Rivers people solidly behind Tonye Cole – Wali

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Kingsley Wenenda Wali, a Port Harcourt – based businessman, is a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Convener of the Unity House Foundation (UHF), a social justice, good governance and peace advocacy group. In this interview, Wali, a distinguished award-winning personality, decried the level of violence witnessed in Rivers State as the 2023 elections draw nearer and lambasted Governor Nyesom Wike for his failure to offer true governance to the people after almost eight years in the saddle. The UHF helmsman declared that the Rivers APC governorship candidate, Tonye Cole, is the right man to come and bring good governance to transform the state for the benefit of the people.


As a preacher of issue-based and violence-free campaign, who has organised different programmes for the sensitization of Nigerians on the need to engage in decent conversation and eschew bitterness in our electioneering process, how do you feel about the situation in Rivers State where we see mindless attacks and disruption of opposition rallies thereby creating an atmosphere of tension and fear as the elections draw closer?

Well, thank you very much. When people act in a certain way about issues that affect them, as in when people are nonchalant about the things that affect the community, somehow, it will come round to hunt them and hurt them at the same time. Some of us saw from the rhetorics exhibited by a leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State, the drama, the threat in all those things. We knew that they were going to have a direct consequence on how people will behave going into the elections. It questions the honesty in the claims of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that he is going to bequeath and leave behind as one of his legacies, an electoral process that is fair, free and just. Democracy is not an event. Democracy is a process of which electioneering campaign is part of that process. Now if people are not allowed to campaign, how do you expect a fair end to that process? I always tell people that in every society citizens have a disposition to being lawless. People have that instinct sometimes to do things against the law. Now, what distinguishes one community from the other is nothing but the consequences of what would happen to you if you disobey the law. In the west, I mean the western and European countries including the Americans, they obey because they know that if you drive against the traffic, you will be arrested and if you are arrested you will be prosecuted. Here in Nigeria, if you drive against the traffic, you know there won’t be consequences for your action. What I am saying is that those who are visiting the opposition parties in Rivers State with violence, uncharacterized violence – Rivers State has never ever known this kind of politics. They are doing it because they know that the President’s men will not do anything. And when I say the President’s men, I’m talking about the security agencies that are answerable only to the President. They will not do anything. There was a bomb blast somewhere in Port Harcourt the Police Commissioner said they were not aware of it. APC was attacked at Opobo, nothing was done about it. Magnus Abe (Rivers State SDP Governorship candidate) was attacked. They blocked the road. Rivers State PDP thugs blocked the highway. The police commissioner did nothing. Nobody was arrested. Nobody was questioned. Just recently, APC was supposed to have a rally. They prepared the place, cleared the place, a virgin area. They cleared it, put everything in place and set the stage with music equipment. People went there in the presence of the Nigerian Police Force and destroyed everything there. Destroyed everything there. It happened in Omuma Local Government Area. They took away the generators for that event, destroyed the stage and the tents. They made sure those tents were useless. The police did not make any statement. The DSS has not said anything about it. And these are the two agencies that are supposed to be directly involved in the electoral process. If all of these are happening and nobody is doing anything about it. Now what would happen on Election Day?

Why are the security agencies not doing the needful in checkmating the situation? Could it be that there is a compromise somewhere?

I wouldn’t want to delve into whether there is compromise or not. What I can say is that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, has refused to bother about what happens to the citizens in Rivers State. This was the state where people were killed because APC people decided to support him. APC members came out for him when Rivers people said they would not support him. And the punishment they got was that the likes of Chief Adube of Omoku town in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA was killed with five others including his two children in his house in defence of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. Nothing happened! There was no inquisition. There was nothing up to this point. So, the PDP people are emboldened by the lackadaisical attitude of the President towards Rivers people that they feel that they can do anything and get away with it.

So you don’t think there is a compromise?

I don’t know about compromise to anybody. The truth about it is that the way the police authority behave now, they behave as if they have instructions. Even if they don’t have instructions, they believe nothing will happen. It is not their business whatever happens to anybody. So, I think the whole strategy is to scare people so that they won’t come out and vote. But we in Rivers APC have decided that we are going to contest this election and we will be on the ballot and we will win this election with or without President Buhari doing what he swore to do, that is, to defend the lives and property of Rivers people.

