Not many Nigerians knew there was a political party called New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) until 2022 when former Kano State Governor and Senator, Musa Kwankwaso defected from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, into the party.
Kwankwaso collapsed his structure called the Kwankwasiya into the NNPP and immediately emerged as the Presidential candidate of the party for the 2023 presidential election, and the party was immediately reckoned as one of the top challengers to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Signs that Kwankwaso had different ideas from the founding fathers and old members of the party however began to manifest, when he without the party leadership began to shop for alliances in order to contest the presidential election.
Although the party leadership remained indifferent, fears began to give way to internal opposition and then revolution which ultimately led to the expulsion of the party’s presidential candidate.
The founding members have accused the former Defence Minister of contesting the election for selfish reasons. Those who said they were ‘original’ members of the party began to criticise Kwankwaso for his continued meeting with the President, Bola Tinubu and his refusal to contest the outcome of the election in court as well as his struggle to produce a minister in the government.
For all his political clout and influence, the camp of the founding fathers suspended the former Kano Governor while the Kwankwaso camp retaliated by suspending them.
But the factional acting National Chairman of the camp of the founding father, Major Agbo, who until his emergence was the National Publicity Secretary of the NNPP, said Kwankwaso’s role in the crisis engulfing the party is clear, and accused him of trying to hijack the party.
Agbo, who was declared Acting National Chairman by the party’s Board of Trustees (BOT) at a meeting in Lagos on Tuesday, August 29 argued that no one can suspend or expel the founder, Dr Boniface Aniebonam, who until the Lagos meeting, the Chairman of the BOT.
In this interview with IHUOMA CHIEDOZIE, Agbo spoke on a wide range of issues and why the founding fathers and original owners have taken over the party.
You have just emerged as the Acting National Chairman of the NNPP and at the same time, Alhaji Abba Kawu Ali is being referred to as the National Chairman of the party. What is happening?
First of all, Abba Kawu Alli was not even National Chairman. He was only Acting National Chairman. He was supposed to be in office for three months, from March when Professor Rufai Alkali resigned.
So, if he was to be in office from March 2023 for three months that means he is supposed to have left by June. The situation is that since June he has been there illegally.
Number two, in the face of the law he was never chairman because when Alkali exited there was supposed to have been a properly convened National Working Committee (NWC) meeting at an appropriate place to take a decision on who replaces Alkali but that wasn’t what happened.
Two things happened that were bizarre and unknown to our Constitution. The first was that the meeting that brought Abba Kawu Ali was held in Kwankwaso’s parlour and they later came out to say that he is now the Acting National Chairman. That is number one.
Number two, that same meeting had the then sitting elected Deputy National Chairman AVM John Chris Ifemeje from Anambra State and ordinarily he is supposed to have emerged as the Acting National Chairman to replace Alkali for three months.
But he was there and in their usual style of turning the hands of the Constitution backwards, they flouted all procedures and brought somebody who was just a Zonal Chairman, North-East. That was how Abba Kawu Ali emerged so in the face of the law and right-thinking members of the NNPP, Abba Kawu Ali was never Acting National Chairman.
But that is not where to dwell now, we are dwelling on what has happened. We have been having a series of problems in the party due to the high-handedness of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso who was the leader of the party during the period of the election but has now ceased to be leader because the elections are over and he is not in court challenging anything.
So it got to a level that we couldn’t take it anymore and his high-handedness has affected the party from all angles – imposition of candidates, imposition of people.
The recent conduct of the Kogi primary election embarrassed the party thoroughly. There were attempts to impose candidates and all that.
His high-handedness has brought the party to disrepute, so our Constitution, which is unique, says in circumstances like this, the Board of Trustees (BOT), which is supposed to exercise some supervisory authority over the NWC and all other organs, has to step in.
One good thing about the Constitution of our party that is different from the Constitution of other parties is the NWC that is now erroneously suspending or expelling the Founder of the party and the BOT chairman is number four on the ladder.
The BOT is number two. The first is the National Convention Committee, which is the highest organ. The National Executive Committee (NEC) is number three, followed by the NWC.
Funny enough the NWC which is number four is now turning around to suspend somebody who is number two on the ladder. The same Constitution says if an officer errs at any level, he can only be tried by the organ that is the next higher level.
That is the way the Constitution is structured. The same Constitution confers life membership on the founder of the party.
