Hon. Dason Nemieboka, the articulate and experienced Chairman of the United Rivers Alliance, once again accepted our request to speak on the political trends in Rivers State and the effect on the polity. As usual, he was frank and focused. Excerpts
Que: Sir, tell us, how is the campaign for the election of a riverine governor in 2023 going?
Ans: We are grateful to God, for life and peace. At least we have a conducive atmosphere in the state to sit and talk. Regardless of the hunger in the land, Nigerians in Rivers State are not as agitated as those elsewhere.
Our movement isn’t merely a campaign for the election of a governor in 2023 of riverine extraction. No, we are advocating for the institution of a fair and equitable utilization of political power to protect all, develop all and satisfy all. We are seeking Ijaw interest, Ogoni interest, Etche interest, Ogba, Ekpeye, Ikwerre and all others. We know that we are a multiethnic state of diverse nomenclatures, sizes and talents. So, the threat or fear of domination, marginalization and to the extreme victimization would be natural.
For those who were either old enough, or who read history, we know that the founding fathers of our state took into account the foregoing and deliberately weaved a basket to cater for all. That legacy we must not allow to be eroded.
So, to talk as though United Rivers Alliance is about electing an Ijaw in 2023 is limited. Your observation is right, equity demands that power should shift back to the riverine section in 2023. So, we are working with that fact. Right now, we have an Ikwerre, who is an uplander, so after him, we should have a riverine. Later it would return to the upland, and we can all support an Ogoni or Ecthe or Ogba. That is the best recipe for lasting peace and mutual love.
Que: So, if the vision is to protect all rivers people, is membership open to all?
Ans: Indeed yes. We have four mega social media platforms, with different nomenclatures, and their membership which cuts across the entire state are impressive. And at the platform level, some administrators are even non-Rivers. That should tell you about the openness of the vision. However, at the level of steering the movement, for now we are almost all riverine.
Que: Sir, the message of the URA maybe noble, but this is politics and we are Nigerians ….
Ans: oh sure. We are Nigerians, and Nigerians are no devils. Nigerians are the migrant community that has contributed the most in terms of quality human resources to the American and British economies. Nigerians love good things, unfortunately, we have been conditioned to think that we can’t do anything good for ourselves.
For many years, we were thought to put the blame on colonialism, but our lecturers failed to tell us to take action to change our lot. Have you noticed that the hardship in Nigeria like the rain hits all hard? Yet, if you try to critic the federal government, suffering Nigerians will call for your head because they think you are trying to rubbish their party. If you complain about the many low points of the government in Rivers State, you would be stoned by those suffering more than you. So, you are right. The average Nigerian can be slow to respond to change stimulus, but with effective enlightenment he becomes fanatical ones he sees the light.
Go to the villages. Talk with the ordinary citizens. You will notice the level of disappointment and despair. Those who speak in the media, are the political elite, and their views are often not in line with those of the people. That we are marketing the truth guarantees the end result. Our people know that we need to maintain the mutuality that kept us before, during and after last civil war. Rivers people will shock book makers who are predicting another magic.
Que: URA is not a political party, so how will you actualize your vision?
Ans: Good question. My brother, political parties need the people. The era of blind rigging is going. A political strategist would read the mood of the people and take decisions that would satisfy the sentiments of the people.
Notice, that the leader of the APC in the state, Rt. Hon Amaechi declared many months ago, that his party would field a riverine candidate. Some castigated his posturing, others condemned his timing, but none faulted his calculation. That speaks volumes, if you ask me.
So, yes, we are not a political party. We are Rivers people, and the parties are made up of Rivers people. So, what Rivers people feel is what the party will feel in Rivers State.
Our duty now is to increase awareness, develop friendships and lobby the parties. If any party chooses to stand against the run of play, it is at its own peril.
Que: Do you expect, say the APC and PDP to field riverine candidates?
Ans: Another expected question. My brother, the question can be made to read; do they want to win Rivers State in 2023? This is so because, the parties are seeking (begging, if you like) for Rivers votes, so they would stoop to conquer.
Que: But Governor Wike hasn’t shown direction?
Ans: It is well within his rights as an individual to bid his time. Remember, he is the Governor and so the champion. You don’t expect him to jump on the soapbox so early. However, we are sure that when the time comes, he will support a riverine candidate.
Que: What makes you think so? Especially if the APC field a riverine candidate?
Ans: We know so, because Wike is smart. He is incumbent today, but would be called outgoing after a year and a half. The influence of the outgoing governor is less. In every political system, there are an army of silent disgruntled members. As the end draws near, the pressures increase, so, a smart leader would want to reduce his troubles by seeking the available, instead of ordering the unavailable.
He that is shouting today, maybe negotiating tomorrow. Remember that in 1999 the Yorubas in the south west fielded two presidential candidates and yet, didn’t lose to a Fulani candidate in a three-party struggle. Nobody can stand against an idea whose time has come.
Que: What if the Ikwerres refuse to vote a riverine candidate?
Ans: I will not ask, why won’t they because I know they will. Look once I leave you, am going to see a friend, and he is Ikwerre. Sometimes he cuts plantain from his farm and sends it to my wife. He is family, he is Ikwerre. Those who arrogate to themselves the collective wisdom, judgment and votes of Ikwerre are selfish individuals whose children may never live in Rivers State.
Politicians thrive in make believe. Can you guarantee that your wife will vote who you instruct her to, if she isn’t convinced that the person is worth her vote? Who can compel his son to vote against his girlfriend’s uncle?
Any who told anybody that there is anybody in Rivers State whose vote is a gamechanger in absolute terms. The ikwerres have three exclusive local governments and a shared one. Two are in the metropolis and so, cosmopolitan in demography. Obio/Akpor maybe the most populated, but how many residents are Ikwerre? And who can direct the Ikwerres to vote against justice? Won’t they need others tomorrow?
Rivers people will do what is right as we did in 1999.
Que: But you know that the Governor is a big factor?
Ans: No doubt, and that is why we are consulting all the factors, small, average and big. We are not opposed to his choices and decisions both within his party and beyond. But we know that politics is dynamic. You may be uncomfortable with an idea today, but you might end up an apostle of the same idea tomorrow.
Governor Wike has vocal about power shift nationally, so he will have a moral burden to oppose it in the state. The Governor is seen as a bold man, do you expect him to attempt to go against natural justice because a few greedy folks think he can force it down the neck of all Rivers people?
What is more? There is no guarantee that the parties will remain in the form, shape or style that they are till the elections. I see Governor Wike supporting a surprise candidate. If he is legacy conscious, his concern would be a riverine candidate that can unite and build on.
Que: And if there are new parties?
Ans: Whatever the formations, it’s an idea that would win.
Que: So, how will URA get its candidate for the 2023 election?
Ans: We have already. Our candidate is an idea. The live and let’s live, govern and let’s govern philosophy is our candidate. The parties will and should elect or select their candidates based on that philosophy and them Rivers people will vote for the best.