20th November, 2013
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State explains his fractious relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan to TheNEWS editors
In the last few months you have been under heavy artillery fire from Abuja and the party structure was also taken off you. Where does this leave you politically?
Nowhere. It was the judgment of a court. Whether right or wrong, only the Court of Appeal can say. With the little knowledge of the law that I have, you cannot take a matter affecting Rivers State to an Abuja high court. When we got to the High Court, we said it should decline jurisdiction because it doesn’t have it. But we were surprised when it assumed jurisdiction and the judge gave a similar judgment to one he had given for which the Supreme Court did warn him. If you read the judgement of Tafida versus Turaki, the Supreme Court admonished him. That judgement is similar to our own. The Supreme Court said he (the judge) cannot re-write the law and that no court has jurisdiction, both location and legal, on matters of that nature. What he should have done was send it back to Port Harcourt, where the case should have been heard. But the judge must have his reasons for doing that and only the Court of Appeal can say otherwise. In terms of political future, the PDP is not the only party in the country. There’s Accord Party, there’s African Renaissance Party, there’s the PRP and the UPN as well. You can always join any party of your choice. So, there’s nothing to worry about.
Does it mean that the meetings between the President and the G-7 governors have not yielded any fruit?
I don’t know. We have not settled. The way the PDP has been handling the matter with the office of the President or the President himself makes it look like we don’t have a choice; that you either take PDP or forget it. That means even when they chase us from the PDP, we cannot go anywhere else except to resign from politics. But there are so many choices available now; they can’t afford to be behaving that way. If they are behaving this way, you can imagine what will happen during the general elections.
Some people are expecting that during your helicopter ride with the President on Thursday, you must have had a one-on-one talk…
No, no, no.
So what did you discuss?
Nothing. It was a 10 or 15-minute flight from the airport to Okrika and I am the governor of the state. What usually happens is that by protocol, I would accompany him wherever he is going within the state. I accompanied him to Okrika and my colleague, the governor of Bayelsa State, was also in the helicopter as well as his son and his personal security team.
Your participation in the burial activities of the foster mother of Mrs. Patience Jonathan has suggested to some people that there is a bit let-up in the friction between the two of you. Is that the case?
I won’t go there. You know the President like I do. I’m not the aggressor here. I’m the victim. If you look at the crisis, you would know that the state is suffering, I am suffering. The wife of the President changed the Commissioner of Police by calling the Inspector-General and he was changed. She brought somebody that would do her bidding and that of her supporters and, I guess, the President’s supporters, too.
How did all these problems start?
I would attribute it to three things. The first was the attempt by the wife of the President to control the Rivers State government. I remember when female senators came to me after she met with them. She said to them: ‘I’m the highest ranking officer from Rivers State and I wonder why the governor of Rivers State does not accord me that respect.’ I said in law, I don’t see the office of the wife of the President being superior to that of the governor. So, there is that crisis where she wants to control the office of the governor and the government of Rivers State. The resistance is what you are seeing. That crisis took us to the point where she visited Rivers State and in order not to continue the crisis and be a good boy, I accompanied her on the tour of her community in order to show her what we had done in the community–the ring road, primary schools and the health centres we had built. At one of the primary schools, I said: ‘You can see that there are inhabitants around the primary school. What we are going to do is buy the houses around the school, demolish them and create a playing field like we have in Port Harcourt and other areas, so that we don’t have paedophiles assaulting the kids.’ I had hardly finished when she just took the microphone from me and started screaming that in her place, you don’t talk about demolition; you can’t buy any land, the land is of utmost importance to them and all that. So when she finished, I quietly walked to the bus, sat there, knowing at that point, my responsibility was over because I actually wasn’t supposed to accompany her on such a tour.
I had hardly finished when she just took the microphone from me and started screaming that in her place, you don’t talk about demolition; you can’t buy any land, the land is of utmost importance to them and all that. So when she finished, I quietly walked to the bus, sat there, knowing at that point, my responsibility was over because I actually wasn’t supposed to accompany her on such a tour.
Second is the fact that even on that tour, I didn’t know that she had privately organised a reception for herself without even telling me as the sitting governor. When we got to the venue, I quietly walked to a primary school and sat down there. When my wife came and wanted to sit down, I said: ‘No, you go. You are my wife and your job is to receive the wife of the President.’ I sat back. That’s where she was claiming that I beat up my wife. I wonder where I did that. I have never in life slapped a woman and will never slap a woman because I respect womanhood and women. I sent my wife back to go and sit with her because it was not my responsibility. And I was at the primary school when they completed the reception and then we went back to Port Harcourt. Then, she left for Abuja.
