ROTIMI AMAECHI 2015 will be referendum on Jonathan’s government
Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, like most second term governors is on the last lap ahead handing over to a successor in 2015. That run-in promises to be turbulent and exihilirating given his political battles on several fronts. But despite the formidable nature of foes confronting him, he is confident that he can realise his policy and development targets in the time left, and, along with his colleagues, lead his party – the All Progressives Congresses (APC) to capture power at the centre and retain his power base in Rivers State. He spoke with Festus Eriye and Taiwo Ogundipe.
YOU are virtually on your last lap now, what are your priorities now that you are winding down?
Education, power, health and the environment. We are reviewing our contributions in education. We are looking at the possibility of the construction of a new university which has been in the pipeline for a long time. We are furnishing about 300 primary schools out of the 500 that have been completed. When that is concluded, we can now look at how we can furnish the remaining 200.
It is like you are trying to do a couple of new things. Coming into town, we noticed one of your major projects is the rail. Is the project likely to be completed before you leave office?
I will ride of that train before I leave. It is almost completed. It is not the rail neither is it the coaches that is the problem but we are expanding the terminal. The terminal was meant for just two trains, now we are expanding to five because we are buying more trains so that they can carry more passengers.
So much fuss has been made about states not getting as much as they used to get. We know that your state has complained about that.
We started from N20billion to N13billion; the basic reason is financial diversion from NNPC. The level of corruption there is very high and mostly, politicians are carting away the resources with impunity. The other reason is that they are selling our oil wells to Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and States. We in, Rivers State, are helpless. The authorities that are supposed to protect Rivers State are not doing so because we are perceived to be in opposition.
They sold 43 oil wells to Abia State. So we are losing oil wells and we are also losing money because of financial diversion. Even with the oil wells they took and gave to Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa, Abia States, our revenue was still very high, but unfortunately, the financial diversion which they have now nicknamed oil theft instead of financial theft is affecting how much we get in a month. We now get N13billion in a month, maximum N14billion. We were lucky to get N17billion this month because of the non-oil revenue. Next month we won’t get it because the non-oil revenue is once in a blue moon. And that is affecting our provision of services and other necessary assignments that we need to carry out. That is a huge problem for us and I guess that is also is also the case with some other governors. Some governors are not able to pay salaries. Our wage bill rose from N2.5billion to N9billion. And if we receive N13billion, you can imagine what will happen. We have so many huge projects that we are working on. There is a road called Trans-Amadi Road that is currently awarded to RCC at N49bilion, and N49billion is above S200million for a 10 kilometer road. And that is because we have three flyovers and six bridges on that road.
But you have barely a year to be out of office, do you think you will be able to achieve all these?
Well, don’t forget that government is a continuum. Where ever we stop, we stop, but that would not stop me from working.
Still about the issue of oil wells, is there no way you can seek redress, for example, at the Supreme Court?
We have done everything necessary. We have gone to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court asked them to review our position with Bayelsa State. Up till today, nobody has called us or attended to us, instead they are paying Bayelsa State. The Supreme Court judgment is there and it says they should review the boundary. Nobody has bothered to call us to do that. The money they were supposed put into our account has been paid to Bayelsa State.
Maybe the Federal Government wants you to reach out to them in another way to get their favour.
They can take all the oil wells (laughs).
During your inauguration in 2011 you promised to provide power supply starting from Onne and gas free zone.
They refused to allow us build distribution network there. We were taking power to them, but NPA refused. If you observed as you were coming in, you would have noticed there is no street light. That is because I got very angry with the Ministry of Power. You asked us to give you certain amount of money and we’ve given you and we are not seeing power supply and they said it is from the transmission. They now want N13billion for transmission. We have released N5billion out of the 13billion. And we have given not to them but to due process. And we said due process can only release the money to them according to the services they are able to provide. And now they have promised that they will start with Trans-Amadi with N400million out of the N5billion we released. If we see 24 hours power supply on Trans-Amadi after paying you 400million, they will give us for the next zone we want.
