by Stanley Azuakola
Those familiar with the crisis in the Rivers PDP know that one of the most prominent issues still unresolved is Obio-Akpor where the local council executive was dismissed by the state assembly. When Gov. Amaechi was suspended by the party, they cited the sacking of the Timothy Nsirim led Obio/Akpor council executive as the reason.
The member representing the Obio/Akpor constituency in the House is Hon. Kingsley Chinda, a former commissioner for environment in the state, and currently vice chairman of House committee on customs and excise.
Hon. Chinda, together with Sen. George Sekibo, are the only two members of the national assembly from Rivers who support the current PDP exco which is opposed to the state governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
The 47 year old Chinda used to be a student union president while he was an undergraduate in the Rivers state university of Science and Technology, so The Scoop decided to hear his take on issues regarding the ASUU strike, the PDP crisis, and Pres. Jonathan’s second term ambitions. Chinda did not hold back in this interview with Stanley Azuakola.
Read full interview below:
The Scoop (TS): As a former student union leader in the Rivers state university of science and technology, and now a member of the ruling party, PDP, how would you rate the performance of the PDP-led administrations in the area of education since 1999?
Hon. Kingsley Chinda (HKC): The PDP led government has not fared badly in the education sector, particularly in the past 2 years. The GEJ administration has started an aggressive turn around in the education sector. Some specific targets have been set and special programs introduced like the Almajiri Scheme in the North; Girl Child education and migrant fishermen scheme. Reintroduction of reading culture and construction of libraries; Sectoral needs assessment, Project monitoring and school inspection has also been introduced. While so much has been done in terms of infrastructure and welfare of students, the teachers and lecturers welfare should also be considered.
We need to revisit our curriculum and improve on our course or program quality in schools. Government needs to respect agreements reached with the unions and also respect and preserve the academic culture and avoid involvement in the appointment and promotion of lecturers.
TS: About 30 months (six semesters) have been lost by students in universities in Nigeria since 1999 due to strike actions by ASUU. The story is same with polytechnics as well as colleges, in your opinion, is it a case of the government being insensitive or the unions being unduly reckless?
HKC: On the issue of strikes, I think the government is not doing enough. Government being a continuum, it has to study all prior agreements and ensure compliance. Although I must say that the union on their part in protecting the interest of their members should also be seen to be acting with a human face.
TS: What is the way out of the mess?
HKC: ASUU must devise other means of confronting the government over the welfare of its members other than going on strike and closure of schools which affects the students and populace more as time lost by the students to strikes can never be recovered.
To make the government sit up in the management of public schools I have a motion on the need for public office holders in Nigeria to compulsorily send their children to public schools in Nigeria.
Academic unions should proffer other effective methods of pressing their demands. Most protests are over the welfare of its members neglecting the students and the community. They need to widen their vision and prepare long term programs and projects to avoid protest. Why are institutions in advanced countries not plagued by strikes?
TS: What tangible roles have you played in championing the interest of your constituency in the House of Reps?
HKC: I have protected the interest of my constituency in the House by way of motions, Bills, budgeting, contributions on the floor of the House and personal recommendations for contracts and employment.
We have over 25 motions within the first 2 years covering issues of natural disasters, location of projects and investigation of abandoned ones etc. Some of such motions include the proposed increase of electricity tariff by Federal government, need to urgently check the rising security challenges in Nigeria, need to enforce the decisions of the House, need to complete East – West Road, need for Govt Agencies charged with oversight responsibilities in Oil Spill cases to be independent, failed contract for dredging of Calabar Channel and the Port-Harcourt Ports, need to Establish Fed Medical Centre in PH, and many more.
Petitions presented are over 30 and some Bills presented are Bio-Fuels Energy Development Bill, Telecommunications Mast and Associated Facilities location & Infrastructure Bill, Oil Producing ( Mandatory investment in Petroleum Refineries) Bill. Statutory Bodies (Annual Reports ) Bill, Pornographic Materials (Control) Bill, Alternative Fuels Bill, and lots more.
As a policy in my office all constituents who wants recommendation for employment or contracts gets it as of right.
TS: Let’s talk politics now. The speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, has been criticised by a section of your party for being too cosy with the opposition and too critical of Aso Rock, do you also share this view?
