Last week, Chief Ogbona Nwuke, a journalist, a former commissioner under the Rotimi Amaechi government in Rivers State, who also served as member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, dumped the APC where he last served as the party’s spokesperson, and returned to the PDP, a party he left about six years ago.
What really informed the decision to quit the APC? Did Amaechi annoy him? These and other questions were put to him during this interview with OFONIME UMANAH.
You recently returned to the PDP leaving the APC that you belonged for many years now. So how does it feel carrying the umbrella now and dropping the broom?
Well quite frankly, it’s a new life here right now; yesterday I carried the broom, I believed in the mission, the notion of the broom, it was supposed to sweep all things away. In other words, it was supposed to bring in new life and my coming back to the PDP is like coming back home. We took off from the PDP. For anybody who still remembers on our way to the APC and since coming back home, I’ve been well received by those who know that we were PDP at some point. So it’s like having to take off one shirt and having to wear another. But politically speaking, we should be thinking about our state, we should be talking about our state, we should be focusing on transformation and I am not in a hurry to want to discuss APC. But, what do you do when you talk about a country where the dollar is about 550 naira, where food stuff have hit the roof, where instability is growing by the day and of course let’s accept that the military is trying to do all they can, where in the south east there is some separative bid and these were not the things that we dreamt of when we joined the APC.
Yeah, while you were in the APC, you had cause to criticize PDP so much
You had cause to criticize Wike, the governor of Rivers State, you had cause to attack them, you had cause to say all kinds of things. So this sudden U-turn, what changed?
Well attitude, behaviour, assessment of issues, more importantly, the fact that even within the APC, there were people who were becoming completely out of tune with reality and reality is something nobody will play with. We are communicators. Call me a politician if you like, but I’ve told myself that I am a communicator and as a communicator, you are expected to be rational in your thoughts, very objective in your assessment. Yes, we have said things about the PDP and don’t forget we were the opposition, the opposition party, right? And we are supposed to put the ruling party on its toes. We are supposed to criticize them when they step out of line, that’s our assignment. The issue is that always there will be a government in power, always there will be the opposition, and the opposition has a duty, a responsibility to put government on its toes, right? And that’s what we did all that time, and it is obvious very obvious that we had to say those things because that’s the way we saw them at that time, and since coming to the PDP I’ve not had opportunity, I’ve not done anything to recant anything that I’ve said, so that’s the difference.
But the issue is those things you said about the governance style of the governor, or the things the government did not do, were you just saying them for the sake of saying them or for the sake of being an opposition or you really meant what you said?
If you are watching closely, you will find that there were times we criticized the government and then the government took a cue from there. When you criticize for criticism sake, you will probably not achieve the result. But we had situations where we eloquently attacked the position of government and we saw, even though they didn’t make an immediate U-turn, you saw that they responded in kind and that of course is basic function of the opposition; you highlight those things that are not properly articulated and perhaps for a reasonable government to with his operating within a democracy, to understand that perhaps this way where we are headed is not the right point and then they make a change in some way and that’s what it is. Nobody got into politics so that we will tear down the house, the house is Rivers State, we are all Rivers people, we need to grow, we need to act in harmony, we need to provide those basic infrastructure. Now, I say most of the times that look there is a different approach, the APC has its idea of how it can transform Rivers State, so does the PDP as well. But the bottom line is rendering service to the ordinary man on the street, to the ordinary Rivers person.
At what point did you make up your mind to leave the APC and go back to PDP?
If you recall, my birthday just went by and I told myself that after my birthday, I will need to reassess my role; that did not include perhaps moving on to the PDP. But there were things which I will not like to discuss. I’ve worked closely with my colleagues, my associates in the APC and I think I’m matured enough to chart a new course without talking about spent pellets. I’m not one of those who left for a new party simply to come out over night to say A about B. I don’t imagine that that’s the right thing to do. So when I quit my role as spokesperson, I said I did that on personal ground and I think that my choice of the PDP is also personal. I do not want to discuss my friends on the other side of the divide. I was there, we stood together. Now I’m standing on this side. Perhaps like me sound like Dino (Melaye). Dino said once he was blind, now he can see.
So what were you blind to? Were you blind to the way things were done and you kept quiet? Were you blind to the way you were treated and you kept quiet and now you can see and you’ve decided to leave? People have accused you that you wanted to be chairman of the party and you were denied….
