The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had its share of crisis, leading up to its national convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, recently. In this interview with Ernest Chinwo, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike talks about the opposition against Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff. He also bares his mind on INEC’s inconclusive elections and other pressing issues
Just when people think the crisis in the PDP is abating, it has taken a deeper dimension with different courts giving different orders. What is the way out for the party?
I don’t think there are different court orders. What really happened, which shocked most of us, was that before the convention we were told that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, the former acting national chairman, had gone to court with the former national secretary and the auditor to file a suit against PDP and that they got an order that there should not be election into the offices of the national chairman, national secretary and auditor. That means that elections can take place into other offices. So, we asked ourselves why the national chairman would go to court against the party when everybody appeared to be giving him the backing. So, we met him in his office that particular day when the Board of Trustees (BoT) was meeting. Those present were my humble self; the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu; Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State; and the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara. We confronted him and asked him if he went to court to get an order against the party that there should not be elections into the office of the national chairman, national secretary and auditor. He said how could he go to court to stop elections when there was nobody opposing his election? We said that was correct, and we then asked him to write a letter mandating a lawyer to take steps to set aside that court order because it was a case of impersonation.
He wrote a letter, signed it before us, and mandated Ahmed Raji (SAN) to take steps. Then, we later heard that there was a judgment of an Abuja High Court that there should be elections into the office of the national chairman and financial secretary and that there should not be elections into the other 16 national offices. So, we filed a motion of stay of that judgment and also appealed that judgment. So, our lawyers advised that we should go ahead with the elections. The former chairman addressed a press conference and said he was not aware of any court order and that anybody who had gone to court on his behalf did so at his own risk, because the convention must go ahead. Then we came to Port Harcourt preparing fully for the convention. In fact, the chairman appeared before the screening committee on Friday (May 20) and after the screening, he made a statement to the press that the election would take place the next day, Saturday. So, meetings upon meetings were going on throughout that night till late hours of Saturday when some people suggested that we should not conduct the elections because of the court orders, and that we should look at the constitution and see that the convention has the power to sack national officers and appoint committees, as may deem fit. The issue now became that of appointing a national caretaker committee and some people said why not appoint the national chairman to chair this caretaker committee in the next three months so that it would not be seen that he was disgraced out of office. He agreed. However, some people said it would be more dangerous, stating that the continuous stay of the chairman has caused a lot of disintegration in the party, and has brought crisis in the party. It was because of Ali Modu Sheriff that you heard some people met in Abuja.
So, when the stakeholders: governors, former governors, leadership of the National Assembly said no, we cannot continue with Ali Modu Sheriff, we decided to go for the convention. While we were at the convention, he (Sheriff) went out to announce on his way to Abuja that the convention was illegal, because there was a court order saying that there was no convention. Meanwhile, he had participated in the screening and everything. But because he was not given the chairmanship slot to preside over the three-month committee, he now felt that the convention was illegal. We can even show you letters that he wrote. So, as far as we are concerned, PDP is one. You can see the other Abuja people have now come together to say they are satisfied with what has happened. You cannot because of one man kill a party that people have laboured for. Modu Sheriff did not surprise most of his critics. Modu Sheriff actually confirmed the fears of his critics who said you do not know this man; we know his antecedents. If you know him you will not even allow him to come near the party. If I were Modu Sheriff, I would have surprised my critics by accepting what the national convention has done. So, it is very obvious that Modu Sheriff’s intention was to destroy the party. And, those surrounding him, are those whose characters are questionable; who, right from time, have always had issues of credibility such that you cannot trust them. But we thank God. That shows the interest people have in the PDP. People believe that PDP is the only hope that Nigeria has now because the ruling party has failed. So, there is nothing like another court order saying that the caretaker committee is illegal. No.
The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, where the convention took place, recognised the Senator Ahmed Markarfi-led committee and restrained INEC from dealing with Ali Modu Sheriff. As I speak to you now, about eight or nine members of the former national committee have also pulled out and said they agree with what the national convention has done and said they must respect the party. So, it is difficult for you to say another court will set aside when a court of coordinate jurisdiction, in fact, the same Federal High Court, has given ruling recognising the caretaker committee. What Modu Sheriff and his few friends are trying to do is to make it seem there is a division. There is no division. All the governors, national assembly leadership, BoT and others are together. So, which arm of PDP can you say is with Modu Sheriff? INEC monitored the convention in Port Harcourt.
The party has been unable to play effective opposition role. How do you see this?
