By Fred Itua, Abuja
Ayiri Emami is a businessman, philanthropist and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from Delta State. In this interview, he spoke on chances of the presidential candidate of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu among other issues.
The Asiwaju Bola Tinubu ticket, how sellable is it in the South South where you come from?
To some of us, he is good to go. When a product is good, you don’t need a lot of advertisement to sell it. Asiwaju is a very good product and in Delta State, I don’t see any difference in other parts of Nigeria, if Asiwaju can get it in other parts, he can equally get it in the South South because he is a very good product to market on his own. It is easier for us to sell Asiwaju than some other persons that you will struggle and struggle to sell in the South South. Asiwaju is a household name in the South South; he is part of my state. To me, I will tell you that Asiwaju is from Delta State because in Itsekiri, they will tell you that the in-law is the third family member. So, after my father, mother, brother, the other person is in-law. Itsekiri or people from Delta don’t disenfranchise their in-law. Asiwaju equally has the same right as I do to partake in anything, to be part of any meeting and have his own fair share in anything. I can boldly tell you Asiwaju is from Delta State. Being that he is from Delta, Asiwaju is from South South.
As a follow-up, you have painted a picture here that Asiwaju will win the South South. Incidentally, Atiku Abubakar’s Vice Presidential candidate, Peter Okowa is Governor of Delta State and by extension South South. Do you think that by your calculation, if you place Okowa side by side with Asiwaju in the South South, that it is certain for Asiwaju who is not from the region to win?
I don’t know what you mean by our son, I have told you that Asiwaju too is from the region by any means you see it. Okowa is vying for the Vice President while Asiwaju is going for president, so, you can compare.
For instance, if they are to pair the two, who do you think will win?
If they are to go for real election and we have to be fair, it is Asiwaju.
At the unveiling of Shettima as the Vice- Presidential candidate of APC, some key members from the South South and South East were not at the venue, is that not a sign of a crack in the party?
Even me I was not there, because to us, Shettima has been unveiled before now by Asiwaju himself. So, I was sleeping at home that day, when they called me. What did I need to go and do there? So, I don’t see any political undertone in that. We have been told that it is Shettima and we have been talking. Everybody has congratulated him and working towards Shettima. The unveiling was just a ceremonial thing. I assumed other leaders not in attendance were very tired and couldn’t attend. So, it is not an issue for me.
You have already established your passion for Asiwaju’s presidency, what I am trying to find out is the Muslim-Muslim ticket issue on ground. Naturally, the North might embrace it but in the region where you come from, don’t you think that will be an issue?
Some of us even supported the candidacy of Shettima. We advised Asiwaju to go and look for a good person that will give you support, whether Muslim or anything. Religion has not brought anything to our table. For example, Niger Delta Development Commission is an agency that is supposed to be taking care of the Niger Delta and so much money has come into the NDDC but the people monitoring those affairs are all Christians, no Muslim. Go and see whether you will see any development. Governors running those region are all Christians. So, if Asiwaju has a partner that will make him succeed, will give us protection, good roads, good schools, I don’t care because not everybody is even a Christian. How many people are even Christians in the South South? This Christianity of a thing, a man wakes up in the morning and he doesn’t even love his neighbour and he goes up to the pulpit to preach. I know a lot of them who don’t have the fear of God because things they do are not what is being written in the Bible. For example, you arranged us to go and rig an election, you rig the election and you go and do thanksgiving. I won’t come to Church that day because it means you don’t have the fear of God. So, whatever that can work for us, that is what we need at this time and Shettima is going to be a very good pair with Asiwaju. I know some people who are Christians, who will donate huge money in the church, built schools but members of that your church cannot attend the schools. In my house, my wife is a Deaconess, I used to tell her, I said look, if Asiwaju pick Muslim, that is who we are going to vote for. To me, I have very little and I am very grateful to God. I share the little with people but those that are preaching are not doing so. When it comes to politics, they are complaining of Muslim-Muslim ticket. To some of us, a lot of majority of people that are going to vote don’t understand what they are saying about Muslim-Muslim ticket. What we are saying at the moment is Asiwaju for transformation. We are not seeing the religion aspect of it because to some of us, the Vice President is a Christian under Buhari, what is the difference. Some Christians because of politics will go to the North to go and turban, if you know you forbid something so much, don’t even go to their palace to turban. Why are you going there, don’t you know it is a different faith?
I am interested in how you are going to sell the APC in the South South where you come from because the known fact is that South South is a PDP stronghold and recently, if you look at Rivers State, there is mass defection going on, APC chieftains are defecting to other parties. What will you be telling your people?
