Why Magnus Abe is fighting Amaechi – Amb. Oji Ngofa
Oji Nyimenuate Ngofa is Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Netherlands and All Progressives Congress (APC) Senatorial candidate for Rivers South-East, the seat currently occupied by Senator Magnus Abe in the Senate. A thorough-bred grassroots politician who was a two-time local council chairman in the State and the immediate past Deputy National Secretary of the APC, Ngofa is a close associate of both Abe and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. In this interview, he talks on the rift between the two Rivers APC bigwigs and other issues.
There is this perception that your party, the APC in Rivers State is not ready for the 2019 elections?
That is coming from people, especially from the opposition who are trying to give that narrative to create doubt and probably weaken our support base in the state. Even with all the plethora of litigations currently going on in the party, I don’t think that it’s a problem. Everyday we receive new entrants into the party. Just yesterday I received even state chairmen of other political parties who wanted to join us and the people trooped in here to identify with us and be part of what we are doing. All our candidates are out there in the field canvassing for votes and I am sure you are aware that our governorship candidate has been going round the wards on consultations. The issues that are in court, I believe that all the institutions concerned with elections in this country are all legally informed, they are institutions set up by the law and all the issues can be dealt with within the framework of the law. I don’t think it is a problem. What is important now is the legitimate and the party has done the needful and there is no law, no order, no judgment stopping the party from participating or contesting in the 2019 election. Everybody within the Amaechi political family know that I used to be one of the fanatical, so to say, strong supporters of Magnus Abe tendency within the political family. But I think that from my point of view that Senator Abe has demonstrated crass lack of political intelligence.
At what point did you stop supporting Sen. Abe?
Almost a decade and half that I have been part of the Amaechi political family. We have evolved as a family with harmony and unity of purpose in how we take decisions. I will not be part of any aspiration that will create disunity within the leadership under the Hon. Minister of Transportation.
And I did tell Sen. Abe that I did not think that we should divide the family because of his aspiration. Because the way I see it is that he has a right to aspire, nobody is challenging that but I have issues with the fact that you want to upturn and destroy a system because of your own aspiration. A system that you have been part of, that Sen. Abe is one of its biggest beneficiaries, a system that you have been promoting. And I disagreed with that and I told him (Abe) that if he intends to pursue his ambition outside of the framework of our political family and collective interest under Amaechi’s leadership, I will not be part of it. I made it very clear to him.
I have a concern with the fact that you have been part of a system that has promoted you, has given you the platform. Each time you (Abe) were nominated for one position or the other within the political family, somebody else felt denied and I can give examples because I have been there. I have been part of the system and so to turn around to say that you have to bring down that system because of your own personal aspiration, I disagree with that, I do not think that would work well for the survival of the structure that all of us put in place and that’s exactly what is going on. Everybody knows within the political family that we used to be very very close, but I disagreed and I told him that I disagree with the fact that he wants to pursue this aspiration outside of the framework of the leadership and the practices that he has been part of and he has promoted and benefited immensely from.
From your own understanding of things, where did Sen. Abe go wrong?
There were talks and insinuations everywhere that Sen. Magnus Abe was consulting and setting up structures outside the recognized structure for his governorship ambition. And these things were happening, they were not hidden. At that point, we just came out from several protracted election re-runs.
From what you said, who gave the order for every person aspiring for any office then to suspend their ambition and work together to build the party first?
All of us resolved that it was the right thing to do. Nobody opposed it. In fact, in about three of the meetings, he (Amaechi) was even more angry with Dakuku Peterside (DG of NIMASA) because there were issues. Magnus complained that some of the structures that Peterside set up like RIVLEAF were still operating and the leader (Amaechi) right in that meeting said that if we ever get to hear that RIVLEAF was still functional that we would hold Peterside personally responsible and we delegated somebody in that meeting to ensure that Alex Wele who heads RIVLEAF is called to order immediately. So Amaechi’s anger was even more directed towards Peterside because Abe always complained in all of those meetings that it appeared as if things were skewed against him. He was always like playing the victim in some of these meetings and the leader was always eager to protect Abe.
As a key member of Sen. Abe tendency within your party at that time, did you speak to him at any point to advise and tell him your view?
Of course I did. Around February or March of 2017, we held a small meeting of the caucus of Ogoni at Novotel in Port Harcourt. I was the first to speak at that meeting and I made it very clear. In fact, a lot of people were surprised because they know how close I was to Sen. Abe, and I made it very clear to Sen. Abe and those at the meeting that I will not support any aspiration and ambition that is not within the framework of our larger political structure and leadership the way we know it, the way it had worked for us for many years and everyone in that caucus has benefitted from it tremendously. That I was not going to accept any division within the party and I made my point very clear. And do not forget that I was Deputy National Secretary of the party before my appointment as Ambassador to the Royal Kingdom of Netherlands. So, there were things I knew and I know how the party operates more than anybody else. And I did not believe that the party would accept that sort of division in Rivers State outside the current structure led by the Transport Minister. I did not think that was going to happen, and I made my point very clear at that meeting. The Senator himself was there and I said I will not accept division within the party, whoever has an ambition should be in conformity with the resolution of the leadership structure and caucus that we should wait and build the party first. Sadly, Abe felt he has the required support that can upturn our conventional structure and leadership under Amaechi so he had to go on against it. Ego, malice and a feeling of entitlement as well as a tinge of messianic complex by my brother Sen. Magnus Abe have exacerbated this unnecessary political fight. Given the love and friendship I witnessed between him and the leader (Amaechi), his behavior is completely unnecessary.
