A former National Vice Chairman (South South) of the All Progressives Congress, Hilliard Eta, speaks with JOHN ALECHENU about his expulsion from the party by the National Executive Committee, his pending suit against the party and the reason behind the leadership crisis in the APC
On Tuesday, the National Executive Committee of your party, the APC, at a meeting presided over by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), announced your expulsion from the party on account of your pending matter in court. What is your take on this?
You are aware that I am in court on the basis of the fact that even the National Executive Committee meeting held on the 25th of June was an illegal meeting and the Tuesday’s meeting again is an illegality. It was built on illegality, it’s a nullity. You are also aware that there is a Supreme Court judgment that whenever a member of an organisation is in court for an issue pertaining to that organisation, that the power of discipline is divested from that organisation and invested in the court. So, the illegal contraption that met today (Tuesday) cannot speak for NEC because it is not properly constituted, and even if it was properly constituted, the NEC of the party cannot take the place of the court. I’m in court and awaiting the judicial pronouncement on all these matters.
Why did it take you almost five months to challenge the dissolution of the NWC which you were part of the decisions made during the APC NEC meeting of June 25th?
As a matter of fact, there are so many reasons for that. The first one is that this thing happened in the middle of a pandemic, it caused a lot of hesitation in terms of human interactions. Number two, I am a politician, when things of this nature happen, it behooves the politician to find various ways and means of conflict resolution. Those other means were exploited but they were unfruitful. It got to a point where I now understood that resorting to the judiciary to seek redress was essentially the last resort.
The former National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, has since dissociated himself from the suit which you instituted. Was he consulted before you went to court?
In no part of my court process did I include the name of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. So, it is true that he is not part of the suit, it is true that I never consulted him, it is also true that he has his fundamental rights as a Nigerian just like I have mine. What he decides to do when those rights are trampled upon may be different from what I may decide to do when those rights are trampled upon. He spoke very well; he spoke for himself and I’m speaking for myself.
Tuesday’s NEC meeting also announced the dissolution of the entire party structure across the nation from ward level upward. What is your take on this decision?
I have said it. As I told you earlier, this meeting that was held today (Tuesday) has no constitutional right and that is the reason I am in court; this NEC meeting has no constitutional right to speak for the party and the issues they have spoken to. It is sad that a lot of the members of our party, who laboured for this party as well as its creation and establishment, are keeping quiet at a time a few governors and some powerful individuals are attempting to completely destroy the party. It is not good for our party, it is not good for our country; it is not good for democracy.
Who are these individuals you are alluding to?
They know themselves and we know them. At the fullness of time, what is hidden will become public.
Do you still speak as a member of the party even though NEC has pronounced your expulsion?
I speak as the Acting National Chairman of the party. And as the acting national chairman of the party, if you go through our constitution, the only organ that can discipline me is the national convention of our great party. I am a constitutionalist; I believe wholly that this party campaigned in 2014 and 2015 on the basis of change, and that we are going to change the perspective of the rule of law, the perspective of constitutionalism, the perspective of order, and the perspective of standards. I still believe strongly on those precepts.
In the light of all that are currently happening, can you say in all honesty that the APC can retain its position as the ruling party in 2023?
If you mean the way that the contraption is running things, that is not our party. That contraption is unknown to the laws of the land; it is unknown to our party constitution. So, I don’t bother myself with the conduct of that contraption.
Looking at the promises your party made to improve the lot of Nigerians in the areas of healthcare, economy, anti-corruption, security, would you say your party has delivered on its promises to the Nigerian people six years down the line?
I say with every sense of responsibility that the President has done a lot. It just so happened that a lot of variables have attended to this period that has made it almost impossible for people to see the discernable changes that he has brought to the fabric of the country. We’ve had the collapse of the oil market during this period under review, we have had the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot of other issues but if you put all these away and you look at how we came about and where we are today, I think that we need to give kudos to the President for what he has done. That is not to say that it is satisfactory, that is not to say that we have gotten the job wholly done. It is just to tell you that it is work-in-progress and that it is going in the right direction. There are some things that we ought to have done that we have not done and I pray to God that we will pay attention to those areas. If we pay attention to those critical areas, they will become the catalyst for the rapid transformation of our society.
So much has been said about the zoning debate recently. Were you in any meeting during the formative years of the APC where the issue was discussed in detail? Are you aware of any such arrangement?
You don’t need to be aware of any such arrangement, you only need to be sensible, sensitive and conscious of our fault lines as a nation and as a people. We live in very interesting times and we know that our fault lines over the years have been greatly accentuated. So, you need to look at those fault lines and consider the fact that oscillating these (political) offices will help to bridge most of those dichotomies; that is, most of the gulfs that we have in our ethnic relationships. A few people must not sit down and decide whether the presidency will go to the North or go to the South. It is for all of us the elite to be sensitive to, sensible and conscious of the fault lines of our society and work in tandem with our desire for national reconciliation and nation building. If we do so, then, we must know that the presidency has to be used to unify the country and bring our people together. As such, if it is by (power) going to the North and coming down to the South that will solve the problem we are having with unity and oneness, I think everybody should look at it properly. Everybody should look at it objectively, that is my attitude to it.
What in your view must be done to rebuild the APC?
The greatest problem that we have in our party is the problem of the lack of internal democracy. A lot of people are pulling at the party because they feel short-changed. The party can do so many things but it can do three major things which if we get right most of our other problems will resolve themselves naturally. If we are able to do these three major things, I believe we can pull our party members together. Number one, we must design and devise a structure of internal democracy that is unassailable. We must do this even if we have to go electronic within the selection process of the party. We have to do so because we are the governing party. That’s number one. Number two, we must do everything to ideologically distinguish ourselves from other parties. Our party must be based on ideas. On every major issue in the country, we must have an idea that is identified with the party. Number three, we must understand that our reward system is so flawed and members feel completely alienated. So these are the three things: find a structure of internal democracy that every member can identify and align with; we must have a system that is accepted by a majority of members of the party, our party must be able to canvass for votes on the basis of ideas; and we must make sure that our reward system does not alienate those who worked for the party. Among other things we can do, those three things are key.
You were a part of the Adams Oshiomhole -led NWC. So much has been said about his leadership style. Some have referred to it as dictatorial. What was your experience?
Most of the things said about Comrade Adams Oshiomhole are not completely true. Out of the 21 NWC members, 18 worked in tandem with him throughout his stay for about two years. These are people who come from different parts of the country. I am not saying he was perfect. He wasn’t a perfect human being but I am very sure that if he was as bad as they would want to paint him, 18 of us would not have decided to work with him so that the party might succeed. He has his faults just like every human being but why is it that everyone will be celebrating his faults while nobody is interested in celebrating his strength? I have read a lot of commentary saying that I am a strong ally of Oshiomhole. I was elected into the NWC in 2014, Adams Oshiomhole was then the governor of Edo State, he was not in the National Working Committee of the party. He came to the NWC when I was re-elected in 2018 and anybody who knows me will tell you that I have never been a rubberstamp to anybody; and there were so many other people. I can mention very many distinguished Nigerians who worked together with him in the two years he was in office.
Some people have argued that when you stood in for the late Acting National Chairman, Abiola Ajimobi, who was at the time the substantive Deputy National Chairman, your state was and is still being ruled by the opposition party. How did this make you feel?
I don’t know where it is stated in our constitution that an officer of the party must come from a state where the party is in control or the party is in government. You see, all of this atavistic political understanding is not only backward, it is pristine. We live in a democracy and in a democracy, you cannot have a one-party system. It does not therefore mean that those who come from states that are not governed by their own party cannot ventilate their political perspective in a different party. It doesn’t make sense. I am a progressive to be very candid; I underst and what progressivism is. This is against those who just mouth the word, I understand it clearly. I am a progressive and I will remain a progressive for life.
What do you say to those who describe you as a face and a voice of some hidden forces within your party and that the course of action you’ve taken was engineered by these unseen hands?
Let me first of all say that it’s an insult for anybody to believe that a 58-year-old man, one who has gone through the crucibles of party administration, will be the face of anybody. I have political associates; I have those that I share common goals and common causes with, I have them. I also know there are conservatives that have found themselves in our party and I do not share beliefs with them. I do not share ideas with them, we do not have a common perspective of governance. If you describe me as a face, yes, I am the face of the progressives in the APC. Now, who is their face? Who are they projecting for? They keep mentioning names, they mentioned the name of the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu. They say that I am being used by Tinubu to cause trouble. It’s a pity because Tinubu is strong enough not to have to use anybody to ventilate his positions. He doesn’t have to use me to ventilate his position; he is strong enough. We belabour the issue. The issue is like this, the forceful takeover of the party that happened on the 25th of June is sub-judice, it is in court, I await a court pronouncement on the issue. If the court agrees that the takeover was lawful, that it was constitutional, and was legal, I will apologise. However, when the court agrees with my position, I hope they will have the presence of mind to apologise for what they have done to the party. I am very sure most of the people behind all of these shenanigans are not even mindful that you cannot win elections in a hollow and empty party. When they pursue these scorched-earth policies, they should also know that there are fine people on both sides. Nobody should be treated with the kind of contempt that they treat people in this party. Let me tell you, every time you invoke the constitution of the party and the country, they invoke the name of the president as if the president belongs to them only. They do not predicate their actions on the law for which we campaigned vigorously in 2014 that we were going to be a lawful and law-abiding party. We said we were going to celebrate the rule of law, that is what we promised Nigerians. We must find a way, we must find it in us to keep to that promise.
What you have just said brings us to the next question. Some people have described Buhari as the rope tying the symbolic APC broom and that by the time he leaves office in 2023, the party will split. Do you share such fears?
I have had to answer this question several times and I will tell you my perspective. Whatever we intend that the APC will become post-Buhari, that is what it will become. If we want the rope that is tying the party’s broom post-Buhari to be Buhari, that is what we will have. If we want ideas to be the rope that binds the broom, then we should be able to develop it on the basis of the law. I know of so many of them that have never done any serious thing in their lives apart from politics. I know of so many of them who have stolen both in their states and at the federal level; they have stolen the people dry. All what they are interested in is power for the purpose and the sake of power. But we should get power from the people on the basis of ideas and use those ideas to transform the lives of our people; that is what I stand for, that is what I am prepared to fight for. It does not matter how many people traduces me, it does not matter how many illegal suspension or expulsions that they will do. At the end of the day, the law will stand and I will stand with the law; the people will demand ideas and I will always be on the side of ideas.
Can we have your parting shot?
Let me say here now that the time has come for us to move towards nationhood; to begin to build institutions and begin to understand that it is the rule of law that will help us to build these institutions. The time has come that our leaders must be made to understand that it is the rule of law that differentiates us from the jungle. We must understand that the present situation of Nigeria has come to us because we have largely disrespected the law. For me, I am prepared to go the full length and embrace the law. I urge them to do the same in order to understand that there is simply nobody in this country that is above the law. The law is what should be the binding force for all citizens and party members; whether you are leaders or not. We cannot have one law for the haves and another for the have-nots. Nigeria belongs to all of us, no law-abiding citizen should be made to see himself or herself as second class. It is a crime for any Nigerian to treat his fellow countryman as a second-class citizen; I will certainly not tolerate it and I am sure most Nigerians who know their rights will not. We are in a democracy and we must all make it all work for the good of not only this generation but generations yet unborn.