The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) in the Seventh National Assembly, Senator Magnus Abe, is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Rivers Southeast District in the March 19 rerun. In this interview with BISI OLANIYI in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, the 50-year-old politician speaks on his preparation for the exercise, the resort to violence by some actors and the general anxiety over the poll.
How optimistic are you about the March 19 rerun?
I will be re-elected by God’s grace. The story of the March 28, 2015 senatorial election will be told and retold for years to come. Even though the card-reader accreditation for the election was less than 40,000, my opponent (Olaka Worgu of the Peoples Democratic Party) was awarded a total score of 480,000, which is almost the entire vote of the senatorial district and I was awarded 44,000.
I always tell people that the 44,000 I was awarded included most of the card-reader accredited votes, but the 480,000 that my opponent was awarded did not include the card-reader accredited votes. The Court of Appeal cancelled the election and ordered a rerun. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed March 19 for the rerun.
Please support and vote for me. I will represent you very well. The interest of Rivers State will be better protected with me in the 8th Senate. I am the only returning member of the Senate from the Southsouth and the Southeast, who served in the 7th Senate, that is aspiring at this point to return to the 8th Senate. That means that from both the Southsouth and the Southeast zones, I will be the only ranking member of the APC in the 8th Senate.
By the strength of God, today, the APC is the party in power in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari is the President of Nigeria. Commonsense, wisdom and the interest of our people should determine that we should send people who will be in a position to have access to the government and work with the government, in the interest of the larger Rivers community.
Between me and all my opponents in this rerun, I am the only person who meets the criteria. I am the only person who is a member of the same political party with President Buhari. I am the only person who is a member of the same political party that the Federal Government at the centre belongs. I am the only person from my party who is returning as a senior member of the Senate. We should not throw the opportunity away, because of local sentiments, mere partisan politics and partisan interests. That will not serve the interest of Rivers state.
As much as possible, we should make the forthcoming rerun to be about Rivers state, about the issues that concern and affect Rivers people. About what will bring peace, progress and prosperity to Rivers state and Rivers people.
I already see the dangerous signal of this contest deteriorating into another era of civil war, if we do not restrain ourselves, if we do not guard our comments, if we do not turn from baseless personal attacks and focus on the issues that affect our people.
I believe that the people of Rivers state, over the past few years, have suffered a lot from this politics of destroy and destroy. It is time for us to now address the politics of building. I extend my own hand to all my opponents, to join me. Let us run issue-based campaigns. Let us keep violence out of this politics. Let us get our people mobilised, so that they can come out and make their choice. If we do that, the state and indeed the country will benefit from that kind of example.
You have traversed the ANPP, PDP and APC. Does that not make you a serial defector?
All the parties I have been in are registered political parties and they are legal entities. They are free to admit members who want to join and people are also free to leave. As long as I have been validly admitted into a party, I am a member of the party. It is for the party to decide what privileges or rights you are entitled to.
In the All Peoples Party (APP), I was the Minority Leader in the Rivers State House of Assembly. I left the APP because I wanted to play politics with the national group and I saw that the party, around the other parts of the country, had virtually emptied out. I did not have any point to prove by sitting around in a place where nothing can happen. I wanted to be part of national politics. So, I went to the PDP, which at the time, had a national spread and national strength, and I was able to participate in that.
When we saw that the boat of the PDP was fast heading for a praecipe and that the whole engine was about to knock, we tried to call the attention of the leaders of the party to say the party was collapsing and to turn it from where it was headed, but they refused to listen and so we left.
We quickly joined other patriotic Nigerians to form a new national movement for the rebuilding of this country. The movement became the APC, which I am today a proud member. I do not see how that will affect me or anybody else. There is no time that I have moved parties in an atmosphere I will consider unreasonable. I always moved when there were issues that demanded that I moved and I would move with other people. Politics is like football, a team sport.
When you belong with a group, you will work with your group. If the group decides to go left and you stand where you are, you will stand alone. So, the same political team that I have worked with, from when we started politics, there may be some divisions and sub-divisions, but substantially, we are still in the same team and we are still playing together. It is a team sport and it is a decision of the group when we move and when we do not move.
Do you have the fear that the violence and killings that marred the governorship election may be repeated on March 19?
