By JIDE AJANI, Deputy Editor

*Anything can happen when you anoint a successor
*I am not evil or violent
*Supreme Court has questions to answer on Gov Amaechi
*Demands that FG should engage militants

His name is Abiye Sekibo. An Okrika, his name, Sekibo Mina Konju Orike, means a dancer does not see his back. He used his name to illustrate the futility of succession by anointment which he says does not guarantee loyalty. A former transport minister, Sekibo was one of those politicians in Rivers State who was and remains very close and loyal to Dr. Peter Odili, the man who ruled the state from 1999 to 2007.  A medical doctor too, Sekibo, and people around him had expected that in the highwire politics and run-up to the gubernatorial primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Rivers State, he had a very bright chance of emerging the party’s flag-bearer – among the trio of Rotimi Amaechi, speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Austin Opara, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, and Sekibo.

For Sekibo, he says he has put all that behind him because “I must confess that I made a personal vow, it may be wrong and with hindsight now some people may say it was wrong but it is something that my belief has psyched me up to, I told God Almighty that if it is His will, that I should become the governor, so be it, but if not, then let it pass, no matter how I struggle, He should make it impossible for me to be governor of Rivers State”. He also talks about his boss, Odili, PDP and the amnesty deal. Excerpts:

YOU seem to have been quiet for a while.  Are you retired?

Well, retirement in my profession of medicine, no I am not in retirement. Retirement in my acquired calling of politics, no, I am not in retirement. So, wherever this idea of retirement came from, I do not subscribe to it.
You’ve been pretty quiet both in the national politics of PDP and the politics of Rivers State and even your own Okrika back home?
We’re told that silence is golden. Circumstances arise in a man’s life and he wants to do some introspection, listen to himself a bit and then take some decisions. A lot has happened since I left as minister and one is constantly looking at what should be the next step. We’ve left the medical profession for so long that we have to now read and know what the current trend is and with a lot of support from our friends in the field, we are back on our feet practising again. But we always have our ears to the ground. I visit home frequently and I visit Port Harcourt; we’re in touch with our people and we know what is going on and generally we don’t feel like we have been quiet even though what we do is not on the pages on newspapers or on live television.

This issue of going home, there is this perception that you are marooned here in Abuja.  You just talked about going home but you could go home without being in touch with the people?

*During my time the policy was zero tolerance for corruption

I can say clearly that it’s not just going home. When we go home there are ward meetings and political meetings that you are part of; things that you have obligations to be part of and then there are the political things that you must be part of. You can see that recently there was a stakeholders’ meeting in the state and some funny statements were made and all over you begin to get calls left right and centre but the truth of the matter is that in politics there is so much mudslinging. We all know that everybody wants to have an advantage and everybody tells high-falutine stories to get advantage or a head start, so we pick up these things and then we laugh because in Rivers State in particular, to get and destroy Abiye Sekibo is the pastime of the present administration, everybody will tell you.

Whenever the government does anything in Rivers State, it has at the back of its mind that Sekibo is watching them and so they are scared of their shadows but unfortunately for them, one doesn’t waste time thinking about what they are doing so, I just want to say that we go home necessarily to perform our community and political obligation, we can not run away from those because those are some of the things that we have voluntarily gotten ourselves involved in and we must own up to them.

In 2007, some people would have sworn that you would emerge as governor.  In your heart of hearts, what single most militating factor would you point to as denying you that position?

This is an interesting question. I must confess that in the build up to 2007, a lot of people – friends, traditional rulers, not so friendly people, colleagues – looked up to me to run for the governorship of Rivers State. I also was one of those who picked the form to go for the governorship. But I must confess that I made a personal vow, it may be wrong and with hindsight now some people may say it was wrong but it is something that my belief has psyched me up to, I told God Almighty that if it is His will, that I should become the governor, so be it, if it is His will but if not, then let it pass, no matter how I struggle, He should make it impossible for me to be governor of Rivers State.

So when circumstances arose that clearly made it impossible for me to even get the candidacy of my party, I assumed that God didn’t want me to be and that it was an answer to my prayers.

Is there any reason(s) now to believe that you assumed wrongly?

Ah! That is an interesting one. But no, I don’t think that I assumed wrongly and I believe that God has His own time for everything and I also believe that God’s time is the best.  If you pray to God and God doesn’t answer you immediately or doesn’t answer you at all, it is one of two things.  First, it is either that that thing is not meant for you or that it is not yet time for you to get that thing. That’s my belief. And for me, at any point in time, God can answer your prayers, so I didn’t assume wrongly.

