July 19, 2024

TNN Newspaper

a commitment to responsible journalism

We’ll Truncate Planned LG Polls In Rivers, APC Chair 

16 min read

In this interview, Chief Tony Okocha, caretaker committee chairman of the APC in Rivers State, speaks on the planned local government elections in the state scheduled for October 5 and why it is not likely to hold.

Excerpts:

Let’s start with developing issues concerning the local government elections in Rivers State. October 5 has been fixed but you have said you were not aware of the election plans.

You just mentioned a particular date, 5th of October. It’s not known to me, I don’t even know what is happening on that date.

Some days ago, the RSIEC said they met with stakeholders and a decision has been reached for local government elections to hold in the state on October 5 and I also spoke with the people there and they said all political parties were invited but you are saying you are not aware of anything concerning the election. What is going on?

Well, what you have told me now is news because APC as a political party ought to be invited officially. We don’t go to grab information via the social media; nobody does that. I occupy an office here. Let’s take it this way, RSIEC is appointed for one purpose, and that purpose is to conduct local government elections, they have no other function, and whatever they do must be tailored towards achieving the essence of their creation.

Who will contest the elections? Are they not the political parties? I lead a vibrant and vocal APC in Rivers State, our prodigies are known and seen everywhere. So nobody can say oh, we didn’t even know that he exists or the party exists, we are on issues as they concern the state every other day. So, I am not aware. I was not invited.

I raised a concern via Whatsapp to the chairman who I think should know. The chairman is a revered justice of the High Court of Rivers State, now retired and he should know the law. I shouldn’t teach him the law. I was in church but it struck me to tell the chairman because the meeting was on Monday; I was in church, God will pardon me. I did a mail via Whatsapp to the chairman. I said chairman, ‘you are doing this, I am hearing this thing on air, what is the position?’ He responded that my party is a stakeholder, therefore I am invited, that my contributions will be so valuable and I said ‘what is this man talking about, are we children?’ I spoke with my colleague, the chairman of PDP, he also denied. He said he had no invitation. So if APC and PDP did not participate in the so called stakeholders meeting, which other people did? The ruling party, so to speak and the main opposition political party were not invited. I am not aware whether there is anything they did, whether the meeting held or it didn’t hold, I am not aware, I don’t know about it, it’s news to me.

What you are saying is that as we speak now, you are not aware that that meeting took place?

I am not aware.

RSIEC actually did not write to you?

I am not omniscient. I am just a single person so I wouldn’t know. What would have been my authority to attend the meeting would have been an invitation to the party, even if I wasn’t going to attend. Assuming I had no time to attend or I was not available, I should have delegated a member of the caretaker and they know, it’s not like it’s hidden. We had no letter, do you go to an occasion at this level, particularly an occasion that is official, that you need to document, you go there by reason of hear say or that you intercept on social media?

The other, I engaged the RSIEC’s spokesperson and she said they sent invitation to all registered political parties.

But I am telling you that no invitation was extended to my party and that I took on the chairman, in course of this discussion, maybe you want to see it, I will show you. The truth of the matter, of course I will never lie, not on this issue. I sent a message to the chairman, if you go to him and ask him, he will acknowledge that I sent a message on Sunday. He also confirmed that he was in church when he responded and I said to the chairman that APC is not invited to the meeting you are calling and the chairman’s response was clear and unambiguous. He forwarded the invitation announcement to me and then foot noted that APC is a stakeholder and that I should attend, that my contribution there will be very, very valuable. The truth is that no letter was written to the All-Progressives Congress. I challenge the spokesperson of RSIEC to show a copy of the letter written and who it was addressed to.

So how is APC taking this?

We are not even aware of anything that happened, so we are not in the picture. At the fullness of time we will take a decision and Nigerians and Rivers people will know.

But a date has been taken.

I am not aware, if they had written to us, we would have gone there to make contributions that will take them off the dungeon. I say to you that the law that sets up the Rivers State Independent Commission in another section of the same law talks about their functions. In another section of that same law directed that election must be conducted three months- that is, the process must commence three months before the expiration of the incumbent and that within that three months, 21 days to the expiration of that three months, election must be conducted, in which case there would have been a chairman elected, even while the incumbent is on. The the life of these chairmen officially, they knew that the tenure will expire on the 17th of June, and the chairmen didn’t push, it was the reason of the lacuna the governor created that we are in this mess.