The PDP has been in power since 1999. PDP has not played opposition politics. This is the first time it is playing opposition politics. So, it is not easy to just reorganise itself as an opposition party. Also, taking into consideration that we have not had a permanent leadership like the chairman and his team, these have militated against us being a robust opposition party per se. But, with what we are doing now, be assured that in the nearest future, you will see that PDP will be vocal, and very strong as an opposition party. You know that but for some crises we had before that made some people to move out and made some people to betray PDP, we would not be where we are today. So, to now play the robust role of opposition is not easy. But gradually, we will pick up and play the opposition role effectively.
The popular belief is that PDP governors masterminded Sheriff’s emergence as acting national chairman against concerns of certain stakeholders who felt he was not the right man for the job. Is that correct?
It is not correct to say PDP governors. There was a lot of opposition by some governors. But, the fact is that some people that were present, when we invited them for discussion, did not see that flair; we didn’t see people who were well fortified. We resolved not to go back to another crisis. Unfortunately, if you see Modu Sheriff, it appears that he has what it takes to lead, but not knowing that these are tricks. So, I give it to those who knew him personally. For some of us, with all due respect, we felt he had been a governor, he had been a senator, and he had been chairman of BoT of an opposition party, so he ought to know what an opposition party should do. That was the only factor that convinced some governors. However, some governors were not convinced, but we said we could not be divided and that we should give him a chance. So, it will not be correct to say governors masterminded his choice. I was in support and some of my colleagues. But I must say it again: Modu Sheriff did not disappoint his critics. He proved them right.
He was very vocal at some point, saying he was staying. How were you able to call his bluff to get him out?
All the 12 governors met, because we were talking about the interest of the party. So, there was due consultation. We invited the leadership of the National Assembly; we invited the BoT and former governors; it was wide consultation. I can tell you that about 98 per cent said Modu Sheriff should not be there or the party will die and be buried. You could hardly have anybody boldly supporting Modu Sheriff. Modu Sheriff had already planned to celebrate his emergence as chairman of the party. He was in Port Harcourt; he was here when we were going for the convention. So, it was when they now told him that it was not possible, that he now ran out to say that we must obey court orders.
Some people also said he was planning to run for president. To what extent is that true?
Yes. But I say where is the evidence? But I can confirm to you that Modu Sheriff is not to be trusted. How did we know? We had agreed that this was an opposition party; that we should not allow crisis, particularly in those states that do not have governors. Let there be true primaries. But, Modu Sheriff was imposing people in all those states, causing crisis. I can give you an example of one of the states that does not have a (PDP) governor in the South-east. Modu Sheriff had to impose people and we were shocked. So, it was clear he had a hidden agenda. But, we thank God that it was revealed on time. I can tell you that it was revealed on time. So, we have no regrets. If we didn’t do this, probably the whole world wouldn’t have known. A lot of allegations against him had nothing to do, before now, with him being a mole, but with integrity, perception before these allegations started coming in. And, true to type, the man did not surprise his critics.
Moving on from this crisis, what is the task before Markarfi?
Markarfi’s task is one: to plan for convention that will now elect the national officers. His task is to make sure all other people who are aggrieved are brought together. I know he is already meeting with Senator Ibrahim Mantu and others who are aggrieved and they are happy that inasmuch as the man they felt would destroy the party has been taken out, the party would go on. So, you see it was not personal. They are talking about the interest of the party. So, their task is to see how they can bring everybody together and conduct a national convention that will elect national officers.
What informed Markarfi’s choice?
It was impromptu. In fact, it was when everybody met; the governors, the national assembly caucus and the BoT met (everybody was there). Those present said we should look at people who have experience: former governors, former senators, etc; we felt he met the criteria and he also has integrity. Nobody can criticise Makarfi that he does not have integrity. Even Modu Sheriff’s friends will tell you that Markarfi has integrity. Also, look at Senator Ben Obi; former vice presidential candidate, former senator, that is well-experienced. Look at Abdul Ningi; former Leader of the Senate, former member of the House of Representatives. Look at Prince Dayo Adeyeye; former minister. So, these are people who have what it takes. We did not pick people who just wanted positions. These are people whom the stakeholders felt have what it takes to lead this party in the next three months.
It is interesting that all these are playing out immediately after the party lost out in the presidential elections. Are you not worried that the ruling party is happy that your party remains weak and unable to play the role of an opposition party?
It is natural that if you have a great challenger and that the challenger is having of problems, the natural thing is that you will be happy because they know that today Nigerians see PDP as their only hope. So, if there is anything that will make PDP to lose out, they will be happy. It is a natural thing. But, they will not get it at the end of the day because PDP will be stronger by the time we sort out these internal crises.
Having lost the election, a lot of people thought the PDP will bring in a lot of young people to reorganise the party and give it a new outlook and position it for the future. Why is this not the case?
