Ima Niboro, a journalist, was the special adviser on media and publicity to former President Goodluck Jonathan. He was later appointed the managing director of the News Agency of Nigeria. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete and Kunle Sanni, Mr Niboro speaks on his plan to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives, Delta politics and the chances of his party, APC in the 2019 general elections. Excerpts:
PT: Why do you want to run for the House of Representatives?
Niboro: Well it might sound like a cliché when I tell you that my people want me to run. But in this case it is not a cliché, it is a fact because my constituency came together, made up a committee of friends and raised the funds for me to purchase forms. I told them if they want me to run they should go and purchase the forms themselves and deliver the forms to me. You notice that I have not been doing any consultations. Although, I had a mission when I decamped to APC, my intention was to run for House of Representatives. But when you join a party afresh you would want to build a consensus. I am a consensus person. I don’t want to enter a place and begin to ride roughshod on the people you met there thereby causing hatred, enmity and all that. And I said the most important thing is to join the leaders of the party and build the party. And if at a certain point they think that you have an ambition of going to the House of Representatives and you think you can actualise that ambition, then I would accept it. When my people raised this issue very strongly, I went to the leaders of the party and I told them ‘this is what my people are saying, what do you think’ and they gave me their blessings.
PT: You said your people asked you to contest but there must be a reason why they said so. Is it that they have been underrepresented?
Niboro: Completely so. It has been a tragedy because there is virtually no representation. The PDP person who is there, nobody sees him. I think they see him every four years for the next election and it has been like that consistently. And apart from that, we are from Delta Central Senatorial District and my constituency is the Ughelli South/Ughelli North/Udu federal constituency. And in the Central we are APC people. APC controls Delta Central. You realise that even our senator, Ovie Omo-Agege is APC. Our great leader like O’tega Emerho is APC. Even Great Ogboru is a leader of the party. So those are the things that defined my movement to APC. Bill Clinton said ‘all politics is local.’ I had to move in the direction of my people because as far as we are concerned we are disappointed in PDP. PDP has not served them the way they hoped and they have embraced the APC and I have to go in the direction of my people.
PT: That means your constituency lacks basic amenities. Are there things you hope to bring, if elected?
Niboro: In fact, what happened in our constituency is not a question of what they lack, it is a question of not having anything whatsoever. Eyara, Otu Jeremy and Utorogu are all within the same area. That Utorogu Gas Plant is the largest inland gas plant facility in Nigeria. There are bigger ones but they are either offshore or near shore. Our people have been peaceful. Although there have been agitations, you don’t hear that our people have gone to put a bomb or set fire there because it is gas. If they put fire there you know what it would be. Our people have been very peaceful, law abiding in comparison to others, to our neighbours. See the Ijaws, the Itsekiri. And you know sometimes in Nigeria, it is the law abiding people that gets the shortest end of the stick. Sometimes, the younger generation start advocating violence. We have discouraged violence among our people, we have preached to them, we have begged them that we must not go this way. All through my years as a journalist, I did a lot of work in the Niger Delta area. Even the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, I was the only journalist that interviewed him in prison. He was in detention camp in Bori. We were that close. They smuggled me in as one of his staff. So, I have been involved in the Niger Delta struggle through the years and I have seen how it has helped other communities. It has helped other people but in our place we have somehow been unable to convert it to a momentous progress. And I feel very sad about it and I believe that if we are not going to do it violently, and we must not do it violently, we must do it peaceably. People who know the issues, people who know what can be done, people who have had relationship with the struggle through the years must be at the level where the laws are being made, where the laws are being refined and defined because we are a nation of laws. If we don’t make and unmake the laws we cannot get there from here. That is why I want to go to the House of Representative, to be part of that process, to remake these laws. As a representative, you cannot directly bring development except as constituency projects but what is the value of constituency projects to that ocean of poverty? But if you make the right laws, those laws convert into possibilities, convert a new way of thinking and doing things and these conversions now lead to these same projects that we are talking about.
PT: We have always heard these things you just said. Politicians are always telling people about beautiful things they want to do but when they get there it is different thing altogether. Is it going to be the same way with you?
Niboro: I don’t really consider myself as a politician. I look at myself first as a journalist, an activist and somebody who has interest of the people at heart, somebody who understands the story of the people. I am only in politics as a vehicle to achieve it. If there is any other way to achieve it, I will but I have looked to the left and I have looked to the right, the only way to achieve it within the context of a democratic republic as we are is to join politics and be part of this process. Enough of standing on the side and criticising and writing beautiful prose. At this point in my life I am beginning to see that there is life beyond the headlines. The headlines sometimes tend to isolate one from the people we need to work together with, people we need to form the process with so we can achieve what we want to achieve. So, I want to move away from the headlines and move beyond the headlines, work behind the headlines. So, if they call me a politician, it is okay but I do not consider myself a typical politician.
PT: You said Delta Central is APC but I also know there are some chieftains of PDP there. Former Governor James Ibori is from Delta Central, Ighoyota Amori is also from there and many others. With the presence of these PDP chieftains, don’t you think your ambition will run into a hitch?
Niboro: How has Omo-Agege’s membership of the Senate run into a hitch? Did Ighoyota Amori not win the senate seat and the court removed him?
PT: Don’t forget that Ibori was not in town when the elections were held.
Niboro: Was it not the same Ibori that went to the newspaper saying that he installed senators and governors from prison? It shows you where the people are; it shows you things have changed. Only last week the former governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, governor of the state for eight years, joined the APC. He was not just a governor, he is Ibori’s cousin and a leading member of the Ibori kitchen cabinet, which I also called the Ibori dynasty. I personally don’t have any issues with Ibori, he is not my enemy. I consider him as a big brother who ran into bad weather. I feel sorry for him. I have no issues with him as a person. So, I don’t think he should have any issues with me either. But even if he does have issues, he belongs to his party I belong to my party. I don’t think he would have issues with Ima Niboro.