The incumbent governor of the state, Nyesom Wike has always clearly and emphatically stated that his government and the PDP have done extremely well in the state and you see him commissioning projects here and there. He has invariably boasted that the PDP will win the gubernatorial election in Rivers based on the performance of his administration. Why do you want to think that the PDP government in Rivers will still want to scare people away from voting when they are so much confident of victory?

I say this for clarity and for the record too. As a civilized person, I don’t criticise anybody because I don’t like the person’s face, because of where the person comes from or because of his religion or race. The PDP government in Rivers State has boasted of projects. Yes, there are some projects – twelve flyovers within the Port Harcourt metropolis. I don’t have any problem with that. PDP government built a Nigerian law school campus also in Port Harcourt metropolis. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with the PDP government boasting that they have built a cancer centre within Port Harcourt metropolis. The cancer centre and the law school are between 3 minutes and 4 minutes drive from where the Governor comes from – one is on the left side and one is on the right side. So, basically he built them around his village for whatever reason. All Nigerians, all Rivers people would use the place. That is to the extent that he has done well. But Rivers State is made up of 23 Local Governments. Which flyover did he do in any other Local Government? This government is not on record to have built one single health centre in Rivers State. This government is not on record to have built one single secondary in the whole of River State. The primary schools and the health centres that were built by the previous government (of Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi) have been vandalised by agents of this government. The fish farms, the plantation farm and the Songhai farm built by the previous government, this government actively encouraged their supporters to destroy those farms without a replacement for them. Rivers State as we speak ranks high on the index of unemployment among the young Nigerians among states in the country.

Are you saying that Rivers State is highest in terms of unemployment among the 36 states of the federation?

Yes, you can check the data released by the NBS, National Bureau of Statistics. Rivers State is very blessed in negative performance under the current government of the PDP. So, when they go about making this noise, call TV stations, they come around and video them. They call some Nigerians, give them money, they stay in good hotels. They say thank you for coming and everybody goes home happy. And you think they are working. I try to remind you of something. This government renovated two prominent buildings in Port Harcourt. And the governor at the commissioning of those projects said that he was not going to give it to civil servants that they are going to run it down. For God sake, why do you renovate a public property and not put it to use. At some point in this country we had the best government secretariat. Today, nothing is working in the secretariat. And somebody is going about the whole place talking about projects. What projects? Where are the projects? Where are these projects located? There are 23 local government areas in Rivers State. Let him tell the world one other place he built a bridge. All the projects that you hear that he commissioned have all been in Port Harcourt metropolis. Incidentally he comes from the Metropolis too. So are you saying that anything that happens in Port Harcourt is what Rivers people should celebrate? What about the health centres? What about the primary schools? What about the rural areas?

Are you saying that the rural communities in Rivers have not really felt the impact of governance under the present PDP government in the state?

When you say really you are missing the word. It is not really. They have not felt the impact of governance in River State for seven plus years. There is nothing, which is why we in the APC and other parties try to leave Port Harcourt for him because he said we cannot campaign in Port Harcourt and we started going to other places. Yet, they are now organising strike forces to attack and disrupt our campaigns. If he claims he has done so well, why can’t those TV stations be taken to other local governments to see the wonderful things that he has done for Rivers people. Why that pathological fear for competition from a man who continues to boast that he has done so well as governor? Why the executive order stopping people from campaigning if he is so sure that his performance will work for his candidate in the governorship election. The truth is that Rivers State has not known anything called governance for the past seven years. Rivers State has not seen their budget for the past seven and half years. Flyovers are constructed, nobody knows how much was expended, proper accounts are not given. Nobody debated anything. The Assembly do not sit. All they do is that after he has awarded, he will just take some documents to them and they just sign it and say approved by the assembly. Have you ever heard of governor constructing bridges without having it in the budget? He is driving pass somewhere and sees a place and says I want to build a flyover here.

Are you in any way suggesting that Rivers Governor is not subjected to the scrutiny of or oversight by the state assembly as it ought to be based on constitutional provisions?

