You have been in the saddle for about three years now as Rivers State governor. How would you sum up your stewardship so far?
I would say in just one sentence that it has been very expensive, very good, very challenging but worthwhile. When you are serving your people, no matter the challenges, you feel happy that you are given the opportunity to serve. I would say that it has not been easy but we have made some remarkable successes that people can see and know that we have not disappointed our people. So, generally, it has been very fruitful.
Recently, you undertook what was almost a month of commissioning. It was an experience some people even said you politicised; that you brought people from different places to come and commission and so on and so forth…
Sometimes, when you talk about what you have done, people say they are television talks, newspaper talks or radio talks. So, one of the things you should do is not just saying what you have done but bringing prominent Nigerians to come and see for themselves whether the activities that are shown on television are real. And irrespective of the political divide you belong, if you watch during that period of commissioning, traditional rulers were involved, former heads of state were involved, governors were involved from the two political parties, members of the National Assembly were involved and the judiciary was involved. So, it would be difficult for you to say, ‘Ah, it is just politics they are playing.’
For example, we built the National Industrial Court here. There was no industrial court in this state. The National Industrial Court that we built was approved but the former governor did not give attention to it, so they moved it to Bayelsa State. And 80 per cent of the cases that are in that court emanate from this state. So, when I came on board, I said, ‘Look, it is not necessary. How can we take the risk going from here to Yenagoa with the financial implication and the kind of inconveniences litigants and counsel would face?’ So, I told the President of the National Industrial Court that I was going to build an Industrial Court that would be here so that it would save our people from going to Bayelsa. And within one year, even though it was completed in record time of seven to eight months, the CJN commissioned it.
The court of appeal – if you’re a current visitor to Port Harcourt and you go to that court of appeal, you will cry. For us, it is our own contribution. Like the Federal High Court, we built the Federal High Court and it was commissioned by the former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Auta, now retired. And we said if we have done this, even though they are federal courts, who are those who will benefit? They are people from the South-South and people who are in the state here. And we have said we would make Rivers State the judicial hub of the South-sSouth, knowing that this is the centre of the oil industry. So, it means that if we wait for the federal government to come to our aid, it would not be possible. So, we used our own funds and wrote to the President of the Court of Appeal, and she said okay, the state can give support. So, what we did was totally remodelling it, and the CJN came. So, it is not something anybody would say, ‘Oh, it is not true. You know these politicians, they always tell lies.’ So, those at the helm of affairs who were in charge of the judiciary came and saw it.
Again, look at the Cultural Centre. It was started by my predecessor but was only about 30 per cent done when it was abandoned. I now said, ‘Look, do I need to go and start a new cultural centre?’ Part of the problem we have in governance is people not being able to continue projects started by their predecessors. Everybody wants to say I am the one who started this. That is why sometimes, you have white elephant projects littering everywhere.
But when you were doing the commissioning, your predecessor was saying that the projects you said were your own were actually his own.
Well, first of all, it is not his private funds. Should I have abandoned it? No. The Ooni of Ife came and commissioned the project. The Trans-Amadi Road, which was awarded by the previous administration for N47 billion was awarded in 2009. I came in 2015, six years after, to Reynold Construction Company, RCC, and what they have paid was about N12 billion out of N47 billion. And people said how do we do this? I said well, this is a major road and it is the industrial hub of the state. We cannot abandon this project. We were paying RCC N1 billion every month from internally generated revenue. So, we paid over twenty-something billion to RCC. So, if we could cough out twenty-something billion, would somebody now say, oh, it is our project and we’ve almost completed it when we have not less than twenty-something billion to pay?
So, you’re saying that well, he might have started some of these projects, you would rather rejig them?
Or there were so much to be done that you had to take over…
Of course, you cannot allow the community to suffer. But the point I’m trying to make is that I couldn’t have brought a former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to commission a project that was not in existence. That is the point I’m trying to make. The Speaker of the House of Representatives came to commission Aboloba/Woji/Elelewon Road. I remember when this state hosted the Guild of Editors., they came and undertook inspection. They told me you cannot do this road. It was not awarded by me. It was awarded by my predecessor and it was 30 per cent (complete). The contractors had abandoned the site. It was a bridge. In fact, if you don’t have the mind, you won’t want to continue with the project.
