Chief Andrew Uchendu is a technocrat and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State. This politician, who has been a key figure in the politics of Rivers State since 1999, currently represents Rivers-east in the Senate. He served for three terms in the House of Representatives, representing Ikwerre/Emohua Federal Constituency before moving up to the Senate. Recently, Uchendu spoke to select journalists, including Yemi Adebowale on the crisis in the Rivers State chapter of the APC and the war between Senator Magnus Abe and the immediate past governor of the state, Rotimi Amaechi. Excerpts
The Rivers State chapter of your party is in crisis, with unending mudslinging. What is happening?
Clearly and simply put, there is no crisis in Rivers APC. What a lot of people especially you people in the media are misunderstanding and interpreting as crisis is the fact that Senator Magnus Abe (the APC senator representing Rivers South-East) opted out of a decision we all jointly took to strengthen the party ahead of 2019 elections and continue to pursue his personal ambition. Constitutionally, he has the right to do that but it can never constitute crisis in the party. To the best of my knowledge, and as a senator of the federal republic, all the party structures from wards to state levels are intact and there’s no crisis.
There are obviously two APC factions in Rivers State – the Amaechi and Magnus Abe factions
What factions? Please don’t say that. There’s one APC in Rivers, with one chairman Chief Davies Ibiamu-Ikanya and our Leader remains Rotimi Amaechi. Let me take you back a little into the history of the emergence of APC in Rivers State. You need to understand that we were all in PDP but a situation arose when our leader, Amaechi and his other colleagues in PDP then decided to move away from PDP to APC and when we joined APC, he became the only leader in the party. His structure is almost the same as the APC structure and that continued until after the election in 2015. After the elections, Amaechi now directed that because of his extremely busy engagements and official duties, he was going to step aside to allow Dakuku Peterside (the Rivers APC 2015 governorship candidate and now DG of NIMASA) to sit in and re-organise the party and that went down well with all of us (including Magnus Abe). Peterside was doing that diligently. But as time went on, our leader (Amaechi) observed that people were beginning to pursue their individual political agenda and our collective good and progress as a party was suffering, terribly. A series of meetings were held in Abuja and Abe attended, I attended, Dakuku Peterside attended with more than thirty leaders of the party in Rivers State and the honourable minister told us of his observation that Abe and Peterside were pursuing their individual ambitions at the expense of the party and that was not good for all of us and he advised them and admonished them. I remember on a very good day, my friend Senator Abe in an attempt to assure Amaechi of his total loyalty (to Amaechi) for life, said and I quote, ‘your Excellency, I would like Nigerians to learn from my relationship with you and no matter the situation, I will not betray you’. Abe said this in the presence of other leaders at a meeting held at Amaechi’s house in Abuja
When did this meeting take place?
That should be early in the year, can’t recall exactly what day or month… and then the bubble burst. Amaechi said and I quote ‘because of the inability of Senator Magnus Abe and Dr Dakuku Peterside to comply with the decision to wait, hold on, on their political ambitions and help to rebuild the party, those that are for Magnus Abe should go with him, those that are for Dakuku, follow him and those that are for the party, join me (Amaechi) in rebuilding the party’. And I stand to be corrected. I am a national honours holder and I put my integrity on the line. I tell Nigerians nothing but the truth.
Was there any meeting at the Dome in Port Harcourt on this issue because Senator Abe has said a lot about what transpired at the said meeting in the Dome…?
I remember in one of the meetings at the Dome….. there were two meetings. It was at the first meeting that the issue of the governorship came up. Again, I remember that I stood up and addressed the meeting saying that, I Andrew Uchendu would be interested in who will be the governorship flag bearer of APC in 2019. We would all discuss and then a decision taken (by voting delegates). I remembered getting home and getting a call from Abe congratulating me for boldly saying that. He apparently believed that what I said suits his purpose. But what I was trying to say was that we would all discuss and then a final decision taken by APC delegates that would vote for the candidate. So, it was premature to start talking about governorship or no governorship. Then the second meeting, I must be fair, I wasn’t at that meeting, but there was no such thing of anybody threatening Magnus Abe’s ambition or trying to stop him, from all available information. So, when you look at the entire trajectory there was no room for ‘you are going to suffer or you will not suffer’.
