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South East APGA leaders not fair to the party –Sowunmi

By Daily Independence
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Tayo Sowunmi, National Vice-Chairman (South West), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), was the party's candidate for Ogun Central Senatorial District in 2007. He was also its pioneer chairman in the state. Sowunmi who had also been Ogun State Chairman of Alliance for Democracy, in this interview withASST. POLITICS EDITOR, Daniel Kanu speaks on the party's crisis, Boko Haram negotiation proposal, President Goodluck Jonathan's leadership agenda, among other issues.

The crisis in your party, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has continued to deepen as the infighting has persisted. Why is it so?

I think by now the story of APGA is known to everybody and needs not be repeated here again. It was a situation that there was scarcely any day the party did not make headline news in all the national newspapers. The new crisis is that of leadership which some people want to change at all cost. That is where a lot of us disagree with the people engineering the crisis, particularly those of us outside the South East enclave. We are not happy the way the leaders of the party in the South East particularly, Anambra state are handling the affairs of the party. Just six or seven months ago, we had a convention in Awka, Anambra state, where the present leadership was elected in the full glare of INEC officials who were fully represented at the convention. It was also in the presence of Governor Peter Obi and others like Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha and a host of others who were present when Chief Victor Umeh was elected the National Chairman of the party, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, National Secretary, Alhaji Sadeeq Massalla, Deputy National Chairman for the North, and Chief Chris Uche, Deputy National Chairman (South). It was there I was also elected. It was a properly conducted and legally recognised executive but for reasons best known to some people, some leaders in the South East, particularly in Anambra state are kicking against that executive under the leadership of Umeh whose tenure naturally will expire in 2015. They are bent on frustrating his tenure despite the fact that he has recorded a phenomenal success for the party. Under his watch APGA has gained so many seats, House of Representatives seats. We have produced a senator; we have taken over one more state – Imo. We have so many members of the House of Assembly in Anambra state, in Imo state etc under Chief Umeh's leadership. This never happened before. So our party has developed a lot under the leadership of Umeh. I do not know what he has done to attract this type of venom from some people in the South East. I have worked with Umeh closely and he is reliable and a man you can trust. He is a goal getter but most times I wonder at the virulent attacks on him. The man has a good political vision but some people may just be envious of his meteoric rise politically.

Recently, a second republic lawmaker, Nwabu-Alor criticised the South West that the region has not contributed much to APGA national growth

I think the man is seeking cheap recognition. I have just been hearing the name but sincerely I don't know him and if there is any chieftain of the party that I don't know then that person is inconsequential. I don't know Nwabu-Alor and I am a major office of the party. If someone still claims to be an officer of the party and the person is not known to people like me and others in the National Working Committee, then that person is not one that must be taken seriously. I read his interview and I was taken aback. The way he was talking he appeared as a sponsored enemy of the party. If he has any grouse against any member of the party, he should come up rather than going head-long to attack the leadership of a person who everybody knows in Nigeria to be a very leader not only of APGA but a very good political leader in the country and has been awarded credit for that not by a lesser organisation but by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), who gave him the political leader of the year 2011. If there is such a person in our party that is not proud of such a leader then the person has another hidden agenda entirely. I read Nwabu-Alor's interview but I think he was just speaking with personal agenda in mind and perhaps with a plan, a sort of a vendetta against Umeh because all he said there were nothing but lies. I do not want to react to that now but there was a particular place he said that South West has not produced even a councilor for APGA since all the years the party has been in existence. Now I want to put it back to him that in the South East the party is about 10 years now. How many seats has the party gained in the South East? APGA has not grown beyond Anambra and Imo state, which was added to it through dint of hard work put in by Umeh and Shinkafi as leaders of the party. I was the Chairman of the electoral congress that conducted the gubernatorial primaries of both Governors Obi and Okorocha. We knew all the struggles we passed through in Imo state there at the period and people could see the role played by Umeh before that mandate could be regained. In the case of Obi, APGA won the election convincingly but it was rigged for the PDP to favour Chris Ngige. But you could recall that 10 years later through the leadership of Umeh we are today marching forward. So for me, throwing mud and stones to people like Umeh will not help the party.

When would APGA come out of this mess? .

We will get out of this mess as soon as people like Nwobu-Alor cease thinking of APGA as personal property of the South East, particularly in Anambra state. Most of them see APGA as personal property. They say it to anybody that cares to listen that it is an Igbo party. This is negatively affecting the growth of the party in other places in the country because wherever you go they say it is an Igbo party. But this is not so because APGA was registered as a national party. But for the support they got from the South West, North West, North East and other regions of the country INEC would not have registered it in 2002 because INEC had the criteria for registering political parties and if they think its an Igbo party then we in the south west and other parts of the country, want to believe that we were deceived into joining APGA at the point of registration. But I want to say that people like Umeh and some other leaders of the party in the south east are making sure that APGA maintains the tag of a national party. That is why we are still with the party. But the party will not progress with such people like Nwobu-Alor who think that APGA starts and ends in the South East.

What is your take on proposed Boko Haram conditions for negotiation with the Federal Government, especially in asking Gen. Muhammad Buhari to be part of the deal?

Boko Haram is an albatross for Nigeria now. It is not only in Nigeria that we have such groups troubling the government of the day. In Nigeria we are in a country made up of so many nationals. If we were a mono-cultural country the problem would not be like this. Whatever the Boko Haram people have in mind people who live away from the northern part of the country see them as fighting for the benefit of the North, which the political leaders in that region have disagreed with, saying that they are not serving the interest of the North. But Boko Haram is giving the North a very bad image. Now they are calling for a truce. As I read in the news, they say they would cease-fire if certain conditions were met. They want the meeting in Saudi Arabia and they have gone along to choose those that will represent them and to be headed by Buhari among others. As far as I am concerned it's a good omen for Nigeria. At least government should seize the opportunity to talk to them in a round table conference. But Nigeria should not be stampeded by any part of the country to agree with all the conditions they have rolled out. If they want to talk, government should hear them out but on issue of compensation for their members killed, which is one of their demands, I personally do not support that. They do not deserve any compensation whatsoever. In any fight, in any war situation some innocent souls suffer. It happened during the Civil War.

