Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike says the lot fell on him to lead the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after the then governor Rotimi Amaechi dumped the ruling party for the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) and created a leadership vacuum in the state.
Wike made the revelation in response to a question during an interview with The Sun editors in Port Harcourt that he allegedly, had nursed the ambition to succeed Amaechi whom he served as chief of staff before being nominated for ministerial position.
Wike said he never planned to be governor and could not have dreamt about succeeding Amaechi both of whom hailed from same area of the state.
However, with Amaechi’s defection, he said there was the challenge about who could lead the PDP to sustain its victory in Rivers. Coupled with that, the zoning policy which would have precluded him from the position was suspended, when consideration was being made on who could fly the party’s flag and lead it to victory in the 2015 gubernatorial election.
The governor gave insights into how his predecessor governed Rivers, the relationship between them and how he has been turning around the fortunes of the state after leading the PDP to another victory in the recent elections.
Wike in his characteristic frankness also picked holes in the fight against corruption, the meddlesomeness of the APC-led Federal Government in the state and more.
Today is Saturday and here you are, going out again on projects, do you ever have time to sit back and say, look, today is rest. Is there a day of rest for a governor or it’s a problem with politicians?
It depends, first of all, when you are called to serve, you should understand that it comes with a lot of problems; it comes with a lot of inconveniences. So, the issue of whether, you have some rest is not necessary. You can’t have rest when you have problems. It’s only when you have solved the problems, that you can have some bit of rest. So, for us, because we came at a period when the decay was so much, as we speak here, we are still talking about providing infrastructure in the city. That is to tell you about what has happened in the last eight years.
We should not be talking about Port Harcourt now, we should be talking about the rural areas. But we are still focusing on how we can bring back the city as it used to be –the Garden City, where you have the boats, where you have green everywhere. So, for us, like we have said, this year is a project year because it is the Golden Jubilee year of the state. So, the only day I can say we rest is Sunday.
First of all, we worship God and thereafter, we can now try to see if we can take two, three-hours rest. I thank God I have a wife who understands the job so well. If not so, it wouldn’t have been possible. Luckily again, my children are in school. It’s only when they come back on holidays, you know, so, I thank God for that.
So, you have no encumbrances?
No, not much encumbrances. And my wife is a judge. She has a lot of work to do, going to court everyday and coming home, preparing for rulings and judgments. That also takes the whole of her time. So, we thank God for that.
Okay, Your Excellency, when you hear Rivers State, the news always coming out is one of trouble, controversy and in the media, when the name, Wike comes up, it’s about protest, about one controversy or another, telephone conversation. How come, that, that is the narrative outside, I mean, the perception?
Well, you can see what is happening in the United States of America today, where the president of the United States said that the media has become the opposition party. With all due respect to the media, the problem we have in this country today is largely contributed by you people, the media, because, you don’t take pains to investigate and find out the actual truth. I remember that when I was running for the governorship election, how the media had concluded that it was not possible for anybody to defeat the former governor here. Where did they get the investigation? Where did they get that analysis?
