Chief Hope Avwerosuoghene Hope Abijor is the chairman of the Leaders and Elders Forum of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State. In a Local Government Area which many believe is the home of the PDP in the State, it takes a man with a lion’s heart and courage, not only to be in opposition party, but to also lead and organize meetings of the party regularly with his own fund. Abijor in this interview says PDP is a dying party in the state and that the APC is poised to capture Delta State come 2019. In this exclusive interview, he speaks with Jhon Oghojafor of the The New Diplomat. Excerpts:
All over the state it has been known that Ethiope West is the home of PDP. How are you managing to attract members to the APC and even hold regular political meetings at your own expense?
Thank you very much. You know they say that antecedent speaks. You are aware that I was a member of the PDP and while I was there, anything that came my way I did share with people. And the moment I left PDP my followers knew that since I was no more in PDP, if anything comes from APC they will surely benefit. So, it is on that note that they said they must follow their leader. That is why you see people decamping from PDP on daily basis to APC in Oghara to be precise. Again, if you look very well, PDP is only celebrating its own death. Like in Ethiope West Local Government, once you have a political appointment they assume that such appointment is for them and their immediate family, neglecting the poor masses to their own fate. My own way of playing politics is that if I have one naira from government today, I take 40 percent for myself and my immediate family, while I share 60 percent to my followers and others.
While I was still in PDP, something happened. We went for a meeting in Mr. Champion Kpateghe’s house and this issue came up that elected and appointed politicians were not caring for the party members and others, people started talking. I stood up and told them that very many of us there assumed that whatever we got through politics was for us and our immediate family. And I told them that it was not supposed to be so because we use the people to work. And it is a common saying that anybody that works should as well benefit. So, I begged everybody that whoever gets any appointment should not assume that it is for him and his immediate family only. Share it to party members so that tomorrow when election comes you can have people to work with. That thinking continued for a long time. But I strongly believe that the PDP in Oghara will sit up now that I’m in APC because they know it will never be business as usual again. When you have just one party system in a place without opposition, you can do anything. If election comes, even if people did not come out to vote, the mono-party will still have their way because they don’t have anybody contesting with them. And that is how it has been in Ethiope West. But now, whether you like it or not, APC is a very strong opposition as far as Ethiope West is concerned.
I want you to talk with the PDP people and whenever they are holding their meetings try come and see for yourself. And any time I’m holding meeting with my APC members I will invite you to come and you will see that APC has taken over Oghara. Let’s not argue that. I believe that we don’t even have PDP in Oghara anymore. The only thing we have in Oghara is Ibori and APC. Let me be sincere with you, there is no PDP in Oghara, what we have is Ibori and APC. I tell you, if Ibori leaves PDP today to another party, take it from me that PDP is dead completely in Oghara. Before he came, there was this argument that I, Hope, was fighting Ibori, but I said no. I’m not fighting the man, the man is in PDP and whether you like it or not, he looking for what he will eat; and I’m equally looking for my own. The man is from Oghara and I’m also from Oghara. So, does it mean that if I belong to a different political party I’m fighting Ibori? Then who is fighting me? If I’m fighting Ibori because I belong to a different political party, so who is fighting me?
What would you say is the numerical strength of APC members in Ethiope West?
You know, we have many voters that are not in any political party. And we have party members. As I speak with you, even people that are in PDP, I can bet you that if election comes up tomorrow, they will cast their votes for the APC. Very many of them are angry with the PDP but they would not come out to say their minds because of, maybe, the fear of the unknown. Like as I have just told you, we only have APC and Ibori in Oghara. There is no PDP in Oghara. But I can assure you if election comes up tomorrow, they will work for APC. If you observe the number of people that hold meetings with PDP and those that hold meeting with the APC, you will know that we in APC are more than them.
You seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness of APC because all over the state you appear to be the only APC leader holding regular meetings with party members. Recently, a former APC member from this LGA, Chief Vincent Atumah decamped back to PDP. What would be your party’s magic wand in the coming elections?
Well, there are some persons that probably want to join a party because of what they will get. I and Vincent actually joined APC the same day. We held a meeting in my house and we made up our mind to say ok, look let us leave PDP for APC. And that day before we posted our pictures in facebook, there was this argument as to whether we should post or we should not post. At the end of the day, I said look, if your mind is still in PDP, let us take another picture, we will not post your own but we will post our own. And I said I cannot be in APC and still be in PDP. I was not leaving PDP because I was not given appointment. After all, when I left PDP at the initial stage notable PDP figures came to beg me. I and Ross Uredi met at the airport in Lagos and our flight was delayed from morning till the evening. All through, he and a notable woman politician from Agbor begged me throughout the day. As I speak with you the State government is owing me. But I don’t care. I’m very optimistic that APC is will take over the state.
