Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State will be one year in office this October. Although he took over at a time when the state was facing troubled times with militant attacks in Port Harcourt, the state capital, Amaechi's impressive savvy was able to stabilise this erosion into anarchy. He told the Newsworld crew of ANTHONY MALIKI (Assistant Editor) and VICTOR EDOZIE (Port Harcourt Bureau Chief) of how he was able to surmount these challenges of governance. Excerpt:
By 26th October, you would be one year in office. How has it been ruling the state with its ups and downs?
It's been quite challenging, quite challenging. There were a lot of challenges we needed to overcome. Basically, it is the fact that we are confronting infrastructural development. There are a lot of things we think we need to do. When we took over from the last government on the 26th of October, 2007, we met some challenges on ground. The roads were bad. We needed to open up some areas for the traffic to flow, even though we cannot say we have achieved that objective in full but at least, there is an improvement on traffic flow. We have to award some major road contracts like the airport road heading towards Owerri. We had to award the contract for the reconstruction of the Trans-Amadi to Rumubiakani round-about. We had to award the old Aba road contract for dualization and reconstruction. We had to award the dualization of the road beginning from Mile 3 to the airport. We had to award the dualization of the road to the University of Port-Harcourt with a fly-over at the Choba point of the University of Port-Harcourt. We also awarded a lot of rural roads. In fact, as at last count, we have at least 105 roads. We are doing that, and then we saw the challenges in education. The primary school education had collapsed completely. We want to take it over from the local governments; it is their responsibility by law to manage primary schools but by September, we should have begun paying teachers salaries. We would be building 250 new primary schools. We would demolish the old ones and reconstruct new primary schools. We are thinking we would do 50 this year and 50 next year. Then in the same manner, we are building new secondary schools. We are relocating the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and the master plan for the new city will be submitted between October and November, while the relocation of the university will start in November. The university may not close, but the transitional development will start at that time. There is quite a lot we are doing. We are building 105 health centres. We have awarded contracts for 105 and an extra 45 to make it 105 from Rivers State Government directly. We will furnish them when they finish but at present, we are constructing them already.
We suppose you have taken your indices to show that there is a problem in the educational sector?
Yes, we have done that. We got a consultant, who will work with the World Bank to do a study on what is the current situation of education in Rivers State and the person found out that as at now, the investment in education, the highest we have gotten is between 4.5 per cent to five per cent as against 26 per cent recommended by UNICEF. So in the current budget, we have about 11 per cent of the budget on education and we have gone back to the assembly to ask for an extra N50 billion. I have been told they have passed it and that would amount to N70 billion investment on education for this year.
You have been the speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly for eight years before becoming governor. What are your experiences concerning the two arms of governments?
I think one makes the law and oversees, which is supervising the executive. But it is not properly developed. You see, you have to develop the legislature in Nigeria for it to be able to assert its role and independence and to be able to supervise. But most times, many governors do not want to hear the world supervise, but whether we like it or not, there is an oversight function that the legislature does. It is the only authority in the whole country that can remove the governor and that can question a governor. Well most actions of the governor can be queried in the courts, but basically, the overseeing authority is the legislature. So, it comes with enormous powers. The difference between the two is the fact that one executes what comes out of the legislature. So, a vibrant legislature, that is equipped intellectually to deliver on policies will be one of the wheels of progress that you would need to put the state forward. If the legislature is weak, chances are that if the governor is also not focused, the administration of the state will be poor.
What then are the leadership burdens of a speaker and governor, moreso, that as speaker, you are pressurised to checkmate the governors?
Well, as a governor, the entire state looks up to you, unlike when you are a speaker, even though as a speaker they should also look up to you to get the executive to deliver on their promises. But this time, they are looking up to you to deliver on your promises and a lot of challenges you will have to face. Challenges of unemployment, the challenge of poverty. These are two key challenges that you need to deliver. People want to know where the next pot of soup will come from. They want to know that this is guaranteed. It's not a matter of not being certain. It is the uncertainty of the future in the system that brings friction in the country. So the state is looking up to you to try and improve on these uncertainties and to ensure that wealth is created. That is one responsibility the government has to discharge.
Your Excellency, though you have spoken on road construction, health and development of the rural areas, but what is the policy thrust of your administration?
Well, rural infrastructural development is key, very key. I am not saying we would not develop the cities. But also key is the security of lives and property. So, the main thrust is education, health, rural infrastructural development and even infrastructural development in the city and security.
Part of the problem in the state is security and you have said so on many occasions, that you would not negotiate with militants. So how have you taken the challenge? What are the options, what are the solutions?
