Ordinarily at my age and position in life, I should not have to justify myself in a press controversy on my voluntary decision to quit partisan politics particularly when this personal and well-intended act has come under unfair politicization of persons of mediocre temperament. For a couple of days now, I have been more bemused than angry by the not-so-funny, but, predictably, negative ingenuity of Nigerians, aided by an equally incredulous media, to create unpleasant things out of nothing. It has been a circus of those convinced that they have found a peg to hang their own, disloyalty, failure, shallowness and hatred unto, a ball to kick around, over my statement, not for the first time, that I was quitting partisan politics and my statement about former President Goodluck Jonathan, for reasons so obvious that I cannot understand what the orgy of self-flagellation is all about.
I still believe that former President Jonathan performed creditably well in various areas. I am very proud of him and so are millions of other Nigerians. He was good in so many areas, and did many good things for this nation. He resuscitated the railway system that was comatose for several decades; he engineered a robust economy for this nation; he fought against Polio and Ebola; maternal and child health; he did much for the Power Sector upon which President Muhammadu Buhari is now building; he tarred more roads than any of his predecessors; he turned agriculture to agro-business, a multibillion dollar business; he built the Almajiri schools in the Northern parts of this Country; he established new Federal Universities across this nation; he allowed for free speech across this nation, and did not mind when he was criticised or, even, abused; people were not arbitrarily locked up in jail or prison, as he truly respected the Rule of Law; he signed the Freedom of Information Bill into law, which was not done by his predecessors; he modernized the Aviation Sector; he convoked a National Conference that brought Nigerians together and proffered recommendations on how to better bind Nigerians together as one; he sanitized the electoral system of this country, unlike what we had before him, when elections results were announced without actually voting, when ballot snatching were rampant and common place, he brought transparency into the electoral process, when people could vote and the votes actually openly counted without violence. Today he stands as the first African president to concede an election to an opponent, even before the final counts. There are many more achievements to his record, but because of time and space let me end here for now. These are all lasting legacies that he has left behind. He has certainly set a precedent for others to follow.
But no human being is perfect; only God is perfect. Therefore, to mention an area of former President Jonathan’s inaction may not be out of place. Every leader in this world has their fault. President Jonathan cannot be an exception. As the late British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan observed in his autobiography, politicians do not regret their mistakes because they can always explain themselves; but they never forgive themselves for opportunities they have lost. For instance, President Barrack Obama of United States of America is frequently attacked for not having the political will to deal with Israel over the Palestinian question. This does not mean that he lacks the capacity to take action against Israel effectively or to deal with the affairs of the United States of America or that he lacks integrity. Several years ago, the entire Western world was being accused of lacking political will to deal with Apartheid South Africa. This did not mean any inaction of the Western countries by the rest of the world. It only means that President Obama and the Statesmen of the western world had other considerations in their minds in the interest of their countries.
In keeping with my character I cannot say in private what I cannot say in the public. I do not therefore, reject or disown Jonathan as my beloved political son.
My open support for former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
My support for President Goodluck Jonathan predates his presidency. It dates back to the period when he was the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. So for people who are thinking that I only knew Dr. Jonathan when he became the President or that I was one of his hangers on, I think there will be need to give them a little information. My relevance and leadership of my people as an elder statesman and a critical stakeholder in this Nigeria project far pre-dates Dr. Jonathan’s public life and presidency. I have been relevant in politics and I have served my people honestly and creditably well. I became very close to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan when he was Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. I was present in London when the late former Governor of BayelsaState, the Governor General of the Ijaw Nation, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha (may his soul rest in perfect peace) was arrested in London on the prompting of the Nigerian government under President Olusegun Obasanjo because of his hatred for Chief Alamieyeseigha. I had to cancel my flight to Nigeria at the London Airport when the news of the arrest of Chief Alamieyeseigha was conveyed to me by Ambassador Pereware from Paris. I went with a few well-meaning Nigerians to Essex where we had been informed that he was kept, but could not find him. We went to a few other places before we were able to locate where he was. I remained in London for one week with him to put in place machineries for his bail. I recall the large heartedness of Lady Ann Iyoha who brought out the title deed of her property in London to secure his bail and also the magnanimity of another woman from Amasoma, the home town of Chief Alamiyeseigha in Bayelsa State.
