JONATHAN'S UNTOLD STORY – ALAMIEYESEIGHA
Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha did not know Dr Goodluck Jonathan until 1998 when the former was gunning for the office of governor of Bayelsa State and an elder statesman suggested he picked him as his deputy. Today he is glad he did. Like John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, the former governor admits somebody had to open the way.
But Alamieyeseigha is very disappointed with the media, particularly in Nigeria. Little wonder it took a lot of convincing for him to agree to grant the interview. He is particularly upset that during his travail that resulted in his impeachment over claims that monies were found on him, nobody has bothered to ask why the so-called looted funds have to be returned to the treasury of Bayelsa State.
When we eventually kicked off the almost two-hour interview, the rather unsure former Bayelsa governor was initially relaxed and at some point very emotional when he spoke about his ordeal in London in the hands of the Metropolitan Police and the role certain people in government played at that time. At another time, he was very bold and assertive when he spoke on militancy in the Niger Delta, why Jonathan must be supported and on the threat by some persons that Nigeria will break up if Jonathan runs for the presidency in 2011.
Disappointment was also written all over him as he spoke about the poor implementation of the amnesty programme for former militants. But it was a changed and humbled Alamieyeseigha who admonished leaders to have the fear of God as the emergence of Jonathan as Nigeria's President has shown that life was indeed a leveller.
How is life in retirement?
Very interesting. I am a leader, highly respected leader from my part of this country. My people believe in me and I am highly respected. My people see me as a torchbearer. So I am very careful what I do and say in or out of office. I see myself playing a major role in the political, economic and social engineering of my people. Government, individuals and youths call on me for advice and direction and I have been doing that religiously. I am still very busy counseling, educating, directing and informing my kinsmen on what is happening in our country. So I am not idle at all.
Do you now counsel President Goodluck Jonathan, who was your former deputy?
It will be rude of me to say I counsel the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I am a realist. Yes, yesterday I could tell Goodluck Ebele Jonathan sit down here; do this or do that; don't do this or don't do that; or as a younger brother let's sit down and discuss this matter; let's put heads together and if he comes out with better reasoning or superior argument I take it from him. But things have changed and this is how life is. Today he is my boss and if people like me don't respect him, who else will respect him. The best I can do now is to put him in prayers that his presidency should come out as one of the best this country ever had. People should remember him as a president who came and lifted the wellbeing and aspirations of the people.
Also, when you are in office, experience has shown that not everybody that has access to you comes with ideas to move the nation forward. Power belongs to the people is clearly in our Constitution. But majority of the people don't have access to you. So those of us that are outside and have our ears to the ground can whisper to him that this is what people are saying and that what your appointees tell you is not the truth. If you can get up from your backside and walk, you will get a fair appreciation of what I am reporting. After all, the whole duty of governance is to improve the wellbeing of the citizenry and protect and preserve security of life and property that is the whole essence of governance.
How did you meet Jonathan and what qualities did you see that make you pick him as your deputy?
In 1998, in the process of my campaign to become governor of Bayelsa State, I came across a respected man from the President's local government in the name of Justice Egonwari that was more or less a father figure in that area. He was once a politician so he understood what politics was all about even though he was a serving judge. It was my decision to pick my deputy as provided for in the Constitution, so when I consulted Justice Egonwari he advised me to narrow it to Goodluck Jonathan. I did not know him then.
He attended some of our political meetings and I saw in him somebody that can be developed to be a leader. I prayed over it because I never wanted a deputy that will give me problem. I presented the matter to God and so when Justice Egonwari recommended him, it clicked as if my eyes were open. So I asked few persons where he was staying and they gave me the address. So I drove alongside one Gordon Bozimo, who was one of the elders of our party, to his house. We drove to Goodluck's house. I could call him Goodluck then but not now o!
We went to his very humble home in the OMPADEC quarters where he was working as assistant director and requested him to join me to INEC to fill the necessary forms and run with me as deputy governor. One of the conditions was that he must resign from his job. I had no problem with him accepting but when you are in a place receiving your daily bread and somebody says you should resign and come to an area that you are not even sure, it was not so easy. Mind you, there had been political instability, with parties such as the UNCP and others proscribed. So there was this uncertainty but he took the bull by the horns. I don't know what also fired him and that is why I say it is destiny. But somebody had to open it up; somebody had to be used as an instrument. If he had not been picked, he would have been just like any other person.