I believe the key to finding solutions to the crisis in the Niger Delta is the enforcement of law, because if you don't enforce the law, people would not respect the law. In the legislature, I knew that if I pass a law, for the government to be able to implement it, the government must have the force. Now, we have a situation where nobody respects the law and we think that, that is not the best. We should be able to let people know that for every action you take, you would be held responsible. I don't know who you call a militant? I may be wrong, but I have not seen one. The only person, who you can closely call a militant would be Asari Dokubo, if you check it closely. But the rest of them and I have seen of them in Rivers State, I don't know outside Rivers State, 95 per cent to 99 per cent of them are criminals. So, why do I have to negotiate with them? A key to finding solution to criminality is to enforce the law and when these criminals can carry RPGs, can carry GPNG, the only thing you need is for federal government to bring its might to bear on them so that they would become responsible. That is what I can say. That is what I feel. After that, we can think of development. How can you develop the Niger Delta when people do not bid for contracts? Take Julius Berger for instance, they have pulled out of site and the road they are constructing is in Niger Delta awarded by the federal government. Now, who do you blame? Federal government that has awarded the road contract (or) Julius Berger that was constructing the road that have now pulled out or the kidnappers? So, key to development is to enforce the law, because if there is no atmosphere of security, things don't work. We have lost quite a lot in that regard. So let's see how we can enforce the law. I have seen some responses.
So, you are of the opinion that the basic thing for development to come to the Niger Delta is for the federal government to stamp its authority for peace to reign?
Of course, that's key. If not, no contractor will come. You can advertise as many times. Now, we literarily go and beg these multi-nationals to come. For example, the contract we are trying to award on the Port-Harcourt ring road for a billion dollar. Anybody we say we have such a contract for will jump at it but as I am talking to you, the company we want to award the contract from China, is the fifth largest Construction Company in the world. They are not sure whether to come. We are trying to go to China to reassure them of the fact that we will provide security and they were to start by October, 26th, but they can't. That was our plan: to do the foundation laying ceremony that day and work will start and in two years complete their work.
But, these so-called criminals keep talking that they don't want peace. Now, we know your stand, how can you bring in the federal government?
There is no way we can do it other than the federal government to come and enforce the law. The other aspect is that we have set-up a committee, headed by Chief A.K Horsefall, whose responsibility is to look at those, who may not have crossed the borderline to try to rehabilitate them.
You have a plan for Port Harcourt, the ring road, bridge and so on. Where exactly are they to be located?
The ring road takes off from the airport through Eneka to Iriebe to Oyigbo, crosses over to Eleme unto Okrika to Borokiri through the seaport then back to Rumelumeni to Ogbakiri axis, then moves on from there to Ogbakiri then back to the airport.
Your Excellency, you talked about empowering Rivers State people, that is why you concentrated on giving contracts to indigenes. How has it been successful in this direction?
I really don't know. But the basis for that action was to get them to use the profit that they would make out of that to set up their own companies. By now, we expect that some of them will come and say we have formed a construction company, which they would use to seek for more contracts.
What are your plans for transportation especially as government plans to phase out Okada riders in the state capital?
We are already doing that. You can see some big buses plying the streets, but we don't believe the government should run transportation. We believe that private sector should do that. We will partner with Skye Bank, we will provide the infrastructure, the terminals, the bus-stops, while Skye bank will provide the buses and own the buses. But what they told me was that they are getting a team of management staff and the NURTW that will help them manage it. Now, the plan is that, whoever drives the bus may likely own the bus at the end of the day or some people would come, get the bus, run it and return the cost of the bus and would still own it. That is what we are doing and the buses are on the streets. We will launch more in the next few weeks. The taxis are on the streets already. But I think we would buy more of the taxis so that we can see more of them on the roads.
You are a strong PDP man and went through a lot of stress. At a point it was rumoured that your life was at stake and at the end of the day, you emerged as the governor of Rivers State. How would you equate your experience from the time you were stopped from becoming a governor and the time you took over?
The judiciary first must be congratulated. They were agents used by God to deliver us from the impunity in which power was used under the Obasanjo regime and the EFCC to witch hunt the people they never liked. If they like you, no matter how much anybody accuses you of stealing, they are not interested. Now, what worsened my case was the fact that even my friends, who were with me in the same team betrayed me. They were taking petitions against me to the EFCC. They were the vehicles EFCC used and they were at the National Assembly. These were people that I helped or God used me to help put in positions. These are officials of the National Assembly, who became the vehicles used to victimize me and these are people that you helped. And I felt so betrayed, the betrayal was monumental. They stabbed me in the back completely. It is the famous et tu Brute because it affected me so badly and it is an experience I can never forget so easily, because it took away my family. I am someone who loves my family; I like to stay with them. But for nearly one year, we were separated. My children were staying here; they were chased away to America, from America to Britain. They lost one year of academic studies. My first son should have been in SSS two now but he is in SSS one. My second son, who would have been in SSS one, he is in JSS three. My third son, who would have joined secondary school, he is only joining now. All these were what my friends did to me, my friends, Obasanjo and EFCC.