The implication is he can’t be suspended even for one second. Yet the NWC jettisoned all of that and went ahead to say they have suspended him and me.
My sin was that I stood by the BOT in insisting that due process was not followed in the so-called disciplinary actions that were meted out to seven or ten states that were accused of anti-party activities.
Meanwhile, we have a presidential candidate that was seen everywhere — You can see the pictures in the newspapers, and on television — Hobnobbing with the then APC candidate and now President of Nigeria, the Labour Party candidate, the SDP candidate, all sorts of things and nobody challenged him, only for him to turn around and say that these state chairmen, who did what was the right thing, that they should be taken out of the system. And I said no, that was not the way to go.
I am a member of the Disciplinary Committee but I was not part of the decisions that were taken because I disagreed with them.
The BOT is supposed to step in in a crisis situation like this to stabilise the party and they invoked those relevant sections of the party’s Constitution in their third regular meeting that took place in Lagos from Monday night up till Tuesday morning before they suspended Kwankwaso from the party for six months and then declared me as the Acting Chairman to hold forth pending when there will be stability in the party. So that is where we are now.
Beyond Kwankwaso’s alleged involvement in anti-party activities, what is his role in the crisis in the NNPP?
You noticed that up till now he has not spoken. He has refused to speak but we know that the actors in this whole thing are members of the Kwankwasiyya. Abba Kawu Ali is both a member of the Kwankwasiya and a member of The National Movement (TNM), which are the two organisations that Kwankwaso came into the NNPP with.
The National Secretary Oladipupo Olayokun, who came in with us from the old NNPP was taken away and he has been taken into the family of the Kwankwasiya. He is now part of them. So when you have your boys doing something, it is a hatchet job. There is somebody that is behind them. So we strongly believe that Kwankwaso is behind all of these.
So, can we say that what is playing out is a battle for the soul of the NNPP between the Kwankwasiyya and the original members of the party?
Yes, that is the way we will look at it but as it is now it is not even a battle because those who gave them this platform without any encumbrance, which is the mother organisation of the NNPP — The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) — Which was also founded by Dr Aniebonam, that gave birth to the NNPP, has now taken back their party.
So whatever the Kwankwasiya people are doing with the NNPP, they are on their own. The owners of the party have taken it back and they are the ones that have asked me to hold forth as Acting National Chairman.
Is INEC being carried along in all these?
What people don’t understand is that INEC does not take a position in matters like this. INEC allows whatever is playing out within political parties to play out but you will see that at that time that thing is happening, it is the records they have in their system that they will work with. But they don’t take sides.
What happened is that, as of last week when this crisis got to its crescendo, the records they have, which are the records of Abba Kawu Ali as Acting Chairman, and Oladipupo Olayokun as Acting Secretary, is still what they are working with.
But they are aware of what we are doing because we have written to them. The BOT wrote to them that the internal crisis in the party was serious and they wanted to perform their constitutional role of trying to settle it as a family affair. So INEC is aware of what the BOT has done.
But until there is a pronouncement from either a court of law or something, INEC will be relating to the party based on the records they have. But that is not an issue for us at the moment.
What we are saying is the party belongs to the people and we have taken back our party and at the appropriate time recognition will also change.
The BOT also suspended the NWC but the NWC is saying the BOT does not have the power to even suspend Kwankwaso in the first place. Considering that you said the BOT acted based on constitutional provisions, who is right?
These people are either being mischievous, or they are speaking as if they don’t read our Constitution. In our Constitution, 2022 as amended, if you go to Section 13 (1)(a)(b)(c)(2)(3)(4), you will see the powers of the BOT there.
The power to call to order any member of the party who is involved in acts that are inimical to the provisions of the Constitution. That is what they (BOT) invoked.
So, is it not funny that somebody like Oladipo Johnson, who supposedly is a barrister, would come on air to say the BOT has no powers to do that?
That is why, if you watch the way things are going, very critical minds in the media are asking them questions that they are not able to answer.
I watched Buba Galadima two days ago, lying to the whole world, at his age, that Major Agbo was invited by the Disciplinary Committee and he refused to come and all that. The truth is that when you are on the side of deceit you will continue to make mistakes and that is what is happening to them.
