By Egufe Yafugborhi
Prince Dr. John Bazia, two terms member, Rivers State House of Assembly, and two-time commissioner under Governor Nyesom Wike, in this interview over the governor’s scathing reference to him as “a thief” among other allegations, says “If the Governor says I am a thief, he’s the bigger thief.” He also spoke on why he left the PDP for the APC.
Governor Wike was so emphatic when he recently branded you, “a thief” who pilfered kola meant for traditional rulers. Did you do it?
It’s easy to know when a man is saying the truth or lying. What he’s talking about is pre-election matter, in respect of Goodluck Jonathan. Wike wasn’t Governor when Goodluck Jonathan was President. So, when he knew I was a thief as he alleges, why would he then make me commissioner for Chieftaincy and Community Affairs?
I want the Governor to tell the world. I believe as humans, you must grow. Maybe the Governor has refused to grow because he’s still talking like a baby. As a Governor that office comes with authority, responsibility. It comes with carriage in the way you talk. You don’t talk carelessly.
Are you denying money given to you was pilfered?
Let me say what happened and why he also said I was inconsequential, that we are small flies and all that. I was Chairman of his campaign council in Tai Local Government Area. I was a member of his campaign committee in the state. I don’t know how he would make a small fly like me member at that level of the body.
I was a key player too. If I wasn’t key, why would they give me money? What happened was when Goodluck Jonathan wanted re-election as President at that time, religious leaders were called. Chiefs were also called. It was at the Port Harcourt International Airport.
He held a press conference and those of us in his campaign committee had a big bus that conveyed all of us as a team. Now when this money Wike is talking about was given to me— two sets, not one as he’s suggesting— I didn’t know how much. I was asked to give to religious organisations and to chiefs.
Rev Zilly Aggrey was CAN Chairman. I went to him and said take, I was asked to give this to you. He said I should give it to his secretary, a lady that was behind him. I gave it to the lady and that was done.
What about the share for traditional rulers?
The Governor, maybe he hasn’t good memory, was lying to people that the Chairman of Council of Chiefs then was the one who called him that they can’t find the kola. That’s a lie. The Chairman of Council of Chiefs then was King Ginuwa. I call him Papa. That’s my father. I am a member of Tai Council of Chiefs and Elders.
I was Secretary of the electoral body that made King Ginuwa the Gbenemene of Tai.
I am from a dignified family, well nurtured. I can’t steal. To Wike, I am royalty, so I can’t steal. So, King Ginuwa was not there because he was not even supporting the Governor. Because we couldn’t find him, I went to Emma Okah and asked, what do we do with this money, since we can’t find the king? Okah said, John, you keep this money since Ginuwa is not here, later we will give it to them.
It was a campaign period. I called my driver who came with the car, the bus he (Wike) gave me. I gave the bag of money to that driver, not knowing how much. I couldn’t have opened it, didn’t open it, never even knew it was dollars.
The driver left while I joined the big bus. For three days running I didn’t even remember that money. I was in the village campaigning when they called. I told them I was in the village campaigning for him. That the money was with my driver in Port Harcourt, and that I was going to come. I came to Port Harcourt, called my driver. He brought the money.
I innocently, not even looking at it, thinking it was same way I gave to him, I handed it over to them. It was when they now said they removed some money that I went after my driver. I was mad at him. I forced that young man and he returned some of the money. I think somehow, all he couldn’t return was between three to five hundred dollars. Otherwise, he returned what he had taken.
Now I challenge the Governor to state how much was 80 percent of the money he was talking about. What my driver returned was about $4500 or thereabout. I sacked the driver on the spot after he brought the money. I then wrote a resignation letter. To me, if my driver I had confidence in would pilfer money given to him, I am accountable because the money was given to me. The bulk stops at my table. I was his boss so I should take responsibility. The honourable thing to do was resign from the campaign organization as chairman of my LGA and member of the state campaign body.
We are talking about 2015, before I was made commissioner. That’s why I say the Governor should think well because if he thinks well, he should know what he’s telling people. He knew I was a thief but made me commissioner for Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, then he too is a thief for appointing me his commissioner. He tore my resignation letter and declared I must continue as member of the campaign organisation. That was what happened.
The Governor said Emma Okah slapped you over the cause of the pilfered money. Are you denying that?
Of course, Emma Okah was the one who said the money was not complete, but to have slapped me, he cannot. If he raised his hand, I would have slapped him there. Emma Okah came, rushing towards me.
But look at my size and Okah. Do I look like someone Okah could have slapped? Before the Governor in Government House, I told him I would have slapped Okah if it were in my youthful days. Then he asked, will I slap an Ikwerre man? I told him look, I am born, raised here in Port Harcourt. I am an Ikwerre man. Do I look like somebody people will slap?
He refused my resignation from the campaign council because he knows my electoral value. But today he is claiming I don’t have electoral value. Was he the one that came to Tai to Chief Bari Mpigi’s house? For about four hours in that election there were shootings all through. So, who tackled that? He went to Tai.
We won and I was taken to the tribunal. So, if I was insignificant would they take me to the tribunal? In the first place, is it his place to determine who is significant or not? It is God’s to determine. Was he significant yesterday? He is an opportunist, so he should keep quiet.
The governor said at one time you owed a debt of 40,000 Euros and he had to pay
The Governor is petty, he even went far as saying I don’t know how to dress. Look at me. I am a pacesetter, role model when it comes to dressing. We were in school together.