I want to take the issue of violence holistically, not just to do with elections. I have never and I will never, no matter the temptation, no matter what temporary benefit it may offer, I will never buy guns or arm youths or set our children up to destroy one another, because I want to hold any position. I have not done it and I will not do it. I can swear by anything. I can stand anywhere and say it publicly. I can challenge anybody who can disprove it to come out and do so.
I hereby challenge anybody, who will say that I have been in any meeting, where violence was planned or where violence was agreed upon as a strategy for any political matter, should come out and disgrace me. I have never and I will never.
The same thing I am doing for my own children is what I will do for the children who are looking up to me. Instead of using my money to buy guns, I have used my money to pay scholarships. Instead of using my money to arm youths, I have used my money to fund programmes that will help to make their lives better and give them the same opportunities that I am giving to my own children.
All of us must remember that, beyond the things we do today, there is a God in heaven, who knows all the things that we think we are hiding. We cannot keep our children in very expensive private schools, keep our children in schools in the United Kingdom and come here (Rivers state) and carry other people’s children, because their parents are not as privileged as we are and begin to set them on a path of self destruction.
We cannot glorify criminals and expect that children will not struggle to be criminals. Today, you go to some houses, graduates are in their houses, they cannot buy soap. It is the militants that are feeding the families. What kind of society are we building? The same strength and conviction with which I am saying it, other politicians should have the courage to be able to say it the way I am saying it. Not just to say it, but to act it out.
When you know, whether you have principles or not, is when your principles conflict with your own desires and what you can get and then you sacrifice your desires, you sacrifice what you can get, in favour of your principles. Until you are able to do that, you cannot claim to have principles.
For me, non-violence among our youths is a principle. It is not a position of convenience. I am saying this, because that is my life. Everybody who knows me, knows that I do not just say it, but I live it, I challenge other leaders to do the same.
We must tackle violence by supporting and encouraging the security agencies to bring down the untouchables. Those who are benefiting from crimes 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 will refuse to support this kind of effort, if we have a government that continues to promote criminals into political positions, then what kind of example are we talking about? How can we fight what we are participating in?
Election is not supposed to bring bloodbath or violence. The electorate must be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice and their votes must count. We need to work on ourselves and the society. Elections ought to be free, fair and credible. If elections are about going to serve the people, why do we need to kill ourselves or kill the people, in order to serve them? Positions should not be held by hook or by crook.
Do you have confidence in the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Aniedi Ikoiwak?
What happened in Rivers state during the 2015 general elections was not just an act by Gesila Khan (the then REC, who has been transferred to Cross River State), it was something that was done from the highest level of the Nigerian government, with the connivance, support and active instigation of the Presidency at that time, especially the then First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan.
No REC, without the support of the President, would be able to do what Gesila Khan did in Rivers state, which was described by the Court of Appeal as an attack on democracy, because they deviated totally from all the rules that were laid down by INEC, for the conduct of the elections across the country.
No matter the inducement, I do not expect the new REC in Rivers state, Aniedi Ikoiwak, to do what Gesila Khan did, especially the electoral rascality. We will wait and we will see. We have confidence in INEC. We believe that INEC officials will try to do their best.
I want to call on all of us who are actors to try to work with the new REC of INEC in Rivers State. Let us see what he can come up with that will help in the tense political situation in Rivers state, a challenging terrain. We need free, fair and credible elections in Rivers state.
Is it possible for politicians in Rivers State to reconcile, irrespective of party differences?
Efforts at trying to close the gaps are beginning to appear. After the Supreme Court judgment of January 27, 2016, Governor Nyesom Wike made a reconciliatory speech and called on his opponents, particularly Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside of the APC, to join hands with him to move Rivers state forward. Dr. Peterside also responded in the same manner, by offering his hand of support.
Wike’s words must be matched by actions and they must be consistent. You cannot say one thing today in a broadcast, and then tomorrow in a church, you are saying the exact opposite, calling yourself a lion and a tiger, which nobody will like to work with. Tiger will wound you. Lion will eat you.
We must be consistent and say what is in our hearts. Our words and our actions must consistently point towards the road of reconciliation, reintegration, peace, progress, togetherness, prosperity and non-violence.