Under the auspices of IPAC, Interparty Advisory Council of Rivers State, first we visited with the governor, introduced ourselves, and exchanged pleasantries. Two days later, we had a meeting with the chairman and members of the commission and my chairman, the chairman of IPAC, Hon. Aaron Chukwuemeka of the PDP, after greeting and introducing members to the new commissioner, told the commission that the only reason we came is to find out their level of preparedness for local government election and immediately he dropped the mic, the chairman took the rostrum and told us that they were ready, they were ready for election but that they don’t have the enablement, they don’t have the logistics.

You and I know that even INEC cannot conduct election in Nigeria without funding, so when he talked about enablement and logistics, we knew that it was funding and who funds them, it’s state government. So he even enjoined us to do whatever we can to make the system respond to them, that if they see funding and enablement today, that the next couple of weeks, that they will put out the timetable and all of those. But when we left the place, because I didn’t have opportunity to speak, because what we planned is that the chairman will speak on our behalf. But when we left the chairman’s office, okay, their auditorium the media people that came there swopped on me like bees, and they asked me what was our purpose. I said well, our purpose is simple, we came to introduce ourselves to the commission. We also came to congratulate the commission and then essentially that our purpose was to remind the commission that local government election process should commence and this was on the 19th of January, 19th of January 2024. Look at the time between January 2024 and June 17th that the lives of the local government excos was to expire, nearly six months .But the commission said three months, in which case they were in surplus of time. But because there is a man who is at the hem of affairs, who felt he can circumvent the rules and the laws and go scoot free, he thought that his business as it were right now is to build his own structure and that having a local government election as quickly as possible will not help him, that’s his contemplation. But he forgets that that is his own opinion that is not the law. So, that’s where we are, that’s the confusion. But the truth of the matter is that he cannot pull a wool over our eyes as a party, not under my watch, certainly not under my watch, except maybe when I leave office. My fresh six months mandate expires in December; so maybe they should wait for for my tenure to expire, maybe somewhere in January they will fix the election and if we have a weakling in the leadership of the party, they can fix. But under my watch, never.

So what do you think will happen, RSIEC has fixed October 5, you are saying you are not aware.

(Cuts in) It’s news to me.

Are you saying they have offended any law by you not being aware?

The laws are broken, procedures have failed, processes didn’t work. We are talking about government, we are talking about official communication, that there is a thing that we will do as a government and the relevant stakeholders as it relates to that particular matter are not invited. In my place, they say when you take a decision behind a hero, you will repeat it.

Which law have they broken?

They have broken the law of due process. I am not aware. Am I a soothsayer to know that RSIEC called for a meeting? Am I a prophet? I am not aware.

So you not being aware, APC not being aware…

(Cuts in) PDP too, I’m told

Okay PDP not being aware also, according to you. How does that affect the conduct of election on October 5?

Who will contest the election? So you mean I will not feature candidates for election should there be genuinely an election? APC will not run? To the extent that I did not know about it, we will ignore everything because yesterday evening I had a talk with my caretaker members and I was curious to find if the letter was given to anyone and the person forgot to give us. We have an office, 268B Aba Road, it’s conspicuous on the major road, our flags are there and of course our colours are painted round the premises; so nobody will say that we operate a mushroom party. Now, the same that you know, you will not allow somebody else to outwit you using the same style, we know this game.

So will it be right to say that this local government election is having K-leg, apologies to Obasanjo?

K-leg is an understatement. The the legs are broken, it has no leg at all. Someone that has K-leg can manage the K-leg but this one, the two legs are broken, it’s crippling.

What it means is that APC will not take part in the election?

Absolutely, we will not take part in the election, there is no election. The processes must be followed, the procedures must be followed.

Let me ask, which law will the commission now rely on? The law says three months before the expiration of the incumbent, the incumbent’s time has passed. So which expiration, which incumbent now will they be referring to in the law? It means of course that if anything like that must happen, the law will be amended. You don’t just put anything on nothing. That man is a retired judge, he knows that it will not stand. 

