Chief Alabo Graham Douglas is a former minister and Board of Trustees member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with STANLEY NKWOCHA, he talks about his relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Rotimi Amaechi. He opens up on the crisis in the PDP and warns on why inequality may cause his party a lot in 2015
You have chosen to be silent on the happenings in Rivers State. Why is this so?
For over one year, I have resisted granting any press interview as I elected to critically observe the various scenario of events at the federal level as well as my state of origin, Rivers State, as they develop. I was very vibrant and committed actively in the 2010/ 2011 campaign efforts.
But as you would note, age is catching up with me and at 75, I can no longer be criss-crossing the country. That apart, I observed a new set of gladiators parading the political scenes, with a stock in trade of intrigues, manipulations, conspiracies and telling destructive lies against persons to procure favour.
When I also observed that people at the echelon of the illustrious class are susceptible to accepting and making conclusions of malicious stories, I decided discretionarily to preserve my honour and pedigree. I am a strong believer that any leadership that judge third parties through the perception and lips of such characters is likely to fail. Suffice to say that I have remained to be a consistent, undeviating and loyal member of my party which I helped to found in the nation and especially Rivers State.
It is extensively believed that there is a kind of family misunderstanding between you and the First Family, that is President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife. Is that a fact?
There is no iota of truth in the widely disseminated impression that there is misunderstanding between myself and the First Family; I believe it is a speculative and mischievous propaganda stuff. The president is of the Ijaw extraction as myself and with the zeal and enthusiasm with which I have always promoted the Ijaw cause, I do not see how I could ever have any form of misunderstanding between an illustrious Ijaw son like myself and another who is currently the president of the country.
At the inception of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I was one of those who contested for the office of the President of the country. I contested with former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. I did not win but in recognition of my unrelenting hard work for the party, especially in South-South geopolitical region, Obasanjo appointed me as one of the early ministers of the PDP administration. Throughout the period and up till the moment President Jonathan assumed office, we had impeccable relationship. I still maintained this posture; except the president holds a contrary view, he is my brother and nothing can separate us.
But the belief is that the Soku oil well dispute separated you…
I would not like to discuss anything with regards to the Soku oil wells and the boundary adjustment of the conceptualised annexation of Kalabari oil producing communities to Bayelsa State. So many stories are being peddled but as an Ijaw elder, it is my duty always to ensure that the situation is contained at all times, amicably with brotherly love. The communities involved have settled as Kalabari communities for over 200 years. And the boundaries separating the two states (Bayelsa and Rivers) have existed for decades, throughout the periods when both Ijaw and non-Ijaw administrators governed the old Rivers State. For it therefore to attract the dimension of conflict between the two sister states is unfortunate but I believe it will be eventually resolved for unity and our great love for each other.
Could it be true that you took sides against the president by supporting Governor Rotimi Amaechi in their political fued?
The import of this question I would regard as a figment of hallucinatory imaginations. At my age and political maturity, more so, having played a fatherly role to both the president and the governor, I could never have taken sides. My responsibility is to ensure that if there was any feud whatsoever, it will be my job to foster reconciliation and restoration of brotherly love between them. The president is the paterfamilias of the nation and in this peculiar circumstance, the father of the South-South states and their governors.
The relationship between the governor of Rivers State immediately after the 2011 elections was impeccable and without blemish. Disappointedly, most politicians become either bystanders or indulge themselves in fuelling any little crack in relationships. Such circumstances are used to disseminate fabricated lies and unimaginable stories. Some begin to create division between the parties and go as far as brandishing anyone who cultivates any form of relationship or contact with the less advantageous member of the conflict as an enemy. And, with no intervention of elders, the situation degenerates to a point of no return. I made unlimited overtures by personal contact and writing, as well as utilising established political institutions like the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) and other well-meaning agencies. It is indeed a large pity that we find ourselves in the current quagmire which, by the grace of God, shall come to pass amicably.
As an elder, both within the state and at the national level, what is your view on the current political situation in Rivers State?
The current political situation in Rivers State is very sensitive and volatile from the point of view that malice, hatred and vicious rivalry has been brought in by the political class in order to arrest power and control of the polity. To be able to have equity, fair play and justice, the political class must bring God-fearing conscience into the power matrix.
