INTERVIEW: Why I Stepped Down For Ngige - Annie Okonkwo
In the build up to the recent governorship primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Anambra State, one of the leading aspirants in the race, Senator Annie Okonkwo, stepped down for Senator Chris Ngige. The decision by the Deputy National Chairman of APC (South) shocked many. In this interview, he speaks on a wide range of issues, including his reasons for stepping down for Ngige. Excerpts…
In your opinion, what is the fate of the APC in the South-East, given the fact that the PDP seems to be in control?
PDP is not in control. PDP is in disarray and, of course, you can see that almost all the PDP governors in the south-east are already two-term governors. They are going and for that, there would be no issue of power of incumbency and what that means is that it will give the opportunity for APC to take over all other states in the South-east because today, APC has a very strong state; that is Imo out of the five states in the South-east and I believe that from what is happening on ground, by November this year when Anambra governorship election will hold, I can see APC taking over the state. And once APC takes over the state, the rest of the three states will fall in for APC. For me, I believe that this is the best opportunity for APC to take over the entire South-east states and bring the desired change, the desired development in infrastructure, the desired protection of our people; in terms of security, in terms of creating jobs and in terms of free education, which is the key manifesto of APC. I don’t think that anybody will try to ignore these factors that APC has and I also implore our people to massively support APC so that by November 16, APC will be the ruling party in Anambra State.
Apart from the fact that Senator Chris Ngige appears to be drawing a crowd for the party in Anambra State, how acceptable is the APC in the South-east generally?
I think that a lot of people still don’t understand what is happening. Today, I will use Anambra as an example. APC started membership registration and in two days, they recorded over 500,000 members, who came out in their great numbers to join APC and, of course, I have never seen this in my political career where so many people are interested in a political party and registered such huge number within 48 hours. So, what that means is that the people of Anambra have embraced APC. For that, I believe that the entire south-east have embraced APC. Of course, Senator Chris Ngige is a known Anambrarian. He is a very strong member of APC and there is no doubt that during his tenure as a governor, he performed very well in terms of giving our people the basic infrastructure they needed and if he flies the flag of APC, I believe that the people of Anambra State will support him because they have seen him, they know what he (Ngige) has done and he can do more.
There are speculations that the party plans to zone the vice presidential slot to the South-east but concerns are rife that the zone has often played second fiddle in the political scheme of things. How acceptable do you think this offer is going to be to the Igbo, given the current cry of marginalisation by the people?
First of all, the truth of the matter is that we in APC are not aiming for the number two position. We believe strongly that the APC will field an Igbo man to run as their presidential candidate and that means that we are making progress and today people are thinking about number two position and for them to change their minds and give Igbo the number one position, means that we are are getting there. In other political parties, we are not even number four or number five. In fact, we are nowhere. So, we cannot be saying we have been playing second fiddle when we are not in the fourth or even fifth position as it stands today. Our people have been completely ignored. So, I believe that APC is here for the people of the South-east and that APC has recognised that the South-east is a very important part of this country and if for any reason we miss the number one position, the number two is there for us. All of us should be happy with APC, at least, we are getting nearer unlike in other political parties where there is no hope for the Igbo man. I want to recognise that the only place we have hope as an Igbo man is in APC.
Could you give an update on the APC primaries in Anambra? What is the strategy for winning the governorship and council polls in the state and other South-East states?
As far as I am concerned, APC is waxing very strong. As I have said before, people have accepted APC. APC is going to conduct their primaries in accordance with the constitution and electoral act to select their candidate, and if that happens, I believe that the members of APC will support whoever emerges as the candidate and for us, we know that the way the people have accepted it in Anambra state, there is no political party that has the huge number of members that APC has. So, I believe that if all the members will vote for their respective candidates alone, no party can beat APC.
At the Abuja APC parley, you stepped down for Ngige for the Anambra governorship election in November, leaving many wondering why you did so, especially as you have contested for the Anambra governorship even before Ngige joined politics. Have you given up the hope finally?
Today, you can see that in APC, I am the national deputy chairman of the party in charge of southern Nigeria. What that means is that my own jurisdiction is almost about eighteen states and of course, we are laying the foundation of APC, it was really difficult as a party man; the man in the helm of affairs to keep pushing; it is all about service. I considered that my position in the national hierarchy of APC would serve our people better in terms of structuring the party which is better than coming to Anambra State which is just one of the states I control. So, I decided to support a candidate which I believe that if we can all give our support, Anambra State will become a foregone conclusion. That is why I decided to lead the campaign of Senator Chris Ngige, to make sure that at least Anambra State will become the first state which I will deliver to APC before other states will follow.
Your faction of the APGA melted into the APC, leaving the other faction still waxing strong. Are you worried about the capacity of the “legacy APGA” in Anambra for example”?
You can see that the main APGA has left APGA. What is left is the carcass of APGA that are APGA-PDP. You can see the way they disqualified Soludo by giving reason that Abuja said that they don’t want him. Is this the kind of party that was left for us? Is this really the ideology of Ikemba Ojukwu? Today, if Ikemba is still alive, he will be the first to join APC, but because those that are around have sold the spirit of the Igbo man and have decided to do a different thing, but I thank God for APC. I believe that after November 16th, there will be nothing like APGA anymore.
As the vice chairman of the party in the South-east, what will you say is the APC’s strategy for dislodging the PDP?
From what everybody could see, the acceptance of APC is quite enormous. Nobody is happy with the PDP because PDP has already dislodged itself. A party that has ruled this country for about 14 years and still they have nothing to show for it. I believe that from what we can see in the country today, it is a total change from the way things are done and if you also look at the way APC states are working compared to the PDP states, you can see the difference. We can use Imo as an example; if you come to Imo State today, you can see the massive development and change in their infrastructure, road construction, free education, schools and hospital are being built over night. That is the significance that the party is a party that is going to take over. I believe that if these things are being duplicated in other South East states, you can feel the difference and South East will definitely be a place where people will no longer have the need for urban migration to places like Lagos and that will finally change the way things are being done, especially in the South East.