By Onyedika Agbedo
National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Martin Agbaso, recently spoke with journalists in Lagos on the lingering crisis in the party. He gives insight into why Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, dumped the party through which he rode to power. He maintains that his interest in the party is purely in ensuring that it becomes a truly national party.
A lot has been said about recent developments in APGA. What really is the issue in contention now?
What happened in 2004 between Victor Umeh and Chekwas Okorie is completely different from what we are facing now. Umeh took two members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and concocted a meeting that they had sacked Chekwas and took over. APGA constitution states that when you suspend a national chairman, the next in line from the same zone automatically takes over. Umeh was the national treasurer and Maxi Okwu, the deputy national chairman (South). He (Okwu) would have been the next in command, but they out-maneuvered him. Of course, he was not from Anambra State; that was the reason given at that time and he played into their hands. It is a totally different thing. In my case, Oye convened a meeting of the NWC on his own and members of the NWC (I was not a member) tendered a 13-point charge against him, some of them bordering on criminality, selling nomination forms on cash basis that was never reported to the party. Those issues are being investigated now.
So, those are the allegations his fellow NWC members raised and he could not defend himself. A seven-man disciplinary committee was set up to find out from him why he did what was alleged and they affirmed the charges, saying that his answers were not satisfactory. They suspended him from office, alongside his two deputies, who were his cohorts in that case, because he was running the party as a personal enterprise. So, when he became defiant and continued to parade himself as national chairman, the NWC under the leadership of Ozo Nwabueze Okafor took him to court. They asked the High Court in Abuja, which incidentally was the same court where Chekwas and Umeh’s case was thrashed, to order Oye to stop parading himself as chairman and vacate the office. He refused to do that on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter. The court ruled that it had jurisdiction and he appealed against that ruling. The appeal has been adjourned to December 14, 2017. Now, it was at that point that these gentlemen started exerting pressures in search of someone with enough muscle, character and capacity to turn APGA into a national party, because APGA as a national party cannot be controlled by a small cabal who are just using it as a meal ticket.
When they suspended Oye, Ozo Nwabueze Okafor, who was national vice chairman, from Enugu State, took over and nominated me as acting deputy national chairman. Unfortunately, on January 8, 2017, Ozo Nwabueze died. We buried him. After his funeral and all that, as nature abhors vacuum, on January 30, 2017, I accepted the position of acting national chairman. We compiled all these records and sent to INEC. After waiting for one week, two weeks, one month and INEC was not reacting, APGA and all its chieftains in Enugu, where this thing happened, went to court asking it to determine if due process was followed to arrive at the point where Agbaso is now our acting national chairman, and if we acted according to the guidelines and constitution of APGA. We went back and forth and the court on May 22, 2017, issued an order of mandamus, which is a mandatory order, compelling INEC to recognise me as the authentic acting national chairman of APGA.
INEC and police appealed the matter naturally, and Oye applied to join as an interested party. At the second sitting, INEC withdrew, followed by police through a motion that being a party affair, they had no interest in the matter. Oye now prayed the court to vacate or stay that order. When you stay an order, it means stop the execution. The court weighed the merits of the application and aligned with the decision of the lower court by affirming that the court took very competent action. That is where we are.
But is it true that after you lost out in the 2007 governorship election, you abdicated and abandoned your stakes in APGA?
You don’t have your records right. After 2007, I was in court for four years fighting the injustice that was meted to me. And when the case finally came to an end at the Supreme Court, I helped APGA to win election in 2011, when we won two seats to the National Assembly, both at the Senate and congressional levels and won the governorship by defeating an incumbent. So, it is not true that I left in 2007. And abdication is not the right word because it is not a throne.
Did Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State actually bargain with you in 2011 to contest the governorship on the platform of APGA as being speculated?
He did not approach me to cede whatever rights. In fact, what people don’t know, but which I have started discussing in the last few days, is that my battle with Governor Okorocha for the heart and soul of APGA in Imo State and our governorship tussle at the primary, were the fiercest political battle I had ever overcome in my career because it was violent; it was just crazy.
It was towards the end of that tussle that we now relied on the NWC to decide whose list of delegates should be upheld because, basically, he came into APGA and had some people compromised against me. I am synonymous with APGA. He came in from Action Alliance or whatever party; they gave him a line up. So the issue was whose list of delegates was the NWC going to approve? The only time I accepted to work with him was when Victor Umeh told me that Rochas had compromised all members of the NWC from Imo North, and we have 12 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Orlu zone out of the 27. Umeh said all the 12 chairmen from Orlu had been compromised, in addition to a few other key stakeholders that Umaru Shinkafi brought; that the best bet was for me to make peace with Okorocha. I told him that I wanted us to fight all the way, but he (Umeh) said it was not necessary.
Of course, at that time, a lot of water had gone under the bridge. Umeh now brokered “the peace” that put Rochas on the slot for four years. He (Rochas) was to be governor for four years and hand over to me after the first four years. I was to provide the deputy and when it’s my turn, he would provide the deputy. Again, I was to use my structure and also provide funding. It was agreed that after four years, he also would provide the structure and funding to help me become governor. That was the agreement and I can avail you of a copy.
We had just two hours to decide on that because we spoke about 1p.m. and the NWC meeting that was going to determine our fate was holding at 4p.m. So, by the time we had finished the preliminary discussions, I had two hours. I consulted with two or three stakeholders within my campaign organisation and people that I knew very well, as well as my family. Everybody’s attitude was, ‘leave this whole thing and just walk away, it is not worth it, you can see that people you relied on have betrayed you; that Umeh in particular has betrayed you because if he is telling you that others were compromised, he was the key person that was compromised. As national chairman, he would have over-ruled those other persons.’
But I have deep-rooted affection for APGA. I said if I walk away, APGA would lose the election; rather let us go and fight. That was what happened. And of course, there was no pecuniary considerations, no money exchanged hands. If anything, I was the one that spent money; I brought the money that was invested in the campaign and the structure.
Are you suggesting that Okorocha left APGA to be able to dishonour the agreement he reached with you?
I cannot speak for Rochas, but all I know is that from day one that we reached that agreement, his motives were less than honourable. I don’t think he wanted to keep that agreement.
So, you think the impeachment of your younger brother, who was his former deputy, had to do with the agreement?
Absolutely! My younger brother worked very well with him and never did anything wrong. They were best of friends. But because of the agreement we had, he needed to find a reason to walk away from the agreement.
Finally, it is being alleged that you were conscripted to stop Governor Willie Obiano’s second term. What is your take on that?
If you know my antecedents, I have no time for that kind of thing. I am a beneficiary of God’s mercies. Why should I go plotting for another person’s downfall? All I am looking forward to is a way to ensure that APGA becomes a truly national party that will observe internal democracy and run the party the way it should be run. I want APGA to become an all-inclusive party so that all those who were aggrieved could return. We have lost about 90 per cent of our membership and I want to bring them back. People like Peter Obi, Senator Uche Ekwunife; we lost four members of House of Representatives in one day because of poor leadership. We need to bring all those people back. And we cannot keep running around Anambra. We have to win positions in the South-east and South-south; we need to get into North and Western Nigeria and win positions. In each of the 774 LGAs, if you remove the indigenes, the next in population are Igbo. So, there is no way we cannot take advantage of that mass of people, for the benefit of the party. That is what we are trying to do. I have no interest in vilifying anybody.