You are not a member of the NNPP but if you want I can give you a copy of the Constitution and you will understand what I am telling you. If not that we are talking now a lot of people do not know. That is why each time that we refer to our Constitution, we refer to it as a constitution that is very unique.
A forum of NNPP state chairmen recently issued a statement, saying the party was not founded by one person. But your group refers to Dr Aniebonam as the Founder of the NNPP. What is the true situation?
It Is not my group.
Every member of the NNPP knows that Dr Aniebonam is the founder of the party. The Constitution refers to Dr Aniebonam as the Founder. The Constitution does not say founders of the party. The Constitution says the founder – that is one person.
It is because of this crisis now that you started hearing of co-founders and all that. We don’t even want to join issues with them in that line because they themselves know the truth.
If you go to the Constitution you will see where it says, ‘The Founder of this party is a life member of the party’. The Constitution would have said ‘The founders of the party are life members of the party’. So those who are saying Dr Aniebonam is not the founder are just being mischievous.
How do you see this crisis affecting the fortunes and the future of the NNPP?
There is nothing that is wrong with the party — I told you the party has its original owners, who are members of NAGAFF. The NAGAFF family is made up of several hundreds of thousands of people across all borders, airports and seaports. The membership is intact, the party is intact, and there is nothing wrong with it. After all this, we will be stronger. The most important thing is the owners of the party, that is NAGAFF and its members, have taken back the party.
NAGAFF is a union of freight forwarders. How did it transform into a political party?
An association of freight forwarders went out of the Association of Licenced Customs Agents (ANCLA) and then formed NAGAFF. Having seen all the injustices being perpetrated within the maritime industry, they felt that instead of attempting to effect changes through unorthodox means, it was better for the association to metamorphose into a political party and go in search of power, and on getting power, those changes would be implemented through well-articulated government policies.
That was what drove NAGAFF to the idea of forming NNPP. And because of the size of NAGAFF, which was already more than what was required for it to be registered as a political party, applications were drafted, all the documentation was done and in December 2001, the then Abel Guobadia-led INEC registered the party and since then we have been operating, winning elections on small scales until these people (Kwankwasiya) came.
As the Acting National Chairman, what is your vision for the party?
The first thing is the party will be brought back to what it was. We will return the party to the ordinary people.
The target of this party is the ordinary people. Its activities are centred around the upliftment of the lives of the ordinary people and that is why we have continued to insist that we are not elitist in our operations and that is why all these things like imposition that we are talking about are strange to us.
We didn’t envisage that whoever is coming to join us was going to perpetrate such but be that as it may, politicians can never be understood until they begin to manifest.
The first thing is to return the party to its objective of being available to all members including the less privileged and its original focus of ensuring that we have an economy that is sound enough for all Nigerians. These are things that the entry of these organisations deliberately attempted to derail.
So our main focus now is to return the party to its original ideals and especially ensure that ordinary people remain within the mainstream of the party in terms of decision-making.
Is there room for reconciliation?
We are a political party and there is no dispute within a political party that is not resolvable if the parties are committed to resolving it. So we are not averse to any form of reconciliation.
We did an MOU with them, which we have now withdrawn. When they were coming last year, all the principal actors that fixed their signature on the MOU — The likes of Senator Solomon Hunkuyi, Professor Ben Mangwe and the rest – they have all left out of frustration when they discovered that the original idea behind the union they formed with us have been derailed.
So the implication of that is we will go back to the drawing board and look at all the angles and see how we can forge ahead. So we are not averse to reconciliation. As a matter of fact, we strongly believe they are being recalcitrant because they are not interested in the stability of the party.
But for us, when you have a baby that you have nurtured for 21 years you wouldn’t want that baby to be put under pressure like the party has been put under. We have thrown the Olive Branch, if they are ready we will go.
Has Kwankwaso been the one funding the NNPP since he came on board? There are allegations that he wants to hijack the party because he has been the one funding the party.
Is it only when you fund a political party that you can hijack it? What I can tell you is that Kwankwaso joined this party in March 2022 and at that time when he joined we were already preparing for primaries and all of that.
The only thing you can say is that yes, the TNM and the Kwankwasiya people that he brought, a lot of them transformed into candidates, and as candidates they paid money for forms.
Invariably the party has been funding itself through the monies paid for the purchase of forms and all of that so I haven’t seen Kwankwaso bring in any money. If he has, I am not aware of it.