Then we got into this crisis of 2011, when the President wanted to run and I said I needed to see a lot of things. I needed to be assured that we wouldn’t have a multiplicity of presidents where we would have too many voices giving directives to so many people. So you have a situation where you have Oduah (Stella) as a president, seizing the aircraft of my state illegally. And when I called the President, he said: ‘I don’t even know. Nobody told me. OK. I would get back to you; let me find out what happened.” Till today, the President is yet to get back to me on the aircraft. You have the wife manipulating power, the Chief of Staff manipulating power, everybody doing one thing or the other. I wanted to make sure that I and the Rivers people are protected. I wasn’t convinced. But after some time, I had meetings with the President and we agreed to work together. Rivers State delivered 2.1 million votes.
Now, within that period, the President had called me and the wife and we sat together and made peace. There again, they promised that nobody would hurt me; nobody will do this and that. That is why this is a bit difficult, because there is nothing new they can tell me that they did not tell me in 2011 and they did not keep to that promise. I was in a meeting, it was just me, the President and his wife and all sorts of promises were made. They promised to protect me. We had hardly won the 2011 elections when the wife descended on me and the Rivers State government. Basically, the only way you can survive is if you then wake up in the morning to say, ‘Good morning, ma. My name is Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Rivers State. Do I greet this person or that person’ If she says no, then I don’t greet you. But if you need to run the office of the governor the way it is supposed to be run, then you would certainly have a disagreement with the wife of the President. It is about power and control. She appears to be somebody who loves power.
How about your role at the Governors’ Forum?
I also told him that I thought I was the youngest governor in Nigeria and therefore can’t be manipulating the 35 other governors, who are members of the forum. There’s nothing he said I said that was not part of what the governors asked me to say. In fact, that’s how the six other governors in PDP and the 11 governors in the APC voted along with me, because their argument is simple: ‘Is there anything the President is accusing Governor Amaechi of that we did not ask him to say?’ I read communiqués and I say what the governors want me to say at meetings and in public. And then, the President now holds it against me and then gets other governors to work for him.
Basically, when the President tried to manage the Governors’ Forum and it was not possible, I think they advised him to either annihilate or dismember the forum. So they went for it. The day we were to hold the Governors’ Forum election, you know we tried it three times. When they saw they were going to lose, they tried to disrupt it. The last time, they couldn’t because we didn’t give them the chance to call the President or his wife. Akpabio was in the habit of stepping out to call the wife of the President or call on the President and they would say: ‘Don’t allow the voting to take place. Disrupt the voting.’ This time, there was no chance for anybody to call because we disabled telephone conversations in that area. When I say we, we made sure, as a people, that if you were coming with your phone, you would not be allowed to use it in the compound.
So the President was aware?
They were in contact. In fact, we had hardly finished the election when they called the President and told him I had been defeated.
How about the ceding of oil wells?
Yes, it is part of the problem. They took about 41 oil wells from us to Abia and took the whole of Soku to Bayelsa and as governor of Rivers State, I have the responsibility to protect the Rivers wells and the Rivers people. So the whole Soku oil wells in the Kalabari area and the 41 oil wells were given to our neighbours and we didn’t have a choice but to respond.
”I was in a meeting, it was just me, the President and his wife and all sorts of promises were made. They promised to protect me. We had hardly won the 2011 elections when the wife descended on me and the Rivers State government. Basically, the only way you can survive is if you then wake up in the morning to say, ‘Good morning, ma. My name is Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Rivers State. Do I greet this person or that person’ If she says no, then I don’t greet you. But if you need to run the office of the governor the way it is supposed to be run, then you would certainly have a disagreement with the wife of the President. It is about power and control. She appears to be somebody who loves power.”
So it is not about me. The G-7 governors are not fighting for their own interests. It is about Nigeria. We are asking about the issues of corruption, we are asking about the issues of mismanagement of Nigerian resources. Why should Nigeria be as poor as we are? In 1970 when I was barely six years old, poverty index in Nigeria was 30 per cent. The other day I said in a meeting that the poverty index was 70 per cent and the Minister of Finance said no, it is 68 per cent. I asked what is the difference between 68 per cent and 70. I tell people every time that I act like a prophet in the country. You know when they introduced the amnesty programme for militants, I opposed it and said: ‘Deal with criminals, punish criminals and don’t give them amnesty.’ They insisted that they would give them amnesty and I said if they were given, other communities would demand for it. What you call amnesty is another way of distributing wealth among some criminals. And today, a part of the proposed resolution of the Boko Haram problem is amnesty. So when they finish, the MASSOB will demand amnesty and OPC will also demand amnesty.
