— March 17, 2014
Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack is a gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State. Walson-Jack was the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) between 2004 and 2006 and recently served as an electoral commissioner in the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC). In this interview with ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, the PDP governorship hopeful explained the reasons behind his decision to take over the Brick House, Port Harcourt, through the ballot box, in 2015.
What is the reason behind your decision to run for governorship seat of Rivers State in 2015?
Well, it is true that I am seeking the nomination of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to be the party’s flag-bearer at the 2015 governorship election in Rivers State. The reasons why I want to run are; first is that a vacancy exists. By our democratic calendar and experience, we are due for elections and people must step forward to run for public offices. Public office is public service. The only thing that we as good men can do is to do something; so we don’t just have to sit back and wait for some lion-hearted persons to run for public offices. So, that is one of the basic reasons; exercise of my rights as a citizen to vie for the highest offices in the state. Then, of course, there is a leadership vacuum. Everybody says it; the average Nigerian, the average Rivers person, or resident complains about a leadership vacuum. I am running to provide leadership. Leadership that can move the peoples, leadership that can persuade the people, leadership that can make the people go from where we are to where we all really want to be, leadership that will inspire development and at the end of the day, leadership that can create prosperity in Rivers State. Then, of course, more fundamentally is the fact that increasingly, we are becoming a fragmented state; disunity has set in, the cracks of tribalism and its associates are there for us to see. We are running so that we can have a governmental power and authority to unite our people.
You worked under the Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi administration as a commissioner in the State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC), and knowing how close you are to the governor; why did you chose to run on the platform of the PDP, when your friend, the governor has defected to the APC?
Well, first, let us say that membership of a political party is a personal decision and so, I have my views, ideas, and position on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Indeed, I was a fan, not member of the PDP in the sense that even when the present and past political leadership of the state, wanted to start partisan politics, they were not really members of the PDP. I sold the PDP to them and they moved over from the APP then to the PDP. So, I have had a long interest in the PDP; this interest is not a fancy interest, it is rooted in the foundation of the PDP and so, if the governor decides with some of his associates to go to another party that is their decision, I remain a member of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Not few Nigerians agree that Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has performed well in the state in the provision of people-oriented projects, in the area of education, health, and transport. If elected governor of Rivers State in 2015, do you intend to continue from where Amaechi will stop?
Okay, let me address one issue, which I may have over-looked, but you raised it when you said close to Amaechi. My relationship with Amaechi dates back to the days of NRC. We were all members of the National Republican Convention and then, eventually, we served the Ada-George/Odili administration as special assistants. I was special assistant I and he was special assistant II; we shared the same office. Yes, like many others, we have come a long way. Everybody in Rivers State knew that I was not part of the subsequent Odili administration; for eight years, I was not part of the government. Now, when Amaechi became governor, he asked groups: civil society organisations, NBA, the academic staff union, to nominate members to be appointed into an electoral commission he wanted to be independent. I was nominated by the civil society organizations; Governor Amaechi did not nominate me, but he accepted my nomination by the civil society organisations and forwarded to the House of Assembly, which approved the nominations. So, I worked with other individuals, who were equally nominated and our achievements in the electoral commission are there; they speak for themselves. We changed the face of elections; we did not look like people who were influenced in any way and I am sure the two reports we wrote are all there for anybody to challenge our achievements and our assertions. I also had the privilege of chairing the education summit, which developed the blueprint for the education sector in Rivers State and I am proud of this. Beyond that, I am sure you will not find my name in any other thing and so, I don’t want to deny our friendship. There are people who are close, who had worked with people and once they run into trouble, they deny them. I cannot deny my friends. We took decisions in the interest of the people, we served the people and we intend to serve the people in higher capacities, that is why we are presenting ourselves. I don’t think that having served the people of Rivers State under the Amaechi administration, I will now become a liability; that is not what democracy is all about.
Now, the issue of continuation, government is continuous; it helps development, it saves a lot of time. So, of course, like all government, when by the grace of God, I am elected and I assume office, we will look at existing programmes; there must be documents saying what they are all about, what stages they are; then, we will continue the ones that are in the best interest of the people and complete them. If there are programmes or activities that need to be re-assessed, we will do that; that is the essence of government. You don’t really have to re-invent the wheel for people to know that you can make do with what is on ground. Definitely, there are many areas of the state economy, which has not even been touched, which we intend to look at. For example, the education sector today has infrastructure, but we still need content; we need the right quality of teachers, we need the right incentives for teachers, we need the right facilities within the school building itself and not just infrastructure. We need the facilities to provide a conducive learning environment for the students.
Considering the type of politics that Nigerians play, do you think politicians in Rivers State will allow a technocrat like you to succeed Governor Amaechi?
It is not a matter of thinking, it is matter of what is right; it is whether people, the voters will do the right thing. In 1988, I was a member of the Constituent Assembly. I was the national treasurer of one of the political parties that were formed but was not registered by President Ibrahim Babangida. Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was my party’s national chairman. Then, I was also a foundation member in the National Republican Convention, where I served as the party’s legal adviser here in Rivers State. Of course, I was a special assistant to Governor Ada-George and Deputy Governor Peter Odili. I represented the government and the party in very high ranking meetings in Abuja, under the chairmanship of Chief Tom Ikimi. So, I have been there. I was the director-general of the presidential nomination convention of the National Republican Convention here at the Civic Centre in Port Harcourt. I worked with one Alhaja that was sent from Abuja as government-appointed national coordinator. So, politicians of my age and above will not say I am not a politician. Now, the difference is that I am also a professional and so, politics is not for me a means of livelihood. So, I go out to do other responsibilities; for me, politics is service and I come in to serve and I will go back to my profession. I am coming to serve; I am not like some politicians who see politics as bread and butter, breakfast and lunch thing. I have been in the consultation field for the past 12 months and I have consulted widely and I can assure you that as we speak, I am backed by members of the political class.
Finally, what advice do you have for the electorate in Rivers State as regards the imposition of candidates?
Democracy in Nigeria has come a long way; we may not have reached maturity, but with every election in Nigeria, we have made gains and improvements. For members of the PDP, since 2001, in all the off-season elections; I mean all those elections that may have risen due to court cases and all that, the PDP has not failed to conduct primaries and in those primaries, members of the political class have voted. If you look around you, some of the names that have emerged from various states are not regular names that you are used to. So, for our colleagues and members in the PDP and the entire voters in Rivers State, they should bear at the back of their minds that the final and ultimate decision of who becomes governor or holds any elective office in Nigeria depends on them. So, the same people who turned out to elect President Goodluck Jonathan, if they turn out this time, they can elect me as governor and President Goodluck Jonathan as President for second tenure. There is no god-fatherism in this business; you don’t have to be a thug, you don’t have to be broad-chested, to be governor of Rivers State. We have tested all those things but they did not work for us. Let us go for competence when the time comes.