During the years you worked together, were you at any point disappointed for choosing him?
No, I never did. My working relationship with Dr Goodluck Jonathan was not master-subordinate relationship. I took him as a younger brother and he accepted me as his elder brother, so everything went smoothly. I don't have to think twice before traveling because I know that my younger brother effectively manages the state till I come back. Even with our wives, he calls my wife mummy and my wife takes him as a son. My wife prefers to deal with him on official matters than me because I am the hard type, very hard. So till today, I take Patience as my daughter and that is how she accepts me too.
Did you feel betrayed during your period of travail and his subsequent swearing in as governor?
Left to Goodluck Jonathan it would not have happened. When I was arrested in London, Dr Goodluck Jonathan's wife, now the First Lady, left Nigeria to London and was staying with me in my house. It was the best option under the circumstance for Goodluck to accept becoming governor because the powers that be were also ready to flush him out with me. You either accept or you go. There were so many threats. Unknown to the public, I was also bribed. They brought somebody to me that I should use as deputy and they will leave me, and I said no. This was during the heat.
When I returned from London, they came with another option. The threat was that we are going to declare a state of emergency and you and your deputy should go. But I said no. I asked who is going to be the military administrator and they mentioned a general's name from Edo State and I said no, I know him, it can't work. They now said I should resign but I said no, impeach me instead. They went further to write a letter of resignation on my behalf and signed it but I got wind of it and exposed them on the day they were to present it to the press. I said that was not my signature and neither did I write a letter of resignation. In fact, the person they wanted to replace Goodluck Jonathan, if you hear the name you will be shocked.
Why don't you mention the name?
I will not because it is not only ridiculous but also an insult on the sensibilities of our people. Indeed, the person was a lady and she admitted to me personally that she contributed N200 million towards my impeachment. I know so much now and so I don't want to go into it. But I have forgiven everybody and most of them indeed have come to beg me for forgiveness and I have forgiven them. For the fact that I am alive is enough. Everything was done for me to die in detention but God was kind and I am alive today.
What do you think triggered all the drama leading to your travail?
Third term; end of story. The fact was that I was to be vice president to somebody and the big man said he was not going and will continue, and I said no. In the process, myself and my principal were all burnt. But his own was better because he fought hard through the legal process but I never had that opportunity.
Tell us about your London experience and did you really escape to Nigeria dressed like a woman and were you arrested with money belonging to Bayelsa State?
I never returned to Nigeria dressed like a woman. I left this country to Germany for a major surgical operation and I was in the theater for eight hours. When I recovered from the anesthesia, the first person I called was our president then, Olusegun Obasanjo, and that was my greatest undoing. From that moment I started receiving very funny calls, I mean very funny calls.
I was alone but later my children in United Kingdom left their school to join me in Germany. On the 15th day, that morning the stitches were removed and I suggested to the doctor that I be allowed to travel to London and stay for two days before returning to Nigeria. The children had to return to school. The doctor obliged me and so I left Germany with my children. In the aircraft, I was flying business class and my children in economy, but my children were upgraded to come and sit with me surprisingly.
How they knew they were my children I don't know. When we got to Heathrow Airport, as they opened the aircraft, the Metropolitan Police came in and asked who was Alamieyeseigha and his two children, and I identified myself. The next thing I heard was: 'You are under arrest for money laundering.' And I said no, you cannot arrest me. By international law, I am not even in your territory yet. I am still in the aircraft and had not even passed immigration.
Secondly, I am an executive governor of a state in Nigeria. I claimed my sovereign immunity. Detective Sergeant Ingram of the Metropolitan Police said to me: 'You have no immunity. Your president said he has waved your immunity and we should arrest you.' And I asked, my president said so? He responded in the affirmative. I asked him, can you arrest any governor from any of the states in America if they commit offence here in your territory? He said: 'No, but your president said we should arrest you.' He then put a call to Obasanjo and put the phone on speaker, and said: 'Mr. President Sir, the subject, the governor of Bayelsa State, has been arrested. He is with us.' Then Obasanjo blurted out: 'Hold him o, hold him o, hold him o!' When I heard his voice, my spirit became dampened and then he used the other phone to call the Inspector General of Police that my people will react, so they should send mobile policemen from Port Harcourt and Delta to Bayelsa State.