And any true person in this state will know that there was no way APC would have won the election. So, having sold that propaganda, it became difficult to change, particularly because of the relationship the former government had with the media. What is happening in Nigeria today is that when somebody has not done anything, if he manages to buy one bus, the media will carry the news for over two weeks, instead of doing tangible things that the people will see. For me, I’m not bothered about what the media writes about me. My own concern is, how do my people feel? Are they happy? Yes. Are they not happy? No. So, that is what bothers me. When you wrote me that I am the Governor of the Year 2016, I can tell you, if it is based on the service rendered, if it is based on projects, if it is based on commitment, if it is purely on achievements, if it is not based, probably, on zoning tomorrow, I can assure you that Rivers State will continue to keep it till our four-year tenure ends. So, it’s unfortunate, now, you ask yourself one question, what is the controversy? Rivers people elected me. Therefore, I owe them that responsibility to defend their interest. I am in the opposition party. In Nigeria what people think is that as an opposition party, in order not for you to have the Federal Government looking into whatever you are doing, you must go and pay homage. For somebody like me, no! What homage? I was elected by my people. For the past three, four months, I have not been to Abuja, I don’t need it, what am I going to do there? Those who elected me are not in Abuja, those who elected me are in the state here, I need to connect with them, they need to see you and ask you questions, you need to tell them what you are doing. It’s not that every weekend, you go to Abuja, because you want to see everybody, you want to see the head of security… It’s not necessary to me. So, when people talk about controversy, what controversy? He promised us that there would be free and fair election; he promised us that there would be change and we have agreed to align ourselves to that change. And instead of us working together to achieve that result of change, the same people who talk about change, are those who don’t want the change. And we say, no, we need the change. You said we must change our ways of our doing things. In Nigeria, we don’t do election well, now we must do election well, and I said, fine, we must do election well. Now, you said you won’t do it well, and I said I don’t agree, we must do it well, then it becomes a controversy… It is only in Nigeria that I have seen the military everyday on the pages newspapers and television. It’s only in Nigeria. We all know what the military are doing all over the world, fighting terrorism. You just see them. They don’t talk. But tune in to any of our national television, there is no day that you don’t hear about the army. What kind of democracy are we talking about? Here, an election is scheduled to take place, here you came with prepared results, what kind of system are we talking about? INEC said I want to conduct a free and fair election, you manipulated the other states and nobody talked. And then you say, because I did that, therefore, in Rivers State, nobody will talk, we say no, we will talk. They say, oh, controversy. I can tell you, if controversy is because we said we would support the change, let it be.
So, you don’t mind being controversial for the right thing?
Yes. For me, I am an apostle of the change, I am an apostle of the change, will I now be killed that I am an apostle of the change? Let us do things right, since you said things were not being done right. Therefore, there must be change, and we have come out, we don’t need to belong to a political party. Everybody wants change, all we ask for is positive change, and we are supporting and you said, no, you don’t want that one you said again. So, we are not bothered about it, if you term it controversy. Look at the kidnap that took place in Turkish school in Ogun State, has it ever happened in Rivers State? And if such a thing happens, what would the media say? The media would go agog, that Rivers is no-go area.
So, the media is unfair to you?
It’s unfair to the state. Don’t bother about me, I am talking about my state. They have been unfair to the state. There is calculated attempt to pull the state down simply because of the positive changes they are seeing. It is like these people’s contribution is outshining the one our old friend did when he was there. So, the media has a role to play. It is the same you people in the media that said Jonathan was doing nothing. You came out more strongly and told Nigerians all sorts of things. Nigerians voted out Jonathan. Now, you are not talking again. Nobody is saying anything. So, Rivers State is very peaceful.
When did you plan to be governor? How did you start? I knew you were a local government chairman, when did you nurse the dream of becoming the governor?
I can tell you I never planned to be governor. What happened was that, as at the time, I was a minister, we had crisis in our party. When the former governor left our party to join APC, there was a vacuum. So, we asked what are we going to do? How are we going to get to make sure we retain the power? So, we jettisoned zoning. We said look, we cannot talk about zoning when we don’t have anything on hand. So, let’s get somebody we think can take this work and get us the victory. And that was how I emerged. There was never a time I dreamt of being a governor.
The talk outside, I mean, from the former governor Rotimi Amaechi was that you are very ambitious, you wanted to be governor…
What if I had ambition to be governor? What is the crime, assuming? He didn’t have ambition, he became Speaker for eight years? He didn’t have ambition, he became governor for eight years? He didn’t have ambitio
n, he wanted to be vice president? He did not have ambition, he wanted to be secretary to the federal government? He had no ambition, he wanted to be chief of staff? But the truth of the matter is that I never, never… If we did not have crisis in our party at the national level, there was no way, having come from the same area, for me to come and succeed him, it is not possible. But the circumstance that we found ourselves was what led to it. So, planning to be governor? How?
You never planned to be governor?
How? How would I dare that, from the same party? How would it be, how would it be possible? How would it be possible? When he left the party, the party was looking for who would lead them. A governor has left. Who then has that muscle to say I will lead this party? So, the party said let’s go for this young man, let’s go for this minister, we think he can lead us.
