Chairman of Platform Petroleum, Dumo Lulu- Briggs, is the governorship candidate of the Accord Party in Rivers State. In this interview, he speaks on his agenda for Rivers people and what he’ll do differently if elected governor of the state in 2023, among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
What gives you confidence that Accord Party, is stronger than the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State?
Well, I wouldn’t say we are stronger but we will test that at the poll in 2023. But I will say that we are as strong as you can imagine.
We have candidates for all the elective positions. We have candidates for the three senatorial districts, we have candidates for the 13 House of Representatives seats as well as the 32 state House of Assembly seats and I am running for governorship.
So, we are quite on ground because you won’t mention political parties in Rivers State without mentioning Accord Party. The parties you may mention first would probably be the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
But today the people recognize Accord Party because we are everywhere and our message is resonating with the youth, the middle class, the business community and in fact with everybody in Rivers State. They believe that Accord Party will make a difference in the next election.
You have your “We Agenda” for the youth, is that your main constituency and how are you positioning yourself as a candidate for the youth?
I have always been mindful of younger people and I have a foundation which runs across the 23 local government areas of the state and provides opportunities for young people. We are trying to reposition young people, so I will probably say that it is my primary constituency. But the We Agenda is not just for the young. The We Agenda is for everybody and we are saying that you matter and that you come first and that we must put people first.
You will agree with me that from 1999 to now has been disastrous for opportunities and also for the polity. So, for the first time, people are beginning to feel that they are going to have a government that will be concerned about them and put their interests on the front burner. That is what the We Agenda is all about; that you matter and that everybody matters.
So, we are going to run an all-inclusive government and we try to ensure that even in our campaigns, we will mindful of the languages we deploy. What is more important to us is the opportunity to have a state that is cohesive after the election, so that governance can be easy.
So, we are not trying to employ languages that would probably create irreconcilable differences. It is in a manner that everybody would feel belonged and loved. We are very mindful of the sort of things we put out and by the special grace of God, we will win the election and try and heal the wounds because there is too much hate in our politics.
Like you said that APC and PDP are strong in the state, people have called me to say that PDP had an acrimonious primary, the APC also had some issues about how their candidate emerged and why don’t you try to exploit the anger against Nyesom Wike and Rotimi Amaechi.
But I told them that I don’t need to exploit the anger against anybody because the temperature of politics in Rivers State would not be helped by trying to exploit the anger against Wike or against Amaechi. I think we need to have a strong desire for Rivers people with a truly representative and progressive government. So, that is what we are trying to look at and everybody is happy with us with the language we are employing.
We are looking into the future and we are very certain that 2023 is going to be a very defining moment for us and we are most likely going to win the election and will form the government. We should be able to run a government that will accommodate everyone.
Some people are saying that Governor Wike should have helped you out since you are interested in the governorship because there is an established close relationship between two of you…
I think I will say that I’m close to everybody.
I have been in this business for quite a while from 1999, when I was just a supporter of PDP to when I actually contested in 2003.
So, I’m a friend to everyone and all the key political players in Rivers State including the governor. These things are not gifted. So, Wike will not give it to me because I am close to him. He would have to assess me based on our relationship and based on what the agenda is for Rivers State going forward.
You participated in the 2019 election but didn’t make any traction and a lot of people are saying probably nothing will change this time around because Accord Party is not on ground. how would you respond to that?
I’m not an establishment person but let us try and put in perspective what happened in 2019. In 2019, we were all in APC until Tonye Cole was chosen by the leader of the party in the state and some of us did not like the way it happened. So, I became a candidate of Accord Party through substitution.
And then of course, because they saw the traction that Accord Party was gaining by day with young people, traders, and ordinary men and women on the streets, coming out to support the party, a petition was brought before a Federal High Court that I wasn’t the candidate of the party.
The judge ruled that I wasn’t the candidate of the party and that someone who claimed that he was the chairman of Accord Party was the candidate of the party.