PT: What people say generally is that Delta is a PDP stronghold because the governor is PDP and the party has been ruling the state. You still think this will not jeopardise your ambition?
Niboro: When they say Delta is PDP, I modify it to say Delta used to be PDP. People are beginning to seek alternative platforms. People are dissatisfied, people are angry, people are saying no. We could have done better. Why are we the way we are? People are beginning to seek new platforms and in Delta State there is no alternative platform to the PDP than APC. Where do you want to go? Labour Party and Accord Party virtually don’t exist. You see that all the angry PDP elements and they are the some of the strongest people and the grassroots mobilisers are drifting day by day into APC. You may not see them on the newspapers headlines but they are the strong local politicians. The wave of defections that is going on is amazing. Just two weeks ago, the former Chairman of the Delta State Revenue Mobilisation Board defected and has swung the entire Isoko area into APC because there is anger. Why is there anger? The person who is representing Isoko in the House of Representatives has done three terms and wants to go for the fourth term. There are some things that are not just done. A position that is meant to rotate among different groups, you would hold it for three consecutive terms, that is for12 years, and you want to go the fourth one. The same thing is happening in Delta South Senatorial District. Senator James Manager has been there for three terms and he wants to go for a fourth term. Remember that at the advent of this Republic, the first senator from Delta South was Stella Omu, an Isoko woman. She did one term and she handed over to James Manager, an Ijaw man who was expected would do one term and hand to an Itsekiri. All these are PDP politics and I don’t want to get involved in it but what comes out of that PDP becomes a fact of life in terms of federal representation. So that is why people are angry. They say no, you must change it. When you say Delta is PDP, I say no. It is wrong. Delta used to be PDP.
PT: If you look at the APC in Delta State, it is in tatters. Members are fighting themselves. Do you think with this development they can win elections?
Niboro: There is no ruling party that doesn’t have issues. When PDP was ruling at some point they turned to their own opposition. It is always like that because when people see greater opportunity and greater possibility of changing things people are more interested. And everybody comes with his interest. It is not everybody that is like us who wants to place the interest of the party first. They want to play their interest first and let the party line up behind their interest. What is happening in Delta State is not different from what is happening anywhere else. But these things would be settled. I am happy that the national chairman is actively involved in the matter. He has started the reconciliation process.
PT: The National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was quoted as saying the APC will take over some states in the South South, including Delta State. Does the political environment in Delta State favour the taking over by the APC?
Niboro: In fact, the takeover of Delta State is long overdue. Delta will be taken over by APC.
PT: With these defections, does APC have any hope in the coming elections?
Niboro: I tell you with confidence that APC will win the next election. You can see that the Kano calculation has crumbled. Shekarau has joined the APC. You can name the governors that have left. Who has left – Benue, Kwara, Sokoto. What else? But look at what APC has gotten. Look at the big fish (Godswill) Akpabio from Akwa Ibom. In terms of budget, Akwa Ibom is up to five states elsewhere.
PT: You believe Akpabio’s defection to APC will alter the political calculations in the South South?
Niboro: Totally. Perception is everything. People now see that it is possible. So others that have been a little bit reticent can move. If everybody was bold and courageous like us who could move at the time we moved…..They abuse me even on Facebook. If I posted something on Facebook hundreds of PDP people will abuse me and I will laugh. As a former press secretary, I’m used to abuse. It doesn’t do anything to me. But now all those people that abused me….. With the movements to APC now in Delta, my own friends on Facebook are asking them questions ‘oh you were abusing this man, but you have now joined the same party.’ Some have even come to apologise, saying you saw it before we did. They have come to apologise. That is the way of politics. If you think because of abuse you will not do what is practical for your own people, you will never go anywhere. Akpabio’s movement has shown in the South South that it is possible. When Amaechi did it, they abused him. As Akpabio moved now they are saying who next? Look at Uduaghan, he has moved. All the big names are coming one by one.
PT: It was reported in the social media that Ibori might join APC. Is APC talking to Ibori?
Niboro: I will not be able to sit down here and confirm that. But if Ibori decides to join APC, all well and good. The more the merrier. PDP is finished in Delta and If Ibori joins, they will now be completely finished.
PT: Some consider Buhari an abysmal failure? Do you share this view?
Niboro: Not at all. Nigerians must learn to be patient with government. Britain which was our colonial ruler you have governments that are in place for 15 years. In the US, you hardly see any government that does one term any more. Buhari has come. The same hounds that hounded Jonathan have turned on Buhari. This is because some people thrive on the cycle of instability of this country. If you ask me, let Buhari do eight years. If Obasanjo did four years, Obasanjo wouldn’t have achieved anything. I have been at the high level of government as presidential aide. That first term nothing meaningful happens. You use the first term to look around, get all the reports. You inherit the budget of the previous government. Before you start your own budget it is the following year. Then before you know it two years have gone. This is the third year. Elections are here already. Politics takes over everywhere. So, no government should be judged on a single term. It will be a disservice to Nigeria if we judge Buhari’s government on a single term. Allow Buhari to complete his two terms. Buhari himself has said before that he knows that Nigerians are suffering. This is a president that has been so honest with Nigerians.
Festus Owete is PREMIUM TIMES' general editor. He also coordinates the newspaper's politics desk, a beat he has covered for decades. He holds degrees from the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos. Twitter: @FOwete