The first thing to say is that clearly that statement must have been written before the rally. If it wasn’t written before the rally, then I am at a loss at where Dr. Abati saw the so-called statement against the President, his wife and the Federal Government.
There was no point during the rally where the wife of the President was mentioned and that was because issues being discussed were not issues about persons but about governance. The issues were in no way related to her as she does not hold any official position in government. Therefore, there is no need referring to her where governance issues are being discussed.
I think Dr. Abati must have written his statement in anticipation of what he hopes might have been said, or he had written it, having at the back of his mind his own previous statements against the First Lady and therefore just coming from the background of what he himself had written about the First Lady.
He hoped and assumed that Governor Amaechi will toe his line. Unfortunately, Governor Amaechi was not interested in discussing persons. I think Dr. Abati should listen again to the tape and perhaps, if Nigerians look at it, they may throw a co-relation between his response to Governor Amaechi and his previous statements about the First Lady.
As regards to Mr. President, again, Governor Amaechi did not refer to the President in any personal capacity. He did refer to the activities of the Federal Government; he did refer to the fact that the Federal Government’s Ministry of Aviation has not completed the remodelling of the Port Harcourt International Airport, which was started at the same time as Enugu, as Lagos, as Kano, as Calabar.
He did refer to the fact the Rivers people were being treated like refugees and we have become internally-displaced persons in our own state and our only offence was that we gave the President two million votes in 2011.
He did complain the Rivers people only feel marginalised, but are poor cousins to the Federal Government. He did complain as to why Rivers people continue not to have the funds that come from their oil wells and the fact that the oil wells that belong to Rivers State were taken to Bayelsa and Abia States.
He wondered if it was an offence to be cousins to rich brothers. He asked if the Ijaw people in Rivers State were any less Ijaw than their cousins across the river in Bayelsa, in Delta and in Ondo States He thought that if it was a matter of Ijaw ethnicity, which he ascribed to because he felt that first and foremost, Nigeria is a federation comprising of every ethnic coloration and therefore, every ethnicity should feel entitled to the common wealth.
However, he said that if it happens to be a matter of ethnicity, then, certainly, the Ijaws in Rivers State deserved to also benefit from their Ijaw brother. He said that brotherhood means that you will take care of my needs as your brother and therefore, the Bonny-Bodo Road would have been completed by now.
He did ask if it was not true that the first Port Harcourt Refinery was built by Tafawa Balewa. Perhaps, Dr. Abati is either not sure of his historical facts or may be able to disprove the fact of who built the first Port Harcourt Refinery. He also did say that the Eleme Petrochemical was built by Ibrahim Babangida. Again, may be, Dr. Abati has a fact that is contrary to that. Perhaps, Dr. Abati is unaware because he has not been following the releases of the federal allocation that states are receiving 50% of what they were all receiving before.
Perhaps Dr. Abati did hear when the Governor of Bayelsa State made the same complain or the Governor of Benue State or several other governors. Maybe Dr. Abati did not hear about the statement issued by PDP governors complaining about the meddlesomeness of the First Lady on the issues of governance.
Governor Amaechi is not a PDP governor; he was not present at the meeting of the PDP governors, who were complaining about the interference of Her Excellency, the First Lady in various states. Since he is not a PDP governor, he may not be aware of this meddlesomeness because he is only acknowledged it when he saw it in the newspapers along with other stories. Perhaps, Dr. Abati should go back a listen to the meeting of the PDP governors so that he properly direct his statement to the people to whom he should direct it to.
However, we have read his statement and we do not think that that statement is informed but we believe that it did not come from someone who followed the facts. Fortunately, the television stations aired it and he may like to request for the video so that he can watch it properly and be better informed, and therefore respond professionally.
I think that Dr. Abati, having worked in a newspaper house and being a columnist for several years, does know that the first thing in journalism is that facts are sacred. There again, when you think about the fact that he was consistent in opinion pages, he may have forgotten the difference between actual reporting and opinion writing.
Therefore, what he issued yesterday was his opinion, which is really different from presenting the facts as they occur, and therefore, it will be difficult for me being a news person to join issues with him. I will therefore just refer him back to the table and ask him to address the facts that have been raised by His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State. The facts are clear that as at today, no significant federal presence in Rivers State. That as today, the Port Harcourt International Airport remains abandoned.
That as today, the Ministry of Niger Delta, created by His Excellency, the late President Yar’adua and have had a whole cake as an assignment; yet, the only thing that reoccurs on the agenda of the Niger Delta Ministry is the East-West Road. Perhaps, Dr. Abati will want to controvert that by showing us other issues that are on the agenda of the Ministry of Niger Delta.
Those are the facts that Governor Amaechi raised and to my mind, what Dr. Abati needs to do is to address the facts, then, keep aside his opinions. There will be time for his opinion writing, but I don’t think it is right now. For now, he should address the facts and let the facts speak for themselves.
However, our concern as the government of Rivers State is the presence of the under hand tap by the Federal Government. We do not know what Dr. Abati is talking about. We however want to alert him to the fact that this is a federation and the President is not the senior prefect of this federation. He is Mr. President and he is accorded his due respect as the President.
However, each of the states is part of the federating entity and their governors are duly elected by the people to serve as chief executives of their states. The relationship between the states and the centre is that of equals and the President remains the first among the equals, and we give him the regard as the first among the equals and the leader of the nation. We, however do not think that those who work for him should construe his role as first among equals to senior prefect over the governors because that is not what federalism is.
Let me also remind Dr. Abati that threats, undue references and attacks on persons who are chief executives of their states is an attack and affront on the collective psyche of Rivers people. Telling Rivers people that their governor is not safe is something I think Dr. Abati will not want to do in a democracy.
He should remember that his principal, as at today, has said he wants to run for an election; I am not sure he can win that election without the people and therefore, Dr. Abati should be careful on how he tramples on the psyche of the electorates.
He should remember that democracy is about participation and peoples’ right to express their grievances where such grievances occur. He must acknowledge that Rivers people have a right to feel battered and bruised; that the Train 7 of the NLNG has been refused to come on board and therefore over 10,000 Rivers people have not been employed. He must understand that the 10,000 youths are upset that they have not been allowed to have jobs because the Brass NLNG has not come up.
He must understand that me must therefore find ways to persuade the feelings of these 10,000 youths who have not been employed because the Train 7 of the NLNG has not come on stream. He must find ways to explain to the people of Bonny why they cannot have a road leading to Bonny and why when Rivers State government wanted to embark on that road project along with NLNG, they were stopped by the Federal Government for which Dr. Abati works.
I think when he answers those questions, then, there will be reasons to have a conversation. At this point, we don’t have the basis to have a conversation with Dr. Abati.
Commissioner for Information and Communications,