The same way, months ago, I said the country is broke even though we are careful not to use the word ‘broke’. The Governors’ Forum said the country was broke and that if the Minister of Finance cannot manage the economy she should resign. Oh! She said: ‘I dey kampe; the economy is working.’ But a few days ago they came out to say the country is cash-strapped. I asked an economist what it means and he said it means the the country can’t fund its expenditure. So, if you can’t fund your expenditure, what does it mean? We are broke. It is difficult to pay salaries now. I have never paid salaries on the 30th before. This is the first month I am paying salaries on the 30th.
My colleague, the governor of Benue State, told me that teachers are on strike in his state because of salary. And you would see more in the next few months. The country is broke. The amount of money being stolen is enough to run the economy. They set aside 455,000 barrels per day for local refining. We don’t refine in Nigeria. Crude is refined overseas, brought back to Nigeria and then we pay subsidy on it.
Is that the racket going on there?
It is the racket.
Your account of your problem with the President is different; the widespread belief that it is 2015…
I have not spoken. We are awaiting when we would either officially leave the PDP or return to PDP. If we leave the PDP, then we would speak. I will speak because nobody knows what is going on. The day I will leave the party, I will tell people what the real issues are. Who knows if part of the issues is the fact that we are complaining about no jobs, no contracts and no projects in Rivers State and we gave you the highest number of votes? I have challenged the President on this and I even said it yesterday when I was flying with the Vice-President back to the airport. I asked the pilot to go on the left and told the Vice-President: ‘Please, see the East-West Road; no work is going on.’ I showed him the federal roads we have fixed. I don’t know if you saw the advert they published, sponsored by the Federal Government, that I had received N1.2 trillion in six years. I said, I thank God because some of their useless supporters had been carrying rumour that I was given over N3 trillion for six years. Though they didn’t use their name, the Federal Government tabulated it and published N1.2 trillion. No need to argue. Let us assume it is true. We have spent a total of N405 billion on roads belonging to the Federal Government out of the total N500 billion. This means 10 per cent of the N1.2 trillion is spent on behalf of the Federal Government. They should at least return it so we can tell the state: ‘See the N405 billion.’ How did we respond? We said this is Contractor A, the name is this, this is the project and this is the cost; let the contractor deny. This project is owned by the Federal Government, awarded by the Rivers State Government, this is the cost, this is the contractor, this is the current position of either completion or non-completion. There are two interchanges we did on a federal road. If you are going to Aba, there is Eleme Junction that used to cause traffic gridlock. We untied that gridlock by building an interchange and we put the money there. It was done by Julius Berger. Let Julius Berger deny.
Another gridlock is in the area they call Obirikwe in UNIPORT, the one we showed when the Niger Delta Minister was saying we’ve done nothing on that road. We also showed it and how much it cost. We gave it to Gito (Construzioni) and the President knows Gito. From Rivers State to Owerri, we built our road down to the boundary while the Federal Government is doing the one from Imo State to our boundary. Even that one, they have not finished. We have finished our own and are only installing the streetlights. We named such projects one after the other. So if they say N1.2 trillion, we have shown that N105 billion is the return we are expecting from the Federal Government. We are coming up sector by sector now. We would soon start commissioning 300 primary schools. Out of the 750 schools we promised, we have been able to complete 500 but we have furnished 300. The Federal Government is celebrating 86 almajiri schools.
There is this general impression that governors are active during their first terms, commissioning projects here and there, but their second terms are usually characterised by a lull…
People create that in your mind. We don’t even believe in commissioning. Why we are doing this now is because the Federal Government, using a pseudonym, has written to say they have given us N1.2 trillion. We are doing N112 millon per school in the mainland. In the coastal area, we are doing N120m. Multiply it by 500 and you would know the figure. We are commissioning 300 for you to see and that is despite the cost of furnishing.
In our first term, we commissioned 60 health centres. Again, it was noise by our opponents that made us go to commission those projects. We did 60, 60, 60, 60. Sixty health centres in 60 days, furnished them and commissioned them the same day to show the people that these projects are already on ground. If you are making noise that we are not completing projects, we will do 60 health centres in 60 days. On day one, one health centre. We named a doctor and pharmacists employed by us to man the health centres. So we built 60 health centres in 60 days in 60 communities. That was what we did in our first term. Now, we will start 70 health centres in 70 days. So which is bigger, first term or second term?
