By Wilfred Eya
Prince Ugo Beke is the Rivers State governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). In this interview, he spoke on various issues including his reasons for aspiring to govern the oil-rich state.
The Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) has controlled Rivers State since 1999; how do you think your party, APGA will be able to win the governorship election in the state?
I have always said this that you cannot judge what happened since 1999 to what would happen in 2023. Every Nigerian believes that whatever thing that took place between 1999 and 2023 was a mere contraption of democracy. People were writing and announcing results. Even in some areas where the opposition parties were preponderant in terms of votes, they were usually shortchanged. I give you an example, in 2011, Omehia versus Amaechi, it was publicly believed that Omehia of APGA then won that election but it was stolen. I was part of that system because by 1999 when the PDP was formed in Rivers State, all these names you are mentioning were not in the PDP. They came to the PDP later; they were not there during the formation. Myself and late Waziri Mohammed were the two youngest Nigerians that participated in the formation of the PDP. Peter Odili was in ANPP; Sergent Awuse in ANPP. All the heavy weights were not there apart from people like Francis Ellah, Graham Douglas and few others. We know the ills of the PDP. We continued with it but Nigerians have agreed today that enough is enough and that we are tired of result writing and announcement; that we do not believe in the incumbency factor because it is all fake. The power of incumbency has always centred on result writing, bribery and corruption. God is about to do something new in this country in 2023. All the old things would pass away. The power of incumbency and the PDP having stolen money they throw around would not work because people would vote their conscience. I can assure you that. People will vote for me because they believe I have the competence, character and content to deliver good service and dividends of democracy to them in 2023 after I must have been sworn in as the governor of Rivers State.
But realistically, with the awards Governor Wike is garnering all over the place including from the Federal Government for the infrastructural development of Rivers, do you see any other party winning the PDP in your state in 2023?
Let me draw an analogy here, a lot of Nigerian degree certificates today and all that, are not accepted globally. They are not reckoned with because the standard has fallen. Before, the University of Ibadan was almost competing with Imperial College, Yale and so on but today, there is no Nigerian university that is rated among the best 1000 universities in the world. So, for us here, we are performing. Globally, we are not there. That is the point I want to make here. Do you honestly think that these people claiming, including in Lagos that they are working, are truly working? What are the signature projects? I listened to the news recently and they said Lagos is rated at the bottom of one of the worst cities in the world depending on the yardstick you are using to measure it. If you say Rivers State is performing, in terms of infrastructural development, we are still below 3 percent out of 100 percent. So, how are we performing? So how have you performed in the 23 local governments of Rivers State? Everything is dead. The economy of Rivers State is dead. Trans Amadi that my father owned one of the largest industries is dead. The place is dead. Michelin has left and many others. Poverty rate in Rivers State is over 95 percent. What is the infrastructural development they are talking about; from one side of Aba road to the other side of Aba road. That is below 3 percent of the entire state; the entire state with a voting population of 3.7 million people. People say unemployment rate of 45 percent but I do not agree with that. I think it is about 80 percent because nothing really happens in Rivers State. That is why you see that there are more political jobbers in the state; there are many criminals and those into kidnapping because there are no jobs. No man was born a criminal. It is the performance of the government that has turned many people into criminals. So, if Rivers State was really working, you cannot have that level of poverty in the state. Flooding just happened in Rivers State; go there and see the level of health hazards. Life expectancy in Rivers is below 45 years old. One of the reasons is because of environmental pollution owing to breaking of pipes and soot. If the state is working, will you have people go and do something they know is unlawful? Let Nigerians tell themselves the truth. It is not just about bandying words. Those days when M.I Okpara was the premier of Eastern Nigeria, when Diete Spiff was military administrator of Rivers State, when Okilo who was my father’s friend performed and opened up Rivers State even the areas called Bayelsa today and those different divisions, nobody called anybody to come and commission projects and drag poor masses out. All these things are signs of bad governance. We must tell ourselves the honest truth. Even at the national level, there is failure at the highest level. I happened to have been one of those that wrote this country’s African Peer Review Mechanism report that talks about four thematic areas of governance. I realise the level of failure and that most of the policies have never been implemented. Nigeria has the best policies but they are never implemented. I can mention some of them; most of them due to nepotism; most abandoned because you have policies overlapping. Now if you look at Rivers State, that is why I said there had been total failure of governance. You cannot govern a place without a policy manual. So, people just talk. You should have a project manual so that you see the abandoned projects and you model it to global trending issues. You cannot just abandon a housing estate for years and you are doing your own thing. There is a sports centre that Diete Spiff built and it has been abandoned; no government is looking at it. Oyakhilome came with a fantastic programme of school to land in Ogoni; it has been abandoned. Like I said, Michelin and all the companies in Trans Amadi have left. Trans Amadi used to be the second largest industrial layout in Africa and not in Nigeria. It was second to the one in Ikeja. At that time, the Eastern region economy was the fasted growing economy in Africa. That is why I talk about signature projects; show me your signature projects. Can you domesticate and cascade your policies down from top to down? That is how it is supposed to work. We need to get the people involved. The poor masses are only doing what the leadership is controlling them to do. Why should I call out one million man march of people who have not eaten; people we have all criminalized in the past 24 years. Where are we headed to? Are we being real? We should tell ourselves the honest truth. Our education system for instance is completely dead. That is why I said I have all the policies that could make Rivers State to compete with Dubai.
