Oji Nyimenuate Ngofa, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Netherlands, who is the All Progressives Congress (APC) Senatorial candidate for Rivers South-East Senatorial District for 2019, is a thorough-bred grass root politician. He was a two-time local council chairman in the state and the immediate past Deputy National Secretary of the APC. He is close to Senator Magnus Abe and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. Ngofa, in this interview with select journalists, including Bennett Oghifo speaks on the rift between the two bigwigs of Rivers APC
Your party in Rivers State is in crisis. What is happening?
It is essentially power play, and nothing out of normal politicking, is what is happening in our party in the state. Senator Magnus Abe wanted to be the governorship candidate of the party but he didn’t get it, he lost out and he feels that he has to continuously make a claim to it.
There is this perception that your party in Rivers State is not ready for the 2019 elections?
That is coming from people, especially from the opposition who are trying to give that narrative to create doubt and probably weaken our support base in the state. Even with the plethora of litigations currently going on in the party, I don’t think that it’s a problem. Every day we receive new entrants into the party. Just yesterday, I received even state chairmen of other political parties who came to join us and the people trooped in here to identify with us and be part of what we are doing. All our candidates are out there in the field canvassing for votes and I am sure you are aware that our governorship candidate has been going round the wards on consultations. On the issues in court, I believe that all the institutions concerned with elections in this country are all legally informed. They are institutions set up by the law and all the issues can be dealt with within the framework of the law. I don’t think it is a problem. What is important now is that the legitimate part of the party has done the needful and there is no law, no order, and no judgment stopping the party from participating or contesting in the 2019 election.
At what point did you stop supporting Abe?
It is almost a decade and half that I have been part of the Amaechi political family. We have evolved as a family with harmony and unity of purpose on how we take decisions. I will not be part of any aspiration that will create disunity within the leadership of Amaechi. And I did tell Abe that I did not think that we should divide the family because of his aspiration. Because the way I see it is that he has a right to aspire, nobody is challenging that but I have issues with the fact that you want to upturn and destroy a system because of your own aspiration; a system that he has been part of, a system that Abe is one of its biggest beneficiaries. I disagreed with that and I told him (Abe) that if he intended to pursue his ambition outside the framework of our political family and collective interest under Amaechi’s leadership, then I would not be part of it. I made it very clear to him. I have a concern with the fact that you have been part of a system that has promoted you, has given you the platform. Each time Abe was nominated for one position or another within the political family, somebody else felt denied, and I can give examples because I have been there. I have been part of the system and so to turn around to say that you have to bring down that system because of your own personal aspiration, I disagree with that. I do not think that would work well for the survival of the structure that all of us put in place and that’s exactly what is going on. Everybody knows within the political family that we used to be very close, but I disagreed with him and I told him that I disagree with the fact that he wants to pursue this aspiration outside the framework of the leadership and the practices that he has benefited immensely from.
We learnt that there was this consensus among stakeholders in your party that everybody should shelve their ambitions and build the party first. What was Abe’s response?
It was in one of our caucus meetings, everybody resolved and everybody agreed. Nobody raised any objection. There were talks and insinuations everywhere that Abe was still consulting and was setting up structures outside the recognised structure for his governorship ambition.
Did your leader, Amaechi take this decision unilaterally?
No No No. All of us resolved that it was the right thing to do. Nobody opposed it. In fact, in about three of the meetings, he (Amaechi) was even angrier with Dakuku Peterside (DG of NIMASA) because there were issues. Magnus (Abe) complained that some of the structures that Peterside set up like RIVLEAF were still operating and the leader (Amaechi) right in that meeting said that if we ever get to hear that RIVLEAF was still functional that we would hold Peterside personally responsible and we delegated somebody in that meeting to ensure that Alex Wele, who heads RIVLEAF, is called to order immediately. So, Amaechi’s anger was even more directed towards Peterside because Abe always complained in all of those meetings that it appeared as if things were skewed against him. He was always playing the victim in some of these meetings and the leader was always springing up to his defence, always eager to protect Abe.
