Wike was wrong to call me a thief, says Baziah

In this interview with Mike Odiegwu, a former two-time member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Dr. John Baziah, who recently defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) responds to some remarks made against him by the State Governor, Nyesom Wike, whose administration he served as a Commissioner, Chieftaincy Affairs.


GOVERNOR Nyesom Wike was so emphatic when he recently branded you, “a thief” who pilfered kola meant for traditional rulers. Did you do it?

It’s easy to know when a man is saying the truth or lying. What he’s talking about is a pre-election matter, in respect of Goodluck Jonathan. Wike wasn’t governor before Goodluck Jonathan as President. So, when he knew I was a thief as he alleges, why would he then make me Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Community Affairs?

As a governor that office comes with authority, responsibility. It comes with carriage in the way you talk. You don’t talk carelessly.

Are you denying money given to you was found pilfered?

What happened was when Goodluck Jonathan wanted reelection as President at that time, religous leaders were called. Chiefs were also called. It was at the Port Harcourt International Airport.

He held a press conference and those of us in his campaign committee had a big bus that conveyed all of us as a team. Now when this money Wike is talking about was given to me, two sets, not one as he’s suggesting; I didn’t know how much. I was asked to give to religous organisations and give to chiefs.

I went to the leader of the religious organisations. I went to him and said take; I was asked to give this to you. He said I should give it to his secretary, a lady that was behind him. I gave it to the lady and that was done.

What about the share for traditional rulers?

The governor was lying to people that the Chairman of Council of Chiefs then was the one who called him that they can’t find the kola. That’s a lie. The Chairman of the Council of Chiefs then was King Ginuwa. I call him Papa. That’s my father. I am a member, Tai Council of Chiefs and Elders. I was Secretary of the electoral body that made King Ginuwa the Gbenemene of Tai.

King Ginuwa was not there because he was not even supporting the governor. Because we couldn’t find him, I went to one of us and asked what we would do with this money, since we can’t find the king? He said, John, you keep this money since Ginuwa is not here, later we will give it to them. It was a campaign period. I called my driver who came with the car, the bus he (Wike) gave me. I gave the bag of money to that driver, not knowing how much, couldn’t have opened it, didn’t open it; never even knew it was dollars.

The driver left while I joined the big bus. For three days running I didn’t even remember that money. I was in the village, campaigning when they called. I told them I was in the village campaigning for him. That the money was with my driver in Port Harcourt, and that I was going to come. I came to Port Harcourt, called my driver. He brought the money. I innocently, not even looking at it, thinking it was the same way I gave to him, I handed it over to them. It was when they now said they removed some money that I went after my driver. I was mad at him. I forced that young man; he returned some of the money. I think somehow, all he couldn’t return was between three to five hundred dollars. Otherwise he returned what he had taken.

Now I challenge the governor to state how much was 80 percent of the money he was talking about? What my driver returned was about $4500 or there about. I sacked the driver on the spot after he brought the money. I then wrote a resignation letter. To me if my driver I had confidence in would pilfer money given to him, I am accountable because the money was given to me. The bulk stops at my table. I was his boss so I should take responsibility. The honourable thing to do was resign from the campaign organisation as chairman of my LGA and member of the state campaign body.

We are talking about 2015, before I was made commissioner. That’s why I say the governor should think well because if he thinks well, he should know what he’s telling people is that he knew I was a thief but made me commissioner for Chieftaincy and Community Affairs. He tore my resignation letter and declared I must continue as a member of the campaign organisation. That was what happened.

The governor said Emma Okah slapped you over the cause of the pilfered money. Are you denying that?

Of course Emma Okah was the one who said the money was not complete, but to have slapped me, he cannot. If he raised his hand, I would have slapped him there. Emma Okah came, rushing towards me, but look at my size and Okah. Do I look like someone Okah could have slapped?

He refused my resignation from the campaign council because he knows my electoral value, but today he is claiming I don’t have electoral value. Was he the one that came to Tai; to Chief Bari Mpigi’s house? For about four hours in that election, there were shootings all through. So who tackled that? He went to Tai. We won and I was taken to the tribunal. So if I was insignificant would they take me to the tribunal? In the first place, is it his place to determine who is significant or not? It is God’s to determine. Was he significant yesterday?

The governor said at one time you owed a debt of 40,000 Euros and he had to pay?

What happened was that he said I married my wife and I took her to America. He doesn’t know about me. My wife’s parents are from Nigeria, my own village, but they were born and brought up in America. My wife is an American citizen; my children the same. I married my wife in America. I didn’t marry her here and send her to America.

So why did I borrow this money he’s talking about? I was bringing my son, Bariga. I bring my children to school here in Nigeria. I believe in Nigeria. I don’t do big man. So, once they (my children) finish middle school, I bring them here, into boarding till when it’s time for them to go to the university; then they can go back. Let me also tell you, secondary school (high or middle school in the US) is free over there, but I take the pains of bringing them here, so they know they are Nigerians. So Bariga was going to come here. I was having some expectations. I haven’t been paid in Shell where I did some jobs.

