure of the party to individuals, but to the people to own.
What do you tell those thinking that APC cannot outlive Buhari?
It is totally a wrong assumption to think that APC will not outlive Buhari’s tenure. You can see the calibre of politicians joining the party including the former governor of Ogun State. Lots of people understood that once Buhari leaves, another person becomes the next president. This accounted for the traffic because everybody is queuing to become the next president. The youths are saying that it is their turn, the older people are still interested. People are coming with a lot of interests. And that is why I advised the Igbo that agitation does not give power. They should rather mobilise to come to the party. They have to be visibly involved. Let me repeat that agitation will not give them the ticket. Agitation is one thing; coming into the party to create confidence to earn the trust of people will give them the advantage. They should not be secessionists.
Are you saying that there is no zoning in the APC?
You should know that even if there is zoning, they did not micro-zone it to the Southeast, but to the South, unless they will have to sit down and micro zone, but will the Southeast stay outside and benefit from the micro-zoning? I want to, however, say that determining the zoning arrangement is not part of the mandate of the Caretaker Committee. All I said are personal opinion.
Did the proliferation of the posters of those seeking to replace Buhari in 2023 come as a surprise to you?
It is expected and we must have to thank them. It is as a result of ambition which generates interest and a confirmation of the status APC has attained. As I said, it is not strange, but expected.
Is APC a force to reckon with in your state Akwa Ibom?
The APC has always been a force to reckon with in Akwa Ibom. I am not blowing the trumpet because I am now the National Secretary. The fact that we are without a governor but remain resilient shows that we are solidly on ground. That is the best way to measure if APC is a force to reckon with in my state. Another way is that we finished the first 100 membership booklet assigned to the polling units. I started the APC in Akwa Ibom with 250,000 people, migrating from the ACN. Whether anybody believes me or not, we won the 2011 governorship election, but the power that be took it from me. I don’t want to live in the past anymore because most of the people are now in the APC.
Are you contesting the 2023 governorship election because the hostilities against you is that many think you are planning to hijack the ticket?
Nobody is hijacking any ticket, but let me say that I am the National Secretary for now and I want to face my job. When we get to the bridge, we will cross the river. My major concern now is for us to build a strong party that people can easily win election with the platform. Those that took the ticket, what did they do with it? We will build a strong party to take over the Akwa Ibom Government House and that is why we must come together and work together. We can’t achieve it working individually, but collectively. We must be on the same page. I am concerned about unity and that is why we had one of the most peaceful and transparent registration exercise.
How do you feel that APC has no sitting governor in the entire South-south states?
Well, we should allow the past to rest and look at the way forward which is to close ranks and work together. We are going to do so much to win some states in the South-south in the 2023 general elections.
Do you foresee the PDP wresting power from the APC in 2023?
We don’t actually underestimate any political party. We will campaign based on mandate and our achievements. They have tried to cover up the achievements of President Buhari, but achievement is like truth, the more you try to cover it up the more it comes out.
Tell me any government that has rolled out social programmes like President Buhari? Many Nigerians have benefitted from these programmes either through collecting money direct or through other intervention programmes. They cut across the entire country, including the Southeast that did not vote for him. He did lots of road projects in the Southeast and did not discontinue the rail expansion projects of the previous administration. He might have the style of being quiet, but the truth is that he loves this country. He is one person everybody can be proud to have as president. He is the only president who still maintains his old house in the village. His biggest challenge is that corruption is constantly fighting back. I don’t want to over-flog the issue of oil price crash when he came into government. Most of the people more pained are the APC members because he appointed technocrats as Ministers when he came in. Apart from appointing a woman to be Nigeria Ambassador to the USA, a woman is also the Finance Minister and there are many other women in several appointive positions.
Why has the hostility against President Buhari keep increasing despite those achievements you enumerated?
The answer is very simple. It is because they are no longer sharing money. That means that it is no longer business as usual. We don’t expect the entertainment industry, for instance, to talk good of him because he didn’t continue to pump money into the fund former President Jonathan created for them. Maybe we need to consider the possibility of keying into that. Most of the people pained are internally those that worked for the government that have not benefitted anything from the government. Most people that have not been patronised are pained, but they should understand that it is no longer business as usual.
What are your real fears for the APC not retailing the presidential ticket beyond 2023?
From what I have been privileged to see and know now, there is completely nothing to fear for the APC not retaining power beyond 2023. I am in the right position to confirm that to members and lovers of the APC. Our party will win convincingly. Forget about the speculated division in the party and the contending forces. People claimed that governors have hijacked the party and that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Oshiomhole have all been shoved by the way side. But I can confirm to you that Tinubu is highly respected and honoured in our party and by the president. Don’t forget that it is practically impossible for the governor of Osun State who is a member of the APC Caretaker Committee and that of Lagos to go against Tinubu. Most of the members of the Caretaker Committee are members of the ACN and I don’t think he has anything to fear. As a man who listens to superior argument, he knows that it is impossible to write the ticket and give to him.
Can you allay the fears in many quarters that your forthcoming national congress will deepen the crisis in the APC?
The fear is not genuine because we have layers of administration in the party, including the National Caucus and NEC. No matter the way we look at it, when the North takes position with their numbers and align with another region, decision would have been taken. It is a known fact either in the PDP or other political parties. I want to allay the fears in people that the national convention will divide the APC.
What are the challenges that confronted the party’s registration exercise?
There was no case of hijacking the registration materials by anybody as earlier feared. But I must admit that shortage of materials is the only challenge we encountered. It is understandable because many Nigerians want to join the party. Yes, we experienced pockets of personality clashes, but it was an insignificant percentage.
What do you advice the gladiators in the Kwara shame?
What happened in Kwara is part of politics. I have faced it before and I can assure you that the Minister will find his equilibrium. They have a calm governor, but people should not take advantage of him. Everybody must rally round the governor and I am sure they will sort out their problems.
Have you reached out to Hilliard Eta to pacify him for out of court settlement?
We are not just close, but I gave him the position he held in the party in the first place. And I expected him to reciprocate my gesture by supporting me as the National Secretary of our party now not challenging the party. But the truth is that the matter is beyond me now since the party’s NEC has taken decision to suspend him. He is a good man that has benefitted from this party.
As the founding member of the APC, would you say that this is the party of your dream?
What I can say on this is that Nigerians are Nigerians any day anytime. Until we believe in ideology and stop doing things wrongly like demanding for projects from the National Assembly members. Why are we still talking about zoning instead of someone that can deliver? All I can assure Nigerians is that by the time we leave the stage, we would have rebuilt the party and bring lasting peace to the party. We will also return the party to the masses not make it a personality party. APC is going to be a mass movement party and more importantly, we will restore internal democracy in the party. I urge party members to believe in the party because it is the best platform to aspire. We are looking forward to getting to the level we will not be asking for cash to vote, but election based on delivery. I know that people that worked hard for this party have not been rewarded. In fact, some boards are still occupied by members of other political parties without anybody touching them. What I don’t want a repeat of it in the party is ignoring party loyalty. Going forward, I want party loyalty to be recognised. We have to prioritise loyalty to the party.
Has the problem of funding improved in the ruling party?
What we are doing now is to put arrangements in place to generate money for the party. One of it is payment of dues by the party members. If you believe in the party, you have to pay your dues.
Have you reconciled with Godswill Akpabio?
I believe that I have reconciled with Akpabio and we don’t have a choice. As a born again Christian and pastor, I have also forgiven him because I know that you will never get close to the gate of heaven without forgiveness. Don’t forget that we had stakeholders meeting where we buried all the hatches. I have even heard insinuations that I have been settled, but it is shocking that people could insinuate that.