But your closeness to Dr. Peter Odili, the incumbent at that time was more or less a factor that could have swayed the ticket in your favour. So, what roles did he or did he not play which made it impossible to get that ticket?

Ah! You know I am not used to saying I won’t answer that question but what I would say is that I wasn’t the only person close to Dr. Peter Odili. Among those who showed interest, some of us were close to Dr. Peter Odili and all of us expected Dr. Peter Odili to support our candidacy because of our closeness to him and also Dr. Peter Odili, not being God, couldn’t have known who would turn out to be a better governor – he couldn’t have known and for some other considerations, he, too, would have decided on who should be the candidate. Having done that, I lay no blames whatsoever on him because as far as I was concerned, I had only one focus: I wanted to become governor of Rivers State and if God was not going to help me, nothing else mattered.

Would you today consider yourself luckier that had you been the governor and then the Supreme Court declared as it did, that Rotimi Amaechi should be sworn-in, that you were not in that position?  So leaving it to God to decide, how thankful would you be to Him?

*Rivers delegation did not abandon their leader

Well, that’s another way to look at the matter and I think you’re very correct. But you see, if you put God first, He will always order your feet.
Interesting but politicians in Nigeria profess God as if they believe in Him. It is common place to hear them say I will let God do this and that, decide this and that and yet the country is in this mess.  If this profession of faith in God were real, wouldn’t this country be a better place because even you have mentioned God repeatedly but there would be a follow up to that as we progress?

I agree with you and I am on all fours with you on this. Almost all of us if not all of us – Christians and Muslims – have always called God but there are those who call God genuinely and there are those who call God falsely.

You assumed that your exit from the race is God’s doing and would you, by the same token give that same God the credit that Amaechi’s emergence is God’s doing?

I tell you that I believe very strongly that nothing happens without God knowing because my Bible tells me that before one hair on my head falls, God knows and, therefore, God knows that Amaechi would become governor and God also knew what Amaechi’s governorship would be for Rivers State. But let me also make this clear that in life God elevates people for one reason to glorify his name. God will elevate you to show the world how good you are and because of your goodness and give praise to His name in heaven and also, God will elevate you to show people how bad and evil you are then people having seen how good and evil you are, God will also show your end and how it would be and then that also gives praise and glory to God in heaven.

Profound talk!  So, which one applies in the case of Amaechi?

Only God knows the one that would apply here because it is He that does the elevation (laughter). But let me say this, the Supreme Court made him governor by pronouncement and not by election. I say this very seriously and I want Nigerians to cast their mind back. Nobody on that panel of the court was less than 60 years. These were the elders of our country who should stand for what is true and what is just. A political party picks a candidate. The constitution says that candidate should go and present himself to the people – I’m talking as a lay-man now. He should present himself to the people and say I am from so so and so political party and that law says after the contest, whoever scores the highest votes as laid down by the constitution and the electoral act, that person becomes the governor – that’s what the law says and that’s what the Supreme Court swore to uphold.

Now, we’re faced with a situation where a political party picks a candidate, and another candidate did not go to the people to say I am from this political party, his name was not on the list given to the people from among the choices to be made. The people go, cast their ballot without this person’s name on the list. They make their choice. Then that stranger to that list goes to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court says that you that did not satisfy the requirement should become governor and should be sworn in and I am yet to see what part of our constitution or our electoral act which gave the Supreme Court that power. There is no democracy anywhere in the world that says the Supreme Court can appoint a state governor but this Supreme Court of our fathers and grandfathers took that decision for the people of Rivers State and it beats my imagination.

Of course you know that I went to court to challenge that and interpret the constitution or tell us which laws were used to arrive at that. Is this government of the people by the people for the people that throws up that kind of thing You worked closely with Dr. Odili as Rivers State governor and some people have come out to say that administration was a disaster; yet, there are those who can swear that Odili actually laid the foundation for a greater Rivers State. What would you say to that as an insider?

Well, I can tell you clearly that when Odili took office in 1999, for the first four years I was secretary to that government and, therefore, the successes of that government, I claim and the failures of that government I would also agree to and take responsibilities. I am not in the vanguard of those who want to dissociate themselves from Odili’s government. I don’t think that that is right and I thank God for the opportunities He gave me to serve the people of Rivers State and having said all that, I would add that Dr. Peter Odili is the first sitting governor, who, within the first 100 days, built 1000 housing units, completed and delivered – not under construction, but completed and delivered, 1000 housing units.  In the first 100 days, 100 different streets and roads in Port Harcourt, rehabilitated and we’re talking of about 10 years ago.