(Cuts in) Who did I tell? It’s not true. I was content with doing what I was doing; very content. Yes I went to the war front even though without weapons, I went to the war front, I stood in the war front, I fought like a gallant soldier, I didn’t complain, but I didn’t want to have the Uriah treatment. Uriah went to war, came back home to see King David, and he was asked to go home, he didn’t go home, he was put at the toughest battle front and he got killed.
Yeah, the issue of you having interest to become the state chairman of APC has been the talk of the town, and people have said that is why you decided to leave the APC.
I think those are mere speculations. I never told anyone I wanted to be chairman of the party. I don’t know where that is coming from. I have also heard it, perhaps the spin doctors in the APC are going to work and they know the truth; the truth is that there was never a time we were on the table as possible aspirants. They know what the zoning mechanism is, the mode within the APC, they know. So they shouldn’t be saying to me that I, for some reasons, aspired to be party chairman. Yes, I come from the Rivers East, it was apparent they had zoned the chairmanship to the Rivers East but certainly not my part of the Rivers East. It was zoned to the Ikwerre zone, let’s not pretend about that.
So, what really angered you that made you to leave?
I’ve told you repeatedly, I took a personal decision and I don’t want to, except you want me to spill the beans on my friends and I won’t do that. I won’t do that, I will let them help themselves, I hope I will not be forced to make any comment, any remarks relating to those things. Mine is to be mature enough to say to you what is past is past. I am looking forward, I am not looking backward.
Some people must have hurt you within the APC.
Ah! It doesn’t matter, you see, a door has to close and another door has to open. That’s life and I am not going to spare time to make comments I consider unnecessary. I believe that whatever it was which influenced my exit will live with me. I’m sure for us and for the APC, there are lessons to learn. Let me stop there.
The day you defected you said you’ve been in the wilderness all these while and that you were leaving the wilderness. At what point did you discover yourself that you were in the wilderness?
You recall that Saul who later became Paul was on his way to Damascus, he was going out there to persecute Christians, we were told, and then he came face to face with the light and sound, the vibration, which changes all things. So perhaps when I say we were in the wilderness, yes, we’ve always said in the APC that we were leaving Egypt and we were going to the promise land. The point I am making is yes for six years, we left a destination that was overtly PDP and then we moved on. Each and every one of us in search of salvation, in search of light, political salvation, and we had to go through the wilderness in search of the promise land, and in those six years, let anybody challenge me if there was anything significant that was sent to my ethnic nation. I am not talking about me, it’s not about me. I am talking about what happened to my ethnic nation, I can give you an example. Someone served as executive director, NPA. The one who replaced him came from the same ethnic nation; then the other day, they said they were constituting a board. Of course by that time, I had already thrown in my paper. Again, they went same way. What did they give to the Etche people? One mere member of board ,college board in Kano, or Kaduna I don’t know where. For an ethnic nation which has two local governments, which has solid population, which produces oil in Nigeria, which has 80 per cent of gas deposit south of the River Niger and this people they just didn’t count. I know why I’m very hesitant, not to say things. Somebody will want to say it is because of me, it’s just not because of me, I am saying let anyone who is in the APC now, who is from Etche, or let anyone from the Etche ethnic nation listening to me at this point point at anything, anything significant that the APC has done for the Etche nation. I’m talking in terms of the sharing of patronage.
It’s obvious that you are also angry because your friend, the minister of transportation, did not consider you for some of these appointments.
I listen to all kinds of promises, and perhaps it didn’t matter if he didn’t do it. For six years, we’ve got promises and we stayed on. So when you want to make me the issue, I say that I am not the issue. The issue is, what was done to my ethnic nation? Perhaps did I complain when they gave the board member they gave to someone? Did I complain? Did I walk up to the leader to complain? I didn’t, I was focused on my assignment. So I do not know how the issue of my personal interest can override the point that we are trying to make. The point we are trying to make and I said the other day to the media when I was stepping aside from the APC, I said if in stepping aside my ethnic nation will be considered for something nice, worthy, it will be sacrifice well made. Why will I say that if the issue was me? The issue has never been me. Growing up, I was told in pidgin English, God no dey give blind man mirror and maybe, since all of us were like blind mices in the APC, we couldn’t even make out what was right. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is. I like to refrain, not to say anything, except they, since they want to say things. I hope they won’t make us say things too. But I want to be mature about what I am doing because a part of my life is gone; yes, more than 14 years of friendship. But I do know that this is politics. It’s not personal, it shouldn’t be personal.
