Senator Magnus Abe is a principal actor in the crisis rocking Rivers State All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, Abe tells his story. Excerpts:
By Egufe Yafugborhi, Port Harcourt
Root of the matter
Those who want to be aware, are aware that the crisis in Rivers State APC had its origin in the unconstitutional decision of the leader of the party in the state, Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, to summarily expel and exclude me and other leaders of the party in the state seen as sympathetic to my governorship ambition during the last general elections. He announced this at a meeting of party stakeholders held at The Dome that those who do not agree or those who want to follow me or sympathetic to me must leave the party. And he said he was ready to destroy the APC in Rivers to achieve that objective.
This was despite pleas by several leaders present that, tht course of action was not in the best interest of the party. Specifically, I remember Mr Lolo Ibieneyem told him that the path he had chosen was not only unconstitutional, but that it would also lead the party to disaster. Incidentally that was the last day Rivers APC sat together in unity, with Amaechi present. The directive to unilaterally exclude party members from all activities without due process created a lot of issues in the party. And in an attempt to resolve those issues, then-Chairman of the party, prior to the troubled congresses that finally tore the party apart, called an all-inclusive stakeholders meeting, dubbed an Expanded State Executive Council meeting, where everybody, apart from Amaechi, was present. In that meeting, issues were discussed. We had our arguments and we resolved them and actually set up a committee to implement resolutions of that meeting, including the issue of congresses and how to issue forms to those who had paid for the forms. But as soon as the leader was briefed about what transpired at that meeting, he unilaterally not only dissolved the committee set up by the State Executive Committee and expanded stakeholders but also voided every decision taken there while directing that, in keeping with his earlier directive at The Dome, members of the party perceived as sympathetic to Abe must be excluded from the congresses, and should not be given forms. It was that decision to deny members who had paid for forms that led Ibrahim Umar and 22 others to go to court. Even when the court granted stay of order in their favour, the leader, on television, directed the party to disobey the court injunction and go ahead with the congresses. That is the origin of the crisis in Rivers APC. The rest is history.
Distorting the facts of the matter
In an unprecedented media campaign of calumny, the facts were buried and redrafted. Publicists and several others became the face of this attempt to rewrite history. In the attempt to rewrite history, those who went to court were accused of working for Governor Nyesom Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Some of these publicists went far as accusing me of plotting with the Vice President to kill President Buhari and collecting billions from Governor Wike and the PDP in order to destabilise the APC in Rivers. We and several people who know the facts have been saying to Nigerians that this is not truth. Everybody who followed events at that time saw the sequence that led to the court cases and the issues behind them.
Relationship with Wike
Everyone knows that I know Governor Wike very well. We worked together in the politics of Rivers. When he was Chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government Area, I was Minority Leader of the state House of Assembly. It is the House of Assembly that exercises core supervisory jurisdiction by law over local governments, so we have a relationship. He was Chief of Staff to the Governor when I was Secretary to the Government of Rivers State. We had very close personal and family relationships, but in course of our politics, we went into different political parties. We had our disagreement. In fact we engaged in fight to the point where we took each other on publicly. All personal relationships were ruptured as we went our different ways politically. It remained that way. When I had my thanksgiving, the presiding Archbishop asked if I had invited all those with whom I have issues. I said no, but he insisted I invite all, including the governor and the Minister. As the Archbishop stressed, you cannot come to the house of God with divided mind. So, I invited everybody including the Minister and anybody I knew I had relationship with across the country. People honoured that invitation, including Governor Wike but the Minister didn’t. Instead he chose same day to hold parallel event in the headquarters of my senatorial district while Wike rather chose to attend my thanksgiving. Since then, I have had no personal contact or relationship with the governor. But as I speak, I am ready to meet with Wike because of the broadcast he made the other day about Ogoni oil fields and Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11. I thought it was not right for any Ogoni son to respond to what the governor said publicly, for the simple reason that the dispute over shares in Ogoni oil fields did not involve us as Ogonis. It was rather between Shell, the Federal Government, oil companies and all of that. If the governor says Rivers State has acquired the oil fields, and that they are ready to give Ogoni people, the oil communities percentage stakes in the oil fields, I don’t think that any Ogoni should be first to condemn that. I will be interested in meeting with the governor to hear exactly what is happening as far as that situation is concerned. So I have no political relationship with the governor. Outside meeting him on social occasions, I haven’t met him anywhere. I haven’t discussed politics with him, but, now, I am ready to meet with him because I feel the issue of Ogoni oilfield is something I should be interested in as a leader in my area and would want to hear more. So, if he extends invitation to me, I will honour that invitation, but, politically, I am a member of APC and Wike is of PDP. Anybody with facts other than the one I have stated should prove it before the courts and let us hear it from him.