That is the reorganisation that is taking place now. When you say young people, I don’t know what you mean. There are a lot of governors that are young. So many senators are very young. So, I don’t know what you mean by young. Do you want to bring a 30-year-old boy to lead the party? No. We will not do that; we need experience. PDP is a very big party and we need experienced people to lead the party. APC is not yet a party. It is a collection of people who wanted to pull out a government. That is why you can see that it is also not well for them. So, I don’t see the issue of young people being the issue. So many people are young and they are contributing to the well-being of the party.
Are you not going to move now to vacate the court order in Lagos?
Like I said, there is no order against us in Lagos saying that the caretaker committee is illegal. There is no order. Rather, what the Federal High Court said is that the caretaker committee should come and show cause why they think their committee should not be declared illegal.
Niger Delta restiveness has greatly affected the country’s oil production and power production. How can this be resolved?
It is regrettable. But I think all of us, the governors of the South-south should give support to President Muhammadu Buhari to curb this insecurity in the Niger Delta. It is not a party matter; it has to do with governance. It has to do with stability of the nation. It has nothing to do with which political party you belong to. Anybody who loves this country will want this country to be stable and united. So, if this country is not united, how can I continue to be governor of my state? So, it has nothing to do with party. Like when the Army Chief of Staff visited me, I told them that I will give them the necessary support to curb this incessant vandalism or blowing up of oil installations. It is all for our own interest; it affects our economy. If we do not have money from the federation account, how do we govern here? So, for us, it is not right and we condemn it seriously.
You met with the president recently. Was it in connection with how to find solution to this issue?
Well, I didn’t want to talk about this. It was personal. But people are always curious. So, let me tell you, I went to see Mr. President to discuss security issues and also to invite him for the commissioning of the Indorama $1.5 billion fertiliser plant. It did not take me more than five minutes. People are worried that I went to see Mr. President, maybe because this was his first time.
Did he accept the invitation?
Well, I have done my own work. But what I see, the chief of staff was there, was that he felt the feat was commendable and that we should support the company. He said he would get back to me.
Tell us about the Indorama plant
It is fantastic; it is the biggest on the African continent. I praise the management team; they did not make a noise about the thing. They did it in record time of three years. They had a gas pipeline of 83 kilometres in 18 months; I asked why there was no insecurity? They laughed and I said if it was government that was giving out the contract, probably, even some of the contractors would have sponsored some of these problems and still come back to government and queried why he was not given the contract to secure the pipelines. And that would bring variations upon variations.
But, if you go to that place, you will understand. You will understand that this state is the hub and it gives investors the confidence that if people can put $1.5bn in a state which you said is not secure, then you will know the accusations are not true; you will know they are mere blackmails. Nigeria itself today has security challenges and we are part of Nigeria. So, the issue of the state being insecure is neither here nor there. There are problems in each state. The other day, you heard that they abducted two judges. If judges are abducted in Rivers State, the whole world will hear. You hear of kidnappings in Kaduna State but nobody is talking about it. We also heard what was happening in Ebonyi State but nobody is talking about it. So, when one crime happens in Rivers, it is as if the entire state is down. Then, you ask yourself, who are those benefitting from this? In whose interest are they doing this? The case of Rivers State is like there is a kind of conspiracy going on that they will not allow Rivers State’s economy to grow. But by the grace of God, Rivers State will grow more than they expect. That is man’s own thinking but God who has put us here will give us strength to make Rivers State grow.
Where does the state come in on the clean-up of Ogoniland project?
They have visited us; they have told us and we are going to give them support. Ogoni people have suffered so much from oil spillage. For me, it is something that should be done quickly. So, we are going to give them support; it is important. It is not Nigerian report; it is UNEP report. As a state, it affects us a lot because Ogoni is part of Rivers State. So, anything affecting them is also affecting us; their problems are our problems. So whatever the Federal Government wants to do, we will give them support in order to achieve it.
The issue of violence has bred suspicion among the people of Ogoniland over the years. Now that the clean-up is about taking off, what is the state doing to sensitise the people?
We will do our best to let the people know that they do not need violence. Again, it is not just the people of Ogoni. There shouldn’t be violence in any part of the state. Violence hinders development. If you are violent, it means that government cannot do what it plans to do. At the end of the day, who suffers? So, it is better for them to know that we must keep aside our differences and allow our people to move forward. It is very key. They must allow the people to move on because this spillage has caused the people a lot of hardship. That is why I told the minister of environment that we must not politicise the clean-up of Ogoniland if actually they want to clean up Ogoniland. That is our own position.
One year in office, what has been your greatest challenge?
