Chief Ayirimi Emami, the Ajuwaoyiboyanmi of Warri Kingdom A.K.A Akulagba, is the current Chairman of Itsekiri Regional Development Committee (IRDC), immediate past Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State; showbiz promoter, philanthropist, multi dimensional businessman, Niger Delta activist and Chieftain of the ruling PDP, in this interview he granted at his 911 Spot Bar, Ugbuwangue in the heart of Warri, the commercial hub of Delta State, the ebullient Warri Chief spoke on sundry national and local issues, including the just concluded primaries of the main political parties, the Ogidigben EPZ land ownership controversy between the Itsekiri and Ijaw, the Isoko clamour for Delta State Deputy Governor’s slot of PDP and a host of other burning national and local issues.
How do you describe the just-concluded primaries of the PDP and APC?
A: Before I answer your question, let me felicitate with all Nigerians on the yuletide and wish everyone a prosperous 2015. Permit me to also sympathize with our President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on the precarious security situation in the North East geopolitical zone of the country and I want to pray that such security situation do not replicate itself in the Niger Delta, because the situation on ground, particularly controversies surrounding the land ownership of the EPZ location if not checked could snowball into an unfortunate crisis. There is an Itsekiri adage that says “Uli-one owun-aghan-kele-sengwa gba-re-ode” meaning “it is from a man’s home that he dresses fine and looks good before going out”. Now straight to your question, I must stress that some of us are party men and we believe in our party. The primaries conducted were good and for the first time we are going to have a proper contest, where people are likely to vote their choice of President.
What do you think are the chances of the PDP in the February 14, 2015 presidential poll considering the present economic situation, power and security challenges?
We hope to win and we will try as much as possible to put our house in order. Politics in Nigeria right now is all about ethnicity, religion and regional divide which ought not to be. Ethnic bigotry is a major challenge in our polity, especially in Delta State.
How do you react to the issue of ethnic bigotry in Delta State, particularly against the backdrop of incidences that controversially truncated the senatorial ambition of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan and Hon. Weyinmi Omadeli as chairman of Warri South West LGA, barely 48 hours to the PDP senatorial primaries and the October 25, 2014 Delta State Local Government polls, respectively, against the existing gentleman agreement in the area?
It is better to keep to the gentleman agreement. No ethnic group is more powerful than the other, when we respect mutual agreement, we will forge ahead as a people. To me those things that happened, some of us frowned at it from the beginning. The people in Abuja don’t know how we do our things here and some persons will go to Abuja to tell different stories and those are the kind of people that cause disaffection within the party. These are the kind of things we are praying should not cause problem for some of us. Some of us seriously believe in the administration of Chief James Onanefe Ibori which initiated rotation in the chairmanship of Warri South-West Local Government. When the local government was created, the headquarters was situated at Ogidigben, but was changed to Ogbe-Ijoh and we, the Itsekiris and Ijaws agreed to see ourselves as brothers. When it came to the issue of the state’sHouse of Assembly seat for Warri South-West, it was clearly spelt out by Chief James Ibori that he had no power over it, except a separate constituency is created to accommodate the Ijaw interest, which we all accepted. But a man that was not part of all these agreements, probably through threat to the state’s Governor came 48 hours to the last Local Government elections in the state to change the equation for ethnic/clan interest.
When it comes to political positions as it affects Warri South-West LGA, the Ijaws who already have enough political representatives from Bomadi, Burutu and Patani Local Government Areas don’t see themselves as one nation but the Itsekiri see themselves as one nation, the local government areas notwithstanding. That was how Tompolo and some of his Gbaramatu kinsmen told the government that Itsekiri cannot have the Warri Federal Constituency Seat, House of Assembly Seat and produce the Chairman of Warri South-West at the same time despite their several representatives at both the National and State levels.
Still on the gentleman agreement controversy, the Ijaws of Delta State through Senator James Manager has held the Delta South Senatorial Seat for three tenures now after Senator Stella Omu, in line with one-term agreement of the 3Is (Ijaw, Itsekiri and Isoko) did only one term of four years between 1999 and 2003.
Specifically, how do you react to the aspiration of James Manager to seek a forth term?
I know Senator James Manager was going to go back to the Senate because we had some internal problems in our community (Ugborodo).He, James Manager and Tompolo were reported to be funding the crisis in my community to foster Manager’s political interest. One of the boys on ground in Ugborodo called me on few occasions to corroborate allegations that Senator James Manager and Tompolo were funding the community’s factional leadership so that Itsekiri can no longer unite to favour James Manager’s return bid to the Senate come 2015.
I’m so disturbed and worried because if people out there think they are doing Itsekiri, it will affect the entire Niger Delta. When it became imperative that an Itsekiri man, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan would become Governor for two tenures, we thought it wise to allow Senator James Manager to continue in the Senate to balance the political equation. But now that Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan is leaving the Government House come 2015, it is only rational for Itsekiri Nation to have a go at the Senate because it is our turn as far as this political dispensation is concerned.
As a Chief in Warri Kingdom and Chieftain of the PDP, when it comes to the choice of party candidate which conflicts with your ethnic interest, where does your loyalty lies?
It can be confusing as a businessman from a minority ethnic group facing crisis but my loyalty as a Chief lies with the Olu of Warri, but as a party man, my loyalty is for the party when it comes to party decision. But I will always stand and defend my ethnic group.
As the Chief Convener of Delta United for Obuh (DUF) now that the gubernatorial primaries are over and Sir Tony Obuh dropped last minute, what is your position now as far as the Presidential race and that of Delta Governorship are concerned in the build-up to the 2015 polls?