I told you we are commissioning 300 schools out of the 500 we have completed. We will commission more roads, rural and urban. We will show you our power project. We are the only state that is self-sufficient in power. They are recording 15 to 18 hours power supply in Rivers State, but we think that’s not enough because we are coming up with 24-hour power supply. For distribution, we are doing 28 injection sub-stations. That’s what you people call transformers. We have awarded 2,000. We are going to install all of them on the streets to regularise power. The President did lay the foundation stone for a 180 megawatts power project. We have completed it and it’s supplying. We have a total of 545 megawatts of power. We have another 180 megawatts project that the foundation will soon be laid. They have finished the civil works and we’re waiting for the generator to arrive so that they can install. By next May, we would have commissioned that to get us to 750 megawatts. We are the only state with our own transmission line. So, when somebody asks what you are doing with the money, you can imagine what we are doing with the money.
They have also forgotten that when I came, our wage bill was N2.5 billion and I was then very proud to say that 20 per cent of my budget goes for recurrent. But I realised that you need manpower to work. There were only 200 doctors when I arrived, now they are 600. When you go to hospitals, you see women lying on the ground. Who are they? They are relations to the patients. Why are they lying there? Because there are no nurses to take care of the patients. Untrained women and men became nurses in the hospitals. Now, once you gain admission into any of the nursing schools that we have, you became an automatic staff of the government and once you finish, you just walk in. We start paying you from when you are a student. Now, we are building a nursing school where, instead of the 50 we are admitting, we are now going to admit 500. I don’t know what else they want us to do.
I don’t know how many states have built the number of flyovers that we have built. We are targeting 15 by the time we leave office. They are there for people to see. I have told you about the two interchanges we have built. There is another flyover. That makes it three. In the new city, we are building an interchange already. The road we are building is 10 kilometres long, with three flyovers. The ones we have not completed include the interchange on the road we are building close to the airport. We have not completed the three we intend to award on Peter Odili Road. But at the end of Peter Odili Road, there is one we have completed. So when people ask what I do with money, I just wonder. I was talking to my commissioners while we were coming here. I said what worries me is that people should learn how to know that once the money comes, I send all out before I remember that we have to feed in Government House.
And please, ask any of the commissioners. I am not among the governors that would ask the Commissioner of Finance to let me see how much they brought. Right there, in the cabinet I ask how much has been brought. He’d say N18 billion. I’d ask if they have paid salaries. He’d say no. I will tell him to deduct salaries, give the Ministry of Health this, give the Ministry of Works this. I say this openly and I leave. The distribution is done right there at the Exco meeting. How many governors do that? For some, anywhere they are going, they go along with their Commissioner for Finance. I don’t see my Commissioner for Finance. Instead, I go with my Attorney-General in case there is trouble. Ask my commissioners. You can’t say all of them are loyal to me. At least, the President nominated one of them. So, you should go and ask that person how we distribute it and he would tell you.
In terms of employment creation, what has your government done?
Quite a lot. I don’t know if you knew about Risonplam Nigeria Ltd. It was moribund, dead and buried. They asked me to bring money to be put there to revive it and I said no. They have always put money there; people saw it as a democratic dividend and they were treating it as such. I said I won’t put money there. So I got an investor, who put in N20 billion. He’s going to cut down the palm trees very soon and replant. Now, they are milling. The mill was dead and buried. He had to bring in a new mill and now he has employed 5,000 workers. We have a farm called the Shongai Farm. Take your time and visit the place.
Your critics have accused you of thinking that the indigenes of the community where you have established a banana plantation are monkeys.
Can’t you reply them? It is an integrated farm, which starts from primary cropping, including banana farm, mango farm, soya beans, maize, rice, fish farm and they breed porcupines. They also have a piggery, snails, a lake with a thousand fish species and you have free-range chickens. You also have the ones in cages. Then you have the eco-agro tourism, a guest house, chalets, communication centre and all that.
Then you have the banana farm. And then I ask, how many Nigerians actually eat banana? So we called an investor to come and invest; he has 60 per cent of the investment and we have 40. Go there, everyday they employ; for every 250 hectares, they employ 500 workers. And they are doing 2,000 hectares and employing 4,000. So when you say critics, who are the critics? It shows they are not even mature, because if they are they would not be saying what they are saying.
