Interviews

NIGERIA: WHY MY RELATIONSHIP WITH AMAECHI IS NOT CORDIAL – OPARA

 How would you describe your current relationship with Governor Rotimi Amaechi. The governor recently alleged that you betrayed him?

I do not have a cordial relationship with Amaechi. I can say that clearly. I worked for PDP in 2011. I was the Chairman of the Reconciliation Committee that ensured the victory of PDP in Rivers State in 2011. I was one of those who worked for the victory of PDP in Rivers State, but after that I have had no dealing with him. Amaechi claimed that he made me deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. That is very unfortunate. It is very sad. This is a statement I had initially waved aside, believing that nobody would believe such story. But since the lie is still being repeated, I felt I should respond to it. There is a saying in my place that when a lie is told many times, it resembles the truth. Some people would begin to believe it as the truth. How can a State Assembly member influence the choice of a presiding officer of the House of Representatives? It is unimaginable. The process of emerging as deputy Speaker or as a presiding officer of the House of Representatives ends in the House; on the floor of the House itself and Amaechi has never be a member of the National Assembly. So, he did not have a vote and he didn’t have a role to play at that level.

I will give to him what he did. He was one of those who spoke to Odili to support my candidature as deputy speaker of the House of Representatives in 2003. I repeat, he was one of those who spoke to Dr. Peter Odili to support my candidature. That was all Amaechi did. I have never heard even Odili, the then governor saying that he made me deputy speaker. After Odili agreed to support my candidature – please note, that was the position zoned to South-south – there were other South-south governors that were involved in the process. After that, we appeared before the National Working Committee led by Audu Ogbe. I recall that the person that was supported by South-east was rejected by the working committee. I went through that process then got to the floor of the House. Some of my colleagues, specifically West Idahosa and Temi Harriman said to me at different times that they were withdrawing from that contest because I was the candidate.

At what point did Rotimi Amaechi come in?
The only role like I said is that he spoke to Dr. Odili to support my candidature. Thereafter, he played no role. So, it is unimaginable that Amaechi would consistently tell such bogus lie that he made me deputy speaker. Now, he made me deputy speaker and I betrayed him. Where is the betrayal coming from? That I indicated interest to be governor of Rivers State? I have a right to contest an election. Unfortunately, on the day of the election, Dr. Peter Odili asked me to withdraw and I backed out of the election. But I can tell you and I put on record that we know what happened. The only person I have not heard that he (Amaechi) has accused of betraying him is God.

Let’s talk about the visit of the First Lady to Rivers State and the crises that followed. What actually happened?
We were at the airport to receive the first lady. Neither Amaechi nor his wife was there to receive the first lady. We received her and she went to town. She was in Port Harcourt for about 10 days. There was no sign of the Rivers State government. She spent her time in her home state and went back. That was precisely what happened.

How true is the claim that the crisis in Rivers State is being masterminded by the Presidency?
The problem we have in Rivers State is an internal affair. Rivers crisis is internal. Mr. President has never spoken to me about it. His wife has never spoken to me about it. It is our internal crisis.

Critics say some Wike loyalists are plotting to impeach Amaechi with five members?
I am not part of that. We said on several occasion that we are democrats. Five persons cannot impeach a governor in a House of 32. I am not aware of any plan by five legislators to impeach Amaechi.

There are speculations that pro-Amaechi elements in the Rivers State PDP are planning to dump the party for APC. Are you worried?
Clearly as we speak, Amaechi is not a member of PDP. He has been suspended; he is certainly not a member. Unfortunately for him, he has gone to court. So, the matter is in court. He has no business with the PDP. The earlier he leaves for another party, the better for him and the system. But I can assure you that Rivers is a PDP state and will remain a PDP state. Rivers does not need Amaechi or PDP does not need Amaechi to win Rivers State.

Is Amaechi not performing well in Rivers State?
In judging, there should be yardstick. How much has Amaechi realized from the federation account in the past six years? Over N1.6 trillion. The state is owing over N200 billion. You said Amaechi has performed; what is performance? The classrooms? I can tell you the principles behind the contract award of classrooms and the health centres. They were meant to patronize political associates and his loyalists. Where are the teachers for those classrooms? Where are the furniture? How many of them are in use today as we speak?

People say that “Abuja politicians” like you are being used by the First Lady to undermine the Amaechi administration. How would you react to this?
I said it earlier that the First Lady is not using me and she is not using any member of our group. Abuja politicians will go to Port Harcourt. I am in Port Harcourt every weekend. Let Amaechi come out for an election with me; we are in the same senatorial district then we will be able to determine who is more on ground. Forget the fact that he is a governor. I am an Abuja politician – good, but Amaechi was a Ghana politician. He was not even in Nigeria, he ran out of the country. So, if I am in Abuja, I am still within Nigeria, but he was in Ghana and I am sure that Ghana will be too close because he will go somewhere farther than Ghana.

What happened between the President and Amaechi in Port Harcourt?
The President arrived and he received everybody. Wike, everybody shook hands with everybody. Amaechi wanted the President to avoid some persons but the President said these are Rivers people and he shook hands with everybody and left. Let me tell you, Amaechi has gotten it wrong. Amaechi needs to retrace his steps. God favours Amaechi. The way he came in as governor has never happened in the history of this country. That alone should humble Amaechi and he should go back to God. He should not miss the track. In 1999, I was returned unopposed in the primaries. I was returned unopposed in the general election to the House of Representatives. Amaechi was contesting the state assembly. He lost the election in the state assembly. He went to tribunal and lost. He went to appeal and got judgment. At that point, I was already made. I was already a member-elect.

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