Ambassador Oji Nyimenuate Ngofa is Nigeria’s envoy to the royal Dutch kingdom of the Netherlands. Ngofa, is also the All Progressives Congress(APC) Senatorial candidate for Rivers South-East Senatorial District, contesting to replace Senator Magnus Abe in the Senate. Abe leads a faction of the APC in Rivers State.
Ngofa is a thorough-bred grass root politician who was a two-time local council chairman in the State and the immediate past Deputy National Secretary of the APC. A chieftain of the APC who is close to both Abe and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, Oji Ngofa in this interview talks candidly on the rift between the two Rivers APC bigwigs. Excerpts:
There is this perception that the APC in Rivers State is not ready for the 2019 elections?
That is coming from people, especially from the opposition who are trying to give that narrative to create doubt and probably weaken our support base in the state. Even with all the plethora of litigation currently going on in the party, I don’t think that it’s a problem.
Every day we receive new entrants into the party. Just yesterday I received even state chairmen of other political parties who want to join us and the people trooped in here to identify with us and be part of what we are doing. All our candidates are out there in the field canvassing for votes and our governorship candidate has been going round the wards on consultations.
The issues that are in court, I believe that all the institutions concerned with elections in this country are all legally informed, they are institutions set up by the law and all the issues can be dealt with within the framework of the law.
What is important now is that the party has done the needful and there is no law, no order, no judgment stopping the party from participating or contesting in the 2019 election. Everybody within the Amaechi political family knows that I used to be a strong supporter of Magnus Abe tendency within the political family.
At what point did you stop supporting Sen. Abe?
Almost a decade and half that I have been part of the Amaechi political family. We have evolved as a family with harmony and unity of purpose on how we take decisions. I will not be part of any aspiration that will create disunity within the leadership under the minister of Transportation. And I did tell Sen. Abe that we should not divide the family because of his aspiration.
He has a right to aspire, nobody is challenging that but I have issues with that if you want to upturn and destroy a system because of your own aspiration. Sen. Abe is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the system which he has been promoting. I disagreed with that and I told him(Abe) that if he intends to pursue his ambition outside of the framework of our political family and collective interest under Amaechi’s leadership, I will not be part of it.
I made it very clear to him. I have a concern with the fact that you have been part of a system that has promoted you, and given you the platform. Each time you (Abe) were nominated for one position or the other within the political family, somebody else felt denied and I can give examples because I have been there.I have been part of the system and so to turn around to say that you have to bring down that system because of your own personal aspiration, I disagree with that, I do not think that would work well for the survival of the structure that all of us put in place and that’s exactly what is going on.
At a point in your party, there was this consensus among most stakeholders that everybody should suspend their ambitions and build the party first…
It was in one of our caucus meetings, everybody resolved and agreed, nobody raised any objection.
There were talks and insinuations everywhere that Sen. Magnus Abe was still consulting and was setting up structures outside the recognized structure for his governorship ambition. At that point, we just came out from several protracted election re-runs.
From what you said, the resolution for every person aspiring for any office to suspend their ambition was taken by everyone and not a unilateral decision by the leader, Amaechi
All of us resolved that it was the right thing to do. Nobody opposed it. In fact, in about three of the meetings, he (Amaechi) was even very angry with Dakuku Peterside (DG of NIMASA) because there were issues. Magnus complained that some of the structures that Peterside set up like RIVLEAF were still operating and the leader (Amaechi) right in that meeting said that if we ever get to hear that RIVLEAF was still functional that we would hold Peterside personally responsible and we delegated somebody in that meeting to ensure that Alex Wele who headed RIVLEAF was called to order immediately. So, Amaechi’s anger was even more directed towards Peterside because Abe always complained in all of those meetings that it appeared as if things were skewed against him. He was always like playing the victim in some of these meetings and the leader was always eager to protect Abe.
As a key member of Sen. Abe tendency within your party at that time, did you speak to him at any point to advise and tell him your view?
Off course I did. Around February or March of 2017, we held a small meeting of the caucus of Ogoni at Novotel in Port Harcourt. I was the first to speak at that meeting, in fact, a lot of people were surprised because they knew how close I was to Sen. Abe, and I made it very clear to Sen. Abe and those at the meeting that I would not support any aspiration and ambition that was not within the framework of our larger political structure and leadership the way we know it, the way it had worked for us for many years and which had benefitted everyone in that caucus tremendously.
And I was Deputy National Secretary of the Party before my appointment as Ambassador to the Royal Kingdom of Netherlands, so there were things I knew and I know how the party operates more than anybody else. And I did not believe that the party would accept that sort of division in Rivers State outside the current structure led by the Transport minister. I did not think that was going to happen, and I made my point very clear at that meeting. The Senator himself was there and I said I will not accept division within the party,
Sadly, Abe felt he has the required support that can upturn our conventional structure and leadership under Amaechi so he had to go against it. Given the love and friendship I witnessed between him and the leader (Amaechi), his behavior is completely unnecessary.
Sen. Abe has accused Mr Amaechi of saying that he should not run for governor and that Amaechi wanted to deny him his right
To the best of my knowledge, that is not true, I have never heard the leader say that. I have never been in any meeting whether public or private, where our leader said that or said anything to deny Sen. Abe his right to run for any office. What happened was that he (and most members of the caucus) were just not happy that we had made a decision in our caucus meetings about building the party first and Abe was not adhering to it. In fact in that meeting he said Peterside seemed to have listened but Sen. Abe was obviously not listening as he was going ahead to make consultations and setting up alternate structures to run for governor.
Knowing your close relationship with the minister, do you think Amaechi had ruled out Magnus Abe from the governorship contest at that time?
No. He didn’t, he did not rule out anybody.
But Sen. Abe accused Amaechi of removing persons who were sympathetic to him as party leaders in different LGAs because they supported him (Abe)
Now that is not true. Those removed, were replaced because of their incompetence, greed and inability to lead. I headed one of the committees that did the APC restructuring in the State and recommended the removal of one of such LGA leaders. In one of our caucus meetings at the party office in Port Harcourt, three committees were set up and one saddled with the responsibility of looking at problems in each of the three senatorial districts and restructuring of the LGAs leadership and come up with recommendations. I headed that of Rivers East senatorial district which also happens to be the LGA of the minister.
It was my committee that recommended the removal of the chairman. It was my committee’s recommendation and so the minister did not unilaterally remove LGA leaders as alleged by Sen. Abe.