We have divided Port Harcourt into different zones and we said they must pursue the project with speed. Even the reason why you have not seen the street lights on is because the due process is questioning the expenditures on street lights. And I am happy a debate is going on. Yes there is an embarrassment as people are asking, why can’t they put on the street lights? The due process is trying to determine the costs of diesel being used per month. I am happy about what is going now. It is not because there was corruption. It is because in the past, it was being done by the public servants, but now we are saying get a contractor whose responsibility it is to provide the light, our own is to buy it. We are asking them to supply the street light and we will pay for it. This is unlike before where we install the infrastructure and the public servants were given money to buy diesel and they cannot account of all the services they were providing and now we are becoming a bit more thorough. Once they finish with the process, then we pay for the street lights and you will see the service coming back on. I am prepared to endure the complaints and embarrassment of not having the street lights on, but to have a process you can account for.
Now let’s talk about local politics. You have said you don’t want someone from among the Ikweres’ to succeed you, and clearly, that it is becoming an issue with the Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, obviously running strongly for the PDP ticket. Would you say that given what has just happened in Ekiti State, all that you have achieved could be upturned using the same Ekiti formula?
Do you think Rivers State is made up of one hundred percent teachers? Even if you use that yardstick, I told you we just employed 13,200 teachers. First and foremost, Rivers State is not one hundred percent made up of civil servants. Secondly, I think that the civil servants need to be more reasonable. There is a difference between stomach infrastructure and the services we have provided. So, if I have provided power, opened more schools, and the schools are free of charge, I am putting back the money in your pocket. I have produced health infrastructure. There are health centres everywhere with doctors, and you go there and take free health services. I have just completed a new hospital and the services in the hospitals are also free. We have outsourced them to foreign companies; foreign doctors are treating patients and we pay the bills. It is not as if they are providing free medical care, we pay. At the end of the day, they will tell us they have incurred so much money on XYZ number of patients and we disburse the money. So when you say free medical care, it is free for the citizens but we pay the bills. If I have done all that, then what is the basis for stomach infrastructure?
We think the point is, we saw a situation in Ekiti State where a man built schools and built hospitals, something you have also done in your state, but there were external issues that came in?
What are the external issues that came in?
Somebody said yes you built road, schools, hospitals and you didn’t build the stomach. We are saying in this state for instance you….
Our citizens will be a bit more reasonable than that.
We are leading somewhere with our question. For instance, you have the issue of the relationship between you and the president, you’re in a different party now and you are perceived to have been antagonistic towards him, or whether it is vice versa. Now some observers are saying that people could turn a blind eye to everything you have achieved and just focus on all those extraneous issues.
Before you came to me you should have gone round the town to ask questions?
The question is that does that fear ever cross your mind?
It doesn’t. You should have asked people questions. I drove on Eleme Road now. We couldn’t drive smoothly on the road. It is a federal road. When campaign starts, I will place a billboard there, saying that this road belongs to the federal government. The road that takes you to Akwa Ibom, between Eleme and Aba Road, is impassable. The flyover that they call Eleme Junction interchange was built by me. I have things that I can identify. If you say you want to identify with the president, we would ask you, what has the president done for us? Has he given you the stomach infrastructure? Or has he built your roads? If the president is addressing the stomach infrastructure, then we can say, what is Governor Amechi talking about? He has built roads; what about what the president has done for me, he has given me stomach infrastructure. The president has neither addressed your stomach infrastructure nor has he addressed your real infrastructure. Why not you also ask questions about some of those people who come to Abuja and give people money? Where do they get the money from? The high rate of corruption in the government is a bit unbearable.
Do you think it possible for anybody in government to be totally free of tendency of corruption?
Well, I am asking you that question.
We are not in government.
Well, you are Nigerians; you should be able to answer that question.
During the recent Freedom House lecture, you were saying part of this money should be given directly to the people.