They threatened to destroy it…
They should go and destroy it and we will take them to court. Ordinarily, we would have used police to stop them, but like you know, the wife of the President is in charge of the police. They hold security council meetings at Otuoke. So if they do that, we would take them to court. That is the private investment of an individual. You want to destroy it when it is employing your own people? The major reason for setting it up is because we are trying to stop kidnapping. The rate of kidnapping in Ogoni was very high. We had to introduce farming in Ogoni to enable us accommodate the unskilled boys that had gone into kidnapping. Since we did it, they should tell us the rate of kidnapping in Ogoni. It’s reduced tremendously. All these people talking to you now could not come home then. They are all Abuja-based politicians. They couldn’t come until we made the community comfortable for everybody. We did that not by policing. How many policemen do you have in Rivers State? We knew that physical policing must go with social policing, just like I tell people when they say I should reconcile with the President. I ask: Reconcile what? To reconcile with the President, you must deal with social justice. If you don’t deal with social justice, you can’t deal with peace.
We told ourselves that if we need to deal with crime, then we need to deal with the poverty. If you don’t deal with poverty, then you can’t deal with crime. Remember, man must find something to eat. We have those who farm in Ogoni. We had to borrow money from the CBN, the money that the late Yar’Adua set aside for commercial agriculture. We borrowed between N5 billion and N6 billion. We completed the fish farm in Buguma, where the people from Thailand came to commission and they were kidnapped. And it wasn’t happening when we were in charge of security. Both the President and his wife do not care about the lives of our people. If they do, why remove the Commissioner of Police that we had in place? From 2010, have you heard of the kidnapping of a priest? But they kidnapped Archbishop Kattey. They don’t care.
So, to deal with all that, we had to deal with the issue of fish farming in those areas. We are now doing one in my village. The one in Buguma has been completed. We are thinking of doing one in Okrika.
We used to have what they call Superboard. This used to be a departmental store, which was abandoned since the 1970s, meaning it’s been there for 40 years. We leased it out to Spar. They would complete it before December and we would have a mall in this place.
I have not heard my critics accuse me of corruption, but I am accusing them of corruption. I kept quiet for too long, but I felt we were beginning to give them the opportunity to make too much noise. The last time I spoke, I said the problem of this business is that everybody here is a thief. If you say you are not a thief, you should come out, show me the house that I have built and I would show them the number of houses that they have. I was Speaker for eight years; they were among the people begging me: ‘Please, build a house.’ I would show you the video of what they have said about me. They would tell you that eight years as Speaker, I had no house; six years as governor, they were begging: ‘Build a house.’ But these people buy houses overseas, Nigeria and everywhere.
I have always asked if we must die in government. All of us are graduates. Must we die as politicians? I would give you an example. Chibudom Nwuche is a lawyer; let him practise his law. I have given him contracts to build two schools. Let him show evidence that he has completed them. He was Deputy Speaker, he couldn’t ensure that the road to his village was built. I am building a road to his village. When I was Speaker, he was Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. I got the governor to build a road to my village. Why couldn’t he get the governor or the President to do same for his village? He claims he is better educated than I am. I have a Master’s in Literature, he has a Master’s in Law. How is he better educated?
When I leave office, I would go somewhere and work. I won’t be hanging around, following the President, Vice-President, wife of President, wearing muffler and screaming: ‘Yes ma.’ I won’t do that. I would give the office of the governor the dignity it deserves. And one thing I promised before I became a governor was that I would make the office of the governor as common and as ordinary as possible. I have done that. I started by driving myself, going to restaurants when I am hungry. If I am on a field inspecting projects and I get hungry, I won’t run back to the Government House. No way! I stop at any nearby restaurant and eat the food like every other Nigerian. The security express their fears that my food can be poisoned, but I tell them that if I’m destined to die by that means, too bad. Now, you can see the governor, you can feel the governor, you can sue the governor, you can abuse the governor. I have warned them that if they arrest anybody for abusing me, I will come after them because I have my own mouth to reply the person.
“I have not heard my critics accuse me of corruption, but I am accusing them of corruption. I kept quiet for too long, but I felt we were beginning to give them the opportunity to make too much noise. The last time I spoke, I said the problem of this business is that everybody here is a thief. If you say you are not a thief, you should come out, show me the house that I have built and I would show them the number of houses that they have. I was Speaker for eight years; they were among the people begging me: ‘Please, build a house.’ I would show you the video of what they have said about me. They would tell you that eight years as Speaker, I had no house; six years as governor, they were begging: ‘Build a house.’ But these people buy houses overseas, Nigeria and everywhere.”
What do you make of constitutional immunity?
