Your party, the APC, eventually settled for same-faith ticket. The North appears to be home with the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Don’t you think it is an issue in the Niger Delta region where you come from?
Some of us even supported the candidacy of Shettima. We advised Asiwaju to go and look for a good person that will give him support, whether Muslim or anything. Religion has not brought anything to our table. For example, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is an agency that is supposed to be taking care of the Niger Delta region and so much money has been pumped into the agency but the people monitoring those affairs are all Christians; no Muslims. Go and see whether you will find any development. Governors running that region are all Christians. So, if Asiwaju has a partner that will make him succeed, and will give us protection, good roads, and good schools, I don’t care because not everybody is even a Christian. So, whoever can work for us is who we need at this time and Shettima is going to be a very good pair with Asiwaju.
The majority of people that are going to vote don’t understand what they are saying about the Muslim-Muslim ticket. What we are saying at the moment is that Asiwaju is going to transform the country, if given a chance. We are not seeing the religious aspect of it. Though the current vice president is a Christian, under Buhari what is the difference?
Political observers believe the South South is a PDP stronghold. How are you going to sell the APC in the zone, especially with the recent mass defection of APC members in Rivers State?
To me, 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 that worked for the party is not encouraging. The reward system is very poor. But to 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 we sold him and people bought him. So, the way people are defecting from the APC, people are also moving massively into the party. I don’t want to mention names. Somebody moved from the PDP to the APC for a purpose, and somebody is also moving out of the APC to another party for another mission. But did those moving out of the party tell you they will not support Asiwaju? In Nigerian politics, a lot of them move for their stomach. So, I call them ‘stomach infrastructure politicians’. I have been in opposition in my state for almost seven to eight years, I don’t care, I don’t go close to the Government House, even though all my associates and friends are there. But you will see some people who will tell you we are APC at the federal, 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 will remain.
Some people just believe that since Asiwaju is contesting, this is their government, and wherever they are they leave their comfort zone. No matter how difficult it is, I have told myself, I don’t pray to see the APC lose next year’s elections, particularly at the national level. I will just quit the game and go and face my business. I believe in anything I am doing; I look at the justification before taking any action. I am well known at home for that character. It is very difficult to see people like that. When you see people with no character transiting from one end to another, it is not an issue. If they are defecting, everybody has their reasons and 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 objectives can be achieved there.
I told my people that one of the major problems in Delta State is to ensure that the ports in Warri are working; some of us thought that Buhari was going to fix it. The shores in our place are being affected by the ocean. Some of us thought the gas project whose foundation was laid by President Jonathan will be completed by President Buhari. We also believed that Buhari was going to fix the Warri refinery. A lot of money has been budgeted for these projects, but nothing has come out of it. I don’t want to blame him 100 per cent for neglecting us. But, knowing Asiwaju and his antecedents in Lagos and seeing Nigeria as a bigger picture, he will want more money in Nigeria. There are various investments that Asiwaju is going to create, so that money will come into the country and there is no way you want to design that and Warri is going to be left out of it; or Port-Harcourt will be out of it, or Bayelsa will be out of it; ditto Calabar because it is going to be a bigger picture.
He will want to attract more investors because he is a business person and he is a politician. So, it is a different ball game; with the little he has, there is no difference between Lagos, Warri and Port-Harcourt. With these three cities, you look at what will be coming into Nigeria. I will not blame Buhari 100 per cent because of the trouble that happened when he got into government; they were breaking pipelines and some of the governors in our region were aiding and abetting those people that were doing those 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. That was in 2015. So, what we were supposed to produce came down because every part of the Niger Delta was being affected by the vandals because we lost an election and some of us came out to say, look you are saying they will abandon Niger Delta.
The essence of this Muslim-Muslim ticket is to tackle the insurgency in the Northeast. In the Niger Delta, yes, we must agitate but my way of agitation is different from yours. Don’t burst the pipe. We can shut down and if we agree, we kick start, without destroying any installation, so that the Federal Government will not say they are budgeting money to repair. People are facing the reality now and if Asiwaju comes on board, he is going to be the brand new face and that is what affected the APC hugely. In our region, when the Niger Delta was kidnapping the white men, some of us were going against it.