That was what happened?
That was what happened.
That was what happened, people who would not know, would not know. The people felt since the governor had left, the party was finished in Rivers. So, somebody came on board so that the party would not die.
Where was the parting of ways between you and you bosom friend; you were his chief of staff; you were local government chairman, ALGON president and all of them. When you look back now, I mean, he nominated you to be minister. That means there was a relationship somewhere. Where was this parting of ways?
My brother, if you ask me, I can’t say exactly, not until things were more than meet the eyes, in what people would say, ‘the more you look, the less you see.’ If I tell you what happened, it’s like going backwards. But for purposes of information to the public, before now, the former governor had planned how some of us would no longer be relevant in the system. Magnus Abe was to be secretary to the state government, so, so, so persons, these were the people who he thought had voice. On the issue of being minister, yes, I wasn’t the only person he nominated, he sent 10 names and as I speak to you, he nominated me so that the world would have the impression that he nominated me and at the same time, he told the security to disqualify me. Assuming the security disqualified me, I would have nowhere to go. But God in His infinite mercy, we were following them and were getting information.
Subsequently, the security were alerting us and he was shocked, when I was screened and cleared. To tell you this, when I was sworn in, I held a reception in his residence, he refused to come down. He refused to come down to even talk to the people downstairs.
And it was a reception?
I say, in his lounge!
And he didn’t come down to receive you?
He refused to come down. The then minister of interior, Abba Moro, I took Abba Moro up to greet him, I introduced Abba Moro as minister of interior. When we came down, Abba Moro asked me, ‘you said that man nominated you?’ I said, yes. He said, be careful. You can see the coldness.
As if he was not happy?
He was not happy that I made it. Ask Abba Moro, he is alive today. There are so many things people didn’t understand. You see, we kept it on and continued praying.
You were chief of staff for how many years?
Chief of staff for…
No! About three, yes, I was chief of staff for three and half years, not four years.
And the same person came out at the stadium and said, ‘I didn’t trust him’, but you were there three and a half years, so how did you do you it?
(Laugh) I was the DG of the campaign.
That’s right, but he came out and said oh, we know he was not a straightforward person…?
First of all, when he was in Ghana, I was a straightforward person when he was not here and we fought the battle. Everything was done in my house. I was the leader. I did everything. Just that he didn’t want anybody, whom he believed had some opportunity in life to excel. He wanted to be the king of the manor. He can’t even tell Rivers people that. I mean, for you to be a DG of guber campaign, as chief of staff, I became the DG of the campaign for the second tenure, which was 2011.
For his primaries, I was his agent at the Civic Centre, yet, he didn’t trust the person. He made me chief of staff, he didn’t trust the person. He still recommended me for ministerial position. Does it make sense? It was because he knew that there were people God used to take him to where he was. When he decided to fight God and proclaim himself as Alpha and Omega, he saw the handiwork of God.
He said over his dead body would I be governor. In fact, on the 27th of May, 2015, which was his birthday, while they were vacating on the 29th, at the Obi Wali International Conference Centre, he said, that he would see where I would get money to pay salaries, not to talk about projects. He said so. But when I came into office, he left six months salary arrears. I paid six-month salary arrears. Even, pensioners, I paid. Now, I’m doing projects. Even the projects he awarded, I continued with same contractors he gave the jobs to.
So, where are you getting money from?
You should ask him that? Because he is not God. He was receiving twenty something billion naira every month. If I get half of that, you would marvel at what would have happened in this state. All it takes is commitment. All it takes is for you to be truthful. It’s not media propaganda. It is not you sitting with the media everyday and saying, oh, I am doing this, everyday, you go to one primary school along Elekahia Road, you go to one primary school at Air Force Base. Go to a rural area and see those schools where they have all been overgrown by weeds.
You have said that this year is Rivers golden jubilee and that it is a year of projects, how are we going to juxtapose that with the drop in revenue, where are you getting the money from?