Would you miss Amaechi?
He made you commissioner, made you press secretary, gave you the platform to go to House of Reps, he’s your leader, he’s your friend, would you miss him?
He was my leader.
He was your leader, okay, right?
Now, you can understand why I will not discuss my friend. Does it make sense?
So, will you miss him?
Life, we were taught something in literature; interestingly, my friend also is an English graduate, and so a literature student. Life is about meeting, it’s about parting. But I hope that the future is a great healer. Time, place, circumstances will take responsibility for this period. For me, he is my friend.
Yeah! But will you miss him? I mean you have left…
(Cuts in) it’s difficult to say, it’s difficult to say at this point. The fact that we are speaking about him in a very reflective mood suggests that there were relationships that were shared and it’s not something you just smash. I don’t know whether you want me to say yes or no. We all, including you who is interviewing me, we are social scientists and we know you don’t have the exact answer to some things.
Yeah! But okay, now that we are talking about Amaechi and you are saying, I said he is your leader and you corrected me that he is no more your leader so do you feel any sense of guilt that you are talking about him in the past, that he is no more your leader?
Or worry, or concern.
Or you are bothered.
No, no, no, no. You should understand that we all got into politics for various reasons, particularly it depends on what you see. There are people who got into politics and they see it as business. I got into politics and I see it as service and don’t forget, I come from a family with deep political root. My father was a minister in the First Republic. He was a well known member of the NCNC and so my perception of politics is not the same with the perception of others. I saw politics as service, and that’s why as commissioner under Amaechi’s administration, I wasn’t a thief. I was never one of those invited to account for what happened in their ministries. So the point I’m just making is, I appreciate. Now you talk in terms of he made me this, he made me that and I appreciate that; and I am sure you will also appreciate that prior to 2007 when things were shaky, I was there and I have never made any noise about it. I took all of the risk that was to be taken when people said life was short and brutish. I had no police man, I had nothing, men ran, ran, ran out of Rivers State and I stood my ground because I believed in the cause I was fighting. That’s the kind of person I am.
So do you think he will miss you?
I cannot speak for him. We are adults; he is a busy man at this time. He is serving his country to the best of his ability. I believe that he has his attention focused on what he is doing for Nigeria. So I don’t know how a man who is saddled with such responsibility can miss an ordinary guy like me.
So, what was his body language like, what did he say when you told him you were going to leave the APC?
Look, it will not be right to lie. I don’t know how to lie. I didn’t tell him I was leaving. I wrote saying I stepped aside from my role as spokesperson. And at that time, if you had read what I wrote I didn’t say I was leaving the party. There were other currents flowing here and there which eventually led me to take the final step to say okay, I was withdrawing from the party and haven withdrawn from the party that I’ve served, that I’ve fought for. There wasn’t anything stopping me from moving, charting a new course. I won’t come here and say I told him I was going, no. But when I made up my mind… you’ve spoken about body language. I don’t know what that means, but when I came to the conclusion that perhaps it was time to move on, I said so. Even in the resignation letter, I said I considered my assignment here done, it’s time to move on to other things, I said it, yes, it’s black and white. I imagine that yes, sometimes we do not understand the role that nature plays in the affairs of men. Someone told me it is better to go where you are celebrated than to go where you are tolerated and I’m beginning to see what sense that comment makes.
So you were merely tolerated in the APC?
I just made an illusion, I don’t know whether that’s the import of what I’m saying. But clearly, there is a body language of somebody who appreciates and a body language of somebody who tolerates, whatever that is. I’m old enough, reasonable enough to say to myself it’s time and when that time came, I only clicked on the button, it was time.
What would you say is your grouse with your former leader, Rotimi Amaechi?
Look, that which you are looking for, I will not give you.
What could that be?
You want me to say something about him? I won’t and I’ve said I won’t discuss him. Kindly respect that. I said I won’t discuss him; nothing will make me discuss him, except they decide to discuss me, nothing will make me discuss him. Even when they discuss me, I may still keep quiet, not because there is anything but because I am mature enough to understand that the issues that we are discussing have nothing to do with Amaechi and I. He is planning a future, I am planning a future and I don’t have any reason to subordinate my future to his.
Now that you’ve talked about his future, do you see him as somebody who can lead this country?
