As the tempo of political activities increase in Rivers State ahead of the 2019 general elections, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress and leader of Rivers Unity House, an advocacy group within the APC, Kingsley Wenenda Wali told Ernest Chinwo too much bloodletting and reliance on grassroots politicians may be the bane of politics in the state
What is the motive behind your group, Rivers Unity House, moving round the 23 local government areas of Rivers State to sensitise the youths against violence?
If you have been in Rivers State for more than five years, you will agree with me that the language of political conversation has become very venomous. We felt that it was not doing our state any good, because children and the younger ones are beginning to feel that it was good for them to hold conversations based on insolence.
You cannot discuss with somebody rationally. All they do is insult people. For example, you are in a group conversation on the social media, especially Facebook, you will see a 21 year-old telling an elderly person to shut up, calling the person an idiot.
It was becoming the norm. Abnormal has become the normal in Rivers state in every way. You can hardly have any conversation devoid of threat or actual violence.
Discussions should be devoid of threats of violence and real violence. Rivers state is about the only state in Nigeria now that runs politics from May 29 to May 29, four years after. If we continue to allow this type of conversation, when are we going to have a conversation that is development based?
We felt we should remind people that governance should not just be about battles, but providing services. Not just sitting back and blaming government.
In Rivers state, you will go to a political meeting at 9am and the venue is filled with young men. That is not normal. That is not popularity. It is a statement of fact that the state is failing, because if it is a society where people are working or going to school, you will not have people between the vibrant years of 19 and 35 attending political meetings by 9am on a Monday morning.
My generation has messed up our country and especially Rivers state. Before now, people could make all the noise in this world, threatening they will do this or that, but elections would come and houses would not be burnt, nobody would be injured and nobody would die. Nowadays, people are killed over contentious issues in town union or Community Development Committee. It has become too politicised, too volatile to have any kind of conversation on a rational basis.
Beyond holding political power, people who access power must be people who have the capacity to communicate to the people in a way that they can return the communication and everybody is on the same page.
Beyond campaigning for votes for my party, the All Progressives Congress, we equally owe the society a duty to sensitise the people on the need to vote on a rational basis.
It is a bad thing to find a young man who has just left school and he says he is a member of the APC when you ask him about his profession. Membership of a political party is not employment. Politics should not be a profession. When some people describe themselves as professional politicians, that’s another way of saying they are jobless. We are not talking about Political Science as a discipline, but membership of a political party. What if there is no APC tomorrow, are you going to have a CV that says APC and you will be employed? Politicians can live with this because the right discussions are not taking place.
Members of the Rivers Unity House are trying to educate the people. We can be described as the National Orientation Agency arm of the APC. We are starting small in Rivers state, because we have been the biggest victims of negative politics.
Is the group a formal structure within the APC?
We sat back and we felt that we had to educate Rivers people. Fortunately, nobody had told us to stop. We are encouraged by the fact that we are having the right conversations. It is resonating with the people. Our primary target is the youths of Rivers state.
Are you encouraged with the feedback?
I was holding a conversation with somebody and he asked how we were able to record the noteworthy achievements, presuming that we must have spent so much money, since we are also advocating that Tonye Cole should run for Rivers governorship in 2019 and that Tonye Cole must have given us so much money, but I told him that Tonye has never not bought a teaspoon full of water for me. But I am encouraged by the fact that we move from one local government area to another, in Rivers state without spending a dime. We have not met any negative response. In all the LGAs, we were received very well. People asked many questions and we responded appropriately.
When we went to Abonnema, a man asked us for money to help us spread the message of peace and encourage the people. We told him that the encouragement we have are the words that we are spreading, just like evangelism. We do not have a need to pay people money.
Tonye Cole has been accused of not being a grassroots politician. He was overseas in 2015 during the campaigns and general elections, but now wants to be the governor of Rivers State in 2019. Won’t the decision lead to a crisis?
There will be no crisis. We have looked round. The biggest problem we have in Rivers state is too much politics. Many people have nothing else besides politics. We felt that it is time we considered somebody who has something (other than politics). He will see the governorship as a challenge to prove to the whole world that he can do for Rivers state what he is doing for himself.
We have had people from the grassroots governing the state in the past years; where has it taken us? It has taken us down. We have several grassroots persons in the APC and in the PDP, but how has that translated into a better life for the rural folks? Development should have trickled down to the grassroots, but we have not seen that.
