S’South wants Presidency, not vice-presidency —Ex-deputy speaker
A former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Prince Chibudom Nwuche, in this interview with journalists bares his mind on the Nigeria Governors’ Forum chairmanship election and other issues. NIYI ODEBODEwas there: Excerpts:
Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi has said he was suspended because of the dissolution of a local government by the state House of Assembly. How will you react to this?
The point is that when you are the chief executive officer of a nation or a state, the buck must stop somewhere. To blame the House of Assembly is not proper. We know that in this country governors are very powerful. Very often, Houses of Assembly are rubber stamps. Let us be sincere. I watched the debate of the constitution reform; the Senate debate, at the conference centre, where a state assembly speaker opposed autonomy for state Houses of assembly. Is that natural? In the states, the houses, local governments and the governors are all the same thing. All governors control the houses of assembly.
That is part of why I always argue that we should devolve to regionalism to have robust houses of assembly in the regions; with different ethnic nationalities to check the governor or premier as the case may be. When you have the governor and the state assembly, it is a clear mis-match. The governor has a lot of money. The House of Assembly has no funding.
What can they do?
You must listen to what the party is saying. You cannot undermine the party even if you are a governor of a state.
What led to the crisis in Rivers State? Does it have external influence?
The problems are entirely within the PDP in Rivers State. It began from the elections when many power blocks in the state; individuals representing different ethnic nationalities came together to give Amaechi support to emerge as governor of Rivers State. In politics, people have interests they would like to protect and politicians would often demand a stake; to know why they should support or defend a particular government. The parties came together to support the governor. That was why he could win overwhelmingly because no matter how popular a governor is, he is from an ethnic nationality called Ikwere. He would not be in my area; I will be in the area to deliver him. The same thing with Ogoni area.
Even in Ikwere, we have people like Sergeant Awuse, who are influential. You find that after the elections, as it is usual with people who are clever, those parties who had a stake in his emergence could no longer access him. He began a journey of his own that nobody understood. People, who had a stake in the state felt left out. Often, they say they want to share money. I have heard that before. That is a fallacy. People want to make input in policies; in governance. They want to be consulted because they are stakeholders. For the governor, if he had proper advice, this issue would have been averted. There was nobody who could tell him that. People around him were people who were much junior working for him; people who will listen and say yes to whatever he says.
He wanted to retire any politician of note in the state; People like Celestine Omehia, Awuse, Austin Opara. He wanted all of us to be irrelevant. These problems are not caused by the President or the First Lady. Don’t forget, that people feel that the state has not developed as much as it could, given the amount of resources it has had in the last six years. Yes, he can point to schools and health centres. Does that really account for the amount of money released so far? I think the national media are not looking at the issues correctly. There is a misconception going on.
The PDP has been accused of high-handedness in the suspension of the governor…
What is intriguing me is the level of outcry from the opposition parties. All the outbursts over the suspension are not from the PDP. The bereaved are not crying at all. It is those who are outside that are crying. The noise from the APC is a lot. What is their interest? If these people are organizing themselves to displace the PDP, they should focus on that mission. They should not be concerned about our internal affairs. If the PDP is going astray, they should not be the ones to remind the PDP. That will help them in the polls. Party members must be loyal to the party. I am in the PDP. I can’t remain in a party and undermine the party. If at a point I feel that the PDP is not meeting my aspiration, I should have the boldness to leave the party and go somewhere else. As long as I stay in the party, I must abide by its discipline and constitution.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum has shown that there is no discipline in the PDP. What is your comment?
On the issue of lack of discipline among members of the party with regard to the election of the chairman of the NGF, I think if the party had taken a position, if anybody goes against it, that would be anti-party. I don’t have all the facts on that matter. But if the party had supported a candidate to emerge, as the largest block in the NGF, if anybody goes against such a candidate that would be anti-party.
The party should have the courage to act against such a person. The governors’ forum is not our problem in Rivers State. Our problem is lack of empowerment of our teeming youths who are destitute; who are jobless; people who have not had any democratic dividend, lack of infrastructure in Rivers State; lack of roads, water, light…lack of development. The concern of our governors in the South -South should be to develop and apply the funds from revenue derivation properly and prudently and empower people. Why is it important to be its chairman? If a region produces President, should that region produce chairman of the NGF? That is not right. For us, we like our governors to apply money from revenue derivation properly for development. There should be a difference when your state that has much money from a state that does not have much money. Our people are the poorest in the country and unemployment rate is very high in the state. Governance should be about the people and their welfare. Whoever the party backs should be the chairman of the NGF.
At a dinner hosted by the President for PDP members, Chief Tony Anenih, canvassed automatic ticket for the party’s political office holders. Would you subscribe to that?
There are strong points for that position. A party has the right to have guidelines and constitution to regulate its activities. It may not be democratic. The argument is that in the PDP, we dispense so much resources and energy on our primaries. By the time elections come, people are exhausted. Is it justifiable? We should put our energy towards elections, not in intra-party dispute. There could be automatic tickets in deserving cases. It will reduce rancor. What I have said is that every party has the constitutional rights to regulate itself and to devise means to reduce acrimony within its ranks. In that particular light, Chief Anenih is correct. What the party must do is that it must have meetings and consultations with all interest groups. After they have discussed, they will take care of interest groups. When that is done, I don’t see any problem with it.
The crisis in Rivers State, some have said, has to do with the 2015 ambition of the President…
For us in the South-South, we think that the President has done well and deserves a second term. We don’t believe people should proscribe his constitutional rights because he is a minority. Anybody in the South-South, a governor or member of the National Assembly, who goes against that general interest, will have problems with our people. For the first time, since independence, we have our son as President; a God-fearing man who is doing well. People of the South- South like the President to continue. They are fully behind him. They will talk to other Nigerians to support his ambition. The President has done his mid-term report; it shows that where he met Nigeria in 2011, from all objective indices, Nigeria has improved. The report indicates that inflation has dropped. Our people want Presidency, not Vice-Presidency. We are going to appeal to Nigerians to support his (Jonathan) ambition. We shall move round the country. We shall go to the North. We shall go to South-West. I don’t see his ambition as a problem.