Senator Magnus Abe was the chairman of the Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) in the seventh Senate. Following the nullification of the March 2015 election in Rivers South-East senatorial district by the Court of Appeal, he seeks to contest the rerun, scheduled for March 19, 2016 in the state. He speaks on issues ranging from politics in Rivers State to his ambition.
Over time, you have joined different political parties. Will this not affect your chances in the forthcoming senatorial election rerun?
Having moved from the then All Peoples Party (APP) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now being in the All Progressives Congress (APC), whether that will affect my chances in the rerun election, my answer is no. All the parties I have been are registered political parties. They are legal entities and are free to admit members who want to join and people are also free to leave. So, as long as I have been validly admitted into a party, I am a member of that party. It is for the party to decide what rights and privileges I am entitled to.
In APP, I was in a minority party. I left the party because I wanted to play politics with the national group and I saw that the parties in other parts of the country have virtually emptied out. I didn’t have any point to prove by sitting down in a place where nothing would happen. I wanted to be part of national politics. So, I went to the [Peoples Democratic Party] PDP which, at the time, had national spread and strength.
When we saw that the boat of PDP was fast heading to the precipice and that the whole engine was about to knock, we tried to call the attention of the leaders of the party, to say this thing is collapsing; let us repair this boat or turn it from where it was headed, but they refused to listen. So, we left and quickly joined other patriotic Nigerians to form a new national movement for the rebuilding of this country. That movement became the APC, of which I am today a proud member. So, I don’t see how that would affect me or anybody else.
There was no time that I had moved away from parties in an atmosphere that I would consider unreasonable. I always moved when there were issues that demanded that I move and I moved with the other people. Politics is not tennis but football; it is a team sport. You belong to a group and you work with your group. If your group decides to go left and you stand where you are, you will stand alone. Although there have been divisions and sub-divisions, we members of the team formed when we started politics are substantially still in the same team. We are still playing together.
What is your view on the series of violence associated with politics in the state?
A lot of people have been talking about violence and I want to look at the issue holistically, not just about this rerun. My position on the issue of violence has always been very clear. I stand here today to say that I have never bought and I will never, no matter the temptation, no matter whatever temporary benefit it may offer, buy guns or arm youths or ask our children to destroy one another because I want to hold a position. I have not done it. I will not do it. And I can swear by anything. I can stand anywhere and say it. I can challenge anybody who can disprove my claim to come out and do so. I hereby challenge any human being to say that I have been in any meeting where violence was planned or agreed upon as a strategy for any political gain. Such a person should come out and disgrace me.
I have always said that what I do for my children is what I would do for other children who are looking up to me. Instead of using my money to buy guns, I have used it to pay scholarships. Instead of using my money to arm youths, I have used it to fund programmes that would make their lives better and give them the same opportunities as my own children. All of us must realise that God knows all the things that we think we are hiding.
We cannot keep our children in very expensive private schools in the United Kingdom and set other people’s children here, because their parents are not as privileged as we are, on the path of destruction. We cannot glorify criminals and expect that children will not struggle to become criminals.
Today, if you go to some houses, where even graduates live, they cannot buy soap. It is the militants that are feeding the families. What kind of society are we building? Other politicians should have the courage to say what I am saying with the same strength and conviction. We should not just say it but we should also act it. The time you know whether you have principles or not is when your principles conflict with your desires and you sacrifice those desires for your principles. Until you are able to do that, you cannot claim to have principles.
I want to say here clearly and proudly that, for me, absence of violence among our youths is a principle. I am not saying this because I know it will play well in the media, I am saying it because that is my life and everybody who knows me knows that I don’t just say it but I live it. And I challenge others to do the same.
Today, Rivers State is dying. Many of the houses in Trans Amadi and many other places are empty. The MDs of the oil servicing companies that used to live in this town have all relocated out of Port Harcourt and with them have gone thousands of jobs and opportunities which we enjoyed as young people. We must recapture that Rivers State but we cannot do that without sacrifice. We cannot do that without taking ourselves away from those things that we see that are destroying the society.
But politicians have been accused of being in the habit of arming youths in times of elections…
I agree with you that politicians are arming youths for the purpose of holding positions. I am shocked that in spite of all that we are saying to our children, in spite of the fact that we are challenging them that these people that are giving you money, let them call their own relations, their children and do that which they are asking you to do, they keep their children in expensive schools abroad and here, they give you money and say, ‘you dey.’ I am telling you, ‘you no dey at all.’
The issue of violence is something that we must face. One of the ways to face it is by supporting and encouraging the security agencies to bring down these untouchables. Those who are benefiting from crime should be made to pay the price. Those who are stocking weapons should be made to let go of those weapons. But if we have a government that would refuse to support this kind of effort, if we have a government that continues to put criminals in political positions, then what kind of examples are we talking about? And how can we fight what we are participating in?