Those who would take you to court won’t be the ordinary persons. It is the person you refuse to give contract to. They are people who will accuse you of not running an inclusive government. What is government of inclusion? You pressmen should open this debate. Let them define what inclusion is. So, inclusion is you have served under Rufus Ada George, under Dr. Odili, and you must also serve under me? I’m younger than you. Chibudom is older than me; I am 48. Austin Okpara is older than me. Call them, they are all older than me. The only person I am older than is the Minister of State for Education. So you are happy to serve under me? It is ridiculous. When you say this thing, they say he is an arrogant man. What makes them call me arrogant is because I speak my mind. That’s unfortunate and I will continue to do that until I die. So if you go to rallies and you abuse the governor, I won’t abuse you. I would just say I have served for six to seven years, have I been able to deliver to you? Did I promise you primary school? Did I promise you secondary school? I built one of the best secondary schools in Nigeria and I’m ready for the competition with any school in Nigeria, both private and public.
I have visited some of the schools and they are even enough for some governors to call their signature projects.
They call them universities. My school is N4.5 billion. There is a state governor who told me he built his university for N4 billion. But my secondary schools? N4.5 billion. Twelve hostels, two children per room, toilet, bathroom, everything inside.
But there are criticisms over their management by Indians
The ones you’ve given to Nigerians, how well have they managed it? I didn’t say Nigerians are not good at managing. I’m saying that because we have no mechanism to stop corruption, when you hand the school over, the headmaster may mean well, but the teachers may not mean well. There are so many Nigerians that are not corrupt and by far they outnumber those of us who are corrupt. Don’t forget that if we are 160 million Nigerians, there are not up to 10 million Nigerians that are corrupt. The rest are not. So what am I saying? Protect the 150 million. It was a competition open to everybody, both Nigerians and non-Nigerians and the Indians emerged.
There are so many Nigerians that have been in government and have not come close to corruption. They watch those of us who are young stealing the country blind. You read Lawal Kaita. Though I don’t agree with him when he said South-south was stealing the country blind because I am from the South-south, Professor Tam David-West is from the South-south and not corrupt, Justice Karibi-Whyte is from the South-south and we are not corrupt. He is not right to say South-south is stealing the country blind.
In one of the schools under Indian management, students were said to have protested because the managers of the school denied them their freedom of worship.
No, it is not true. There was no protest. Somebody is peddling a rumour. The only thing you can say that we have heard there is that the teachers are protesting that they are not being paid the same salary as the state government. And I say we are paying the highest in the country. Our workforce is 45,000 and they are earning N8.9 billion. That’s because my predecessor, my former boss, was quite generous. We pay higher than the Federal Government does. They want them to pay as we are paying and the people running the schools are saying no, they will meet the minimum wage. So there is no protest whatsoever. I’m the governor of Rivers State and I have not heard of any protest. The Commissioner for Education would react immediately. We don’t stop them from worship, they bring a priest to come and worship with them every Sunday. People just say all sorts of things to make sure we send the Indians away. We are expanding. We are going to commission six schools before December. They will manage it. It is just that they are expensive. People ask us how the new governor would manage when we are out of office. Each school is N800 million per year to manage, pay the teachers, run the school, buy uniforms for the children, buy computers, feed them and maintain the entire structure. By the time you open six, N800 million multiplied by six a year, we are in trouble. But it is good because, basically, you are giving the rich and the poor the opportunity to school together because it is free and each state has two opportunities to bring their children. Then, Rivers State will take the rest. Free. Just pass the exams and then, we take the best two from each state. After that, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta will take the remaining 300.
What would regard as your biggest achievement?
I don’t know. Believe me. My biggest achievement is just being free. It baffles the world that I am free. Your boss saw me and said: ‘You are looking relaxed.’ And I said that is the way God created me. I can just sleep off on this seat even after I hear that they are burning somewhere. I don’t let things perturb me. But in terms of my greatest achievement, I don’t know. Some say education, others say other things. It depends on what you like. Go to our hospitals, they are the best in Africa. I’m not saying in Nigeria. We have the best dental centre. I dare you to visit.
What makes it best?
The infrastructure is managed by an American firm with American doctors. Come and see. The Minister of Health came to see it and there he declared me their Oral Health Ambassador. He said they’d never seen anything like that before. They’ve been referring patients. One week after, we went to him to sign an MoU between us and the Federal Government for an uptake of N500 million meant for the syringe factory we are setting up. The factory will produce one billion syringes per year instead of the useless syringe they import from India. The Federal Government declined. What was the issue? I am quarrelling with the President.
Take the case of the helicopters. The President approved. Everybody approved that we should go and buy helicopters that would identify oil thieves. We paid. But when it was time to bring them in, the Minister of Aviation said we could not. Why are they crying about oil theft if you can do that? The helicopters won’t be run by the Rivers State Government. The army, air force, navy, police and SSS would have the monitor and the Government House would have the monitor. Everybody would be watching. So if they are flying, their own is just to fly and take photographs. They fly 24 hours and if they are flying and they see somebody stealing oil, then they would tell the nearest command to stop them and they would be stopped.