Fine! What is important to me is, for example, try to block all the loopholes, all the leakages in the internally generated revenue. With what you get from the FAAC and the internally generated revenue, after paying salaries, you have like N3 billion left. In12 months it’s N36 billion. Simple Mathematics. So, you spread it. I will not do any project that will take more than 15 months to complete. I will not.
Because with white elephant projects, variation will come in because of our economy. So, you commit this fund to say, every month, pay Julius Berger this amount, pay RCC this amount, the job is going on.
That is the strategy.
Your Excellency, which projects are we looking at?
As I am speaking to you now, we are going to Rumuoji, Ibaa, Obele, Isiokpo Road, four communities, 16 kilometers. It’s about three point something billion naira. I have paid about one point something billion, and it must be completed in 12 months. Two days ago, I was at Ahoada East, there was a road the former governor awarded to one company called Solberg. He abandoned that road because Chibudom Nwuche was with us. So, during my campaign, I went there, I told the former deputy speaker, this is the road leading to your community, the governor has abandoned it because, you are a PDP member, by the grace of God, when we win, I will come and complete this road. Unfortunately for me, when President Jonathan lost, Chibudom moved to APC and didn’t support me. But I still won, but because I had made that promise to him, I said, no, I still have to construct that road. I have to keep my own side of the bargain. I said I must do this road. The contractor is going back. As I speak to you, there is a road we call, Unity Road, it takes off from Ogoni to Opobo to Andoni. That is where my opponent, Dr Adol Dakuku Peterside comes from, Opobo. He was commissioner for works for years, he can’t drive home. But by the grace of God, I will make him to drive home, to his village and enjoy life. He didn’t want to enjoy the life when he was commissioner for works, when he had everything. Now, I am doing it for him to go home.
These are the projects that … you are from the place, for four years, you couldn’t even bring a project to your community so that you can go home. All you are going to do is to run social commentary on pages of newspaper instead of you to focus on your job. I will make him go home by road, not by water again. By the grace of God, next year, he will go home.
That is, prudent management of scarce resource?
That is all! Look at our projects, 70 percent capital and 30 percent recurrent. People may not be happy, you know, civil servants and politicians may not be happy. Recurrent expenditure -travelling, conferences. No! Projects, infrastructure, improving the quality of education, improving the quality of health care delivery. Look at the way BMH (Braithwaite Memorial Hospital) is, we are flagging off the construction of part of BMH that got burnt next week. By Tuesday, the remaining road they tarred, I have done 50 percent of it, the rest 50 percent, we are flagging off again by Julius Berger. That is when you say, Port Harcourt is Port Harcourt. Go to Diobu, 90 percent of the roads have been done in Diobu. It is prudent management, you don’t need to have $100million. A road of N500 million, you put it four point something billion naira, which they won’t do. Sometimes, they collect upfront and the contractor will be suffering. I dare ask any contractor in this state, I dare anybody to say he has any dealings with anybody or you think that anybody made you to get the contract, you get kickback, that is the end of you. I mean, he awarded most of the jobs, sometime, he says 30 percent.
With tenders or without tenders?
All the ones they did, no tender, but, you see, if I begin to revoke it, cancel it, people will read meanings. Oh, you want to have your own men, so that you will have some money from there. I said no, our policy, any contract not awarded by us, but which has a positive impact on the lives of the people, we must complete the project. It doesn’t matter who awarded it. You know, when we came, the contracts the other administrations awarded, he cancelled and re-awarded them, and then abandoned them. But it is public funds, why should you abandon them? Government is a continuum, why should I say I’m not the one that awarded it, therefore, I will abandon it to start my own? No!
Some people said you are working because you have opposition, is that correct? That the more trouble they are giving you, the more you are working.
