Chief (Barr.)Maxi Okwu,APGA National Chairman
National Secretary of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Sani Abudullahi Shinkafi, is not happy with the way things are going in his state, Zamfara. To him, governance has collapsed in the state. In this chat with Assistnat Editor, Joe Nwankwo, in Abuja, he also bared his mind on the recent ruling by the Abuja High Court removing him and the National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, from office. He equally shared his thoughts on some other national issues. Excerpts:
Just when some Nigerians thought the crisis in APGA was over, a high court in Abuja last week removed you and the National Chairman of the party. Where does this judgment leave you?
The judgment of the Abuja Federal High Court has a big question mark, it has since been rejected by three of the five plaintiffs in the suit. One of the plaintiffs, Maxi Okwu is not a member of APGA and there has no locus to sue any of the party members or the party itself. We have filed a notice of Appeal and a stay of execution of the judgment. We have gone ahead to hold our National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting. It was in the meeting that Governor Peter Obi was appointed the National Leader and Chairman Board of Trustees (BoT) of our great party. The NEC conferred on the National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh an award of excellence. The party is calm nationwide, there is no problem anywhere, all the state chapters of the party are doing their normal businesses. We are focused on winning more states in the next election. As I told you earlier three of the five plaintiffs have rejected the judgment you talked about. They have left Okwu and returned to the mainstream of the party. On Monday they were at the national secretariat of the party where they pledged their loyalty top the leadership. They told everybody that they were misled into joining Maxi Okwu group. They have asked the court to look at their notice of appeal against the judgment. They petitioned the court that they had, a month before the judgment applied to withdraw from the suit but the Judge refused to grant their application. They said they were scandalized by the ruling.
Do you agree with the rumour making the round that Imo State Governor sponsored the suit against you and the national Chairman?
In politics, you cannot underrate rumours, you can’t dismiss any speculation. I believe in the saying that there is no smoke without fire. We know that Gov. Rochas Okorocha is an enemy of the party. Anybody who has followed his comments about APGA in recent times will know what I am saying. Beyond comments he is clearly working to ensure that APGA is in crisis in Imo state and at the national level. Nobody should be deceived by his recent comment that APGA is his cultural party that he remains a member of the party. He even went to a court and filed an affidavit that he is a member of APGA, we are not deceived by that. We know that he is the chairman of APC Governors Forum; he cannot be in two parties. The reason we in APGA keep suspecting that he is behind the current onslaught on our party is that even last Monday he held a meeting with Maxi Okwu in his office. The meeting has an undertone, he is not an APGA governor, why the meeting with him. It is unfortunate that he (Okorocha) is doing this to APGA. This platform gave him his first electoral victory. But rather than being grateful to the same platform he chose to defect to the APC. Even as he has left the party we expected him to leave us alone. But he would not do that; he has continued to work against APGA. I firmly believe that he is behind the current legal ambush against our party. And that is very unfortunate.
The many legal battles that your party has been waging appear to be affecting your drive to win more states. What are your plans for 2015?
I don’t know where you got your information, you are totally wrong. Going to court does not in any way stop APGA from planning ahead. Yes we have had several legal battles and to the Glory of God we won all the cases. The party is being repositioned for the 2015 general election. Right now we are doing revalidation of membership nationwide. We planning a visit to all the chapters by the National Leader and chairman of our BoT, Mr Peter Obi and other officials our party. We are working hard to ensure that APGA wins all the states in the South East and few other states across the country. The nationwide tour was conceived to help us achieve this. The excos in all the states will be inaugurated by the leader of the party during the planned tour I told about. Our focus now is to give APGA a national outlook. Our party is loved by the grassroots, the youth and women. As a result of this, if we present a good candidate in any state we will win. I am sure that if elections are free and credible we will many states, more seats in the national and state assemblies.
Your posters are everywhere in Abuja indicating that you want to contest governorship in Zamfara, do the posters have your blessing?
