Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Austen Ogwuda
IN the present political configuration in Delta State, Comrade Ovuozourie Macaulay, an ex-chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, in the state, ex-chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, former Commissioner for Inter-Ethnic Relations and Conflict Resolution, former Commissioner for Energy and currently, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, who lost his father at the age of 12 years is a powerful personality.
Those who know him as a journalist with the defunct Bendel Television, ‘days gone by’ marvel at his political voyage. What is his relationship with former governor of the state, Chief James Ibori who appointed him a Commissioner? Why did Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan elevate him from Commissioner, which he was in his first tenure to SSG in his second tenure? And what are his ties with the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who he relates with on first name basis as Adams. He tells all to Saturday Vanguard in his office at Asaba. Excerpts:
How do you intend to serve?
I want to say that what is paramount to the Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan government in this second tenure is to build confidence in the system, build confidence in the people, build confidence in the bureaucracy, build confidence in the polity of the state. And secondly, make sure that Delta state is seen as one indivisible entity, where what is overriding to everybody is how the state can be developed and not fighting for selfish and individual ends.
I think these are the two major things that I want to concern myself with and I believe that if I can help the governor to build a united Delta. Then, there will be development. You cannot build a united Delta and have development if there is no trust, and to have trust, you must be transparent for people to have confidence in the system.
How has it as a journalist, NLC leader, Commissioner and now SSG?
It has been very challenging but I think that it is really something we have to look into because as journalists, we are in the forefront of criticism.
We criticize the government, policies. We criticize every aspect. We come out with solutions. So, it should be our concern that if any of us is given an assignment, we should be able to put that into practice so that people can see that we don’t just say what we want people to do. But we say what we, too, can do, and coupled with the fact that I have been an activist, 20 years as a labour leader is not an easy thing and those virtues cannot be thrown away overnight.
As a labour leader, we were trained to work for the people, put a smile on the face of somebody and not what you necessarily what you want to gain, but if at the end of the day, somebody appreciates you, that is a different thing, unlike those who put the profit ahead of the success of the job. My focus everyday is how to make a success of what I want to do.
One thing that appears to have endeared you to past and present governors of the state is your conflict management ability, which probably explained why ex-governor, Chief James Ibori, appointed you as Commissioner for Inter-ethnic relations and conflict resolution, did you branch out of journalism at any time to study conflict management or it is just a gift?
I think it is both, along the line, that is the trainings I have as a labour leader, we were trained on how to manage people, you will agree with me that under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s leadership of the NLC, even starting from the tail end of Sunmonu leadership, a lot of training and capacity was done and we were always going for different kinds of training, both within and outside the country and when you talk of collective bargaining, you are talking of how you can manage people, you want to bring in a balance, you see, a true labour leader cannot ask for increase in wages when there is no increase in productivity. So you must work out a balance between your own followers who are the workers and your own employer. Your employer has to be happy to be able to listen to you. So, a lot is involved, that is why it is the grace of God, and it is not everybody that people want to listen to.
How was Warri crisis resolved?
Of course, every day, I give glory to God for making me part of the resolution of the Warri crisis. Warri crisis was resolved by three principal persons apart from the military. They are the then governor, Chief James Ibori, the present governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who was then the SSG and me, who was given the portfolio. I had the full cooperation from the governor; of course, he was the one that actually anchored the whole process before he brought me in to help him discharge some of the responsibilities.
And when I resumed in Warri, at my first press conference, I was battered from both sides and I discovered that my colleagues (journalists) who were supposed to give me cover were already aligned to some interests. In fact, they had a way of reporting to suit certain interests in the crisis. I went back immediately to the drawing board and took a different approach.
Again, the first thing to do under the condition I met in Warri was to build trust, letting all the parties know that I was not there to take sides with anybody but to make sure that the crisis was brought to an end. I appealed to their conscience. And just like we are in the office at this time of the night and I am granting you interview—I can remain in this office working till 1.00 am. That was the attitude I brought to play during the Warri crisis. I could visit any of the big men as late as 10.00 pm even when there was curfew. I could to go their houses first thing in the morning.
I did not just take it as an official job. I brought in some informal approach into resolving issues— build understanding and make the people love to see me and to listen to me. You don’t resolve such crisis with arrogance. You must subdue yourself, not allowing the people to subdue you and you must have the ability to tolerate the boys because a lot of insults were also involved. A lot of people were just out to upset you. But if you are there to resolve, you have to stomach a lot of things.
In fact, I felt challenged to do the job because of all the people, not just in this state or not just serving in government, the then governor, Chief Ibori picked me as his candidate to make me commissioner. I was not sponsored by my ethnic group. I was not sponsored by any godfather. James Ibori picked me and the only brief he gave me was, ‘Macaulay, help Warri crisis’. As soon as I was sworn in, he held me on my hand and said I should help manage Warri crisis.
Then, he told the SSG to please invite him to the Security Council as a member of the Council, henceforth. For me, such things are very challenging and I can tell you for the first three months of my job, I did not even have an official car. It was the car with which I left the NLC, my personal car that I was using to do the job. I started sitting in a garage, a car park in Warri. I went through a lot of things, for the first six months. I did not have an office. The main issues in the crisis had even been resolved before I was given an office. But like I said, I give the glory to God for my ability to subdue the flesh in me at any time I am faced with such challenges.