You were said to have escaped at nightfall. How true is this?
That is not true. I flew from here to Ghana. I stayed in Ghana all the time this was on. I was also coming to Nigeria occasionally to see my lawyers, to have a chat.
You only sneaked in?
I do not know about sneaking in. If I was sneaking in, I would not have joined a public aircraft. I was joining commercial aircraft and was seeing people I knew. I will come through the border and they will stamp my passport. When I come through the International airport, I will then take the domestic flight, meet my lawyers at Hilton (Abuja) wake up the next day and take my flight to Ghana.
Now, looking back, do you have faith in the judiciary, because the confidence with which you fought that case, even when they were telling you not to go on, you persistently persisted. Did it pay off?
It has. Two things were on my mind. First was God. I was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that God was with me and that God would deliver me. Then secondly, I had watched the judiciary in so many cases that Atiku went to court, they (courts) are always forthright. So, I said my case will not be different. I listened to the judgement of Obi (Anambra State), it was again forthright, so why should my case be different? So, the more judgements they delivered, the more my faith in the judiciary increased.
Port Harcourt was known in the past as the Garden city. We were told your government wants to go back to the old master plan. How are you going to achieve that?
I am not going for the old master plan. We are proposing a new Port Harcourt master plan because the old master plan has outlived it usefulness. It is more than 50 years since we had that master plan and a master plan should not be more than 50 years, maximum 25 years or 30 years. We are getting a new Port Harcourt master plan. It is almost ready. We will submit it between October and November this year. Then if we have money, we should start the infrastructural development. There are some roads that needed to be put in place inside the old city. Those roads I don't know how much it would cost, but we would do it. Second, we are demolishing. We are about to award a contract to an outfit to re-design the Port Harcourt landscape. It would include areas we can put inter-locking stones and trees, areas for parks. An example is the one we are doing around Bori camp barracks, and we would do more. I have asked for an initial design and it will be from the beginning to the end of Aba road, including Ikwerre and Stadium roads, among others. After that, we would do the phase two hopefully, to achieve that by 2010, but we would continue to plant trees, inter-locking stones and we will fix street lights. The mere fact is that for all roads we are re-constructing, we must have surface drainage, and all drainage must be emptied into a creek. Pipes would be underground. That is the design of the roads we have now.
Is the Kayode Eso panel achieving its aims?
I think it is, but until it is concluded, I cannot say that. I can only say that, but to the extent that people are going there to relieve themselves of their pains. If for nothing, some people go there and say “they have killed my father, they killed my mother, they killed my brother or sister, they burnt our houses, we lost everything.” For every discussion there, we would come up with a report and they would advice the government. We will take our time, study the report and implement it.
What about the issue of water supply in Port Harcourt?
Currently, they have submitted a Port Harcourt water supply master plan. It is to provide water to the whole of Rivers state in a cluster form, which is to cost the government $1 billion. We are going to do it next year. We may not have $1 Billion today, but we will just start with Port Harcourt and move to other towns. Instead of one village, you will have about three, four, five to ten villages coming together and having one supply system and then we distribute with boaster pumps in locations.
Recently, there were accusations from the southern part of the country that governors from the north are parasites because of their stand on the derivation principle. In your opinion, is it a fair comment?
I believe we are a country. I believe that the issue is not parasiting for sure. It is a wrong use of words. You may be aggrieved because you may say you are not receiving a fair share of the revenue. We produce oil and we are not getting enough of the funds. The issue is not only the funds from oil, but what is the employment population of NNPC or the industry? How many people come from the Niger Delta? What is the funding of NDDC? How is it managed and who are the beneficiaries? As for the oil, it must go round. We are one country. There is need for the man in Sokoto to benefit from that oil without which he may not be able to govern that state. So, we need to make sure that they benefit. That is not been parasitic. It happens in so many other countries, where a zone holds the national resources of the country and the other component parts benefit from that. The basic truth is that Niger Delta is not fairly treated but you cannot say governors of other states are being parasitic because we need to make the country united. We need to share resources. You can never tell what resources they would find in other parts of the country someday.