By Egufe YafugborhiBy Egufe Yafugborhi
Magnus Ngei Abe, Senator representing Rivers South East Senatorial District, was first elected to the Senate in 2011 and again in a rerun poll in December 2016 after his loss to Sen. Olaka Nwogu in the 2015 general elections was invalidated by the court. He spoke to Vanguard in Port Harcourt on his senate colleague, Andrew Uchendu’s recent impressions on his (Abe’s) role in the alleged face-off with Transport Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the whole gamut of the crisis rocking Rivers state All Progressives Congress, APC.Excerpts:
In a recent interview, Senator Uchendu spoke about some developments in Rivers APC
The sum total of the interview was to paint me, Abe as a a politician with inordinate ambition determined to pursue his personal quest for office at all cost; that Abe has no credibility and broke his word; that Senator Abe refused to help build the APC in Rivers State; that I did not support Rotimi Amaechi in 2007 but rather appeared out of the woodwork when victory was achieved to claim the position of Secretary to Government; that I am an ingrate who has been given more than I deserve; and that the South-South zonal visit of the APC confirmed that there was no crisis in the party in Rivers State. My initial reaction was disbelief. I could not believe that Chief Uchendu was responsible for the concoctions attributed to him in that write up. I waited for the fiery disclaimer I was certain would follow, but the deafening silence led to the sad conclusion that the words and comments therein represent the views of my colleague. I have been very guarded in public comments, believing that in a disagreement of this nature between close friends, it is better to leave certain things unsaid, no matter the provocation. I never believed or hoped the disagreement between us would be permanent. Therefore, while we could say a lot of unprintable things about each other in private, we should avoid taking our dirty linen to the market places. We all have enough of such linen. At the end of the day we would all return to the same market places where we have washed them. There will be no winner.
Secondly, whatever may be our differences today I had enjoyed a very robust and mutually beneficial relationship with Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. I honestly do not see what our disagreement is about to make it so spiteful and hate-filled. It was for that reason that I held my peace and allowed the public narrative that the Minister of Transportation asked myself and Dr. Peterside to stop running for governorship and first build the party to stand, even though we all knew that, that story was not only false but one that painted me in very poor light as an over-ambitious politician, which I am not.
What is the conviction that you are not an over-ambitious politician?
One sure way of predicting what a man will do in the future is to look back at what he did in the past. In 2003 when we were all in the PDP, my friend Sen. Lee Meaba was given the Rivers South-East senatorial district ticket in rather controversial circumstances. I not only accepted the result but I followed Meaba to all seven local government areas in the district to campaign for him. In 2015 when I was not given the APC governorship ticket I equally followed my brother Dr Dakuku Peterside and campaigned. So my actions in the past do not justify the toga with which I am now being clothed.
The truth of the matter is that the Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi came to my residence in Abuja on the 29th December, 2016, few weeks after the rerun elections for what I initially thought was a normal visit. My entire family received him with much joy. After some chitchats, he asked to speak with me in the presence of my wife. He then disclosed that the real reason he came was that he had heard from two very important Nigerians that I was interested in running for the governorship of Rivers State in 2019, and he came to warn me not to dare it.
What was your response when he warned you not to run for the governorship?
I told him no one had started running yet, because it was not yet time, but I pleaded with my friend to give everyone, including me and Dr Peterside a chance but he said no, that Peterside was out and that he could not consider me because I did not support Dr Peterside in 2015. I was shocked to hear that and I told him then that those who were saying I did not support the party in 2015 would answer to God. I also told him that I had not taken a decision on the matter. Two things struck me from that visit. If the party structure was set up for Dr Peterside it meant the decision to make Peterside the candidate was taken before the party structure was set up. Secondly, if you knew I could not win the primaries why not just allow me fail honorably if I decide to contest. I think he was offended by my response because he called another meeting, this time with my elder brother, Dr Abe who has always been like a father to both of us in attendance with my wife and stated same position. But I still insisted that I would say amen anywhere if anyone had said I would be governor. So senator Uchendu knew about those meetings and he knew about Amaechi’s position. The meetings at the Dome was just window dressing, but I played along and I refused to talk about the private meetings for obvious reasons.
How could Uchendu have known about those private meetings when you chose not talk about them in the larger meeting?
Sen. Uchendu knew that the public spin about “wait let’s build the party first” was a false narrative set up to justify the campaign to stop Senator Abe by all means. I was not told to wait and build the party, everyone knew that we were already building the party. I was told not to contest long before the meeting at The Dome which Senator Uchendu referred to. It is now clear that the decision to stop me was taken long ago. That was exactly what Governor Wike warned me about when he came to my house prior to his decision to leave the group. What is happening in Rivers APC has nothing to do with building the party, it is all about stopping Senator Abe.
Are you implying that Uchendu knew all these
First, there was no meeting in Abuja where I got up in public to pledge my loyalty to Amaechi and said I would not betray him, I do not talk like that, neither do I believe those who talk that way. My actions towards Amaechi over the years should be more than enough. Everyone at that meeting would remember that I was talking about the issue of support for my senatorial bid after we lost APC gubernatorial petition at the Supreme Court. Chief Andrew Uchendu was the first to invite me, Mr. Ledum Mitee and other Ogoni leaders to a meeting in Port Harcourt around 2013 and asked us to begin to mobilize our people and prepare to run for the governorship of Rivers state after Amaechi’s tenure. He gave us the blueprint of how he helped to organize Ikwerre people behind Rotimi Amaechi’s ambition. None of what he told us that night included waiting for the leader to finish building the party, which is what he is saying now. He came out as my strongest advocate, he even went as far as taking me to his family meeting and introduced me to his entire family. Of course, the drum beats have changed dramatically and so too must the dance steps but he can do so gently. If there was no crisis in the party in the state why was a committee set up with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as Chairman and Comrade Frank Kokori and one other as members to look into the crisis in Rivers APC? If it is true that the committee was satisfied with the state of the party in Rivers State why did they set up the reconciliation committee?