You will agree with me that initially when Okowa came on board everybody seemed to love him. But today, the reverse is the case. Even people that are in PDP no longer like him. If you ask me, Okowa is not governor of Delta State, but Ika governor. You know why I say he is an Ika governor? I believe you know the number of statutory boards we have in the state. Do you know that 70 percent of these boards are being chaired by people from Delta North? And that 70 percent that is being chaired by Delta North 80 percent of that are from Ika. Is such man a Delta State governor or Ika governor? Then, take the SA’s, SSA’s, Special Advisers and all that, if they are 500 altogether, I can beat my chest to tell you that more than 300 of them are from Agbor. It is just recently that they started giving some appointments to the Urhobos because Okowa is beginning to understand that there will be serious problem from Urhobo in the next election. So, on that note he is trying to appease some people so that he can have some votes from Urhobo. It may surprise you to know that even from his own local government area, there are a good number of people who are in APC. I attended a burial ceremony of the father of a medical doctor who works with the Teaching Hospital in Oghara. The ceremony took place at Agbor and as soon I arrived the venue there were shouts of APC, APC. And I asked how did they know I’m an APC man, they said they have been seeing me in the facebook. And they rallied round me all through my stay. So, if people from the local government of the governor can be in APC and again those in PDP are not happy with him, that is to tell you that the APC will surely take over the state in 2019.
You must have heard of the PDP Delta Central mass rally that took place in Sapele recently. It was like PDP members in the entire state were mobilized to that rally. Can APC attract such crowd anywhere in the state?
You see, APC have not done anything like that recently. I strongly believe that if APC is doing such thing people will come. And even that event that took place in Sapele which you are talking about, it wasn’t a rally, it was a revival. Because PDP is a dying party, they want to revive it and how do they go about it, let us call for a meeting. That was what happened. They just want to test their capability if they will still be able to in election. And you can imagine what is happening between the former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Igbuya and the governor now. I read something on facebook yesterday. Do you think if there is election now the governor can win in Sapele? And of course, they have not won election in Urhobo land, if we must be sincere to ourselves. PDP has never won election in Urhobo land apart from the one that brought Ibori to power. But then, PDP has been in government, they have all the police, they have everything to themselves and on that note they have been succeeding in rigging elections. People don’t vote in my place (Oghara) here, I must be sincere. It is now we are talking to them to come out to vote on election days. When you go to polling booths here on election days you will be surprised you may see less than 200 voters but at the end of the day, you will get more than 11,000 votes from Oghara. How did you get that 11,000 votes? It is by rigging. Who are the people doing the rigging before now? Very many of the people have left the PDP for another party. So, that rigging will not be there anymore. This is because we will monitor ourselves, we will watch ourselves.
The reality on ground across the country at the moment is that the change which your party APC promised has translated to national hunger and poverty. A hungry man is an angry man they say. In the face of this difficulty, do you think APC can convince Nigerians to vote for the party in the forthcoming election?
I can tell you that very many Nigerians are educated now. Gone are those days when you tell somebody about what is happening without the person reading about it and just jump into conclusion. You and I know that the hunger in this country today is being caused by the PDP. The man (Buhari) is fighting against crime whether you like it or not. It is like a situation whereby today you go to borrow, tomorrow you borrow and it will get to a stage when nobody would want to lend money to you again because everybody knows you are a debtor and you don’t have the means of paying back. That is the situation of Nigeria. Nigeria has been broke for a very long time, so when this man came in there was nothing for him to work with. Whether you like it or not, the president is trying to revive the country. So, very many educated people know that President Buhari is trying to revive the country. And I strongly believe that if election comes up tomorrow, the man will still win. Public opinion is in the favour of Buhari for a second term as president. The hunger is not affecting you and I alone. The rich are also crying.
I can testify to you that with what is happening our women who are farmers are happy because their farm produce are now attracting very high prices. Before now when a bag of rice was selling for N9,000, a basin of garri was selling for between N2,000 and N3,000. But now, a bag of rice is N16,000 and a basin of garri which is even not up to 50kg is now selling for N13,000.
On the issue of insecurity, Nigerians are also complaining. Suddenly, the problem of the Fulani herdsmen killing, maiming and raping women has continued to rear its ugly head under this administration. This is becoming a national embarrassment because they say the APC government is not doing anything to address the situation. How do you react to this?
You see, you cannot do everything at the same time. The government has so much workload. You see the boko haram issue, the anti-corruption war and the Fulani herdsmen you have just talked about. The fight is for you and I. It’s not only government. You have a role and I have a role to play in ensuring the security of this country. For some time, I’m sure you are aware, Oghara has been a no-go area in terms of crime. But for some time now the local government chairman, to some extent, has been able to curtail the crime rate in this area. Today, people can sleep with their two eyes close. Sometimes when somebody wants to take what belongs to you, as a man you need to fight. It is because we are not fighting back.
Politics, they say, is all about mass mobilization. For some time now, you seem to be the only one in the state who, from time to time, hold APC meetings in your local government area. What is happening to the leadership of the party in the state?
