Emma Ibediro is the National Organising Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC). A trained lawyer, Ibediro was part of the Rochas Okorocha team before the national convention of the party that produced the current National Working Committee. During the governorship primaries, many expected him to take side with Okorocha, but he stood with the party. In this interview, he speaks on the agitation for an Igbo President in 2023, the cry of marginalisation of the Southeast in the National Assembly and much more.
THE current NWC just clocked one year in office. Looking back into the last one year, how would you want to rate the party.
Usually, people give their opinion from the much they know. First, let me congratulate the National Chairman and other members of the NWC on their one year in office. The current NWC was inaugurated on the 24th of June, 2018. Based on what it met on ground, this working committee has done wonderfully well. What is the working committee of a party required to do? It is in charge of the day to day running of the party and report to the National Executive Committee. Granted that the present working committee was elected close to the election and there were all the problems associated with preparing for election, but you will agree with me that we have done all that is required to be done. We met a sitting President who was going to face a re-election and this working committee was able to galvanise the party in such a way that the President was re-elected. That was our number one priority, to keep our party in power and get our President re-elected. We were able to do that. In every political situation, crisis will always come up, but the way the crises are managed to the advantage of the party is what you should look at. By my own assessment of this working committee, I think we have done quite well no matter what people think. What we are expected to do, we have done. A situation where over 60 political parties were in a contest against one political party, we were able to steer this party in such a way that we got the confidence of Nigerians and got the President elected back to power is a major achievement. There is no way you can rule out crisis in a big party such as the All Progressives Congress.
Organising is the engine room of the party and you came into office when there were lots of crisis and the party primaries conducted during this period was characterised by series of crisis leading to the party losing a number of seats. Are you not worried about this and how are you using the lesson learnt to advance the future?
Some of these things depend on how you look at it or the interpretations you give to it. You cannot rule out misunderstanding in a big family like APC. Agreed that during the congresses that brought about the present elected officials there were bound to be misunderstanding here and there. Contrary to what some people believe, the NWC is subject to the National Executive Committee and whatever mode of primaries we choose was approved by the NEC. In our bid to also extend the democratic principles, we wanted the participation of a lot more of our party faithful rather than a select few. When the idea of direct primaries came up, we also realised that some states could have their individual peculiarities and so, we gave options to the states and said, depending on what you want in your state as approved by the stakeholders of the party in that state, the National Working Committee is willing to approve so that everybody will be fully accommodated. To be fair to Comrade Oshiomhole, the National Chairman, a lot of things has been accused of taking decisions alone. That is not true. If you go through records of our meetings, you will find out that the decision to adopt either direct or indirect primary or consensus as the case may be is the decision of the National Executive Committee of the party and it was to reflect the different peculiarities in the various states. There are states that, no matter what you try to do, due to insecurity or some other reasons; you may not be able to conduct direct primaries. But it was for the states to determine what they think was favourable to them and we allowed them that space to decide what they wanted to do. No matter how you look at it, whether you do direct primary or indirect primary, there are issues that will ultimately lead to reconciliation after the elections. Reconciliation is not a one party thing because it must involve all the individuals concerned. But where some individuals, on their own refused every attempt to reconcile and proceed with whatever action they have chosen, there is nothing you can do to them. You cannot force them not to go to court if they want to because that will be going against their fundamental right to seek redress. So, there are certain things you cannot do. But we did everything possible to reconcile all warring parties before the election. But there were some people who decided that whatever we did, they were not going to agree. Some individuals are like that and what can you do to them?
How are you applying the lessons from that era?
One of the things we learnt is that we have to be more engaging now and let the stakeholders know the values of some of these things. Probably some people felt that they were not adequately educated on the modus operandi of the NWC. So, we are taking time now to let people know that we are not doing this to either favour or offend any individual sensibility. As a matter of fact, we are trying to do the best we can to enable our party move forward and carry more of our party members along as much as we can. These are lessons we have learnt and we believe that each activity in life should be able to teach each individual a lesson. So, we are drawing from the lessons of the last election. This year, we have two staggered elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states and I am sure that we are going to draw experiences from the past. We will begin early to sensitise our members.