So we asked ourselves; Why not consider somebody with proven capacity? Take for example, the persons who represented Nigeria in the last World Cup. Some of them are Europe-based. Nigeria said it wanted the best to represent the country. The coach went looking for the best all over the world to represent the country. If Nigeria can go for the best no matter where they are based, why can’t we go for the best in Rivers State, especially somebody who can deliver. Most of our political leaders lack character. They are shameless and mindless. That is why they steal what they do not need. That is why we are advocating for a Tonye Cole. If APC or PDP decides to bring a Tonye Cole, it will sync very well with us. We are tired of too much politics. We want Rivers state to move forward. We do not want traditional politicians who do nothing, but simply divert our common wealth.
Tonye Cole will be cursed if he misappropriates the state budget after what he has acquired as a private businessman. The Sahara Energy, which he heads, is worth $1.7 billion. I am not sure if the asset of Rivers state is worth $1 billion on the stock exchange. Tonye Cole cannot be misappropriating Rivers state funds, when he has a business that is making more money for him and it will not die if he becomes Rivers state governor. The President of the United States of America, Donald Trump will not be after USA’s money, because he is a successful businessman, just like Tonye Cole.
Nigerian governors travel overseas to look for foreign investors, but Tonye Cole is a foreign investor. Many foreigners have dealt with him. He does not need to go to them. If you want to invest in my community and you hear that my king is a pick-pocket or a street fighter, you will not come because your investment will not be protected. We should elect a governor who will send the right signal that Rivers state is ready to do business. It is not difficult.
We need to grow commerce. If not, we cannot make progress in Rivers state. It is absolutely impossible. Nobody will come and do business in a state where all they do is talk politics.
The only reason people want to know and have access to the Government House in Port Harcourt is that they have nothing to do. When you have a job, why do you have to go to Government House? Unfortunately, politicians encourage the people to come to Government House, because of tokenism, in order to keep them tied to their apron strings. That is why we need somebody who will create the enabling environment for commerce in Rivers state.
You need a leader, whose body language and personality have the capacity to draw investments.
People are giving President Muhammadu Buhari the benefit of the doubt, because he is not stealing and they see him as a man of integrity. There may be some people in Buhari’s government who may be playing a couple of games, but they still do things with the fear of Buhari.
We are bringing Tonye Cole, because we feel that he has the capacity to deliver Rivers state or take it to a higher level. Rivers state has everything it takes to overtake Lagos state, because all the things that Lagos state is spending money to acquire, we have them in abundance in Rivers state. We have natural environment for business, but we have just lost it, because of bad leadership. Any system with bad leadership will definitely collapse.
Tonye is a financial member of the APC. He is very supportive of the APC. When APC’s manifesto was launched, the keynote paper was delivered by Tonye Cole. Why we recently went to Tonye’s ward in Abonnema was because of the claims by some people that Tonye could not speak his language and would not know the way to Abonnema, but he is about completing his house in Abonnema. His father’s house is about the most prominent in Jack’s Compound.
Besides Mr. Tonye Cole, we have other governorship aspirants on the platform of the APC in Rivers State, including the 2015 governorship candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside; the representative of Rivers South-east Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Abe; an oil magnate, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, from the same Abonnema as Mr. Tonye Cole; among others. How will Cole survive the primary election?
The beauty of democracy is about choice. Any governorship aspirant who feels that Tonye Cole is not popular should wait for the primary election. They said the same thing of Anambra State, but you know that Governor Willie Obiano is making progress. Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode was a civil servant and he is doing well as Lagos governor. Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola was Chief of Staff to Senator Bola Tinubu, but became governor and performed excellently. We must look for the best and use the best. That is why you can find people who have capacity being given responsibilities in countries all over the world.
If USA could trust Barack Obama to be the President for eight years, let us give capacity a chance in Rivers state. There is nobody who is unpopular or popular in politics. Party politics is about everybody bringing his own popularity and donating it to the candidate of the party, thereby making him popular. Supreme Court of Nigeria says people do not vote for individuals, but the political party. If we select capacity, then members of the political party will bring their grassroots support.
If Mr. Tonye Cole emerges as the winner of the APC governorship primary election in Rivers State, will it not lead to some members or candidates leaving the party as it happened in Ekiti State?
Dr. Kayode Fayemi of APC won the governorship election in Ekiti state, because Governor Ayodele Fayose of PDP was unpopular and the Ekiti elite were tired of the embarrassment that Fayose had constituted himself into. Many people felt injustice was done to Dr. Fayemi in 2014, through the massive rigging with federal might, when the then sitting governor lost in all the 16 LGAs.
