Excerpts from an exclusive interview by Ignatius Chukwu with Chief Tony Okocha, leader of Tinubu support group in Rivers State
By Ignatius Chukwu
How can you be identified in political struggles in the past two years: is it ICC, is it Tinubu support group, is it what?
Yeah, Independent Campaign Council (ICC) is something that was given birth to after the Asiwaju, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) had emerged as candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). It is one of those campaign outfits. We have the Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) which is the apogee, the highest level. Then, we have the Independent Campaign Council, ICC, which is actually Tinubu/Shettima Grassroots Independent Campaign Council (TSGICC). I belong to all these. I am a member of the PCC (chairman of logistics committee) and member of ICC at national level.
Before now, there was a period Tinubu was merely an aspirant. I was the coordinator of one of the most potent, very vibrant support groups; in fact, about the only one in Rivers State that spoke up, the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Support Vanguard. I was the state coordinator. What we did here merited or rather gave me another opportunity as chairman of south-south coordinators of the group.
So, ICC is quite new?
Yes, it was after Tinubu emerged the candidate. Prior to that, we had support groups, and in Rivers State, as I said, the very vocal and vibrant one was the BATSV to which I am chairman. Some people might use the nomenclature of Coordinator. I am not a new man in the Tinubu political family.
React to two things Augustine Wokocha (state chairman of ICC) said this morning. He said you were not authorized to convene the press conference yesterday (Thursday March 2, 2023). He also said he would as a person vote for Magnus Abe, and that he did not see any money from Gov Wike to make Tinubu win.
I am shocked! Really shocked. I say this with all sense of responsibility and purpose that I am shocked that Austine Wokocha would say what you just said. I have been the anchor point in the Tinubu support activity and campaign in Rivers State. All meetings were hosted by me. When we broke off from Tonye Cole-headed PCC, the other place we went to straight was my residence and that was where we held hands together and took decisions on what next to do. Abi nitio, I provided all the funds. You can ask other members. We held three press conferences. Two were very expansive. In the first one, we told Rivers people and Nigerians that the PCC under Tonye Cole was dead, that he had no business with Tinubu. The reason why we said so was that there was nothing about the PCC that showed we wanted Tinubu to be president. Now, he by reason of being the governorship candidate of the APC in the state became necessarily the state coordinator of the PCC. Why I say necessarily is that the APC tried to clear a mischief of leadership struggle. They said in any state you have a serving governor that is APC, that person automatically heads the PCC in that state. In a state without an APC governor, the governorship candidate of the party automatically becomes the chairman of the PCC. This was to clear squabbles or when a minister would say he as minister he highest political person and so should head the PCC. The party cleared this.
Now, in our own case, PCC was inaugurated in October 2022 at the national level and all the states were immediately directed to go and evolve their own means of campaigning for the Candidate. Rivers State was not an exception, but no single meeting was held in Rivers State.
Yes, some of them belonged to different directorates. I belonged to the Support Groups Directorate headed by Maureen Tamuno (Ambassador) and we met twice. Other directorates also met. Now, having met, we needed a clearing house to harness and put everything together. That of course was to be made possible by (Cole) calling a meeting of all groups and asking for report of each directorate. That never happened despite all entreaties to him to do that.
I NEVER SAW AMAECHI GOING FAR
Knowing how I came into the PCC. I was not nominated by the state, of course, they would never. Some of us were seen as thorn in Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi flesh. I never supported him. Yes, he was my boss, but I didn’t see him going far. He wasn’t within my radar of contemplation to be president of Nigeria because I know that he does not have the serenity of mind to be president. I was his Chief of Staff and I can tell you categorically that he doesn’t have it.
I was his chief of staff and I emphasise it. I need a better Nigeria and a better Nigeria would not be found in HIS hands. He is not mentally fit but he could be physically fit. We do not want somebody in the system that is erratic, somebody who is an absolutist. We need somebody who is a pure democrat, who has a vision and get people to go and drive the vision and get results.
So, I was a pain in their ass. Recall, I don’t know any radio station in Port Harcourt I didn’t go to, either by invitation or on payment basis, all to canvass support for Tinubu. I was taunted with different names; how can you be a betrayer, you are an ingrate, etc. All those rubbish were hauled at me, but it didn’t make any meaning to me.
We moved on because I didn’t also believe in their philosophy then: Amaechi kept telling them that President Muhammadu Buhari was going to anoint him, that after Buhari he was going to be the next president. And I knew of his fraternity with state house cabal and the promises that were made to him.
Now, to get to the question you asked, when we broke away, the first press conference was called in my residence. You can verify. He (Wokocha) sat next to me. At that conference, I allowed others to speak, including him and one Martin Kpoabari, and one Victory Ogolo.
I am a chief. My palace was made available. All logistics and fees were paid by me. I spent an average of N3.9m for each conference we held.
Wokocha and his group are very funny people. I was the one that got the approval letter for the venue of the Tinubu rally in Port Harcourt. I went to Abuja to submit the letter and I invited him (Wokocha) to join me on the trip to have a second eye. I signed out the letter and personally hand-carried it to Abuja and invited him along.
When we delivered the letter at the office of the national secretary of the PCC,we now had the audacity, back home, to show the press what we had. There was no reason to put it out before submitting it to the press.
So, we came back and we called another press conference to announce this. The third press conference was the day we went to inspect the venue. That one was much more elaborate. We went to inspect the construction work on the venue.
I have been in government and I was chief of staff and I know the impact of the media in wars like that. So, those wars, media wars, forced them (Amaechi team) out on the matter of the rally. I had the letter and they had nothing. The state governor had no intention to approve another venue for the party on the same day.
I funded all activities 100 per cent. Apart from funding, the PCC/ICC members ate and they all drink anything they wanted. So, for Wokocha to say this, it is laughable.
