The secretary of the now-defunct Caretaker Committee of the All Progressives Congress, Senator James Akpanudoedehe, who recently defected from the ruling party and now the governorship candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party in Akwa Ibom State, tells OLUWAFEMI MORGAN why he left the party and his chances in his new party
You were a ranking member of the All Progressives Congress and up till March you were the secretary of its caretaker committee that administered the affairs of the party for close to two years, why did you dump the party?
It’s because of the way I was treated, but I took it in good faith. I don’t want to make an issue of it because as the immediate past national secretary, I expect the party to treat me with modesty and fairness. There is this issue that keeps repeating itself in the party. In 2015, some people came from the Peoples Democratic Party and the party gave them the (governorship) ticket. I was not given. I built the structure and the movement yet people came from the PDP and they were given the ticket. In 2019 and now 2022, the same thing happened. The principals of the party did not extend that hand of fellowship to me, so I had no option than to leave. I am a capitalist, not a communist.
Your defection from the party you helped to build in the state came to many as a surprise, was your exit entirely because you lost the APC governorship ticket or there were other things you were dissatisfied with?
It is a very painful thing because I had no option, and age is not on my side. This is the right time for my zone to run for that office and if they lose that chance, that would be almost forever. There is this thing they (APC) kept doing; they kept pushing me to a borderline. If people keep pushing you and you don’t take action, the timeline will expire and there will be nothing you can do. So, there was a need to opt out immediately for me to be on the ballot.
Having been an APC member all along, how easy was your transition to another party?
It was easy because we have a lot of similarities in my new party with the APC. In the APC, there are progressives and ours is a political movement.
Many people have said most of our political parties are the same, are you saying the NNPP is similar to the APC in many ways?
Yes, they also have a leader like President (Muhammadu) Buhari, and they have a massive and reliable followership.
Since they are similar, does it not mean the treatment you got in the APC could repeat itself?
I have the ticket so it cannot even repeat itself. I am already the party’s governorship candidate in Akwa-Ibom State.
You were the secretary of the APC prior to the emergence of the new National Working Committee of the party and many people would expect you to be in charge, at least in your state, what went wrong that it didn’t go your way?
I don’t know because when they (the new NWC members) came in it was like they were angry with those in the caretaker committee. One cannot explain all the issues, but for instance, the National Chairman (Abdullahi Adamu) said when he was the head of the reconciliation committee, I ignored their committee and I did not appear; that when they went to Calabar and they extended their invitation to me I did not appear. They even said my chairman appeared three times but I snubbed them. However, I remember that trip to Calabar; I prepared and bought my ticket the first time but it was postponed. They rescheduled it and postponed it again. The third time was when we had the tripartite committee meeting. I was in the merger committee and the constitution drafting committee. We (caretaker committee) saved this party from collapsing. If we allowed what was about to happen, maybe this national chairman would not be chairman today. For the mere fact that I left, it is in the spirit of comradeship. Some courtesy should be extended to me, but when you see that an environment is toxic, hostile and unforgiving, what do you do other than to step aside. Unfortunately, the President has been very busy; I wanted to see him. I spoke with everybody; the vice-president and the Chief of Staff (to the President). Everybody, including the chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum and the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, had spoken to him (Adamu) but he seemed not to shift his ground.
The former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and former governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio, is also a key member of the party in the state, what is your relationship with him?
Akpabio has frustrated my life since 2009. As you know, he made a law to put me in prison. He charged me with treason and murder. He keeps pursuing me. When I left the PDP, it was because of him and I thought I had come to a haven of peace and that I wouldn’t see him again, but he thrives on politics of money. With his wealth, he has successfully blinded Nigerians to believe that he is a performer. When he was governor, Akwa Ibom collected over N1.3tn from the federal allocation. There is a report, and if I want to quote Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (former Minister of Finance), she said of all the money the state got it did not use one per cent of it for development. When a man like Akpabio uses money wrongly and uses money to blindfold people, he will call himself uncommon. Some people believe he has a grip on Akwa Ibom State, but he does not. When he left the PDP, he did not come with the structure of the party. When I formed the APC in my state, I started it with 250,000 people, but sometimes people tend to believe in those who have a lot of money than those with little money.
Since 1999, PDP has had a firm grip on your state, how do you intend to win the election, because in your state, after PDP, it’s the APC, in terms of acceptance and popularity?
After PDP, it is not another party.
How about the influence of Governor Udom Emmanuel and the PDP governorship candidate, Umo Eno, who is also the governor’s choice?
Udom is not contesting the election with me. It is the candidate we will face. We are not going to talk about the incumbent governor.
Are you more popular than the candidate he anointed?
The bible says God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. You know I am a pastor; so I don’t boast. I only leave everything in the hands of God. I don’t talk about how I am going to win. All powers belong to God. He gives power and grace to the humble. I understand the Bible very well; it says some trust in horses and some trust in chariots. If God decides to follow you, you will win. I was elected the chairman of my local government at the age of 32; I was a senator at the age of 35. When (late Gen Sani) Abacha died, I was elected a senator again at the age of 37. If you want to evaluate the people you mentioned, where were they in the political landscape in 1999? We are not competing and we don’t pursue people. We only believe we can do it. When I started as an opposition in Akwa Ibom State, there was nothing they did not do to stop me, but I came out victorious. Later, all of them that were abusing us became members of the party.