My children and I were searched but nothing was found on us. I was handcuffed because of the stress and the fact that the stitches to the surgery I had were removed that morning. I started bleeding. All my clothes were soaked with blood. So one of the Met Police said: 'This is not fair. Remove the handcuff, he won't run away. He is just coming out of the hospital. Why must you treat him this way? So they removed the handcuff from me and …asked my children to go home. Nothing was found on me. The few Euro I had on me, about 6,000, was given to me by my friend who came to visit me in the hospital from Russia. It was even meant for my children and, of course, all the documents were there. I was then transferred to their Black Maria to a police station and from there transferred to another vehicle and we drove very close to my house. I could see my house from where we were. We were in that vehicle for about 45 minutes and then the driver took off and we drove outside London, where they locked me up. All this while I was bleeding.
In the night about 10.30, 11pm they brought a paper for me to sign that they found money in my apartment and I refused to sign. I asked where is the property list and who conducted the search. But I noticed nobody signed the document and so I refused to sign. They said if I don't sign they know what to do and I said go and do what you have to do. They now confronted me with my assets declaration form from Nigeria. I was asked questions and I explained to them. There was nothing they could do. They now said I should go home, that is bail on self-recognition and be reporting to the nearest police station everyday from 9am to noon; that is Paddington police station, which is for terrorist suspects. So I went home.
The next day I got a lawyer, Oditta, a Nigerian, who said the treatment meted out to me was not fair and that we should go to court to vacate some of the bail conditions. So we went to court. I couldn't even move but I managed. We did not even spend three minutes in court. I was discharged and acquitted because they had nothing. As I was going home, I was rearrested by the same people and was taken back to detention. The following day, I was taken to a magistrate court on three charges. One, that in year 2000, somebody gave me £475,000. The second charge was that in 2003, another person gave me £400-and-something thousand and that it passed through me to somebody.
The third charge was that they found money in my house approximately a million pounds in different currencies. Those were the three very frivolous charges and they took me to a racist court. My lawyer was not even allowed to talk. I was just remanded in prison custody and they took me to Bison Prison and kept me with mad people. I was with mad people for 15 days. Eventually good Samaritans rallied round and tried to get me bailed. Anybody that came up to be one of the sureties was in trouble. The person's account will be frozen and will be investigated. It was terrible. Of course, I forgot to tell you, Nuhu Ribadu was at the airport to identify me.
When I eventually came out, we went to the high court. The judge insisted he was going to grant me bail when the prosecution requested for five months for materials with which to prosecute me to come from Nigeria because they had no evidence. The judge said: 'How can you keep an elected governor in this place for five months? If you don't have evidence to prosecute him now let him go.
When you are ready he will come back.' He ordered my lawyer and the prosecution to go and work out the bail conditions. So all the bail conditions were met amicably by the two parties. I had already bought my ticket to return to Nigeria the following day when the judge will pronounce my bail. That morning, (the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation) Bayo Ojo came to court. He was very apologetic and told the court that he was already sleeping when Obasanjo woke him up to proceed to London, that I was going to be granted bail and he should come and stop it. He said they don't need me in Nigeria because there is an able deputy that can handle whatever I am doing as governor. That I should be kept in England until the final determination of the case and that was the request of Nigerian government.
The judge dropped his pen and asked him: 'Are you sure you are the Attorney General and Minister of Justice?' Because in his 35 years as a judge he has never seen where a sovereign nation will go to another sovereign nation to ask that its own national should not come home. 'You are writing history,' he said. The Crown prosecution now said: 'My lord, it is cooperation.
We were the colonial masters of Nigeria. His Excellency is not going back to prison but to his house. If that is the request of Nigerian government that we should keep him here, we should oblige. We cannot because of this matter have diplomatic row with a country that is so dear to us.' The judge kept quiet for three minutes, shook his head and cancelled the bail application. Bayo Ojo apologized when we came out and said: 'Your Excellency, I am under instruction. Please forgive me. So I returned to my home.
