National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Sylvester Ezeokenwa (Esq), speaks on the controversies surrounding petrol subsidy removal and the moves made by the President Bola Tinubu-led administration to tackle its repercussion, among other issues, in this interview with Cajetan Mmuta
What had been the challenges since you emerged as national chairman of APGA?
It has been very daunting. I always like to draw an analogy from what transpired during the last general elections because of the emergence of the Labour Party and the group of young men and women and movement fuelled by the majority of young people who made so much noise and effigy around that, which centred around the candidacy of Mr Peter Obi the former governor of Anambra state. Incidentally for us in APGA, as a political party, that movement that was to champion the Presidential ambition of Mr Peter Obi, some other persons translated it as a movement of the party, the Labour Party, and instead of concentrating on the presidential election of Mr Peter Obi, we saw a whole lot of sympathy weaved around the Labour Party as a political party and under that platform, some candidates for other elective positions benefitted from it. So, based on that background, it has been quite a daunting task for us to begin to re-convince the people and not just the people of Anambra State, but Nigeria in general that APGA remains the credible platform for anybody to achieve his or her quest in the country. I have always said that APGA is synonymous with good governance. Going by the previous governors that had served in the state, like Peter Obi, Willie Obiano and now Governor Charles Soludo, there is no better example than the euphoria that greeted Obi’s candidacy and I have always told anybody that cared to listen that anything you attribute to Obi as a person and why people choose him and the achievements he recorded as a governor of Anambra State was due to the implementation of the APGA’s manifesto. So, they are inseparable. You cannot be counting those credit stories of APGA and begin to appropriate them to the Labour Party, that would be most uncharitable and most unfair. What I am doing is beginning in earnest to convince stakeholders that you are trying to appropriate credit due to APGA to another political party. So, of course, this is a matter of ideology and it is a very difficult one. They whip sentiments and so many emotions about Labour Party, but APGA has always been that political party that has produced credible leaders using Anambra State as a case study. So, it is not easy, but we are determined to do that. Secondly, as I said earlier, the movement of the Labour Party, was by young persons and what has APGA done? APGA said yes we see a seeming change in the area of political party participation in Nigeria and we saw young people deeply involved and interested in party politics unlike in the past when they showed a laissez-faire attitude to everything called politics. But over the years because of that attitude, there has been that persistent production of bad leaders, and course bad leaders translate to bad governance, and now we are now seeing young people that are now interested in politics and political party participation and APGA wants to offer it to these young persons and also tell them they can achieve what they want in APGA as a political platform to achieve whatever we want to achieve in terms of party political participation. We are not stopping at that, we are getting into serious stakeholder engagement. We are trying as much as possible to incorporate the party at the various levels, wards, and local government. We are planning a retreat for all members of the National Working Committee (NWC) to put in place the noble ideas and manifesto of this administration.
What about the litany of litigation in the party and the need to bring all the actors together?
There are two issues that you raised now and the first one is the seemingly leadership tussle and how to bring the actors together. When you come to the issue of whether there is a leadership tussle my answer is straight that there has never been. Recall that I was the National Legal Adviser of the party and I know everything and the nitty-gritty of all the challenges. What you call legal tussle are people, seemingly a penchant for mischief in the sense that if there is a legal tussle, you will see someone has chosen to be mischievous moving from one court to the other and one media to the other to propagate a non-existing court judgement, or the other. But that is the person’s business. The only thing is that as a political party, there is some level of distraction because people tend to believe what the media feeds them and once there is that perception of the seeming crisis or internal tussle, people tend to accept it and begin to ask questions.
Can you keep your art together?
What is the possibility that if we vote for Mr A, Mr B would come in and change everything? For us here, we know that there is no problem because I have always said that anything about a political party has a regulatory body. If you want to know the CEO of any commercial bank in Nigeria you go to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). If you want to know who is the Chairman of a political party you go to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). If you look at Section 22 of the Constitution, you will see what it talks about a political party, the conditions that you would meet for you to be registered as a political party by INEC and it is INEC that regulates the activities of political parties. So, if you are a national chairman of a party or a national officer of a party, it means by implication you must have emerged through a process of national convention that was monitored by INEC that would produce reports of the election which indicates or shows that you are the National Chairman of the party. So anyone who says that he is the national chairman of the party should tell us the national convention that produced him as national chairman. It is not a question of I am trying to parade this judgement. Where did you hold your convention? Who monitored it? Is it INEC or which body? In 2019, there was a national convention in Awka monitored by INEC led by the National Commissioner, Prof Remi Akinlade, and the records are there. In 2023, the convention was held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Awka, Anambra State, and was monitored by the INEC team led by Festus Okoye. So, if you say that you are the national chairman, show us the reports of your national convention. It is not something that you conduct within the comfort or confines of your house and go to one media house and start talking rubbish. So, for that issue, as I said before, we don’t have any problem, and if you like to go about various media houses that is not our problem. As a political party, we are focused on our mandate and we are moving on.