Abe has alleged that those sympathetic to him are being systematically dismantled and removed from office. How true is this?
There was no such thing. I will try to differentiate between the leadership of Amaechi and the party in state. By the time Abe continued to pursue his individual political ambition, a new trend and interest had emerged but that does not mean that the party structure was not there. It is now Amaechi structure and Magnus structure. This has nothing to do with the elected main party structure. After the decision was taken on the need to rebuild the party, we now separated the wheat from the chaff. So, when the Dome declaration was made and Abe continued with the pursuit of his ambition (against the overall interest of the party) which off course he has a constitutional right to do, Chidi Wihioka, Amaechi leader in Ikwerre Local Government Area followed him; Tony Okocha, leader in Obio Akpor, followed him; Wogu Boms, the former Attorney General and leader in Phalga followed him and we decided to meet as our own political think tank in Ikwerre land because it was obvious that there were vacancies. When Abe came with his own personal approach that was not helping the party, vacancies were created and I think expectedly Amaechi has the right to fill those vacancies. They were his nominations and not APC structure in Rivers state. They were LGA leaders in Amaechi’s political structure in Rivers State. This cannot constitute crisis in anyway. Even the Rivers State APC chairman said clearly that those changes had nothing to do with the party structure in the State.
Abe is insisting his supporters are being marginalised?
Let me tell you something that will clearly disprove that claim. There was a time when our leader, Rotimi Amaechi, confided in me that he has chosen an Ikwerre son to be nominated as the Executive Director, Finance and Administration for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). We agreed on it. But suddenly, when he called a meeting of his core group, I think about five of us and Abe was present. Amaechi now informed us that he has made the concession to Magnus Abe to produce the EDFA of NDDC because he pleaded with him. I was shocked, I am an Ikwerre man, I was still in the Tribunal and wasn’t a senator then, I was shocked and immediately he made the pronouncement, Abe quickly stood up and said ‘I nominate Mene Derek’. I remembered asking if Mene was a chartered accountant. I felt whoever should be the EDFA in NDDC should have an accounting qualification or degree and Abe said yes. But we later found out that it’s not true, that he doesn’t have. So, Magnus Abe cannot say his supporters are been marginalised. Mene Derek, the Executive Director of Finance and Administration of NDDC was conceded to him and he nominated the young man… But, look at how that young man (Mene Derek) is behaving today… The young man doesn’t even take my calls anymore. If he doesn’t take my calls and I am a Senator, from Niger Delta, from Rivers State like him, you can only imagine how he treats ordinary folks and party members… Now who is marginalising who? We must be careful what we say, we shouldn’t lie to Nigerians.
Abe has also complained that that the problem with APC in Rivers State is Amaechi…
Well, like I told you earlier, there is no such thing, other than the fact that somebody somewhere has decided to pursue his personal political ambition which he is constitutionally so entitled to, but he cannot use that to say there is a crisis in the party. I repeat, his personal ambition does not constitute a crisis.
As a chieftain of the party in Rivers State, can you honestly say to Nigerians that the process that would lead to the emergence of APC governorship candidate in the State will be free and fair?
If we fail to assure a level playing field for those to contest, all what we have been doing is a waste of time. It’s sad and most unfortunate that some people are just making unnecessary noise in the party in Rivers State. Take the case of the APC non-elective congress; we all do know that LGA congresses are held at the LGA headquarters and not at the party secretariat. Announcements were made, the delegated committees to handle it from Abuja were in town and instead of going to their different LGAs for the congress, they went to the party secretariat where the congress was not scheduled to hold, so, they could accuse someone of lack of level playing ground. A time would come when the party will schedule for congresses and then primaries and it is not going to be an Amaechi’s show. It will be handled by those coming from Abuja, sent by the national headquarters. So, this issue is completely premature and totally unnecessary
Would you say that Senator Abe has been disloyal to the party in the state?