So, I met someone, who I thought was my friend. I didn’t know they were going to make a political issue out of this. Now I know they are the people who will set people up. I told this person, my son just arrived and I need to pay his school fees of N700, 000 at Brookstone in Port Harcourt here, owned by a Senator that’s with us. The records are there.

He gave me 4000 Euros which became N960, 000 when I changed it. I paid 700,000 and was left with N260, 000. My son was admitted. The person I collected the money from told me I should well return the money in same Euro currency he gave me. When I hadn’t got enough money as I was expecting, I went to him to say, I will pay you 2000 Euros first, then by next payment, I will complete the money.

So I gave him 2000 Euros. Not quite two weeks after, my name was announced as Commissioner by Wike. After that the lender came demanding his money. I told him to hold on, I have not been paid. I wasn’t paid for six months when I started with Wike as commissioner. After a while, a senator called me and told me the lender said I owed him 60,000 Euros.

The senator said he was shocked and asked him where he got that kind of money from; and was I buying a house or does he know how much 60,000 Euros was? I explained all that transpired to the senator who rightly felt my story would be credible, that how would he give me 60,000 Euros for my child’s school fees? At that stage you know that some people were made to do some dirty job politically.

The lender wasn’t the governor’s friend. He wasn’t at that level that he could meet the governor. Even his commissioners, do they meet him? Except he wants you, can they finish the EXCO meeting and meet him. All the time I worked with him, I couldn’t see him except he invited me over. So, how did the lender come to see him? It was because they knew what they were up to. Next thing, the lender was there, and he (Wike) said I should come. I came; the former Secretary to the Government was there to bear me witness.

He said the lender said it was no longer 60,000 Euros but now 40,000 I owed him. I explained to the governor that I didn’t owe him that kind of money. What I owe him was 2000 Euros out of 4000 Euros I initially took from him. The governor said he must pay the money; I said no don’t pay.

When I left his office, the first thing I did was to go to the Chambers of the former Attorney General, Aguma, where I sued the lender, asking the lawyers to take him to court.

The lender, then realising he was in a fix, went to the governor again and the governor directed that I take that matter out of court. I said why, this man is about stealing money. I have the records. He shouted me down. Those in Aguma’s chambers who filed the suit are still there to confirm. That was how the Attorney-General was asked to direct his chambers to stop that case.

Then he said he gave him 40,000 Euros. In the first place if I was the one owing that money and he wanted to pay, was it not me he should give that money for me to give to the person I owed?

So why would the governor call you a thief?

The question should be why does the governor call anyone who leaves him a thief? He didn’t just call me a thief. He called Hon Michahel West a thief too. So for as long as you are with him, you are not a thief. The minute you disagree with him politically, then you are a thief.

What is the bone of contention if he’s wrongly accusing you?

What is happening is that the party (Rivers PDP) is no longer what it used to be. I was in PDP, former Governor Peter Odili was there. I was in the State House of Assembly. He said I was nobody but for eight solid years, everybody felt my presence in the House. There were key contributions I made that are on record.

So, the party is not like it used to be. It wasn’t owned by one man, but as we speak today, the party is Wike, Wike is PDP. And what he’s trying to do in the state, he’s trying to do to the whole of Nigeria and to all other state governors. Of course they won’t take that from him. We have some very cerebral people as governors.

Are you inferring that Wike is the problem of PDP currently?

You are seeing him having problems everywhere. He was abusing all his fellow governors. How would you disrespect a man of equal status? He woke up and said all the governors in PDP were not thinking about interest of the people. They were thinking about selfish interests.

But you left the PDP and moved into a Rivers APC that has remained opaque in self-destruct for so long. How wise is such a move?

I don’t share that impression. I tell you, very strong people learn from their mistakes. If you have a good success story without having failed before, then you have a problem. To be a very successful person, you must have made some mistakes, learnt from those and you grow. Right now, I believe Rivers APC has seen enough. And some insiders were used to creating some of those issues.

The stakeholders should have known better. One of the things we would do, as I have come, is to ensure we have one big family, everyone coming together. And no one can do it alone. I am a team player. Let’s think first about the state, first about the people and push back our personal interests. Once we have that unity of purpose and think well about our people, I see APC coming out stronger, better in Rivers.

I assure you that we will bring a credible person, a visionary leader that would lead this state in 2023. In short, the disintegration they are talking about, right now, is festering in their own party (PDP). People are taking them to court. There was some ruling in Owerri, Imo recently. So how is he sure that his party is intact? The good thing about APC right now is that everything has been dissolved. So you are coming anew. Nobody has any right to sue anybody right now. Who are you suing? Are you suing the person that is no longer in office?

But Igo Aguma is still laying claims

People can put up actions, lay claims, but who do you sue? You have nobody to sue. If you are suing people, it is that party that was there before that you can refer. There are times that time alone takes everything off.


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