Elected in 2015 into the Rivers State House of Assembly, Abinye Blessing Pepple had his election nullified through the courts, but was later re-elected in 2016. Since then he has been striving to deliver quality representation to his constituents.
In this interview with TNN managing editor, GODSWILL JUMBO, Pepple gave an account of his representative strides, responded to controversies surrounding his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), among other issues.
You just had a football tournament between the tricycle and commercial motorcycle operators and a town hall meeting with the youths and people of Bonny Kingdom, and then, you've also announced that the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bonny Fire Station will be coming up in two weeks. Can we have details about the motivation behind them and what you intend to achieve with these projects?
I want to say very clearly that the good people of Bonny constituency gave me an unprecedented support and it's my responsibility to serve them with humility, transparency and, most importantly, accountability. In Bonny Local Government Area, we have 104 units and 12 wards. Each of the wards will have their team including keke association like you rightly mentioned, okada riders, bus drivers and boat drivers; all in the bid to have a robust and fantastic constituency tournament where all these teams will participate and on my own part, create an enabling environment and get people like the honourable commissioner for sports, house committee chairman on sports and other big wigs within the state to come and look at the level of commitment and preparation within these young men. So that as the governor is anticipating the construction of Real Madrid Academy in Port Harcourt, we can have some of these young men to go to Port Harcourt to be part of the academy. That's the vision. We must look beyond the local government and allow the youths to discover their potential in this tournament. So I am confident that this tournament will come up and young men and women will have the opportunity of enjoying the privilege of discovering their potentials in the nearest future. With regards to the town hall meeting, I told Bonny people that I will run a system that is transparent. As I speak, His Excellency, the governor of Rivers State has graciously approved 2017 constituency project forms for constituents across the state. As I speak, what I have decided to do is to organise a town hall meeting to tell the good people of Bonny that I have through the contractor I nominated to receive these forms, what I did was nomination. I had the opportunity as a lawmaker to nominate the contractor for the project. I am not executing the project because I'm a lawmaker. I also initiated the project for 2017 to cover the yearnings and aspirations of our constituents because the fire station is a signature project. So I felt it is important to organise this town hall meeting to tell our people the contractor for the project, how much the contractor has received and the project for which the contractor will embark upon and many other issues of importance to the constituents. What I have done in the last nine months as a lawmaker.... You may recall in 2015, I was duly elected by the good people of Bonny, unfortunately, because of legal challenges at the election tribunal, my election was upturned. In the whole of 2016, I was at home, the mandate was given back to me on the 10th of December 2016. So, between that period till today, I want to tell Bonny people what I have done in the last nine months and it's my expectation that we would have a robust interactive session. What informed the idea of the fire station, if you may recall, we've had series of fire outbreaks in Bonny Local Government and if we are honest to ourselves, we must look at critical infrastructure that have direct bearing on the lives of our people. I consider the construction of a fire station as an important signature project that would carry the image and required impetus of a local government. I believe that the groundbreaking ceremony is the beginning of a new vision. It's the beginning of actualization of a new agenda and hope for the good people of Bonny constituency. So, I am using this opportunity to invite all of us irrespective of party affiliation to support this initiative so that we must put Bonny first in all we do.
Are you saying the fire service station that is about to commence is a constituency project?
(Cuts in) Yes, it is the constituency project for 2017.
People have been asking, what are the specifics of this project? Can we look at some of these details?
Yes, the contractor is going to do the construction because you need to do the construction in such a way that it will meet what we call ISO certification because a fire station is not just a hall, it's an important facility particularly where we have oil and gas sector in our community. So, it's going to meet the ISO standard and the facilities therein will also be provided by the contractor. And as for the terms of sustainability, the whole idea is to ensure that we hand it over to the ministry of special duties. If you recall, ministry of special duties is in charge of Rivers State fire stations.
Let's look at these two years, vis-à-vis the promises you made during your campaigns, can you look at the people of Bonny in the face and tell them yes, I have fulfilled 50, 60, or 100 per cent of what I promised?
