Chief Andrew Uchendu is the senator representing Rivers East Senatorial District in the National Assembly. A seasoned technocrat, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a well known grassroots politician in Rivers State, Chief Uchendu has been a recurring decimal in the political equation of Rivers State since 1999. He had served for three terms of 12 years as a member of the House of Representatives, representing Ikwerre/Emohua Federal Constituency before being called upon by his people to move up to the Senate. He spoke to some journalists on the issues/crisis in.
What is happening in the Rivers State chapter of your party? Is there a crisis currently ravaging the APC in the state?
Clearly and simply put, there is no crisis in Rivers APC. What a lot of people, especially you people in the media, are misunderstanding and interpreting as crisis is the fact that distinguished Senator Magnus Abe (the APC senator representing Rivers South-East) opted out of a decision we all jointly took to strengthen the party ahead of 2019 elections and continue to pursue his personal ambition. Constitutionally, he has the right to do that but it can never constitute crisis in the party. To the best of my knowledge as a senator of the federal republic, all the party structures from ward to State levels are intact and there’s no crisis.
Are you saying there are no two APC factions, the Amaechi and Magnus Abe factions?
What factions? Please don’t say that. There’s one APC in Rivers, with one chairman Chief Davies Ibiamu-Ikanya and our leader remains Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Let me take you back a little into the history of the emergence of APC in Rivers State. You need to understand that we were all in PDP but a situation arose when our leader, Rotimi Amaechi, and his other colleagues in PDP then decided to move away from PDP to APC and when we joined APC, he became the only leader in the party and at that point in time, his structure is almost the same as the APC structure and that continued until after the election in 2015. At that time we were having APC structure, equal to Rotimi Amaechi structure, this is very fundamental for you to understand. After the elections, His Excellency, Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi now directed that because of his extremely busy engagements and official duties, he was going to step aside to allow Dakuku Peterside (the Rivers APC 2015 governorship candidate and now DG of NIMASA) to sit in and re- organise the party and that went down well with all of us (including Magnus Abe). And Peterside was doing that diligently.
But as time went on, our leader (Amaechi) observed that people were beginning to pursue their individual political agenda and our collective good and progress as a party was suffering, terribly. A series of meetings were held in Abuja and Senator Magnus Abe attended, I attended, Dakuku Peterside attended with more than thirty leaders of the party in Rivers State and the honourable minister told us of his observation that Abe and Peterside were pursuing their individual ambitions at the expense of the party and that was not good for all of us and he advised them and admonished them. I remember on a very good day, my friend Senator Magnus Abe, in an attempt to assure Amaechi of his total loyalty (to Amaechi) for life, said and I quote, “Your Excellency, I would like Nigerians to learn from my relationship with you and no matter the situation, I will not betray you”. Magnus Abe said this in the presence of other leaders at a meeting held at our leader, Amaechi’s house in Abuja.
Can you recall when Abe said this, when the meeting took place?
That should be early in the year, I can’t recall exactly what day or month; and then the bubble burst. A meeting was held in Abuja, the final meeting where the bubble burst. Because of the decision of Dakuku and Magnus to go against the decision of our leader, to hold on to their political ambition in the interest of the party, he said and I quote “because of the inability of Senator Magnus Abe and Dr Dakuku Peterside to comply with the decision to wait, hold on, on their political ambitions and help to rebuild the party, those that are for Magnus Abe should go with him. Those that are for Dakuku, follow him and those that are for the party, join me (Amaechi) in rebuilding the party”. And I stand to be corrected. I am a national honours holder and I put my integrity on the line. I tell Nigerians nothing but the truth.
In a recent article he wrote, Magnus Abe threw up an issue that those sympathetic to him, his supporters are being systematically removed from office, how true is this?
There was no such thing. I will try to differentiate between the leadership of Amaechi and the party in the state. By the time Abe continued to pursue his individual political ambition, a new trend and interest had emerged but that does not mean that the party structure was not there. It is now Amaechi’s structure and Magnus’ structure. This has nothing to do with the elected main party structure. After the decision was taken on the need to rebuild the party, we now separated the wheat from the chaff. So, when the Dome declaration was made and Abe continued with the pursuit of his ambition(against the overall interest of the party), which of course he has a constitutional right to do, Hon. Chidi Wihioka, leader in Ikwerre Local Government Area followed him, Hon. Tony Okocha, leader in Obio Akpor, followed him, Hon. Wogu Boms, the former Attorney General and leader in Phalga followed him and we decided to meet as our own political think tank in Ikwerreland because it was obvious that there were vacancies. When Abe came with his own personal approach that was not helping the party, vacancies were created and I think expectedly, Amaechi has the right to fill those vacancies; they were his nominations and not APC structure in Rivers State; they were LGA leaders in Amaechi’s political structure in Rivers State. This cannot constitute crisis in anyway. Even the state party chairman said clearly that those changes had nothing to do with the party structure in the state.
What about Magnus Abe’s complained that he is being marginalised without benefits or patronage from the APC system to his supporters? How true is this?
You know, like I do that there is no one dispensing favours from the APC national level other than the Federal Government. But let me tell you something that will clearly disprove that claim. There was a time when our leader, Rotimi Amaechi, confided in me that he had chosen an Ikwerre son to be nominated as the Executive Director, Finance and Administration (EDFA) for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), we agreed on it. But suddenly when he called a meeting of his core group, I think about five of us and Abe were present. Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi now informed us that he had made the concession to Magnus Abe to produce the EDFA of NDDC because he pleaded with him. I was shocked, I am an Ikwerre man, I was still in the Tribunal and wasn’t a senator then. I was shocked and immediately he made the pronouncement, Abe quickly stood up and said “I nominate Mene Derek”. So, Magnus Abe cannot say his supporters are being marginalised. Mene Derek, the Executive Director of Finance and Administration of NDDC, was conceded to him and he nominated the young man.
As a chieftain of the party in Rivers State, can you honestly say to Nigerians that the process that would lead to the emergence of APC governorship candidate in the state will be free and fair?
If we fail to assure a level playing field for those to contest, all what we have been doing will be a waste of time. It’s sad and most unfortunate that some people are just making unnecessary noise in the party in Rivers State. Take the case of the APC non-elective congress, we all do know that LGA congresses are held at the LGA headquarters and not at the party secretariat. Announcements were made, the delegated committees to handle it from Abuja were in town and instead of going to their different LGAs for the congress, they went to the party secretariat where the congress was not scheduled to hold, so they could accuse someone of lack of level playing ground. A time would come when the party will schedule congresses and then primaries and it is not going to be an Amaechi’s show. It will be handled by those coming from Abuja, sent by the national headquarters. So, this issue is completely premature and totally unnecessary.
Lets’ talk about politics without bitterness. Recently Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike announced SUV gifts of jeeps for Rivers State National Assembly legislators. We saw the videos of most of your APC colleagues in the House of Representatives in Government House, Port Harcourt, collecting theirs from Governor Wike. Have you gone to collect your SUV gift from the Rivers State governor?
I just returned to the country but nobody (from Rivers State Government) has told me about the car but somehow I heard about it. Well, if he bought cars, it would be in keeping with past precedence that has been there in Rivers State. It started with former governor Peter Odili and I would have being surprised if he does otherwise. I recalled dedicating my certificate of return to the reconciliation, peace and development of Rivers State. Because coincidentally, I am the oldest elected Rivers son in Nigeria and I have a role to play. I went further to say that I will pay a courtesy visit to the governor and I have followed that up with a formal letter, courier-serviced to his office two months ago and I am still waiting for his response. I cannot be a successful senator of the federal republic without working with the minister of transportation and the governor of Rivers State. I have written a letter to the governor seeking for a meeting but no response from him and now he is talking about a mundane issue like car collection. I want us to work together to better the lots of Rivers people. Issues around the car gifts are different.
But you would agree with me that the car issue was controversial…
My response to this is that the governor has his priority. My own priority is the welfare of my constituents. I wrote to the governor and the minister of transport for a meeting. While the Minister has given me a date, Wike has not responded to my letter and now they are talking about cars. What is that?
What do the division and cracks in Rivers APC portend for your party in Rivers ahead of the 2019 elections?
Well, in politics, only one event can change the outcome of an election. I have said here that there is no divided house in Rivers APC. What we are experiencing is multiplicity of interests and you can’t call that a divided house. I have said that there is no crisis in the party. But I need you to recall that in recent history in the PDP, factionalisation led about seven governors to leave the PDP to join the APC; APC was not given any chance because no such grouping in Nigerian politics had ever worked and PDP was like an octopus that had been in power for many years, but a party under 12 months of formation was able to dismantle a party in government for over 16 good years. Is that not surprising? Have surprises stopped taking place in the world, in politics? In APC, I can assure you that as we speak, no person has been penned down as a chosen candidate. No one will anoint any candidate. The candidate would emerge through consultations and elections.
As a long-standing member of the Amaechi political family, just like Magnus Abe, please tell us about the relationship between Amaechi and Abe
I joined Amaechi’s political group in January 2000 when he was like six months as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and I got to know about him and Abe and from what he told me and what I heard from other state legislators, Amaechi worked hard to make Abe the minority leader in the House. Abe was then in APP and he made it possible for Abe to later join his party then, the PDP, and the friendship grew. Amaechi used his political clout to make Abe the Commissioner for Information during former governor Peter Odili’s second term. Aside that, we all worked for Amaechi’s governorship ambition until we had the K-leg saga. I recalled speaking with Amaechi when he was in Ghana and he allowed us to meet with Celestine Omehia who was the PDP candidate then, that if we did not work hard for PDP to win, we cannot pursue the case in court and I remember that Magnus Abe was in the meeting. For purposes of record, I called the first meeting on how to raise money in pursuit of Amaechi’s case. Nyesom Wike was at that meeting and it was held at my residence. We levied ourselves one million naira each, and Wike as the only lawyer amongst us was selected to liaise with the lawyers handling the case. I have heard him (Wike) say several times that he made Amaechi governor but that is not true. Personally, I didn’t see Magnus anymore (after the meeting in Uchendu’s house) but immediately after the Supreme Court judgement that announced Amaechi as governor, I saw Magnus and Amaechi together and I was worried. I asked what was going on. Magnus Abe became the Secretary to the State government. I am equally aware that there was a point Amaechi came out to ask Abe to contest for the Senate seat against the run of events. But that was not successful but when another opportunity came, Amaechi made sure Abe went to the Senate. Now, why I am disturbed is that the relationship was like ordained from heaven and when this, his (Abe’s) personal ambition came up, we were still at the elections tribunal. I am equally aware that Amaechi retained the Chambers of Lateef Fagbemi to handle these cases and underwrite the entire legal fees up to even when the face-off was on. There was nothing Abe wanted that he didn’t get from Amaechi. This is my knowledge of their relationship and that was why when he said that it is good to keep friends, I agree with him but now I don’t think he still stands by that position.
A lot has been said about the seemingly recent romance between Senator Magnus Abe and Governor Nyesom Wike, what are your thoughts on that?
I am aware that Senator Abe, Amaechi and Wike were in very effective working relationship during Amaechi’s first term as governor of Rivers State. I admired that from outside. I am not within their age bracket and will not share in some of their jokes. But as an elder, I also observed that when the face-off between Wike and Amaechi started, the nature of the relationship between Wike and Abe changed immediately. I am aware that calls were no longer being exchanged between them for years. So, now Amaechi and Magnus Abe have their own issues and it started coinciding with when Magnus Abe is now hugging and cheering Nyesom Wike. I think we should look at that type of relationships twice. Are they really genuine? That’s the way I look at the situation.
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