Senator Magnus Abe represents Rivers South-East on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview, he speaks on the APC crisis in Rivers State, his disagreement with the Minister of Transport, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi and why the APC senators cannot impeach the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, among others.
What is your impression about the APC governorship primary in Rivers State?
I think everybody in the country knows that the case is not about Senator Abe. What happened is that when the structures of the party were being set up, members of the party who paid money to the party to contest for positions of the party, the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, deliberately denied them the opportunity of participating in the congresses of the party because of the reason that he said that they were not loyal to him. So, they were not even given forms; they were not allowed to participate. So, they went to court. That’s the foundation of the crisis in the party.
So, there is nowhere you will take that case to and it will be decided any differently from how it has been decided. And when the court gave the first order, that listen, don’t do this because you have collected their money, they started calling the court names. They went on TV and said that they will not obey the court, that the court is Governor Nyesom Wike’s court and said all sorts of things which are very uncomplimentary and irresponsible. Now, when the court was to give the order, people went and attacked the court physically, to stop the court from making that order.
So, there is nowhere you will bring reasonable people to look at these facts and they will give judgement against people who have done nothing wrong. It is not possible. So, that is what the court exists for, to ensure that people cannot blatantly come out and cheat other people with impunity. If that happens, where do you want these people to go to? That’s why they are in court.
So, I don’t believe that there is any judge that will have these facts and these people will come to the person crying and the person will tell them to go away I can’t help you because these people are powerful people. If the court can’t do what is right, how will the country survive? So, it is not about me, it is about justice, and then people proceeded to act as if what the court was saying was immaterial. They went ahead and conducted the congresses and the court voided it; they still went ahead, used the same delegates to conduct primaries. Now the court has voided it. The problem in Rivers APC was avoidable; it was unnecessary. It was totally uncalled for. There is no time anybody has made any problem. All that people have simply said is, we are members of this party, allow us to participate in the affairs of the party; and the minister says no.
What do you think will happen to those who don’t have money to go to court in this kind of circumstance because going to court requires money?
Well, in a democracy, there is nothing like somebody who does not have the strength to go to court. The law is not a charity; the law won’t just come to your house to help you. You have to take your case and your grievances to court. So, it is expected that in a democracy of this nature or in any ordered society, when you have grievances you go to court. So, if you can’t hire a lawyer, you can’t go to court to file your case then there is no way the system can help you. And there are different kinds of complaints. If people had been allowed to participate in the process, and they are cheated in the process of that participation, they will still be upset. But that is even a different kind of case. This is a case of people who are deliberately being shut out of the system.
Is this not a dent on your party that is preaching integrity, transparency and war against corruption?
It is a big dent on the party, and that’s why we are saying that the party must do everything possible to make amends in a situation like this because a political party supposed to have issues, grievances because it is a platform for contending interests, aspirations and to handle differences. So, when a party fails to develop a clear internal mechanism for dealing with grievances, it bubbles out, and I think that’s what’s happening in this case because at any given time the party could have called these people to say no, what they did to you was wrong; go back and do it this way. But that was not what was done. Rather, every action that was taken by the leadership was to further rub the faces of these people in the mud. And then when the court tried to intervene on their behalf, they brought that same behaviour to the court, and started trying to rubbish the court. So, that’s the situation.
You were at once in the same political camp with Rotimi Amaechi. At what point did the two of you part ways?
We parted ways at the point when I said that I want to run for governor, and the minister said no, you can’t run; I won’t let you run. That’s our difference as far as I know. Every other thing is academic. And I didn’t say I must be governor, I said, allow me to run. Let me present myself and then let the people decide. If they say they don’t want me, I will support whoever they want. But even at that, you said no, I should not even present myself. I wondered why we should do that because this is a party of change. So, I said that I will fight for the right to present myself, and I have. And in the direct primaries that was organised by the party in Rivers State, over one hundred and forty-five human beings (145,000) human beings, card carrying members of APC came out to vote for me. That’s a ringing endorsement. I don’t see how you can discount the views of all those people, and they are there, they are alive, they are not going back.
