Rivers State governorship candidate of the Labour Party and embattled chairperson of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Rivers State Council, Comrade Beatrice Itubo, played host to the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO Rivers State Branch, on Tuesday, June 23, 2022, at the secretariat of the Medical and Dental Union in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. She spoke on wide ranging issues including the burden of a factionalised Labour Congress, standing up to the Nyesom Wike government for the payment of monthly pensions and gratuities to retirees in the state and being the only woman in the race to Brick House 2023, among other issues. National Point’s Clifford Solomon and Blessing Horsfall bring us excerpts from the encounter.
On the bitter divide within the labour fold
“We are broken at times just because we are a lone voice. Just as CLO pointed out that there are some certain things NLC ought to fight for but, what happened was that, there is a disconnect between labour and other civil society and the masses will say, they are on their own and NLC will start negotiating with government for palliative so that their suffering can be alleviated, which is not supposed to be. We are supposed to be the watch dog and if all of us keep quiet, then the suffering masses, who will speak for them? So, when this #ENDSARS# came, I saw a reawakening in Nigeria and that is exactly what is happening with the Peter Obi movement. There is a kind of wave that is coming in 2023, something is going to happen in this country.
The Labour party governorship candidate said, “I’m a very civil person. Those who have been following me on radio programmes, I usually talk to people with utmost respect, but that does not mean I won’t drive my point. I don’t need to degrade you to drive home my demand. Even with the utmost respect, I can still tell you what I want to tell you. For instance, if I say pay workers their gratuity, is that an insult? You have not promoted workers, promote them, is that an abuse? You don’t employ and the system is empty, is that an abuse? Go to communities, even in my small community, I am contributing money to employ graduates to join and teaching in school, schools have one principal and one teacher all over the state.”
She advocates cutting down on frivolous expenditure and put these monies into the system and queries, is that too much to ask? And so we became enemies of government because we must say what we ought to say.
Like CLO talked about good governance, how many years have we not seen Rivers State budget? We are now governed with impulse. If I enter Rumuoghalu, I say okay, I want to build flyover here, is that how they govern a people? No! There is a procedure to everything, that is why I am saying we should begin to look at people’s credentials.
I have lamented for the seven years of this administration, I am not talking of other administrations at the front burner. What I have seen, I couldn’t have imagined that people who are conscious, people that are tutored are just killing the state. So far as I’m concerned, Rivers State is in a state of comatose. We are talking about Abuja, what is happening at least Abuja, they are still paying gratuity. At least the National can get up and call the president that this thing you are doing is wrong, but in Rivers State who dares that?
I was told that I don’t know that before the State House of Assembly sits, they show the governor the items they want to discuss, he strikes out some and approves that one he likes before they deliberate on any issue.
On the motivation for her candidacy.
“On this governorship race, initially we were to embark on a strike on issues that are bothering workers in the state. How can you explain to somebody who has put in 35 youthful years, when you are vibrant you are serving your state and when you retire, the chief executive will say, ‘Go and die’ that is what Governor Wike told me in Government House; I am not saying what he didn’t say, I have witnesses; we went there to discuss the plight of retirees. After explaining, he said why didn’t they save money when they were working and I replied, His Excellency Sir, how much is the salary of a worker and he replied back,’then they should go and die.”
It may be a joke, but as the chief executive officer, you don’t just say anything. Your word is law. Since then, I hate his policies. Like in the United State, President Joe Biden just now that he was sworn-in as the president of USA, has created millions of jobs, but here in Nigeria, they are saying our youths are lazy nobody even cares to give them the opportunity before they say they are lazy or to know their effectiveness. Rather, our leaders are busy thinking of how to steal money and engage in primitive accumulation of wealth and it is based on this, the workers in the state are saying, Chairman go and contest, this lamentation is enough. Let us see how we have a paradigm shift. For instance, I enjoyed scholarship, but today, there is nothing like scholarship in Rivers State. No bursary for indigent students. Parents will struggle to send their children to school and when they graduate they came back and become a liability to them because there is no job. Nigeria is no longer what you know, but who you know and if we continue like this, we are seating on a keg of gun powder and one day, it will explode and frustration can make citizens to go into revolution. I tell you, if somebody who has schooled goes into crime, it will be scientific and sophisticated. That is why we have decided to contest the election. Also Brick House is not anybody’s birthright. All of us are Nigerians and Rivers people.
On being in the race as a woman
Nobody is more Rivers than the other, you can aspire for anything, so long as you have the requisite qualification. As for being a woman, I see it as an added advantage, I don’t see it as a disadvantage because as I am now, nobody can intimate me. We are not going into a physical fight, but even if we are to fight why do I have teeth? Laughter! And so I am not somebody that is easily intimidated and I don’t know what they call fear. It is not in my dictionary. I respect people but I don’t know what they call fear, because I see you that you are created by God, just as I am created by God. It is only opportunity that kept you where you are and if I have the opportunity you have, I will do better than you. She promised to play politics with all manner of civility.
“For me, I don’t call other candidates opponents, I call them my co-contestants for is a better Rivers State we crave for and not to see ourselves as enemies, we should not be where we are as a state.” Just as Jonathan would say, “I have no enemy to fight”, the only enemy are those subjecting others to slavery and we are saying no, to that and we have come to emancipate the people and fix Nigeria and the state. I will like to bring that era of god-fatherism to an end. Nobody is sponsoring me, and any moment from now, we will float a site where people can make donations to use for campaigns. We don’t need to spend too much money, Let them bring it. What the people need to do when they bring the money, eat the money because it is our money don’t tell them not to collect, they should collect because it is our money and do the right thing. When we have the right people in power, they will come and thrive and government should consciously create jobs because government is the highest employer of labour.
On the NLC crisis, lock up of the NLC Secretariat
Come to look at it, the land the building is, belongs to NLC. The government just merely assisted the union in building it and the funds, the government used for the building is tax payers monies, So for now, we are just waiting for the National body to give us signal and as for other officials, they are using against me, I have that accommodating heart , when we met at State Administrative Council, SAC and State Executive Council, SEC levels, the union said they should be suspended, I was the one who halted their suspension. They went further to bring in the Civil Defence to seal-off -the secretariat, the Nigeria police is now telling us that it is wrong for Civil Defence to lock our secretariat, So, Police has chased Civil Defence and has taken over.
Why the Labour fold is deeply ruptured
“My offence is, Beatrice Itubo has refused to meet Rivers state government to give union money. We were elected seven years, we have not changed cars and I replied that that is not the reason I came here, I came to represent workers. These same people came to me later last year that I should sell NLC property at Trans Amadi, the same three that have taken me to court now, and I asked them, why? So, what you want me as a leader is to sell NLC properties and collect money from government to share and I told them, I won’t do it. When I leave office and you take over, you can sell the property. So, all these grudges is because I refused to go their way. Also, those who commissioned them have given them N10 to N20 million and they stated running helter skelter, but, I am not moved. I don’t have money but money is not everything. My good name is important to me. For your information, I am one labour leader that no worker has accused of embezzling money. You know when you work with a very wicked administration, if you are not very careful, as a labour leader, you will have problems with the administration and also have problems with the workers as all they want to hear is that money has come from government. And from the government angle, if you don’t dance to their tune, they will want to crush you and tell stories about you, but God has been faithful to me because no matter their antics, I am on the right side of history.”
“So, let everyone go and register, get their permanent voters card, PVC and in doing that, people should be civil as I don’t support hooliganism at all,”