By DAPO AKINREFON
Both sides in the face off between opposing factions of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Rivers State have drawn the battle line. Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Austin Opara and incumbent member of the House, Dakuku Peterside, both from Rivers State in two different interviews present the case of the two factions with both men agreeing on one thing, that rascality on the part of each other is at the root of the crisis.
MR Austin Opara was the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Rivers State. In this interview he bares his mind on the crisis engulfing the state chapter of the party. Excerpts:
What is the cause of the crisis in the state chapter of the PDP?
What has happened is that there was a court judgment, a competent court for that matter, which declared Chief Felix Obuah led executive as the real and authentic executive of the PDP in the state. That was the declaration by the court. And this is a democracy where everybody is guided by the rule of law, so everybody has to obey the court judgment. There is nothing extra- ordinary at all, there is a subsisting court judgment which is being obeyed by all.
But you would have heard of dissent and some people saying they would not respect the judgment?
Obviously some people are aggrieved. Those who lost in the exercise are aggrieved but that doesn’t mean that Rivers PDP is in crisis. It is up to Nigerians to decide whether in a democratic system, where we should be governed by the rule of law, people should be allowed to say they will not obey a court ruling. To me, that is rascality. But I don’t think any right thinking individuals will say they will not obey court orders. The worst that has been said, which you probably heard, must have been as a result of anger or disappointment . And they have the right to feel so but not that they will not obey the court judgment.
What do you consider as the way forward?
We need to ensure that everybody is carried along and that everybody falls in line. But sincerely, anybody who feels or thinks otherwise, we can’t force that person to stay or remain in PDP. The issue is, why will anybody pick and choose which court judgment to obey or not to obey and which to respect or not respect? Must it be the one that favours you only that you will obey? Let me ask you, how did the present governor, Rotimi Amaechi get to power? In 2007, during the campaigns, Amaechi was somewhere outside the shores of this country. He never campaigned, he never voted nor was he voted for but the Supreme Court declared that he is the governor.
It is like the court declaring that a man is a woman. What did we do? We all obeyed it. Rivers people could have gone to the streets to protest, especially since there was no opportunity to appeal because it was the Supreme Court. But we all obeyed. Why should it be now that some people are not ready to obey a court judgment declaring somebody the real and authentic leader of the PDP in Rivers State? You can’t approbate and reprobate at the same time.
Though Governor Amaechi once denied it, it is alleged the crisis is a fallout from the battle of wits with the president?
I also read in the papers too, where Amaechi said he does not have problems with the President. I don’t understand why we should impute meanings into what, in my view, does not exist. I have not heard the President say he has problems with Amaechi. What is happening in Rivers State now is just a situation where an aggrieved party or executive that felt cheated went to the court to seek redress and got judgment from the court. It has nothing to do with the President. It is a local Rivers PDP affair.
Or is it the 2015 governorship ambition of some individuals that is now at play?
Every living being is ambitious. You have an ambition, perhaps to either be good or bad; you have an ambition aspiring for one thing or another. So if there are people aspiring to be governor in 2015, it is legitimate. They have the right to be ambitious. But what I want you to understand is the fact that the present situation is as a result of the fact that some people felt aggrieved , they felt deprived and they went to court and got the judgement they desired. People should stop imputing unnecessary interpretations and meanings into ordinary issues. The fact, as I know it, is that Chief Felix Obuah and his executive went to court and got judgement.
The PDP in Rivers State was once very united. Where and when did it all go wrong?
It shows you that some rascality has come into the system, that is as far as I am concerned. Let me tell you quickly, my local government area, which is Port Harcourt, has a voting strength of over 400,000. Obia/Akpor has over 500,000 votes. So when you talk of 2 million votes, we know where they came from. These are only two local government areas accounting for almost a million votes.
Rivers State has a voting strength of 2.4 million. Yet some people will always shout at the top of their voices that they delivered 2 million votes when their local government has less than 100,000 registered voters. They use votes from other peoples areas to negotiate and brag all over the place. Please, enough of the rascality going on in the state. It is time to move Rivers State forward and the process has just begun.
Let me tell you, within the past six years, most of our strong members left the party, some to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), others to the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). But now, we are going to bring all those people back to the fold. What led their exit are the issues we are addressing now and they will come back again.
Issues like what?
Issues like dictatorial tendencies, lack of consultation, lack of respect for very senior people of the state, the politics of exclusion and others. These are some of the things that sent many of these people packing. Suddenly, they were no longer in reckoning, they were forced out of the system and marginalized. Once you air your opinion, the immediate explanation will be that you have been asking for money, that you want the state money shared. That is blackmail and many people felt that it was best to stay away instead of being blackmailed. So, everybody stayed away. But we can’t continue like that because in governance, especially for a state like Rivers, we need all hands to be on deck to move forward. In effect, we are in the process of rebuilding Rivers PDP and to strengthen it ahead of 2015.