It seems that the problem between you and Amaechi is a disagreement between a godfather and a godson. What is your take on the influence of god-fatherism in Nigerian politics?
You see, god-fatherism is a term. If we work together, and we share common aspiration, somebody has to lead; it is not a big deal. But whoever is in front should know that those behind him are also human beings. They have feelings, they have hopes, they have aspirations and they must be respected. When you respect people, you can be a godfather. People are happy with the godfather because the godfather takes care of everybody. If you are being maltreated, these people didn’t have to go to court, they can come to the godfather and express their grievances, and will say to them, no, they can’t treat you like that you are my people; that’s what the godfather does. So, if you have a good godfather, people will be happy to have a godfather. But if you have a bad godfather then people will rebel. That’s what it is.
Governor Nyesom Wike is seen as a political Iroko in Rivers; if you eventually get the ticket of your party, do you have what it takes to confront him at the polls?
You know some times I don’t want to respond to certain things because if I say certain thing I may say it in a way that I might be misunderstand. What makes him an Iroko? He is a governor; so he has money, he has power, he has structures. That’s what he has but I believe in the power of the people. So, whatever an Iroko there is, let the Iroko be peaceful; let us allow the people of Rivers State to say who they want. If you can have 10 Irokos, if they want Iroko, fine they can have it but if they want somebody else give them an opportunity. That’s all I keep fighting for.
So, I will fight for that within the APC, and I will fight for that in the general elections. If that state should be peaceful and Rivers people should be allowed to say what they want, if they say they don’t want me, I congratulate whoever they want. But if they say they want me, nobody should carry guns and money and try to intimidate the people and say they want Iroko. What Iroko? They want service; they want a government that knows them and respects them. They want a government that is visionary, proactive and identifies with their needs and aspirations.
They don’t want a government where only the governor is getting award. Everybody wants to get awards in their own life. So, they want a government that will make it possible for their own children to get awards too. I think that’s what Rivers people want, and I know because I have worked with them and they know me. I believe that in any election in which the Rivers people are given an opportunity to decide and they decide in a peaceful, calm, free and fair atmosphere, I will respect the wishes of the people.
The APC is currently enmeshed in serious crises across the country, especially as a fallout of the just concluded primaries. Some members are accusing your National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole of being responsible for the trouble. Do you agree with this view?
Well, party administration is not a tea party; it is a very complex undertaking. There are a lot of crises in the party but that is because this is a ruling party. So, the kind of fight people will put up in the APC to get the nomination of the party is not the same as what you have in APGA or in PDP. So, you have to understand that this is a ruling party, the largest party in Africa. This is the party that wins elections; this is the party that swept out PDP from office.
So, there is something to fight for and that’s why people are fighting. But you must understand that a lot of challenges in the APC predate the chairmanship of Oshiomhole, in fairness to him. I also feel that some of the things we try to introduce, if we had stood by them firm enough, some of the challenges would have been reduced because they would have no choice than to follow what was said, because what the President and the chairman wanted is direct primaries but governors felt that that was a way of trying to undermine their powers; and they are a very powerful block within the party.
You now have a situation where they say, okay, where there is governor, they won’t do direct, where there is governor, they will do direct, and then the thing become confusing and that’s where it is. So, if we had agreed on one thing and gotten everybody in the party from governor to councillor to respect what we have agreed, I think that yes, we would have had a little bit of confusion but it would have been a much more ordered process.
But again, you must give it to the All Progressives Congress; this is the first political party that is coming out to make people participation and giving power back to the people an important objective of the party. We may not have achieved it in this particular exercise but at least we have committed to it. We have given Nigerians a taste of what is possible. That’s why everywhere you here people taking about direct and indirect because we have made the point that the views of the people should count. But for me, I don’t think the issue is whether it is direct or indirect, I think the issue is giving people equal opportunity; giving people a fair chance, giving people a process that enjoys the confidence of every participant, that is free, fair, credible and effective. If that understanding is there that everybody is being subjected in the same way that I am being subjected, I think everybody will be satisfied.
