The National Auditor of New Nigeria People’s Party and chairman of the disciplinary committee that recently expelled some high-ranking members of the party, Ladipo Johnson, tells ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS, his views on developments in the party
The Major Agbo-led faction, which suspended and eventually expelled the party’s presidential candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso, has insisted that the party has returned to the founder, what is your reaction to this?
The party has not returned anywhere. Even in a limited liability company, can it just return like that when you have allocation of shares, memorandum of understanding and articles of association?
But the faction claimed that Kwankwaso failed to uphold his end of the bargain in accordance with the pre-MoU between the relevant parties, are you aware of this?
No, nobody was against the Memorandum of Understanding. When these people came for the roundtable, they claimed they had stakes in 11 states while Kwankwasiyya had presence in the remaining states. Using simple arithmetic, does it not show that Kwankwaso has the majority already? There were no specific clauses or emphasis anywhere regarding electoral processes before signatures were appended. Besides, the Independent National Electoral Commission is not really interested in being a party to any agreement. For instance, the beginning of the NNPP Constitution states, “We the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria share the political aspirations and values…” Does it say there is one founder somewhere? The same constitution stresses that ‘The founder of the party shall be a life member.’ When a constitution says this, it implies if that person is in good standing, they remain a life member, but it also doesn’t imply that he is above the NNPP Constitution.
What about the position of convention and Board of Trustees?
Of course, there is a place for convention and board of trustees. There is a part in the constitution that says ‘The BoT shall offer advice on party matters to the National Executive Committee.’ That part is clear and there is no emphasis on chairman of the board. It states the board as a whole, not Dr Boniface Aniebonam. Let’s even assume he is the chairman.
Why exactly was the founder of NNPP suspended in the first place?
We have had many incidents concerning him. In fact, Kwankwaso met with him several times. We were aware of the number of times he flew to Lagos to meet him to plead and make him see reason to avoid issues that could crash the party. But on each occasion, he would keep shouting ‘I am the founder’ and ‘I am in charge.’ So we took decisions. But his people were abusing us that we don’t know what it means to be in the National Working Committee. Many of them, we later gathered, sold their votes to the All Progressives Congress and some other parties. We said okay, let us begin investigation and apply disciplinary measures. When we dissolved some state excos, these same boys ran back to the founder, screaming ‘Kwankwaso wants to hijack the party from you’. That was how the crisis started. When the issue became unbearable, we expelled two chairmen in Ogun and Delta states, Sunday Olaposi and Efe Tobor.
What were their offences?
They were things that bothered on anti-party activities, which collapsed support for our party and we didn’t have enough time to counter it because campaigns were over. But we learnt Aniebonam wrote to the Inspector-General of Police, saying the NWC was deceitful and high-handed. They wrote to us after the suspension of the chairmen that as the founder, he was reversing the decision of the NWC and NEC. He also announced that he had reinstated them. How do you do that? Is he bigger than the constitution?
What was your grouse with Agbo?
Major Agbo took the side of the founder. He would record our meetings and advise the man, all because of his ambition to become NNPP’s national chairman or national secretary.
Could you tell us why your purported alliance with the Labour Party collapsed?
At the first meeting before the election, LP came to us. The meeting had Victor Umeh, Julius Abure, Buba Galadima, Baffa Bichi, now the Secretary to the Kano State Government, and myself in attendance. But after we disagreed on certain things, we concluded this would not work and we moved on.
There are reports that Kwankwaso was sanctioned for meeting with Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar without due consultation with the party. Is that true?
Election was over, and the President (Tinubu) said he wanted to have a government of national unity. As a responsible politician, Kwankwaso listened. Will he start telling every state chairman that he wanted to go and see the President since they were talking to us? As long as those in the national congress were informed, he could go. But again, it didn’t work out. So where is the anti-party in that? The last one they talked about wasn’t his fault as well. It was Atiku that visited him (Kwankwaso) at home. Is there anything wrong with that? They didn’t mention any of these at the time. It was after these people were suspended and expelled for anti-party activities that they were screaming ‘Kwankwaso also did anti-party.’ What they had in Apapa, Lagos had no semblance of the BoT. The meeting only had members of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, who are not necessarily NNPP members. They constituted what was unknown to our constitution. How can you suspend Kwankwaso and the NWC? Was INEC at their meeting? Do things work like that? Did they write to INEC? How come nobody is asking Agbo questions? He said two weeks ago that the NWC wrongly suspended the founder and himself, and last week he claimed he was the acting chairman. How did that happen? Did they go to court and the court said we acted wrongly and they should act?
Are you saying NEC can’t ratify candidates in the absence of convention?
Are they members of NEC? Can anyone wake up from the street one day and say ‘the 10 of us are now members of NEC and board of trustees’. We had NEC meeting Wednesday last week and there were about four INEC officers in attendance. Our legal department, reps members, senators and the Kano State governor were present. We had a full NEC meeting. Who was at their Apapa meeting?
The internal wrangling in the NNPP has snowballed into a crisis, how do you hope to resolve it?
It is no longer a crisis. Those who are being sponsored to cause disaffection have found themselves outside the party.
Is Kwankwaso moving on without them?
Why not? Since they decided to set up something parallel, no problem. I want people to look up the definition of faction in the dictionary; it is not about two people. No, a faction is a group that comes out of the main body. The media should stop referring to the NNPP as two factions or the Kwankwaso faction. The moment Agbo and the founder did their meeting in Lagos, they were out of the party. It was suspension before, but now they are out. Their offence is very clear – creation of a party organ or factionalisation of the party.
Why was it difficult to resolve the conflict between Kwankwaso and the founder?
Long before we got to the stage, as earlier said, Senator Kwankwaso himself flew to Lagos several times to discuss with Dr Aniebonam, being one of the founders.
One of the founders; does NNPP have more than one founder?
Of course! It’s very important we put things in proper perspective. There is no one single founder. Our constitution says ‘We the citizens…’ It didn’t say ‘I the founder…’ INEC could never have registered the party if the constitution read ‘I…’ It was this idea of one founder that made Aniebonam feel he could do anything and was above the constitution. They claim you cannot suspend a life member; where is that written?
Won’t the recent developments present your party as Lagos and Abuja factions?
Am I a northerner? Is the national secretary one? No, he is not. We don’t need to shy away from the truth. We were strongest in Kano State, which is also the only state we have a governor. These people are just trying to use sentiments; no legal or constitutional basis to support what they are trying to do.