How did you eventually return to Nigeria?
I have said it before. Every other day, the Metropolitan Police came to my house. So one of those days, they took me out of London to an awaiting aircraft and when I asked where they were taking me, they said, look we don't want your political problems. Go and solve it. The day we saw your Nigerian Attorney General in court making that type of statement, we knew that it was not a criminal matter but political and we are not interested in getting involved. So I was flown to Ivory Coast. They had warned me not to say certain things they did. So I was lucky a Nigerian was coming to do business in a chartered aircraft because I had no passport.
I was just stranded in Ivory Coast in the evening when this Good Samaritan saw me. He was excited and asked what I was doing in Ivory Coast and I narrated my ordeal. So he said I should join him and he brought me back to Nigeria. I got home late. We flew to Lagos and the same aircraft took me to Port Harcourt. It was in Lagos I called my ADC to come and pick me at the airport and that was how I got home. I never dressed like a woman to escape from London. There were a lot of things and I am only abridging it because the stories are highly classified. The only thing I can say is that it is unfortunate.
Were you embarrassed that Nigeria was exposed in that manner to the outside world?
After my so-called impeachment, because there was nothing in that impeachment, every step they took I knew and it is known to all that I did not appear before any panel. I was impeached in the EFCC. When I was taken to police headquarters handcuffed, Obasanjo instructed that I should be flown back to England that night. So I was taken to immigration at midnight to do passport.
They did passport for me, took me to the airport and now took my passport to British High Commission for visa. But that did not work because they refused. They had no choice but to bring me back to police headquarters. They summoned the Ambassador to the police headquarters and the man asked, don't you have laws in this country? You said we should hold him and we held him. The man is here; he did not commit offence over there. If he had committed all the offence here, the man is here. People who commit offence run away but this one said he is going home. He has come home and why do you want to send him back? We don't want him. He was summoned again to the (Presidential) Villa. Obasanjo threatened but they refused. Obasanjo had to write a stinker to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for allowing me to return home.
All these things happened because of third term. They did not even stop there. There are criminal matters I don't want to talk about now. I was to die but God saved me. I was sent to Dubai for medicals and because of my ordeal the area that was operated on became infected. I was operated three times in Lagos in Dr Omotosho's hospital. Finally they brought me to National Hospital (Abuja) and from national there I went to Dubai.
They generated a letter; I had done anography. I could not even walk; somebody in the hospital (that is me) was planning to overthrow the government of Nigeria. Ribadu went to Dubai and generated a letter. I know even the person who typed the letter. The letter purported that I am a persona non grata and that the Dubai government said they were deporting me; that they should come and remove me immediately, and 12 security men were watching over me even if I was going to the toilet.
That was how I was. Then they sent EFCC operatives to Dubai to remove me, with iron on my leg. I couldn't even move without the hospital authorities knowing. May his soul rest in peace. Umaru Musa Yar'Adua intervened when he became President. He called me and said: 'Ganuwa, they will kill you. That was how they killed my elder brother. (MKO) Abiola, claim your mandate; claim your mandate. He is gone. Whatever they want, give it to them and come out. I will give you presidential pardon. I am the President. Just come out and you will not spend one day in prison. I will send your younger brother (that is Goodluck Jonathan). Come out, come and help me solve Niger Delta problem.' It is rather unfortunate Yar'Adua could not fulfil his pledge to grant me presidential pardon before he died. I'm however hopeful that one day I will get it.
So, Goodluck came and we spoke, and they did what they did. They took me to court and the sentence. They carried me to Ikoyi prison, I signed and I returned home. But to God be the glory, I am alive to tell the story. I am constrained not to say certain things but at the appropriate time I will document my experience. It is going to be an interesting reading for leaders to fear God when dealing with people.
To answer your question, those events did not portray us in a good light, especially before those who knew the truth in England.
What has the experience taught you?
I am humbled. There is indeed nothing in life. Why I say I am humbled is because if you recall when I arrived this country, when finally I regained my freedom, I had audience with the late president and said I was returning to Dubai to remove the iron that was in my groin. He said how can you go to a country you were deported? I replied, Mr. President I was not deported and I brought out my passport. I have been to Dubai over 50 times after that. That is to show to what extent people can go to fake. How wicked people in this country are and they can go all out to destroy one human being because of their interest.
