Introduction: Chief Bekinbo Soberekon is not a man that minces words in any serious conversation. He shoots from the hips, completely averse to eup
Chief Bekinbo Soberekon is not a man that minces words in any serious conversation. He shoots from the hips, completely averse to euphemisms. Born in Buguma in the present day Asari-Toru Local Government of Rivers State, he worked in the Federal Survey Department during the Nigeria-Biafra war where the war maps were produced for the federal troops.
A graduate of Petroleum Engineering/Petroleum Accounting, an inter-disciplinary degree from Oklahoma University, USA and a MBA from Oklahoma State University, this accomplished businessman and elder statesman is perhaps better known in politics where his conscientious approach, philanthropic gestures and pro-people orientation stood him out in the hay days of his popular bid for the Governorship of Rivers State.
“Soberekon for the Masses” as he is popularly called, was at various times a Governorship Aspirant of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He was the 2007 Rivers State Governorship Candidate of the Accord Party. A politician of conscience, he is widely travelled and has invested his valued experience and exposure to communal, state and national development.
In this interview with the Rivers Ijaw Voice, Chief Bekinbo Soberekon shares the reminiscences of his governorship battles and his undiluted support for the invigorated clamour of Kalabari-Ijaw people to produce the next Rivers State governor in 2019.
May we meet you sir. Who is Chief Bekinbo Soberekon?
I am a chief and businessman from Kalabari kingdom. I was educated at Kalabari National College (KNC), Buguma for my secondary education and Government College, Umuahia for my Higher School Certificate.
At the end of my schooling, I went to work for the Federal Survey Department, Lagos and this was during the Nigeria/Biafra war. It was where I had the opportunity to serve my country by making the war maps for Nigeria. I worked directly under one Mr. Dagbo at the photolithographic section. I had the opportunity to meet with Col. Benjamin Adekunle of the 3rd Marine Commando of Nigeria army who came to our office from time to time to collect war maps.
I also had the opportunity to work with Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye and other freedom fighters at No. 19 Jalupo Street, Surulere, Lagos while they were fighting for the creation of Rivers State. We supplied all the maps they needed and we were the errand boys that supported them.
After my stay at the Department of Survey, I moved to the Bank of West Africa, which is the First Bank of today and I worked in all the departments and the white expatriate staff loved me. Eventually, I was sent to Port Harcourt.
In 1971, after the Nigeria/Biafra wars, I proceed to the United States of America for further studies. I did my first degree in Petroleum Engineering and Petroleum accounting, an inter-disciplinary degree at Oklahoma University. Thereafter, I embarked, on a Masters degree in Business (MBA) at Oklahoma State University, Edmond, Oklahoma which I completed in 1976.
Thereafter, I worked for a firm called Mass Industries Inc, Oklahoma. I finally left this company for Nigeria late 1980s when opportunities were knocking everywhere in Nigeria. I left as Vice President in charge of sales.
In Nigeria, I floated my company called Slore Nigeria Ltd and we did very good business with most of the major oil companies including all the Refineries in Nigeria. I also floated a company called Consort Engineering Ltd to take care of the electrical problems in Nigeria. The gas Turbine business was our main stay here. We installed and repaired gas turbines; we also took part in substation installation and repairs; rural electrification was our business too.
In addition to my wide experience in the USA, I travelled far and wide in the world that blessed me with a lot of experience in business development.
What was your motivation in aspiring to be Rivers State Governor? What was your vision?
Let me tell you this, and it is critical. If you went to America, you will smell patriotism on the streets of America, it is instilled inside everybody and I imbibed this spirit of patriotism and came back with it to Nigeria.
On my return, I saw that there were too many things to do in my home state, especially in the area of infrastructural development and manufacturing and I developed a strong desire to build a Rivers State similar to the big states in the United States.
I am a businessman and I was very successful but I had this burning desire to replicate here in Nigeria what I saw in America. I am not a politician in the true sense of the word, I am a businessman. I always do better and feel more comfortable in business but because of patriotism, I had the urge to transform Rivers State to an enviable height. This was why I jumped into politics with the intention to bring world-class development to my country and my state; to lift Rivers State to a world-class height.
In my business life, I got involved with China, Japan and India long before these countries became attractive to Nigerians and the Nigerian government. I went and still go to these countries very often; worked with them and saw what they were doing in their countries and I knew if we toed those lines, Rivers State and Nigeria would stand out. These were the things that motivated me.
In my private business, I brought some Indians, about 39 Indians came to work for me here and 26 Chinese were here physically, working with me in Nigeria. I was close to the Indian and Chinese governments and I knew that the way to transform Rivers State was to attract massive investments into the state. This would have put the state on the path of rapid industrialization and development.
Can we share of your reminiscences as a former governorship contender? How did the accolade “Soberekon for the masses” come about?
The governorship contest during the era of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) was intensive and protracted; it was a transition that was midwifed by the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida.
I was in SDP which had other governorship aspirants like Chief C.D. Orike, the late Chief A.K. Dikibo, the late Dr. Ibiama, Chief Sergeant Awuse, Elder L.F. Jumbo, Mr. Don Kuki and some others.