The NWC approved indirect mode of primary for the Kogi State chapter to select their governorship candidate and this is already creating issues within the state chapter. How are you handling this to avoid a repeat of the episodes of the last elections?
People are quick to draw conclusions. It appears that the extent to which you heard about the NWC approval was the indirect primary. You did not look at the second leg which talked about without prejudice to any other development that may come up before the election. We include that clause because we know that certain developments may arise before the primary. So, that decision is not cast on stone. The NWC merely followed what has been approved by the NEC to adopt either indirect, direct or consensus. The NWC recieved a letter from the state chapter in line with the NEC decision adopting indirect primary. But know that where it is impossible to have an indirect primary based on existing court actions or litigations and in order not to run the risk of what happened in Zamfara, we may also change our mind. That is why we said subject to developments before the primary. But people have the tendencies of going to the extreme on the other side. So, there has to be a balance which we have applied.
There has been this debate about Igbo Presidency come 2023 in APC. What are the chances of the APC giving the Igbos the ticket?
You see, when people talk about Igbo Presidency, I have always said that Igbo presidency is not a right, just like Hausa presidency is not a right; Yoruba presidency is not a right. Igbo presidency can only become possible if you work within the party and convince Nigerians to produce a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. You have to work within the group you belong. For instance, if I talk about my party APC, if you work within the party and every other member of the party, either from North-west, North-east or from North-west or from Southwest will now come to the conclusion that you as an individual can have the confidence of Nigerians to become their president. The fact that you are from Southeast or from any other area is neither here or there. So, if the people from the Southeast are aspiring to become Nigeria’s president, I think the first thing to do is to work within the party, to get the rest of Nigerians to accept you for that position. It is not a right. That is what I would say.
How would you want them to work? For political balancing, every other person has said that APC should give the Southeast the ticket for 2023. Are you in tune with this?
I don’t want to be emphatic that it must be an Igbo person. This party is not built on the platform of dictating to the people what they want. Remember, if you check the percentage of population of members of APC and check the population of Nigerians, you will see that we are even less than five percent. So, we are talking about a president that will be a president of Nigeria, not a president of APC. So, first of all, under whatever platform you want to achieve that aspiration, you have to work to get yourself acceptable to that platform you belong to. It is not going to be an automatic award that Nigerians should give Southeast ticket for president. What of the situation where APC gives ticket automatically to somebody from the Southeast and he doesn’t win the main election? Have you considered that? The Southeast needs to play good politics; the politics of engagement, the politics of consultation, the politics of getting the other parts of Nigeria involved in their aspirations. But for now I don’t think we are playing good politics.
As a member of the APC from the Southeast, if you address Igbo congress, would you say the APC has done much for the Southeast for them to embrace the party?
It is a question of give and take. I am an Igbo man and I need to be very objective. What has the Igbo man done to impress APC? You have to balance it. The president campaigned in all the five states of the Southeast, just like he campaigned in every other states; but what was the return for it in terms of votes? So, you also need to encourage people to do something for you. You cannot at every point be asking for something without giving something in return. For instance, when they talk about marginalisation in the National Assembly, I ask, what are you bringing to the table to deserve some of those positions? If you want to be President of the Senate, it is not an automatic award. If there is an election in the National Assembly, how many people from your side will vote for you? You have only two Senators; one is ranking and the other not ranking and you know that the rule in the National Assembly is that the person must be ranking. Secondly, if you are looking for Majority Leader, how many people did you bring from the Southeast to be compared to the Northwest or the Northeast where majority of the members come from? You have to fortify your home first before you can ask for outside help.
Coming into the position you are occupying at the time you did, nobody would pray to be in your shoes. There was former Governor Okorocha on one side and the man you took over from, Izunaso on the other. How did you survive?
When you are faced with a situation where the only worthy decision you can take is for the interest of the party, you can let every other thing lie low. My interest in this party is to see how it can move ahead. Whatever I can do to make this party move ahead, was my priority. So, every other personal thing didn’t mean anything to me.
Tony Akowe reports.