Rivers State All Progressives Congress Legal Adviser, Iheanyi Dike, shares his views with OLUWAFEMI MORGAN about the chances of his party in the 2023 general elections and other issues
How ready is the All Progressives Congress for the 2023 general elections in Rivers State?
We are good to go; we are almost there and we are ready to take over the Brick House. Rivers State is an APC state irrespective of the fact that we have a sitting governor, who is a PDP man. You can see what is happening in Rivers State. The PDP is a divided house. As a matter of fact, the governor has lost focus. So, he is busy trying to pull the PDP down. As for the APC, we are building from the grassroots every day, talking to voters. We are fully ready.
Many are of the view that your political party is facing an uphill task in trying to unseat the PDP, which has been in power in the state for over two decades, how will you respond to this?
That is not correct; it will be a one-way ride. In 2019, we weren’t on the ballot. Three days to the election, we adopted a candidate, one Biokpomabo Awara of the African Action Congress, and what happened? Awara took over 17 local government areas. If not for the intervention of the high and mighty that stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission from declaring that result, he would have won. Thereafter, they suspended that result for two weeks, and then they went to the Government House to panel beat what they now called the results. So, if we could adopt a candidate three days to the governorship election and humiliate the so-called almighty Nyesom Wike, then now that we are on the ballot by God’s grace, we are already doing our work. We will defeat him.
But not a few are of the view that Wike has performed well enough to earn the PDP victory in 2023. Do you agree with them?
It depends on what you call performance. If performance is building flyovers, to me, he has not performed. If performance is buying over all the areas in Port Harcourt, that is not performance. If performance is a situation where there is no employment to deliver to the youth, then I disagree. Wike has not created any reasonable employment anywhere. He has not been able to build one single industry. To me, that is not performance. So, I have not seen what Wike has done to earn him that opportunity for Rivers people to vote for the PDP. Moreover, the election we are talking about is beyond the PDP, it is beyond the political parties. We are looking at the calibre of people carrying this flags. We are talking about the candidate of the APC, Tonye Cole. He is a man full of capacity; he is a man who will be able to build Rivers State. He is a man who will bring in jobs and employment; he is a man full of vision. He is a man who has been in the private sector and he is willing to replicate what he has done there in the state. Rivers people know all the candidates and we are confident that they will choose our candidate. We have the best candidate.
What Wike is chasing to achieve now is a third term in disguise, which is what he is doing now. He is trying to bring one of his stooges so that he can hide under that umbrella to operate. It is the third term, that is what he is aiming for and Rivers people are rejecting it.
But many people were invited by the governor on different occasions to inaugurate some projects. They showered praises on him for serving his people well. How else will you describe performance?
It Is very simple; you will agree with me that Nigerians are hungry. By the time you are being invited to come and inaugurate projects, you will be assured that you are not going back home empty-handed. Let me refresh your memory; the former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Ameachi, built health centres across all the wards in Rivers State. We have 319 wards, and he built those health centres. Ameachi built primary schools across the wards. Did he attract any of those jamborees that Wike is doing to bring people to come and inaugurate projects? What are you celebrating? It is the taxpayers’ money. It is only in this part of the world that we use taxpayers’ money to provide infrastructure and then we begin to celebrate. What Governor Wike is doing is a show; he has not contributed to any development in the state.
The APC governorship candidate, Tonye Cole, has been quite silent for some time. What is the challenge?
If you follow the Independent National Electoral Commission very well, the election that we are going to have is a grassroots election. The man is already consulting unit by unit, reaching out to the people who will vote. That is the essence of the election. It is not a jamboree thing; go and talk to the electorate, go and talk to those that will give you votes. That is what our candidate is doing now. He is consulting with the grassroots; he is trying to know their problems so that by God’s grace, by the time he gets there, he will be able to attend to their needs. For now, let’s wait till October 12, he (Cole) will speak to Rivers people and Nigerians. He will come and unveil his blueprint; what he intends to do for Rivers people and why he should be soliciting their votes. So, let’s wait till October 12.
What do you make of the allegation against him that he sold Rivers property?
I can’t comment on it because the matter is in court. But what you should know is that Tonye Cole is distinct and different from Sahara Energy. If there should be any action, it should be targeted at Sahara Energy and not Tonye Cole.
Stakeholders in the APC recently called on the presidential candidate of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to stop hobnobbing with Governor Wike, who is a member of the PDP. Do you think such meetings between the duo can affect the APC’s fortunes in Rivers State?
I was present at the stakeholders’ meeting; I have said it and I will continue to say that we, the people of Rivers State in the APC, demand an apology from Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu. For him (Tinubu) to come to Rivers State through his handlers and the South-West governors to engage Governor Wike in a meeting is an affront. It is an affront to Rivers people, and Rivers APC members are not happy. This amounts to anti-party activity if no one will caution him; I will say that we are demanding an apology from Ahmed Tinubu, our candidate, and his cohorts to Rivers APC. This is because we have the capacity to win here and we have the capacity to defeat the PDP. So why hobnob with Wike? Rivers People have rejected Wike and that is the truth.
