Sen. Magnus Abe, remains one of the key political figures in Rivers States since his rise to limelight as a Commissioner. His is one of the political mentees of Dr. Peter Odili, former governor of the State. He later became Senator and subsequently vied for governorship of the state under the All Progressives Congress(APC) and later the Social Democratic Party(SDP).. He speaks economically in the raging political crisis in the state which has pitched the governor , Simi Fubara against his godfather,Nyesom Wike,the Minister of Federal Capital Territory(FCT). Abe speaks to realism in this interview with Arise TV monitored by MMS Plus. He says that what should preoccupy the minds of the political actors should be how many people have access to electricity supply? How many people are educated? How many children are in school? How many people have access to good drinking water? What is the unemployment rate? Enjoy this piece!
What role are you playing in the crises as one of the political leaders in Rivers State because there are camps and you are a stakeholder. Are you in the Wike camp or are you in the Fubara camp or you are jubilant that the crises is turning out this way, given your own experience in the politics of Rivers State and your knowledge of the personalities involved. What’s you general take on this matter?
Let me make it abundantly clear that I am not in any camp. The minister is my friend but we are a bit estranged at the moment. The governor is not my friend, I really don’t know him that well but my position as part of Rivers State is that our interest should not only be on politics and the politicians but we should also look at the interest of Rivers State. I’m here today not to take sides but to as much as possible call back the minds of Rivers people to the prices that the state has had to pay over time as a result of all these political crises and the fact that we seem to have learnt nothing from the situation that we have passed through. What’s happening today is no different from what happened between the former governor and his predecessor. We had practically the same situation and Rivers State lost out terribly because the centre was working against the state and the state against the centre. If we are not careful, the same kind of scenarios, drama, situation that lead us into those dark periods are what is playing out today. There can only be one governor at a time and however the governor emerged, I would think that the proper thing for us to do is to have a situation where the state can move forward in peace. When I was commissioner in Rivers State, the state was competing with Lagos, I used to go to Lagos State to spy on Lagos State government, check what they were doing, check the figures for Lagos State and compare them with that of Rivers State and we were almost at par and that was where I developed the respect I still have for president Tinubu because he was the only politician that was talking politics with figures. In Rivers State today we are not conscious of the figures in what we discuss. What is the rate of unemployment, how many Rivers people have access to good drinking water, how many of our youths have jobs, how many people have access to electricity supply, how many people are properly educated, how many children do we have in school, what is the drop out rate, what is the score rate, what is the quality of education, we need to be talking all these figures, instead when we have this kind of crises everything shift to politics. All the focus and money will now go to politics and at the end of the day Rivers people are going to suffer. So I am not jubilant, I am rather saddened that we are back in a situation that non of us would like to be.
On the contrary, I will like to appeal to all parties involved, I am saying this in utmost good fate, no body is too big, nobody is too small and I would like to advice the two parties from my own experience of this kind of situation to avoid this temptation. In Nigerian politics, most of the time, our tendency is to reward loyalty above everything thing else and when we discountenance honesty, integrity, competence, capacity and focus only on loyalty, we end up with the situation where everyone around the big man is loyal and over time you get isolated from the reality of what is really happening to the common man.
Instead of having a government of the people, you end up having a people of the government, who will tell you that anything you do is right. When you point all these things to the leaders, you become targeted, you are not loyal but my advice to all the parties is to trade with caution. I was very happy with the conciliatory stand of the governor saying that it’s a father and son quarrel. It is left for the father to take the cue from the offer of peace and also reciprocate with like comment that will enable them to have a common meeting point so that there will be peace in Rivers State and Rivers people can move on.
I don’t see anything to be jubilant about in the situation that we have in our state. I withdrew my case and contention so that the governor who had emerged can have peace, the state and indeed Rivers people can have peace because we can’t be doing election in Rivers State 365 days a year, every year, no matter the season, it’s not just right.
You said something about speaking from personal experience, would you like to explain that? Have you been in such situation and of course the reason for that? What are the lessons learnt, because the state is back to spot light this conversation about godfatherism, high-handedness, one person wanting to take control of the state, so many allegations being thrown back and forth since the burning of the house of assembly complex? What was your experience and what lessons have you extracted from that and I am sure you watched your friend the former governor, Nyeson Wike saying he needed to protect his political base and perhaps does this action form part of trying to protect his political base? What do you make out of all these?
You would recall that when I was in the senate, we had a similar situation where some members of the house of assembly wanted to take over the assembly in order to impeach the then governor Rotimi Amaechi. I led the demonstration then to try to protect the assembly. The governor at that time also had to match into the assembly to disrupt the proceedings and stop the impeachment that was being sponsored ostensively quote and unquoted by the Abuja based forces of that era. So there’s nothing that is happening in Rivers State that is new, the only thing is that when these things happen, it is the people of Rivers State that will suffer at the end of the day and that’s why I don’t want to comment on what the minister said. I’m aware that, the fact that I am speaking publicly no matter my intensions, rather than helping to diffuse the situation and bring about peace could actually make the situation worse, if I am not guarded in my comments. Nigerians heard him, it is left for Nigerians to make what they will, out of his comments but my own advice to the gladiators is that everyone should be mindful of one thing, in politics there’s no small person and there’s no big person.
Let me rephrase that question. Senator Abe, obviously your are playing a very a diplomatic role here and I believe you have said in the interest of Rivers State and not wanting to take sides because your friend is involved as well. Would you say that in order to protect his political base, the actions in the last few days are justified?