There was another equipment the President approved for us to buy from America. It is capable of identifying a kidnapper and where he has kept his victim. We paid N4 billion. Time to install, the President stopped it. They think they are hurting me, but it is the country they are hurting. What is our business with the helicopters? The Federal Government has the responsibility, since it controls the police, to protect me. They’ve been taking my policemen one after the other. The day I realise that I don’t have the manpower, I would start shouting to the world that they want to kill me. They have that responsibility.
So, if you bring in the helicopter, how does it affect me? In fact, I should worry because, actually, it would fly across my house. My privacy may also be compromised. You can even benefit from it by including Delta and Bayelsa. Set up a command-and-control that will also notify Delta or Bayelsa of oil theft going on. If there is no collusion between the Minister of Aviation and those who steal oil, why is she stopping the helicopters from coming in? And what is her gain in stopping the helicopters from coming in? When you see all these things, you actually ask yourself where we are heading to as a country.
The Federal Government just voted N15 billion to catch oil thieves…
We paid $30 million for these helicopters. How much is that?
Not up to N5 billion
Okay, that’s what we paid. So you should be speaking with the Rivers State Government. What we demanded of Shell and other oil companies was just maintenance. We said don’t pay for the cost of importing it, just maintain and operate. We had concluded negotiations with the oil companies on that when Stella (Oduah), possibly in collusion with those who are stealing the oil, refused to allow bring them in. Now we are paying $1 million as tax where the helicopter has been parked for more than one year. Ask yourself, what kind of country or government we have that thinks if you disagree with the President, then the country should suffe? The country would have benefited from the helicopters.
How about your government’s Bombardier?
For six months, it is still on ground. It is now time to go court and they will disobey court orders. They disobeyed the court when it said they should vacate Obi/Akpor Local Government Secretariat. The police refused. We are back to the Abacha era.
What is the situation regarding the banana plantation?
It is still there.
Are you going ahead with it?
We’ve gone far. We’ve done 500 hectares; we are going to 600. We are going ahead. It has actually been in operation and they are about to start exporting.
How much success has your government achieved in your attempt to decongest the city of Port Harcourt?
We are trying to build a new city. It is quite expensive, but we are trying. I told you that there is a road we are building that has one interchange and about three flyovers. We are providing the necessary infrastructure. We will sell the land; we will not build. But as much as possible, we will try to provide mass housing in some areas for the poor people or the less privileged in the society.
Are there mechanisms your government is putting in place for your successor to continue the work?
You are turning me into God. Who becomes the next governor of Rivers State? We don’t know. Only God can decide. I am praying that God’s choice should be one–God doesn’t make mistakes–that can continue from where I stop and even have greater vision. Honestly, I am exhausted. I have no new idea as governor. I am implementing the ones I have.
Are you jaded because of the fire coming from Abuja or the demands of your job?
Oh, please! Do I look like somebody who is worried? It is just that it gets to a point where you ask: what is it that I want to offer that is new other than to complete what we started? Maybe you will need somebody after I have left who would have better vision. For instance, nobody gave me the vision to buy helicopters. If you buy helicopters and you are able to monitor the activities of kidnappers, the vision is once you make Port Harcourt safe, business will naturally come on its own. Once you supply Port Harcourt with power to reduce the cost of production, people will move towards Rivers State. See what the Federal Government is doing, which makes me laugh. When I look at the Minister of Finance, who is supposed to have this global stature. We get a World Bank facility of $100 million and another from the African Development Bank of $200 million. They refused to allow us to draw down. The Federal Government must approve the drawing down, but till today, it has not. What was the money meant for? To supply Rivers people with water. So they are glad that our people are dying of cholera just because we are clamouring for the progress of Nigeria.
You said something about Rivers State being the first to start its transmission line. In the new arrangement, does it get affected?
What is important is that we have it because we need it to be able to transport our power. You can’t say because the Federal Government would own it – it can own it – it doesn’t matter. If we didn’t build transmission lines, how would you have transported the power after they might have completed the process of generation? So we are the only state now that has this capacity. This transmission capacity and distribution capacity, all owned by the Rivers State Government. This is in response to those who say we should account for the N1.2 trillion. For all these projects, we can point to. Look at the stadium we built. Luckily, when I was flying over with the President, he said: ‘Oh! Look at the stadium; I came to lay the foundation.’ I said: ‘Yes sir.’ When the President commissioned it, it was supposed to be a 26,000 seater. Now, it has a capacity of 40,000. That was a virgin land. Now, it is housing two swimming pools, two diving pools, hockey field, basketball court, tennis courts, handball and squash courts and so on. There is the athletics facility, which has a capacity to seat 5,000 people. You can convert it to a football field. Even at that, we still have a full stadium of 40,000 capacity, two practice pitches.