In 1999, when PDP was established in Rivers State, the party structure and control was primarily in the hands of people of the Riverine Ijaw extraction. We took cognisance of the fact that during the military era and thereafter during the brief civilian dispensation, persons of Riverine Ijaw group had ruled the old Rivers State. We unanimously decided for power to shift to the Upland group. Considering the prevailing circumstances at the time, to give the Upland group a sense of belonging and togetherness, Dr Peter Odili was accordingly favoured on the platform of PDP to govern the state. It was implicitly agreed that we were to practise a turn-by-turn power sharing mechanism between the three main component ethnic nationalities of the Ikwerres and other groups of common affinity, the Riverine Ijaw and the Ogoni and neighbouring Mainland communities.
It was unambiguously agreed that at the expiration of the tenure of Dr Peter Odili, power would shift to the Riverine Ijaw group and at the expiration of the rulership of a Riverine Ijaw governor, it would move to the Ogoni group. Unfortunately, that was not to be as the era was characterised by confusion, ethnic conflicts and beginning of militancy. There was severe financial recklessness, infrastructural decay and phantom projects that were never achieved. Two prominent illustrious sons-Messrs Marshal Harry, the first PDP Chairman of Rivers State and another founding member, Aminasoari Dikibo were brutally assassinated without the regime making any effort to track down their assassins.
That era left with no significant landmark except that instead of handing over to a Riverine Ijaw aspirant, a unilateral decision was made by the then Governor Odili to hand over to Honourable Rotimi Amaechi of the Ikwerre extraction. All in all ,the Upland group, primarily of the Ikwerre extraction, have now governed Rivers State for 16 years, at the expiration of the tenure of Governor Amaechi in May, 2015.
The emergence of Chief Nyesom Wike a Minister of State for Education and his desire to contest the governorship in 2015 does not augur well for peace and harmony in the state. It is unacceptable to the generality of the Rivers people, especially the Riverine Ijaw group, Ogoni group and large members of the Ikwerre group. If Nyesom Wike is granted by the leadership PDP to emerge as governor of Rivers State, it will mean that for 24 years, the people of Rivers Mainland would have ruled the state at the expense and great marginalisation of the other major ethnic nationalities. Such a situation arising will not be tolerated and may have some unsavoury repercussions, which no one for the time being can predicate.
It is therefore in the best interest of the people and the state and for the sake of God-fearing conscience, equity and justice to ensure that power shifts to the other groups that have never been given the opportunity to govern the state, largely for the purpose of peace, harmony and survival of the state.
As a founding member of the PDP BoT, what are you doing to consolidate on the party’s gains in the 2011 elections?
From the evolutionary trend and antecedents since 1999 in Rivers State, PDP has been the dominant, unbeatable and acceptable political family in Rivers State. The performance of PDP in 2011 in Rivers State was phenomenal, producing the highest result in the country. Politics, we know, is a concentric circle of intrigues, manipulations, obscure self-interest, phantom lies and all manner of societal lies and evils, which accordingly destroyed the very fabrics that united the PDP family in Rivers State. The imbroglio that arose gave rise to the current disharmony, suspicion and conflict among the PDP family, resulting in a group moving away under the leadership of the state governor to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Much as the state remains a PDP state, with the Riverine Ijaw group absolutely supportive of their son, the president’s election for a second term shall be without rancour or problem. But that of the election of the governor could tear the state apart. This is why it is my fervent and strong solicitation that PDP must not field another Ikwerre aspirant but someone from the Riverine Ijaw or Ogoni groups. There is the common propaganda disseminated that without the Ikwerre vote, no governor can emerge in the next dispensation. This is absolutely incorrect, because in the 1999 elections, whereas the Ikwerres, Ogonis and few other groups did not vote for Odili who had just one ward, the combined undivided and consolidated votes of the Riverine communities led to the emergence of Odili as the governor of Rivers State.
Perhaps, I would summarise that, if by carelessness or inattention to the realities, we take for granted the PDP support and neglect the concealed strategies of the opposition, we may have some dents in our family. This is why, we have in the past few months galvanised the party elders and leaders in the state to speak with one voice and accord and select a governorship aspirant. God being our help, we shall succeed.