You are a lawyer and politician too, representing the people. President Muhammadu Buhari has introduced Executive Order 6 that is causing anxiety and uproar in the country because of its perceived infringement on the constitutional rights and liberties of the citizens. What is your take on this?
The Executive Order is not a big deal. I think what is a big deal is the fact that it is coming at this political time, and so people want to make politics out of it. If the President had done this two years ago, nobody will whimper. It is an order and the courts are there. If you are not satisfied you go and challenge it; if you want a basis upon which he did it, you go to court and challenge it. It is not a big deal; they have been seizing people’s passport when they are under investigation for money laundering and other offences. This is a political season and so PDP wants to capitalize on anything the President does to show Nigerians that they should go to PDP, that’s what it is.
In other words, are you saying that the Executive Order is ill-timed?
No, the President should do his work whether politics is going on or not but the point I am making is that the reason thing is being politicized is because we are in the political season. So, the President too should stand his ground because there are people who support him for what he is doing. You can’t please everybody; he is doing his job. Those who are affected should allow the courts to do their own job; they should go to court and challenge it.
What I know is that if you look at the list, it is not a big deal because it is not people that Buhari prosecuted; they are not people that Buhari has issues with. Some of these people have been under investigation for ten years before Buhari got here. And EFCC is looking for a way to recover money from them and stop them from moving money and all that. So, they tell them to stay in the country while these issues are on. If they are not satisfied, they can go to court. But I don’t think that it is Buhari’s problem.
When you resumed, Nigerians thought that one of your priorities would be to impeach Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki based on earlier threats by the APC leadership and senators but more than two weeks after resumption there is nothing like that; what’s happening?
Well, the plan to impeach Saraki was there but the numbers are not there. There is a constitutional provision for impeaching the Senate President. If we meet that provision today, we will impeach him today. But if we don’t meet the provision, the Senate has to run.
You mean you have not given up on it?
No, it is a party directive now; the party said we should impeach him. It wasn’t hidden; it was announced on national television, and I am a member of the party. So, we are ready to obey the directive but we just have to get the numbers and do it constitutionally. So, if we don’t have the numbers, the Senate has to run.
But like I said at the beginning, we are not happy that a PDP member is presiding over the Senate where we have the majority. So, it is a point of discomfort to all of us who are members of the All Progressives Congress. But be that as it may, the Senate belongs to the Federal Republic of Nigeria; it does not belong to the APC and it does not belong to the PDP. So, there are rules for the Senate, and Bukola Saraki is a senator.
So, under the rules of the Senate, he is entitled to run the Senate. So, if we are going to remove him, we have to do that under the rules of the Senate. We have to have two-thirds, and that’s where we are. The party directive is there and we acknowledge it but until we get the required number, the Senate must continue to run.
Is there anything in the law book or in the rule book, that stipulates that the majority party must produce the President of the Senate?
Any senator can be elected as a presiding officer; there is no law or rule that says that presiding officers must come from the majority party. In the constitution of Nigeria, any one of us can be elected to the office of the Senate President.
Then why do you want to impeach Saraki because he is in the minority party?
Is democracy not a game of number? Will you allow somebody with a lesser number to be declared a winner in an election? You won’t now. So, the right thing is that if we have our way we will not allow Saraki to preside but while we are in the Senate, the Senate is for all senators. We can’t do anything that will make the Senate not to work for Nigeria. He is a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and we APC senators are senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, if we have the numbers to change him, we will do that. If we don’t have the number to change him, then we have to support him to run the Senate for the benefit of Nigerians.
There were occasions under this democracy when less than two-thirds majority impeached Speakers of some state assemblies. What do you say about that?
Not in the Senate; this is a national institution. You see, anything you do here impacts on Nigeria all across the world. They did that in Plateau, Ekiti and other places but you can’t bring Nigeria before the world and rubbish us. So, we can’t do that in the Senate for the sake of Nigeria. If we are going to do anything in the Senate, I will append my signature only to something that is constitutional and in accordance with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; I will not support anything that is unconstitutional. – Culled from New Telegraph.