BENEDICT NWACHUKWU holds a conversation with Dipo Olayokun, National Secretary of the New Nigeria Peoples Party on the gale of suspension and counter suspension rocking the political party. Excerpts:
Like other opposition parties, NNPP is in the eye of the storm. What’s news to many Nigerians is that the party was registered by Aniebonam not Kwankwaso. Who really owns the NNPP?
The party was registered in 2002. Then the arrow head of that struggle to register the party was Dr. Boniface Aniebonam popularly referred to as the Founder, but you know that by the Constitution of Nigeria and the Electoral Act 2022, it’s not right to say somebody founded a political party. That’s why it’s called a party, a group of people coming together for a common goal and interest and more importantly to win an election because that is the major focus of a party. Through God’s mercy and the efforts of members, the party escaped deregistration by INEC. I think in the last two years INEC has deregistered political parties, at a time in this country we had over 100 registered political parties but INEC pruned them down to 18 registered political parties but after the elections INEC added one more, Youth Party making it 19 political parties registered and recognised by the Commission now.
We were lucky to escape the hammer of deregistration. Aniebonam popularly referred to as the Founder was at the vanguard of the registration of the party. He has played a prominent role in the sustenance of the party up till now. Dr Aniebonam is a respected and a respectable person. He also founded an association called NACAM in the Maritime industry.
How did Kwankwaso come into picture so much that his image has dominated the party completely
Sometime last year, you see those people who were with Dr. Aniebonam then, who was the major sponsor, and the other people who were around him, were using their small income to fund the party and that was why to some extent, we were relatively unknown. We had won one election then. In the 2019, we won a seat into the Bauchi State House of Assembly, but somehow because of intra party squabbles the person had to defect to the PDP with our mandate I think in 2021 or 2022.
Around February last year, Dr. Kwankwaso led some prominent Nigerians under what was known as The National Movement (TNM). It was initially a bipartisan movement bringing a lot of people from different political parties into it. They came to us to forge a common front, that how do we raise a strong front to wrestle power from APC. That is how we got to where we are today as a political party.
How would you describe the coming of Kwankwaso into the NNPP. People in the streets now identify the NNPP with his name, is it because he was the presidential candidate or are there things he has brought to the party
Don’t forget that Kwankwaso is a politician of politicians by virtue of his antecedents. Kwankwaso was a two term governor of Kano state, a Senator, former member of the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker of the House as far back as 1992. He was an ambassador. So he has a very rich political profile and history. Don’t forget in 2014 when APC had its presidential primary in Lagos, he came second after Muhammadu Buhari. He even defeated the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. He was a former Minister of Defence. He has what it takes for his name to be known across the spectrum of the country, of the landscape called Nigeria. When he came, the story changed to the extent that somebody was telling us a story yesterday, that he went somewhere and he was introducing the NNPP, and one of them said, “is it not Kwankwaso’s party?” He said, “yes.” And that was it. You know, Senator Kwankwaso had prepared for an occasion like today. Like I said, a two term governor of a state like Kano. He has a movement called Kwankwasiya created across the country. Anywhere you go to in the country, no matter how remote that area is, you will see one guy putting on that cap with red and white. He has built that structure and that was why when he came in, the party that people didn’t know before became popular on television, radio and print to the extent that in the last election the party came fourth. If you see people now calling NNPP Kwankwaso’s party, you might not want to blame them because, it’s the picture that they see outside.
The man who was the arrowhead of the party before was not a politician. He is just a businessman who was managing his business but said, well let’s put our leg in this aspect called politics just for the people’s benefit, that was why people see it more as Kwankwaso’s party but no individual owns a party. Let us look at the conduct of Kwankwaso. Does he in anyway; by way of utterances or faction, portray himself as someone who wants to hijack or take over the party? The answer is, no.
What do you know of the agreement between Kwankwaso and the Trustees of the party
When we came together in February last year to forge this alliance of a common front, the entire structure of the old NNPP was dissolved completely, from national convention, National Executive Committee, the Board of Trustees and National Working Committee.
They were dissolved for the infusion of the new people coming into the structure. The arrangements on how to put the structure in place were formalized and by February 28, 2022, there was a NEC meeting which was like valedictory meeting where all the structures were formally and officially dissolved in the presence of INEC officials and by March 1, we put in a caretaker structure that would pilot the affairs of the party for 30 days when it was expected, in line with INEC guidelines, that a proper democratic structure would be put in place. From March 1, the caretaker committee was put down to the ward level, LGA, state and national levels. Before then congresses were organised to elect proper structure of the ward level exco, LGA exco, state exco, the zonal exco and by March 30 the process were concluded. By April, there was a national convention where all these were ratified.
The new NWC was set up and that NWC was given a mandate of four years. That is the NWC that is in charge now. They were democratically elected. When the NWC was put in place, Aniebonam said on his own, he wanted to retire and that since Kwankwaso a politician of note has come in, let him now take this party to the next level based on the vision he received about 30 years ago that he should go and start a political party. He said he asked God where would he get money to do that and God promised to bring an astute politician of high repute who will take the party to the height. On March 30, he announced publicly that with the coming of Kwankwaso, the vision he had been fulfilled.
It was then we said, no. In appreciation of what you have done, let us now make you the Chairman of Board of Trustees. The provision is very clear on how the BoT is to be made. There has to be a meeting, some nominations are to be made from the states, some members are statutorily such as former Chairmen , etc. We told him that when this Board is constituted, he is the Chairman, another elder statesman who is also a member of the party, Alhaji Buba Galadima was made the Secretary of the BoT. These things were done hurriedly because there was need to meet the deadline set by INEC. Unfortunately, the moment we finished that one, constituting the Exco at all levels, we got into how to get the candidates for the general election at both the states and national. We went into primaries. By May we started our primaries and on June 8 we elected our presidential candidate. As soon as we finished that we entered campaign and so there was no time to constitute the BoT.
“Unfortunately, the BoT Chairman started romancing them. There’s nothing bad about that if as an elder he said, “okay, let me hear you out.” Instead, what he did was to pick his pen and paper. In the name of the Founder, he wrote letters that he has countered the dissolution letters ratified by the NWC even as an individual, not as BoT because even the BoT doesn’t have that power. The NWC frowned at that and on two occasions went to Lagos to meet him to put things straight and make him realise he was undermining the powers and status of NWC”
Was this the genesis of the crisis that has led to the suspension and counter suspension of top party members and executives
When we finished elections, we said we have to take stock of our performance. We had high hopes but we didn’t meet that mark. We had to find out what happened before we forge ahead. It was then we began to receive petitions from the states. Let me shock you. I’m from Ogun state. We received a petition that my former state Chairman publicly abandoned our governorship candidate and raised the hand of PDP candidate and declared that the party has endorsed the PDP candidate. This happened two days to the presidential election. Because we were in election mood, nobody paid attention to that. The governorship election was to hold March 11 but was postponed, two days to the election that was Thursday, March 16, the party was having a rally. This same former chairman, left the party’s rally went to the radio station with PDP members and announced that the NNPP had collapsed into PDP and that was at 6:00 pm on the last day of the campaign. Besides Ogun state, Delta state Chairman went on his Facebook and celebrated that he delivered his polling unit, ward and LG to the PDP; so many others and the petitions flooded the National Secretariat.
Our reaction was to set up a committee to treat it. They were invited, three of them, Ogun, Delta and Edo only one of them honoured the invitation, the chairman of Edo state. The other two, Ogun and Delta ignored it. They were given another chance yet they didn’t honour it, then the committee suspended them, brought the report to the NWC and it was ratified in April. As that was going on, the second batch of seven states that were petitioned against were tried and the exco dissolved; making nine states.
Unfortunately, the BoT Chairman started romancing them. There’s nothing bad about that if as an elder he said, “okay, let me hear you out.” Instead, what he did was to pick his pen and paper. In the name of the Founder, he wrote letters that he has countered the dissolution letters ratified by the NWC even as an individual, not as BoT because even the BoT doesn’t have that power. The NWC frowned at that and on two occasions went to Lagos to meet him to put things straight and make him realise he was undermining the powers and status of NWC. The NWC also reminded him that he was the one who called for disciplinary action on erring officials, but he was playing games by assuring the NWC there was no problem and as soon as they arrived Abuja, he wrote another letter countering their decisions.
How badly has this affected the prospect of the party? Do you envisage any fifth columnist in this crisis?
This attitude infuriated the members of the NWC, they now took action. The former National Publicity Secretary, Agbo Major was a member of the Disciplinary Committee, he took part in all the decisions, he signed all the reports. Whenever the reports were brought to the NWC, he never raised an objection, in fact as the NPS he was the one announcing to the press the decisions of both the committee and the NWC he would then go and organize them in a group to fight the NWC. This is where it’s clear there are sponsors encouraging them. So the NWC found this attitude repulsive. He was suspended on the 24th of August.
The next step they took was to gather themselves, the seven suspended individuals and held a meeting in Lagos and said they have sacked the NWC and set up their own NWC. The suspended NPS has now become their own National Chairman and my former state chairman from Ogun state was now made their National Secretary. Has this badly affected us? The party is not bothered because all the relevant agencies that have something to do with political parties have an idea of what has happened. INEC is aware. IPAC is aware.
In INEC, once a political party is registered the only correspondence the Commision will honour from that party is from the National Chairman and National Secretary jointly.
If only the Chairman signs or only the Secretary signs, INEC will not recognize it. If you want to hold a NEC meeting that must have to do with officers, you must give INEC mandatory 21 days notice for INEC to monitor, it’s there in the Electoral Act, and if INEC said they are not in the picture then it is a nullity. But you know in politics, it’s a very dynamic way of life, your best friend today can become your worst for tomorrow. INEC said they were not invited to whatever meeting where they elected their so called executives.
It’s very unfortunate that as we are thinking of moving forward some people are thinking of rotating like a barber’s chair. In our investigation, we have already discovered that a political party which is already preparing for 2027 and is scared of Sen. Kwankwaso is behind what is happening. All the facts are there: The money the party has given to them, everybody knows, but that is not our concern. Our concern is how to improve on our performance in the last election. A party that has been in existence since 2002 and the best we won was a house of assembly seat but in less than one year as a rejuvenated party, we have a governor, a deputy governor, two Senators, 20 house of Reps members, over 30 house of assembly members with principal officers among them. How can you belong to such a political party and make yourself available to destroy its prospect? But the good thing is that we are not deterred, you are interviewing me in my office so we are still retaining our office.