I remember that the NRC had Chief Rufus Ada-George that eventually won the governorship race, Chief Zebulon Abule, Chief Pere Ajuwa, Fafa Dan-Princewill and others I cannot remember now.
It was the era of option A4, when the electorate physically queued behind the aspirants or their agents. We did our best, we fought a good fight. We went for the governorship primaries so many times, we won some and lost some but somewhere along the line, what happened did happen. The first set of candidates that emerged, chief Sergeant Awuse of the SDP and Chief Zebulon Abule of the NRC were disqualified by the federal military government. Remember that we were then in the big old Rivers State as Bayelsa had not been created. The campaigns were extensive and exhausting.
There were lots of scheming. I remember that there was a time a national chieftain of the SDP, Chief Arthur Nzeribe was asked to come into Rivers State to prune the number of governorship aspirants in the SDP because we were 14 aspirants. I kept telling the National Chairman of the Party, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe to allow for a level playing field and let the party members chose their preferred candidate. SDP was more popular at the time as the eventual victory of its Presidential candidate, Chief Moshood Abiola proved. I was of the opinion that with a level playing field, the eventual winner would enjoy the support and confidence of all.
As I was saying, Chief Arthur Nzeribe was sent to come to prune the number and in the process, some underhand games were played and I rejected the outcome. I won the first round of ballot conducted amongst the aspirants but Arthur Nzeribe refused to announce the result and rather opted for another secret ballot. This brought about serious altercation between us.
The SDP lost the governorship election to NRC because many people were unhappy with the handling of the primaries. Chief Eric Aso who was never a governorship aspirant was drafted after, Awuse was disqualified but lost to Chief Ada-George of NRC.
The name “Soberekon for the masses” which has outlived my governorship aspirations was the inscription on the free buses that I provided at the time.
I have told you that my motivation was to transform Rivers State; I was looking for what to do within my own reach and resources and that was why I introduced those free bus services. It was intended to ease the transportation challenges of the people; it was a kind of prelude, an appetizer to the things to come, if I won the elections.
I gave my best to the contest and I largely funded my campaigns and when it turned out the way it did, I thanked God and returned to my business. I believed that God was in charge and has His reason for everything.
Has Rivers State fared well in terms of governance since 1999?
Let me answer your question by asking: Did Lagos State stumbled on its current Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N800 billion by mere chance? Lagos State 2018 budget proposal is N1.046 TRN; the state is executing landmark projects like the Eko Atlantic City, the Monorail and the Fourth Mainland bridge. Lagos produces the famous Lake Rice,
Let me also ask if you think that Cross River State’s 2018 budget proposal of N1.3 TRN is a fluke? – A state without oil; without 13% derivation proposing a budget higher than Lagos? Cross River is engaged in mass production of rice and plans to employ additional 2,000 workers in garment production.
No let me ask you, what is Rivers State 2018 budget? – A mere N510bn, less than Lagos State IGR and half of Cross River State’s budget.
Let me tell you that the results we are seeing in Lagos, Cross River and a few other states are products of capable and knowledgeable leadership.
This is why I can say without equivocation that Rivers State has fared very badly in terms of competent and good governance and the chief culprit to the best of my knowledge was Dr. Peter Odili who triggered the chain of bad governance that has become the lot of Rivers people.
At the inception of the 4th Republic in 1999, Rivers State was rated slightly high than Lagos State in overall progress but today Lagos is lightyears ahead in all areas of development. This was because Governor Odili’s agenda for Rivers State did not promote growth. The hydra headed militancy, cultism and the attendant ills gained ascendancy during Governor Odili’s eight-year tenure. Peter Odili wanted himself and his boys to rule Rivers State forever and that singular agenda shaped all that he did in office. I have always told Peter Odili that he laid the foundation for the parlous state of affairs in Rivers State.
I want to state however, that former Governor Amaechi did a lot to improve the lots of Rivers people as against what his erstwhile master Peter Odili did. Amaechi had a different and progressive vision for Rivers State. He improved infrastructure tremendously. Amaechi raised Rivers State; he was doing a lot of roads and bridges; schools, hospitals, agriculture etc. Amaechi copied from all over the world to develop Rivers State.
When Amaechi came, militancy died in Rivers State and this fact is incontrovertible. Amaechi brought peace to Rivers State that propelled progress. Everything was cool and quiet until the Jonathan-Amaechi palaver which was fueled by the current Governor Wike, slowed Amaechi down.
I must be very honest, I was in court with Amaechi for three and half years over the 2007 elections but I am telling you that Amaechi meant well for Rivers State. I actually went to court to challenge Peter Odili’s handling of the election; Amaechi only inherited it when he was declared winner by the Supreme Court.
Today, Rivers State has declined into the dark ages; people are hungry; people are confused because they don’t know where to go. Lies have taken over; cultism is all over the place. Governor Wike does not know what it means to be governor. He does not know that it is his responsibility to tackle joblessness, homelessness and hunger in Rivers State. Rivers people are hungry and the Rivers State governor is blaming, the President for it. Do the Lagos State and the Cross River State governors shift blames to the federal government on basic things of governance?