Not because my friend is involved but because I know that taking sides will not help. You see, I started by saying what I believe our politics should be about essentially three things and I told you that is why I supported president Bola Tinubu from the beginning. We should look at the numbers. What are the relevant numbers that are important to Rivers people? For every family that numbers start with your income, how much are the families in Rivers State able to make in this time that we are leading?
Secondly, we should look at how these numbers are generated and police it. Lets use the police as an example, If the inspector general of police gives a directive that he wants the rate of violent crime reduced in every division of the country. A smart police DPO can even stay in his office without going to any patrol and reduce the number of violent crime in his division. How does he do that? He simply calls the recording clerk, any armed robbery that the people dont know the name of the gun, enter it as a burglary. Just by taking that decision he will have the numbers of violent crime in his division slashed but the actual citizens out there will not experience any reduction in their suffering because nothing has been done to reduce their suffering, so we need to watch these numbers, focus on how these numbers are generated and focus on how we bring up these numbers that actually affect Rivers people.
That is what is important and that is what we should build structures to deliver. Any structure that is delivering that to the majority of rivers people do not need to be protected by force because those who are benefitting from the structure will support it, so for me I am being careful not to say things that instead of helping the situation will inflame it, so i don’t want to comment on that but what I thinks is important to us as Rivers people is how much are the people able to make from these politics we are doing? Are they able to generate incomes for themselves and family? What schools are their children going to? How many of them have access to good health care? How many of them have access to quality life? How many of them are upgrading?
It’s not only the politicians that should upgrade, ordinary people should also be able to upgrade. Those are the things we should focus on and that is what I want this conversation to be about. The present crisis does not help the state in any of those numbers. It will not help us to increase the number of people with quality drinking water, it will not help us to increase the number of businesses that have access to 24 hours electricity to make them competitive, it will not help us to increase the number of children that are in school or the quality of education that these children are getting and reduce the cost on their parents. Those are the things that are important to Rivers people and this kind of conversation does not contribute to those things so my advice to all the parties like I said earlier, there’s no big man and there’s no small man and you can have king makers in any society but there’s no society in the world that you have king removers because when you try to remove a king it’s seen as treason. So let the gladiators shield their sword and talk to one another, they know what the real issues are. Like I always say to people, you find out that in a court, it is actually the judge that is on trial because between the plaintiff and the defendant they know who is lying and who is saying the truth but the judge does not know, so I think that if there is a genuine desire and understanding of the fact that if this conflict continues, every party no matter how strong the party may appear today will lose out in the end. I think if they have that sobering reminder from somebody like me who has had the experience, it will help to focus your mind on how to cool down, put Rivers State first, settle your differences and create accommodation that will work. Don’t listen to those that are telling you that you are absolutely right because nobody is absolutely right. I think that’s just the important point that I want to make.
Rivers State is supposed to be one of the richest, if not the outright richest and the best state in Nigeria but unfortunately there’s been a major problem. I have discussed this with you, Rotimi Amaechi and a few other people that I know from that state, that the state should be the epicentre of goodness in Nigeria but there’s a problem a lot of people have mentioned, every single time you get to the point of election, the strong man tend to win. What’s it about Rivers state that you always end up with a strong man as the leader and when it come to the point of changing the baton, the will of the strong man is what takes you down the path that you really don’t want to go and how do you begin to change that story going forward?
Let me be very honest with you, there’s nothing going on in Rivers State that is substantially different from what is going on all across the other states in this country where governors have handed over to their successors. In most cases the successors were handpicked by the outgoing governor but if you notice in a lot of these cases the outgoing governor takes a step back, even if you intervene or continue to influence affairs, you don’t do it in a way that everybody keeps coming to you with everything thereby making the present governor irrelevant. In fact, when I was in the senate, my friend senator Wamakko, I spoke to him about some issues we had and he said Magnus, when you have put someone there, allow the person to stay there lest he will bite you, so he doesn’t interfere, that was the attitude he displayed and it worked out for him in Sokoto State. In all these other states, you always have tension when you have a new king and the old king because people will continue to go to the old king but it is the responsibility of the old king to push them away and say I am not there anymore, so that you will not give room for friction on every little issue between you and your successor. This problem is going on in every other states but it’s better managed. I am not saying that the problem will disappear in Rivers State, as long as we have the kind of system we have , where whosoever is the leader quote and unquote has the power to handpick every candidates and where public funds and political funds invariably merge, so that if you don’t have access to public funds, you are not competitive in the political space, so those with access to public funds will always have an advantage, so the problem is everywhere but the difference between Rivers and the other states is that our own problem is not being properly managed.
So I just want to call on the actors at this time to manage the problem better so that it is not always Rivers State that are in the news. Let another state come up with their problem let Nigeria discuss them while we focus on development.
Is not as if the situation is substantially different from other states after all in Akwa Ibom we had the conflict between senator Akpabio and his then successor Udom Emmanuel. But the real question is, why is minister Wike so powerful and dominant in Rivers State that everybody even elders are now bowing and scampering away? You said he is your friend and you know him very well. How did he become so powerful? He started as a local government chairman, what happened?
Every governor of Rivers State has always been powerful, maybe you forget that I met you when I was the commissioner of information in Rivers State and Dr. Odili was the golden governor of Nigeria, he was even more powerful than some of the figures today. You will also recall that Rotimi Amaechi as the governor of Rivers State was of one the most powerful governors in the entire country. He was chairman of the governor’s forum, he was leading every group, so the position of the governor of Rivers State is the thing that is powerful. So what I will advice here, like I have said , there’s nothing extraordinary about what is happening in Rivers State, that tension exist in every other state in this country, let’s just manage our own better so that our state can move forward.