In this interview, two-time senator and governorship aspirant of the APC, Magnus Abe, provides a rare insight into his deep and complicated relationship with the minister of transport and DG of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Rotimi Amaechi. It’s a tell-all
Is it reasonable to still be pushing for an amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act, when election campaigns are about to start?
Why not? It’s an ongoing process. It’s been on for quite some time and there’s been a bit of back-and-forth between the legislature and the executive on what is acceptable and what is not. I believe that the key to the challenges of Nigeria is free, fair and credible elections.
So, as far as I am concerned, whatever we need to do to achieve that, we should keep doing it. If there are amendments that, maybe for technical or infrastructural reasons, could be impossible to implement in the forthcoming elections, then, it will be left for INEC to say so. But anything that can be done to ensure that the elections are free, fair and credible, we should be doing that to the last minute.
The President has withheld assent to previous amendment bills to the Act. His timing has been questioned, but, more importantly, do you think he wants an amendment to the law?
I know that the President is committed to free, fair and credible elections. And I know that, not just because he has said so but because I have seen his critical interventions at different times in trying to ensure that the process is free and fair to everyone.
So, it is not just what he has said, but the things he has done. I am aware of his intervention in Anambra State that enabled the governor to prevail even against his own party. I am also aware of his intervention in the recent case of Osun — what he made to ensure that the process was free and fair to everyone. So, I believe that whatever he can do as a person to see that the elections are free and fair, he will do that.
In the Osun case, not everyone believes that it was free and fair. In the very last stage of it, voters were denied access to their voting units.
Well, I was in Osun. So, it is difficult for me to respond to something I didn’t witness. The observers have not said so. What I know is that anytime an election comes to the wire where a few votes each way could make such a critical difference, people are very reluctant to admit that they’ve lost or that the other party has won because they always keep imagining that there was something they could have done and they would have won.
But to be very honest with you, you and I both know that Osun is an APC state and that the reason the opposition even did that well was because of the cracks in the APC. One of the APC leaders who was not satisfied with the way the primaries were conducted pulled out of the party and he gathered almost 50, 000 votes.
So, if all those votes were together the way the APC should be together, Osun was not actually a contest. So, anybody who is feeling any way over the result in Osun, it’s simply because of the circumstances of what played out in the APC. If not, Osun was not a contest as far as APC is concerned. People can say whatever they like.
There is confusion and a lack clarity as to which party has the majority in the Senate. Which party is driving the legislative agenda, APC or PDP?
The business of the Senate is led by the Senate leader. And the only position in the Senate that is contingent on having the majority is that of the Senate leader. So, whichever party that has the Senate leader is the party that has the majority in the Senate.
The business of the Senate is led by the Senate leader. He determines what is called — he calls out the business. So, I don’t think there is any argument as to who has the majority in the Senate. The All Progressives Congress has the majority of senators in the Nigerian Senate. There is no dispute over that.
Is there dispute as to who should produce the Senate president?
Constitutionally, any senator can be Senate president. Constitutionally, you don’t need to be a member of the ruling party. As long as you are a senator and you contest for the position of Senate president and you are seconded and voted in by the majority, you become the Senate president.
The position that requires that you must be a member of the majority party is that of the Senate leader. So, a member of the minority party cannot be the Senate leader, but he can be Senate president.
Every majority will of course try to control the office of the Senate president. Those of us who are in the All Progressives Congress, we have always maintained that it is uncomfortable for the minority to lead the majority.
But that is the way it has fallen, and, to change that, you need two-thirds of the senators to agree to that. The directive of the party is that we should make that change in the Senate. But we can only do so constitutionally and in line with the rules of the Senate and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
So, until we have that number, we cannot change the Senate president. And the business of the country must go on. We have to cooperate with whoever is the Senate president so that the Senate as an institution will continue to run.
“I know that, not just because he has said so but because I have seen his critical interventions at different times in trying to ensure that the process is free and fair to everyone. So, it is not just what he has said, but the things he has done. I am aware of his intervention in Anambra State that enabled the governor to prevail even against his own party.”
The President appears to reject more bills than he assents to. Why do you think that is?
I think that even amongst us here in the Senate, in the National Assembly, some of the bills we pass, we have an idea that the executive will have objections to some of them. In some, the objections are real, and if you look at them you find out that there are actually very genuine reasons why the executive may not be able to accept some of those bills.
Secondly, the National Assembly is also passing many more bills now than we ever did before. In terms of number, the bills have increased, so the number that is likely to be rejected will also increase because a lot more bills are passing.
Thirdly, sometimes in the National Assembly because of interest, one way or the other, certain things are overlooked. Like some of the issues the President raises may have been raised here but if you don’t have the majority supporting it, it will still pass.