So when I returned home, I had never seen that type of crowd that turned out to welcome me. This is somebody that stole their property, their money blind and yet the people came out. Even as governor, with all the apparatus and the money, I could not have mobilized that type of crowd. It took me about five hours from Yenagoa to Amassoma, my hometown; a journey of about 30 minutes drive, because of the crowd.
So, I looked at it that yesterday I was going to places in a convoy and just in a split second I was sleeping on the bare floor, guns were on your head when you are even eating, no communication, no newspaper, no television, your lawyers have to apply before they can see you and they will be present. My children were arrested and molested. My wife was arrested and molested. So indeed, there is nothing one has not seen but to give one's life to God. It has become very clear that if God does not allow, nobody can take your life.
That brings me back to the fact that Goodluck's presidency is divine. I can only imagine what would have happened when Goodluck was acting and then one day President Yar'Adua had recovered from his sickbed and walked into his office and resumed his position as President. It would have resulted in constitutional problem.
Umaru is my friend. I am Ganuwa Katsina. War drums were everywhere. Those sympathetic to Umaru, the so-called cabal, if there was, and, of course, those that were sympathetic to the (then) Acting President. God in his own wisdom decided to solve the problem in His own way and we cannot question God.
What advice do you have for Jonathan in the remaining months of his administration and are you in support of his alleged bid to contest the 2011 presidential election?
Well, the next government is just few months from now. Nigerians have been yearning for a change. The problems of this country are well known and there is enough literature. Goodluck within this short period should make an indelible mark. He should pick few of the seven-point agenda and focus. He cannot execute all, though they are all relevant. But he cannot pursue all those objectives to a logical conclusion.
Now, there is no money in the federation account because of the dwindling economy. So where is he going to get money to prosecute those projects and, of course, this is an election year? There will be a lot of distractions but he should remain focused and not allow himself to be cajoled by politicians. I have known him as a professional. I have known him to be focused and intelligent. I know him to be someone who can look at issues critically and come out with informed decisions that Nigerians will be happy with. He should be independent-minded.
That is not to say he should not seek advice. But as a politician and as a Nigerian, we know those that can ill-advise him. We don't need to mention them but he must be very careful and weary of them. He should not drive them but listen to them, take the good part from them and those things he thinks will be inimical to his government he should not embark on them and let Nigerians embrace his presidency. Nigerians are very easy to please. If you alleviate the suffering of the masses, they will come out. They don't care who rules.
That is why this North-South zoning system is very funny. If the zoning system is to balance the injustice meted out to people, what injustice is more than people producing the oil and they are not allowed to rule? So in every aspect you look at it, Goodluck is eminently qualified to run. If tomorrow he says he is not going to run, I want to become more parochial and I have no apology to render to anybody. I come from somewhere and it is not by accident that I come from there. The Ijaw man will be disappointed.
This is not a threat; we shall wait for him to come home. So let him listen to us as his people. After all, you go into politics to improve the wellbeing of your people. We demand as of right that in 2011, we are not saying that others should not contest with him, but nobody should say Goodluck should not contest. It is not going to be fair and we shall resist it. That is not a threat but a promise that we are going to protest. He will contest and if he wins he is going to rule and successfully too because we are all behind him. Nothing will happen to this country. Whoever is threatening that this country will break is lying. Nigeria will not break. Whoever is prophesying the break-up of this country should leave it for us.
Do you see the present PDP crisis consuming the party and what is your take on the two- party system debate?
I am for a two-party system any day, any time. The reason is that now that PDP is controlling about 28 states, it is the only party that has that level of structure and control in the country. There is nobody that will be sure of winning an election if you are not a PDP member. I will tell you this even those that win elections in other platforms are sponsored by some people in the PDP because of disagreement within the party. A party as large as that definitely must have internal problems.
It is normal in a big family for people to quarrel. But if we have two parties there will be strong opposition and there will be no single party that will have majority in government. So there will be full participation because they will be equally strong. Rigging will be avoided because each party will know the strength of the other, as you must be strong to rig and it will not be noticed. If you are weak and you rig it will be noticed. So if two people are equally strong they will respect one another. If we have two-party system, we shall have credible election because no one will allow the other to rig, and votes will count.