HKC: Tambuwal being cosy with opposition members is not an offence as long as he has not overtly done anything against the interest of the party. He is the Speaker of the House of Reps and we have opposition party members in the House. However, the Speaker being a senior member of the PDP ought not be very openly critical of Aso Rock, likewise Aso Rock should not be very critical of the green chambers. They must have a meeting point to clear differences privately.
TS: How would you rate Speaker Tambuwal’s performance in the last two years?
HKC: Tambuwal has performed creditably well. He has managed the affairs of the House with intelligence and maturity. He has shown industry and independence to a large extent but on few occasions, he has shown emotions.
However, I think he needs to be cautious in meddling in the Rivers State politics/matters. It is observed that the House of Reps is unwittingly tilting to one side and that’s not good for our hard earned image. Example the outcome of the investigation into the grounding of the jet allegedly owned by Rivers State government and arranging to join in calling for the transfer of the State Commissioner of Police.
TS: Your constituency, Obio/Akpor is at the centre of the crisis which has engulfed the PDP in Rivers. What reasons prompted you to take sides with the Felix Obuah/Nyesom Wike camp as opposed to that of the state governor, Rotimi Amaechi?
HKC: I pitched tent with Obuah and Wike in the Rivers State crisis because I wanted to be on the side of justice and fairplay and very certain that the interest of Obio/Akpor and indeed Rivers State is better protected there. Of course without apologies, I shall support a South South presidency in 2015 to allow the region take its 8 years. The North has always been in charge of the presidency for too long. I think that the 3 regions in the South (South West; South South and South East) should have a taste before it goes back to the North.
TS: Gov. Amaechi was suspended from the PDP allegedly because he refuses to reinstate Nsirim and his councillors in Obio/Akpor. The governor insists that he cannot reinstate Nsirim when he was not the one who removed him. Based on that argument, would you say he has a good point or not?
HKC: Amaechi is reprobating and approbating on the Obio/Akpor suspension. In one breath he says nobody, not even the party will compel him to recall Obio/Akpor officials unless he is ordered by the Courts. In another breath he says it’s the assembly that suspended the council and he had no hand in it and cannot recall them. It is abundantly clear that he suspended the council on a revenge mission against the sacking of his PDP Exco by the High Court. The Governor instructed the Assembly to suspend the Council and he recommended a caretaker committee and swore them in. Even though the appointment of caretaker is very clearly against the provisions of the Local Government Law No. 2 of 2012, particularly Section 64 therein. I sincerely think that the governor’s excuse that it’s the Assembly that can recall the Council Exco is with due respect very unintelligent.
TS: You were a union leader who must have taken part in your own fair share of protests in your time. Do you believe that Rivers police commissioner is right to bar Amaechi and his allies from protesting peacefully, especially as he granted permission to the opponents of the governor?
HKC: Under the Law the CP cannot stop anybody from exercising their right to freedom of association and expression by way of a peaceful procession. I read the Hon. Attorney General of Rivers State labouring under intentional limited interpretation of the Public Order Act. Both the governor and the police commissioner have no power to approve or ban public procession. The Public Order Act is in conflict with the Constitution and void to the extent of its inconsistency. The Police can only come in where the procession becomes or is likely to be riotous. However, it is a laughable display of ignorance when a State governor threatens to protest for the removal of the State CP. The effect will be same with those who protested calling for removal of the elected governor. Whenever the governor plans to hit the streets, he should let us know, we shall join him in sympathy. The governor likes to play to the gallery, he enjoys popularity and that accounts for his garrulousness. Some of his conducts makes him notorious and he sees that as popularity.
TS: The minister of state for education, Nyesom Wike, is rumoured to have governorship ambitions. If he throws his hat into the ring, would you back him, bearing in mind that he is Ikwerre just like the current state governor who would have ruled for 8 years by 2015?
HKC: The Minister has not said he is running for Governorship but if he says so, I shall support him cos I believe he has the ability to govern the state and take us to the next level. He is an achiever and will no doubt add value where ever he finds himself.
On the issue of tribe, since the creation of Rivers State, how many Ikwerre people have been in charge of the 3 arms of government (Governor, Speaker and Chief Justice). We are only heading each of the arms for the first time. If truly offices were given by tribal zoning for balancing why has Ikwerre the 2nd largest tribe when Bayelsa was in Rivers State and the largest today not occupied any of theses offices before now? Ijaw being the dominant tribe had always taken the offices. I will not succumb to the tribal blackmail. If I believe in anybody for the office of governor whether he or she is from Ijaw, Ogoni, Etche, Ikwerre or any other tribe is immaterial. Indeed, I use this medium to call on Chief Nyesom Wike to contest for the office of Governor at the appropriate time.