In other words.

(Cuts in) it will not stand.

In other words, local government elections will not hold on October 5 in Rivers State?

It will not hold on. We have not agreed on the date. We have not met. Until we meet. See, if you call a stakeholders meeting, the most relevant and crucial stakeholders are the chairmen of the political parties. If the chairman is not available, he sends in somebody, he has an assignee. So, the parties must be written to, properly addressed then we go there and argue. There are grey areas to sort out. You don’t pull a wool across my eyes and go scot-free. You can’t, nobody does that, it is the case of a hero that you take a decision behind him, you will repeat it.

Let’s talk about NDDC under you in Rivers State. You are the state rep, what can you say NDDC has done in Rivers State?

I am state rep on the seventh board of the NDDC. So it means that we have had six before me. We have projects on ground. I will take you round when I want to commission. Go to Nkpolu, Rumuigbo village, off the East-West road, you will see a gigantic hall. We do things according to needs. We use the needs assessment, the problem of the people, there are two problems; road and the town hall, so we went there, brought down the shantythey had as hall and we are doing a one story building for them that will contain not less than 700 persons sitting and meeting at the same time. Take a walk to that place.

Take a walk to the same Nkpolu, you can barely enter, particularly during the raining season, nobody enters there, from the side of the East-West Road, you can’t. But go and see what is going on, there is road construction, courtesy of NDDC.

Go to Soku. Soku people wrote to us, they raised alarm of cholera outbreak and they wrote to us in an SOS and when I saw that, knowing the effect of that and knowing that it’s a disease that is also contagious-luckily for them, we had two days to our board meeting. I immediately crafted a well worded memo and presented that memo before the board when we met. The board took pity and decided there and then, that NDDC should take immediate action to see how we can solve the problem of cholera.

Now, these people also in their letter wrote to us that in 1971, I don’t know Soku, my first sting with Soku was this sting, that in 1971, on the 14th of February while people were celebrating lovers day, that they lost seven persons, courtesy of cholera, that seven persons included their royal highness.

He died?

Yes. On that day when others were celebrating love, they were mourning seven. So, they feared that they will be in trouble if nothing was done, and they said they have had it intermittently. We moved in medical doctors and health personnel, we saved the lives of two hundred and something persons, either 218, in course of that event.

The moment the state government heard that we have moved medical personnel to Soku, the commissioner was everywhere on radio that we are being alarmist, that there is no cholera, that the processes were not followed. I said yes, I know the process we adopted would have been wrong but should they wait for us to write to commissioner, then commissioner will write to who, and this one will write to and the people are dying? So, when she raised those concerns, I know it was political and as far as I am concerned, it was so childish because if she had issues about what we were doing, she should have been able to reach out, say what are you people doing, how do we also partner with you? NDDC is an interventionist agency. It is not our responsibility to do everything. The governors get money, they get funds for those things but NDDC too has funds to intervene and Soku is within the ambit, within the creation of NDDC, it’s a Niger Delta state. So we intervened because I asked the people, why didn’t you write to the state government? They said the bottleneck and all that, that it will take months and that before that thing is approved and the people will sluggishly come, that plenty deaths would have been recorded. In fact, they told us that we would be harvesting deaths. So we moved to Soku, we saved 215 or 218 people, including the acting royal majesty. He was almost to die, but we saved him but the man eventually passed two weeks ago, but he was one of our patients.

Our medical team was there for seven days, did everything- general medicine, including ear, teeth, we did general medicine. Beyond that, in that memo that I wrote to the commission, I suggested too that the board should approve that we provide the people with palliatives, at least to cushion the effect of whatever they passed through. The board approved. We have sent palliatives to the people. You can go to Soku and ask them. Food items and households items, well loaded, there is nothing that you need that is not there, bags of rice, bags of beans, garri, yam, go and ask them, go and investigate.

It was also included in that memo that we need to address the issue, the issue is about bad water, yes, cholera is from bad water, if you see the water that these people drink, they have over seventy something oil wells or so.