But when the President comes back to raise the same issue, it becomes a stumbling block that you cannot cross. And you also have to realize that as far as our constitution is concerned, the President has a lawmaking function, which is assent to the bill.
It is part of the legislative process. It is not anything out of the ordinary for the President to assent to or withhold assent to a bill. It is provided in the constitution; it is part of the lawmaking process. Any law that needs to pass has to complete that process.
But I assure that it will be practically impossible to override a presidential veto in the National Assembly. I think that has happened only about two or three times since the beginning of this Third Republic.
There is a lot of excitement in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party over their chances at the general elections. Has the APC lost its way?
APC has some challenges, given the way we have handled our internal issues. And, naturally, the opposition will expect to reap and profit from that. But you have to understand that the opposition also has its own internal challenges.
Naturally, being the opposition party, they are actually in a better position to manage some of their crisis than the ruling party because, in the opposition parties, there is really no incentive for crisis, so to speak.
Because of the strength of the APC, people feel that if you have the ticket of the APC, you are as good as having won the election. And so, the kind of challenges that you will see within the APC may not be that visible in the PDP.
But I assure you that some of those issues are there. For example, despite the overwhelming votes that the presidential candidate of the opposition secured at their primaries held in Port Harcourt, there are still a lot of members who feel his choice spells doom for the party. Even the choice of his running mate is also a problem for the PDP in the southeast. The illusion that everything is well with the PDP is not correct.
In the PDP, two old foes, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar, are teaming up. Is it a sign of desperation or the magnitude of President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure?
No. I think that Obasanjo, once he makes up his mind to try to unseat anybody, he will do whatever he thinks he can do in order to achieve that end. If it is making peace with Atiku, he would do it without reservations.
Atiku on the other side has contested so many times. Given the history of our politics, the way our politics plays out, this is actually his last time. So, he will do whatever he needs to do in order to try to cross that hurdle.
He knows that by the time Buhari has done a second term, he cannot contest because the consensus will be that power must go to the south. So, this is actually the last time that he can reasonably throw his hat in the ring.
He is going to do so with as much vigor as he can; making peace with Obasanjo will be a small price for him to pay to try to make his contest meaningful. But the real challenge of Atiku Abubakar is that there are a lot people who genuinely feel that he is not electable.
He has to still take his case to the Nigerian people to convince them that he can actually be elected president. The views of the PDP voters who elected him at their convention does not necessarily reflect the views of the majority of Nigerians.
Buhari was not a candidate at the PDP convention. It was just him and the rest of their own pack. When you bring him up against a candidate like Buhari whose sterling qualities, integrity and everything else are known to the world, I believe that Atiku Abubakar may find it a lot harder than what he found at the PDP convention.
Do you think President Buhari has already lost in the southeast by his words and actions?
The place where we are having the largest number of decamping into the APC is in the southeast. I don’t know where you are getting your own information from. If you belong to all these PDP sites and PDP WhatsApp groups, that is where you will get the feeling that the President has already lost the southeast.
If you talk to the ordinary people of the southeast who see the second Niger bridge coming up; they see the bonds that are being used to fix the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, which has been a death trap for so many years.
They see so many practical things which are actually happening within the southeast, I don’t think that they share that view of some of the PDP elites in Igbo land. Also, you must remember that the southeast is more interested in the presidency than in punishing President Buhari for any perceived ills or slights or whatever.
Buhari still has the biggest carrot of all, which is that he will only do four more years and, after that, the Igbos will finally get their historic opportunity to contest for the presidency of this country. I think, to the average Igbo man, that is a more serious message than anything that Atiku can convey.
Everybody who knows politics knows that no matter what Atiku is saying today, the minute he is elected President, he is going to stay there for as long as he can. And that will be eight years. That will push a lot of the contemporary Igbo leaders out of contention for the presidency at that time.
And I don’t think that, in the final analysis, they will accept whatever little carrots that the PDP is dangling against the major, most important and most coveted prize of the average Igbo man, which is to produce the President of Nigeria.
“The President has a lawmaking function, which is assent to the bill. It is part of the legislative process. It is not anything out of the ordinary for the President to assent to or withhold assent to a bill. It is provided in the constitution; it is part of the lawmaking process. Any law that needs to pass has to complete that process. But I assure that it will be practically impossible to override a presidential veto in the National Assembly.”
Do you think the President has any interest in seeing a president emerge from the southeast, after his own tenure ends?
Well, that will be left for the people of the southeast to produce an acceptable candidate that will canvass the support of Nigerians. It is not the sole prerogative of the President to nominate the next president.
But if you know Buhari, you cannot say from his body language — I don’t know what you call his body language. All the other times that he has run, most times he picked an Igbo man as his deputy and he has very solid relationships in the southeast, which I know about.
Each time he picked an Igbo man, they still rejected him, and when he got elected, he as good as paid them back. Today, there seems to be no signs he wants to see an Igbo man as president or even make concessions to them while he is president.
I don’t know where you are getting your own vibrations from. What do you call concession? You have a government in which an Igbo man is the governor of the Central Bank, minister of foreign affairs… there are several very important positions that are being held by the Igbos in this country under President Buhari.
And you have a lot of projects that are ongoing in the southeast at the same time. Like I said, if you belong to some of these PDP WhatsApp groups, you begin to get the impression that Buhari has an issue with the Igbos.
That is not true. Just yesterday in this Senate, one of the PDP senators brought a motion that there is nobody from the southeast in the National Security Council and they got up and read the names of those in the Council and the foreign affairs minister is a member. He is there.
But they wouldn’t acknowledge it when they were talking. You just have to understand that, during this political period, people will sell whatever they need to sell in order to buy what they need to buy. But it does not change the facts.
But think that the president enjoys a whole lot of goodwill in the southeast and he still has time to build and expand on those bridges. He has a lot of friends, personal friends, in the southeast who enter his house, enter his room and are with him every time.
Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the APC, has been on the spot. He disqualified Aisha Al-Hassan from contesting for governor in Taraba, for example. Do you think this action might affect the President’s chances in Taraba?
Well, Aisha is my friend and sister. She was my seat mate for four years. We sat next to each other. So, I am not going to sit down in the public and start discussing Aisha’s politics, especially now that she is in another party. I will not do that.
But let me say that regardless of who the APC picks in Taraba, they will make a very good showing, and the facts are there. I am not a member of the National Working Committee, nor am I the national chairman of the party; so I won’t speculate on what the party did as far as Taraba is concerned. I have my own issues in Rivers. What I will tell you is that the APC stands a good chance in Taraba.
You don’t think the party’s chances in the state have been ruined?
I won’t write off Mama Taraba, but at the same time I believe that the support of the President and the support of other stakeholders in the APC also helped her. And now, she has to go and do without all that support.
You need to look at it in two ways. Yes, the APC would have lost herself and her followers. But she herself has also lost the support of the APC and its teeming members in Taraba. I still think the Taraba race will end up as a straight fight between the incumbent and the APC.
You’ve thrown her out of the picture.
No, I have not. She will have an impact on it. And remember, the elections are still far. She may still be able to make a deal with the APC even before the elections.
Was the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, unfair in her criticism of the APC chairman?
I don’t think so. I think the President’s wife has been very vocal on issues that affect the voiceless majority of APC members in this country. She has been a mother to all those whose voices cannot be heard.
And definitely, whether you like or not, there are concerns in the party based on how the primaries were conducted.
I believe that if the party had stuck to its philosophy and its ideal of changing the way we do things in the country and try to get it better, which is what they attempted by introducing the whole concept of direct primaries into the equation; if they had stuck to that regardless of the opposition and their challenges to try to drive through a process where the majority will decide the fate of the party in each area regardless of what anybody feel.
If the party had taken that as its motto and focused on that and that alone, without having any preconceived notion of who to please or displease in a particular state, we would have still had some problems.
But at least for the majority of members, it would have been clear that what the party tried to achieve is a level-playing field for all. As long as that is not the feeling of the majority of members and even those who won know that they didn’t win in a contest in which other members had the same opportunity and the same grounding as they did, there will be discontent. When the chairman visited the National Assembly, I said to him,
‘I remember clearly what I said, that the only foundation for peace anywhere is justice. And the foundation for justice is truth. Without truth, you cannot have justice. And without justice, there can be no peace.’
So, if people are treated fairly and equally, because people paid tremendous amounts of money for the privilege of running the primaries within the party. And for them to pay that money, mobilize their supporters and, at the end of the day, there is no real process to actually test what each person has been able to put into the system, there will be misgivings.
There will be ill-feelings. And whether you like it or not, there are quite a lot of people who felt shortchanged by how the process worked out. I don’t think that the president’s wife was out of place when she called the attention of the country and the leadership of the party to some of those misgivings.
“The President has a lawmaking function, which is assent to the bill. It is part of the legislative process. It is not anything out of the ordinary for the President to assent to or withhold assent to a bill. It is provided in the constitution; it is part of the lawmaking process. Any law that needs to pass has to complete that process. But I assure that it will be practically impossible to override a presidential veto in the National Assembly.”
The list of candidates for governorship, national and state assemblies that the APC submitted to INEC is being treated like a state secret. But from all indications, the party has given automatic tickets to a number of senators, including those who lost at the primaries. Is there a justification for this?
Like I said, the foundation for peace is justice. The foundation for justice is truth. Definitely in a lot of climes, the party has the power and sometimes a necessity to override the democratic principle for one expediency or the other.
And it does happen. What I think is wrong here, where the party needed to do that, it shouldn’t have been for everybody. Based on particular calculations in the different zones and states, the party should have simply called everybody and said, ‘this is what we intend to do here and these are the reasons’, and urge law-abiding, loyal party men to accept it.
If people see that the thing is in good faith, it’s done in the interest of the party and refund their money to them, they may not be happy, but at least they will understand. But to do it in a manner that you take people’s money, promise them a primary and then, at the end of the day, there is no real process where people could actually test their popularity fairly…
If you look at the primaries that were held off season, for example that of Kogi where I was the secretary, that of Anambra, a lot of the primaries that were held off season, they were very well done.
People met; where they were using delegates, the list of delegates was made available to every candidate. Even if the candidates list was doctored, it was doctored and still presented to people and objections were made.
There was a process to build confidence in what was going to happen. And so, when the results came out, it was easier for people to accept even when they didn’t win. But when it came to the general primaries when the thing was going on at the same time all across the country, there was no real effort made to try to build that confidence in the process.
The argument which everybody has made is that the party didn’t want to hold their congress before the PDP so that PDP does not harvest aspirants from the APC who would have lost out in the APC process.
I don’t buy that argument. I believe that if we had taken our time and organized a transparent process, most of the aspirants who would lose would not even leave the party. And those who choose to leave after the party has been fair to them and everybody would have been treated with respect and all that will be free to leave.
They won’t make any difference to the outcome of the elections because the candidates that will emerge will enjoy wide acceptability among the party faithful to be able to face whatever challenges that will spring up on the way.
But because of that expediency, the party left it too late to organize it properly, invest the time, effort, resources, men and materials that would have been needed to get it right. And even go through an adjudication process that would have been able to satisfy people where there were challenges.
For example, the entire country had just one appeal panel for governorship. They sat for less than three days. In fact, whole zones were decided in one or two hours and nobody talked to anybody. Everybody knew that the whole thing was just a sham.
And there was no time to even go and do anything else because, as at the time the panel was sitting, the date for primaries had already closed. So even if they decide that this was not well done, there was no time.
Everybody knew that it was a sham. There are clear issues that arose out of the primaries but I still believe that the most important thing is the fact that we have brought out this ideal of direct primaries which is to give party members the ultimate chance to choose who they want.
And even where we didn’t choose direct primaries, we already have a model in the APC that gives the will of the people as the ultimate objective in determining the direction of the party. If we pursue that and stick to that, I believe that in the future, we will do much better.
Do you think the party chairman’s action could be motivated by fear that lawmakers could impeach the President?
I don’t think there is any fear of anybody impeaching the President. No, the reason you return lawmakers is that you want to grow experience within the party and improve both the quality of representation as well as the quality of legislation in the National Assembly.
So, if you follow the local dictates, which are always prone to turn by turn, zone by zone politics, nobody will be able to stay here and acquire the needed experience to drive through the legislative agenda of the party.
In such a situation, the party is forced to intervene from time to time to ensure that we not only improve the quality of the representatives, but that we also improve the quality of legislation. If every time people come back here, everyone here is new, it doesn’t help the country and it doesn’t help the legislature. You need two-thirds to impeach the President.
Even if the President is sleeping, he can get one-third of the needed members of this National Assembly to support him. Even if he is on the moon. So that issue does not arise. But the party has an obligation to try to assist some of the lawmakers to return. That is the right thing to do. It could have been done better.
Even at the expense of the democratic process, just hand-picking people and giving them automatic tickets?
That is part of the democratic process. They are not handpicked. These are people who are already in the National Assembly. If I choose to return to the Senate, will the party go and stop me? They won’t.
Some are very unpopular in the constituencies.
Well, I wouldn’t know about that. They may be unpopular because of the fact that they are going against the grain of local politics at the time of the primary.
If, for example, in this country where everything is turn by turn, it is the turn of this people to produce a senator and you are already a sitting senator and you don’t want to go, you will be unpopular for that period; but when that period is over, you will still be able to reach out to the people based on your record of performance and your ability to be able to integrate and mend fences. The unpopularity you are talking about may relate to some of those issues, not directly their record.
What about those that relate to poor performance?
That is difficult to judge. A lot of times, when you are back home, people look at performance only in terms of what personal benefit that they were able to get. So, they don’t look at performance in terms of where you got that money from.
You come back home and buy cars for people, nobody focuses on that. Somebody who does not do certain things, that level of popularity may be difficult to attain. You have to really sacrifice a lot to enable you to do that.
But I don’t think that the party will go out of its way to give its ticket to people who didn’t work hard for it. Some of these people have worked hard, but like I said, maybe the governor is against them or the local politics is against them. The party has to be able to cut through that and help some of them. But that should have been done on a foundation of truth, fairness and justice.
The price of nomination forms was set arbitrarily. Are party members right to question Oshiomhole’s judgement when it comes to reading the political mood in the country and making sound decisions?
Well, Oshiomhole is not only the national chairman of the party, he is a close personal friend of mine. Outside of what I have said which relates to my own observation and experiences regarding the ways we could have done the primaries better, I would really prefer not to discuss Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole in the public for now.
I am a member of the party. That is my national chairman. He has a right to make mistakes, he is a human being and we have criticized him for some of those mistakes, those things we think could have been done better. But beyond that, I also feel that Oshiomhole brought some value to the party. So, you just don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.
You still won’t speak out, even if it will cost you votes at the general elections?
This is not a party forum. There is the National Executive Committee meetings of which I am a member, there is the Senate APC caucus meeting, which I am a member. There are various places which I meet the national chairman, where if I have serious misgivings, I will be able to address them.
And I will do so without compunction. Moving forward, I believe that we will all learn our lessons. We will decide which one is the bigger risk because politics all the time is about strategy and planning. You weigh what this is likely to get you against what that is likely to get you and you choose one.
For me, I would have chosen over and above everything to give every member of the party who tried to take part in our primaries an opportunity to feel satisfied that they were given an opportunity to contest.
They did so free, fair and they won or they lost based on the local situations in their different areas. But again, Nigeria really has not built a democratic culture. A lot of the politicians have no interest in actually submitting themselves to the will of the majority.
So, a lot of them from the outset came with the mind to hijack — whether by returning officer, get the ticket by all means, disrupt the process if they are not getting the ticket. So, except we change that mindset and create a new culture of humility in the quest for power, submission to the will of the people…
It is not just Oshiomhole: nobody will be able organize a contest in which the contestants themselves don’t want to participate and play by the rules even when there are rules.
“Despite the overwhelming votes that the presidential candidate of the opposition secured at their primaries held in Port Harcourt, there are still a lot of members who feel his choice spells doom for the party. Even the choice of his running mate is also a problem for the PDP in the southeast.”
From Zamfara to Ogun, the most dissatisfied have been state governors and Oshiomhole’s justification has been a notion that the party constitution is blind to power and only recognizes procedures. Is he in denial about the power and influence individuals wield in any political system and the concessions made to them?
I really don’t want to discuss the national chairman, his actions and motives beyond general terms. What I will tell about justice is that justice is when equals are treated equally or unequals are treated unequally.
If some governors feel shortchanged, the only way to make them not feel shortchanged is to show them what happened to other governors and show that every governor got the same treatment. If you are not able to do that, then of course they will feel unjustly treated.
For me, what I have said and what I would like to say is that our ideal would have been to get the leaders of the party and then the members to agree that this is APC, we promised to do things differently.
Let us now go out and show Nigeria that we can be different. Let us subject ourselves and submit to the ultimate will of the people. It is the party members themselves, it is the governor, it is the senators that must create that atmosphere for that to happen.
The party didn’t push that philosophy, that’s why I hold the party accountable for whatever has gone wrong. That was not the driving force of what was done in the party. Without that, it becomes difficult for people to feel that what happened to them is what should have happened to them.
Some of those who are complaining may not have even won in a proper democratic setting. But the fact that that setting was not created gives them the right to bemoan what transpired. That is where I think we are.
For me, the most critical thing is that, as much as possible, we need to work to create a culture of transparency, fairness, integrity and accountability in our internal electoral process. Part of the reason why there appears to be peace in the PDP is because of the way the primaries were conducted.
Everybody was given an equal opportunity to manage themselves, present their case and submit to the will of the voters. That is something APC was the only party that was doing that in this country. But what they copied from us, they were able to implement and brought peace to their process. We failed to follow what we had introduced into the politics of Nigeria.
You took your party to court over your exclusion from the party congresses. And the recent Supreme Court verdict in that case appears to have effectively disqualified the APC from the governorship election. Is there a way out?
No. The High Court clearly voided the congresses that were conducted in the party, the indirect primaries conducted in the party. And that was not only known, it was expected that that was what the court would do.
Everybody in Nigeria was aware of the fact that there was an existing court order that voided the congresses conducted in Rivers. As far as the law was concerned, that structure of the party in the state was illegal, void.
But people who are leaders in the state who have themselves been beneficiaries of the court chose to openly flout the order of the court, announce publicly that they will not obey the order of the court, even went as far as attacking the judiciary to make the point that they will not accept what the court has said.
