*warns against politicizing Ojukwu’s burial
From Chuks Collins, Awka
Chief Azuka Okwuosa was a chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who was a former Council Chairman of Nnewi, Former Commissioner for Works during the administratioin Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju. In this no holds-barred interview with CHUKS COLLINS, he spoke on the lack of progress and healthy changes within APGA; some perceived hirelings and inconsistencies within the National, state and ward excos. Excerpts
How can you asses the performance of APGA so far in the country
By the Feb.6 2010 governorship election nobody gave our All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) any chance in the state. And earlier when I had my Anambra South Senatorial re-run after a successful legal struggle with the Peoples Democratic Party/its candidate in the 2007 elections, the party (APGA) was in shambles. That was also when the governor was impeached and struggling to return, while Dame Virgy Etiaba was then the governor. So you can see that the party was having some serious problem
By the Feb.6 2010 governorship election nobody gave our All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) any chance in the state. And earlier when I had my Anambra South Senatorial re-run after a successful legal struggle with the Peoples Democratic Party/its candidate in the 2007 elections, the party (APGA) was in shambles. That was also when the governor was impeached and struggling to return, while Dame Virgy Etiaba was then the governor. So you can see that the party was having some serious problems. We were then like orphans, as a lot of factors were not in our favor. In fact we were doing some damage control trying to reconcile various factions because without unity you cannot make meaningful impact or progress in an election. So, coupled with the fact that the dividends of democracy were not there, we were battling against so many odds. People vented their pent up anger on us and of course it affected our fortune in the election because we worked from a disadvantaged position though it was a price we had to pay because of the spirit of the party as epitomized by the late Ojukwu. The election was rigged and even when we were at the tribunal, the party never gave us any support there were promises of legal aid to assist candidates because you need lawyers with solid background and political clout in an election matter. You can’t talk of embarking on legal battle for a Senatorial seat and go for just any lawyer when your opponents have already engaged the services of powerful Senior Advocates (SANs). So you have to spend. And the average money you spend for a fee for a SAN is nothing less than N10m at any level if litigation whether at the tribunal or at the appeal; this is excluding appearance fees, transportation and hotel accommodation. Calculate how many sittings and for two years. We also faced the problem of our opponents trying to buy over our witnesses. They succeeded in buying the witnesses of Chief Chris Atuegwu, the ACN candidate. To keep these witnesses is money and especially in the face of very heavy financial inducement from your opponents. So without any single help from the party or any other quarter we bore the cost hundred percent and at the end of the day, I was the only candidate that won my case at the appeal. All others lost at the tribunal because they all had no such powerful financial muscle to prosecute it or to match our opponents’ naira for naira. When it was time for the election, after empty promises of party support, the party did not put in a dime. It was between me and my campaign organization. My opponent, the then incumbent Senator, Ikechukwu Obiora of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his party took it as a party war. All the leadership of the party, Ministers and Deputy Senate President, virtually all their House of Representatives members from the zone converged here to give massive support to their own. I was like an orphan. And from the look of things, the re-run in 2009 was lost not because I didn’t work but because of internal and external conspiracy in APGA. So I found it very difficult to speak on these issues since then but I needed to speak because the events of the recent past have shown that we have learnt and forgotten nothing. The last election was a case study. Ignore all the legal grandstanding. The party lost out in all the senatorial zones. Why? If the experiences of the past were corrected such mistakes wouldn’t have repeated itself. I want to be contradicted or corrected.
Does it mean your party is averse to change or learning?
I wouldn’t want to say that the party is averse to change or reality on ground, but to certain extent I see lip service treatment to the reality of the day. Check out from the formation of the party including Governor Obi’s election. Obi almost single handedly financed his campaign, his election and litigations. Up to our own time the same thing happened and the pattern appeared to have remained, unfortunately. During my own time we paid a nun-refundable deposit of over N500, 000. We didn’t get any help from the party. These days I learnt some people paid N5m, some N3m, I don’t know the correct graduation and even N1m for chairmanship aspirants.
