BY GBENGA OKE
Dr. Abiye Sekibo, former Minister of Transport and the Action Congress of Nigerian (ACN) governorship candidate in Rivers State in the 2011 polls, in this interview, debunks claims making waves that he was induced by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP- led government in the state to withdraw his case at the Election Petition tribunal. He also stated that his withdrawal was based on technical grounds and frustrations his party received from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He however stressed that he has no intention of leaving ACN at this critical time but maintains that he will continue to play the role of opposition in Rivers State: Excerpt:
After contesting the Rivers gubernatorial election, can you give a review of what you felt about the elections?
Well, I think I have made comments on the general election as it affects Rivers State and I won’t mind repeating myself that the election that was held last April in Rivers State was the worst ever in the history of Rivers State especially the governorship election. It was rigged in the worst way possible. So, for me it was clear that the result which INEC upheld for Rivers State was purely what the Rivers State Government and PDP led government pre-compiled.
For me, what was announced was a sham but let me make something very clear, the people of Rivers State trooped out that day to vote the Action Congress of Nigeria. From the point when the people finished voting, every single electoral provision, the electoral act and electoral guidelines were flouted in Rivers State. Even when Professor Jega said you are free to take pictures, those who attempted to even film what was going on, were not only brutalized, some of them had their hands broken, their camera destroyed. So, the Rivers elections was the worst election in the history of the state and many were not surprised that many headed for the tribunal after the elections since INEC decided to uphold that sham elections.
You went to the tribunal and later withdrew your case. Why?
We saw the rape on the electoral process and we believed that, like law abiding citizens of this country, we can seek redress through the tribunal and I want to put on record that from the day INEC announced those results, we did everything to get documentation from INEC, we took our photocopy machine to INEC office, but they did not allow us get documents of what they have announced.
For us, we see that INEC was still battling with how to arrive at the results they announced. Even when we went to tribunal, all kinds of obstacle were put in our way, they knew we were to base our argument on the forensic of what they have done but when we realized that they have successfully put obstacle in our way, made it impossible for us to get the information that was required by the tribunal and the time provision in the Act has caught up on us, we had no choice but to realize that we are being presented with a faith accompli and we refused to be used to rubber stamp an evil that has been committed against Rivers people. So we had to withdraw from the tribunal.
So your withdrawal was more of technical approach?
Absolutely, as far as we are concerned, the INEC, which was supposed to be an un-biased umpire was already working hand in hand with the PDP to prevent us from getting the true pictures of things to present at the tribunal. So since they are already doing the bidding of the PDP and making it impossible for us to get documents to present at the tribunal, we had to withdraw.
Firstly, we are entitled to whatever results that was announced at every collation point, from the unit to the ward, from the local government to the state, but they would not release any of those and when they had done, they will say ‘we have given it to your people at the field’, when in actual fact, they did not give anything to anybody.
We told them they should allow us photocopy the ones they have, we took our photocopy machines down there, they did not allow us even to photocopy what they have. So they made it impossible for us to build our case and they were aided and abated by the state government clearly and they want a situation where when we went to the tribunal with them, they will now say that elections were conducted and we could not prove our case. Because of that, they have won at the tribunal which would be presenting a false picture to the world and the only alternative for us is to withdraw from the tribunal because it was clear we would not be getting justice under that circumstances in a case where INEC was supposed to be a neutral party and they were not.
The ACN has withdrawn from the Court based on technical issues and there are reports that the party will be giving the PDP led government in Rivers State support. How true is that?
The ACN in Rivers State is the only opposition in the state and we raised a lot of issues during the campaigns and after the campaigns. The ACN will never work or support this government in Rivers state for various reasons. When you come into Port-Harcourt, see the roads. there is no where to pass and in the last four years, Rivers State has spent over a trillion naira and there is nothing to show for it. Health centres and primary schools built at 10 times their real cost, all avenues of corruption and no right thinking mind will support this kind of government because it is a rape on the people of Rivers State.