They were calling it Wike’s supermarket, Senator Abe’s court, all sorts of things. Nobody in his right senses expects that the judiciary will keep quiet in the face of such an affront because, if they do, they might as well close the courts and go home.
When you take on the courts to that extent, in the words of the Supreme Court, it is the height of stupidity for you to think you are doing anything. You are doing nothing. Even the national chairman knew that.
And that was why he himself had announced at the NEC meeting that Rivers State primaries will not use any of those delegates. We knew that they were all tainted.
But how they now went to start organizing — that is a surprise to a lot of watchers of the political scene. Knowing that, the state party machinery went ahead to conduct a direct primary because they knew, ultimately, the court will not accept what the party was doing as far as Rivers State was concerned because that was a direct, head-on collision with the Nigerian judiciary.
And when politicians bring their politics to go and jam with the judiciary, it is going to be a collision between a Beetle and a trailer. And I dare anybody to try that with the judiciary in this country. These are the same people that, when the powers that be stood against them, it was the judiciary that saved them.
If today ordinary people run to the judiciary and they think they can intimidate the judiciary, they should go and try. If they succeed — I am a lawyer — then all lawyers should go and burn their wigs because there is no point going to court. People who are educated, people who are in positions of power, people who are beneficiaries of law and order, and constitutional authority cannot subvert the constitution and expect to gain by it.
Today, I am the senator representing the Rivers South senatorial district. I am the senator because the legal process placed me here. There are several people in this country who may not be happy to see me sitting here as a senator.
But the only reason they cannot march into this office and drag me out of it is because the law protects me. And it is the same with them. If you are a minister, you are a minister because the law protects you and makes you a minister.
If we remove the law and anybody can do what they like, there are people who will come and physically drag out and sit down here. They are there in this country, they are there in my senatorial district, they are bigger than me, stronger than me, have more force than me.
Why have they not come here to drag me out? Because the law protects me here. And that same law protects everybody. For me, I don’t think there is anything to talk about as far as the case of Rivers State is concerned.
If people could have the audacity to take guns to a court, to go and force a court not to give a ruling because they think the ruling will be against them, to physically intimidate the courts of the land and benefit from it, then we might as well close up the country and go.
If the courts cannot protect itself, how will they protect another person? I don’t think that is a matter to argue. I am a lawyer; I know where that would end.
So you have accepted that APC cannot field candidates in the elections?
I am a candidate. I won the direct primaries which is legal, which is what the party should have done. Thankfully and luckily, there were people who had the foresight to do that.
How is it possible to hold primaries when no congresses were held?
Because the National Executive Committee had said that where congresses did not hold, the old executive should continue. That was what was decided in NEC. Two, the same court that gave the injunction to stop the congresses also decided that the status quo — that meant the existing exco — should remain. So, they remained there by order of the court and by order of the NEC. So, there was a structure and there is a structure.
The Supreme Court verdict affirmed the High Court judgement suspending party congresses. Now the High Court, in deciding the substantive suit, has annulled both the congresses and the primaries. Why did you go ahead and conduct primaries while arguing the other faction couldn’t?
I have explained to you that it was not me that conducted primaries. There is a party in the state led by Sir Peter Odike who was the deputy to the former chairman. The former chairman resigned to go and contest elections.
So, he is the chairman of the party. It is that party that decided to conduct primaries, not me. I contested in it because I believe that was the lawful process. So, it is not that I went to go and conduct primaries; that is one.
Two, when you know that people are acting in breach of the law, you don’t indulge them. Those people legally did not exist as far as the law is concerned. What they were doing was a waste of time.
But there was a party structure in the state. And in keeping with the notice served on INEC that there will be direct or indirect primaries, they decided to go ahead and conduct a direct primary in which over 148, 000 party members took part. The videos are there.
The records are there. So, no political party in its right senses can ignore the views of 148,000 members of its own flock which they expressed freely, fairly and peacefully. What the party needs to do now is to take ownership of that process and forward the proceeds of that direct primary to INEC. That is all.
What legal basis does the party itself have to adopt that primary when there has been a court verdict to suspend congresses and party primaries?
No. What the court verdict said was to void the congresses that were held in violation of its order, and then voided the indirect primary that was conducted using those delegates which the court had said did not exist.
If you conducted an election in which those people did not take part, that is not affected by the order of the court. If you go to Lagos State, the primary was conducted by the Lagos State branch of the All Progressives Congress.
The National Working Committee said clearly that they knew nothing about it, they did not participate in it; they were on national television saying that. The party still went ahead and accepted it. What is the difference between that and Rivers?
What about the case of Zamfara where a similar primary was held. The party reacted in the direct opposite way.