Why did Adams Oshiomhole attend your swearing-in, even at a very short notice?
Let me say this, they are three persons who have influenced my life or who are responsible for whatever type of attitude I have today. I mean my attitude to work, my honesty and forthrightness. First is my mother who brought me up when I lost my father at the age of 12. She taught me to work hard. She never pampered me any day, even though she showed me so much love.
Then, as I grew up I started to work. I worked with a man called Lola Ebueku, who was then my manager, news and current affairs, defunct Bendel Television. Lola had no room for nonsense. You were expected to work and work and you could hardly please him. And while some people were grumbling, I learnt from him. Then, the third person. As I went into trade unionism, I met another hard nut to crack in the person of Adams Oshimohole, who brewed me more in transparency and hard work. In our days when we fighting Uba Ahmed and the days of Babaginda must go, the days of Abacha, we didn’t sleep. So, if today I don’t go to bed until 1.00 am, it is because I am used to it. There are times we used to work till dawn.
I happened to be one of those five, whom at a stage consisted the think-tank of Adams Oshiomhole’s movement to become the president of NLC those days, and in all the battles we fought, if you remember very well, we were always fighting from opposition against government, even when the NLC was at a time divided. We were also on the left wing fighting, that this is the way this body must go. So, everyday of my life, I give credit to these three persons because they taught me the virtues of hard work and transparency. And as you can see, the relationship between me and Adams, for about 15 years, we worked together.
We were in the trenches together. We fought battles together, and we were always in the same camp and he was always the one giving leadership. So, that is the relationship and God has continued to prosper both of us, among other persons as well. I know that when I was fighting for resource control in Niger-Delta, my second-in-command then, Akpan, is today one of the principal officers of the House of Assembly in his state, Akwa-Ibom. In fact, a few of us who showed that commitment have been lifted up by God.
What are the differences between the Ibori and Uduaghan
If there is any modification, it is a thing of perception, otherwise, it is one political family but you must believe that as at today, there is a leadership. When Ibori was the governor, everybody pledged loyalty and exhibited it to Ibori. But for me, the loyalty is not to Ibori as a person, your loyalty should be to the system.
So, no matter who comes at anytime, you must show that loyalty if you believe in the system. Today, some people feel that if it is not Ibori, then it should not be, that is where they get it wrong and I believe that even if Ibori were to be here today, he would tell them that they were doing a wrong thing; your loyalty should be to the system. So, yesterday, it was Ibori, today it is Uduaghan.
Everybody should defer to Uduaghan. If tomorrow, it rotates to somebody else, everybody should defer to the new helmsman. It is the structure we are talking about. There is a structure in place. That is why no matter the turbulence the state is passing through, it has remained on course. Yes, they are detractors that are delaying the pace, which the state would have been running, but even at that, the state has remained focused.
What’s your opinion on the killing by your security aide ?
My name is being dragged in because as you know, the papers must sell and anybody who sees SSG’s aide kills somebody, of course, would want to read the paper. But ordinarily, what happened had nothing to do with me. I have a business outfit that is today paying over 100 persons. I run a big farm. I run a poultry, a piggery. I run an oil mill, a fish farm, one in my village , one at the integrated farm in Kwale. So, he is just one of my workers. I have never denied him.
He is a staff I employed in my piggery. But he doesn’t work in my place at night, he had closed his normal day’s job and had gone home. From the story I heard, I have not been to the village since then, it was that he got a call from one of his two wives that people (robbers) were attacking her. So he quickly ran there with a single barrel gun and on getting there, the people were running. He was chasing them or whatever happened, he shot one of them. I was told he went to report himself to the police. The police came, picked the person and on their way to the hospital, the person died. In the afternoon, some youths in the village came together and went to confront him on why he should kill somebody, it was in the course of that confrontation that he shot a second person. So all of these incidents happened far from my house, from my own compound to where the first incident took place is almost two kilometers and the second incident is four kilometers from my house. It had nothing to do with me.
My wife does not live in the village. My wife does not sell recharge cards. So he was not chasing people who came to steal in my farm or in my compound. He had closed from work. And even though he works for me, I have never bought him a gun; I have an approval for a conventional police who stays with me here. So, I don’t have any reason to buy a gun, what do you call it, a single barrel gun for one person in the village. So, that was what happened. But you see, my problem with the whole thing is that, one, of course, we are just coming out of election, which by the grace of God, my party won in my local government.
I was able to manage the local government. So, people are now bringing politics into it. How can we smear the man’s name, he had just been appointed as SSG? Some people even said he is my chief security officer and I asked a journalist in Benin City. I am a civilian. So how can I have another civilian as my chief security officer. So politicians are amplifying the story for ulterior reasons and propagating to some select media people who don’t know what is on ground.
But I must tell you that except for the people who don’t know the background, the second boy that was killed; I built a house for his grandmother, three years ago. The grandmother is the oldest woman in the community and I felt that as the oldest woman in my town, she should not living in the kind of shanty she was living in and I built new house for her and sunk a borehole in their compound. What reason would I have, therefore, to kill her grandson.
And even the other person that was killed, I don’t know him. But I was told that they burnt down the house of the man who shot these persons, my position is that the law should take its course. The matter is already with the police, people should allow the police to do their work. The same persons trying to incite people in the village burnt down my house. That is the truth of the story.
Tt had nothing to do with me, it had nothing to do with my office.