They didn’t work when they were not the opposition? If that is true, let them continue giving me and let me be working. You know, it takes a level of intelligence… what opposition are they giving me? Have they won any election? I like challenges in life. You said, we can’t do this, and we are there. We said we can do it, we are doing it, look at it. If you’ve been to Port Harcourt, before we came in you would have noticed that everywhere had been so dark. But now, go out in the night. Look at traffic light everywhere. I don’t know when you will be going back, if you have the opportunity, move out in the night, look at the streetlights everywhere. How much is it? It is commitment. Look at the Brick House. I will take you there, go and see. Odili built this (new government house). Nobody has added anything to this area, not one thing. He stayed here for eight years. This was done by another governor, not one pin was added. That place (Brick House) was like bush, a monument like that, that could serve as a museum? 1928 building? Go there and see what we have done, go to the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park and see tourism. Just go and see, is it not good for us… just go and see. Go and see the Ecumenical Centre, it is the only one in the whole of the federation to bring Christians together, not the one built by the Federal Government. Go and see it, go and see the roads. So, it’s not a question of we are challenging him, so you didn’t work because nobody was challenging you, so until they challenge you, you work? Does it make sense?
For eight years?
Good eight years, and you, the media caused the problems. You were singing praises of some of the things that were not on ground.
Somebody said he built schools and hospitals?
Where are the schools, where are the hospitals? I can give you the report, submitted by his own Economic Advisory Council. Out of five hundred and something schools, only about ninety something were completed and furnished. Go to the health centres, where? Even where there are no people, you built a health centre. Where are the hospitals, Go and see BMH, it is dead, I am doing a total renovation of BMH now, to bring the latest equipment to refurbish the place, I am renovating 13 general hospitals, all of them were dead. Which hospitals? Just because you want to create contracts for yourself and your cronies, you begin to build health centres everywhere. Where are the doctors, where are the nurses? You must have personnel, you must train them. What about the primary schools he built? Like I said, so, so, so would come, he takes him to Elekahia Road, Air Force Base. He would take them to four, five schools within Port Harcourt, he will now say, oh, this is the type of school we have in the entire state. He said he was going to build one model secondary school in each LGA. Which one has been completed? One is four point something billion naira, why will I spend such money to build a secondary school? We have secondary schools, renovate them, equip them.
Are you saying his is eight wasted years?
Of course! With all due respect, with the kind of fund we had. Over N3 trillion. Let me have N500 billion. Since I came, for one year, because we came into office in May, the money we got last year from the federation account, was not up to…highest, N100 billion.
So, eight wasted years?
You can see, with the kind of money running into trillions. Is it the monorail?
So, what did you advise the three years you were chief of staff?
Nobody could advise. Then, you didn’t know where you were.
But you were close?
When you say close, yes, you are doing your work. No social relationship, nothing.
No, nothing, ask anybody. Sometimes, we don’t see him for three days.
As chief of staff?
Yes, we just work through our files.
So, how did you become his chief of staff?
He needed somebody who was strong, who could help him, who could say, no, this is wrong, this is not right, as someone who has the sagacity. That was all.
Okay, so, he needed you more than you needed him?
It was obvious. I was a council chairman. My LGA was the largest and most economically viable and I made my mark. I was ALGON president. I contested African Commonwealth of Local Governments. So, it’s not as if I just came from nowhere. And when we had political problems in the state, he went to Ghana. I was the one who led the fight. He wanted me to be commissioner for finance, I said, no. I’m not interested. Chief of staff is okay. It’s a free role, not restricted to a particular area. So, it’s most unfortunate. And that was why I said, the media, you have a role to play for our democracy to grow. If you continue to praise us, we won’t grow. Report what is right. As I speak to you, we got from the Paris Club, about fourteen point something billion naira. I never touched it till this January. I will pay local government their own, we have twelve point something. I paid over 10 to11 billion naira to contractors with all the money. I am not owing salary, I am not owing pensioners up to date. When I came, ministries were not receiving overheads for one year. I said, no. How can they operate?
How can they function? What I did that people may not be happy about was that I cut down the recurrent expenditure. You see some ministries collecting 10, 15 million naira, I said no. What do you do with it? Bring it down to N2 million, bring it to fund projects. That is what will speak for us. It is not the number of conferences we attended. It is not the foolscap sheets you bought. It is the projects that people will see. Have you seen the projects? Yes. If we have not been doing projects in this state, the Federal Government would have chased us out. Our strengths are the people. They have seen it. So, it becomes difficult for the Federal Government to fight us, with all the might they have. There was nothing that had not been done, but the people said they cannot; that the government on ground is doing them well.