So, when there were no white men to kidnap, they started kidnapping their people. But, some people were supporting them then because of political reasons. So, most of the problems we have are caused by politicians, not religion. So, I know if Asiwaju assumes office and promises to fix all these things, the ports, the 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 fabrications. I know Asiwaju, I have looked at his profile, and I have had a good relationship with him for a very long time. He is not just somebody you can go and lie to; he will ask somebody to go and check and verify if it’s true. So, he is somebody who understands in and out of Nigeria as it is today. So, what we want is somebody that will transform Nigeria.
How sellable is the Tinubu/Shettima ticket in the South-south where you come from?
When a product is good, you don’t need a lot of advertisements to sell it. Asiwaju is a very good product and in Delta State, I don’t see any difference in other parts of Nigeria, if Asiwaju can get it in other parts, he can equally get it in the South-south because he is a very good product to market on his own. It is easier for us to sell Asiwaju than some other persons that you will struggle and struggle to sell in the South-south. Asiwaju is a household name in the South-south. To me, I will tell you that Asiwaju is from Delta State because, in Itsekiri, they will tell you that the in-law is the third family member. So, after my father, mother, and brother, the other person is an in-law. Itsekiri or people from Delta don’t disenfranchise their in-laws. Asiwaju equally has the same right as I do to partake in anything, to be part of any meeting and have his fair share in anything. I can boldly tell you that Asiwaju is from Delta State. Being that he is from Delta, Asiwaju is from South-south.
But, given that the PDP picked its presidential running mate from your state, are you sure Tinubu can win?
I don’t know what you mean by our son. I have told you that Asiwaju too is from Delta by any means you see it. Okowa is vying to be the vice president, while Asiwaju is going for the number one seat. So, you can’t compare. If we are to go for a real free and fair election, it is Asiwaju.
At the unveiling of Shettima as the vice-presidential candidate of the APC, some key members from the South-south and the Southeast were not at the event. Is that not a sign of a crack in the party?
Even though I was not there, Shettima had been unveiled before then by Asiwaju. So, I don’t see any political undertone in that. We have been told that it is Shettima and we have been talking. Everybody congratulated him. The unveiling was just a ceremonial thing. So, it is not an issue for me.
Your party has not been able to tackle the security challenges facing the country effectively. What major role do you think the traditional institutions can play to mitigate this or address it frontally?
First of all, you take the traditional institution out of politics. You must take it out of politics because it is very dangerous for the institution to play politics. After all, they are under the government; most of them are being paid by the government. If you look at the laws of the states, they are under the state government. And when you involve them and they speak their mind and that person you are supporting now lost, you know the repercussion. Sometimes, when we are speaking and people are saying Ayiri is this, it is Chief Ayiri talking; you cannot tie what I say to the traditional institution. I am speaking as a politician; as a leader who wants a better deal for his people. So, I can be held responsible. Sometimes, you downplay the institutions when it comes to national politics like this. As a royal father, you can pray for anybody, if you choose to go and cast your vote, you know who you cast it for.
On the issue of security challenges, I mean the issue of insurgency; I know Asiwaju is that man that has the courage of taking a very difficult decision. That is another reason I am with him because he dares to take decisions. I will tell you, this is the way to go and if Asiwaju is the president of this country and he has the proper study of Borno, Yobe and the Northeast in general, he will be able to deal with the situation.
Don’t you think there is a need for a constitutional amendment to grant traditional rulers independence, just like the judiciary?
I canvassed a similar view recently; if the traditional institution can be included in the constitution so that they can have a role to play and their voice can be heard, it will not be a bad idea. What you said is their involvement in politics, so I told you the danger in it. We can advocate the way it used to be in the First Republic when we had the House of Chiefs.