I didn’t say they should give anybody money directly. I said Nigerians don’t abhor corruption. I made that point based on frustration I have gotten from Nigerians. And, therefore, I think what Nigerians are up to is basically that they feel that if you stay for like six months, like I have been governor for eight years, why should I be governor for eight years? If I have been governor for like six months and I take like maybe N1billion or N2billion and I go, when the next Nigerian comes in and he takes his own billion and goes and probably it will go round all Nigerians, and I agree to that that we should domesticate and democratise corruption in such a way that everybody has an opportunity of being corrupt, so that when you do that, you have excess money chasing very little goods and then the economy will explode, then we realise that by the time you wake up everybody is poor, then we will stop corruption. Because those are going to stop corruption are not state manly enough to stop corruption.
Going into the election, we saw what experience you passed through in Ekiti State, how much do you fear the government using security forces, the military, police to unduly direct the election?
What the PDP has done in Ekiti is to show you what they will do in other elections. I have said it and I will continue to say it that we don’t have a democracy, we have a diarchy. I said that at the Freedom House lecture: government of the civilians and the military where military officers issue government instructions and enforce them by the force of the gun. The military has no business stopping me on my way to Ekiti. I was there, a serving minister, Minister of State, drove pass where I was. I was there, the Minister for Police Affairs drove pass where I was. So, would you say the election in Ekiti State was free and fair? The soldiers were escorting PDP members to distribute rice, wrappers (cloth) and money on the day of election. Was that free and fair? Nigerians must rise against another state of dictatorship in the name of diarchy because there is no difference between what Abacha did and what is currently being done. Your newspapers were impounded and you people didn’t do anything.
What is shouting? You should go beyond shouting to physical demonstration on the streets. Once you start protesting, they will know you will resist the militarisation of the country.
Your aircraft was prevented from flying in Kano and a couple of other places, and you were stopped from going into Ekiti, it looks as if you were particularly targeted, do you feel humiliated by this?
No. I was a student leader. There is nothing President Goodluck Jonathan is doing to me now that I didn’t suffer when I was a student leader. That is not humiliation; I see that as dictatorship, what you can call autocracy. I should be asking you, what have you done? Because it is not about Amechi, the struggle is not about me, what I am struggling for is not about me. I’ve told people, what else am I looking for from God other than long life. I was governor at age 42, I was speaker at age 34 and I was in government at age 26. What else am I looking for?
You are likely to move higher.
I don’t know about that. Let’s leave that in the hand of God.
Your critics have been accusing you of non-performance because of some lapses in the provisions of certain infrastructure.
What are the lapses?
I read somewhere where you were reacting that some projects awarded by the government have not been completed.
I along with some journalists and foreigners (white men) have just come back from some trips of some of the projects the state government is executing. The white men were clapping – let me speak like the president, who said when he went Kenya that the Kenyans were awed by the number of Nigerians who have aircraft. The visitors were wondering and clapping. I took them on the monorail for them to see that have completed it; it is just that we want to complete the terminal. So, where are those critics? I tell the country that when I took over that there was 1,300 primary schools in Rivers State and these primary schools were of six classroom blocks, built by the following groups: Rivers State Government, Local Government Councils, all the oil companies (Shell, Chevron, Total, Agip, etc). All of them put together including NGOs built only 1,300 primary schools of six classrooms blocks.
During my eight years of governorship I have completed 500 primary schools. There are also about nearly 100 that are uncompleted. We are about furnishing 300 of them. And the furnishing is not cheap; to furnish one with ICT costs about N34million. When I took the white men there, they were shocked that they were schools in third world country that are like these – with computers, libraries, auditorium, music instruments in the auditorium, sick bays, reception classes from where you go to primary one and all the classrooms have computers for the teachers to use to teach. I also took them to the secondary schools we have built. We were to build 23 but we didn’t have enough money to do that. We have been able to build only seven. I took them to one. In one of the classes we have virtual class where you study using instruments. The teacher does nothing rather than to punch those computers and you will hear somebody talking and identifying what he is teaching.