Well, I am not in a proper position to assess his loyalty to the party but I remember the Zonal Vice Chairman, South-south, called a meeting in Port Harcourt and it was well attended. Magnus Abe came with his supporters, a crowd. No one else went there with a crowd because no one was contesting yet. I sat down with my friend Senator Magnus Abe that day and the National Vice Chairman South-south said he came to discuss the problems affecting the party in the state. The state chairman of the party was there and I explained this position as I did now in the presence of Abe and the National Zonal Vice chairman left with the full conviction that there was no crisis in the party other than the fact that someone is just pushing his personal political ambition. But pursuing personal ambitions does not mean crisis in a party. But I would expect that he (Abe) still has his loyalty to the party and Amaechi has not stopped him from pursuing his ambitions and he was even there when I spoke and he also knows that am telling Nigerians the true situation. At that meeting, it got to a point when he was interrupting my speech and I told him to apologise, which he did. I find it very difficult to reconcile his current position and what he had said about his relationship with Amaechi, which according to him Nigerians should learn from.
I joined Amaechi’s political group in January 2000 when he was like six months as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and I got to know about him and Abe and from what he told me and what I heard from other state legislators, Amaechi worked hard to make Abe the minority leader in the House. Abe was then in APP and he made it possible for Abe to later join his party then, the PDP and the friendship grew. Amaechi used his political clout to make Abe the commissioner for Information during former governor Peter Odili second term… Aside that we all worked for Amaechi’s governorship ambition until we had the K-leg saga. I recalled speaking with Amaechi when he was in Ghana and he allowed us to meet with Celestine Omehia who was the PDP candidate then, that if we did not work hard for PDP to win, we cannot pursue the case in court and I remember that Magnus Abe was in the meeting. For purposes of record, I called the first meeting on how to raise money in pursuit of Amaechi’s case. Nyesom Wike was at that meeting and it was held at my residence and we levied ourselves one million naira each, and Wike as the only lawyer amongst us was selected to liaise with the lawyers handling the case. I have heard him (Wike) say several times that he made Amaechi governor but that is not true… Personally, I didn’t see Magnus anymore after the meeting in my house, but immediately after the Supreme Court judgement that announced Amaechi as governor, I saw Magnus and Amaechi together and I was worried. I asked what was going on… Magnus Abe became Secretary to the State government. I am equally aware that there was a point Amaechi came out to ask Abe to contest for the Senate seat against the run of events. But that was not successful but when another opportunity came, Amaechi made sure Abe went to the Senate. Now why I am disturbed is that the relationship was like ordained from heaven and when this, his (Abe’s) personal ambition came up, we were still at the elections tribunal. I am equally aware that Amaechi retained the Chambers of Lateef Fagbemi to handle these cases and underwrite the entire legal fees up to even when the face-off was on. There was nothing Abe wanted that he didn’t get from Amaechi. This is my knowledge of their relationship and that was why when he said that it is good to keep friends, I agree with him but now I don’t think he still stands by that position.
Recently Governor Nyesom Wike announced SUV jeeps gifts for Rivers State National Assembly legislators. We saw videos of most of your APC colleagues in the House of Representatives collecting theirs from Wike. Have you gone to collect yours?
I just returned to the country but nobody (from Rivers State Government) has told me about the car but somehow I heard about it. Well, if he bought cars, it would be in keeping with antecedence in Rivers state. It started with former governor Peter Odili and I would have being surprised if he did otherwise. I recalled dedicating my certificate of return to the reconciliation, peace and development of Rivers State. Because coincidentally, I am the oldest elected Rivers son in Nigeria and I have a role to play. I went further to say that I will pay a courtesy visit to the governor and I have followed that up with a formal letter, courier serviced to his office two months ago and I am still waiting for his response. I cannot be a successful senator of the federal republic without working with the minister of transportation and the governor of Rivers State. I have written a letter to the governor seeking for a meeting but no response from him and now he is talking about a mundane issue like car collection. I want us to work together to better the lots of Rivers people. Issues around car are different.
But you would agree with me that the car issue was controversial…
My response to this is that the governor has his priority. My own priority is the welfare of my constituents. I wrote to the governor and the minister of transport for a meeting while the Minister has given me a date, Wike has not responded to my letter and now they are talking about cars. What is that!