In this interview with Channels TV, Godswill Akpabio, a senator from Akwa Ibom, and a former minority leader of the Senate, speaks on his failure to win re-election, and other political issues.
The interview was transcribed by PREMIUM TIMES’ Cletus Ukpong.
Channels: The right quarters to ventilate your grievance is the tribunal? Are you planning to go to the tribunal?
Akpabio: The reason why the court is not totally an immediate option is the fact that in law, the result is yet to be announced. Because the nine local government areas that were announced were actually announced at the senatorial district headquarters. The 10th local government area was said to have been announced somewhere in another senatorial district, Uyo, probably in the hotel room or INEC head office. So, that does not hold water.
Channels: I understand that was done because of security issues.
Akpabio: No, it is because of the fact they mutilated it (the result) and they attempted to make me to fail. So, the commissioner of police and other security agencies said if you carry this thing to the senatorial district of Senator Godswill Akpabio, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, and he is the South-south coordinator of APC, to go and announce, we can’t guarantee security because they already have copies of the results.
Even the (election) observers, the collation officers, had already made available the 10 collated local government areas, so the announcement was a formality. They announced nine already. This 10th one that was now being tampered with, and then of course with a lot of other mutilations, the people said if you go back after this nine had been announced, you have now mutilated about two to three out of the nine announced, how do we explain to the populace? So, this is where they said if you go back there to go and announce something else, we won’t be able to guarantee the reaction of the people.
Channels: The allegation was that you and your people held some INEC officials hostage?
Akpabio: (Cuts in) No, I wasn’t even there….
Channels: In fact, that you stormed the INEC office, at the collation centre?
Akpabio: The allegation is from the pit of hell….
Channels: Were you at the collation centre?
Akpabio: I wasn’t even there….
Channels: There were pictures of you when you approached there in a (Toyota) Hilux?
Akpabio: Approach where?
Channels: At the collation centre!
Akpabio: No, I approached the collation centre of one of the local government areas – Oruk Anam – where there was problem, where PDP stormed the place to go and take over, and they were doing the collation themselves.
When I was told, I ran down there to attempt to rescue the people. But what happened was a different ball game. Somebody phone the woman who was the EO and she started wailing and shouting and all that. She was on the floor and pleaded with me, ‘please sir, they think that you are coming to disturb. They said we should work with PDP.’ We had to leave. We have videos. But that is not important for now.
The reality is that in the centre where these announcements were being made, once in a while that centre is also the centre-in-charge of Ikot Ekpene local government area. But it also operates as the senatorial headquarters. So, at the senatorial declaration of the results, I wasn’t present, and there was no problem, at all. It was very peaceful and people were clapping hands. And they had finished nine, and they were about to do the last one and then now pronounce me as the winner when suddenly one of them disappeared to Uyo – the police report is available. So, after waiting for about four to five hours, they had to adjourn and said the next day they would declare my victory.
And so, surprisingly, at Uyo, at the resident electoral commissioner’s office, mutilations occurred.
Channels: You have evidence to show?
Akpabio: Yes, I have evidence…..
Channels: (Cuts in) ….To show that it was done at the INEC office?
Akpabio: Yes, yes, I have evidence.
Channels: Are you alleging that the resident electoral commissioner, Mike Igini, is responsible for all of this?
Akpabio: I wouldn’t want to mention names, but those responsible – whether the resident electoral commissioner in Akwa Ibom state or those he instructed – know the reality. My plea now is that they should announce my results.
Channels: You think you are a target that is why this is happening to you?
Akpabio: I would think that because of my position, as somebody who believes that I should work for a cause I believe in, I believe strongly that the president needed to be re-elected. And I know that my people, those who were campaigning, also made mistakes, and sometimes they would shout ‘Our next Senate president’. So, some feathers were ruffled. But that is neither here nor there.
Channels: Oh, there are beliefs that you may be the next Senate president should you win, that is why this is happening?
Akpabio: No, no, no, it’s not that should I win; I won. The problem is that how can we delay his announcement or delay his victory so that he would not be there on the ninth. But that is neither here nor there. The reality is that I am asking for justice. I am saying that INEC should be bold enough to do the right thing. I believe that INEC is composed of men and women of integrity, and the chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu is someone I know has very high integrity. I don’t want this one incident to dent the image of INEC.
Channels: Senator Akpabio, are you aware that perhaps some of your troubles are not outside of your party? What you are facing right now, some critics are saying, it is from your party that this war is coming from? Are you aware?
Akpabio: I won’t say so. But why would a party that I believe so much in and work so hard for, now turned to give contrary instruction? No matter where it is coming from, I think justice is justice. I believe, just like we say that hunger has no colour, justice is blind. Let them give me justice. That is all I am asking for. Let them direct that they should get back to the senatorial district, that one local government area that was left should be announced. And in fact, because it has already been collated, the result should be released and then I should be declared the winner, and that is all….
Channels: (Cuts in) If you discover this is coming from your party, how would feel?
Akpabio: I will feel bad in the sense that I have not shown any interest to be Senate president.
Channels: But do you want to be Senate president?