No matter our reservations, we have since decided to work towards the second term ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan and that has not changed, because what is playing out now in the polity is the issue of ethnicity and regional interest. Some of us are looking for better times to express our reservation on some issues to Mr. President, but as a man from our region we will support his re-election bid. If an Itsekiri man were to be the President of this country, the killings recently experienced in Ugborodo community would not have happened in any Ijaw community. In the case of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has been close to some of us, even closer than those who claim to be working for him. Everyone that knows me, know I work with instruction and directives. It is whatever the governor directs that I will follow, but seriously speaking I think PDP in the State has to put its house in order. I’m not pushing to serve anybody, because I know my worth, my capacity and my large follower base, it is where the party directs that I will follow.
It is believed that the internal crisis in Ugborodo is negatively affecting the Itsekiri nation politically, how far has the Ugborodo Peace Project gone?
I don’t think our internal crisis is affecting anything, I just think some people have their personal agenda. Some of us are just watching what the President and the Minister of Petroleum will do to assuage the neglect of our people, particularly after the successful Ground Breaking Ceremony of the NIMASA Dockyard and Shipyard as well as the Nigeria Maritime University in land originally belonging to Itsekiri, but presently taken over by our Gbaramatu neigbours. There are various suggestions by the Gbaramatu people, including the demand that the Jetty of the EPZ be named after Ijaw and Itsekiri communities. I am surprised that six of my brothers and 14 Journalists who came to carry out their legitimate duties to let the world know the true owner of the land hosting the EPZ were kidnapped by Tompolo militants on their return to Warri and till date there has been no condemnation of that unfortunate incident by the Federal Government.
Why were you not part of the Itsekiri delegation to the Abuja Peace parley initiated by the Minister of Petroleum on the EPZ controversy despite being one of the frontline Itsekiri agitators?
I was part of the committee, but the ugly incident regarding the kidnap of 14 Journalists and community people I took to Ogidigben made me not to attend. You don’t expect me to attend such meeting when I feel the person fighting my people is enjoying the backing of the Federal Government. I am still watching.
Is it true that the issues in Ugborodo, particularly the EPZ has to do with personality battle between yourself and Tompolo?
I don’t think I have any personal issue with Tompolo. He is not an Itsekiri man, but I am. My loyalty like I said earlier goes to the Olu of Warri. If any Itsekiri man feels that I have any personal issue with Tompolo, an Ijaw man, it is a pity. If I have personal issue with Tompolo, I believe both of us can sit down and resolve it.
Why do you think the Ijaw political representatives/appointees at both the National and State levels are more pro-active about issues affecting the Ijaw Nation, but their Itsekiri counterparts are complacent?
I prefer to be silent on that, but I will want to commend my Ijaw brothers regarding that, because political representation is more about the people than personal interest, this is perhaps the reason why Ijaw political leaders are more outspoken on issues that affect Ijaw ethnic nationality than my kinsmen in government.
What is your reaction to the controversy over the purchase of some gunboats on behalf of NIMASA by Tompolo’s company?
I condemn it because if an Itsekiri man had procured the gunboats, they will not allow us to sleep. If it is in America or other civilized countries, a man coming from amnesty will be under close scrutiny and surveillance but that is not the case in this country. The real fear by many is tied to the militant background of Tompolo. People are worried that the action might be connected with the threat of war after the 2015 elections. I don’t know whether NIMASA is going to war, because I believe such procurement should have been handled by the military, particularly the Navy since it has to do with maritime security. If we are talking of maintenance of such facility, one can understand if it is awarded to Tompolo’s company. These gunboats have been there for quite some time now and I am surprise that people didn’t know about it.
Despite the cries by various Itsekiri groups and individuals for the President to fix a fresh date for the Ground Breaking Ceremony of the EPZ, nothing has been done by the President, how pained are you as an Itsekiri man?
I am not too pained, because members of Warri Council of Chiefs, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought and the Olu of Warri have resolved to take a date to see Mr. President on the issue, to know if we are still part of this country. As an ethnic group, Uduaghan who have been an avid supporter of President Jonathan cannot convince the Itsekiri people to work for Mr. President.
What is your message to Deltans as we approach the 2015 polls?
Deltans should hold their voter’s card when sleeping, they should use it as pillow because that is their strength. Now that we are getting wind that our party flag bearer, Dr. Okowa has picked Kingsley Otuaro as his running mate, I must note that the decision should be respected, but I would have thought that the Isoko people clamour for the Deputy Governor’s slot ought to have been seriously considered by all for equity. The choice of Kingsley Otuaro also means Itsekiri should take the Delta South Senatorial seat come 2015.Senator James Manager’s maternal relationship with Isoko does not mean he is representing Isoko ethnic nationality. He has always spoken and stand with the Ijaws and can only advise when it comes to Isoko affair.
Sir, with all the reports of Tompolo, James Manager and Chief E.K. Clark seemingly dominating Delta politics as at today, is the Chief James Ibori political structure still intact in Delta State?
I don’t think anything or anybody is threatening the political legacy and structure of Chief James Ibori in Delta State. To put it simply, Ibori’s structure is very much intact. Those who claim to be leaders, especially in the South-South that are quick to look for cheap popularity when it comes to national issues that appears to impact negatively on their ethnic interest should be courageous enough to condemn acts of criminality and lawlessness when their kinsmen are guilty. In fact, I’m very surprised that they have not condemned the recent abduction of 14 journalists, who were at our coastal communities to carry out their legitimate duty as well as the six Ugborodo indigenes who escaped death by the whiskers in the hands of Tompolo militants. Till this moment, professional working tools of some of the Journalists are still held by Tompolo militants, yet it appears nothing happened. The so called leaders are yet to make any categorical statement regarding the controversial indefinite postponement of the Ogidigben EPZ Ground Breaking Ceremony by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan due to Tompolo’s threat.