‘Lawyers saying 27 Rivers lawmakers who defected to APC have lost their seats may have been induced’

Tony Okocha, speaks on the feud between Governor Siminalayi Fubara and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom
Chairman of the APC caretaker committee in Rivers, Chief Tony Okocha
Chairman of the APC caretaker committee in Rivers, Chief Tony Okocha

The Caretaker Committee Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, Tony Okocha, in this interview with ANN GODWIN, speaks on the feud between Governor Siminalayi Fubara and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, the defection 27 state lawmakers elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC as well as the implications of the return of Senator Magnus Abe to the party, among other issues. Excerpts:

Recently Governor Siminalayi Fubara declared that the 27 lawmakers who defected to APC don’t exist and many have supported that assertion, citing section 109 (1g)  of the constitution, which states that the moment a person dumps the party that elected him into office, he has automatically lost his seat. Does the APC have a different interpretation of that section of the constitution?

I tell you something; what lawyers do the moment they see an aspect of a section of the constitution that suits their interest in a particular matter is to lift that aspect of the law that helps in justifying their position. They are careful not to bring in other aspects that will contradict them. So, section 109 (1g) has a proviso. The proviso is where the law said ‘provided you are able to show proof of irreconcilable crisis in the party’. It is a good ground to leave.
All the times I have engaged with the media, I have cited several instances to this. The House of Assembly members said they have reasons, evidences that the party is embroiled with crisis and that the crisis has become irredeemable, irreconcilable. They cited the case of the 2023 presidential election where five governors elected on the platform of the party supported the candidate of another party. Can the PDP say to be united when in 2023, five of its governors in different states openly led by former Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, stated that they would not vote for the party until certain wrongs were corrected? And they didn’t vote! Check the history and check the five states they were superintending. PDP would have won but because they switched their support away from PDP, the party lost. So, isn’t that enough to show that the party is in crisis?
The second point is that before the Assembly people defected to APC, four different judgments were coming to PDP over who is the secretary of the party and when the secretary position becomes an issue, it also goes to say that there is crisis in the party. The other reason they raised was that during the 2023 elections, they massively voted for President Bola Tinubu and now want to be part of Mr. President’s Renewed Hope Agenda and can best achieve that by coming into his political party. The fourth one is the imbroglio that ensued here in Rivers and the governor  left the majority of the House and was titling towards an infinitesimal four members and  it is clear that the legislators will make the law and the executive will execute. So, for these reasons, they can no longer remain fixated on a particular party.
So, it is not for anybody to say that they are losing their seats; it is the court that will decide and we have a myriad of cases in court challenging this matter.
There is a judgment by Justice Omotosho of the Federal High Court, who had first stopped every discussion on the matter pending the final resolution. Secondly, he made a consequential order in a judgment not an order and the Supreme Court has said that judges should restrain from granting an ex parte order except the order they will give is about to save lives or serious urgency.
So, in summary, the section 109 (1g) in the constitution has a proviso that justifies the lawmakers defection to APC. Those senior lawyers justifying the first section without acknowledging the proviso are speaking from their pockets; some have been induced. But they should stamp the law on the head because it is for generations to come. How won’t a judge know that a judgment is superior to an order or are they claiming that they are not aware of the judgment made long ago that they are claiming that the Assembly members have lost their seats?
Your close ally and the FCT Minister, Wike, is battling a lot of issues. The seats of the lawmakers loyal to him have been declared vacant; the local council chairmen loyal to him are about to exit office. Don’t you think Wike is gradually losing grip of the state?
That is far from it; rather what we should be asking is don’t we think that governor Fubara is sending an open invitation to anarchy? The governor is becoming excessively lawless; he has become the chief lawbreaker of Rivers State. I am taught that you can bend the law but not to break it. When you overtly break the law, a law that you are supposed to uphold and protect, then there is madness somewhere. I learnt that the governor has given an executive order compelling the Assembly to be meeting inside the Government House. They are not good students of history. Assuming the four lawmakers are in good number, it is wrong for the governor to use an order to compel them to come and use the Government House as their sitting venue.
I was a former Chief of Staff when the Assembly had crises during our time when former Governor Chibuike Amaechi was in office. The Assembly on their own passed a resolution saying that the safest place for them to sit was in the Government House. The law says the Assembly self regulates their operations; so the Assembly can independently resolve to sit anywhere. But when you make an order compelling them to sit at a particular venue, you are emasculating them. The four men sitting are not the State Assembly according to the law. For an Assembly to be properly constituted it must have a quorum and that quorum is one-third and let me ask, can one-third of 32 be three people?  If that flies, it means a day will come when we will have just one member and they will say that is the State Assembly. So, you see a deliberate illegality being machinated by the governor; he is inordinately desperate.
Following your position that stopping the Martins Amaehule-led Assembly is an impeachable offence on Governor Fubara, the PDP has accused APC of forcing itself on Rivers State government. How would you respond to that?
Though the APC National Publicity Secretary has responded to that, you don’t tweak the rules and the laws to favour the interest of any individual. The laws are sacrosanct and they are as made. So, for anybody to rewrite the Constitution overnight, the person would be goofing. Some processes are necessary; some processes are constitutional. When there is an aberration to the law, it is an impeachable offence because you swore to defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, the moment you start to break it, it becomes an impeachable offence.
So, we were right when we said the governor has committed plenty of offences and they are impeachable offences; it has become irredeemable. There is nothing else we can do; we have counseled him. When you are faced with criticism, you learn from it because no man is a compendium of knowledge. It is bad when the criticism is coming crudely. But when people sit down and articulate issues and critically criticise you, it is an invitation to do better but rather the governor discarded all and chose to break the law.
When you say the governor is breaking the law, are you saying his recognition of the four members of the State Assembly is illegal?
You cannot put something on anything. Even a little child who knows the law cannot recognise the four members as the State Assembly. It is illegal and an aberration to the law. So, it cannot stand. APC will not watch the governor drift the state to anarchy like a bull in a China shop.
Our laws are written and rigid and you know the process of amending a rigid constitution. It has to go through first reading, second reading, committee stage… So, you don’t wake up in the morning and at your whims and caprices say I have changed XYZ. What the governor is doing, he knows because he knows that he has lost it.