I think it’s premature; he is still serving as minister of transportation, he hasn’t stepped into the ring, he needs to step into the ring. When he steps into the ring you can ask me that question.
No, the Amaechi that you know, you don’t lie, do you think Amaechi has what it takes to lead Nigeria?
Well, every Nigerian, born free, exposed, educated has the right to aspire to be president of Nigeria and so within that framework, Amaechi qualifies to aspire to be president of Nigeria.
Aspiration is different from the action, from leadership. What I am saying is, do you think he has what it takes to lead Nigeria as president?
When he steps into the ring, when he wants to be president, ask me this question, I will answer you.
He has been governor, he has been your leader, he has been there for Rivers State, he is leading APC in Rivers State. So, it’s on that basis I am asking, with the qualities you have seen in him, or the qualities you used to see in him, does he have those things that every Nigerian will want to say I’m going to vote for Amaechi?
I think that competence is subjective, some of the time not completely objective.
Alright, let’s look at it this way, will you vote for Amaechi as president of Nigeria?
I am a member of the PDP now. I don’t know, but I’ve said that it will be more appropriate if Amaechi were to step into the ring and then you were to pose these questions.
Okay, you are in PDP now so you cannot vote against your party, meaning you cannot vote for him?
I am born again now, politically and I belong to the PDP and if you noticed when we declared our position, what the PDP said was that we were returnees; we are not decampees. So we are still tied to that old umbilical cord that held all of us together as members of the PDP, now, the issue is, so far as I can say at this point in time is that your question, very appropriate but still speculative, it becomes real in terms of my response if the minister of transportation were to step into the ring. What my choices are, what my preferences would be are things for the future, not for the present.
So now you don’t know?
Apparently, I will stick by my party.
Okay, what did you discuss, what were the discussions, the undercurrents that took place before you decided to join the PDP? I’m talking about your discussions with Wike and other PDP leaders before you decided to join?
Did I tell you I discussed with Wike?
I mean you wouldn’t just move, we know the way these things work.
Now, look, look, I think that what is motivating me to be part of the PDP is the attention my ethnic nation is receiving. Of course Etche has been in the news of late- bad roads, lack of access. Just last week, the governor of Rivers State announced a construction, the contract for the for the construction of the Chokocho-Igbodo road, a dualisation project and you know that that road actually should be a trunk A road because any road connecting two states is a trunk A road, which means it’s federal responsibility and we are glad in Etche that the governor is not waiting for the federal government to come do the work. The governor had initially taken the first step to build that road from Igwuruta to Chokocho. Now, he is willing to extend it. Prior to that time, he had built the Odofor-Umoyo-Akporgu-Umoyo road. Those are feasible signs that we can see because those are the take aways that we are talking about in politics. If you are playing politics and you are interested in self, then you are in politics for business. But if these things excite you as they excite me, then you are in politics for service. I am excited that Etche won’t be completely cut off, on account of the fact that we have no roads.
So, what does Wike mean to you?
I am seeing someone who is fighting fiercely for fiscal federalism, the struggle over the attempt by the 36 states to support the stamp duty case. The fact that Lagos is queuing behind Rivers in the VAT war all shows promise. I was commissioner for commerce and industry and I know in our interactions many years ago as commissioners of commerce and industry, we know that every state has its resource. Some resources are not being tapped. So everybody is tapping into oil and that hasn’t helped. So when you ask me what I see in Wike, I say I see somebody who is turning himself into a champion for the emergence of a true federalist state.
And that champion, people are now urging him to become Nigeria’s president.
He hasn’t said so himself.
Yeah! I’m saying people are urging him to become Nigeria’s president. So, do you believe in him to that extent?
To the extent that he has said that what is of prime concern to him is completion of his assignment as Rivers governor, I am going to stand there with him. There is nothing wrong in an aspiration, it’s a good thing that more Nigerians are beginning to think he has the qualities but I see a man who is more concerned with the assignment that he has right now, who is willing to deliver on the assignment that he is having right now and a man who will leave that decision when he is done with being governor of Rivers State.
Do you think he will be a better president of Nigeria?
This is a game very futuristic. I wonder why I should answer a question that is not even on the table; the reason why it’s not on the table is that the man has not said he wants to be president.
We are not saying he has said so. We are not even seeing any sign, but I’m saying for you to leave APC and follow him in the PDP you must have seen something. So do you think he will be a better president?
Alright, I will say this, that he is competent enough to be president.