May 14, 2009, Senator Eyin Abaribe escaped death by the whiskers. The incident happened in that same state, Abia, where four journalists were kidnapped and held hostage for eight days. He was to be kidnapped, too.
But according to him, when the kidnap attempt was about to fail, the hoodlums opened fire on my car, sprayed it with bullets, killing my orderly. Ive had to place the wife on salary just to help the familyÄĚ. How did matters get to this head for the people of Abia State?
Well, Senator Abaribe explains that this was something he had been complaining about for almost 10 years but nobody would listen. In this interview, he talks about his experience as a deputy governor Ė in fact, Abaribe was the first deputy governor to lose his office in this republic.
He also explains how Abia State got to this present state of criminality. Excerpts:
Just two months into the life of your administration, you had a face-off with your then boss, Governor Orji
Uzor Kalu. What sort of an individual are you that, within two or three months, you started fighting your governor, your boss?
I didnt come into politics just because I was looking for something to do. I genuinely felt I was coming into politics to change peoples lives as well as change the way people do business. The idea that politics was meant for the never do wells in the society to me was wrong. I had also seen that time that people of integrity and people who had something to offer stayed away from politics.
What we saw was that those who were populating the political space, I mean those who were taking decisions on our behalf, decisions about our lives, our families and our future were those in it just for whatever they could get from it and for themselves. To correct that motivated me to come into politics. When I was now confronted with that stark reality was the time I saw that I either had to compromise my principle or that I had to stand firm and say NO. I said NO.
The other part of it was my upbringing; I had a father who was a laboratory technician, a man who struggled to put seven of us through school and made sure we had education. He spent his life training us and he had no house to his name, never stole, never acquired any property.
He just did all he could; and then we had a mother who also gave us moral upbringing. They inculcated in me the fact that everything in life is not just money, that your name is far more important than any other thing.
But your principal alleged at that time that your were involved in the printing of motor park receipts with a view to enriching yourself?
People found the allegation ridiculous and if it wasnt so sad it would have just been hilarious. At the end of the day, they discovered that there was nothing to that allegation. You know in politics, you stumble on some things.
Some associates of his (Uzor Kalu) called me aside that time and said, Äėyou know, there is something they call gamji. What it means is that they put some allegations on you and they tell you to just confess and own up so that the charges will go away but once you do that, they have something on you because you have confessed to a crime you did not commit and they then begin to lead you more and more into the morass.
For me, I did not fall for that and for me, they also thought that I was in politics because of my stomach and when your income is threatened, you will fall in line. Like you said, this was just two months into that administration, a time when we did not even know our way round the Government House. And this type of stupid allegation came up.
Then there was also this misconception on the part of Nigerians that somebody in a position of authority has a moral backbone to say something which must necessarily be true. Our people do not have that skepticism that somebody in authority may not be telling the truth but I think over the years, everybodys eyes have now become open so if somebody says something today, people will say please let us double check. If, at that time, people double-checked, they would have discovered that that allegation was a lie. It was ridiculous.
Senator-Eyin-Abaribe ... Well, the dilemma is that there is no way you can tell an incumbent that he should not run for an election that he is fully qualified to run; he is an incumbent and everywhere it is a given that an incumbent will wanting to run
How did you even meet Orji Kalu? He said he picked you from a bus that he merely wanted to lift you up?
The point is this, I had known him by reputation and we hadnt had any close contact. The contact we had was the day that we were all going for a rally called by the PDP. At that time, I was running for House of Representatives.
We were all coming back from Aba to go for the PDP rally and it was in December during the harmattan. We went to the airport and could not get a flight because they closed the airspace because of bad weather. That was the time I met him. He was also in the bus with me; we had tried to go get a flight and we were unable to get the flight and he came out to say he just picked me from the gutter.
Well, I dont think anybody from the gutter would have been able to afford a flight ticket at that time. Here I was, served as a university lecturer, an area manager with SCOA, one of the biggest conglomerates in Nigeria, an investment manager with NICON, and managing director of a mortgage bank. So when these kinds of stories come out, you dont dignify them with serious response.
But you were said to have brought a gun into the state exco meeting?
It was all part of the allegations that were made then. But like Ive said all those things (laughter) are in the past now. What is much more in our purview today is the deplorable state of Abia and the way the people of the state have been dehumanized, traumatized, pauperized by the politics of the state and at the end, have been kept under siege and the fact that life is no longer meaningful, that is my concern now. I still insist that the time for restoration has come.
Some people who have had close contact with you say that you are stubborn?
It is not true. Those who dont know me or those who have never really come close to me peddle that.
I have only one policy, I do not compromise my integrity. I do not believe that things should come to me on the basis of expediency. No. I would not do that. People expect the average Nigerian politician to thrive on selfishness and not selflessness.
Okay, the primaries of your party which brought you in, how did it go. We heard some very strange stories and which even led to the state chapter of the party dragging everyone before Obasanjo?
