Your party, the APC, finally settled for a ticket of the same faith. The North seems to be at home with the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Don’t you think this is a problem in the Niger Delta region where you come from?
Some of us even supported Shettima’s candidacy. We advised Asiwaju to go find a good person who will give him support, whether he is Muslim or otherwise. Religion has brought nothing to our table. For example, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is an agency that is supposed to look after the Niger Delta region and so much money has been pumped into the agency, but the people who oversee these affairs are all Christians; no Muslims. See if you can find a development. The governors who run this region are all Christians. So if Asiwaju has a partner who will make him successful and give us protection, good roads and good schools, I don’t care because not everyone is even a Christian. So whoever can work for us is the one we need right now and Shettima is going to be a really good pair with Asiwaju.
The majority of people going to vote do not understand what they are saying on the Muslim-Muslim ticket. What we are saying right now is that Asiwaju will transform the country, if given the chance. We do not see the religious aspect of it. Although the current vice president is a Christian, under Buhari what is the difference?
Political observers believe that the South-South is a stronghold of the PDP. How are you going to sell the APC in the area, especially with the recent mass defection of APC members in Rivers State?
For my part, I will not hide my feelings about the current government. People have different feelings or perceptions about Buhari. Under him, the reward system for those who worked for the party is not encouraging. The reward system is very poor. But for some of us, we know that if you look at his pedigree and the people around him, you will know that Asiwaju is a good product to sell. Even when we have a difficult product, we still moved in and sold it and people bought it. So the way people are leaving the APC, people are also moving massively into the party. I don’t want to name names. Someone moved from PDP to APC for a specific purpose, and someone also leaves APC for another part for another mission. But did those who left the party tell you that they would not support Asiwaju? In Nigerian politics, many of them move for their stomachs. So I call them “stomach infrastructure politicians.” I was in opposition in my state for about seven to eight years, I don’t care, I don’t go near the Governor’s House, even though all my associates and friends are there. But you will see people who will tell you that we are APC federally, we are PDP in Delta State and they will even benefit more than us. But in the Asiwaju government, I don’t think such a thing will happen. If you want to work, you work for the APC so that this ideology continues.
Some people just believe that since Asiwaju is contesting, it’s their government, and wherever they are, they’re leaving their comfort zone. No matter how difficult it is, I thought to myself, I’m not praying that the APC will lose next year’s elections, especially at the national level. I’ll just quit the game and go about my business. I believe in everything I do; I look at the justification before acting. I am well known at home for this character. It’s very difficult to see people like that. When you see characterless people transiting from one end to the other, that’s no problem. If they defect, each has their reasons and their purpose and if this place does not suit them, they go to another place. Some people will want to be guided to see that their goals can be achieved there.
I told my people that one of the main issues in Delta State is to make sure the ports of Warri are functioning; some of us thought Buhari was going to fix it. Our shores are touched by the ocean. Some of us thought that the gas project whose foundations were laid by President Jonathan would be completed by President Buhari. We also thought that Buhari was going to fix the Warri refinery. A lot of money was budgeted for these projects, but nothing came of it. I don’t want to blame him 100% for neglecting us. But, knowing Asiwaju and his background in Lagos and seeing Nigeria as a whole, he will want more money in Nigeria. There are various investments that Asiwaju is going to create, so the money will come into the country and there is no way to design this and Warri will be excluded; either Port-Harcourt will come out of it, or Bayelsa will come out of it; ditto Calabar because it’s going to be a bigger picture.
He will want to attract more investors because he is a businessman and he is a politician. So it’s a different ball game; with the little he has, there is no difference between Lagos, Warri and Port-Harcourt. With these three cities, you are watching what will happen to Nigeria. I will not blame Buhari 100% because of the problems that occurred when he entered the government; they were breaking pipelines and some of the governors in our area were helping and abetting those who were doing these things, because Jonathan lost the election. The impact of what the Avengers were doing at that time affected the economy so much and that was part of what frustrated the government. This was 2015. So what we were supposed to produce fell because every part of the Niger Delta was hit by vandals because we lost an election and some of us came out to say look you say they are going to abandon Niger. Delta.