So, the guild of Editors who came went there. Led by the president, Funke (Egbemode). They said, look, how can you say you would complete the project? Where would you get the money to complete this kind of project? I said, ‘Don’t worry, God willing, we’ll do it and we’ll invite you to come.’ When NBA had their general conference in 2015, I took members of the NBA, the president-general then, Alegeh, and Mahmud Mohammed went there. They said this is not possible. I said I would invite them. To the glory of God, Dogara Yakubu came and commissioned it. So, for us, those ones that have direct impact on the economy and the lives of our people, we’ve said we must continue whether we awarded the contract or not.
What of the mono-rail?
Yes, now that is what we are saying. I called stakeholders meeting. What is the mono-rail? Where did it start? How many kilometres? 1.5 kilometres. What is the purpose? When I was in government as chief of staff, we opposed it. But people have this mentality: I’m the one who brought this concept. So many of us opposed it because it is of no significance. Where are you carrying passengers from? To where? But when we looked at it, the government had paid not less than N54 billion. I called the contractor and he said he would need something in the neighbourhood of thirty-something billion to complete it, and I said no, I cannot do this. To put thirty-something billion in a project of 1.5 kilometres? I called the stakeholders and said no, it is not important for now. I’m sure that if we had even taken the risk of looking for money for it, they would have said, no, it was done 99 per cent as usual. So people can now come and see this one whether it was done 99 per cent.
So for us, those ones that have direct impact on the economy and on the lives of our people, we said we must continue, whether we awarded the contract or not.
So, you are saying the mono-rail is a sort of white elephant project?
But it cuts across town…
Which town? To where? That’s what I said, from where to where? From Aggrey Road to UTC. There’s no traffic. You have the secretariat this way. So, even if you want to carry passengers or workers to work, the mono-rail would not stop anywhere. It would pass the secretariat down to UTC, then you still have to go back. So, it doesn’t make any sense to us.
You were chief of staff to Rotimi Amaechi. People still wonder, a chief of staff is almost like the blood brother of the governor. How did it come about, because there’s been some stories. It’s good for you to say it in your own words. What happened?
Well, I don’t know. I have told people that I cannot really say. It’s just like what we have in the country today. There are those in the system who wants to outsmart some people or who want to outdo some people and will think, ‘oh, if this person is pushed away, you may have the opportunity’. Somehow, that’s what I think happened. And probably the leadership or the head bought the idea. So, I don’t want to go into they said this, they didn’t say that. But the point of the matter is for me, there was no need for what happened to have happened at all. But it’s like when you’re a leader, you must understand in the system, you must avoid these gossip that can destroy a political team.
That means there was intrigue
Of course, there was intrigue, but you must be careful. It’s just like what is happening in Nigeria today. In the government of Buhari, this person outsmarting this person, all those kinds of things. And before you know it, that name will bring down the system.
So, are you saying that because you were away from Rivers, you were in the centre?
Part of the reason for me not to be there was to push me away. That’s the point I’m trying to make. Let him not be here. If he’s here, he would have so much influence. Push him away.
Have you tried to really reconcile, to say, look, this thing they are telling you is not true? Did you ever?
Everything was done. So many prominent people. But like you know, when people have decided what to do, when people believe that whatever they say, that’s what would happen and whatever they decide, that’s what would happen. It’s not about yourself. You look up to God.
It has become something like tit for tat between you and the Transport Minister. Sometime ago, there was this real show of power in Rivers where your vehicle and that of the minister met and it turned out that probably both of you were not in the vehicles. Is that a reflection of two strong people holding a state to ransom?
Again, that tells you people can be power-drunk, impunity. You know what protocol is all about. When a governor’s convoy is coming, the expert drivers are in front. That gives it signal that the governor is coming. They move in front and then when they are at a junction, they stop for all vehicles to stop for the governor’s convoy to pass. That was what happened. But being in federal government, having soldiers with him, having federal SARS with him, they refused to obey that. And that was the crisis. I was at the back. I didn’t know what was happening. It was when the vehicles were no longer moving that I asked, ‘What is going on?’ Then my orderly came down and went outside. He thought probably that they hit the expert driver down. He drove by himself. Like I said…
‘He’ meaning Rotimi Amaechi?
