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Saturday, 6 July 2013

Interview: "I'm A Progressive" - Senator George Sekibo

George Thompson Sekibo is a Nigerian senator who represents the People's Democratic Party in Rivers State. He became a member of the Nigerian Senate in 2007.

In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, Senator George Sekibo speaks about the lessons he has learnt in politics

How do you describe your brand of politics?

I think I ‘m a progressive because if you are a conservative, your people may not understand you well. When you are a progressive politician, they will know your agenda and the programmes you have for them. If you are not doing well, they can approach you to seek clarifications and you can perhaps explain why you cannot do certain things. I’m a progressive not in the way our parties are formed: a little to the left, a little to the right.

Have you been involved in electoral violence either as a participant or a promoter?
No. I don’t have thugs. I have never supported thuggery or violence of any sort. That is why if you follow me to my community, you won’t see young boys following me about with clubs, sticks or any weapon for that matter. If I have a cult group, for instance, anytime I appear, you will see them, but you will never see such people around me.
Who are your role models in politics?
Sometimes, a role model is someone you study from afar. When I started politics as a council chairman, I served under Rufus Ada George, who was the governor of Rivers State. I see him as a gentleman in politics and a role model, who does not talk too much. I also served under Dr. Peter Odili, who is also a former governor in Rivers. He is another role model that I have. You learn different things from these people. Then, in the Senate here, I have also had the rare privilege of working with the Senate President, David Mark. I have studied him for about six years now and I’ve learnt so much from him in terms of the capacity to endure so many things. My life has completely changed over the years. I’m not the kind of person I used to be. People who knew me when I was younger, when they see me now, they confess that I’m a changed person. There are things that I see now that will give somebody sleepless nights, I just sleep over them. I know nothing is impossible. Sometimes you may have turbulence, the wind of change will come but it will pass, it will not stay forever. During the period of crisis or when change comes, if you are not careful, you will either over-talk or overreact; and that will become like a stamp on your personality. That is why you don’t see me attacking people, I am always watching, I am always advising.
Have you suffered physical violence on account of politics?
Oh, yes. I have. I will give you several instances, especially the ones that were serious. I think it was on January 2, 2011 when they were to hold the state house of assembly primaries of our party, the Peoples Democratic Party. I went to my hometown and the PDP caucus was holding a meeting in a certain house. I decided to attend the meeting as a member of the party. Of course, I am an elder and founding father of the PDP in my community. I went there and a young man came up and without provocation, attacked me and tore my shirt. He was asked to attack me. I had about four riot policemen with me at that time and my third son was there. I had other cousins, who were also there. Of course, no one would be happy to see his father, uncle or even relation, who is an elderly person, being molested for no just cause and not react. They all wanted to fight but I told them not to. I asked my people to withdraw and they did. But members of the community, who were not happy about what the boy did, beat him up. By this time, I had asked my entourage to leave the place. If I had done something different on that day, it may have been a different story. The young man came with thugs to attack me for no reason. I entered my car and left the place. It did not destroy anything in my body because what am I looking for that I should go and kill a human being or kill myself? I don’t want to die; I don’t want to kill anyone. I have been attacked more than twice. Sometimes, people just come out of nowhere to attack you and most times it will not be immediately clear to you; it’s part of the game.
Have you lost an election before?
Several times, I will tell you. My first election was on December 12, 1987 and I won overwhelmingly. After that, I wanted to return as council chairman. I wanted to go back around 1990. I went in for another election and I lost. My community leaders rose against me and I lost in the primaries. Thereafter, the group I was leading lost elections about three times; this was besides the cases we had at the tribunal and the ones on appeal. Apart from this, one of my key supporters, who contested councillorship election and won but had yet to be declared, was shot dead. Politics is not an easy thing. We went through some rough times and very tempting periods.
Were there times you were caught in between different political divides, especially when it involved the people you respect? 
It happened even recently. Sometimes some of the young people you trained, people that live with you, people you feed and clothe, some that you even trained in the university from your sweat, from your hard-earned money, when it comes to political choice, they can go against you. Sometimes, you shed tears because you see people that you were part of their lives, people you provided shelter for in your house, now turning against you. Even now, it is happening. It has been a regular thing over the years – because I have been in politics since 1987; that means it’s about 26 years. That is a long period for someone to learn and understand things. If I were a university lecturer, I think by now I would be a professor. It means that I have done enough research on what it takes to be in politics. When they do it now, I laugh at them. I observed something, these same people come back when they observe your success. All those who fight you, who terrorise you, come back when success comes. In another election, these people that come back may stay and those people who stood with you the first time may turn against you. It is not a permanent thing; it shifts. That is why I agree with the saying that there are no permanent friends in politics and there are no permanent enemies, it can change at any time because it is a matter of belief, principles and permanent interests.
You’ve suffered personal tragedies over time. I remember your wife was kidnapped sometime ago. Did that have anything to do with politics?
Most of the unfortunate incidents I have suffered are usually not during elections. It is usually when a governmentis on ground. In 2001, one of my houses in my community was completely burnt down, with everything inside. The worst aspect was that my late mother’s belongings and those of my father, who died during the civil war, were also in that house. These were historical things. When I say completely, including the blocks. The kidnapping of my wife had to do with politics. She was kept in the forest before God intervened and brought her back to us safely. Apart from thugs chasing you or some of your supporters being beaten during campaigns, I have not suffered serious attacks during campaigns. This is because generally, I see that I’m loved by my people, apart from a few elements that may have some grudges against me.
You were a co-chairman of the joint Senate committee that visited Baga in Borno State. Some of your colleagues have issues with your findings. What really happened?
We carried out our assignment to the best of our ability and you will also agree with me that the Senate commended our effort and the report was adopted. In all, we counted 115 houses that were burnt, the NationalEmergency Management Agency counted 118 houses. Even one of our colleagues, who complained, commended us for doing a good job. His only complaint was that he did not see us counting houses. It’s a committee, he is not a member of the committee. During the trip to Baga, he was not with us for the two weeks we spent there, working day and night.