Sen. Uchendu said you did not support Amaechi’s struggle in 2007.
I first heard that story from a mutual friend of myself and the minister, as part of the reasons why the minister was fighting so hard stop me. Most of those who were with Amaechi this month celebrating his 2007 victory were not there in 2007. The day Amaechi left for Ghana, he formally called me and the present governor, Nyesom Wike and told us he was leaving us in charge. The meeting Chief Uchendu referred to, I did not just attend, I led the delegation. Wike was not the only lawyer in our team and nobody asked Wike to go and liaise with lawyers. Fagbemi was hired by Dr Peter Odili. Wike took on that role based on his conviction and commitment to the struggle, nobody stopped Andrew from doing the same thing. Dr parker who is a medical Doctor was equally doing it. We should give people their due and not try to rewrite history every time we have a disagreement. Senator Andrew Uchendu attended meetings with Wike and myself in my house and in Dappa Addo’s house and we all went to Ghana together to see Amaechi. But today he claims he did not see me until I became secretary to Government. There is always this attempt to play down on Wike’s contribution to our success in the court. Wike was pivotal to what happened in the court just as I was to how we got the nomination. When Amaechi was in Ghana he was talking to me more than five times every day, at a stage I was the only person in Odili’s Government he was talking to. When Amaechi came back from Ghana, immediately he was sworn-in as Governor, he appointed Wike chief of staff and appointed me as secretary to the Government. So if Senator Uchendu feels that the Governor in his wisdom chose to appoint people who did not support his struggles to such strategic positions in his government, then too bad.
He recalled that Amaechi made you minority leader of the House of Assembly and later commissioner in Odili’s cabinet.
The truth is that I was elected leader by the minority caucus in a keenly contested election, and all members of the House of Assembly elected the speaker. I am not ungrateful for the support I got from Amaechi, just as I am sure Amaechi himself is also not ungrateful for the help he got from us to become Speaker. Every meeting held to plan and work for Amaechi’s speakership was held in my house. While we give due credit and appreciate Amaechi for his support in Odili’s government, how come none of us is given any credit for the support we in turn gave others to serve in Amaechi’s government? I was as close to Amaechi as Amaechi was to Odili yet we were only allowed to take the blame for those who were not appointed but the credit for those appointed was for the governor alone. Government is a collective thing, we should not over-personalize everything.
Uchendu said you nominated Mr Derek Mene, who was not a qualified accountant to be Executive Director, Finance and Accounts of NDDC.
Mr. Mene was appointed by the President, screened and confirmed by the Senate. His certificates were inspected and he was found worthy and qualified. Today Mr. Mene is daily threatened and vilified by APC members because he refused to join and lead the campaign against Senator Abe in Ogoni land. He has been ordered to either keep out of Rivers politics or face his waterloo while every other appointee from Rivers state is neck deep in Rivers politics. Again, on the appointment of the EDFA, the Minister had promised me after the general elections that in setting up the federal government my interest would be placed above every other interest within the APC family in Rivers state including his own. This promise was not conditional on my having no future ambition, it was a promise made to me based on an honest assessment of my contributions and support to the party in Rivers state.
On this whole issue of betrayal, after the decision of the then Governor Rotimi Amaechi which gave Dr. Peterside the gubernatorial ticket of APC in 2014, Amaechi met with Ogoni leaders including King Giniwa, the President of MOSOP, the President of KAGOTE, political and religious leaders of Ogoni and told them that it was the turn of Ogoni but that the reason the Ogoni people did not get the ticket was because they did not start the agitation on time. He promised the Ogoni people that as they were leaving government house they should start their agitation and that at the next opportunity for the governorship of Rivers state he, Amaechi would lead the Ogoni’s demand.
Did Amaechi stand by you in your case at the tribunal?
Let me publicly thank the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for paying the legal fees of our lead solicitors Lateef Fagbemi & Co. Nothing in our present situation should imply that I am ungrateful. But Senator Uchendu should have realized that Lateef Fagbemi & Co, though the lead solicitors, were not the only solicitors representing the APC family in the tribunal and the appeal cases. My self, Hon. Chidi Wihioka, Hon. Barinadaa Mpigi and Hon. Maurice Pronen hired and are still paying the other solicitors that represented members of the APC family, and we also made a lot of other expenses in the cause of that litigation which benefited all APC litigants including Senator Uchendu and others who were and remain at the forefront of the campaign to stop Senator Abe.
How do you explain your alleged romance with Wike?
I laughed when I read that part of the interview. Sen. Uchendu’s relationship with me changed dramatically when the minister‘s preference became obvious. For the records when the face off between Wike and the minister began, I pleaded with the Minister who was then governor not to fight Wike. While we were trying to find a solution the impasse continued until Wike himself met me at the villa and told me not to bother, that he would never have anything to do with Amaechi again and I went back to Amaechi and told him that it was over. Even when they were fighting I continued to refer to Wike in Public as my brother. My problem with Wike was when he came into my senatorial district to viciously contest for my seat. The elections are over, Wike is the governor I am the senator. If I see him I must acknowledge him, there is no romance with Wike. Governor Wike is a very smart politician. He can clearly see the division and the crisis in the APC which Uchendu cannot see and so he will do what he can to take advantage of it in the hope that People like Uchendu will never see it until it is too late. But let me use this opportunity to reassure Rivers people that I understand the game and I understand my friends whether they are in APC, PDP or even APGA. There is no enmity but there will be no compromise on the future of Rivers State.