Before the DSS, I’m sure you know what I am talking about, there was an allegation that some South-south governors… even some media houses, online media actually said that you are involved in getting people to demonstrate and subvert the nation, to derail government and press for…
If I were the security agencies, I would bury my head in shame. Is it not the same DSS that wrote the report against the EFCC chairman? Then, the president has sent the man back. He said he who indicted him should resign. That means they have been writing fake security reports about some people. For a president to have disbelieved you…Assuming I called people to go and protest, are we not in a democratic society? This man (Trump) was sworn in on Friday, on Saturday, people took to the streets, millions of people, protesting against the US president, did the heavens fall? People protested against me in Abuja and you used police to escort them. Then, human rights groups said, ‘we can’t allow this, let us also go and protest that they should do the right thing.’ And then you said, ‘oh, the governor of Rivers State is sponsoring them.’ That is a childish lie.
Is that why they couldn’t win election with all their troops? Do I need to protest before we win an election? You can see the kind of security they have. It is vindictive. The security report is sectional security report. ‘I don’t want this man, let’s find something and write against him’, and then you churn it out.
So, you are not even losing sleep, you dey kampe?
I have sued them for libel. They think they will not obey, but one day, they will obey. You see, I keep telling people, you think you have all things because you are in power. You can’t be there forever.
You will pay for every deed. They think they have blackmailed the judiciary, it doesn’t matter. Tomorrow, somebody would come up and say, no, we can’t allow this to happen. And that is what I have always told Nigerians, it doesn’t matter the blackmail, the victimization, but stand firm. And I said, death will come. Nobody knows the day it will come. Nobody knows the time it will come. Nobody also knows how he will die. Some die during sleep, some die in air crash, some die in motor accident, who knows how he will die? We are all praying. It may work, it may not work. So, even they, the security agencies who think they have all it takes. Who told them that after writing that report, they will survive the next day? Have you not seen where a man had finished planning what he would do, before tomorrow he is gone?
You were here under Abacha’s government, what happened? Abacha was planning to turn himself into a civilian president, what happened? So, why do you think the only way you say it is by intimidating people, blackmailing people, victimizing them, churning out all kinds of allegations against them? One day, you will also pay. That is how the history is. You can do whatever you want to do.
Your Excellency, the first executive function you performed was the launch of Operation zero pothole in Port Harcourt. In fact, from the venue of your inauguration, you moved straight to the old Port Harcourt, where you flagged off Operation zero pothole. So far, can you say that you have achieved zero pothole in the city?
Yes, that is what I am trying to tell you, Julius Berger and CCECC, two giant companies. Julius Berger was chased away from this state by the former administration. The only job they were doing here was to maintain the Government House, because they built this place. So, they have the maintenance contract. Even though, they are expensive, we need quality, that’s why we said we don’t want to see potholes on our roads. We created Road Maintenance Agency, and we said, look, give them N100 million every month, where you see a small pothole, go and patch it. I dissolved them two days ago because they were fighting among themselves, planning how to chop money and whatever they think and I said no, you are all gone. You see, anything I decide to do, I do it to the letter. As I speak with you, yesterday, we were with the proprietors and proprietresses of private schools. I have withdrawn the programmes of about 40 schools that are without approval. And I’m closing down all illegal schools. By September, no illegal school will exist in this state. Why we have not done that now, we are giving parents the opportunity because they are in their second term. We don’t want to disrupt their classes. In the next academic session, which starts by September, they have the opportunity to send their children to the schools approved by the government. All these illegal schools will no longer exist in the state. They will fight back, but I have the political will. They will run to the media. They will say all sorts of things, but if you do the right thing, you will see that you will be vindicated.
But, people will say you have closed down schools, you are anti-education?