To me, I will not hide my feeling about the current government. As much as people have different feeling or perception about Buhari, some of us could bring very good votes for Buhari from my state on the table despite the way APC rewarded those that worked. Their reward system is very poor but to some of us, we know that Asiwaju, if you look at his pedigree and people around him, you will know that he is a good product to sell. Even when we have a difficult product, we still moved in and we still sold him and people bought him. So, the way people are defecting from APC, people are moving massively into APC, I don’t want to mention names. Somebody moved from PDP to APC for purpose; somebody is also moving out of APC to another party for another mission but when he is moving out, did he tell you he will not support Asiwaju? So, the person asked me, why did I not move to another party, I asked him too why did you move to APC. So, these movements and a lot of people don’t have ideology and belief. In Nigerian politics, a lot of them move with their stomach. So, I call them stomach infrastructure politicians. Someone like me, I have been in opposition in my state for almost seven going to eight years; I don’t care, I don’t go close to the Government house, despite all my associates, my friends are in that state. But you will see some people, they will tell you we are APC in federal, we are PDP in Delta State and they will even benefit more than us. But in Asiwaju government, I don’t think such a thing will happen. If you want to work, you work for APC so that this ideology will remain. Like one of my mentors and late Oga will say, he used to tell me that why he decided to retire from politics was because his political party didn’t follow ideology; people just cross carpet from one political party to another just to contest. Some people just believe that since Asiwaju is contesting, this is their government, and wherever they are, they leave their comfort zone and come, no. No matter how difficult it is, I have told myself, I don’t pray APC lose national elections; I will just quit the game and go and face my business. That is me for you. I believe in anything I am doing, look at the justification before taking any action. I am well known from home on that character. It is very difficult to see people like that. When you see people with no character transiting from one end to another, it is not an issue. If they are defecting, everybody has their reasons and purpose and if this place does not suit them, they go to another place, some people will want to be guided to see that their objectives can be achieved there. I told my people, one of the problems in Delta is to ensure that the ports in Warri are working, some of us thought that Buhari was going to fix it, the shores in our place is actually being affected by the ocean. The gas project that foundation was laid by Jonathan, some of us thought that Buhari will complete it. The Warri refinery, our belief is that with Buhari, it is going to be fixed and a lot of money have been budgeted for these projects. I don’t want to give him 100 percent blame on this issue but knowing Asiwaju and his antecedent in Lagos and seeing Nigeria as a bigger picture and we want more money into Nigeria and not Lagos. There are various investments that Asiwaju is going to create so that money will come into Nigeria and there is no way you want to design that Warri is going to be out of it, Port-Harcourt will be out of it, Bayelsa will be out of it, Calabar will be out of it, because it is going to be a bigger picture. He will want to attract more investors because he is a business like person and he is a politician. So, it is two different ball games; with the little he has, there is no difference between Lagos, Warri and Port-Harcourt. With these three cities, you look at what will be coming into Nigeria. That will not make us forget what Buhari promised but because of the trouble that happened, when Buhari got into government, they were breaking pipes. They were doing aiding and abetting to those people that were doing those things as an Avenger and as at that time, it affected the economy so much and was part of what frustrated the government and it was very angry. That was in 2015, so, what we were supposed to produce came down because every part of the Niger Delta was being affected by the vandals because we lost an election and some of us came out to say, look you are saying they will abandon Niger Delta and the way they are raising this Muslim-Muslim ticket and we told them we had six years and we couldn’t see one significant thing on ground. We were in support of Buhari to fight that. For like two years, everything was stagnant. After that, we got into an election year, before you knew it, Covid-19 came, oil price went down. So, Buhari on his own too was being frustrated by our people. But as it is today, a lot of people are seeing the reality. The APC and Buhari did not come and kill anybody the way they thought that Buhari was going to Islamise Nigeria and all of that. The essence of this Muslim-Muslim ticket is this insurgency in the North. In the Niger Delta, yes, we must agitate but my own way of agitation is different from yours; don’t burst the pipe, if they agree with what we want to start so that the Federal Government will not zsay they are budgeting money to do repairs.
People are facing the reality now and if Asiwaju comes on board, he is going to be the brand new face of that and that is what affected APC hugely. The Niger Delta avenger as at when Buhari assumed office, if he has to believe and start killing people, you know what people will say. For those supporting the Boko Haram then, I tell people once they finished with the churches, they will go to the mosques because if you support them, one day you will be in the mosque and they will come.