In Rivers state, we have a political party, with the members of the party having confidence in the ability of the leadership. During the primary election, leaders of APC will sit down and look for the best option, as well as allow free, fair, open and credible primaries, while all the members of the party must support the winner. Anybody who does not agree with the decision of the leaders of the party will be on his own.
Senator Magnus Abe has simply decided to enjoy the full benefits of his democratic rights, as a Nigerian citizen. I will never be party to anybody who is going to demonise him, simply because the man decided to enjoy the benefits. Where I will have issues is when you seek my support and I say no, I will not support you, and you now have a problem with that. In as much as you are free to exercise your democratic rights, I too must enjoy the benefit of saying I am not going to support you. It is a straightforward matter.
The only crime Senator Magnus Abe will commit is when he begins to abuse people who are not supporting him, but I have not heard him insult anybody. We must learn to respect other people’s opinions, views and choices. Until we do that, we will have difficulties with moving forward.
President Muhammadu Buhari has the right to seek re-election next year, but if you do not want him to continue in office beyond May 29, 2019, all you have to do is to use your PVC and vote for another presidential candidate, but we all know that President Buhari is a man of integrity and a strong character, who is performing excellently, considering the rot of the past, caused by PDP leaders between 1999 and 2015.
If you say President Buhari is too old to seek re-election next year or that he will soon die and you described him as an imbecile or senile, those comments do not constitute decent conversations in a civilised community.
Considering the violence associated with previous polls, especially in Rivers State, do you have any fears?
There are fears of possible violence, because our society is still having issues reconciling with the fact that there are civilised ways of having discussions. In the last few months, I have experienced, first hand, how friends and brothers can actually turn against you, because you hold strong views contrary to theirs. I always prefer working with or supporting people with capacity to deliver, devoid of ethnicity, tribalism or nepotism.
The mind of most people are already poisoned, but I am believing that if we sustain the conversations that will prick their conscience, it is possible to effect change. All we have been doing in Rivers Unity House is to remind the youths that on Election Day, they should shun violence.
Violence has its tenure and when it expires, the youth will become useless to himself and the society. A heavy thug at 25 years will become a thug at 30, elderly thug at 35. At 40, the person is done. Right-thinking members of the society would have forgotten everything about the person who decided to opt for thuggery. A youth can never be paid pension for being a thug.
In 2019, one of my fears is that we are going to have a situation where many people are going to be hungry for power, such that they will do anything and everything to hold onto power. It is up to Rivers people and other Nigerians to get it right, because at the end of the day, we will ask ourselves if the whole fight was about ego. If it was actually about governance, nobody will carry a gun and kill people to win election.
The big man who bought guns to kill to win election, must first recoup his money/investment on assumption of office. We will get to 2019 and go beyond it. The elections will definitely hold, but we must bear in mind that violence has become an enterprise in Nigeria and some people are benefiting from it.
As a bonafide member of the APC, I am a Buharist. I believe that Nigerians stand a chance with President Muhammadu Buhari. If Buhari becomes a second-tenure President, we are going to have a National Assembly that APC will be APC and PDP will be PDP. If we have that, there will be no problem with the second tenure of President Buhari, because we will have APC members of the National Assembly who will respect their political party’s position on issues, thereby restoring sanity and ensuring discipline.
The problem of the APC in the 8th Senate and the House of Representatives started the day the party’s leadership opted for particular persons as Senate President and Speaker respectively, while some persons kicked against the choices of their party and they had their way as rebels, with their network of friends across party lines. If APC’s position was respected in June 2015, I do not think things would have been this bad.
Things are this bad in Nigeria, because some people who felt side-lined by the seizure of corruption incorporated, which they used to enjoy, decided to revolt. For things to get better in this country, we need a National Assembly and judiciary that are responsible.
I can assure you that President Buhari will win the 2019 election very well without stress, because of his integrity and he is not looting Nigeria’s money. There will be no serious challenge to his emerging victorious at the poll next year.
I am very sorry for Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state, members of the National and State Assemblies who defected from the APC to other political parties, they have said bye-bye to the National Assembly.
Northerners know when their interest is threatened and they know that President Buhari best represents their interest. I do not know of any other presidential candidate who is going to threaten Buhari’s support base in the North. There will be no two million votes from each of the nine states of the Niger Delta.