There is nothing they will not say. You see, who are those teaching our students in these schools? We have set up a committee to verify the qualifications of those teachers in those private schools because they are our children.We don’t need to have 200 schools. It is better you have two and get what you want than having 200 and you won’t get anything. Yes, more schools will give access, but why should I have illegal schools? Schools that will not meet the requirements because they’re providing access? That is not access. Access without quality does not make any sense.
Your Excellency, earlier this week, we met an academic and we were talking about recession and his view was that it was caused by government; that we have a government that said Nigeria is corrupt, everybody is corrupt. What are your views about the fight against corruption?
Like I told you, the problem we have in this country, for you to make a name, first of all, you come and say, ‘corruption is the problem, I will fight corruption’. And I have told those who care to know. No single man or institution can fight corruption alone. Take for example, the executive is an arm of government, legislature is an arm of government, judiciary is an arm of government. If you are fighting corruption, you must fight corruption in the police. How much is their salary? How much are they being paid? How well are they equipped? If you are talking about judges, where do they live? Some of them don’t even have light to write judgments. Do their salary come on time? Did you understand the point I am making? You must prepare, the institution must be strong for you to say you want to fight corruption. Not that you are there fighting corruption, but expanding the corruption itself. In fact, one way to be corrupt in Nigeria is to say, ‘I want to fight corruption’. You have seen it, like I said, I am not going to fight corruption by just talking. No sane human being will allow corruption. Nobody wakes up one early morning and fights corruption and succeeds within that period. It is a gradual process.
You put in place certain institutions. You lay the foundation and then, they also look at you, what example are you setting, to show that you are against corruption. It’s not enough to say, ‘I am fighting corruption’. A government that is not popular today, what that government will always say is, ‘I am fighting corruption’ because there is no other thing to show. So, for me, it’s like what I’ve just said. Allowing illegal schools to exist is corruption. Allowing nepotism to exist is corruption. Not allowing people who merit certain positions and giving the positions to certain ethnic group is corruption itself. So, people look at corruption when it has to do with money only. So, if you are fighting corruption, you must fight corruption in all its ramifications. It must be a holistic fight. You don’t do selective fight against corruption. What I see here is fight against certain persons who they want to bring down for one reason or the other by tagging them as corrupt. In fact, the only way they can kill PDP is to say PDP government was corrupt. And we’ there dealing with that propaganda, and by time we finished, it was election time.
Even, not allowing PDP to survive is corruption itself. By using institutions to kill PDP is corruption itself. So, no sane government official or a leader would say that he would not want to fight corruption but you must do it gradually. Without strengthening institutions, how can you fight corruption? It becomes a one-man fight. The institutions must be strong. They charge somebody to court and will not follow the procedure. When the judge follows the procedure, they declare the judge as corrupt. If any judgment is against them, then that judge must be corrupt. If the judgment is in their favour then the judges are doing the right thing. What kind of system is that?
What are your fears for Nigeria today?
My fear is, I don’t know what 2019 will be. I don’t think there will be election in Nigeria in 2019. From what we have seen, from what they have shown us, they are not prepared for election to take place in 2019. All they want to do is to make sure they rig election the way they want, and that is how you will see that there will be crisis in the country. People are aware, people are conscious now. With what I saw in Rivers State, I know they are not planning to hold election in 2019. With what I saw, with the type of security forces I saw in a state, for a rerun legislative election, where you had over 28,000 policemen, not to mention the other paramilitary, not even DSS. 28,000 policemen for a legislative rerun. Then you are talking about presidential election, you are talking about gubernatorial election, then there will be submarines and fighter jets.
You fear for Nigeria?
I am talking about my big fear because those people who are running the government, if they want democracy, they will not allow what is going on. The impunity that is going on does not show that they want democracy to survive. Just look at the individuals, are they promoting democracy? Look at a governor, a sitting governor, you removed a sitting governor’s orderly, you removed his CSO, removed his ADC a week to election. What does that mean? A week to the election, you removed governor’s security aides. And when I said that they planned to assassinate me, they replied ‘how can you say that?’ Why would I not say so? A governor has no ADC, no orderly! Immagine a governor having no CSO. Is he not prone to attack? Even those you sent to protect the governor, you dismissed them, even when there is a panel going on. You dismissed them because they resisted assassination attempt on the governor. So, how can you have confidence in that kind of country? Then, immagine what you will see in 2019?