That is why I am saying that justice is treating equals equally. I don’t want to speculate on what happened in other states. I am simply telling you that as far as Rivers State is concerned, there was a primary that held within the law and there was one that held outside the law.
If the party finds itself that it was standing on the one held outside the law and finds that is so, the proper thing for the party to do is to come back, retrace their steps and stand on the one that held within the law and move forward. That is what we need to do.
Your grievances with the transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi, goes as far back to the election in 2015, when he didn’t support your governorship ambition. Why do think he owes you his support?
I have no grievances with the transport minister because he did not support me in 2015. That is a very skewed narrative. We have been friends, we have been together, long after 2015. We have been together, running around together, doing everything together long after 2015.
My grievances with the transport minister have nothing to do with him supporting me or not supporting me. I have told him clearly that he is free to support who he wants to support. I told him that personally. I’ve told him that publicly, and I have said so everywhere I went.
My disagreement with the minister is that he said I should not run and I said I would run. I said since you are the leader of the party, create an atmosphere where everybody can participate as party members and contest.
And he said no. I have said publicly that if I am given an opportunity to contest, win or lose, I will accept the result if Rivers people are given an opportunity to freely decide who they want and they say they don’t want Senator Abe.
Even if we are holding Option A4, let the minister stand behind who he wants to support, but allow people who also want to stand behind me to also stand behind me; and count the two. Anyone that is longer, I will be with you.
He is a politician. He is free to support whoever he wants to support. But I am also a politician and I am free to contest if I decide to contest. So it wasn’t a very difficult problem. He really didn’t need all the theatricals and all the bitterness and drama that was exhibited.
It was totally uncalled for. I am one of the founding members of this party. I am a two-term senator in the party. We were colleagues together in the House of Assembly. I was the minority leader, he was the speaker and we have been friends and supported each other all through the years. So if I say I want to contest and he has another candidate, no problem.
And I conceded to him, okay you are the leader. How do you handle this problem now? For me, create an opportunity for me to contest. If I contest and I am not able to sail through, no problem. I would have satisfied my people that I contested.
I would have been celebrated for the number of votes that I got. And I was ready for that. But to say I will not be allowed to contest; to come to my house, call me in front of my wife and tell me not to try contesting… I said no, I will not accept that one. I will contest. And I will contest.
So, there are certain things, you don’t skew the narrative to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion. I am a democrat. I am very, very satisfied with the distance my God has taken me and where he has placed me as far as this country is concerned.
I know where I came from. I am a lawyer. I was minority leader of the House of Assembly. When I contested for the House of Assembly, I first ran on UNCP. I won. When we came back, I ran on APP. It became an issue in Rivers State.
It got to a point where the military administrator, the whole elections in Rivers State boiled down to my constituency. And the military administrator came to my constituency to stop me from winning. I still won.
When I went to the Senate, it was the same thing. At the end of the day, God still helped me — I won. I became not just a member of the House of Assembly, I was the minority leader. And I was voted the best legislature of my session.
I became commissioner for information under Dr. Peter Odili. I served my time and when I left office — after I left and another government was in power — all the media in Rivers State got together and gave me an award as the best commissioner of information ever in the history of Rivers State.
I am the only one that has been so honored in the entire history of the state. I served as secretary to government. The records are there. When I resigned, I was reappointed, until I left to go and run for Senate.
I have been in the Senate for two terms now. And the records are there. So, if at that point I say I want to run for governor and my friend does not want to support me, it is not by force. But to say in the APC I will not be allowed to contest, I will not accept that because everybody knows I am not only a foundation member of this party, I was one of those who led the party in the state and I almost gave up my life to plant APC in Rivers State.
I was one of those who decamped from the ruling party to join the APC when APC was nowhere. I was offered $3m in cash. I turned it down to support this party and build this party. So, how can I at this point say I want to run for governor and then the party will not create an opportunity for me to run, and I will accept that? And it is not just me.
We had congresses in my own senatorial district, where I am the leader of the party. But even in my ward, I don’t know who is the ex-officio member nominated by the minister. In Rivers West, Senator Osinakachukwu Ideozu is the leader of the party. He does not have any ex-officio in the party.
He is one of those senators who decamped on the floor and he has got nothing in this party. But even in his ward, the minister would come there and remove him because he is supporting Senator Abe. In Rivers East, Oyeso the octopus is the leader of the party in that senatorial district.
But in his own ward, he does not have an ex-officio because he is supporting Senator Abe and this goes right down to leaders of the party in different local governments. How do you do that to all of us?
You can support who you like. But the party must create a process that must be inclusive of all members. Before the minister came, we had held a meeting — all of us that were supposed to be quarreling — and agreed on how to manage the congresses without rancor.
And we had set up a committee to go and work that out together and pass it. As soon as he came down, he took the entire process, took the army, took the police, went to Intel camp and de-sanitized the party by weeding out anybody who was from somebody else.