Sen. Abe has been talking and one of the issues he has raised is that Amaechi said that he (Magnus) should not run for governor, that he wants to deny him his right to run for governor…(cuts in)
To the best of my knowledge, that is not true. I have never heard him say that. I have never been in any meeting whether public or private, where our leader said that or said anything to deny Sen. Abe his right to run for any office.
What happened was that he and most members of the caucus were just not happy that we had made a decision in caucus meetings about building the party first and Abe was not adhering to it. In fact in that meeting he said Peterside seems to have listened but Sen. Abe was obviously not listening as he was going ahead to make consultations and set up alternate structures to run for governor.
Given your close relationship with Amaechi, did he ever rule out Sen. Abe from the governorship contest at that time?
No. He didn’t, he did not rule out anybody.
But Sen. Abe accused Amaechi of removing persons that were sympathetic to him as party leaders in different LGAs?
Now that is another lie that they have been telling. Those removed, were replaced because of their incompetence, greed and inability to lead. I headed one of the committees that did the APC restructuring in the State and recommended the removal of one of such LGA leaders, Hon. Chidi Wihioka, who represents Ikwerre/Emohua Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. In one of our caucus meetings at the party office in Port Harcourt, three committees were set up, one saddled with the responsibility of looking at problems in each of the three senatorial districts and restructuring the LGAs leadership and come up with recommendations. I headed that of Rivers East senatorial district where Chidi Wihioka was the leader of Ikwerre LGA, which also happens to be the LGA of the minister. It was my committee that recommended the removal of Chidi Wihioka as leader of Ikwerre LGA. It was my committee’s recommendation and so the minister did not unilaterally remove LGA leaders as being alleged by Sen. Abe. In fact, Chidi Wihioka himself will confirm that the day of the meeting with his LGA people he was almost mobbed by his own people who didn’t even want him to speak. The people complained that every largesse that came to the LGA they never saw any. They challenged him openly on several issues and they made it very clear that if he continued as the leader in the LGA, they would never work for the party again. It was so glaring that everybody in that meeting never wanted him to continue as the leader of Ikwerre LGA, I was there, I chaired the meeting. That was my committee findings. We take responsibility for that. And we will do it again and again, if we have the opportunity again, we will still recommend the removal of Chidi Wihioka because he has no leadership qualities but was just abusing his friendship with the minister. Same process was used in other LGAs where leaders were changed and replaced with new ones
If you have the chance to meet with Sen. Abe, what would tell him?
I will again advise him to let go because he is one of those that gave us confidence in this group, in this structure and in Amaechi’s leadership. Abe is one of those who gave me confidence. Don’t forget I came from opposition and I joined Amaechi from ANPP then. When I came into the family within the senatorial district we had Abe as our leader and so we became very close and of course in his desire to add value, he brought me close and I worked very closely with him so he was one of those who made me believe in the leadership and nothing has changed, I have not seen any difference.
I do not think that the group, the structure should crumble because he desires something now and he is not getting it the way he wants it and when he wants it. I have seen several examples too where others within this same political family, that they desired something, they did not get it. Some of these people didn’t get it because some of us, including Sen. Abe, were given the opportunities. So I do not think that it is right for him to now repudiate a process that he has been part of, that he has supported, that he has inspired belief for some of us, that he (Abe) had benefited from greatly, and just when you did not get your way, you want to fight and want to destroy everything.
I will advise my brother and my friend that he ends this thing right now and come back and work with his political family. There is no way as he continues with this agitation that it will not be seen as a deliberate cooperation, collaboration and conniving with the PDP in Rivers State against his party, the APC. Also, there are peace committees set up for the six zones of the federation that I think we can leverage on and take the opportunity to also see how we can reconcile because I see that this whole thing now has been reduced into battle of ego, malice and all of that. So, we should not be blind to the reality of the fact that we all need ourselves. It is important that we remain a solid and united political party that we used to be.
However, I must warn that some of us will not sit by and allow a small tiny section of our people disparage on a daily basis our structure, our leadership and our leader (Amaechi) that has greatly benefitted all of us in the past, just because a few feel that the disposition of things now will not favour their personal political interests. No, I stand for our collective interests, I stand for strengthening of that institution and I stand for correction through internal argument and dialogue if there is anything that is not going the way we collectively want it to go, that’s where I stand and that’s why I refused to be part of Sen. Magnus Abe’s governorship aspiration this time around.