By Chinelo Obogo
Sir Celestine Omehia is a former governor of Rivers State and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He was at the recent Sun Man of the Year Awards and he spoke on the crisis in his party , how the country can overcome recession, and other national issues.
You accompanied Governor Nyesom Wike to receive the Sun governor of the year award. How would you describe him as a person and as a governor?
As a person, the governor of Rivers State is very intelligent, friendly, hard working, amiable and an example to all. He is qualified as a lawyer and he is using his wealth of experience to bring more development to Rivers State and that is one of the reasons why he deserves the award.
What has been his role in the post-2015 PDP?
His role in the party has been very strategic.
In what way has his role been strategic?
He has been like a rallying point for other members of the party and as a high ranking officer of the party, he has shown warmth to them. He has shown that we can get whatever assistance we want, in any form we want it. He is a man of the people and that is why he is hugely popular especially in the state. The number and calibre of people who accompanied him to receive this award is a testament to that.
The Appeal Court recently upheld the leadership of the acting national chairman of PDP, Ali Modu Sheriff. How did you feel about the judgment?
Judgement comes and goes, and no matter what we say, that is the view of the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has given its own judgement, the details on how they arrived at it, we don’t know, but the fact is that, the conclusion is that Sheriff is the party chairman. The judgment disrespected and disregarded the party members who gathered in Rivers State to appoint the Caretaker Committee; it disregarded the opinion of the people. The interest of the people should have been considered before taking such a decision. But whatever grounds and whatever it is that made them to take such decision does not matter now; it is already late. The decision has been made; so, what is important now is that the party has to reorganise itself. The elders of the party should resolve the issue so that it can plan towards wrestling power from the All Progressives Congress (APC). We must recognise the fact that we are in the opposition; and we must also recognise the fact that the APC is not going to peacefully walk out and say take over power. We need to be united, we need to be strong. But then, all the people involved must bury personal interest for the interest of the party as a whole because it is the basic thing.
One of the PDP senators advised the party to work with Sheriff and go for a convention where it will elect its leaders. He said that without embracing Sheriff, the party is headed for destruction because according to him, Nigeria is a one-party state and it has no opposition. What’s your view?
If PDP does not really reorganise itself, APC will have its way, no doubt about that. But then the proper thing has to be done. It is not to say that Sheriff’s faults should be forgotten, no! Everything about it should be done properly and then the party has to move forward because many things have been taken for granted. If Sheriff has taken the party for granted, if he has taken the members for granted, we shouldn’t say because the court has given its decision or judgement, then every other person should just sweep the rubbish under the carpet and move forward. You can’t move forward if things are swept under the carpet. Therefore, whatever the problem is, it must be sorted out and then we can move forward. If you don’t sort out the problem from the primary level to the topmost, you cannot move forward. Therefore, all those things have to be looked into then we can move forward. So because the judgement of the court says that Sheriff is the national chairman does not mean that every other thing he has done or purported to have done is correct; it is not correct.
Would you blame the party for not carrying out due diligence before it even accepted him as an acting chairman?
I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t know who promised what or if there was any promise at all, but the fact is that the party officers are human beings and they could make their own mistakes. You know human beings can be pretentious. If he had pretended to be what he is not and at the long run exposes that which he is, therefore, there is bound to be a reaction because it is deception. It is a pretentious attitude and therefore, those attitudes which he pretended to be which he is not have to be corrected.
For a while, the country has been facing economic crisis; from your own candid point, what do you think the government can do?
I think that the issue of recession and economic disorganisation of the country has to do with professional arrangements. As far as I am concerned, the headship of the country has to be focused; has to be interested in the affairs of the people and have to know what is good for the people and go for it. If they don’t have the interest of the country at heart which is what is playing out now, then whatever thing that is happening in recession would not bother them. Therefore, they have to first and foremost, purge themselves by asking if they are qualified to be there. If they are qualified, are they interested in the affairs of this country? If they are interested in the affairs of this country, then what steps can they take to make sure that the people of this country benefit from their presence as a government? They have to hire the best hands; they have to think about themselves being competent or not, or do the best in any manner or form to reorganise the economy and move the country forward.
Are you in support of the ban on over 41 import goods?
My idea about importation is simple and straight. Ban on importation is only supposed to be where there is local competition with the imported goods. If we are producing, then why should we import contrary to the needs of the people? If we ban what we are not producing, it leads to starvation and if that is the case, it simply means that smuggling will increase in the country. Therefore, the government should not ban the importation of things we are not producing. For instance, if you say they should ban the importation of rice because there is production of rice in Nigeria, then the question we ask is what quantity are we producing? And what is the level of consumption of rice in Nigeria? Can the rice produced in Nigeria balance off if we ban the importation? If it is not, then you liberalise importation of rice.
The same thing is applicable to shoes, same thing is applicable to other things. Mind you, the more they ban the importation of goods, the more restricted the dollar that comes into this country. If there is ban on importation of things, investors will not come to Nigeria to invest because their products would not come into this country and if their product do not come into this country, it simply means dollar scarcity will still continue to rise and that is the problem Nigeria will continue to have. This is a simple economic sense and they need to get experts to think with them. The problem in Nigeria now is that, the people in government are only thinking of what they can get instead of what the people can get and that.