Akpabio: I don’t have such interest to be Senate president.
Channels: But should you be elected the Senate president, would you accept?
Akpabio: There are procedures, your colleagues have to be in tandem with your thoughts and there has to be a consensus. Every senator is equal, so anybody is capable of being the Senate president. So, I don’t have that kind of ambition.
Channels: You never dreamt of being the Senate president?
Akpabio: Well, the moment you decide to be a senator and then they made you a Senate minority leader, it goes without saying that they could also make you a member of the leadership. Being in the leadership means they could make you a Senate president, it could be deputy, it could be anything. I was the minority leader of the Nigerian Senate, so probably that is why some people are afraid that I might be Senate president. Please, inform them that I have no intention of being Senate president. I have not declared any intention to be Senate president. Let them just hand over my seat to me. I have been elected a senator. It would be so disappointing to my people who have turned to the APC in their thousands. The results they have announced in 2019 national assembly election is not reflective of the huge support base of the APC. I will tell you something. Those who are jubilating now will be so shocked that on the ninth of March that state would go 80 per cent APC. That is the truth.
Channels: But they couldn’t even deliver the state for the APC (in the presidential election)?
Akpabio: That is what I am saying, there was compromise here and there, and so whatever happened the major thing is that the president has won. But if you look at it, this is a far cry from what happened in the past. I was in charge of the South-south. The president in 2015 did not have five per cent of the votes in the South-south, but in 2019 it was different. No matter what happened, look at it, you’ll see we have made appreciable difference. Of course, we are well over 30 per cent. We could be counted among the states that gave the president the spread to be able to be the president of Nigeria. So, I am satisfied with that. But I am disappointed that a state with so much followership as far as the party is concerned, a state that loves President Buhari so much, was not allowed, as a result of conspiracy, to bring out the votes.
Channels: Senator Akpabio, part of the deal that you signed before you joined the APC….
Akpabio: (Cuts in) No, I did not sign a deal.
Channels: You didn’t come to a compromise on some of the reasons why you should go to the APC?
Akpabio: No, no, no, I did not; I just made up my mind that there was…..
Channels: (Cuts in) ….We understand you had meetings before you decided to leave?
Akpabio: Before I decided to join, there was need for me to talk to the leadership of the APC, whether they will accept me to come in and work with them because I had already, before the president was sworn in, I said in 2015 we had a son of the soil, President Jonathan, contesting and we all had our choices, but God had his will. In 2019, there was need for me to take our people back to the centre. The South-south region had always gone with their kith and kin in the north, and today the South-west is already with the north. And so, there was need for me as a leader to ensure that my people join, with the other leaders of the South-south, to go with the centre. So, it was a personal decision, and a generational decision, a futuristic decision.
Channels: You are bringing some weight into the APC, you did not bargain anything?
Akpabio: I wish I was with you, maybe you would have bargained for me. I did not….
Channels: (Cuts in)…. You are an experienced politician, maybe part of your bargain is to become the Senate president?
Akpabio: No, no, no. I said I wish I were with you, you probably would have bargained for me.
Channels: So, you did not agree to become the Senate president if you move into the APC?
Akpabio: Why would I become Senate president when my colleagues are the ones to choose? Nobody makes a Senate president from outside.
Channels: But the party could decide?
Akpabio: No, no, no…..
Channels: (Cuts in)…. The party could make a decision and go to the floor with their members?
Akpabio: There was a time we decided that we should have one lady from the South-west as the speaker of the House of Representatives and then they (the House members) went in there and voted for Tambuwal (as the speaker).
Supposing, we (APC) did not have the majority in the Senate, would you still be talking about Senate presidency? So, anybody telling you about bargain and all that, those are just talks. I joined the party to join them to bring my people from the South-south region into the centre and to also ensure the re-election of President Buhari. And, I gave so many reasons, one of which is because of his transformational leadership. Another is that he has given a lot of integrity to governance.
Channels: You were a very strong critic of President Buhari before….
Akpabio: (Cuts in)…. No, no, no, I did not know him.
Channels: When you were the Senate minority leader, you were a very strong critic of President Buhari?
Akpabio: No, I used to speak on issues. And sometimes, criticisms don’t show hatred; they are meant to redirect the government. So, if I criticised any policy, it is for them to fine-tune and panel-beat that policy.
Channels: How do you feel that your former party (PDP) lost (the presidential election)?
Akpabio: My former party lost from the day I stepped out of it.
Channels: So, it was because you left?
Akpabio: No, not just because I left. It’s like you carrying a basin of yam, and a very big yam is taken out of the basin, the basin will become lighter. So, I believe the PDP became lighter when the minority leader of the Senate left. I didn’t just leave, I moved. And when I moved, I moved with thousands across Nigeria (laughter).
Channels: So, the fortunes of the PDP dwindled as soon as Senator Akpabio left?
Akpabio: Please, don’t let them know (hear this), because if they do, they may join in the conspiracy against me. You assess it yourself, what do you think went wrong? The reality is that he (Atiku) couldn’t have defeated President Buhari even if I was there (in the PDP) because of what is going on. Nigerians would want to see continuity.