Never! The governor goes somewhere and he feels like doing a flyover, he announces it. There is nothing like due process. All you see is one day they will carry bundle of papers to the assembly. The next thing you will see is when they are signing the budget, that is, the appropriation bill for that year. How they got to the point of appropriation, nobody ever knows. Nobody ever knows! I can tell you that not even members of the Assembly can say that he knows the actual amount that those flyovers cost the Rivers government to build. And it is important for the purposes of accountability that we get to know how much those bridges cost us. Governance is not a cult. That is why I say Rivers State has not seen governance for the past seven years. All we have here has been government of flag-off, commissioning and dancing where you hear things like ‘as e dey sweet us, e go dey pain dem’. Those are the kind of songs they go around with to mock the people of Rivers State. Songs like ‘we go pepper dem’. ‘Wike dey come oh. If you no gree enter your house’. Songs that tend to engender violence. And his supporters are actually going out there to validate all these war songs visiting Rivers people with extreme violence. That is what Rivers State has been through for the past seven years.

In your view, the utterances and the body language of the leadership of the ruling party has been the major enabler of the violence in Rivers State?

It is the enabler in chief. Sometimes not even him telling them. They feel excited to unleash violence. When he says you know me now, let them try. I dare them and all of that. So they feel that this thing is all about strong man. They therefore go to like practice what somebody speaks to them. He had boasted publicly that we will see how they would come and campaign. He said that. And he is keeping to his promise.

But the opposition parties are determined to see through this process. They are not scared. They are not intimidated. The people are more emboldened to rid Rivers State of this nonsense where you come to conversation with guns, harmers and stones instead of your brain.

What are the things that are working for your candidate, the Rivers APC governorship standard-bearer, Prince Tonye Cole? Are you convinced of his victory at the polls come March 11, 2023?

I will like to take it from the point of what encourages us. What encourages us is the response we have gotten from the people – the ordinary people in Rivers State. The ordinary people of Rivers State are sick and tired of the nonsense they have had to put up with for the past seven and a half years. This is why despite the deliberate and intentional attempt by the governor and his faction of PDP in Rivers, to stop people, the people have remained determined to push on. Just last week or thereabout, a group of Atiku’s supporters, mostly women, were arrested, arraigned in magistrate court, charged for cultism and remanded in prison custody. They call it cultism. Women! People’s wives. Rivers people are fed up with this thing – the naked dance in the marketplace. And they want to put a stop to it. They feel the time has come to put a stop to this nonsense. What are they doing? They are coming out in their numbers to encourage us to say that we are with you. That was exactly what happened in Omuma. If you see the way people were trooping out from their houses despite the shooting all over the whole place to scare people from coming out to welcome the APC campaign team. So we have a candidate who is encouraging the people, connecting with the people and feeling the people. And the people are feeling him because they know that this person is about them. I keep saying this – If politics is about service, if you genuinely want to render service, why would you want to kill, maim and destroy to come and serve people. Why would you do a thing like that? So it simply tells you that the motive of seeking political power is anti-people. But Rivers people are now seeing that there are people who want to come and save them from this bondage and they are connecting with us and working with us. So, we are emboldened and encouraged by the support we are getting from the ordinary Rivers people.

They have threatened owners of event centres that if any party holds meeting in their premises they will seal it. And they have done so. And you begin to ask yourself, what were they expecting? That we are going to sit down, fold our hands and watch. No! There comes a time in a man’s life when he says no to nonsense. You’ve pushed Rivers people to the wall and Rivers people are fighting back. We are fighting. We are fighting for Rivers people. We are by them, they are with us. I believe that at the end of the day justice and victory will be ours.

Now that the election is almost here, what would be your words of encouragement to the good people of Rivers State?

It is just to tell Rivers people that all of these things they are doing are geared towards intimidating the people. They know that the system that INEC has put in place will not favour their traditional way of coming to power. There is no incidence form any longer. It is now going to be truly one man, one vote. There will be no collation centres where soldiers and policemen drafted from the government house are positioned to man. So because they know that those things are not going to work any longer, that is why they are trying to intimidate Rivers people so that the voters will not come out and vote. But we are telling Rivers people that because we are seeing that this is about your freedom, we are seeing that this is about the future of your children and generations yet unborn, we are saying that this intimidation cannot go on because it benefits only one person. It benefits only one group. The vampires that we have found in our system. People who want to eat and enjoy so that we can suffer. Continue to remain steadfast and resolute in your decision to push them out and let no amount of intimidation stop you from coming out to exercise your democratic right as bonafide sons and daughters of our dear Rivers State.

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