So far, so good. You may recall that in 2015, there was no constituency project funds that was given to contractors nominated and in 2016 you know I was at home I was not a member of the house of Assembly; so, I was not privileged to have the opportunity of nominating a contractor or even a project for 2016. So, basically, since I came on board, it's only 2017 that I had the opportunity of such nomination. I recall that during the electioneering period, I told our people that if I'm elected by all of them, I will ensure that in 2015, constituency projects funds, projects will cut across ward one, ward two, ward three. In 2016, projects will cover ward four, ward five, ward six; in 2017 projects will cut across ward seven, ward eight, ward nine and in 2018, projects will cut across ward 10, ward 11, and ward 12. Unfortunately, what I anticipated is not a reality. So there are some pockets of commitment that I wanted to do to encourage what they are doing at home like Iwoama community, Park community, Akiama community. One of the forms is about N17,000 times 172. I gave to members of our constituents irrespective of party affiliation so that our people can have quality education. Access to education will reduce restiveness; access to education will guarantee the growth and development of the constituents. So, in terms of interventions, you will remember during the fire outbreak I came, I sponsored a motion asking the Rivers State government to intervene. There was an adhoc committee set up by the Right Honourable Speaker. The report is available and has been submitted. I'm sure that the SA to the governor on special duties will soon invite the beneficiaries to take whatever the Rivers State government has given to them. Beyond that, as an individual, I procured relief materials for the victims of the fire inferno. So, for me, I have been doing quite a lot.
Recently, an activist, Livingstone Wechie was on national TV accusing you and your colleagues, members of the Rivers State House of Assembly of collecting N30 million each from the governor.
Absolutely not correct, absolutely not true; you see, it's unfortunate that people wake up and want to cast aspersion on an institution that is highly revered. It's sad and unfortunate. But let me say clearly that such a thing never existed. I have just told you that for the first time, His Excellency has graciously given approval for constituency project for 2017. I am not a contractor like I have told you, what I have done is nomination, with the contractor and project. And I believe that it's in phases. You know those that may not get it in this phase will get it in the second phase.
When this administration came on board, you and your colleagues approved several loans for the state governor to run projects in the state, have you been making conscious oversight efforts to ensure that these monies that you approved to be borrowed are been deployed to the purposes for which they were appropriated?
Fantastic! You can see the Bonny/Bille jetty is a grand demonstration of the fact that monies are utilized judiciously. You can see the Port Harcourt pleasure park. You can see the completion of the Nkpogu Bridge. You can see the on-going project at Trans Amadi. You can see the land reclamation in Kalabari. You can see the one along NLNG/Nkpogu road; you can see a number of projects. You can see what is happening in education; you can see what is happening in the state-owned university, what is happening in the judiciary, you see the projects are transparent for all Rivers people to see. Monies appropriated are being utilized judiciously. So, we have confidence in the governor and we believe that the governor is doing very well in terms of good governance and transparency.
Are you going to contest the next election?
Well, we've not concluded the mandate we have. It is God that enthrones anyone in public office. At the appropriate time we will cross the bridge. Right now we are focused on good governance; we are focused on delivering our campaign promises to our constituents.
So, what are Rivers people expecting in this remaining two years from you, for your constituents and then from the state?
Well for me, I urge our people to remain calm and peaceful and expect good governance, expect transparency, expect accountability and expect my capacity and potential to always deliver for them. For Rivers State government, we have absolute confidence in His Excellency, the governor of Rivers State, Chief (Barr.) Nyesom Wike, to continue to sustain the tempo of project delivery because we know he has been nicknamed as Mr. Project. So, better days are coming for Rivers people.
Let's look at your party in your local government; there have been concerns that there is some veiled in-fighting among the party hierarchy in the local government.
Absolutely not correct. The leader of the party, Amasenibo Rodaford Longjohn has shown maturity, has shown leadership qualities to all of us. So, the party is intact, the leadership is intact and the followership is intact. One thing I can assure you is that in politics, it's all about interests before the 2019 election. Some people will move from PDP to APC while some people will move from APC to PDP because politics is all about interests. So, we don't expect members of our party to remain till 2019. We don't also expect members of the All Progressives Congress to remain till 2019, there will be some shift, some will shift to APC, some will shift from APC to the PDP. So, it's not strange because this is political business. So, we understand the business and we have confidence that at every given time, our party in Bonny local government will deliver. Our party in the state will deliver.