Let me say that the era of ‘monkey work, bamboo chop’ is long gone. Now, it is ‘monkey work, monkey chop’. We have little leadership tussle, whether you like it or not. The leadership of APC in Ethiope West, we are in one accord. We don’t fight ourselves. That is why you see that we hold meeting every now and then. Hon. Halims Agoda is our leader here. With the level he has attained in politics, he would have decided otherwise. I met a lot of persons when I came into the party. But the moment I came in they knew I have the capability of carrying the party forward. And so he said, Hope, just carry on as the chairman of the Leaders and Elders Forum. Today, I can tell you if election comes up we shall win, apart from the local government election which is controlled by the state government. In the local government election before now, they don’t even vote rather they write names. But I bet you, if they try that in the forthcoming local government election, we will take all of them to court. As I speak with you we have our Councillorship candidates on ground already in the twenty state wards in the local government. And they are working. I believe if the election comes up tomorrow, I can assure you APC will take the twenty wards.
Are you banking on the support of the national APC to win election in the state?
Of course, no, the national body of the APC will not come and do election for us. I agree with you that Ethiope West is a local government of political lions. Chief Ibori is from here, Chief Amori is also from here. But none of them is feeding anybody in Ethiope West apart from their immediate families. We don’t go to their houses to collect money for feeding, they don’t pay anybody. Here, it is ‘every Hausa man to his kettle’. On election day, they will only come and cast their single votes and go back to their houses.
Some believe that the APC at the national level care less about what is happening in Delta State APC. Is that true?
That is not true. We have a minister who is from Delta State. We have the Executive Director of Projects in NDDC who is from Delta State. We have Stella Okotete, a director in NEXIM Bank who is also from here. We equally have another director in Niger Delta River Basin Authority also from Delta State. Whether you like it or not, those positions are enough to take care of members of APC in Delta State. Like I said earlier, there are some persons that are not politicians, but they are only opportune to have appointment. That is where the problem lies. Real politicians would always have the interest of the masses at heart because they are the people they use to win elections. But that is not the same thing with somebody who is not a politician but was opportune to get a political appointment.
In recent times, one of your party chieftains, Prof. Pat Utomi has been criss-crossing the state ostensibly in consultations and people are insinuating that he’s having a governorship ambition. What is your take on that?
Well, Delta State is for everybody. The man, Prof. Utomi, I believe I should be one of the first persons he visited in the state. He came to my house and we talked but he did not open up to me that he wants to contest the governorship of Delta State. But from the way he spoke I understood he needs something. Delta state is for everybody. Anybody is free to contest for governorship seat as far as the state is concerned. You see, I have been praying for a good person, a credible person to contest to unseat the incumbent governor. Okowa is not doing well and I want a credible person to come in. And I believe that Prof. Pat Utomi is a good person. I also know more people will come. And at the end of the day we will go into primary. Gone are the days when people picked ticket without going into primary. We will go into primary and, God being on his side, if he wins the primary, everybody will have to work for him. APC will come together to work for him. If an Urhobo man wins the primary everybody will work for him. If a Delta South person wins the primary, every APC members will work for that Delta South person.
What would you advice the national body of your party to do about the leadership problem you have at the state level?
Well, as a party, you must see one person as the head at a particular time. That first time when the leadership problem started when they said Olorogun O’tega Emerhor and Dr. Ibe Kachiuku should co-chair the leadership of the state, the thing didn’t go down well with me because you cannot ask two people to lead. There must be one head at a time while the other one follows. So, the only way the problem of leadership in APC in Delta State could be resolved is when one person is picked to head the party in the state.
Are you really convinced that PDP can really be uprooted from the governance of Delta State by APC?
I have answered that question severally. As it is now if we go into election even if we bring a goat in APC and clothe it, it will defeat Okowa. A house divided against itself can never stand. PDP is divided whether you like it or not. And they can never come together again. Okowa is throwing money around now. He is spending money. You can imagine the by-election that was held in Warri South Constituency I recently. It was a test case. Just six wards election that was done, the governor relocated to Warri five days to the election. He mobilized all his Commissioners, all the House of Assembly members, all the political appointees to Warri because of just six wards election. At the end of the day, what was the outcome? The PDP got five thousands votes while APC got two thousands votes. It was only Ayiri that fought against Okowa and the entire State PDP. And whether you like it or not, Okowa spent close to N1 billion for that six wards election. He even went about people houses giving them money because of just six wards election. Believe me if election comes up tomorrow, those people he mobilized for just six wards election will mount their different areas in the state because that will be a general election. That opportunity will not be there again. Everybody will be in his or her own local government area. I can tell you that we in APC won that election. The Accord person is only occupying the seat. That is the truth.
Is it correct to say that because you were being owed by the PDP government probably for the contract you did for the state hence you crossed to APC?
Not at all! You see, if it is because they are owing me, I think it would have been better to remain in the PDP to be able to collect my money. That wasn’t my anger at all. I was really tired of PDP and that is why I went to APC. This is because their ways do not go down well with me. In politics, you patronize somebody that has followers but in the PDP system, who you know counts. They will undermine somebody that has followers and give appointment to somebody who cannot even deliver his own house. There are very many political appointees today who cannot even contest election within their family and win. Yet, they are holding political offices.