Odili’s tenure, with me as secretary to the government, as far as I am concerned, remains the best government that Rivers State ever saw. After I left as secretary to government and got nominated as minister and became minister, I was still very close to the governor and governance in Rivers State. I didn’t think anything changed. Today, Rivers State has the best state governor’s residence and office in Nigeria. People will not appreciate what that means today. When they realize that the White House people troop to in the US, that house built in eighteen something remains a tourist attraction in Washington, that edifice in Rivers State would also remain for decades and decades to come except, of course, one crazy governor wakes up and decide to demolish and rebuilt because, for instance, the past time of the government of the day in Rivers State is demolition. In another 100 years from now, that building would remain. The state legislature, the house of assembly, remains the best in the history of Nigeria and the same thing goes for the state judiciary, the building is there for all to see.  Democracy is built on institutions and what Dr. Odili has done is to put the structures in place and the people can then take possession and deliver for the people.  These were land marks and this is not just playing to the gallery.

But what deliverables were there for the people?

Good. Take the Brathwaite Memorial Hospital, BMH, for instance. BMH is what it is today, one of the best hospitals in the country today because of what Odili did with it. Take power. It was Odili’s vision for power, which was second to none in this country at that time, became the main plank on which the Independent Power Project, IPP, of the federal government was built on. What is being done today at the federal level is a copy of what Odili did in Rivers State. If you have better power supply in Rivers State today, it is because of the foundation that Odili laid in Rivers State for power. Linking of different local governments in the state were done by Odili and I’m sure Odili would be able to answer for himself in terms of what he did or did not do but while I was secretary to the state government, all the successes that that government recorded, I was part of it and if there were mistakes, I was part of it and if there are things to apologise for, I will apologise for the period I served under that government – that is what any responsible human being should do; stand for what you did and no matter what the difficulties are.

In 2007 just before the presidential primaries, it was as if Odili would get the ticket of the PDP but he was stopped even before Eagle Square by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, a man whom Odili worked for and believed in so much.  Now, creating a link between what happened between you and Odili regarding the PDP ticket for Rivers State governorship and what happened between Obasanjo and Odili regarding the presidential ticket of PDP, what would you say went wrong and I don’t want you to give this excuse of you not being everywhere to see everything. Just tell us what you know?
I, Oh my God; this is one question I really would have loved Odili and Obasanjo to answer for themselves what happened.

I will ask them when I see them but as an insider, what happened?

Yes, I agree I was an insider but no matter how inside you are, you can not be more knowledgeable than the key decision makers. But, having said that let me say that it all boils down to what I said when you asked about the governorship. God knew who He wanted to throw up as president of this country and God also knew the lessons He wanted us to learn from it for us as a country and for us as individuals to learn from the way He does His things because He’s all knowing. Yes, we were involved in that bid. Some of us were involved genuinely because we wanted the country to go in a particular direction but some of us had other reasons. At the presidential level, we had the president’s ears and at the governorship level we had the governor’s ears.

2007 presidential primaries of your party, the PDP, was it true, fair and what is just? At least you raised those points?

(Long Laughter)  First of all, let me make something clear.  You know by the time Odili arrived at the Eagle Square, he was no longer in the race.  The night before that primary he had been made to withdraw.

I’m aware.  Let’s take for instance the presence of the Rivers State delegates. They were the last set of delegates to leave Eagle Square because they waited till after the speech of Umar Musa Yar’Adua.  What accounted for that? In fact, people said they were waiting for the announcement of Odili as running mate?

(Long pause)  The Rivers delegation had their leader present there in the person of Dr. Peter Odili and they did not, as a loyal group, abandon their leader. Of course, it was politics and there was a lot of going forward and backwards and that brings me to the statement made by El-Rufai who had spoken about the happenings about that convention but one thing I want to put on record is that in every political gathering all over the world, there are intrigues, a lot of things happen.

Abraham Lincoln was not in the reckoning for the American presidency but he emerged and even after he emerged it was not clear that he would become president but he laid the foundation for what America has become today. God works in a mysterious way and while all those things were happening that night, my belief in God and His love for Nigeria was strengthened. I believe very strongly that God loves Nigeria that He is taking Nigeria to an expected positive end and one which would make all of us happy.

Let’s talk about the amnesty but before then I want your comment on what I know you are aware of and which became more like a swan song during the campaigns for the PDP ticket:  People say you are evil and that you are a man of violence, with your armies all over the place.  I’m sure you’re aware of that charge?

Well, it made me feel bad and I also knew that my opponents were playing dirty; that within the same party there were some people who were so desperate to become governor that they were lying and doing all sorts of things and manufacturing things just to paint me black believing that I was the person to beat and I don’t think I should be the one to say this but because you’ve asked I will say it.