Yes. He drove by himself. The soldiers and police and the rest to show federal might. That was what happened. You know, impunity. People forget protocol. You’re no longer a governor. Somebody is a governor whether you like it or not. But in this case, ‘no, I will not obey. After all, we are in power. I would not listen.’ That was what happened. And you know, we complained to the federal government. What did they do? Nothing. The same impunity we’re talking about.
When you said there was a plot to bring federal might to impose APC governorship in Rivers, Delta and in Akwa Ibom, where did you get the facts from?
But, it is very clear. Even when we went to Ekiti, the security people were saying it. Now, we’re done with Ekiti, it’s Rivers.
But in Ekiti, there was no show of force…
You wouldn’t say so.
There was no evidence. Everywhere was calm. The allegation people made was that a lot of money was changing hands…
But that does not mean… we also watched on television where voters were running away. But, of course, where they were scattering Ado-Ekiti.
Yes, but most of it was calm…
But that does not mean that nothing like that happened. It happened.
So, you expect that?
For Rivers, if you see, even when APC talks, when they make statements, even from the President, all they will tell you, ‘We must take Rivers, we must take Rivers.’ I don’t know how they will take it if not by force. If it’s by people voting, I don’t think we have fear, because something you must also ask, there must be something you would show to the people of Rivers State why Rivers people should vote for the party. In the three years of governance, what has Rivers State benefited from the federal government? There’s nothing. Is it the international airport where you landed? Is it the East/West Road? Is it the Onne Seaport and Port Harcourt Port that they have killed? So, there must be something that would entice the people. Is it Ogoni clean-up that has been finished and the people are drinking good water now? There must be something. Like I said, it’s not every time you come and tell people lies. The only way and they know is by force. If it is by the people voting, we can go home and sleep with our two eyes closed. So, if they can come and tell us Rivers people, these are the promises we made to you – one, there would be employment, two, the naira would be equal to the dollar, we would fight insecurity, the airport would be standard, in fact, it would beat Atlanta Airport, Onne Seaport will be the busiest, Port Harcourt Seaport here will be the busiest. Which one have they really done? It’s not to bring sentiments at these people. Let them tell me one that is working.
So, what would happen in 2019 if, as you have suggested or predicted, they want to bring federal might to Rivers?
Oh, you know, the people would resist.
How would they resist?
How would they not resist
How would they resist federal might?
But why won’t they resist? They did it in National Assembly. People resisted. You saw a Rivers girl, what she did. It’s a Rivers girl. You see, you must know that people…
How would they resist? Will they resist with arms too?
We don’t have arms. But if that be the case, so be it. We don’t need to go and carry arms. But if that’s why you want to kill everybody, so be it. So many things are happening. Police invaded House of Assembly in Benue State and the president said they would not support anything that is unconstitutional. Yes, so what has happened? But now the SSS own has happened. You took him back. Fine. But I cannot be deceived by that. It’s an internal politics that is going on. And now, just because they wanted to take that action to show that they are serious in fighting impunity against rule of law. Look at EFCC. What can be more impunity if you’re saying that SSS invaded National Assembly which is an arm of government? What can be more impunity when an agency would shut down a tier of government of a federation? To freeze the account of a state. What coup can be bigger than that?
They have denied it?
Denied what? How can you deny that? So, that is why you see me in the system. Today, you’re punishing the DG SSS. But EFCC is doing what they are doing. And I can tell you, the target is not just those states. The target is against Rivers State. We know. I’ve never seen a system that believes in impunity (more) than this government. This state government in 2006 went to court against EFCC under Governor Peter Odili and the court gave judgment that you have no business with the financial transaction of a state. It is the state house of assembly that can query the financial transaction of a state. The money of Rivers State is not federal government money. It’s money that was shared in the federation account. Federal government took their own money. Rivers State took their own money like other states took their own money. You cannot come now to say you’re investigating the financial transactions of the state. And the court gave the judgment, no, it’s unconstitutional. EFCC filed an appeal. As I speak to you, EFCC has not been able to set aside that judgment. They went and appealed.