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Beke: With BVAS, I’ll Dislodge PDP from Rivers Govt House
In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, the Rivers state governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Prince Ugo Beke, discusses governance failure in the state, his three-point agenda, danger of zoning political offices and the prospect of ending the reign of Peoples Democratic Party in the state with the deployment of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS)
What actually inspired you to contest the governorship election in Rivers State?
This inspiration came to me long ago. It did not start when I joined politics, but when I was in Buckingham University years ago. I was opportune to spend a night with the late elder statesman and former Premier of Mid-Western Region, Chief Dennis Osadebay in Asaba, now in Delta State.
On my way back home, it took me a short time to get to Port Harcourt from Asaba to Onitsha and Owerri. As a child that time, I thought I could convert the whole area to California. I also thought there were a lot of development issues that needed to be tackled. As young as I was then, I always had that dream. I grew up with that dream until I became a teacher. I taught as a youth corps member. After teaching, I always thought about giving back to my community, people and state what they actually deserved.
I realised what Karl Marx said that the power of production and economy was in the hands of proletariats. The proletariats were the people who were always deprived. They lacked development. They lived in shanties and squalor.
That still happens in today’s world. So, my dream was built on this conviction. Also, I took inspiration from my father, who was well privileged. Every day of his life, he was feeding over 200 people. He took care of the less privileged within his domain. When I asked my father why he was doing that, he told me that my mother’s background was much better than his and that he had always wanted to make life comfortable for every poor person.
My father was the Adedibu of Rivers State, probably bigger than Adedubu because my father fed over 200 people everyday and gave scholarships. He gave everything he had back to the less privileged. So, I took a lot of inspiration.
I was privileged to go to England in the 1970s. I was also privileged to attend the University of Buckingham. My heart has always been with my people, who are less privileged. Those who came from Ikwerre know this about me. They know I am the prince of the masses. That is who I am and that is what I represent. I am inspired to give back to my people what they could have got since democratic transition in 1999.
We were all created equally. Even in the paradise we all hope for as Christians, everybody is equal. Since we are created in the image of God, my intention is whether we can recreate things here on earth, first to make everybody equal; provide basic things for everybody and ensure happiness of everyone. Of course, the western countries are achieving that.
Why can’t we achieve that? What is the problem with Africa? What is the problem with Nigeria? And what is the problem with Rivers State? We have all the wealth. We have all the mineral resources. We have all the raw materials. If the West could come and get our raw materials to better their countries, we too can do that. We can provide for every single person in this country.
You are contesting the PDP that has been in control of Rivers State for 23 years. Are you confident of defeating the state’s ruling party?
The truth is I was the youngest man among political leaders that put PDP together in Rivers State. When PDP was put together, Dr. Peter Odili was not in PDP. He is the main boss of everything that happened in Rivers State since 1999. He was in the All Peoples Party (APP), now defunct. Governor Nyesom Wike was unknown. But I was known. As a young man, I was a major player when we were attending all those old meetings. Alhaji Bamaga Tukur can attest to that. Today, PDP has been in charge of Rivers State because of what we created.
In the past 23 years, we know that election results have been written. Nobody can claim to have the power of incumbency anywhere. Since the election results in the past 23 years, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured us that our votes will count now. The next elections will be a real acid test to the power of incumbency of PDP. I believe the people of Rivers State will be voting for personality and not the political party because this party structure is weak. The party has not been able to deliver anything.
So, the people of Rivers State are about to do something new. God is about to do something new. I believe I am something new for Rivers State.
Of course, APGA won the 2011 governorship election under Sir Celestine Omehia. APGA was rigged out. I am aware of this. The result was written. This time around, they can shout as much as they can. Come 2023, Rivers State will be in the hands of APGA.
Beyond the confidence you have exuded, you are from Ikwerre just like Governor Nyesom Wike and his predecessor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. Don’t you have the moral burden that the time is not ripe for another Ikwerre man to be governor?
You are talking about zoning principles. I have never been an advocate of zoning principles. Zoning is undemocratic. It is unethical in terms of human rights. We are assured that at any given time, even my children can participate in the democratic process in the country. You cannot short-change them because you want to zone out. Zoning is undemocratic. I think it cannot give the best result. Zoning further divides Nigeria.
If you go back to certain points in the history of Nigeria, Herbert Macaulay did not think of zoning when he supported Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe to lead the National Youth Movement. Then, we had the best result. People from different parts of the country contested. In different areas, they produced the best result. In fact, this federal character system has destroyed Nigeria. We should not encourage zoning if the federal character has not worked. It has worked negatively. If you go to the NNPC today, they will tell the northerners have taken over the NNPC. It is still the issue of federal character. When we did not consider federal character and zoning, Nigerians were happier and talked less about tribalism and ethnicity.
Governor Wike has been inaugurating different infrastructure projects in recent times. Are you saying the delivery of all these projects does not justify his performance?
This is an area I specialise in. I am into policy formulation and execution at the highest level. I do it for the African Union. I do it for the United Nations. I do it for corporate bodies. I understand what it is all about. When we are talking about all-inclusive governance in four thematic areas. If you have done well in one area, that is one over four. That is not good enough. If you have done well in the four areas, then that is good.
Some of the governors that have been governing our state since 1999 do not even understand the concept of governance. Governance is to provide happiness and prosperity for every citizen. Have we been providing happiness and prosperity for every citizen? The answer is No.