Even at that time, a lot of information kept coming back to me that some people were encouraging people to paint me in bad light that I was a violent person but I know in my heart of hearts that all what they have painted me to be is not true. I am the only person who have at all times insisted that the security agencies should thoroughly investigate every single allegation that are made about my connection (not conjectures that Ateke is from the same area with me, we’re from the same place and I won’t deny him because he has a right to belong to the same community as I do because that is where God Almighty put him, so I can not deny him). So when people decide to use that natural inextinguishable connection to paint me as the chief financier, procurer of arms, they knew they were lying and playing politics and I also knew that God Almighty knows the truth and after how many years of investigation, panels, trying to politicize and use it against me, I am still here and I am ready to face the full weight of the law if what they’ve said or what they’re saying is true.   am not surprised, they still use it.

The amnesty deal has come and gone. What areas would you suggest modifications for?

I am a hundred per cent supporter of Yar’Adua’s amnesty for the militants. I support it fully.

Let me punctuate you. The way you’re sounding, it would be easy for people to come to the conclusion that your support for the amnesty could actually be because you were a major backer and sponsor of the boys so, if the amnesty would provide freedom for them, why not?

*Supreme Court okayed a stranger to become governor

No! No!!  No!!!  Well people could also think like that but that is not the issue at all because I was also thinking of the interest of the generality of the people of Nigeria. We had reached a point where Nigeria was producing less oil in the world.  Angola had overtaken us in terms of oil production and Ghana is coming on stream and if this thing continues, who knows and when you think back, we used to be number one in groundnut, we’re no more; we used to be number one in cocoa, we’re no more; we have receded so much that we couldn’t just continue like this again. Any Nigerian who was thinking should have thought of how best to address the Niger delta issue and so the President’s decision to bring the boys out of the creeks is a welcome development and I support it. Don’t forget that I had made several statements before, long before the amnesty that it would do some good for us to engage the boys and even now, we are not engaging these boys well enough. We should engage everybody in the Niger delta because some are still not being engaged and that is why some people disarmed using the governors and some others said no, they would rather disarm suing some other people and not the governors. Some of the boys do not support some of the sitting governors, they do not agree with the governors and who have different views from those of the state governors.  The federal government should engage everybody.  The President should bring all of them together and brought to the table.

What lessons can we draw from the amnesty itself?

Look, let me tell you, Nigeria has been a very lucky nation. We fought a civil war, we survived it, thank God, that has passed. A section of the country, mainly the Niger delta, had taken up arms against the government because of perceived injustice in the sharing of the proceeds that come from their soil.  Luckily through Yar’Adua’s amnesty, we have now overcome that. I don’t think God will give Nigeria a third chance. I don’t think so.We have gone through the civil war and God has forgiven us, it has passed. Now, this Niger Delta amnesty too has come, thank God, it has passed. Nigeria should not allow a third situation to come up. We should do everything possible.

They said you stole money as minister of transport. Is that another work of your detractors, again?  What did you even achieve?

*I don’t think God will give Nigeria a third chance

As far as I know, my tenure as transport minister was a period of reformation. That matter of stealing is rubbish. During my time the policy was zero tolerance for corruption and I still stand and challenge anybody who says there were issues of corruption under my watch as minister to come out and I am ready and willing to cooperate in investigating such. We brought the cabotage, which means indigenous shipping, on stream. We drew attention to the railway and the present minister is working along that line. The minister is trying but without a clear and functioning rail system, our economy will never go far. We also wanted the private sector to take the commanding heights of the transport sector of the economy and that was why we went into the concession of some aspects of the transport sector.  The ports are today working better today than we met them.  If Nigeria allows the concession to work the way it should work, it would have the best ports in Africa.

What I regret was my inability to fully  professionalise that ministry and I want to say this with all seriousness. I am a medical doctor and I know the importance of having professionals run government agencies and ministries. I had a transport ministry with over 2000 employees with less than one per cent of them, from the minister down to the cleaner, being transport professionals and we are supposed to be planning the transport needs of 150 million Nigerians. It can not work and I had hoped that I would have the opportunity of turning the situation around so that when a minister comes in even if he is a medical doctor, he would not be talking to a director of maritime transport who has Ph.D in history, how would that arrangement work. We should bring in professionals.

Your family?  Is it also violent?

(laughter) I can tell you that I have a wonderful wife, Alale, who has been a pillar of support for me, absolute pillar of support. She’s a prayer warrior, praying for me, my wife is always praying to God for me for the government. I’ve got six wonderful children and I have one of the largest extended families you can imagine. They are more than a village.


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