I visited a community called Gbani in Khana Local Government, Ogoni, that community is the community of late Ken Saro-Wiwa. He was my master. I studied under his tutelage. I followed up the proceedings as a young student in year two. I missed my lectures to go to court. Now, Ken Saro-Wiwa is my idol. I went to his village courtesy of a friend who told me that the man has a very nice park, his brothers they immortalized him. I said please let me go and see. I went there, I said this man was an institution, we will do on behalf of NDDC, something that will immortalize him. I told them that in the next week we will bring 229 stands of solar powered street lights and it didn’t even take us four weeks, we delivered. You can go to the Abua people and find out. We have 52 as we speak ongoing now. It’s only one that I had to put in my community, charity begins at home.

We have the village, a boundary between Rivers State and Imo State and we needed to separate the chaff from the grain. The community is called Omerelu, go there in the night and see what our solar light achieved, it curbs criminality, those activities that are done in the night you can’t do them again because everywhere is bright.

People are seeing you, it has boost economic activities because people sell till 9, 10, 11 pm because the place is no longer dark like before. Which one should I say, which one should I not say?

The other day we heard somebody tried to detonate a dynamite and the governor said it’s the opposition that actually did that so that they can scare, so that they can terrorize the national assembly members who were at Presidential Hotel. How did you feel when you heard that pronouncement by the governor?

Very infantilist, very childish. The governor is now putting the cat before the horse, I thought that it’s the horse that drags the cat. Is he an investigator? Is he the police? So he has become a god to know the essence of the detonator, and he now says opposition, does he have the right to so conclude because it’s a device, an explosive that was allegedly detonated and the governor went ahead to tell the senators this is an attempt to, in fact that the target was Presidential Hotel.

Does the governor know about explosives? Does it scare him? How about the explosion that led to the burning of the Rivers State House of Assembly, an iconic structure, housing an arm of government. On the day that it happened, I think it was on 30th October, on a Monday morning, the governor was seen on live television walking to the venue, to the scene of action and it was in that process that he said police people were splashing water at him. In fact, that his life was in danger that there was one DC Operation who was in charge of that operation, but eventually he went to see the burnt area and then left the place, went to government house gate where they mounted a podium for him, to tell you that it was not like it was spontaneous, they had planned everything out, they mounted a podium for him so he mounted the podium and took the microphone and what did he say to Rivers people? These things are on video, just go and goggle it, do it yourself, if I give you, you will say it is bias, do it yourself, go and goggle 30th October, the day assembly was burnt was 30th October. The governor took the microphone and said ‘their master wanted to impeach me today, what did I do, what impeachable offense have I committed?’ My brother do you need a soothsayer to interpret that a witch cried in the night and a child died in the morning.

It’s exactly the thing I wanted to ask you; a witch cried in the night, a child died in the morning. Fubara raised the alarm the other day that the opposition was targeting Hotel Presidential to bomb the place so that National Assembly members can be killed and then a few days after, Customs came up to say they have intercepted a cache of ammunitions.

(Cuts in) Don’t those indices lend vent to what we have been clamouring? We have been saying that Rivers State today sits on a keg of gun powder, it’s never in our history of creation that a large cache of ammunition from Tokyo were intercepted by Customs here at Onne. I won’t speak much on it because the only thing we need to do is to get down to the root of the matter and be able to unravel, uncover, unearth who is the person that imported those ammunition and why now. Because the governor said the jungle has matured. Didn’t you hear it? The governor said the jungle have matured, I am using his word oh, it’s a very wrong English.

(Cuts in) Wike also said at a point that he will choke the governor.

Choke him?

Yes.

I won’t speak for Wike but there is a different thing between I am going to choke you. I am choking the governor intellectually, so maybe that’s what Wike meant but he said jungle has matured and we are beginning to see large cache. I am told that it’s about five trailer loads worth several billions. Will it be me? Me wey never see 20 million naira if to chop, will it be me that imported? I’m told that some of them both the clearing and whatever has been arrested and all that. So let them get to the root of the matter, if they sweep it under the carpet, I will shout till the heavens will come down, we must know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *