HRH Anabs Sara Igbe, National Coordinator, South South Elders Forum and national publicity secretary, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, examined the intrigues surrounding the zoning of governorship seat in Rivers State, the Ikwerre Agenda and the quest for the governorship seat by the Kalabari people. He also hinted on what the Ijaw people from Rivers State, as well as Ogoni people can do, to produce a governor in 2023.
Let’s talk about zoning of the governorship seat in Rivers State. Power has rested with the Ikwerre people for about 14 years now and there are indications that the next governor may still come from that part of Rivers State. Where do you stand on this zoning issue?
Nothing is strange in the politics of Rivers State. Originally, the Ikwerre people were clamouring for zoning and out of pity, the governorship was zoned to them. As they got it, all of a sudden, they decided to keep it forever, which is quite unfortunate.
Ordinarily, governorship ought to rotate. Since we are saying governorship should rotate at the national level, I see no reason why we should not do the same thing at the local level. But all the same, politics is a game of numbers and planning. It does not necessarily mean you have to be very big with deep pocket before you can be elected governor. Odili was not that big before he was elected governor. Ikwerre is only three and half local governments and the Ogonis have four local governments. The Kalabaris have three local governments but the Ijaws are almost in 15 local governments. So, it is a matter of planning and lobbying. My advice to those who want to contest the governorship, they should reach out to every part of the state. They should make friends with every part of the state, irrespective of where they come from. The permutations have been Ikwerre north has taken it, Ikwerre south has taken it, it is going to Ikwerre west and Ikwerre east. The issue is, how serious are those who want to become governor? The governorship of Rivers State is a juicy position, so it attracts a lot of things and the governor of Rivers State is not only determined by Rivers State because it is one of the strongest economic hubs of this country, one of the oil bearing states. It has a seaport, an international airport and all that. And so, it is a major state. So, anybody who wants to become governor of Rivers State must be somebody who is prepared, who is conscious, who will be ready to go out for it. The idea of zoning has been bastardised. It has been destroyed by those who are in power today. But nobody will have power forever and I pray that any other group that will have the power should not keep it for themselves. It doesn’t mean anything and will not pay you anything. The Ikwerres grabbed it and ever since they grabbed it, you can see the kind of problems we are having. Wike was chief of staff to Amaechi, he later became minister. Wike helped Amaechi to become governor. But how are they living? They are from the same ethnic nationality. Let nature take its course.
When I was younger, responsibilities were not given to the most powerful and the rich. In 1975, I was in politics. At the federal level, we had the likes of Azikiwe, Awolowo, Waziri and Aminu Kano contesting, but they went and brought Shagari, a grade 2 teacher, to become the president instead of all the big names. Same for the governorship. We had the likes of M.T.Akobo and others but they took Okilo to become the governor. When Odili came out, he was not the most powerful but they decided to pick him and made him the governor. When Amaechi came out, he was not the most powerful, yet he was made the governor. So, those who want to contest should be ready, including spending money.
Will I be correct to say that you do not believe in zoning?
Definitely no. I was among those who supported zoning. That was how the Ikwerres had it. Because we felt they have never had it and we felt it should be zoned to them. They did not get it because they were the most powerful. No. The state came together and decided that it should be Ikwerre. At that time, we had five political blocs and we agreed that it should be given to that political bloc. But the same Ikwerre people, when they got the political power, frustrated that zoning arrangement which today, many people in the state are not happy with. So, we are watching to see how this one plays out; otherwise the governorship is supposed to rotate among the various ethnic groups.
Your kinsmen in the Kalabari kingdom believe it is their turn to produce the next governor. Do you share in this sentiment?
The original concept was that the Ikwerre will hand over to Kalabari. But that has failed. But the Kalabaris can still agitate that it is their turn. Like I said today, it is not by force that you get governorship. You must work for it. The Ikwerres did not sit down and get the governorship. They lobbied all the various ethnic groups. They had a lobby group and the lobby group went round all the ethnic groups and they were able to get what they wanted and they even had a serious hurdle and at the end of the day, the whole state agreed that it should be given to them. So, the Kalabari people should also set up a lobby group so that they can reach out. If the Ogonis want to have it, they should also set up a lobby group and the lobby group should reach out. Power has never been given on a platter of gold. You must fight for it. You must work for it. No ethnic group today in Rivers State has been able to get governorship on their own. They should be able to get the support of other ethnic groups, be it Ogoni, Opobo, Bonny, Kalabari. Lobby is very important.
What is it that you think is standing between the Kalabari people and the governorship seat of Rivers State?
There is nothing. They are entitled to it. But if the Kalabaris want to have it, they must come out for it and a few should come out, not when the bell rings, you see 10, 20 Kalabari people coming out. Then who are they going to pick? They should put their house in order so that if it is one Kalabari man that is coming out, the whole state will know that the entire Kalabari is ready for it; otherwise they will think the Kalabaris are not serious.
What are you ready to do to be able to achieve the dream of a governor from Kalabari Kingdom?
I am an elder statesman. I am from the Niger Delta. I am no longer a parochial leader, I am no longer a leader from Kalabari alone. But my advice to the Kalabari people is for them to put their house in order if they want to get the governor.
Ogoni people have also said they want the office. The Opobo man believes it can no longer be upland. How do you think this impasse can be resolved without rancour so that at the end of the day, Rivers State will still remain intact?
Like I said, any ethnic group or any individual who wants to become governor must come up with the machinery of lobbying other ethnic groups. You must have people in ther other local governments who will speak for you, who will lobby for you. Be it Ikwerre, be it Opobo, be it Andoni, be it Omoku, be it Obigbo, the moment you want to become governor, you must be able to work with the other ethnic groups and they will speak for you. That is the only way we can get a proper democracy. If the Kalabaris want to get governorship, they must bury their hatchet and pick one person among them. If the Ogonis want to produce the governor, they should do the same thing. If the Ijaws are united, they can say this time, let us allow the Kalabaris to go, or Opobo to go or Okrika to go and so on. There must be that unity among them because the Ijaws are more in Rivers State. They are scattered and they are not speaking with one voice. You have Ijaws in Ahoada West, the Engeni people are Ijaws. You have Ijaws in Abua/Odual, we have the Ijaws in Akuku-Toru, Degema and Asari-Toru. You have Ijaws in Bonny, we have Ijaws in Opobo/Nkoro, we have Ijaws in Port Harcourt Local Government, we have Ijaws in Okrika, Ogu/Bolo. Ijaws are everywhere. But are they speaking with one voice? If they want to win election, they must learn to speak with one voice; there must be a voice to bring the Ijaws together. The Ijaws must see it as a point of duty to do that. Same thing for the Ogonis. They must come together and look for allies.
Let’s look at the NDDC. What do you make of unfolding events in the NDDC?
It is quite unfortunate for the people of the Niger Delta and the NDDC. It came as an interventionist agency, particularly for the oil bearing communities. But today, the NDDC is working as if they are for the oil bearing states. They have not been able to prove themselves of their operations. The amount of money that has come into the NDDC is more than the money they used to build Dubai. Today, we had expected about six Dubai in the Niger Delta. But the NDDC has not done well. They have failed. As it stands today, the whole region was fooled into believing that they wanted to do a forensic audit of the past, because most people had this notion that the NDDC had failed. So, when the idea of forensic audit came, we all clapped for it, thinking that the NDDC will be able to do things right. But the interim management came, forensic audit came and nothing good has come. It is a constitutional organisation. It was set up by an Act of parliament and therefore they must comply with the law. If the law says the NDDC should be run through a board, then the government has no option than to comply with the law. NDDC has failed. Some of us have no hope in NDDC. The oil bearing communities are still living in squalor. The NDDC has not been able to address their problems. There are still many oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta who do not have water to drink, who don’t have schools, electricity, scholarship. Yet, we have the NDDC claiming to have done so much. Let the law take its course. The law says there should be a board. But the board members must also come from the oil bearing communities. Government should look inwards and see how to make things work.
We also want to see the forensic audit report. The report should be published in full. Let us know how many projects they carried out, let us know who performed and who did not perform. As soon as we know the enemies of the Niger Delta, then we will know what to do. They should not sweep the so-called forensic audit under the carpet. Something positive should be done to redirect the affairs of the NDDC.
If you were to meet the Minister of Niger Delta, what will you tell him?
I will tell him to follow the law in running the NDDC and he should make public the report of the NDDC. Those who stole from the NDDC, he should make sure they are punished. If he cannot do that, then it means he is not sincere. As a former lawmaker, I expect him to comply with the law by ensuring that a proper board is set up in line with the law. Those in the board should be people from oil bearing communities. Public funds, NDDC funds, should not be used to play politics.
From what you have seen so far, do you think Akpabio is sincere the way he is running the NDDC?
I cannot say Akpabio has done too well. We expected so much from him but his behaviours does not say that. He is not showing transparent leadership. He has his style of leadership and I am not comfortable with that style of leadership.