A new report revealed that 133 million Nigerians were living in poverty. I disagree with that report. I think there are about 200 million Nigerians living in poverty. Nigerians who can live above poverty are below two percent of the population. An individual must earn $500 per week to be above the poverty line. That is the minimum standard of the United Nations. I wonder how many Nigerians earn $500 per week including the professors and those so-called well-paid staff of corporate giants. I do think they earn $500 per week. Nearly all Nigerians live in poverty.
Looking at the foundation stones of governance you just explained, what do you plan to do differently?
My agenda centres on major areas – economy, prosperity and security. Security is needed because Nigeria has lost it. We no longer trust our security institutions. The respect people have for police officers in Ghana is not the same respect average Nigerians have for police officers.
It means that we cannot rely on that kind of security institution. We need to rejig it. I am advocating for a security trust fund.
On the economy, everybody knows the poverty rate is very high and millions of Nigerians are living below the poverty line. There is no middle class. The few criminals have stolen public resources. About 98 percent of Nigerians do not have a functional healthcare system, good road networks, sound education system, portable water and even good governance.
You can see our senses and sensibilities have been demonised. We cannot even tell what is right from what is wrong. Everyday, I monitor politics on Arise News Channels. I think it is annoying that the same set of criminals constitute the campaign organisations of these so-called political parties. There is nothing different to be expected except we start from our state. We need to go back to the state level. We begin to look for candidates, like me with character, competence and content, candidates that people always depend on to deliver the dividends of democracy.
With this, we will have taken a good step forward. Today there is really no hope for Nigeria. The same people who have criminalised us by the way they led us are the people who were calling us the poor masses. We need to take it further.
We need to take governance seriously. Pollsters are not helping the matter. They are encouraging the so-called governors with the outcome of their polls. All the governors have failed woefully.
Look at what Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Michael Okpara did at that time. You cannot talk about every Nigerian economy. As at the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Western Region was on the top, even ahead of France in terms of development assessment.
When Chief Michael Okpara was in charge, the economy of Eastern Region was the fastest growing in Africa. Of course, whatever northerners are enjoying today is the product of Sir Ahmadu Bello.
We have not had this kind of leaders. Leaders that we need now are those who will come with originality of ideas and policies that transform the whole society. It is not just about building bridges and roads. We should talk about human capital development. We should talk about empowerment. We should talk about how to grow the younger generations to key into the growth process of the society.
Our younger generations have fallen apart because they have become hopeless. Our younger generations are now talking about entertainment. They are talking about sports, which is okay. But we must produce.
We need youths that can produce. That is why I have been calling for a research and development centre. If Africa misses out on research and development, we will grope in darkness for the next 500 years.
No nation can grow without research and development. We have all the raw materials in Africa. Why are the western countries coming to take our raw materials? We have banks that are A+ rating. But what are the banks doing? The banks are busy buying private jets. They are not investing back. If you go to the Nigerian airports, every single person wants to travel abroad. The question is why. Are we that rich to afford that luxury or leisure? If you go to our senators, they have spent all the constituency project funds on their girl friends, flying to Dubai.
Election results have been rigged in this country since 1999. You also confirmed it earlier. What then gave you confidence that the process will be credible and transparent?
I have confidence the new election process will be credible. BVAS is the same technology we all use for our international passport when we travel. First, INEC is not the owner of the technology. But it only provides administration. The technology is domiciled in Dublin. We are using the satellite of Elon Musk. It is going to be difficult for INEC to manipulate the outcome of the election. The problem with the election process we have been conducting before had to do with the Incident Result Form. All you need to do is to lay your hands on the Incident Result Form to the Government House and write as much as you want and pay all the security agencies. Of course, the result will be announced. All you can do is to go to court. Right now, that is not feasible. We now have backup for the system that is being operated. We also have the times that the satellite shuts down. We also know when the result can no longer be admitted. Ballot box snatching is no longer an issue. I believe INEC has no choice than to submit to the superiority of what has been put in place. Therefore, I am confident that votes will count.
BVAS has really ended the era of ballot box snatching. But political parties and their candidates now buy votes before ballot casting. Do you consider this as another threat to your emergence?
Candidates now buy votes. I think Nigerians have tolerated bad governance for too long. This is the payback time. This is the time God has set that something new should be done. Every Nigerian, I want to believe, wants good governance. You can see every Nigerian is interested in governance. Before that was not the case. I believe people will collect their money and will vote for me.
I watched a video recently. In this video, Governor Wike walked on the streets of Port Harcourt alongside the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi. Rather than hailing, they were shouting Obi’s name. Are you sure Obi’s growing popularity will now affect you in Rivers State?
National politics is different from local politics. It also shows that the candidate of the PDP is not accepted locally. Obi, probably, was accepted by the people who were shouting.
But shouting on the streets does not influence elections that much. Some days before the elections, all those people shouting will have returned to their villages. Every election is local. Any person conducting opinion polls now does not know what the election is all about. Anybody coming up with an opinion poll now is wrong, unfounded and fake.
The public opinion is, for us, going to be tested by March 11. That is when we know the power of incumbency is working or is not working. I do not believe the power of incumbency will work in Nigeria as long as this election is concerned. Whether at the federal or state level, all of them have failed. They have not served the interest of the people. If they did in the past 23 years, we would have three or four Dubais. I have said I will build a brand new city that will rival Dubai in Rivers State by 2023 when I become governor.