You were a founding member of the Action Congress of Nigeria in your state before it morphed into the APC, but it seems the structure was hijacked from you and now your friend, Akpabio, is in charge of the structure. At what point did you lose the party’s structure?
My structure has not been hijacked. It is the fault of ‘Abuja’ that normally takes sides against us. I think Akpabio has a problem with leadership. He was not investing in the party as a minister. We were the ones who paid salaries, rent and all the things we did and the moves we made. He wasn’t involved. I’m sure he felt ‘I will see how you will do it’. I was the one spending the money but I am sure he was surprised we did it. He later realised we had gone far.
How deep is the structure and popularity of the NNPP in Akwa Ibom State at the moment?
Now that I’m in the NNPP, it will become the number one party in the state. That’s the much I can say.
What are your plans for the people of the state if you emerge as the governor?
I want to lead them out of poverty. There is about 61 per cent unemployment in the land; there is serious poverty in the midst of plenty, so I will lead them out of poverty.
What is your take on the issue of zoning in the state, given the fact that you are Ibibio and the incumbent governor is also Ibibio?
Ibibio in Eket senatorial district, I am Ibibio in Uyo senatorial district.
Does it mean other ethnic groups do not feel uncomfortable with the dominance of the Ibibio?
In Uyo senatorial district, there is no other sub-group, they are predominantly Ibibio people, spread across local governments.
With the dominance of the Ibibio, was that what influenced the choice of your running mate?
In Akwa-Ibom State, we normally say that Ibibio is the first son, Anang is the second son and Oron is the third son. That is how we look at it.
The presidential candidate of your party (Rabiu Kwankwaso) is seen as a strong force in the North, how does the party hope to replicate this in other regions?
If he can harness all his followership and encourage all of them to have permanent voter cards, he will shock Nigerians. He has the most unprecedented movement.
But people have argued that the movement is mainly in Kano and northern Nigeria?
When we start our campaigns, he will engage the rest of the country. So, that is not a problem; we have eight months to campaign. If you observed, the party had its special convention in Abuja, because it is a national party.
Could you share with us some of those you are wooing into the party, especially from the South-South?
A lot of people are coming to join us. I won’t blow it open. At the right time, they will make it public. We have the window to realign, so we don’t have a problem.
When you were in the APC, there were insinuations that the caretaker committee, which you served as the secretary, didn’t want to leave office, which they alleged was the reason you spent about two years in office instead of six months. How would you respond to that?
You have forgotten about COVID-19, #EndSARS insecurity and other things that happened. If it was possible for us to finish in one or two weeks, (we would have done it). You forget that we took almost three months to do membership registration, with about 40 million members registered. We also had to organise the ward congress and national convention. In-between, we had bye-elections, we also had to carry the governors along because they control the structure of the party in their states. The important thing is that we were eligible to be there and we were also members of the party. If it was possible, we would have stayed there for four years as long as we delivered on our mandate. That should be nothing to worry about.
Why was it impossible for the caretaker committee to resolve the crisis in the state chapters of the party?
It is a human problem; nobody can resolve all human problems, you can only manage it.
Many people predicted there would be some crisis after the APC presidential primary because the stakes were high. Do you think all is well with the party?
I am out of the APC and I have relinquished all my rights and privileges, so I can only talk about NNPP now.
How would you describe the strength of the Kwankwaso movement?
Don’t underestimate him. The people that are following him are too young to be undermined or underrated. He is a force to reckon with.
Will the NNPP be able to defeat the APC in the forthcoming elections?
What we can do is to sell our programmes to the Nigerian people. We have our strategy to win and APC would have its own strategy too. However, we thank God that votes will count. Everyone is relying on the technology deployed by INEC, which should guarantee one man one vote. Nigerians will decide who they want to be president. If you use the word ‘force’, then you are saying that you are bigger than Nigeria.
With the drama that played out in the APC shortly before the primary, in which case the chairman sought to impose the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, as the consensus candidate, do you think Adamu can survive as the chairman now that Tinubu is the candidate?
I don’t want to talk about APC. As for the issue of the national chairman, he was quite unforgiving when I worked with him. He was very hostile in his leadership pursuit. He was very dogmatic and toxic. I couldn’t understand an elderly man who would be that unreasonable. I don’t know the kind of force that pushes him. He was nothing to compare when it came to unforgiveness. If President Buhari could forgive Godswill Akpabio who abused him in every campaign and the President still made him minister, what other crime are you talking about? If President Buhari could forgive Akpabio, what did I do wrong? Nothing.
Could you give an example of how he was unfair to you?
I remember one day when he kept me waiting in his office from 9am to 8pm. He later called one of his secretaries to call me, when they had earlier informed me that he did not want to see me. When I saw him eventually, he just dismissed me as if there was nothing important to say. There was a time he was telling party men that I said his handover file as chairman of the APC National Reconciliation Committee was empty. I never said such a thing, but when I heard, I had to defend myself as the secretary of the party at the time. I don’t want to say more than that.