I may not have asked anybody to print my poster but I’m not against it. The youth under different platforms are the ones yearning that I should vie for the office. I contested in 2007 and 2011. But in those two outings nobody asked me to contest. But this time around the youths are the one printing my poster, asking me to come and contest. They want me to come and rescue Zamfara. The state is experiencing serious decay; all the infrastructures are in a decrepit condition. Apart from that, there is high level of corruption there which is why everything is going down in the state. A kilometer of road without a bridge or culvert is being executed at the rate of N222m in Zamfara. But in our sister state Jigawa the same length of road goes for N57m. Look at the disparity, that is why people in the state are calling for a change. People are yearning for a government that would be accountable to them, an administration that would ensure fiscal discipline. The state needs leaders who would be serve the people and not lord over them. The state needs a governor that would not be there for only family and friends but for everybody. The youth and several other segments of the state have been mounting pressure on me. I told them that it is not yet time for electioneering but they are still insisting that I must begin to talk to our people. The youths are very critical in any society and you can’t dismiss them or their requests. I have told them that the electoral law does not permit political campaigns now. But they have vowed to continue to print and paste my posters everywhere. They have not asked me to give them a kobo; they are using their money to do all the printing.
APGA was considered not to be on the ground in Zamfara and that accounted for your defeat in the 2007 and 2011 elections, why are you going into the race again when the party is not a platform to reckon with in the state?
With the failure of the incumbent administration in Zamfara, people are not talking about political party, they are focusing on individuals who they think have the capacity to rescue the state. From 2007 to date, the state has not been lucky to have a governor who has the vision to change things for better in the state. The present administration has failed. So it is not about party but individual. People are looking for someone who can deliver on his promises of upturning the infrastructural deficits in the state. I have an advantage over other contestants including the incumbent governor. I have a rich experience in civil service, politics etc. if you look at the CVs of governors who have held sway in Zamfara – from Yerima to the incumbent, I am well ahead of them. i know what I need to do to effectively manage the lean resources of the state and still achieve the desired results. What we hear in the state that after salaries there is nothing left to run the state. I don’t think that is what the masses are expecting from their government. The present governor does not stay in the stay without travelling for two weeks. That is not how to run a state. You cannot know the needs of the state when barely stay there. Zamfara remains the only state where minimum wage is yet to be implemented. The past administration had approved N18, 000 as minimum wage but the present administration has refused to implement it. It shows that the administration does not have a human face, does not care about how the electorate feels. Right now, civil service in the state is distressed, the masses are despondent because the infrastructure is a bad shape, and there are no jobs for the youth. The nurses and midwives were on strike in the state for over four months. Many people died because that brought hospitals to their knees.The poverty level in Zamfara is more than any other state in Nigeria, it is so high. Many people are sick but they cannot go to hospitals because they do not have money. Yet the government is not concerned. Looking at the shape of things in the state, you will agree with me that the e3lectorate are more concerned about somebody that can rescue the state than the political party you talked about.
What do you want to do differently to ensure that you do not face another defeat in 2015?
In 2007 and 2011, the electorate was deceived into believing that it is all about political party but now people are focusing on individuals’ character and capabilities. The youth of the state, unlike in the other elections you mentioned, are now the ones saying we must vote for this or the other person. Civil servants and women in the state are clearly showing that they are not happy with the way things are going and are coming out to speak against some evil policies of the administration. We are taking advantage of this situation to sell our programmes to the people. I know that if elections are free and credible I will win with a wide margin.
Don’t you see the APC as a threat to your ambition in Zamfara and the North generally?
APC is not a threat; I don’t see the party as a threat in any way. I have not seen any reason to be perturbed by what APC is doing because I know that it has not shown any Nigerian that it has come to make a difference. I am only concerned about the candidate that it will present. The truth is that you cannot come to Zamfara and begin to talk about this or that party being for Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. What is even going for is that i refused to join the so called unity government formed by the government in the state when the administration came on board in 2011. Today I’m being looked at as a man of integrity; they know that I cannot sell out.
What do you make of the recent comment by the Chairman of INEC that Nigeria should not expect a perfect election in 2015?
The statement is very unfortunate. I never expected Prof Jega to make such statement. However, despite the comment, I still have confidence in Jega, I have confidence in the leadership of the commission because we are seeing the changes and transformation that is taking place there. My decision to bow to pressure and agree to contest the 2015 election is because of the new look INEC. He (Jega) needs to give an explanation on what he meant when he said Nigerians should not expect perfect elections, so that people can correctly situate it. INEC should focus more on messages that would bring attitudinal change to elections by politicians and the electorate. Politicians should stop preaching religion and tribe; they should concentrate on what they can offer to change the society. Politicians should be told by INEC to place the interest of the country before their selfish interests. I think Jega should refrain from making comments that could lend themselves to misinterpretation .
Chief Victor Umeh
Dr Sani Abdullahi Shinkafi