The truth is that Mr. Project is a media creation and a mirage. Wike only exists in the national media. I am pained that the victims of his inept administration are clapping for him even on empty stomachs.
What is your position on the clamour by Kalabari people to produce the next Rivers State governor in 2019?
I wholeheartedly support the Kalabari aspiration for two main reasons. First, is to return Rivers State to the path of decency and good governance. Second, is to reciprocate Kalabari support to other ethnic nationalities in producing previous governors.
I strongly believe that with a capable and level-headed governor of Kalabari extraction, Rivers people would be happy again. I am saying the truth; when a Kalabari man comes, Rivers people will breathe a huge sigh of relief and joy because the quintessential Kalabari person is very balanced in learning, character and culture. All this motor park-style government will give way to decency and competence. Order and tranquility would be restored in Rivers State and Rivers people shall be proud and happy again.
Don’t you like the personalities of Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke and Benedict Ayade of Cross Rivers State? Don’t you like the carriage of Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State? Are you surprised that these states are doing very well? I am completely in support of a Kalabari person replacing Wike in 2019.
Kalabari people have wholeheartedly supported other ethnic nationalities in Rivers State to produce governors in the state and deserve to be supported to produce the next governor in Rivers State. Kalabari people have stood to put other people in power because of their spirit of egalitarianism with the belief that Kalabari would be supported too.
Since the creation of Rivers State and most significantly, since the advent of this democratic dispensation, Kalabari have not produced a governor. It is sad that Peter Odili that was massively supported by Kalabari in 1999 even against their own son, Ebenezer Isokrari, undermined Kalabari political future.
This is another area where I thank the former governor and the current Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi for consistently speaking out for Riverine governorship since 2015. Amaechi’s position is in line with the visions of the founding fathers of Rivers State who worked for the mutual coexistence of all ethnic groups in an atmosphere of justice.
Even on the issue of infrastructural development, we need a paradigm shift. The riverine areas have been subjugated; look at how the old Port Harcourt Township has been allowed to decay through neglect. No governor since 1999, has done anything significant in the old Port Harcourt Township that was once the most beautiful place, not to mention the coastal communities which have been subjected to nothingness.
How would Kalabari achieve this, knowing that Governor Wike of PDP would certainly run for a second term and the riverine people, especially Kalabari are the backbone of PDP?
Most Kalabari people have seen that they have lost out; most Kalabari people, especially the youths, know how much deprivation and suffering they have gone through and come the next election, Kalabari people would do all they can to make sure that Wike is no longer there and take my word for it. I have spoken to different layers of people and they are all prepared to vote Wike out of power.
Rivers people are suffering under Wike as he has proved that he is a Rumueprikom governor and not a Rivers State governor. His governorship ends in Obio/Akpor, he does not really care about the rest of Rivers State.
Do you have preference for any governorship aspirant?
I am too old to hide it and I will tell you straight away that Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs is my candidate anytime.
That lawyer and business mogul Dumo Lulu-Briggs is the man Rivers people should think about. He is kind, honourable, honest, decent, sympathetic, down to earth, level headed. Dumo can’t wait to take Rivers State to the desired height. He is rich and he is also from a very wealthy family; his eyes would not be on Rivers money for his pocket.
Dumo would use our money for the people; he would not behave like that deprived child syndrome that has been hanging over Rivers State. Even now, Dumo is doing everything possible to empower youths with empowerment programmes in the state. If he becomes governor, he would do wonders to the best of my knowledge.
Most importantly, Dumo is well in touch with the outside world and can attract the much-needed Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) to industrialize Rivers State and provide jobs for our teeming youths. Rivers State is too big to be budgeting N500bn because that kind of money cannot transform the state. We need somebody that would think outside the box and that person is Dumo Lulu-Briggs.
I have known him since he was a boy; Dumo is the person that Rivers State needs now to lead them into prosperity. Dumo is not a hooligan; he is a very civilized young man and that is what Rivers State needs to get back to the limelight again. To redeem Rivers State, we need Dumo Lulu-Briggs.
What message do you have for Rivers people ahead of 2019?
Rivers people should, as they say, ‘shine their eyes well, well’. We need a redeemer now. It is time to come out of the dungeon; everybody must ‘shine his/her eyes’. Get your voter’s card to get your power back. It is stupid to collect N5,000 on election day and stay hungry for four more years. That plastic PVC is your power; go in quietly into the polling booths and vote yourselves back to freedom and happiness. Once you exercise your voting power, politicians would respect you and serve you better because you have the power to vote them in and vote them out.
My people, listen to me, hold your PVC and vote for the person you want and if he/she messes up, you vote him/her out, then office seekers would realize that you have power and would respect you.
The days of snatching ballot boxes and writing results are gone. Come out and vote out the deceivers and liars. Their old tricks won’t work this time. Seize the opportunity#