The point is not paying those fees but what the party is doing in return or with it. The party could have gone beyond where it is now if the right things were done. The party shouldn’t be talking about capturing just two states, Anambra and Imo. It should be controlling the whole of the South East now and with serious incursions into South-South.
Why I say the issue of paying lip service is that you don’t expect a candidate to pay so much without a single help from the party. We footed the bill of litigation for two years without a single financial assistance from the party and succeeded in winning at the appeal; went for a re-run all alone. I don’t know the type of hope we have for such issues. I was not surprised about what happened in the last election. Am not saying this to disparage anybody, neither am I trying to run anybody down. What am saying is that the right things should be done so that the progressive ideas of the great Ikemba can be actualized. What he labored for with his life, fought and died for should not be in vain. We the earliest apostles of Ikemba who believe in him, who stayed with him from 1982 when he came back from exile till his demise, will not want his ideas to die with him.
What are those right things you want done?
The first thing is selfless service to humanity especially within the Igbo nation and the country at large. Ikemba during his life time never idolized money. Ikemba believed in the Igbo course even in a disadvantageous position. He always stands out for what he believes in. I want our leaders to imbibe that quality and attitude because that is the spirit of APGA. APGA was like the yearnings and aspiration of a down trodden people. It was like a virus of people who felt they can express their free will through party in Nigeria based on truth and honesty.
What things does not fit into this setting, in your views?
When a student sits for exams, the only thing you can assess him with is the report card. From the formation of our party up till now, look at the elections we’ve lost, these are clear cut indices that point to the fact that things are not normal. Even the current cases do not augur well. There should be a great sense of maturity in handling APGA matters. We should go down to the basics. It’s like when you want to build a skyscraper, you must do a soil test and solid foundation before you put the structures.
A potential replacement for Ikemba yet?
I’ve said it times without number that Ikemba is irreplaceable. We can never ever have another Ikemba. We can have other leaders in different mould but not another Ikemba. Ikemba is akin to the Biblical Moses. Moses led the Israelites out of captivity, took them through a furious journey for 40 years. At the death of Moses, they never had another Moses. They may had Aaron, Joshua and others, but not Moses. Moses’ position in the Bible was sacrosanct. I regard Moses as the greatest leader of the Jews. The same thing is applicable to the great Ikemba. The shoes he left behind are damn too big for anybody to put their tiny feet in. it’s impossible. Though people can try to mimic him, but the most important thing about Ikemba can be seen through his personal crest which I was privileged to produce for him. it has two horses, a shield and other amnds. But consider deeply his slogan and catch phrase- “to thyself be true”; this has been the guiding philosophy of Ikemba. So what I will tell the aspiring leaders of Ndigbo is, to themselves be true. Igbos can have leaders but the issue of having a leader for the Igbo nation is not something to aspire for. It something that evolves based on confidence.
Do you think APGA is now well positioned to win major elections in future.
Like I said when you talk about APGA winning election, you have to look at different indices, you mentioned the problem in PDP; the strength of your opponent is a factor and your own too is important and even if your strength is so great, you have to utilize it wisely. I agree with you that PDP is engulfed in so many crises in the state. I see it as an act of implosion when you have so many power blocks that cannot agree. The issue is to what extent APGA has utilized the weakness of her opponents. I don’t think we have used this to maximum benefit but then look at what is happening in South-West; the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) under Bola Tinubu in less than five years is running rings everywhere. Today they are not just controlling the entire geo-political zone; they are making powerful and purposeful incursions into other zones. By now APGA should not be talking about two states. The issue should be akin to the time when the defunct Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) under Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe had so much goodwill of the people that everyone begun to say that if you tag a goat in NPP it would win election in the zone. That is the kind of cult followership APGA ought to be enjoying now.