There was a scare about your personal safety recently. Are you now comfortable with Joseph Mbu as Commissioner of Police?
No, no, no. One thing I have decided to do is to come to terms with the fact that the President does not want to remove him. The elections of 2015 are being projected through Mbu. What they would do in other states is what Mbu is doing now in Rivers State. If you think they will remove Mbu, you are wasting your time because he is doing what he was sent to do. But it is important for the Federal Government to know that they have a responsibility to protect my life. What I have done is send my wife and my family away, just like we were in Ghana. My wife comes in, goes out, because her own life is not safe. My children? They are not safe. For me, I can sit down in the house. We are almost like prisoners because our lives are being targeted.
So what are you doing about that?
There’s nothing I can do now other than to commit suicide. Absolutely nothing. We’ve talked about state police and you people shot it down. When the former governor of Bayelsa State started something like that, the President sent soldiers to chase them away. Why start what you know that the President would send soldiers to chase away? Remember the Federal Government has an objective. I’m careful with the words I use here, but I’m just saying if they want to manipulate elections in Rivers State, they won’t mind how many persons die. What you do as a governor, who is thinking for your people, is not to put their lives in danger because nobody cares.
We [the media] didn’t shoot down the agitation for state police…
The President did. But if you’d given it the necessary support, we would be somewhere. In my private discussion with the President when he took over power in 2011, he supported the state police. Even in a recent private discussion between us, he said he doesn’t mind having state police. But later, he started saying the issue is management. Then I asked how they’ve been managing the federal police.
Criticisms have greeted the proposed National Dialogue. Don’t you see it as an opportunity to discuss state police, fiscal federalism and other sore issues?
It is not. Go to 2005. There is nothing we will discuss now that we did not discuss there. Tell me what we are going to discuss now that we didn’t discuss before. Okay, birth control?
You said that Abuja doesn’t bother, but you also said how painful it has been to govern the state…
When I say it doesn’t worry me, it means I sleep soundly. That’s what I mean by it doesn’t worry me. But whether it affected governance, yes, it has. When a man that was arraigned before a court of law, who was a police boy called Evans Bipi, can order the Commissioner of Police, can call him on the phone–you saw it on Youtube– and say: ‘Your boys are disturbing us here oh,’ and you see the commissioner of police withdraw the boys, then you know things are not right. And then you hear him say: ‘Oh! My reason for fighting is because they are insulting my mother, my Jesus Christ.’ I am a Christian, I don’t know another Jesus Christ.
These days you read in the papers about some quasi-militant groups saying that they would make the state ungovernable.
They can say all that because they are working with the President. When Yar’Adua was alive, would they say that? We ran everybody out of town because we thought it is not a place for criminals. Criminals, not militants, are saying that. You see why I say the Federal Government is opposed to state police? They use the federal police and they use the militants.
Many have criticised you over your disagreement with the President, given that you are from the same geo-political zone. Are you worried about this?
I’m not. I’m a Nigerian. I’m a Rivers man. The South-south geo-political zone has an interest and I want to know if the President has covered that interest; and that includes my interest and the interest of the Nigerian people. It does not include the fact that they would take oil wells from the Rivers people. Does it? It does not include the fact that Rivers State would not have any project.
Isn’t it frustrating watching the people you are fighting for unwilling to rise in their own defence?
Sometimes, you look at the situation and ask why can’t Nigerians, for once, fight for themselves? Can we just be clapping for anything that goes on? Before, it was the government that said there was no corruption. Now, the government is saying the corruption is enormous and horrendous. It means the kind of stealing going on is with impunity. People now buy houses, take their official cars with sirens to inspect the houses. Something is wrong.
One of the issues the President has with me was my speech to World Bank, in which I accused the World Bank of colluding with Nigerians to promote corruption. The World Bank asked how. I said: ‘You are about to give us a $1 billion loan.’ They said yes. I said, if you teach us how to stop the stealing of oil subsidy, which is N2.3 trillion, we won’t need your $1 billion. In 2010, oil subsidy was N300 billion. What accounted for the 1,000 per cent jump in subsidy payments in 2011? It was N300 billion in 2010 when Yar’Adua was alive. In 2011, it became N2.3 trillion. I asked that question. Then the President said I left the country to accuse Nigeria of corruption.