Don’t you think it will be a blessing of sorts to your party if Wike defects from the PDP to the APC?
It is not an issue of blessing. If Wike decides to join the APC, it is a welcome development. Let him come, we will welcome him, but not to be hobnobbing with our presidential candidate. This calls for concern. If he decides to join the APC, it is a welcome development; he is just one man, and perhaps he will not add value more than a single person can; so we won’t chase him away.
The leader of the APC In Rivers, Rotimi Ameachi, has been silent for some time now, especially on the issues concerning the fortunes of the party. Are you not worried about this?
Silence is golden. You want him to be talking like Wike, who lost the election and started to dance in the market? Is that the kind of person we want? Look at it now, he lost an election and he could not comport himself; he is fighting everybody; he is insulting everybody; he wants to pull the PDP down; he wants to pull Nigeria down. So, you want Ameachi to exhibit that kind of character? No! The man (Amaechi) is an Honorable man; he understands what politics is all about. So, I think his silence is golden
Does that mean that Amaechi is working in the background for the APC?
Of course, he is a party man! He is a member of the APC. He is standing by his party!
Do your party members have the financial prowess to prosecute the next general elections considering the fact that they have not been in power for about eight years?
Is the APC not In power; is President Buhari not in power?
I mean in Rivers State?
What we have is one APC; any other APC you see at the state level derives its power from the centre. So, don’t say that we don’t have the financial war chest to pursue the elections. We are prepared and we have what it takes to prosecute the elections.
Some APC members who were close allies of the former Minister of Transport (Amaechi) left the party and joined the PDP, while others joined other parties. Is that not a minus to the party’s determination to take over power in the state?
Those that left the APC for the PDP, maybe they are hungry. Are you not aware of the behind-the-door arrangement by Wike, where before you defect, you will come, they will snap your photographs and then they will hand over a brown envelope to you? Does this not show that they are hungry? Is that a better way to defect? No, it is not. So, it is hunger.
But the governor said they left and came to the PDP because Rotimi Ameachi did not show leadership. What do you have to say on that?
Did I leave? I am here. They went for their stomach; nothing more.
What effort has the state APC made to assuage the feelings of aggrieved members who felt the governorship candidate was imposed on them?
All the former governorship aspirants are working with him (Cole). Dakaku Peterside is working with Tonye Cole. The same applies to Michael West and Amachree; mention all of them, they are with Cole. They have come to reality and have agreed to give him support. He is the best man for the job.
But Senator Magnus Abe defected to the Social Democratic Party to become the governorship candidate there, don’t you think his leaving is a minus for the APC?
If you know the senator very well, you will know that he was never a member of the APC. If you are a member of the APC, you will abide by the rules. Some of us celebrated when Abe left because we did not see him as an APC member that we lost. So, we celebrated his exit. In fact, some were begging for him to leave. We are happy that he has left. Have you heard about Senator Abe since he left the APC? No! Have you heard about the Social Democratic Party in Rivers State? No! So, let him go and test his popularity. We don’t consider him as one of us.
Can it be said that the Rivers APC is united?
We are united; we don’t have any internal crisis as I speak to you. We are one family and we are prosecuting the elections under one family. The bad eggs have left, the likes of Abe and co, and those that Wike planted in our house have left.
What is your advice to INEC ahead of the 2023 general elections?
Our advice is very simple. We want free and fair elections. INEC should come and demonstrate free and fair elections in Rivers State and the entire country so that people can be allowed to freely make their choice on who leads them. That is all we are asking them. Let the votes of the people count. They should send out the right staff members who will not go and manipulate the system. We are calling for free and fair elections. By God’s grace, the APC will win in Rivers State.
INEC said it has shown examples of free and fair elections in Edo, Osun and Ekiti states. What is your reaction to this?
They should improve, do more and become better. They have demonstrated free, fair and credible elections in Osun and Edo states, but they should do more. We need something more transparent.
In the last political dispensation, the APC in the state was barred from contesting any elective position. How did you feel at that time?
Well, we felt that Rivers people were disenfranchised and that is why you see the kind of things you will see in the state. That is why you see the kind of things you see in the state.
What are the chances of Tinubu in the forthcoming presidential election?
Well, by God’s grace, the APC will win. I am a party man.
Are you not worried about the rising popularity of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi?
What some of you people call popularity is a show. It is not grassroots popularity. For instance, in Rivers State, we have over 6,000 polling units across the state. How many Labour Party supporters do we have who can man those polling units as agents? This election is about the grassroots; this election is about structure. Obi has popularity, but I call it social media popularity. So, it doesn’t translate to political popularity. I wish him well.
In Nigeria, there has been the issue of vote-buying. How can it be curbed?
INEC and the security agencies must do their best to curb vote-buying. Vote-buying is all about corruption. When you buy votes, you buy people’s conscience and it makes them vote wrongly. Let people vote freely without being induced by any means. (Saturday PUNCH)