In this matter when you confront a group like the Boko Haram there is no way you will not harm people and some who do not have any link with them. They do not deserve any compensation; they wasted too many lives in Nigeria. If anybody wants any negotiation let us hear them out but it must not be on their terms. It must be on the terms by Nigeria. I also oppose going outside the shores of the country for negotiation. Again, it is like what happened during the Nigeria-Biafra war when Gowon and Ojukwu went to Aburi for negotiation; it never served any good purpose. They must stay in the country for their negotiation. In fairness to Buhari, mentioning his name may put him in quandary because people may think that he is, maybe the one sponsoring them but I do not believe that a person like Buhari will sponsor a group like Boko Haram. He is a very decent politician. But my advice to Buhari is to stay clear and reject the offer.

Two elections recently conducted in Edo and Ondo states were commended by Nigerians. Is it an indication that INEC has improved?

I think it is victory for electoral system in Nigeria. The INEC is gradually gaining the confidence of the Nigerian populace as well as that of the political parties. By and large Nigeria is gaining the integrity of a country capable of handling its own internal situation. I have confidence in this INEC although it is not Uhuru yet. But given where we are, the progress so far made electorally, I am happy and my party is happy so far.

Some critics are of the opinion that the on-going constitution review by the National Assembly cannot translate into a true people's constitution. Do you share in this view?

No, I do not share with the view. This is because the constitution is defective in many parts. I will give just one example, which is in the creation of zones and states. In Nigeria today, we have six geo-political zones. Every zone has six states but the South East has five, why? Even if the constitution will not be amended for any other reason that is enough reason to consider. Every zone must have the same number of states if we are to live peacefully together. I believe sincerely that the South East is being marginalised. That is one defect in this present constitution. Another reason is that we were not all party to that constitution; it was forced on us by the military at that time. We were not part of it and still the constitution says “we” people of Nigeria, which is wrong. It was not we but the military that did it. If only for that alone there is the need to sit down to look at the constitution again. For me, that constitution is due for a review and the National Assembly must forget their personal ego and give us a good constitution. They are representing us. Even though most of them rigged their way into the hallowed chamber, they are there already representing us. They should forget where they come from and think of the larger Nigeria and give us a very workable constitution.

How would you assess President Goodluck Jonathan's tenure so far?

Let us start from the fact that he was a lucky man indeed. As Vice President, it was his lot to finish the time of his boss as at the time. Then he had another opportunity to have another term of his own which he is now having. As far as I am concerned, it is so far so good. I will not say because I am not in the same party with him then argue that he is not doing well. He is the President of Nigeria and I can tell you that he is trying. We need to know that to lead a country like Nigeria is difficult so for me he is not doing badly. If he is doing well we should praise him and if he is not doing well lets point out those areas he needs to improve. For now he has so many challenges and I think he is living up to those challenges. Take the issue of power, for instance, we should not forget that about nine months ago, power issue in Nigeria was a nightmare. It is not all right yet but there is a great improvement about the situation under his leadership. Also the way he is handling the Boko Haram issue is commendable. Some people may think that he is not doing much but when you have a group like Boko Haram in your hands there is nothing you can do to satisfy everybody. But the truth is that he has remained focused in tackling the issue well. You can also see that the way he handled the Niger-Delta issue was more drastic than what he is doing with the Boko Haram. It is because he is not from the North and that is the mark of a great leader. There may be some areas where he is not polling enough of his weight, where it appears he is still too apologetic. There are situations that he needs to be more firm but in all I think he is doing well.

Do you think that the resignation of former Power minister, Prof Barth Nnaji, may stall the development of the power sector?

His resignation may pose a challenge but it is left for government to rise up to the challenge. Before Nnaji resigned he must have made his feelings known to the presidency on the power situation in Nigeria, now they will not want his successor to do the same thing but to ensure he sticks to the blueprint that will make power provision more effective. The presidency must guard its loins as regards what is happening in the power sector. There is so much power play there. The president must ensure that appropriate thing is done so that Nigerians will have improved and efficient power supply. Barth's resignation should put the Presidency on its toe so that they will make sure that whoever is given the responsibility will no longer give Nigerians anything less because Nnaji has set a good standard. Some industries have started to come back to the country because of the present stability in power supply. So, all efforts must be put in place to improve power and sustain it.

What is your reaction to the new Lagos state traffic law, which has generated some controversy?

Some of the laws are harsh but they are very necessary for sanity to return to Lagos. The present leadership in Lagos state is in a hurry to make Lagos livable for people. The Okada riders have always been a menace to motorists and pedestrians and they are just a little part of the Lagos traffic law. Most Lagosians heaved a sigh of relief when that part of the law concerning Okada was formulated. We are all happy with that. We know some people will suffer because some people that have no cars will find it difficult moving around sometime and to be there on time. But the law on Okada as I learnt is not total but that they should not ply highways and expressways, which to me, is to their own as well as to the people's advantage. I agree with the Lagos state government on the partial ban. I think we need to be decent and also to make life more comfortable in Lagos state. The governor is a widely travelled person and if you go to America, London and other societies there must be good regulation. But my advice is that Lagos state government should go slowly because you cannot change the society overnight. There are overzealous police officers that are now abusing the law. The state government should wade in to discipline them. There is no part of that law that is not to the advantage of the public.