By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Embattled national chairman of All Nigeria Peoples’ Party, ANPP, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke in this interview answers questions on the crisis in ANPP and denies the allegation that he has been sacked as national chairman of the party. He told Saturday Vanguard that he is still in charge until his tenure expires September 6 and a new executive comes in September 17 and 18 at the party’s national convention.
Your party,ANPP issued a statement recently that suggests there is a problem. What is the reason for the crisis?
There is no crisis in ANPP. I don’t know how the media came about the speculation that there is crisis in the party. It’s just that there are some dissidents who don’t believe in maintaining democracy in this party. They want to disrupt the party from doing everything in its bid to ensure that other members who have the ambition to contest for presidency and positions of national chairman and national secretary do so. That is the problem. The current executive wants every member of the party who has interest to come forward to participate in the primaries and if he wins, then, good luck to him. So, that is no crisis at all. We want to ensure internal democracy in our party.
How is the party preparing for the elections?
We are getting ready right now. We are waiting for the time-table to come out. We understand it is coming out today (Wednesday), but we didn’t see it. It is necessary for us as a party to know the schedule for the elections. The current executive, which is my executive will expire on the 6th of September which is next week and then, on the 17th and 18th of this month, we will put in place a new executive. When they now take over, they will now conduct the primaries and every other thing.
But recently, a statement was issued that you have been ousted as the national chairman alongside the current NWC of the party.
I’m still the national chairman of the party. I’m speaking to you as the national chairman of the party. Nobody ousted us. Didn’t you read what INEC said? It has come out with a public statement.
But some party members said INEC was present at the meeting that sacked the executive you were heading.
Nobody sacked us. INEC even described the meeting as illegal and and of no loqus and washed its hands off the said meeting saying it was not part of it. What else is expected? INEC is a government institution. I am still the national chairman of the party and the National Working Committee, NWC, is in place. We have just concluded a meeting and we are going into another meeting for the purpose of the party. The current leadership is still in-charge.
All kinds of allegations are making rounds about the party: the deal with IBB, the ANPP governors’ position on Shekarau...
No, no, no. There is no deal with IBB. As at now, we have not decided on our presidential candidate. I don’t know what will happen after my departure. There is no arrangement with IBB or anybody for now. I don’t know of any deal with IBB for now but after my tenure, I will not be there again. I will be in my village.
What plan is on ground for now? Will the party float a presidential candidate or will it align with other opposition parties for that purpose?
We are going to produce our own presidential candidate. As at now, we have not aligned with any presidential candidate or party but we will not dismiss the possibility of other parties wanting to collapse into us but not us joining others.It is not possible.
INEC has said that parties that make no impact will be de-listed. ANPP used to be the main opposition, controlling nine states but now, only three. What plan is being made to consolidate the party this time?
We will do everything to increase our stature in the country. We are confident that we will capture many states in the next election in the national assembly and even the presidency. The sky is our limit. After this election, ANPP is not going to be the party in opposition but the party in power. We are doing everything to ensure that power must change hands across the states in the federation, the national assembly and the presidency.
Are you planning an alliance with the former presidential candidate of the party, General Buhari?
He has his own party now. He cannot be presidential candidate of two political parties.
But ANPP can adopt him?
There is no such thing. We can do that if he collapses his party into ANPP because we are not talking of alliances with any party except if the party sub-merges itself into ANPP. The party has to disappear into ANPP and all its members must become ANPP members. That way, there will be no problem.
Recently, the INEC chairman addressed the media and when asked about time frame, he said he would love an extension if the national assembly grants it but otherwise, he would work with what the constitution provides and make the best of it. Do you think an extension of time is necessary?
That is my worry really. I fear that the time might not be okay for the elections to hold. This present INEC means well and if they have the resources and time, I don’t think that the problems of the past elections will occur again. If you ask me, I would say that INEC needs more time but the issue here is that INEC has not asked for extra time. If they ask for more time and it is given them, they will do a thorough job. But if INEC is going to ask for more time, they should give reasons why they need more time. Of course, if they have more time, it will enhance a more credible election.
But is it possible to alter the constitution to that effect?
They can do that within the time frame but it would mean that certain things would be eliminated from the time-table to constrict time. I don’t think we need to alter the constitution to effect a credible election.
What is the position of ANPP on zoning?
There is no zoning in our party. It is a PDP problem and we don’t want to help them to solve their problem. We have no problem with zoning. We have our own constitution and only the best will emerge as candidate.
ACF in their meeting sometime urged all the parties to adopt Northerners as their presidential candidates. Would ANPP subscribe to that?
No. What I am asking everybody is to support the ANPP candidate because our candidate is not based on tribe or religion or ethnicity or zoning. It is based on party ideology. So, let all Nigerians support the ANPP candidates all over the country wherever they are.
Coming back to the South-East where you come from, what is the reason behind the confusion in the zone regarding 2011 elections?
The South-East is not in confusion. I think the South-East is still suffering from the effects of the civil war and from making the mistake of joining PDP en masse. They should have taken advantage of democracy and spread themselves across various political organisations. But they have put themselves in such a situation that now that the PDP is collapsing, they too are collapsing. We don’t have such a confusion in ANPP because ANPP is national, it is not a tribalistic organisation. Our party is a free platform for anybody to contest. We believe that ANPP will capture the power in the centre and when that happens, all these confusions will vanish.
Some ANPP governors decamped to PDP, even some members of the national and state assemblies. How come the party didn’t retrieve its mandate from these political office holders?
You cannot stop anybody from exercising his constitutional power. You cannot stop them. But the fact on ground now is that some of those who decamped are now coming back and they are coming back from all parts of the country, apologising for decamping to the PDP in the first place. So, there is no longer any problem. They have returned to the fold and are asking for the opportunity to represent us again in government.
You don’t see the party losing more seats in the forthcoming elections?
No.We will get more states in the coming elections and since more people are coming into the party, that means we will get more seats in different stages of government. Some governors are planing to come back and we have open arms to welcome them anytime they deem fit to return.
Is the ANPP working pari-pasu with the rest of the opposition?
We are the leading opposition party and we are continuing until after the next election when we would assume the mantle of leadership at the centre. After the next election, we are not expecting to be in opposition anymore but the party to beat. Or are you thinking we will continue to be in opposition? No. PDP is crumbling and we are going to be the party in power. We will be in government and the PDP will end up being the party in opposition.
What do you see when you look ahead of the elections?
From what I have seen so far and from statements coming from INEC, it will be better this time around. We cannot afford not to have a credible election because the world is looking at us and we must have a peaceful and most credible transition. The elections must be free and fair and very credible this time around.