After elections, whither Rivers APC?
The party is still where it is and my position is known. After we had all these issues in court and all that led to the party being excluded from the ballot in the last elections, one expected that reasonable politicians would look for ways to try to put the party together. Whatever our anger or differences may be, we try and look for the middle ground to move the party forward. Rather than do that, the Minister set up a caretaker committee which I have denounced publicly, that I won’t recognise it, won’t participate in it. He wants to use his boys to organise a congress which is a faith-accompli. What is the fate of those who bought forms, the issue of the congresses that has not been resolved? Or are they claiming they were right and will continue to inflict injustice on people because they think the people are voiceless? So, the issue is back in court. And my position on that is not hidden.
How can APC crisis be resolved in the state?
The party set up a committee headed by former Governor Rauf Aregbesola to look into this issue. We appeared before the committee. When the South South Zonal Vice Chairman of the party came, we were also there. Everything happening in the party is known to everybody, but some people are determined to rewrite history. That’s why we have said no, because if you go around saying the problem in the party is that PDP sponsored people to create the problem, that’s not peace. You must accept that the path the party took was wrong. People having ambition to contest positions in a party cannot destroy the party. When you have a crisis, why would you go and set up a caretaker committee without the courtesy of consulting leaders? Instead, you announced a date for congress. Two weeks after, the party announces same date and Senator Abe should follow, I won’t. If anyone has a programme to achieve peace for the party, he should let other people know. As I am sitting here, I am not aware.
Who currently chairs Rivers APC?
There is no part of the Constitution of the party that imposes a caretaker on me. I am not aware. People need to remember that a political party belongs to members. When you keep taking actions without regard to the feelings and opinions of members of a party, you destroy the party. So to have peace in the party, we need understanding, we need to have respect for one another, respect for the truth. I think these are the basic foundations on which true reconciliation and progress can be founded in any organization, not just in the APC.
Next political ambition
The most important office in any country is the office of the citizen. Every other thing is superfluous. I am a citizen of Nigeria. I hold public offices, others didn’t hold but that didn’t stop them from contributing to the development of Nigeria. Great nations, organisations are built by the people not only by leaders.
My aspiration is to see Nigeria as a great country, Rivers as a great state, Port Harcourt as a great city, and I have a responsibility to contribute to the building of that greatness.
Not honouring the Minister’s directive not to run for governor
Recall that in 2015, the Minister, then governor, called me privately with Chief Ake, then-party Chairman, and Peter Dakuku. He said he was going to pick one of us as the governorship candidate, that whoever he didn’t pick should support the other. At the end of the day he picked Dakuku. There was eruption in the state. But for my intervention even the Government House would have been destroyed that day. I mobilised for the party, supported the party and almost lost my life in that election. When it came to 2019, this time, the Minister didn’t call me privately. He called me in front of my wife. And one of the things he said was that last time I didn’t support Dakuku. I told him that was a lie. That’s not politics. That’s not how you ask a politician not to run for office. Rather than serving as caution not to run, that was why I ran, and I would not stop, because, after that election, I announced that, that run was over. It is not true that anyone called me in any meaningful manner to engage me in the interest of the party. That was never done. If that was done, I would have responded to it in that spirit. Anybody who says there was any meaningful effort to engage me in the interest of the party and I refused is telling a lie. The day we met with the National Chairman of the party, after I made my speech about the APC in Rivers, the Minister spoke close to three hours talking about me. He never mentioned APC in Rivers, no discussion about the fate of the party at that meeting.
Relationship with the Minister
I have no problem with the Minister. I believe power has its challenges. It’s difficult to communicate with people in certain circumstances. It’s better to let them be. When we are normal, we will be able to engage one another. In a more mutually respectful situation, I am sure we will be able to communicate. Right now, I don’t think that mutually respectful foundation to communicate exists. If there is at any given point in time, I am ready to engage him.