When I returned to Nigeria, I went to Bayelsa State to meet with stakeholders to see that a peaceful transition of power took place whereby Dr. Jonathan who was the then Deputy Governor became the Governor. Ambassador Godknows Igali became the Secretary to the State Government.
Of course, I openly supported President Jonathan not only as my son but also as the first person to emerge from the minorities of the Niger Delta as the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I had no choice but to support him and I have no regrets. My support is total and unyielding. If most of President Jonathan’s close associates and political leaders exhibited such support, by espousing all his achievements, rather than the pretence and betrayal they were engaged in, the story today would have been different. It will be recalled that I had on several occasions openly criticised the former President in the Press and in my statements for actions or inactions which were damaging to the President’s image while he was in office. When the President failed to check the excesses of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice which included his undue interference with the activities of the EFCC, I did not fail to speak my mind openly in opposition to the President. When the President did not deliver on his promise to complete the construction of the East-West Road, I did not fail to speak my mind openly. I even told him publicly that he should not leave the South South people poorer than he met them. When the Governors Forum appeared to arrogate to itself powers that infringed upon those of the President in the Constitution of Nigeria with impunity, I did not fail to criticise. The Press Conferences and Open Letters I wrote which were carried and published by the various media houses are there to confirm this claim. However, with all these, my support for him was and still is total and unshakeable.
Inability of successive governments to fight corruption in Nigeria
My declaration to the TNFI was to the effect that corruption had been the bane of Nigeria’s sad arrested development. A simple click on the website will show the number of times (not less than 25) that I have mentioned or talked about corruption before and during Jonathan’s administration. It has been the reason for the neglect of the ordinary man in Nigeria by ALL Governments. Therefore, I declared, not for the first time, my support for any effort to eradicate the cankerworm from our body polity. I traced the forces that had made the eradication of corruption impossible in time past. My analysis did NOT BEGIN AND END WITH THE GOODLUCK JONATHAN Administration. I actually traced them from the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999, with former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo failing to even scratch the surface beyond using some Special Purpose machineries to harass real and unreal enemies. For the eight years of President Obasanjo’s administration, he definitely institutionalised, legitimized and legalized corruption in this country. The cases of Halliburton and Siemens are typical examples. Today, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is one of the richest former rulers. The same forces were also at play in the time of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, GCFR, when anti-corruption activities slowed down because of some of those who assisted him in his Presidential election in 2007. A situation where Chief James Ibori, former governor of Delta State who was facing criminal charge, was playing a significant role in the affairs of Nigeria at Aso Rock and whereby his former State Commissioner for Finance, Mr. David Edebve became late President Yar’Adua’s Principal Secretary, could not help the situation.
My statements on President Jonathan and my quitting involvement in partisan politics were wickedly, sensationally presented by sections of the Media for reasons best known to them. It must be admitted that President Jonathan was very willing to fight corruption, but he believed that due process should and must be followed otherwise he could have initiated investigations into the scandals of Halliburton, Siemens and other serious alleged corruption charges leveled against some former Heads of State and other prominent Nigerians. He believed that there are institutions set up by the government such as the EFCC, the ICPC and other anti-graft agencies. But regrettably, some of those who surrounded him led by the Attorney General (AG), Alhaji Hassan Tukur, etc, made it impossible for these institutions to work either by stopping them from arresting offenders or prosecuting some of the cases. Over 50 high profile corruption cases are still pending in the various Courts for over 8 years now. Laughable Plea bargains and settlements out of Courts became the order of the day. It was at this juncture, when there was general complaint about the government not aggressively fighting corruption, I addressed an open petition to the then Chief Justice of the Federation, Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher, dated 2nd November, 2011, complaining that most of those charged to Court especially those of the former Governors who have become Senators were still pending. He promptly replied my letter on 3rd November, 2015. Most of the petitions written against some prominent Nigerians, addressed to the anti-graft agencies, did not see the light of the day. Ironically, the perpetrators of these corrupt actions were the same persons who attacked former President Jonathan’s inability to eradicate corruption in Nigeria.