By the time we went round – President John Kuffor was present He asked me where did the vision come from? I told him the vision to build the secondary schools came from Achimota Secondary School. I told him I drove into Achimota one day and I saw the expanse of land and I said I will build a school that has the same kind of land. I borrowed the idea of the number of structures from my children’s school when they were in England. The people were shocked when they saw the projects.
People are not saying I did not perform. All they are saying Amechi is all about the first term as if my father killed me in my first term. This time I decided to take them to the only projects I have completed in my second term. And I could give him example, I said I completed 75 primary schools in my first term and in my second term I have done 400 and 25 to make it 500 and I am furnishing 300 of the schools. In which term would you say I’ve performed better?
The difference basically is because my first term, you saw me on the streets jumping, shouting and running. I was pursuing criminals to secure the city.
Now the city appears to be secured and I am no longer 42. I cannot jump any longer because one day I may fall. In my second term, I’ve improved power supply. I want the federal government to let the public know that the power they are enjoying here comes from the Rivers State government and they don’t pay us any money. We buy gas every month to supply the power and the federal government reduced the revenue for the past seven years I have been governor. So, what are the critics saying? Do you know what I call those critics? They are stomach infrastructure critics.
When I tell people I don’t have a house, they tell me to stop saying that, that it is I who don’t want a house. That is what my critics say. They are not afraid, they have houses everywhere; they are not scared of the consequences because there is no anti- corruption policy. Nobody is pursuing anybody. The impunity with which the stealing is going on, small ministers are living in mansions they just built. From being ordinary chairmen of councils they now live in mansions. Nobody is asking.
Most things government need to realise is that when you deny people the necessary infrastructure that will keep them alive, when they die you should be charged for manslaughter. If you are suppose to build the hospital that will keep people alive because they have handed their resources you to build the hospital and you divert the resources into your pocket, when they die, and no one charges you of manslaughter, when God comes, He will charge you for manslaughter.
Let’s talk about your party, APC. Are you satisfied with the outcome of the convention?
Yes I am.
We learnt that the governors in APC were rooting for your former colleague, an ex-governor.
It is not true. We met, we agreed completely. That is why when I heard that somebody published that they interviewed me, I was surprised. l had left Abuja since 6am that day for UK, I didn’t even have a ticket. There was no prior ticket. I bought a ticket right there. It was an economy ticket then. They manage to take me to business class. I got to the UK that day. The next day in UK I was reading on the internet that somebody said he interviewed me.
Some people believe that the victory of PDP in Ekiti State will create momentum that will cut across especially the South- West axis.
Why not we wait? It’s about performance. A change is coming. For me, the election of 2015 will be a referendum on our president’s government. It is not going to be a referendum on my own because the campaign won’t be about Amechi. Is Amechi running for presidency?
He might be.
Well if I’m running for presidency and I’m on a ticket as a presidential candidate, I won’t say judge me by what I have done in the country, I will say judge me by what I have done in the state. And I will show you what I have done in virtually diverse areas, especially in the area of sports. Port Harcourt has one of the best stadia in the country. I took the visitors to the sport complex because I heard one of these critics say that my colleague and brother has built a better stadium and how cheap mine is. The entire sport complex is N33billion and it includes two Olympic size swimming pools and two diving pools, hockey pitch, basketball, handball, long tennis, squash courts, shooting range and indoor game. It is an athletic stadium. All of them put together cost us N34billion. They should compare us to the rest where we are hearing the costs of their sport infrastructures are much higher.
One thing that seems to be driving corruption and impunity among government officials is the provision of immunity against prosecution in the constitution.
Do ministers have immunity? You people target governors alone. Do ministers have immunity? How many ministers have been prosecuted?
Port Harcourt has been branded the World Book Capital. You have invested much on literature and education in the state, what do you stand to benefit from this?
Nothing but the literariness of the reading public. We need to encourage people to read. The problem we have here in the country is the fact that most people don’t want to acquire education for the purpose of knowledge. They acquire education for the purpose of seeking employment etc. We don’t think education is just to enhance their capacity for employment. We think you should also acquire education for knowledge. So, we are trying to open the public space for people to seek education for the sake of knowledge. We are building libraries and there will be libraries all over the state. In every local government headquarters there must be a library. Then in the city we are building reading rooms where there are books as well.