So, the ACN will continue to be in the opposition in Rivers State?
But we learnt that there are pressures from the Presidency on you to return to the PDP.
I have not noticed that and I have no intention whatsoever to even consider any such pressure even if there is.
But you are an Ijaw man and the President also comes from the Ijaw extraction, are you saying if the president prevails on you to return to the fold, you won’t consider it?
The entire Ijaws do not have to be in the same party.
But what is your relationship with the President presently?
The president is a member of the PDP and I am a member of ACN, we are both Ijaws and he is married from my town and as a Nigerian, he is my president.
What is your assessment of security situation in the country today?
I am very worried with the situation and I will tell you. When there was insecurity in the Niger Delta, I was part of those who came all out to support the Federal Government to ensure that the insecurity in the South_south was brought under control. I gave maximum support to the amnesty programme, I was one of those who even advocated amnesty for these youths so that they can come out of the creeks and support the government to give peace a chance. The spate of bombing is highly condemnable and the government must continue to do whatever it takes to bring this situation under control.
Almost before the election, the Rivers ACN suffered some high level of betrayal and backstabbing because two days to the election, the state party chairman left and declared for the PDP, some state executives also left. How do you think the party will survive?
Well, it is unfortunate that happened but may be by act of omission or act of commission, Nigerians are looking at the issue of personal integrity, they are trivializing the issue of personal integrity. When a person is given a certain responsibility as a party official at any level, it is expected that you bring with you a certain level of integrity that matches that office.
Unfortunately, we see people treating that office with levity and without regard and practically show that you are not a person of integrity. Now, when this happens, it will be something that should make us sad, I sympathize with Uche Okukwu, the former party chairman who allowed himself to lead a party and on the eve of the election, he decides to bolt out of the party. For me, his action is an act of irresponsibility and it shows he lacks integrity.
Immediately you withdrew your case from the tribunal, there were allegations against you that money exchanged hands between you and Governor Amaechi, What is your reaction to that?
It is unfortunate that in Nigeria, people are used to equating money with everything. There are still few of us in this country that money cannot buy and while I am not blowing my trumpet, I believe strongly that I am one of the few Nigerians that money will not buy and office will not sway in terms of standing for what is right, what is fair and what is just. I want to state categorically that never was a penny exchanged in the decision or process that led to our decision to withdraw from the tribunal. If anything, I have explained to you it is because of the obstacles we encountered in the hands of INEC and the PDP controlled government which they put in our way in gathering the evidence that we needed to use at the tribunal.
If you say that at no time did money exchange hands between you and the governor, what about the insinuations that your political mentor, Dr Odili prevailed on you to withdraw your case since he and Governor Amaechi had settled their differences?
Let me this, myself and Dr Odili have never discussed the elections and neither have we met, so there is no opportunity for Dr Peter Odili to even raise the tribunal matter.
Are you saying you have not met Dr Odili since after the elections?
I can tell you that we met very briefly for about 30 to 45minutes and it was during the wife’s elevation to the Supreme Court and there was absolutely no discussion whatsoever within that period we saw between me and him. I went to congratulate the wife whom I have always regarded as a mother and that was it. He did not raise any issue with me about the tribunal and neither have we seen since after then.
So saying that you were induced either directly by the Governor or through Dr Peter Odili to withdraw your case…
(Cuts in) Such statement is arrant nonsense.
But if the Governor calls on you to join hands with him to build a new Rivers state, will you accept?
I want to make this clear, in governance, everybody wants to contribute his or her own quota to building their community, state or country; everybody wants to do that, but if you find out that the leadership has shown clear tendencies for corruption and manipulation of the process that makes possible personal enrichment and aggrandizement, you will not want to join hands together with that kind of leadership.
Anybody who wants to serve his country or state and believe that he or she can do it under a corrupt leadership, he is not being sincere.