So, I had to go on appeal and won the appeal a day before the election. But the judgement of the Federal High Court directed that I shouldn’t campaign or parade myself as the candidate, so I couldn’t campaign. A lot of people felt that I wasn’t on the ballot and even in my village; when I arrived on election day, a lot of people didn’t know that I was still on the ballot.
So, that was the confusion that followed the election. But look at the records, Accord Party came third in the election in River State at the time. It wasn’t that the party didn’t gain traction or that people were not listening to what I way saying, the message resonated with the people of Rivers State.
But again, going forward, I think the people now agree that it is time for a change in the state. I would like us to look at what things were in Rivers in 1999 and what is it today. You will agree with me that in 1999, everybody felt that if two states were to make tremendous progress in Nigeria, those states would be Riv-ers and Lagos.
If you look at things that would make the economy thrive in those environments, once you have your seaport and airport, it is common sense that the economy would thrive in the states. Lagos has its seaport and airport both domestic and international.
The same thing with Rivers, and of course, additionally we have petrochemical and we have refineries. By the military decree, all the multinational companies have their headquarters in Port Harcourt. So, I will say that Rivers has a competitive edge and one of the things that gave us the edge was the fact that in 1999, Lagos State had the worst security situation in the entire country.
There were incessant killings, daylight robberies and all sorts in Lagos. It was so bad that every street in Lagos had a gate and those gates were shot at 6. pm. That was how bad it was in Lagos State in 1999, but today, that same Lagos runs a 24-hour economy and it is said that Lagos is the fifth largest economy in Africa.
So, it is not rocket science and we are worried as people in Rivers State that if these two states were at par, now where is Rivers State today and where is Lagos State today. There is a reason why people are clamouring for someone who knows what to do and someone who is determined to build the state.
There is also concern that what you may say is a political strength for you may not translate to votes because you come from the riverine area, where Tonye Cole of the APC also come from…
Well, the election would not be determined by just our local government area but there are things that I have all over the local government but I would leave that for the electorate to decide. I’m not running for the governorship of Rivers State because I am from the riverine area.
Yes, we need to accommodate those sentiments but I’m running because I am a Rivers person and I have a strong network of friends and supporters across the entire state. I have done things for Rivers people to the point that they trust me. The ordinary man and woman on the streets know who Dumo Lulu-Briggs is. I have name recognition across the entire state because of my antecedent and the things I have done in supporting young persons, students, the elderly and basically showing concern and all of that.
So, I have that strong name recognition because I have also been in the private sector doing what I’m doing right now and they know that I will bring my private sector experience to bear. And because I am a chief, who lives among the people in the local communities, I can see the despair in the faces of the people whenever I go to the village to spend some time with them.
Also, as an elite, I dine with the high and the mighty in the political parties, I can tell you for certain that even the population of the wealthy is dwindling while that of the poor is of course increasing.
And as a young man, who had sold cold water on the streets of Port Harcourt, I understand how people feel. I’m quite frankly that I stand a very good chance of winning the next election regardless of who is running against me.
You were quoted in the newspapers to have said that bad leadership is the problem of Rivers State; who are these bad leaders that you have seen in Rivers State?
I was quoted out of context and the sort of politics I play is not the one of name-calling because I hold all of them in very high esteem. They all have done their best and I don’t think that any one of them is completely bad. But of course, their best is not good enough and their best has not taken us to where we ought to be.
But I agree that they all have done their bit because at least today we still have the state that I said I want to govern. I wouldn’t say that we have bad leadership but I will say that the promise of a great state has not been met.
We have a mobile population that wants to see and experience good things in their state and live largely. So, how do you make that reality should be a concern for everyone and that it is a ticking time bomb.
If you have a population of young people who are unemployed, then that is a problem. That is why my message is resonating with the people because they know that I don’t only have the heart for the people, but I also have the head to get things done. I have demonstrated that in my private life