We are going to build a major library that will belong to the state. But even at that, there is an NGO that is building privately, independent of government, the Port Harcourt Book Centre. There is a library, writers’ village and an event centre that will help fund the centre when they complete it. Everything there is about books.
It seems your apparent love of books came out of your background as an English Literature or Language graduate and we can see that you have a very striking relationship with Prof. Wole Soyinka, could you please talk a little about your relationship with him?
The Prof. is turning 80 in the next few weeks, the Rivers State government is trying to see how they can buy into it to see how we can convince him to give us a date to host him for his 80th but we have not gotten a date yet.
What is the nature of your relationship with Prof, how did this friendship develop?
A: I met Prof Soyinka when I was at the University but I met him through Yemi Ogunbiyi and we established a friendship.
Do you accept the position that some people take that the APC seems to have lost the momentum it had at the time that five governors came from the PDP? You have the direction of defection has changed. People are moving towards the PDP. APC just lost an election in Ekiti State in its own very backyard, do you accept that going forward that the APC seems to be losing momentum?
A: How can we be losing momentum? Don’t forget that the first thing you need to deal with in APC is a combination of regional parties. The only party was national was the new PDP that came in. Now with the new PDP coming, APC has taken the position of a national party. There is no where you will go now in the country that you don’t have APC
If PDP could defeat CPC with 10million votes and CPC was just a regional party based in the North – and the PDP defeated General Buhari with just 10million votes, he didn’t have money, don’t forget. He may have CPC chapters in the south but it was non existence ….
Are you saying General Buhari is running for presidency?
I’m not saying General Buhari is running presidency or not. He has never told me whether he wants to run or not, but let us just use him as an example for the purpose of exemplifying what we are talking about. If he were to be a candidate now with APC in the South West, don’t forget that the PDP won everywhere apart from Osun State. So, who is losing now, PDP or APC?
There was no APC in Rivers State. Instead what they do is to go pay people to go and destroy our billboards. Here, PDP scored 2.1milliom vote, no opposition, there was none. Other parties looked for people to field candidates for them. Now there is a strong APC presence, there are two senators from APC, there are eight members of the House of Representatives out of 13, there are 25 or 26 APC members in the House of Assembly.
PDP has also defined APC very well by trying to make it look like it is a religious party, that it has favoured one religion. And the PDP has virtually tried to force down this question of a Muslim-Muslim ticket that they say APC is trying to push forward ….
Why not wait until pick our presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate. Once we do that, you will know whether are Muslim-Muslim ticket. They were using the party structure to accuse us, now the party structure has changed into the hand of a Christian; they have pulled out of that. Wait until we get there.
When they say PDP is making waves, PDP is making no wave. They already have a presidential candidate, and they are running without APC running because APC is obeying the law and PDP is not obeying the law because the president has been campaigning. When we do start our campaign…look at the geopolitics, Lagos is not a PDP, it is heavily populated by voters, Kano is not PDP, Rivers is not PDP, and it has an APC governor. If we vote today, let us assume for the purpose of argument that everybody comes here and say no don’t vote against him, he is our brother -the president is not my brother, I am an Ikwerre man and the president is an Ijaw man. So, the Ikwerre man will vote according to his conscience.
The last election was the ‘Breath of Fresh Air’; he is our brother from the South-South. That our brother from the South-South has gone to this war, he has returned without any booty for me. Do I still identify with him? The president is a nice man. But look at the state of the Port Harcourt International Airport. It is horrible. It has been abandoned by the PDP government. The federal roads have also been abandoned. There must be something Rivers people have done against the president that he doesn’t like. If I were to be in PDP, these are the things I’m going to look at, that the president won South-South/South East 100 percent, 13 to 14 million votes. He also won South-West. Can you say now that even if the president uses soldiers, he would win South-West?
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