My relationship with Jonathan was not based on material gains
It is indeed most disingenuous to insinuate that my relationship with former President Jonathan was based on what benefits accrued to me. Far from the truth as I never benefited any material thing from President Jonathan in all his six years of President. With all modesty, I am at this age contented. I state publicly therefore, that I never sought nor obtained any contract, oil block, oil lifting allocation or financial gratification from the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) during his years of administration. Similarly, I never solicited for appointments or special placements for any of my children or relations in any government or private concern on account of my relationship with President Jonathan. It is, therefore, ludicrous and totally ill-motived for these wicked and mischievous persons to sell to the public that my decision portends a plan to seek any special favours from President Muhammadu Buhari and his government, or to protect those gains which I acquired from President Jonathan’s government which never existed. On the contrary, my public service in this country which spans over 60 years had given me the opportunity to seek the political, social and economic development of my people and Nigeria in general. I remain committed more than ever before to the economic, political and social emancipation of the people of the Niger Delta, South South, the entire minorities and the development and unity of this great nation. This was even contained in the congratulatory letter which I wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari dated 3rd April, 2015. I reproduce here excerpt of that letter:
“…I am therefore pleased to join our other compatriots in this country and friends from the international community to convey my words of congratulations to you and your Party, the All Progressives Congress. I note that the election was keenly contested but the outcome has been determined by INEC, in the exercise of its statutory duties…I am glad that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who was so gracious to beat the gun in congratulating you, both by a historic telephone call and a national broadcast, underlined the need for the spirit of placing our national interest above individual or group ambition. This was an uncommon display of purposeful leadership and patriotism which I believe sets a propitious cue for the new government….Finally, Your Excellency, I wish to repeat here part of what I said in my open letter to my Northern brothers which was addressed to Alhaji Maitama Sule, that citizenship of any nation must be based on equality and respect for one another and not based on segregation of first class and second class citizens. We the minorities of the South-South have supported and worked with every government in Nigeria, waited for over 50 years before it pleased the Almighty God to make one of us the ruler of this country. We remain grateful for that and no one has faulted the majority ethnic group for ruling over the years. This is the principle I have always stood for and supported. But some people misunderstood me….Once again, I congratulate you and reassure you that as you get set to commence the process of peaceful transition and government, you will have my full support, as a man who strongly believes in the unity of Nigeria, just as I supported our most respected late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and his successor President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as long as you will at all times uphold the dignity of Nigeria and those things that bind us together as one united country, remembering that part of our old National Anthem which says “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand…”
My retirement from partisan politics
I am fast approaching 90 years and had been in active politics for over 60 years. It came to me as a shock that misguided persons are trying to lose their senses over my decision to quit active partisan politics.
I was in the Niger Delta Congress, NDC, with the late sage Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye and late His Excellency, Chief Melford Okilo between 1955 and 1959. I was in Mid-West Front, MWF. I was in the National Congress for Nigerian Citizens, NCNC. I was Secretary of the Zikist Vanguard, London in 1962. I served in General Yakubu Gowon’s cabinet as Minister of Information with late General Murtala Mohammed as Minister of Commerce, General Olusegun Obasanjo as Minister of Works, Alhaji Shehu Shagari as Minister of Finance. Today, three of these persons have become Presidents of Nigeria. Apart from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the others are no longer in active politics.
I was a member of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. I recall with heavy heart that most of the people with whom I played politics are either dead or have become politically inactive. Some of them are Makama Bida of Niger State, Maitama Sule of Kano State, K. O. Mbadiwe of Imo State, Fani Kayode, Tanko Yakassai, Dr. Ibrahim Tahil of Bauchi State, Adamu Ciroma of YobeState, Alhaji Ali Monguno of Borno State, A. M. A. Akinloye, T. O. S. Benson, Dr. Okezie of Imo State, M. T. Mbu of Cross River State, His Royal Majesty the Olubadan of Ibadan, just to mention a few. Not too long ago, I found myself attending a PDP caucus meeting in Warri with young men who are grandchildren of my political colleagues. Today, I sometimes move in a wheelchair. I had intimated former President Jonathan that once the elections were over and he was sworn into office for the second term, I will leave partisan politics and retire to my village.
Thus, I recalled earlier receiving a request by a Group with the rather uplifting name of “Think Nigeria First Initiative”, TNFI, for a Courtesy Call on me and to make me their Grand Patron. The Name alone sent sensations of kindred spirit through me and I readily accepted. I responded, enthusiastically, naturally. It was in that context that I said that myself at the age of nearly eighty-nine (89) years, and having carried my passions of similar ideals with theirs for over 60 years, had decided that my energies, NEEDED a paradigm restructuring. This same position I had declared at Akure, Ondo State, on the 24th of August, 2015, at the Meeting of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, SNPA, of which, by GOD’s Grace, I am one of the Leaders.