All these show that the Presidential Peace Agreement has failed. However, some argue that the governor implemented his part except the re-presentation of the 2024 budget while the Wike camp failed to implement its part?
You see, I was a signatory to that peace agreement and that document did not just come without a counsel from Mr. President. I was there from the beginning to the end. I can tell you how everything started. We all sat down as Rivers people, and stakeholders. The governor came with his team; the Assembly and Minister of the FCT also came with their team. The APC members were carefully chosen. We were in that meeting from the beginning to the end. When the president came out and sat down, he said, ‘Mr. Governor, you have fronted democracy’. He was referring to the pulling down of the Assembly complex and he said he had two approaches, the stick and carrot approach. He said he would not use the stick approach but the carrot approach and the carrot approach was counseling. The president spoke like a father; he didn’t allow the media and security men in. He said it was a family matter because before then, he was inundated with calls that he should intervene in the crisis rocking the state. Former governor Peter Odili was there and he gave him the document to read and when number one was read, the president would ask, is that what we agreed, we all would say yes and number two would be read and that continued.
But how was the document prepared? Was Governor Fubara privy to it or the document was already prepared and brought into the meeting and read to him to sign?
The document was brought into the meeting because the President said he had read all the issues and here is the resolution.
That means the President drafted the eight-point resolution without seeking the governor’s view first.
Do you know that the law allows Mr. President sometimes to go outside the constitution completely to intervene on issues? The President swore an oath of allegiance to protect and defend the sovereignty of the nation called Nigeria. Does that part eliminate any part of the country? Now if you are in the shoes of Mr. President, you see that a particular section of your country is on the verge of an inferno, which will necessarily spill over to other states, you will need to intervene. The President received a lot of calls to intervene and seeing the looming crisis, he intervened.