People will take issues.
The point was that I insisted when efforts were being made to ensure that we did not have primaries but I insisted that we needed to test everyones popularity. Some of the other aspirants who were looking forward to ensuring that primaries were never held suffered great defeat. One of the mistakes that the elite make is that the so called common people can think, they know those who relate with them. When you give them the opportunity to exercise their franchise, they do the right thing.
The only problem is that these people are helpless. During the primaries so many things were said about me, that the people have been told not to vote for me but at the end of the day I took 80% of the votes. I came from outside to take the votes and they went and wrote all kinds of stories and that I threw a grenade into the place.
Yes! We heard that, too!?
But before Obasanjo I told him, Sir, you were a military man and Ahmadu Ali, too, was there; and I asked that sir, as a military man, if I throw a grenade, will it not kill somebody? Was there any report of any casualty? It became obvious that it was just a ploy to stop me and get somebody else through Abuja. Some people never let Obasanjo know that there was a primary but what happened was that I brought my copy of result; I also brought a video because I recorded it how people voted; and it became clear.
Abaribe: Dont forget that the governor of Abia State today was for eight years the Chief of Staff to Governor Orji Uzor Kalu
This is one of the sad aspects of our politics but that is what the new chairman of PDP wants to do so that primaries will be free, fair and open and it is also part of the electoral law we are considering in the Senate, to make primaries open and free. People will see clearly who won and our politics will become better. But a situation where people go inside a room and close the door and decide does not augur well. I have represented my people very well.
The successful politician is the one who has some people passionately for him and some other people passionately against him. What counts is when you have many people passionately for you and just a few passionately against you. The people know you and the people believe in me
Your party, PDP, is responsible for the problems in Nigeria and with Nigeria. Would you agree?
No, I wouldnt.
They defend that statement with the fact that the dominance of PDP would have had an effect on the polity and set a good example for others to follow but that is not the case.
I think what you do is to locate it at individuals around the political space. I do not believe that whatever ails PDP is not present in other parties.
What your response suggests is that the PDP, too, has an ailment?
What we lack is just a few good men or women in Nigerias politics to do the right thing and the moral stature you would have expected of some individuals you would have thought would behave well but you now discover what they really stand for when the chips are down.
What I see is that there is complicity by various people in the polity and that is what has brought us to the sorry pass that we are today. The ailment is the fact that rules and regulations are set up and they are broken willy-nilly by the same people who make those rules on grounds of expediency and it is that that is our basic problem and I think you can not locate it in PDP also. It is everywhere else.
If you then say other parties are following PDPs lead then those parties do not have any basis to be called parties because every party has its manifesto, other parties have ideologies that are supposed to be different and you are supposed to present an alternative to the PDP and if the alternative is now the same then those parties do not deserve to be called alternatives.
But in a situation where your party has 28 state governors Ė and were still not sure if some other state governors will not join you tomorrow; you have a clear, very clear majority in the National Assembly and yet, Nigeria is not moving forward in terms of economic development?
But then, when you say PDP, its just like saying Nigeria. Its a nebulous term and its too big. We have to locate it at the door step of the person who has that responsibility to make things work. PDP has its own manifesto and agenda and the party has the welfare of Nigerians clearly stipulated. But human beings are the governors and the responsibility lies on their head and if the people do not perform, you can not then turn around and just heap the blame on PDP.
There are some performing governors. Mind you, there are some non-PDP governors who are equally non-performing and a clear example is the one who governs my state who has been adjudged as non-performing Äď hes not in PDP.
You governor said some of the issues of kidnapping could be traced back to some politicians in PDP, indirectly that statement pointed at some of you in PDP?
That statement was a mere blanket statement coming from him that some politicians used some youths as thugs and they didnt settle them. What he has done is that he is pointing a finger at some people and the other four are pointing back at him. One, hes a politician.
Two, he also did his campaigns and presumably won elections. We should ask him what he did with his own thugs because his statement connotes that politicians used thugs to win election so when people just wake up and make statements they should be careful.
He merely went around looking for excuses for his failure but the exposure of the inefficiency of his administration was done recently by what happened to the journalists.
The journalists themselves, who were with their captors, reported to us that their captors said part of why they are doing what theyre doing is because the government in the state is not performing, the government banned okada riders without providing an alternative for them, made sure that they couldnt have any income; could not provide jobs for them.
Senator Eyin Abaribe... What we lack is just a few good men or women in Nigerias politics to do the right thing
So you could see that it is the inimical policies of Theodore Orjis administration that have brought the state to this sorry pass. They never said they served as thugs to politicians and because they were not paid, they resorted to kidnapping. At least we have witnesses to the tragedy in Abia State; so, when the governor tries to absolve himself from his inefficiency and begins to point fingers at people, why would we take such things serious. Its simply an admission of failure on his part.
How come Abia State which held so much promise appears to be the most notoriously backward, criminally infested in just 11 years of civil rule?