I will say our greatest challenges are two issues: funds and security. Generally in the country today, you can see the dwindling revenue from oil. You know that the Nigerian economy is a one-product economy. So, when anything happens to it, it affects everything. This decline of oil price and the production capacity, because of the blowing up of oil installations, etc; affects us in terms of funding. But by the grace of God, whatever we get we manage to see that the aspirations of our people are met, even though it may not be enough.
Then the second one is the issue of security. I must give kudos to the security agencies in the state; the police, the army, navy air force, SSS, etc; they have done fantastically well. I tell you that but for the cooperation of these security agencies, I don’t know where we would have been with the so-called cultists, kidnap and so on. It was up to a point that we asked what is going on. But we thank God that security has improved. We cannot say that crimes have been totally eliminated. No, but criminal activities reduced drastically. And suspects are being prosecuted daily. It is unacceptable where you say you are a cultist and you want to carry out a reprisal attack. So, that affected us a lot and people were blowing it out of proportion. You hear them say they were political killings. Now, nobody is talking about political killings because election is no longer there. But, does it mean that one or two persons didn’t die? Thank God we are settling down. The security agencies, with the support the state government is working effectively.
You are commissioning a lot of projects; how does that make you feel?
It makes me happy. When I see the reaction from the people, I feel satisfied. I feel that people are happy with what we are doing. When you go out and you see people, on their own volition, troop out to celebrate, it tells you that is what people want you to do; what the people have been missing for long, lacking for long; that government has not been close to the people. Go and see the kind of roads that we have built within one year. People appreciate it and that spurs us to work harder to give them more. Inspite of the dwindling revenue, with proper management, we promise to give them more. We do things that make people happy; things that people appreciate. It spurs us to do more. I feel delighted that people appreciate the little that we are doing. My message to them is to be patient. We will not disappoint them. They gave us their mandate, we will not disappoint them. Look at it from May 29, 2015 to January 27, 2016, there were distractions from Election Petitions Tribunal, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court; all in Abuja. So, we were not really settled. In fact, you can say we settled down after the Supreme Court judgment of January 27, 2016. Even, we had rerun election on 19th March, 2016. So, I cannot say we have settled down for more than four or five months. But see what we have been able to do. So, if we go on this way for the next one year, then we will know where we will be. So, with their continued prayer and support, we think that Rivers State will totally become a new state that we have advocated and we can then say this is a new Rivers State.
What is it about this review you got a court order against?
You see, I don’t understand why people like to cause crisis. You can see that INEC deliberately wants to cause crisis in Rivers State. Whether people want to use INEC to cause crisis to achieve what they have failed to achieve, I do not know. I ponder how a reasonable organisation can do what they are trying to do. On 19th of March, 2016, around 1pm, INEC announced it had cancelled results in eight local government areas. Those local governments are; Andoni, Bonny, Gokana, Khana, Eleme, Tai, Asaritoru, and Etche and that the other ones were inconclusive elections in terms of units and some wards. But those that were conclusive, they declared. Now, after two months, INEC has set up a review committee as to the cancellations that they had made and from the reports we got, we know where they are heading and we cannot allow them. We want to stop INEC from causing crisis in the state. And I can tell you, the way this INEC is going, I don’t know what will happen to 2019 elections in Nigeria. I have no faith in this INEC; I have no confidence in them. They have not shown that they want to conduct a free and fair election in Nigeria. We are not saying that they must be perfect, no election can be 100 per cent perfect. But there are things you do that will make people believe you want to succeed. They went to the tribunal and, this was what we were shouting, that these people have result sheets. Look at them now bringing out different result sheets from what INEC had. The issue is who gave them these result sheets. That was why we insisted that those result sheets should not enter. Now, we have been proved right. This INEC, with all due respect to them, have no focus. INEC wants to destabilise the country and we must be careful. If this INEC stays to conduct 2019 elections, I am afraid, then, it will be ‘to your tents o Israel.’ This INEC that has a history of inconclusive elections, I am afraid that Nigeria will be heading to something else with this INEC.
Are you not worried that one year after, your state has no representative in the Senate?
That is what we are talking about. We are worried. That is what we are saying; why can’t they fix a date to conclude the elections? What INEC is doing is to manipulate; and I have said it: if you manipulate you manipulate yourself. We cannot continue like this. They say I threaten, but who wants to cause crisis? Is it not INEC that wants to cause crisis by changing the mandate of the people. You have cancelled an election, is it not proper for INEC to prepare and give us a date to go for an election? INEC is now trying to bring a new idea so that they will declare something that was cancelled and they want the people to fold their arms and allow them to do it? It is not possible.
•This interview was conducted before the recent flag-off of the clean up of Ogoni land by President Muhammadu Buhari and the renewed crisis plaguing the party