In our own region, when the Niger Delta were kidnapping the white men, some of us were going against it, so when there were no white men to kidnap, they started kidnapping their own people. But some people were supporting them then because of political reasons. So, most of the problems we have is caused by politicians, not religion. So, I know if Asiwaju assumes office and promise I am going to fix all these things, the Ports, the roads, schools, etc. if the Ports are working, you can see what they will generate around that areas. There are lots of lands along the coast from Warri to Escravos where you can have various fabrications. I know with Asiwaju, he will say whatever you want to do, come and do it in Nigeria. I have looked at his profile, I have a good relationship with him for a very long time. He is not just somebody you can go and lie to, he will ask somebody to go and check and verify if it’s true. So, he is somebody who understands in and out of Nigeria as it is today. So, what we want is somebody that will transform Nigeria.
Your party hasn’t been able to tackle very effectively the security challenges facing the country. What major role do you think the traditional institutions can play to mitigate this, or address it frontally?
First of all, you take the traditional institutions out of politics. You must take our institutions out of politics because it is very dangerous to the institution to play politics because they are under government; most of them are being paid by the government. If you look at the laws of the states, they are under the state government. And when you involve them and they speak their mind and that person you are supporting now loses, you know the repercussion. Sometimes, when we are speaking and people are saying Ayiri is this, it is Chief Ayiri talking, you cannot tie it to the institution. I am speaking as a politician, leader of my people who want better government for my people; so I can be held responsible. So, sometimes, you down play the institutions when it comes to national politics like this. As a royal father, you can pray for anybody, if you choose to go and cast your vote, you know who you cast it for. The issue of insurgency, I might not be in the army but I may be able to tell the army this is what I want. I have the boldness to take my own decision. Asiwaju is that man that has the courage of taking a very difficult decision. That is another reason I am with him because some of us are only courageous to take decision that normally if you take, the whole world will come down. I will tell you this is the way to go and if Asiwaju is the president of this country and he has the proper study of Borno, Yobe, the North East, he will be able to deal with the situation. Don’t compare, everybody has their style in terms of leadership. This is the first time in this country where a Minister is doing almost about 8 years in office; we have seen government every two years, they change their ministers. In this government, the President believes if I give you a responsibility, you should be able to do things yourself but that does not mean Buhari does not have courage. I am not saying that but I think Asiwaju will take some decisions that will hurt a lot of people. They can even say this General will come and kill you and he will have justification for it. Knowing where Buhari is coming from and Nigerians are good with blackmail, war against Indiscipline, his antecedents, people were even complaining that once he became President, he was not going to stick to the constitution, rule of laws and all that. It is the same thing that some Nigerians are trying to do with this Muslim-Muslim ticket so that when a pastor misbehaves tomorrow and Asiwaju takes a decision, they will say he wants to come and Islamize Nigeria. Nigerians have a way of doing things. If they know this man is going to do something, they already prepared things that will not make him work. If you want to take your decision and if you are not careful, you are going to be looking at those things they have said about you. They have said a lot of things about Buhari that he is going to finish all of us, he is going to kill a lot of people; he was going to do this and that. Asiwaju’s style might be different and I assure you he is going to be different. Yar’Adua’s style was different from Jonathan.
If I get you well, you are calling on traditional institutions not to be part of politics?
I am not calling them to be out but I am just telling you the danger in it. I am part of the traditional institution, I can take my risk but I I don’t know about the other person. The danger in it, I just told you.
Don’t you think there is the need for constitutional amendment to ensure the independence of the institution just like the judiciary
To me, I have said something that they can be included in the Constitution so that they can have a role to play, so that their voice can be heard. What you said is their involvement in politics, so I told you the danger in it. We can advocate, the way it used to be in the First Republic when we had the House of Chiefs.
You are the Ologbotsere of Warri and we are aware that there is a cold war between you and Olu of Warri, can we have an update on the relationship?
It is not specifically a cold war; my belief is that the ability to take a certain decision makes you a man when you are at the helms of affairs. A leader that cannot take a decision whether right or wrong is not a leader, so I took a decision as it was written and if he chose to do the other way, it is like Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ but I shouldn’t be hurt; nobody should bring that problem to me. I have taken a decision based on law as it is written. How will you claim you are a Christian if you know that those things written and as it is written was not written by you. So, whatever the difference, nature will naturally take its course and the good people of Itsekiri who know that I acted based on what was written felt that we don’t need this because it is not going to take us to anywhere. We are looking for a way to see that we go to a round table so that we don’t destroy our house because we are one people. To me, I take a decision no matter whether you are my best of friends but one must stick to the rules. I shouldn’t be hurt or killed by our own rule. I will defend myself. If I take a decision basde on our rules, I shouldn’t be hurt or killed based on the rule. If I have to be killed, I have to defend myself. I think I can be treated like Pilate.