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Nigeria: Blunt Charles Harry Takes On Odili

Nigeria: Blunt Charles Harry Takes On Odili Over 2007 Politics

He is known for his forthrightness, blunt outspokenness, and controversial irrepressibility. An interviewer's delight, who hardly ever evades sticky questions. Alatubo Charles Harry is an enigma in Rivers politics and an avowed Ijaw irredentist. He is Chairman of the Rivers Democratic Movement (RDM), Secretary-General Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA), and Convener of the Forum for Participatory Democracy.In this interview with AKANIMO SAMPSON, Co-ordinator of Journalists for Niger Delta (JODEL), a media group, Harry explodes on a number of issues.

Ques: Politics is in the air, and in the general hustling for 2007 very little has been heard from you. You have been unusually reticent and nothing has really emanated from the opposition?

Ans: Reticence is not an unusual quality and in itself can be employed as a veritable strategy in the gorilla warfare of today's politics. Secondly as you must be aware I have seriously been embroiled with the anomy besetting the Ijaw ethnic nation and our quest for self-determination. However I must assure you that I am certainly not insouciant to political developments in Rivers State and the nation. It is my civic right and duty not to only participate but also due my antecedents, to sensitize, enlighten, ensure and assure that only credible people of proven worth achieve high office. As for opposition, I don't oppose anyone and don't know of any opposition, all I care about is good governance.

Ques: But you are or were the Chairman of the opposition Rivers Democratic Movement, at least leading up to and immediately after the 2003 elections?

Ans: Yes I was and still am, to many people, the Chairman, but you must appreciate that the RDM was not a political party and therefore could not have been termed an opposition. The RDM strictly speaking was an amalgam of forces desirous for good governance in Rivers State and was also meant to act as a bastion for Rivers intervention in national politics and governance. If not for certain tricks of fate, incidences and consequences, it ordinarily would have operated like the Afenefere or Ohaneze. And I say this with all conviction and without fear of contradiction, considering that I was one of the four persons who conceptualized the idea and nurtured it into fruition.
Ques: A lot of people believe the RDM is moribund. Is it still operational? If so what are your plans for the forth coming elections and would the RDM align itself to the ANPP as it did in 2003?

Ans: I believe that was a marriage of convenience that was terminated at the end of that electoral exercise. And you must remember that many members of RDM actually belonged to other parties, including the PDP. I for one was never a member of ANPP and at the time considered it morally wrong to belong to any of the parties while leading the admixture that was the RDM. On whether the RDM still exists, yes it does because it was and still is an idea whose time has come. Though not strictly operational for obvious reasons, its relevance and rejuvenation is assured.

Ques: There is not much happening politically towards the elections in Rivers State. Furthermore the hitherto believed front runners in the race to 'Brick House' have largely been quiet especially associates of the governor in the PDP. The field has been mostly cluttered by unknowns and those you may describe as not so serious contenders, why?

Ans: The why is what I may not be in a position to answer, and anyway it would be better addressed to those whom you have described as front runners. The truth however is that the political trend in Rivers State is witnessing a paradigm shift from exclusive to inclusive. The power matrix here is very fluid and disconcerting to the uninitiated, but I can assure you that when the come, comes to become (apologies to K.O Mbadiwe) the true gladiators will emerge.

Ques: It is being insinuated in certain quarters that the reason why the main actors are not out yet is because they are waiting anointing from the Governor, Dr. Peter Odili?

Ans: I know Dr. Odili is a knight of st. Mulumba in the Catholic Church but I am not aware he had also taken up priesthood that he would be anointing anybody. Howbeit this fisherman's tale is not worth the hot air on which it is predicated. Are they suggesting that Dr. Odili is anything short of a democrat? Even then are we to believe the electorate has no role in who would govern this State come 2007? Let me just say that those impervious to the realities unfolding, would wake up to their chagrin and find out too late that 2007 would be quite unlike 2003. Though the forth coming elections may not entirely be free and fair, they would command appreciable credibility.

Ques: What is your impression of those who have come out thus far? Do you see any of them making it all the way to 'Brick House' and providing the kind of leadership a State like Rivers would require after Governor Odili?

Ans: I think you answered that yourself earlier on when you averred that they were unknowns and not so serious contenders. But interestingly Senator Martyns-Yellowe is one of these contenders, even though a friend did say uncharitably that he was running a bill-board campaign. I think he is credible, after all he is a Distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic, but I dare say that considering his age, haba! After Governor Odili, who assumed office at 51 and would be leaving at 59, Rivers State deserves a younger, more urbane and charismatic leader, who would be more in tune with the times and more abreast of the emerging new world order, to continue from where he stopped and not someone already in his 60's. I am seriously at a loss at the gerontocratic fixation afflicting our nation. If Senator Martyns-Yellowe insists he must serve then he is better of where he's at or better still, let him contest the presidency, after all, having spent 8 years in the Senate should put him in good stead to contend with his peers. The others I won't dignify by commenting, let them go beyond leafleteering and posters then we will know the stuff they are made of.