The other day, a top politician in the state was saying that he would not participate in any rerun because there would be bloodshed. How can we say such a thing? Is an election supposed to be something that would bring about bloodshed? What is an election? Is it not simply gathering our people to indicate their preference among the various choices that they are offered? How is that supposed to bring about bloodbath? How is that supposed to cause violence? I don’t really understand this.
So, I think we really need to work on ourselves and then the society. I agree with those who hold the political leaders accountable for the violence in this state. I also insist that law enforcement agencies should go after everybody –the sponsors and perpetrators. We should clean this state so that there can be true growth and prosperity.
What do you think can be done to ensure violence-free, credible elections in the state?
Election is a human activity. If the human beings conducting and participating in it agreed to a set of rules and we all abide by the rules, why would an election not be free and fair? If this whole election is about going there to serve the people, why do we need to kill ourselves or other people in order to serve them? If this whole fight is about the opportunity to assist the people, it is for you to tell them how you want to assist them and let us create an opportunity for them to choose the kind of help or support that they prefer at a given time. But we don’t do that. Instead, we want to hold positions by hook or by crook.
Your political party is critical of the Supreme Court judgement which upheld the election of Chief Nyesom Wike as the governor of the state. What is your personal position on the verdict of the apex court?
As a lawyer, I am not criticising the judgement of the Supreme Court. The apex court is the final, not because it is not infallible, but it is infallible because it is final. So, if the Supreme Court takes a position, it does not necessarily mean that another position taken by any lawyer is wrong. It simply means that the position that the Supreme Court has taken is the one that everybody should follow, whether it is right or wrong. The reason the constitution does that is to show that there must be an end to any quarrel. Whether it ends rightly or wrongly, it should end there. That is what the Supreme Court is about.
So, people are not in the Supreme Court because they know more than anybody else; they are supreme because they are in the Supreme Court. So, it is possible that as some of the decisions of courts over the centuries have shown, the position of a high court judge may be later accepted by everybody as the correct position. It does not mean that whatever the Supreme Court has said is the only thing that is right; it simply means that, that is the one that we must follow. As citizens of this country, as lawyers, we abide by the decision of the Supreme Court. That does not mean that the decision of the learned justices of the Court of Appeal was, in any way, wrong. In that particular case, their decision is the final decision.
So, if you accept the decision of the Supreme Court where their decision is the final, you should also accept the judgement of the Court of Appeal where its judgement is also final on National Assembly election matters. Appeal Court is the Supreme Court on such matters. So, you cannot say that you are agreeing with the decision of the Supreme Court, but the Court of Appeal short-changed you. How did that happen? It is the position of the law that we are following. These issues are based on what the law says. It is the law of Nigeria that we are following; it is the parliament who set the cap that National Assembly cases should end at the Court of Appeal and that is where it ends. So, whatever you get at the Court of Appeal, you take.
The same law set the cap for the governorship election matters to end at the Supreme Court. So, whatever you get at the Supreme Court, on matters that get to the Supreme Court, you take.
Do you have confidence in the new Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state?
Let me say it clearly, that what happened in Rivers State in 2015 was not just an act by Gesila Khan (the former Rivers REC). It was something that was done for the highest level of the then Nigerian government. It was with the connivance and support of the presidency at that time. No REC, without the support of the president, would be able to do what Khan did in Rivers State, which has been described by the Court of Appeal as an attack on democracy, because they deviated totally from all the rules that were laid down by [the Independent National Electoral Commission] INEC for the conduct of elections across the country.
I don’t think that the new REC will do such a thing or will try to do such a thing or will even agree to do such a thing, no matter the inducement. So, we will see. We have confidence in INEC. We believe that it will try to do its best and I want to call on all of us the actors to try and watch the new REC and see what we can come up with that will help what is actually a very tense political situation here in the state.
The constitution has given INEC the power to conduct elections and they have brought a man that they have confidence in. They know that Rivers State is a challenging terrain, so if they have so much confidence in Mr Anaedi Ikoiwak that they appointed him as the new REC, all of us should cooperate with him to see how he can make this election peaceful, free and fair.
Unlike what obtains in some other states, why is it difficult to seek reconciliation among politicians in Rivers?
Well, I believe that efforts at closing the gaps are beginning to appear. I thought so until I heard some comments a few days ago. When the Supreme Court gave judgement, the governor (Chief Nyesom Wike) made a conciliatory statement and called on his opponent, who was our own candidate and others, to join hands with him to move the state forward. I thought that was a good move. The candidate of the APC, Dr Dakuku Peterside, responded in the same manner by offering his support. He said where there is criticism, it should be viewed as being in good faith and that we should all work together to move the state forward.
But these words must be matched with actions and they must be consistent. You cannot say one thing today in a broadcast and tomorrow, in a church, say the opposite, calling yourself a lion or a tiger and all that. Nobody would want to work with a tiger. A tiger will injure you and the lion will eat you.
I think the main thing is for us to be consistent; let us say what is in our hearts. So, our words and our actions must consistently point towards the road to reconciliation, reintegration, peace, progress, togetherness, prosperity and not violence.