How are you going to manage these actors?
First, it is very important and our only interest is how APGA produces credible leaders for all elective positions or offices in Nigeria and that is our primary objective. To help young people, credible Nigerians, and patriotic Nigerians sell our manifesto and ideology to Nigerians and elect APGA candidates. Now the actor who has deviated from these objectives and is probably chasing money or chasing the crowd, of course, you can see that we are diverse concerning what we want as a political party. But if you are interested in helping APGA become a credible platform or help APGA to become a popular political party, whatever is that interest we try as much as possible to accommodate it within the confines and dictates of the Constitution of the party. We cannot say come let the National Secretary step down so that you can come in. So, the only thing you can do is join the party. If there is any elective position that you want to contest you go through the electoral process and if you win; fine. A political party is not a business enterprise and it depends on your interest. If your interest is to make money from the party or milk the party like you saw what you mentioned, and if INEC does not recognise you and has not allowed you to conduct a convention you want to be national chairman it means that the idea is to enrich your pockets.
Nigeria is currently grappling with the issues of subsidy and hike in fuel price, what is your take on this?
We must ask ourselves if a political party is elected based on its manifesto and ideology. So, we must, first of all, go back to the manifesto of the political party of President Bola Tinubu. From this, you will know if the President has derailed his party manifesto. Various presidential candidates of the political parties in respect of the removal of subsidy all believe in unison that subsidy, as it was being managed, has not been sustainable and we are very clear about it. When you are clear about it, the next thing is the alternative. I will go down memory lane. Subsidy as crafted originally was to do one major thing that Nigerians enjoy in the sense that it means that there is an international price of petroleum products and the government in a bid to regulate it has to pay the difference. Very noble idea and objective. But the question becomes if this very noble objective has now been mismanaged or abused in the sense that people now use it to corrupt and enrich themselves to the detriment of the people and the government and we have to do something drastic about it. Painfully, I say with every sense of responsibility that the masses are at the receiving end of every government policy. What was originally designed as a benefit to Nigerians which they derive from the government has been abused and in a rather disappointing manner. We have not seen what the Nigerian government has done over the years to checkmate the criminal enterprise that has trailed the subsidy. This is a very despicable manner that this subsidy has been handled. I remember during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan an inquiry was set up to look into this issue and there were startling revelations. However, marketers or importers import these products and do the paper works, collect the payments, and find a way to smuggle the product outside the country. So, you cannot think of any worse economic sabotage against this country than this. What I am saying is that the masses are at the receiving end of every government policy and its mismanagement. It is good a thing that the Tinubu government has come in to say enough is enough. But the question here is that if you sell at the international price rate there is bound to be inflation because it is no longer being regulated, and a very critical question that should be answered is what happens to the subsidy that was removed? The government would save money; save a whole lot of money from the subsidy that was supposed to be paid and that is a litmus taste for the Tinubu administration and Nigeria is watching keenly what would be done with the subsidy money.
My advice is government should try as much as possible to work in the interest of the people of Nigeria and we have for once a government that will be responsible to the masses.
The government should try to take care of a certain sector of the economy so that the subsidy payment would affect the people, and one critical sector is power. We cannot run a business with petrol or diesel and do it successfully. When you don’t take care of power, the small and medium scale Industries will suffer. There will be an increase in the poverty rate and a whole people would run out of business and employment level would continue to increase. The government must also provide a mass transportation scheme to help the citizens. We have rail lines abroad and the system is that you can walk from your house, get any available train and go to work to a place like 100 miles and be there rock time, finish your work and come back. These are things government can do with the subsidy money. If we can recover some amount of money from subsidy and invest it into power and transportation and see how we can empower small and medium-scale industries or businesses as most countries are doing it would be good and this would lift a lot of people from poverty. Because small-scale businesses and medium-scale industries drive the economy and not multi-national companies. The government can provide capital as take-off grants for these businesses and you will see exponential growth in our economy, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, and the Gross National Product, there would also be an increase in the number of industries that would provide job opportunities for the people. Also, there should be a massive inquiry into the subsidy issues and a big one at that and anyone or company that has benefited from the corruption of subsidy must be made to refund every penny to the country and that is when the masses would have confidence in the Tinubu administration. Trust is very important here in government or the affairs of government. For me, it is a litmus taste for the Tinubu administration.