What about the issue of electoral reform?
Well, for electoral reform, there is a modification. They are saying that in a multi-party system people be allowed to associate, to form parties. After every general election, if you do not score 2.5 per cent of the members of the National Assembly you are automatically de-registered. If that is put into practice, we should not have more than three parties today. That is another way of reducing the parties through the electoral process and that is also good.
What is your impression about the James Ibori saga? Does he deserve what is happening to him or is it politically motivated like your case?
If there is anybody close to Ibori, I am one. I am very close to him and on this matter I will only advise him to come home and use his talent to help build this nation. I don't want to go to the merits and demerits of those prosecuting him. Not that I don't know what is happening but I will not want to talk about it for now.
Did you play a role in reconciling Obasanjo and Atiku, considering what you claimed you went through in the hands of Obasanjo?
With all due respect, I have forgiven everybody but I don't want to discuss Obasanjo. He was former President of this country and an elder statesman. He has down so much for this country but I don't have respect for him and I don't discuss somebody I don't have respect for.
As an Ijaw leader, what would you say about youths in the Niger Delta that are still giving conditions to the President on what to do for the region?
The President is a product of that society. What have we been fighting for? Why have some of us been bruised, kicked and punished? It is all because of the welfare and wellbeing of our people. If today, by God's grace, one of us is occupying the position of responsibility to critically look or address these problems we have been struggling to solve over the years, it will be naÃ¯ve of anybody to fight government at this time.
Anybody fighting government, any youth taking up arms to destabilize this government is doing that for his own stomach not for the generality of Ijaw people. They should be singled out and dealt with as common criminals not as Ijaw people. No Ijaw blooded person at this time will fight the government. If you can go straight to God, then go straight to Him. That is it.
Do you think the name Goodluck played a role in getting the President to where he is today?
Well, I don't know. I am not his father or mother. People are only seeing the good things Goodluck's name has brought but if you ask him as an individual, he will also tell you that this name has also caused him some very serious troubles. But we thank God he has survived it all.
What do you think of the amnesty programme?
For now, there is relative peace in the region but they have only succeeded in reducing the number of arms in that area. There are still a lot of arms that were not handed over. Now if the objective of government is only to collect arms, we have failed as a nation and we have indeed not progressed beyond disarmament. Nothing has been done. Nothing was put in place before the amnesty pronouncement was made. If you go to the streets, major cities in the Niger Delta, the people are on the road, the militants are on the road roaming about. The stipends they are given are fake and even the number is bloated. Everybody is a militant; conspiracy where they got their guns to submit. Camps were established overnight because of money. So they are just wasting the money instead of sitting down to use that money to do things that will be enduring.
The government should train them. There are so many countries abroad that will freely support training of these boys; I mean vocational training. Take them out of the environment. I did that when I became governor. The President, then my deputy, knows. We sent 53 ring leaders to nearby Cameroon to the Pan-American Institute in Boa. The first major crisis in that school was caused by those boys. But after 18 months they came back refined. We gave them starter packs and today they are living well. Some of them have families already and they never went back to the creeks and will never go back. Education is the best poverty alleviation programme. You keep them in that environment, collecting N65,000 every month.
Their leaders are collecting more than half of the money because they wrote the names and it is paid to them not to the people. They now pay those in their pay roll. I just came from home. I am so disappointed; high level conspiracy. I don't think that is the intention of government. There are so many things to do to engage those boys in agriculture, housing and other vocations. But you say they should be roaming the streets and at the end of the day you give them N65,000. What have you done? Absolutely nothing! Are you now saying they should gather money and go buy many more weapons?
In the face of dwindling resources and the federation account disappearing, what is your advice to states?
States should look inward. They should review and prioritize their budget. This idea of borrowing everywhere is wrong. You don't borrow to finance short-term projects that will not yield anything. They should go into ventures that will generate money. They can have regional collaboration because there is no reason Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta cannot come together and execute common project that will benefit the three states and their citizens.
This idea of waiting for federation account has to stop because oil is a wasting asset. It will one day dry up. We should use our oil money to diversify. There is no state that cannot sustain itself but everyone is waiting for federation account.