I wish to refer here to the crude and unpolished language used by Dr. Reuben Abati against me that I would have still been a PDP card carrying member if former President Jonathan had won the election. I do not know the background of Dr. Abati but for him to lie and devilishly imagined that I should have remained a PDP card carrying member if President Jonathan won the election is satanic.
No reader of the Guardian Newspaper particularly its Sunday edition will easily forget the frequently provocative columns by Dr. Reuben Abati. As the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the newspaper and syndicated columnist, Abati had a freehand to write whatever he liked in his column and could also influence other news items. I do not recall any favourable remark made by Abati all those years when he was the Chairman of the Editorial Board and syndicated columnist about the former President His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan. If I recall correctly, they were always the butt of ridicule by Dr. Reuben Abati. In fact, he became so notorious and fearless a critic of former President Jonathan and his wife in the Guardian Newspaper that I had to draw the attention of my cousin the Proprietor of Guardian Newspaper to his excesses. These vitriolic attacks on former President Jonathan and his wife only stopped when he was appointed the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity by the former President.
On his appointment, Aso Rock activities and Jonathan’s achievements were not sold to the people of Nigeria. Reuben Abati will recall the number of times when I called his attention to how he was being negligent of his duty as the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity by not defending President Jonathan against some of the scurrilous attacks against him and also by not promoting his image and the well-known achievements of his administration. My advice that a Publicity Committee made up of eminent journalists be put in place in Aso Rock and that Media Proprietors and Senior Journalists should be invited to Aso Rock were jettisoned by Abati because of what I suppose is his covetousness, particularly when many journalists and media houses always complained to me that he was not carrying them along.
Dr. Reuben Abati has risen to the defence of his last employer too late. He owes the former President apologies for his (Reuben Abati) failure to perform while in office. I should not be used as a scapegoat. I love Goodluck Jonathan and Goodluck Jonathan loves me.
I repeat again that I will like Dr. Abati to find out from his former boss, whether I did not intimate him of my intention that I will leave active politics sometime in 2015 and return to my village after Dr. Jonathan’s re-election as the President of Nigeria. It would be recalled that only two weeks ago, the former PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur retired from partisan politics while celebrating his 80th Birthday. Although he is much younger than I, Reuben Abati and his likes did not feel offended. I repeat here again, that I am very proud of my family background which has produced some of the most illustrious Nigerians and that I do not shift ground or change position. I still regard former President Jonathan as my son and Jonathan remains as my son. Since the change of government, we have been in close communication on the telephone and Jonathan has visited me over four times.
When I pointed to the former President Jonathan that most of those who surrounded him were not loyal, sincere or patriotic but mere opportunists, and that amongst them were: the former Chairman of PDP Dr. Adamu Mu’azu and Alhaji Hassan Turkur which became quite obvious during the Adamawa State Primaries, I did not stop there but openly criticized them in a press conference. It is therefore, unfair and unjust for Reuben Abati and other charlatans to accuse me for saying things against former President Jonathan while he is no longer in office.
It is obvious from Reuben Abati’s action that he is still not repentant from his mischievous acts of creating disaffection between Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his people of Niger Delta, even after his principal has left office. It is even more shameful that Dr. Abati who claims to be a cultured Yoruba man, a people who have great respect for elders, to go on this wild macabre dance to insinuate and say outright lies against an elder statesman of my age and standing. Unknown to him, more Nigerians know me as a person of strong principles and ideals than he and his likes can imagine. This is why their attacks on me have exposed them to more ridicules in the eyes of most Nigerians, than they would have ever imagined.
It is hypocritical of Dr. Reuben Abati, Sam Omatseye of the Nation Newspaper and Ochereome Nnanna of the Vanguard Newspaper who used to attack me for supporting former President Jonathan when he was in office, to now turn around to attack me for saying what I have repeatedly said even when President Jonathan was in office.
I will never seek new assimilation or join any new political association after withdrawing from partisan politics. It is Reuben Abati we all know who will soon seek realignment.
This Is My Story.