So, there are ominous signs that show that things will not be alright?
Yes, it is obvious. You don’t need to go to any prophet or soothsayer, I am seeing it, I know that the kind of thing they did in the legislative rerun.
It was like war?
War? War is an understatement. If there is any other word bigger than war, it would have been preferable. My experience taught me what security agencies do. When they go to an area they know you have an upper hand, they aid you easily or when they see that you are doing things that might not be right, they remove their eyes from it. In this case, the security agencies were doing it by themselves. Look at how shameless a country’s police institution is. I wrote to the IG more than five times. I have taken them to court. You saw the man, when he was beating up INEC personnel, you came up to say they were not Nigerian police. What a shame! All they were doing was to bring people who would testify, to go and carry INEC officials and lock them up and say the governor gave them money. What a country! Which Nigeria are we talking about?
Your Excellency, the impression being created out there is that you are tough, a hard man…
What is being a hard man?
Is there no soft side to you?
Oh, my God! When they say hard, why will you not be hard for democracy to survive? I should be soft? I want democracy to survive in Nigeria, what is hard?
So, you are a soldier for democracy?
Yes, I told INEC that they should give Rivers State an award for defending democracy in Nigeria. I will continue to defend democracy in Nigeria. When you say the soft side in me, I don’t know where you want me to start. I love my wife. I love my children. I relax with them.
I have some good drinks when I want to drink. When it is time to work, I work. But I cannot fold my arms and see the enemy coming to take my state and you say I should allow them because I should be soft, which soft?
The soft side we are talking about is, do you listen to music, do you relax?
Of course! But you don’t listen to music when there is war (Prolonged laughter). Which music is that?
But do you have time for any other leisure?
When you came, I was having some good dates, that’s the way I am, but when I see that the enemies are coming, why do I have to listen to any music, how do you even listen to the music?
(Laughter). You are in your house, they are shooting, and you are listening to music, something must be wrong with you.
Finally, Your Excellency, when your tenure is over here, how would you want the people of Rivers to remember you?
Oh, fine! First of all, after serving as a governor, I don’t want to come home with a platoon of soldiers. As a governor, what makes you happy, that you’ve done your own period, you can still come back where your people will receive you, you can still mingle around with them.
They say they are happy with you. They remember this, they remember that. That is what I want. The lost glory of Rivers State will be brought back, that unity will come back, so that I walk along the street, without having 20 Mobile Police, 20 Captains from the Nigeria Army and even fighter jets up, monitoring what would happen to me.
That is not the way I want to be remembered. I want to be remembered as a free man, walking along the road, on the street, being happy, seeing the infrastructure that we put on ground, seeing the improvement in education and healthcare system. This is how I want to be remembered. Not fighting to deny my state of basic infrastructure. Not selling my state because I want to be in power. No, I don’t want that one. All I want is that our state has moved from that point where people had lost hope to a point where people now have hope; that our people can say that indeed, this is the Rivers State of our dream, the dream of our founding fathers. That our youths will say, ‘yes, this is the Rivers State, I can now actualize my potential.’ That is how I want to be remembered.
Is it possible?
Of course, with what is happening, it’s going on. Like I said, if you had been in Rivers Sate in 2015, it was a dead place, the security situation. When I was talking about security situation here, the Federal Government was not listening to me. In fact, they were sponsoring crisis in the state. Now, they thought Rivers State would be engulfed in crisis, to create a state of emergency, but the
Almighty now came down and said no. Now, they have shifted the crisis to them. They are not sleeping now. Every day, there is crisis in Kaduna, there is Ogun kidnap, it’s God that pushed crisis away when they wanted to create state of emergency in Rivers. Nobody has supported the security agencies in any state more than me in this country. I challenge them. But each time we do it, they are not satisfied. Now, I learnt they are writing a report that they impounded two helicopters. That is fraud. Those helicopters were bought by the previous administration of Rivers, by Amaechi administration.