But no one appear to mind, even the party elders
The founding fathers of APGA are not reaping any dividends of democracy instead it’s outsiders that are enjoying it. This does not augur well for anyone at all. You talked about empowerment, when you empower the people the party will grow. The prolonged absence of Local Government election in the state for the past ten years has not helped the party. Without due representation at that level, the party can not take root. Imagine the last LG election was in 1998. Why are we afraid of LG election in Anambra it’s a constitutional issue. We have no justification, no right whatsoever to deny the masses of this state that opportunity. If APGA had conducted this election, it would have helped the party to enthrone itself further in the psyche of the people within the state, zone and elsewhere. So for whatever reason, it’s not a good political move. The composition of government at grassroots would have given a clearer picture of your strength and not assumptions and presumptions. The only viable option now is the credibility of candidates.
Victor Umeh’s embattled position, what’s your views?
In every political party, you have hiccups. Look at the PDP, they’ve their own dose of problems. The Alliance for Democracy (AD) almost went into extinction because of the same kind of problems. The All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) for a long time had theirs which resulted in Gen Muhammadu Buhari leaving the party to pitch his tent elsewhere. So APGA is not isolated or insulated from such problems but the point am saying is there are channels to resolve crisis. We have constitution in the party and things should be done constitutionally through a proper channel. I don’t believe in paper tigers. It’s like fanning the embers of inordinate ambition of some people. Every action in a party should follow due process. I really pity Chief Umeh but what he is passing through is price of leadership. He should be encouraged. Politics is all about conspiracies. The late Chuba Okadigbo once described politics as concerted race of conspiracies. If you handles one, another will crop up. But I think maturity and sense if reasoning should be allowed to prevail the party and through that is necessary through that we get to a point if change is necessary will not be at the detriment of the party. This should be the basis of taking the party to the next level.
Would you then support his replacement now?
I know very well that I have paid my dues, at my level in politics; posterity will never forgive me if I see the truth and refuse to say it. Am saying this because it’s the truth, to me it’s not a matter of party but a matter of what should be done and done right even if it’s PDP or ACN government in the state. I will say the same thing. LG election is not a party matter and the constitution is supreme. Lack of LG election is inaction. We should not be afraid of failure or experiments. No one should be persecuted or vilified for saying or standing on the side of truth. Umeh as a human being has his failings, but he should not be destroyed for standing on the side of the people.
Like I said earlier, due process must be followed so that we come out stronger. We should avoid over-heating the system and over sensationalism. Don’t throw the baby away with the bath water.
Anambra Political forum
Was born out of necessity, you know politics is a game of interest we reviewed from the past and see that my people have not befitted democratic dividends and the needs of the people. and then to fight for the actualisation, so that that interest can be protected not minding that they have played a leading role in supporting government in power. So at inception I was made the chairman. We are trying to correct existing imbalances. The forum cut across all political parties. There is also the Oraifite Political Forum we are not talking about selfish interest or benefits. Its chairman cannot aspire for any office
Controversy appears set to becloud preparations for Ikemba’s burial. Can’t we handle any simple thing orderly?
You mention a rift between the government forum, Ohaneze and the family, well; we should know that Ikemba is not just a normal person. It’s like when you look at an elephant viewed from different angles. Ikemba connotes different things to different people. He was Dim Umudim. From the traditional parlance, people that bear that title must be buried by night, in a special way. He was Ikemba Nnewi, you cannot talk about his burial without carrying the community along as a major title holder. Apart from holding traditional titles he was a man of the people. Governors’ forum wants to accord him state burial, Ohaneze wants to take part; all these things are good. But there are too many that want to be part of it. The more the merrier, the most important thing is planning and execution. No single group will ever attempt to hijack the role of another group or try to politicize the death and burial of Ikemba. That is something people like us will oppose with the last drop of our blood Ikemba should be given any legend. People should be accommodated most especially those that have to do with the Ikemba Question. You know Ikemba was an enigma. He was a jigsaw that meant diff things to diff people. Ikemba is for everybody the guiding principle in this burial is to imbibe his ideals. We must all struggle to get the Ikemba qualities more than struggle to take part in the burial or score cheap political.
Nnewi is important because of Ikemba and because of the strategic nature of the town because of its numerous industries.