TS: There are some even within your party who do not believe that Pres. Jonathan has done well enough to deserve a 2nd term in 2015. You however are loyal to the Felix Obuah led executive which has thrown its weight behind Jonathan for 2015, do you think the president’s performance so far is worthy of another term?
HKC: Can you tell me the President that has done better than GEJ? In 2 years, we compare the achievements of GEJ to presidents that governed for 8 years. Despite the unprecedented and motivated security challenges, GEJ in 2 years has thus far sailed the ship of governance. He has laid strong blocks in various fields and whoever comes after him must be very focused and with a clear vision else he wouldn’t fit into the shoes GEJ will leave behind.
Even the 2 years of Umaru Yaradua, when governance was at a complete standstill for about 1 year was not so criticised but I believe the criticism rather than be a stumbling block has acted as a stepping stone to GEJ. I believe GEJ is doing well but as man is insatiable, I will always ask for more. GEJ no doubt deserves a 2nd term and will get it. At the appropriate time, I shall call on him to run.
TS: Wike recently said in an interview that he has been praying for Gov. Amaechi to leave the PDP because once he leaves he can be sure of electoral defeat. Is that your prayer as well?
HKC: It will be politically suicidal for Amaechi to leave PDP regardless of the amount of wealth he has amassed. Though I don’t see him staying because his body movement is that of a person poised for political suicide. I will not pray for evil for him or any other person, not even my enemy but if he leaves, he is on his own.
TS: Is there really any truth to the news that Amaechi is all but certain to switch to the opposition APC?
HKC: The answer lies in the bosom of Amaechi but his utterances point to that. I was in the church on the 60th birthday thanksgiving of Hon. OCJ Okocha (SAN) where the governor on the pulpit told the congregation that there are other parties in Nigeria and if they are suffocated by the PDP, they will move to another party. Ironically that was just after embracing Mr. President at the airport. Well, its also not unlikely that he didn’t mean what he said because he appears to suffer from diarrhoea of the mouth and gets intoxicated by microphone or camera. I will not be surprised to hear him next moment say that he will not leave the PDP.
TS: If you were asked to propose a solution to the crisis in the state chapter of your party, which would be a win-win situation for all parties involved, what would you propose?
HKC: At the stage the struggle has gotten to, there must be a loser and a winner. I have never been afraid of a fight because I don’t believe in failure because you never fail until you admit you have. I very sincerely wanted a peaceful resolution of the crisis before the judgement ousting the G. U. Ake led exco, because I saw all these coming but some selfish politicians felt they will crush Wike and boost their political chances.
I pleaded with my colleagues in the House of Reps to be neutral and explore a peaceful settlement but they all refused and pitched tent with Amaechi not out of love or loyalty but with the hope that Amaechi will give them ticket. Of course some hoped to be governor after Amaechi and if Wike is edged out their chances will be brighter. I sympathised with their political short-sightedness. After all my efforts failed, of course, I fell back to give my support to Wike as I believed in him but wished the matters could be resolved.
Let me also warn that the worst is not yet seen, there are still more arsenals in the war chest and the earlier it is called off the better and I pray those who advise the governor will be wise to lead him aright. Some of them preach peace in public but act differently behind. They truly don’t care about d governor but more interested in their political future.
On the way forward, Amaechi should make bold to unconditionally apologise to Rivers People for the several unguided statements and embarrassments. It’s sad that when a mad man is seen in the market place, it is his siblings that receives the shame: Apologise to the Niger Delta and South South for agreeing to be a tool in the hands of the North against their cause; to Mr. President for the sabotage and unwarranted embarrassment caused him; to PDP for the several anti party postures and ridicule to the party.
Is it not worrisome that he is alone in his crusade for Northern President amongst the South South governors? All the parties in PDP should embrace the Obuah led exco and recall the elected members of Obio/Akpor council. Call for elders and stakeholders meeting where everybody will discuss the issues and agree on the way forward. It is possible only if we all remove the toga of pride.
TS: Thank you Honourable Chinda for your time.
HKC: Thanks for the opportunity.