What is your opinion on the recent reconciliatory and re-integration meeting of the PDP in Abuja?
From the innocent and unsuspecting perceptual view point, the intention of the party hierarchy may seem plausible and commendable. I personally presented myself and briefed the reconciliation committee where I find men and women of honour and character. I am confident that they would provide an unbiased, non-sentimental and God-fearing report that will consolidate their already acceptable credibility. I do believe that the committee will have the moral assessment of one of the Rivers State governorship aspirants, Nyesom Wike, his chief promoter, Dr Peter Odili and some masked party officials who are making it a do-or-die matter concerning the emergence of Wike without ever appraising its positive and negative repercussions on the state.
In a system where a serving minister would single-handedly spend large sums of money to organise party structure, provide party paraphernalia and pay monthly expenditure without anyone asking questions, or where someone will govern a state and was investigated by a law enforcing and financial regulation body, with proven financial recklessness, would ask a court of competent jurisdiction to grant him perpetual injunction not to be probed and yet, because of selfish and myopic motives, such characters will be honoured graciously with national honours with pump and pageantry, is a paradox.
Enough is enough; and I can assure you that never and never again shall the Riverine Ijaw and Ogoni group be marginalised and deprived. I also believe in Mr President’s assiduity, morality and God-fearing disposition to provide the judgement of Solomon, subsequently.
Recently, PDP national chairman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, visited Port Harcourt where Chief Nyesom Wike and his supporters received him at the party secretariat. Other governorship aspirants were conspicuously absent. What does this portend for the party in Rivers State?
I am surprised that the PDP national chairman was in Rivers State that Monday. I saw him in Lagos and we chatted. If he was coming to Rivers State, as a senior party member and member of the BoT, at least, he should have extended some courtesies by telling me that he was coming down to my state. Of course, I would be very willing to meet him. But these are the things we are talking about.
Three of the aspirants have also telephoned me to say that they were not invited; that they did not know anything about the visit. This further goes to complicate things. And from the information I had, in his discussion with the people at the party secretariat, Muazu gave a lot of adulation and praises to Wike who he described as having spent a colossal amount of money to do a lot of things for the party and also organised a party with a parochial unit of the total electorate in this state.
It is very unfortunate that happened, but people will misread and misunderstand the action to be ‘a seeming endorsement’ kind of thing. Knowing how things are being interpreted in the political parlance, people will still spread it to the generality of the people of Rivers State that the PDP national chairman came, largely to endorse the candidature of Wike. This will have negative repercussions on the Ogoni and the Riverine/Ijaw people of the PDP family. I feel a bit disillusioned about it and I think if the chairman was coming, he was coming as the PDP chairman and not as the chairman of the Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI) faction of the party.
While the chairman was addressing party supporters at the party secretariat, he said, “Wike you are on course”. What does this portend, given the fact that other aspirants were not there?
I will have a very liberal interpretation to it; “Wike, you are on course”. On course to destruction or on course to ascension or on course to have a seizure of the political party, with the formulation of the GDI? I think it should be very subjective and individualistic in interpretation.
Sir, three weeks ago, the PDP state executive said a member of the PDP BoT from Rivers State met with Governor Rotimi Amaechi and endorsed some aspirants. He also threatened that if that particular member does not retrace his steps, he would be sanctioned very soon. The accusation was directed at you, but could this be right?
That is absolute nonsense, complete madness. Amaechi is the governor of Rivers State, my state of origin. It will be foolhardy for anybody to think that I should severe relationship with him. President Jonathan is my younger brother and I may have played a fatherhood role to both himself and Amaechi. During the course of the problems, I moved into it with documentations. I have tried as much as possible but it is very painful that Anaechi left PDP for APC because of mismanagement. I blame our leaders: why are we elders? What are we afraid of? What do we gain in this politics? If two of your children are quarreling, you, as an elder, should be reconciliatory instead of taking sides. I have never met any of the aspirants; I have never held meeting with them. May be someone else held meetings with them and they are mistaking me for that.