Ques: Would you care to comment on the alleged gubernatorial ambitions of the likes of the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Austin Okpara, the Hon. Minister for Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, amongst others?

Ans: Really! What is there to comment about supposed ambitions still in the realm of speculation. I would simply reply in the immortal words of John Milton in his work 'Areopagitica' when he said inter alia "I cannot praise (or apprise) a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and see her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust nor heat." Therefore, when the ambition of these gentlemen and others eyeing the 'Brick House' transcend scarlet dreams into concrete aspirations, then and only then would it be worth the time of day to comment on. I don't believe in idle reverie.

Ques: So who do you think or suppose is capable and/or competent to take over from Governor Odili at the expiration of his tenure or are you campaigning for a third term?

Ans: (Laughs) I thought our lexicon has happily been anaesthetized of that ugly cliché. They say the graveyard is full of indispensable men. And anyway I think that will be diminishing Governor Odili's potential and certainly I am not one to dim a rising star.

Ques: You are obviously talking about the Governor's presidential ambition. For someone who opposed his second term in office as Executive Governor of Rivers State, don't you see a contradiction in advocating he assume the presidency?

Ans: I have not so done, don't put words in my mouth. But, nope, I see no contradiction. What I see are opportunities for my people and a compellingly credible shot at the presidency by a south-southerner of no mean standing. And you know, with the added icing of being also from my State. How can anyone fault that? It is common knowledge that I have been in the fore-front of the crusade for a president of Nigeria of south-south extraction. From when it was not fashionable in CRESSOP (Campaign for the Realization of South-South President) led by the late Dr Marshall Harry up until now that it had become a popular fad for all comers.

Ques: You are an Ijaw youth leader seriously involved in the ethnic struggle in the Niger Delta, and only sometime ago aspired to the presidency of the Ijaw National Congress (INC). You are also a leader of the irredentist group, Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA), how come you are not supporting an Ijaw for the presidency considering that your ethnic nation demands same?

Ans: I must begin by disabusing your mind that I am a youth leader, I most certainly am not. I am 46 years old, you know, I was State Chairman of a political party (NCP) way back in 1994/5 with members like the late Ken Saro Wiwa, late Prof. Claude Ake, Chief Eric Aso, amongst many others and only recently, as you well know, chaired the RDM creditably, comprising many of the movers and shakers of Rivers politics. Please, I am an Ijaw leader, and believe implicitly in the cause and struggle of my people for self-determination and self-actualization. I have advocated it, propagated it, intellectualized it, popularized it, internationalized it, and may end up someday paying the supreme price for it. To the best of my knowledge and all facts available to me and to which I am privy, Ijaw nation has taken no such stand of exclusivity from the rest of the Niger Delta. It is true that Ijaw nation is desirous like all others to produce the president and have admonished its prominent sons and daughters to aspire to the highest office both at State and Federal levels, but I dare say that I know of no Ijaws currently committed to the presidential race.

Ques: You must be aware at least of Chief Pere Ajuwa of the ANPP and Chief A.K Horsfall, who declared at the Ijaw Interactive Assembly meeting in Yenagoa, a meeting to which you are a member and was said to have attended?

Ans: The veracity of that claim is not in doubt. But please read my lips. I only said that I know of no committed aspiration, no more! The presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is certainly no tea party and till date I have seen no concrete evidence of either party committedly aspiring outside the afore mentioned declarations of intent at Yenagoa. Maybe in the future we lesser mortals would be privileged to witness their public exertions in that direction. But till then I know of none.

Ques: Still on the presidency, what is your take on the feuding between the President and his Vice, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar?

Ans: It is an ill wind that will blow no good. It is not good for the image of the presidency; it is capable of scuttling our hard won and nascent democracy; it is dangerous to stability, security, and national unity. Despite the allegations against His Excellency the V.P, no matter their veracity, it will always be seen as a political move to make the V.P 'damaged goods' ahead of the 2007 elections, but the irony is that the chickens will also come home to roost and there will invariably be collateral damage to the institution of the presidency in the long run.

Ques: Do you think the Vice-President would be impeached?
Ans: Well, I am not a member of the Senate and would not want to second guess the distinguished members of that hallowed chamber. But, well, maybe not. Two-thirds of members would not come that easy and you must be mindful that the V.P is not a push-over in political gerrymandering. He still commands a sizable followership in both houses of the National Assembly.