Don’t you think the governor’s recent outburst was because he was not carried along in drafting the peace agreement and the fact that the 27 lawmakers failed to implement their part of the pact?
After that agreement signing in Abuja, the lawmakers returned to Port Harcourt and convened a special session where all the processes of impeachment against the governor were withdrawn and they said to the governor, allow the Assembly to self-regulate. Don’t tamper with their operations; ensure their monies get to them as at when due; re-present the budget to the Martins Amaehule-led Assembly. So, looking at all the indexes, has the governor re-presented the budget?  Has he conducted the local council election?
I work in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The NDDC Act that is operational today, the lawmakers then vetoed former President Olusegun Obasanjo and today it is working. Are we not getting our allocation? It is the responsibility of the legislators to make laws and until the executive signs, it will never become a law. What they made was a bill and when the executive refused to sign, the Assembly returned it and weighed the pros and cons; is this law anti-people or people-oriented? So, it is beneficial; they moved on and vetoed it.
Don’t you think that the actions of the Amaehule-led Assembly in vetoing the governor in amending and passing some laws reignited the current phase of the crisis in the state?
It is the governor’s fault; he said the eight-point agenda was a ‘political decision’. There is what we call morality. Many governors left office but refused to answer Excellency because the word Excellency means you are obligated to do certain things even if it doesn’t suit you. In that meeting after signing, the president asked the governor, do you have anything to say and he said, yes. He thanked the president and said he had one request and said his only request is that those that fought this fight from his own side should not be victimised. The president said, yes, nobody would do that. At what time did he (Fubara) realise that it was a political decision? But he agreed to it. So, if I were the governor, what I would have done was to go back to the president and say, look, some people are breaching the agreement we signed.

Your romance and support for Wike is raising serious dust, especially considering that the minister is still a member of the PDP while you are in the APC?
In politics, there is no enemy, no friend. What is common is interest. If I tell you my relationship with Wike, you will be shocked. When I was to be made chief of staff, Wike stoutly opposed it and that opposition dragged that appointment for eight months. We were not fighting but he felt since he was not the one that produced me, I might break his hegemony. I was sworn in 2012 and when he wanted to become governor in 2014, I was the one who pushed the fight against him. But our paths crossed again during the 2023 elections and as at then I was almost an orphan in politics because my big friends had shifted. So, I was looking for allies but Wike came and supported us, as he came with his machine and rewrote the history of elections in Rivers State where APC won the presidential election unlike before when PDP had always won.
You described Senator Magnus Abe’s return to APC as valuable. What does that portend?
Senator Abe’s return to APC will boost the state APC; it is a joy to see your brethren return. Magnus is not a push-over politician in Rivers State politics. So, when such a calibre of person comes back to align with you, it’s like two good heads coming to work together and he has a structure.

Ousted APC Chairman,  Emeka Bekee, is claiming that his group loyal to the former Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, is the authentic APC leadership in the state though the matter is still in court.  What is your take?      
Emeka and his team goofed; I wasn’t part of them. I didn’t see him as having that capacity to lead the APC; I didn’t see him exude the intellectual confidence or the administrative acumen needed to put together the kind of people I know as chairmen of APC. Emeka followed Amaechi, who didn’t support Tinubu, and having lost, the APC said, they have suspended them. They didn’t stop there; they took the matter to court and our party in the state was in tatters and the national party appointed us. I wasn’t really interested because I have a job in NDDC.
Going forwards, how can Rivers State find peace within its political space?
The governor has fetched ant infested firewood, so he should expect the visit of the lizard. There is anarchy in the state. Who will lead the pathway to peace?  Every day you see the governor wake up and pour vituperations in the state. Even if he is the youngest leader in the state, he has a mandate of the state to superintend over them. You cannot be right and every other person is wrong.

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