That is it; youll feel very bad coming from Abia State because Abia has produced illustrious sons.
The reason is very simple: Whatever you sow, you will reap. Dont forget that the governor of Abia State today was for eight years the Chief of Staff to Governor Orji Uzor Kalu. In other words, he wrote policies, implemented policies.
This same governor of Abia State was indicted by the EFCC with former Governor Kalu; this same governor was the person that was held in detention by the courts for culpability; this same governor was the person who supposedly won elections from the prison; and he came out and for three years ran the state himself, ran it aground with all these multifarious crimes and just when his party PPA, having seen that he was no longer sellable to the public, he, of course ditched his party first and ran to All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, and started shouting that he has become a saint.
The fact is that his antecedents are there and we can not run away from that.
Abia has a lot of promise because Abia was actually at the verge of take off but I had shouted about these things in 2001 and 2002 when I was having my problems with Kalu and I said what we were witnessing at that time were policies that had nothing to do with the people, had nothing to do with increasing productivity or revamping the economy or getting to have constant power supply for the industries in Aba, to ensure that they compete effectively with the imported ones.
I said it then that in 10 to 15 years the state would become something else. What do we have today? People are leaving the place. The tragedy really is not the Abia people, it is about Nigeria, seeing what is happening and turning a blind eye. For the South East, I think Anambra has turned the corner, Enugu is okay, Ebonyi has even tried but Abia is now a problem. Enough is enough.
Lets even look at former Governor Orji Kalu who left PDP, formed the PPA but has now returned, according to him, with his PPA to PDP but some of you people say you dont want him back? Why?
If Kalu was a political asset he would have been welcome by the Abia chapter of the PDP. Dont forget one thing, he didnt rejoin with his PPA. He only came back with a few people who believe in him. His PPA left him. The PPA moved into APGA with Theodore Orji. The whole structure of his party, the ward chairmen, assembly members and all that followed Governor Theodore Orji because they want to be where the action is.
What is left for Kalu is just a few people. For us in PDP, we had fought a moral battle with Kalu for 11 years and part of the problems in Abia can be traced back to Kalu, advertently or inadvertently.
How could we now go back to the public and say this same person that led us to this morass, that even created the new person who is in office Äď because the truth is that the person in office now was not even there when the elections were held Äď and then say Kalu is going to now be part of us? How would we face members of the public and tell them that?
And we feel that there must be some honour, there must be some integrity, there must be something that the PDP should stand for and we do not believe that we can associate with him.
I dare say this because some people are misconstruing what we are saying to be some form of angst against him or may be there is something personal but we beg to disagree. We just said we are a political party and were going to bring credible people to come and run elections for us.
It is very clear, Article 10(b)3 of the PDP constitution is very clear because it says we can accept or reject a decampee and make recommendations of same to the national headquarters of the party for re-admittance and so we exercised that option. We had a meeting, people were there and it was a consensus that we are better off without Kalu than with him.
Like he said, this is one of the inexplicable things in politics because if I were him, I would remain in my PPA. Why should I leave a place, call them names and return to the same place? The reasons why he wants to make that move he has not told Nigerians.
Even for the sake of real politick, you admitted that Kalu made Governor Theodore Orji state governor from prison, why then dont you people accept him back because that magic too could make him bring somebody from the grave to be your state governor next year?
(Laughter) That is why we are grateful to President Jonathan for bringing somebody like Attahiru Jega to come and conduct the elections. We are also grateful to President Jonathan for assuring everybody both locally and internationally that votes will now count.
Addressing your question, I do not think the votes cast on April 14, 2007, counted and that was why we ended up with the person we have. We want a better Nigeria.
Now that votes will count, parties will also be careful in the type of choices they make; they will now have primaries to determine their candidates. In any case if we felt that Kalu is needed to win an election, obviously, we would have embraced him with both hands but we say no, we do not need this man to win an election and especially since votes will count, we are sure we do not need him.
If we take Orji Kalu into the corners of Abia and present him to the people as one of us we are going to lose because people in Abia State still blame him for the problems of today.
This issue of zoning and your party, how do you people want to resolve it?
Well, the dilemma is that there is no way you can tell an incumbent that he should not run for an election that he is fully qualified to run; he is an incumbent and everywhere it is a given that an incumbent will want to run.
Fine! There are circumstances that brought about whatever agreement, call it zoning agreement or whatever. My take is this: the art of politics is the art of reaching agreements at any point where you see some difficulties. So there is nothing that stops all the individuals today too, to meet and also reassess this, discuss this and come up with an agreement that would be satisfactory to everybody.
So I do not think that it is such a difficult thing. What is happening now is that all the people who know that if he runs it will favour them are the ones arguing and saying he should run and those who are saying that he should not run are the ones who know that if he runs it will not favour them. You can not tell an incumbent that he should not run, especially one that does not have any disabilities. It is something that can easily be negotiated.