Malam Jibril Tafida was former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Electoral Panel during the President Olusegun Obasanjo era. In this interview with newsmen in Kaduna, he made some revelations about the intrigues that saw his political associate emerging as PDP Governor for Akwa Ibom State and now Minister for Niger Delta, Dr. Godswill Akpabio. Excerpts:
You are believed to be very close to the Niger Delta Minister, Chief Godswill Akpabio politically. How can you define your relationship with him?
Is not what you think. I’m not as close as you people think. Our relationship dated back to the 2007 election when I was selected by Akpabio to lead the electoral panel that conducted the Peoples Democratic Party primaries in Akwa Ibom state that brought him to power. The committee was hijacked by him Akpabio in a bid to manipulate his way to becoming the governor of Akwa Ibom against the wish of his former boss, Mr Victor Attah.
Akpabio is dangerously smart and can do anything beyond every imagination to get what he wants. He hijacked the electoral committee and got people close to him to nominate members of the panel and I was nominated to serve as Chairman. I was the youngest member of the panel, and honestly that was my first national assignment.
I was introduced to Akpabio by a very close friend of mine, who is the present Commissioner for Special Duties, Etteh. I went to the state to return Akpabio as the party candidate against all odds .
How was the primary election conducted?
The primary election was one of the best in terms of organisation but was all about bringing Akpabio to power by all means. Have you ever seen an election where the Chairman and some members are all nominated by one person? Do you call that election? The primary election was organised to bring Akpabio to power and we did everything at that time to fulfil our side of the bargain which was to return him by all means.
Did Akpabio win the primaries?
No, he didn’t win in the real sense of it. The person that got the highest votes was Ekarika, followed by Nsima Ekere. But we changed the results in favour of Akpabio as per the arrangement. Akpabio would have been in the 3rd position.
How Did it happened?
We had all the cover needed on our side and were told that President Obasanjo was also on our side. The election rigged during counting where votes for Nsima or Ekarika were pronounced as Akpabio’s. Nobody had the power to check what was in the ballot box. Even the ballot papers were taken care of by us and it took us hours to announce the winner as even despite the rigging, Akpabio couldn’t get the required votes to be declared winner but Col. Amadu Ali, the then National Chairman of the party, insisted that we must announce Akpabio. There was no option than to announce him and that was the plan.
What was the reaction at the venue?
There was tension all around. We were threatened to change the announcement but then, Akpabio had the backing of all the powers that be at that time. I stood by him and rejected everything that will make us change the result.
But we learned that some aspirants nominated members of your committee?
Yes three of the aspirants had one representative each in the committee but Akpabio got 2 members to his side including myself and one other from Kogi. Even though all the members compromised except myself. I conducted the primary singlehandedly with support of the security agencies.
I am sure you were rewarded?
If you know Akpabio, he is someone who doesn’t value relationships not to talk of rewarding someone that worked for him. He gives reward when he wants use you. Even the guy that made our success possible during the primaries, – he was the one tha hold the basket that we rigged – almost died of diabetes sometimes.
Remember what he did to his former SSG, Umana? We went to him and knelt down and begged him but he refused he was playing God not knowing he had a plan to change Umana and pick Udom.
We later went back again to plead with him to nominate Umana as minister since Umana contributed alot to him becoming a governor. Umana almost gave 80% contributions of all the campaign resources and organisations. To be honest, we worked for Akpabio because of Umana at that time. Because he was the one that understands how to make things work.
Let me take you back to what he did to Nsima as deputy governor. It was pathetic. I was shocked when I saw Nsima with Akpabio together in 2019 but I remember in politics there is no permanent enemy but permanent interest.
But many are saying Akpabio is generous?
Look Akpabio is not generous. He is a used and dumped. He doesn’t manage relationship. He gives anything when he needs something from you and after that, he will dump you and pick another one. Akpabio can spend the night in your house to get what he wants. He knows how to get something from you, he can kneel down and cry just to get what he wants and he can reject your calls the next morning.
Do you see Akpabio as solution to Niger Delta problems?
What I know about Akpabio is that he doent take anything serious. Even when he was the governor most of the beautiful projects you see in Akwa ibom are planned and executed by his former SSG Umana. He has never take anything serious. This is the man that spent most of his time in a guest house. Look at when the former SSG left the government, everything stopped. He couldn’t completed most of the projects and some are not completed till today. That show you that he was not the one doing those projects. My answer is I don’t see him solving any problems in Niger Delta. Niger delta is a complex area and needs someone serious with the love of people in his heart. Another problem of Akpabio is that he doesn’t know how to build people he only knows himself. I have no doubt in mind that Akpabio can’t change anything in this Ministry and don’t expect any solution to hunger in the Niger Delta. It is him and all about himself.
How do you see Akpabio’s war against corruption in the Niger Delta Ministry?
Akpabio can’t fight any corruption anywhere. This is someone that changes like chameleon. He may say he want to do it but I know he can’t, he may want show the president he is serious. To fight corruption, you need two things; political will and determination. Akpabio has none of these things. This is someone I know very well.
Back to the Electoral committee, did you have any regrets?
I have one regret, that Akpabio disappointed us. This is not the Akpabio before his becoming governor, the Akpabio that told believes in Nigeria one Nigeria, no tribalism, always talking about the best for his people. Ready to sacrifice everything for the progress of his people but the Akpabio today is different from the one I knew. He is now power drunk, he likes himself and has no feeling for anyone except himself.