I was doing my Masters in Rivers State University while he was reading law and the governor used to looked very shabby. Does he know how to dress? I was in the SUG, was PRO of Post Graduate Students. I don’t think he attended any party with me, wasn’t in our crowd. He was a timid village boy.
So, on this Euros claim, what happened was that he said I married my wife and I took her to America. He doesn’t know about me. My wife, parents are from Nigeria, my own village, but they were born and brought up in America. My wife is an American citizen, my children, the same. I married my wife in America. I didn’t marry her here and sent her to America.
So why did I borrow this money he’s talking about? I was bringing my son, Bariga. I bring my children to school here in Nigeria. I believe in Nigeria. I don’t do big man. So, once they (my children) finish middle school, I bring them here, into boarding till when it’s time for them to go into university, then they can go back.
Let me also tell you, secondary school (high or middle school in the US) is free over there, but I take the pains of bringing them here, so they know they are Nigerians. So Bariga was going to come here. I was having some expectations. I haven’t been paid in Shell where I did some jobs.
So, I met Lesi Maoh who I thought was my friend. I didn’t know they were going to make a political issue out of this. Now, I know they are the people who will set people up. I told Lesi Maoh, my son just arrived and I need to pay his school fees of N700,000 at Brookstone in Port Harcourt here, owned by a Senator that’s with us. The records are there.
He gave me 4000 Euros, which became N960,000 when I changed it. I paid 700,000 and was left with N260,000. My son was admitted. Lesi Maoh told me I should well return the money in the same Euro currency he gave me. When I hadn’t got enough money as I was expecting, I went to him to say, I will pay you 2000 Euros first, then by next payment, I will complete the money.
So I gave him 2,000 Euros. Not quite two weeks after, my name was announced as Commissioner by Wike. After that he Lesi. Maoh came demanding his money. I told him, hold on, I have not been paid. I wasn’t paid for six months when I started with Wike as commissioner. After a while, the first person who called me was Senator Lee Maeba who told me Lesi said I was owing him 60,000 Euros.
Senator Maeba said he was shocked and asked him where he got that kind of money from, was I buying a house or does he know how much 60,000 Euros was? I explained all that transpired to Senator Maeba who rightly felt my story would be credible, that how would he give me 60,000 Euros for my child’s school fees? At that stage you know that some persons were made to do some dirty jobs politically.
Lesi Maoh wasn’t the Governor’s friend. He wasn’t at that level that he can meet the Governor. Even his commissioners, do they meet him? Except he wants you can they finish from Exco meeting and meet him? All the time I worked with him, I couldn’t see him except he invited me over. So how did Lesi Maoh come to see him? It was because they knew what they were up to. Next thing, Lesi was there, and he (Wike) said I should come. I came, former Secretary to Government, Kobani, was there to bear me witness.
He now said Lesi Maoh said it was no longer 60,000 Euros but now 40,000 I was owing him. I explained to the Governor I wasn’t owing him that kind of money. What I owe him was 2,000 Euros out of 4,000 Euros I initially took from him. The Governor said he must pay the money, I said no don’t pay.
When I left his office, first thing I did was to go to the Chambers of the former Attorney-General, Aguma where I sued Lesi Maoh, asking the lawyers to take him to court. He should have been in prison by now because all the transactions and conversations over the money were still on my phone. He didn’t know I still kept all these records. At the chambers, they took all out of my phone, photocopied them.
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Lesi Maoh, then realising he was in a fix, went to the Governor again. And the Governor directed that I take that matter out of court. I said why, this man is about stealing money? I have the records. He shouted me down. Those in Aguma’s chambers who filed the suit are still there to confirm. That was how the Attorney-General was asked to direct his chambers to stop that case.
Then he said he gave Lesima 40,000 Euros. In the first place if I was the one owing that money and he wanted to pay, was it not me he should give that money for me to give to the person I was owing?
So why would the Governor call you a thief?
The question should be why does the Governor call anyone who leaves him a thief? He didn’t just call me a thief. He called Hon Michahel West a thief too. He said West was busy channelling government money into his personal accounts, but the much I know about West was that he repaired the lift and did things in his office block, with his personal money. Why the Governor was talking he didn’t commend that man’s efforts. His thank you was he is a thief.
So for as long as you are with him, you are not a thief. The minute you disagree with him politically, then you are a thief. By the way, how did he get all his money? Does his father own multinational companies? All the money he has gotten so far are his inheritance? He’s buying houses all over. See his house in Asokoro, Abuja. See the one in Port Harcourt. He is almost having a village of his own, buying everywhere.
So he does not steal, all those money are his, and his father is probably the richest man here? This man is just belittling the office of the Governor. He doesn’t know what it means to be Governor. Even if you are a baby, once you are Governor, you now know you have high responsibility. It’s a position of honour. It is not for touts and the Governor talks like a tout. How can a governor talk like a tout? Talking carelessly, and petty?
My advice to him is that he should stop and grow up. EFCC looked for him, I spoke on his behalf. He’s calling me a thief. Has EFCC looked for me. Who should call who a thief? The fact that he has some issues to answer with EFCC means he’s the bigger thief and EFCC, we know, look for big thieves.
What is the bone of contention if he’s wrongly accusing you?
What is happening is that the party (Rivers PDP) is no longer what it used to be. I was in PDP, former Governor Peter Odili was there. I was in the State House of Assembly. He said I was a nobody but for eight solid years, everybody felt my presence in the House. There were key contributions I made that are on record.