Did you call Abe aside at any time to advise and tell him your view?
Off course I did. Sometime in February or March of 2017, we held a small meeting of the caucus of Ogoni at Novotel in Port Harcourt. I was the first to speak at that meeting and I made it very clear. In fact, a lot of people were surprised because they know how close I was to Abe, and I made it very clear to him and those at the meeting that I would not support any aspiration and ambition that was not within the framework of our larger political structure and leadership the way we knew it, the way it had worked for us for many years, and everyone at that caucus meeting had benefitted from it tremendously. That I was not going to accept any division within the party and I made my point very clear. And do not forget that I was Deputy National Secretary of the party before my appointment as Ambassador to Netherlands. So, there were things I knew and I know how the party operates more than anybody else. And I did not believe that the party would accept that sort of division in Rivers State outside the current structure led by Amaechi. I made my point very clear at that meeting. The Senator himself was there and I said I would not accept division within the party. Sadly, Abe felt he had the required support that could upturn our conventional structure and leadership under Amaechi so he had to go on against it. This unnecessary political fight has been exacerbated by ego, malice and a feeling of entitlement, as well as a tinge of messianic complex by my brother, Abe. Given the love and friendship I witnessed between him and the leader (Amaechi), his behaviour is completely unnecessary.
Abe said that Amaechi wanted to deny him his right to run for governor.
To the best of my knowledge, that is not true. I have never heard him say that. I have never been in any meeting, whether public or private, where our leader said that or said anything to deny Abe his right to run for any office. What happened was that he (Amaechi) and most members of the caucus were just not happy that Abe was not adhering to a decision we made at caucus meetings about building the party first. In fact, in that meeting, he said Peterside seems to have listened but Abe was obviously not listening, as he was going ahead to make consultations and to set up alternate structures to run for governor.
Knowing your closeness with the minister, did Amaechi rule out Magnus Abe from the governorship contest, at that time?
No. He didn’t, he did not rule out anybody.
But Abe accused Amaechi of removing party leaders in different LGAs that were sympathetic to him
Now that is another lie that they have been telling. Those removed, were replaced because of their incompetence, greed and inability to lead. I headed one of the committees that did the APC restructuring in the state and recommended the removal of one of such LGA leaders, Chidi Wihioka, who represents Ikwerre/Emohua Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. In one of our caucus meetings at the party office in Port Harcourt, three committees was set up; one was saddled with the responsibility of looking at problems in each of the three senatorial districts and restructuring the LGAs leadership and come up with recommendations. I headed that of Rivers East Senatorial District where Wihioka was the leader of Ikwerre LGA, which also happens to be the LGA of the minister. It was my committee that recommended the removal of Wihioka. It was my committee’s recommendation and so the minister did not unilaterally remove LGA leaders as alleged by Abe. In fact, Wihioka himself will confirm that the day of the meeting with his LGA people he was almost mobbed by his own people who didn’t even want him to speak.
If you have the chance to meet with Abe, what would be your advice to him?
I will again advise him to let go, because he is one of those that gave us confidence in this group, in this structure and in this leadership led by Amaechi. Abe is one of those who gave me confidence. Don’t forget I came from opposition and I joined Amaechi from ANPP then. When I came into the family within the senatorial district, we had Abe as our leader and so we became very close and, of course, in his desire to add value, he brought me close and I worked very closely with him. So, he was one of those who made me believe in the leadership and nothing has changed, I have not seen any difference. I do not think that the group, the structure should crumble because he desires something now and he is not getting it the way he wants it and when he wants it. I have seen several examples of others within this same political family that desired something, but did not get it. Some of these people didn’t get it because some of us, including Abe, were given the opportunities. I will advise my brother and my friend that he ends this thing right now and come back and work with his political family. There is no way, as he continues with this agitation, that it will not be seen as a deliberate cooperation, collaboration and conniving with the PDP in Rivers State against his party, the APC.