Rev. Asoliye Douglas- West is an aspirant for the 2023 governorship election in Rivers State. In this interview, he speaks on zoning and how the Ijaw-speaking part of the state has been sidelined in governance, among other issues. FELIX NWANERI reports
What is your view on zoning of governorship in Rivers State?
The constitution governing our democracy does not recognise the sanctity of zoning of hierarchical political offices, but the zoning principle is an extra-constitutional mechanism, which evolved as an appropriate response to deal with moral conscience in enthroning equity and fairness in the distribution of political benefits to satisfy sentiments relating to our ethnic diversity. No matter how contiguous our geographical affinity might be, we cannot live in denial or be pretentious about the existence of ethnic diversities just as resource endowments are diverse.
Since we have found a mechanism of pooling proceeds of economic resource exploitation into a commonwealth for redistribution among the entities, therefore, it is a logical corollary that high ranking political offices should yield to a negotiated zoning formula. Perhaps this was why the framers of our constitution introduced the federal character concept as a means of invoking balance in representation and some semblance of fairness and equity in the allocation of resources among the constituent entities. Rivers State is geographically dichotomised between an upland north and a littoral south with their peculiar physical features and topographies.
Four prominent linguistic groups are recognisable within the ethnic diversities that make up Rivers State, which include the Igboid tribe (Ikwerre, Etche and Oyigbo), the Ogonis (Khana, Gokhana, Tai and Eleme), the Ijaws (Kalabari, Okirika, Bonny/Opobo and Andoni/ Nkoro) and the Beninoid stock (Ndoni, Ekpeye, Abua/Odual). The Igboid, Ogonis and Beninoid stocks are located in the upland north, while only the Ijaw speaking ethnicities are located in the riverine south. The threesome of Celestine Omehia, Chibuike Amaechi and Nyesom Wike, all of whom are Ikwerre speaking have ruled as governors for a consecutive totality of sixteen years shared among them. Peter Odili representing the Beninoid was governor for eight years.
A disregard for the zoning formula and the political expediency that enabled and enthroned Nyesom Wike as the third governor of Ikwerre speaking extraction is apparently emboldening them to enact an agenda and act a script intended to perpetuate hegemony which is unconscionable to good moral conscience, equity and fairness. If and when we recognise our diversity, the application of the zoning principle is a pragmatic way of guaranteeing inclusiveness and social justice.
Despite the heterogeneous nature of Rivers State as you have laid it out, all the governors since 1999 come from one particular area, how do you feel about that?
It is rather disinteresting, disquieting and disconcerting to witness a situation where one particular ethnic group had devised a stratagem of capturing and retaining power for 16 years without consideration for the political wellbeing of other constituent ethnicities. Using the advantage of incumbency, that same ethnic group is still unjustifiably wrangling and plotting to produce a candidate for the 2023 election. I am a strong proponent of a paradigm shift where compromises and negotiations would embrace themselves in favour of a candidate from the riverine south. I stand to be corrected; the riverine Ijaws have been very patient and understanding. It is the turn of the Ijaws to produce a credible candidate to be elected and serve as the next governor of Rivers State. It will be a demonstration of bad faith and insensitivity if our brothers upland should insist on satisfying their appetite for power by presenting another candidate for the governorship election in 2023. Their argument of possessing a higher voters’ population in Obio/Akpor is untenable and dubious.
What will be your agenda for the people of Rivers State if you become governor in 2023?
Often times, we give priority to the wrong things. I wonder why the incumbent governor finds it fashionable to expend so much resources on constructing flyover bridges in the Port Harcourt metropolis. This appears to me as heaps of concrete clutter. Things have to be done differently to fetch different results and change the narrative about governance. There is going to be a departure from the old ways of doing things. After nearly 24 years of uninterrupted democracy, we can hardly perceive or feel a meaningful impact of governance positively changing lives in Rivers State. Poverty is still very pervasive. We have to create a new message that emphasises value creation as the distinctive selling proposition with focus on investing in human capacity development, inventing new ideas to modernize the economy through knowledge and eco-tourism. Human beings are the most valuable resource any society can possess and developing the capacity of human resource should form the priority of any government. It is human beings that initiate and propel the knowledge-driven economy. Human beings build and work in factories. Human beings construct the roads and bridges. Human beings cultivate the farms. With a bold determination, I have unyielding conviction that the new direction to steer the state is investment in human capital who would be armed with the capability to create ideas, invent innovation and reduce poverty. Therefore, our agenda will prioritize human capacity development and to build brand new cities that would redirect the movement of population away from a congested Port Harcourt. Research and development, supply chain logistics, tourism and agriculture are other critical sectors that would receive preferences in the agenda.
What stands you out among other aspirants?
There is an urgent call to duty to alter the narrative about the ways the business of governance is conducted. Rivers State needs a forward thinking leadership whose preoccupation would not be to preserve its own privileges but to channel energies and resources into building a modern economy and a smart society. In very critical moments in the history of a people, those in whom God is well pleased would hear His voice, whom shall I send and who will go for us? They would offer themselves and say, here am I, send me. Many governors have come, and seen but failed to conquer. Many appropriation bills have been passed into law but budget implementation has failed to deliver on promises. I would like to describe two scenarios and situate myself in the appropriate context. On the one hand there are those who are either thrown up by the system or they throw up themselves and run for political offices in order to fulfill some personal ambition or ethnic agenda but on the other hand there are others who seek the opportunity to serve in leadership position in order to manage resources efficiently and effectively for the benefit of the community.
You have not decided on the political party platform on which you want to contest the election; how do you want to actualise your aspiration?
I am not a card-carrying member of any political party yet. I realise that the mechanism for selecting candidates for election in the existing political structure in the dominant parties is flawed. The so-called dominant political parties have cultivated and entrenched a certain culture and habit that could be likened to the laws of the Medes and Persia that changeth not. A game changer would probably be located in one’s ability to create a vision and an alternative message that can resonate a rhythm that would connect with the hearts and minds of the people. All things being equal, upsets caused by dark horses are not improbable in the race.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing Rivers state and how do you intend to overcome this challenge?
One of the greatest challenges facing Rivers State is widespread poverty fuelled by a local economy that has refused to expand and deepen. The overconcentration of the Rivers economy and infrastructures in Port Harcourt is its own source of affliction. Rivers State is a one-city state and it has annoyingly remained so since 1912. Population density statistics for Port Harcourt is high and unacceptable. Port Harcourt is aging and decaying. We need to redirect the movement and flow of population pattern into Port Harcourt by building brand new towns and cities.