Ques: Recently Governor Obong Victor Attah of Akwa-Ibom State did his presidential declaration in Abuja, what are his chances and don't you think the South-South should harmonize its position on a candidate for the 2007 presidential race?

Ans: The Governor was exercising his constitutional right and cannot be faulted in the declaration. Yes, it would have been best for the zone to harmonize, but giving current predilections it could prove a hard sell. I hope sincerely that we would realize the golden moment at achieving the presidency this opportunity in 2007 presents and put our best foot forward. Electorally today, I believe and am of the conviction that that person is Sir (Dr) Peter Odili. Let's all forsake sentiments and face reality. I have no doubts or apologies in my belief that Dr. Odili is capable, competent, and the most electable person presently aspiring.

Ques: The North contends that power should return to it in 2007 based on an earlier rotational agreement and are seriously mobilizing to that purpose, don't you see that as a possible threat to the South-South aspiration?

Ans: I am happy you say it is a contention because the case for the South-South is a conviction based on the egalitarian principles of equity and justice. The fact remains incontrovertible that the bane of our Country is the inability and maybe unwillingness of the hegemonies to give fealty to the Niger Delta. For as long as this trend continues there will be no peace in the land. Astute reason and common sense judgment as applied in 1999, where the nation wittingly ceded power to the Yoruba's is what is called for in 2007, as a soothing balm to the anomy in the Niger Delta. No more, no less!

Ques: The Niger Delta continues to be embroiled in violence and hostage taking, don't you think this may scuttle the zones aspiration? And what do you think is the solution?
Ans: I don't think it has any ultimate negative bearing on the quest for the presidency. On the contrary it ought to galvanize men of goodwill to appreciate the urgent need for a political solution, with the presidency as a veritable starting point on the road map to peace. The intransigence of the authorities is what has brought us to this sorry pass and the refusal to listen to the voices of reason invariably made violent protest attractive. As to solutions, they are variegated, but the Federal Government must appreciate that the continued incarceration of the Governor-General of Ijaw nation, Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha, without proper medical attention, is a major contributory factor to the highly combustible crises in the Niger Delta and Ijawland in particular. Release Alamieyeseigha and Asari Dokubo through a political process and the barometer of violence will substantially reduce to the barest minimum. Alamieyeseigha remains the moral conscience of Ijaw nation, Governor or not, and is the only reliable tool for bringing this anomy to cessation.

Ques: What is the Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA) doing about the violence and hostage taking, considering that you pride yourselves as a non-violent group?

Ans: The IRA is seriously saddened about the present state of affairs and believes a lot of damage has been done to the efficacy of the struggle by the actions of an inscrutable few. The issue of ransom demands for hostages has damaged the credibility of the struggle, tending to portray and give fillip to the government's assertion that the Niger Delta crises is borne of brigandage and premised on criminality. It is fast eroding the international sympathy and concern for the devastating environmental degradation and abject poverty being suffered by the majority of our people. The IRA is gravely concerned that this set-back instigated by mindless politicians and their collaborators within the security agencies is capable of consigning our posterity and heritage to an endless life of servitude and misery. It is our contention and we admonish all true sons and daughters of Ijaw nation and indeed the Niger Delta to refrain from such acts capable of bringing our enlightened struggle to opprobrium. The IRA 'Peace Initiative' aborted last year is being resuscitative and hopefully with the assistance of the governments, oil companies and other stakeholders in the region will be brought to fruition before the end of the year.

Ques: What is the Forum for Democratic Participation all about?

Ans: The Forum is a body aiming at bringing all hands on deck towards achieving an egalitarian society in Rivers State and the nation. It is intended to encourage the middle class, whom you know provide the minimum standard for good governance, to participate in the mainstream of the political matrix. We believe that rather than remain arm-chair critics, excluded from governance and our collective destiny, that we should intervene today than be impervious to the consequences for our tomorrow. The body embraces all and includes all, in the new spirit of inclusiveness and collectivity that is sweeping through the State. It is hoped that by so doing the 'first eleven' shall emerge to take our polity to the next level. I, however, must state here clearly that its intent and purpose is to contribute to and not detract from, the process of nation building through consensus and constructive integration.

Ques: Finally, what do you perceive of the polity post 2007 elections and what are your hopes for Nigeria?

Ans: Almighty God has always found a way to intervene in the affairs of men and assert his omnipotence. In Nigeria fortuitously God has never allowed the brink to overwhelm us. 2007 would be a year full of surprises and would debunk erstwhile assumed assurances. I look forward to the new dawn it shall usher. For Nigeria, my beloved country, I am assured the time for emancipation has come.


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