What is your unique selling point? Why should an average Rivers person vote for you against your opponents?
Every politics is local. The perception of Peter Obi by the majority of the younger people are matching what he did in Anambra to what he is saying he will do when elected in 2023. They are thinking that Obi because of who they know of him will replicate what he did in Anambra at the national level. For me, every person that comes from Rivers State sees me as somebody who has content, character and competence. They are looking at me from my background. That here is a rich man’s son who has always associated with the masses, poor persons and who has always come up with ideas to enhance the lives of the less privileged and the physically challenged. Every birthday, I always celebrated it with the physically challenged. Everything I have done in life, I have done it with the less privileged. I do not have what Obi has; not that I was not born into it; probably my father was richer but I do not believe in the primitive accumulation of wealth. As it comes to my pocket, I give out and every Rivers person will attest to that. When you talk about integrity and truth, every Rivers person will attest to that. When you look at the candidates they are parading, every Rivers person knows that I am far ahead of them. Every Rivers person believes that this is a square peg in a square hole. But the only thing they always say is, Wike has plenty money to buy voters. Where am I going to find money to compete with the PDP? But I keep saying to the poor people, they have been giving you these peanuts and stealing everything and criminalizing you for 24 years, when will you learn your lessons. They would tell me that now that we have learnt our lessons, we would vote for you. It is on that strength that I believe I would be governor of Rivers State next year by the special grace of God.
Recently, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party was in Rivers and Wike agreed to give him some support but told him point blank that the PDP will win the state. What is your reaction and how formidable is the APGA structure in the 23 local governments of Rivers State?
The hobnob between the PDP and Labour Party in Rivers State, we are still looking at it. This is politics but the picture I gathered in Rivers State is that the candidate of the PDP is very weak. He does not have my kind of exposure politically, intellectually and economically. Now, if the PDP would buy votes, the masses are being taught to collect the money and vote their conscience. What I also want to let you know is that we also have to match what Wike parades with my personality. Wike, Amaechi and myself are from Ikwere but one had always had a better pedigree. When people look at my lifestyle and knowing that I am coming from about eight generation and they are just coming from the first generation, that would influence how the people would vote. The voters would say, we can collect this money but this man, we know him and we know his grandfather and we know his content. They know that I do not believe in primitive accumulation. So if the people can do that for Peter Obi who is even much richer than me, they can do it for me too; they see as the Prince of the masses, I think that is my selling point. I still believe that Nigerians know what they want.
On the structure, like I said this is not the first outing of APGA in the state. The truth is that even when we were in PDP, the APC was not the opposition party. APGA was the opposition party and I can give you the demographics. It has always been that the Ikwere people command almost 60 percent of the voting strength. It is actually about 67 percent. The next largest in the states are the Igbo votes. I am talking about the Igbo who live in Rivers State. They have over 20 percent of the voting strength. So, APGA is perceived to be an Igbo party. Omehia when he contested in 2011 was perceived to be an Ikwere son who had just been unjustly treated. That is why I earlier said that I believe Omehia actually won that election. Omehia was loved and he had 80 percent votes from his Ikwere extraction and had almost 90 percent of the Igbo votes in Rivers State. Yet the results were written against him. I come from a more prominent and well known family. My younger brother is the chairman of the APC in my state. My elder brother is with the PDP; so you can see how versatile and strong my family is in terms of political capacity.