He knew about the press conference I called. Our intention was clear, to thank the Rivers people. The press statement had four parts, and thanking Rivers people was number one: Debt of Gratitude. We went into memory lane.
Let me tell you the whole thing. It is not about saying we want to support Sim Fubara (PDP governorship candidate) or not. There is nowhere there that we overtly said we are going to support Sim.
HOW WIKE CONSISTENTLY DEFEATED US
Their problem is, why give glory to Wike? The answer to it is simple; it’s in the text, I said in 2015, Wike defeated us, all of us put together: Amaechi was governor, I was chief of staff, Abe was senator. We were in government and in unity and in one block. Wike was leading his team of small groups he harvested together. But on election day, PDP defeated APC in Rivers State. We didn’t even score up to five per cent. Our vote was around 69,000 against over two million Goodluck Jonathan got. Yes, they said Jonathan used power, but Amaechi was also in power as state governor.
Now, we lost spectacularly. It was worse in 2019, by then Wike had taken power and used it to win again. If he could defeat us when he was minister, you can see.
About Tinubu campaign and victory, we in the PCC/ICC had made request to the G-5 (Governors) to consider joining us in APC to deliver our candidate, Tinubu. Now, Wike heeded to our call, just like the others did. You know that in these five states, PDP did not win any, even though APC won in three (Rivers, Oyo and Benue), Abia and Enugu were lost to LP. That’s it.
Their only problem is, why do I have to mention Gov Wike. Anyone of you even as pressmen knows that even in the world’s biggest democracies, there is no way you can say that money doesn’t play a role. Now, we had an APC convention. There was campaign. How did we raise the money for it?
I will reply Wokocha. His statement is very watery. I have result from his own ward. He is chairman of Magnus Abe’s Committee on Finance (SDP). He is SDP, not APC. He is a card-carrying member of SDP. He was made ICC member when all of us were in APC, when Magnus hadn’t left APC. So, he joined Magnus to defect to the SDP. As we speak today, he is chairman of finance committee of Magnus Campaign Committee. One other boy, one King Onukwuru, is chairman of new media committee of Magnus Abe group, SDP. Secretary of ICC is secretary of another subcommittee of Abe party. These persons talking are not even APC but SDP members. So, those who called today’s press briefing are nothing but full members of the SDP, not APC. I will bring the evidence. They want media war? I will show you all the documents and evidences.
Their anger is that Abe disappeared into thin air, but it was not my making. Abe was the leader of the Tinubu family in Rivers State. He defected to SDP, but I didn’t leave. When he left, I took charge. There is nobody in this state that did not know that Tony Okocha was in charge of Tinubu family. And out of nothing, I worked.
Was it an understanding between both of you?
Yes, it was. If I wasn’t there, the Amaechi group would have taken over everything. It is my stay there and the strength that I could muster that chased them away.
N50M FROM TEIN JACK-RICH STILL WITH WOKOCHA
The campaign rally was funded by me. Tonye Cole didn’t put one kobo. Tein Jack-Rich was the one who gave us N50m, and this was paid into Wokocha’s account which he never brought.
He kept saying banks did this and didn’t do that. He never brought that money to this day. We had planned to use it to mobilise people to the venue.
He said no money came. Tell him that N10m came from ICC national body. I am the national director and by this, I know.
Wokocha said if Wike brought billions to fund Tinubu victory, he didn’t see it; what is your reaction?
A journalist asked Wokocha about Wike bankrolling the election with billions of naira. He said he didn’t see Wike’s money. Newsmen told him that the election could not have been prosecuted with only N10m from the ICC as stated by Okocha; that Okocha was trying to show that support came from somewhere, and that person is Wike. So, since he was not giving credit to Wike, where were they getting money to prosecute the election from. He said he didn’t see any money.
Which is Wike’s money he didn’t see! Which money did he see!! How was the election prosecuted then? You people should have asked him. Can you see how shallow they are?
He is looking for who Gov Wike gave the money. Wike didn’t give money to anybody. The governor was the one who brought the money, mobilized his party and gave instruction to all the LGA chairmen to ensure that people voted for Tinubu. Is Wokocha oblivious of that fact? How much did Magnus bring? Not even a kobo. Did Okocha even tell me that the national body (ICC) sent N10m? I knew because I am a national director. He is the state coordinator.
I will answer him. What is wrong in thanking a man that has supported us to make Tinubu win? If you go round today, the name around today from the Igbo people is that Wike was the one that made Tinubu to win. They didn’t say Magnus made them lose. So, even when people outside know, is it you the insider that will claim you don’t know what the man did? I will answer him.
Any other matter you want to talk about?
Yes, on the issue of who summons press conference, if we did not agree for a conference, I would have been alone on the table. Those you saw there were members of PCC and ICC. They were not hired. You saw when we cut the victory cake, and it went viral.
It was not a unilateral decision. We had held a meeting first so we could talk and agree on what to tell the press. I read what I had prepared and said, do you have any contrary opinion? These are principles of democracy. I said, if anyone was uncomfortable with anything in the state, such fellow was free to leave. It was not military action. And few of them left.
As we were there, just knowing we were going to host a press conference, Magnus Abe immediately knew. He reasoned that there was no way we would not give Wike special mention. The man (Wike) mobilized resources and humans to make what was always impossible to be possible, and you say we should not give him kudos.
I commended Tein Jack-Rich who brought money and attempted to reconcile the two factions. I said thank you Rivers people for voting Tinubu. What is wrong in it? If Wike had supported us to win election for Tinubu, is it out of place to say, we will reciprocate?
Some of them there said Abe was sending them texts threatening to deal with them. I said, please, if you are uncomfortable, you can leave.
They are free to say they are supporting Abe; simple.