When the people run to court, you start calling the court Wike’s supermarket, Abe’s this. Magnus is working with Wike and all that. People must respect other people. It doesn’t matter how big you become, you must understand that other people are human beings and they have rights and feelings. And if you are not careful how you treat them, they will respond and react.
In the past, you have explained the sacrifices you made fighting to restore Amaechi’s mandate while he was in self-imposed exile. Does that justify your sense of betrayal?
I don’t have any sense of betrayal. I am a politician. And I have never sat down to say I helped Amaechi. That is left for him to remember if he chooses to remember. I know that he helped me and I have said so.
When I say that, people misinterpret that to mean that I shouldn’t run if he asks me not to run. But they forget that power is collective. Amaechi became governor, became speaker because of all these people that he is fighting today, we all came together to support him.
And like now, you are talking to me. But I am one of several thousands. There are people who are investing their time, their money, their reputation, everything they have politically, to support me. If I become governor tomorrow and they get something, does that make them my slaves?
Can only I do this thing that I am doing? Is it possible? Do I cease to respect them because I am now the leader or the governor? No. You give people their due. So, I don’t think that is an issue. I have never sat down to say I helped Amaechi or I didn’t help him.
That is for him to remember. But it has nothing to do with the issues in the party right now. The issue in the party right now is that we should have created an opportunity for everybody to participate in the party.
It wouldn’t have stopped him as a leader from doing what he wanted to do. But at least people would have had a sense of satisfaction that their own contribution and sacrifice to the party has equally been recognized. In the absence of truth, there can be no justice. In the absence of justice, there can be no peace.
“I have said, as far as I am concerned, one of the things we must do is bring an end to the politics of hatred, bitterness and acrimony that has characterized our recent political developments.”
The politics of Rivers appears to be defined by treachery, and depending on who you are listening to: Amaechi stabbed Peter Odili in the back; Governor Nyesom Wike did the same to Amaechi; and you’ve also turned your back on Amaechi. But the central character is Amaechi. Does he bring out the worst in others, politically?
I don’t know what you call stabbing people in the back. I was with Amaechi. Odili was the governor and Odili was not running, Amaechi was running. If Amaechi choosing to run for governor amounts to stabbing Odili in the back, that is your interpretation.
Wike is a citizen of this country and he is equally entitled to pursue his own political goals. If he sees that he is following you and you won’t get him to where he is going, he chooses to try another aspect to try to launch himself to the office of the governor which is what he wanted.
And if you call that stabbing in the back, so be it. Today, I am from Rivers South senatorial district which has never produced a governor. I am from Ogoni; my own people have never been anything in Rivers State. We’ve never been chief judge, speaker, deputy governor — nothing. And then I get up, I want to run, you say that is stabbing you in the back. I accept it.
But people have their own rights, their own feelings. There is nothing that says because I supported you or you supported me, we must continue to support each other for life. If people disagreeing with you is treachery and betrayal and that is the way you feel, then you have to be ready for a lot of treachery and betrayal.
Because even at some point, your own children will disagree with you. I understand that people have a right to pursue their own goals; as long as they don’t shit on me in doing so, they are very free to do that.
And when I set up to run for this position, I wasn’t running against Amaechi. I didn’t quarrel with him, and I have not and I will not. Even when I came on national television, I was referring to him as my leader. He took a full page to say he is not my leader, I should get out, I am working with Wike, and all that.
That is his own politics but you can’t spread that politics to all of Rivers State. And I have said, as far as I am concerned, one of the things we must do is bring an end to the politics of hatred, bitterness and acrimony that has characterized our recent political developments.
We need to cut all that out and face the reality which is the development of the state, inclusion for all our people, progress and prosperity for Rivers people and creating an atmosphere in which we can excel in the comity of states.
That is what this whole thing is about. So, it is not personal to anybody. If you have served the state as a governor, it is a privilege given to you by Rivers people. When you see them, you should respect them and be grateful that they offered you that privilege.
But if you understand it the other way round — that you did Rivers people a favour by being their leader — then you could misunderstand anybody who says something different from what you say as betrayal or treachery or stabbing in the back.
That is not the way it is. So, people just need to understand that, in a democracy, people have choices and they are free to take up those choices at any given point in time. You should be able to respect that. If you want to keep people with you, you listen to them.
If you don’t listen to them and you get to a point where their issues and your own cannot agree, you move on. As he is walking around, a lot of my very close friends are with him. I have never accused them of treachery or betrayal or whatever.
I understand that they are playing their own politics. So, if anybody who is with me is treacherous, it doesn’t make any sense to me, and I think we should stop all that and focus on the real things that matter.