The essence of this Muslim-Muslim ticket is to tackle the insurgency in the Northeast. In the Niger delta, yes, you have to be agitated, but my way of agitating is different from yours. Do not break the pipe. We can close and if we agree, we start again, without destroying any installation, so that the federal government does not say that it plans money to repair. People are facing reality now and if Asiwaju joins us, he will be the brand new face and that’s what affected the APC tremendously. In our area, when the Niger Delta took away the white men, some of us went against it.
So when there were no more white men to kidnap, they started kidnapping their people. But, some people supported them then for political reasons. So most of the problems we have are caused by politicians, not by religion. So, I know that if Asiwaju takes office and promises to fix all these things, ports, roads, schools, etc. if the ports are working you can see what they will generate around that area. There are lots of lands along the coast from Warri to Escravos where you can have various crafting. I know Asiwaju, I looked at his profile, and I had a good relationship with him for a very long time. It’s not just someone you can go and lie to; he will ask someone to go and check and verify if it is true. So, he is someone who understands the inside and outside of Nigeria as it is today. So what we want is someone who will transform Nigeria.
How salable is the Tinubu/Shettima ticket in the South-South where you are from?
When a product is good, you don’t need a lot of ads to sell it. Asiwaju is a very good product and in Delta State I see no difference in other parts of Nigeria, if Asiwaju can get it in other parts he can also get it in south south because it is a very good product to market alone. It is easier for us to sell Asiwaju than some other people you will have a hard time selling in the South-South. Asiwaju is a household name in the south-south. For me, I will tell you that Asiwaju is from Delta State because in Itsekiri they will tell you that the brother-in-law is the third member of the family. So, after my father, my mother and my brother, the other person is an in-law. Itsekiri or the people of Delta are not disenfranchising their in-laws. Asiwaju also has the same right as me to participate in anything, to be part of any meeting and to have his fair share in anything. I can boldly tell you that Asiwaju is from Delta State. Being from Delta, Asiwaju hails from South-South.
But, given that the PDP picked their presidential running mate from your state, are you sure Tinubu can win?
I don’t know what you mean by our son. I told you that Asiwaju too is from Delta by any means you see. Okowa is vying to be the vice president, while Asiwaju is aiming for the number one seat. So you can’t compare. If we have to opt for a truly free and fair election, it is Asiwaju.
When Shettima was unveiled as the APC vice-presidential candidate, some key South-South and South-East members were not present. Isn’t this the sign of a crack in the party?
Even though I wasn’t there, Shettima had been unveiled before by Asiwaju. So I don’t see any political connotation in that. We were told it was Shettima and we talked. Everyone congratulated him. The unveiling was just a ceremony. So that’s not a problem for me.
Your party has not been able to effectively address the security challenges facing the country. What major role do you think traditional institutions can play in mitigating or addressing this problem head-on?
First, you remove the traditional institution from politics. It must be taken out of politics because it is very dangerous for the institution to play politics. After all, they are under government; most of them are paid by the government. If you look at state laws, they fall under the state government. And when you involve them and they speak their mind and that person you’re supporting is now lost, you know the repercussions. Sometimes when we speak and people say that Ayiri is this, it is the chief Ayiri who speaks; you can’t link what I’m saying to the traditional institution. I speak as a politician; as a leader who wants a better deal for his people. So I can be held responsible. Sometimes you downplay institutions when it comes to national politics like this. As a royal father you can pray for anyone, if you choose to go vote you know who you are voting for.
On the issue of security challenges, I mean the issue of insurgency; I know Asiwaju is that man who has the courage to make a very difficult decision. That’s another reason why I’m with him because he dares to make decisions. I will tell you, this is the way to go and if Asiwaju is the president of this country and he has the right study of Borno, Yobe and the North East in general, he can deal with the situation.
Don’t you think that a constitutional amendment is needed to grant independence to traditional leaders, just like the judiciary?
I probed a similar view recently; if the traditional institution can be included in the constitution so that it can have a role to play and its voice can be heard, it will not be a bad idea. What you said was their involvement in politics, so I told you the danger that posed. We can advocate the way it was in the First Republic when we had the House of Chiefs.