By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
To some he is a rebel with a cause, to others he is a spoiler bent on rocking the boat, but almost all agree that as governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi has performed excellently.
The model primary and secondary schools that compare with the best in Africa, the healthcare scheme conceived by the administration anchored on model primary healthcare centres and secondary healthcare facilities are among indicators that have drawn compliments to the pace and pattern of governance in Rivers State.
Amaechi who is also chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF last week hosted an international Energy, Environment and Investment Forum attended by some of the world’s leading infrastructure experts. On the sidelines of the forum, Governor Amaechi took time articulate his agitations to visiting journalists. Excerpts:
WAS there any agreement between you and the Federal Government that led to the release of the Rivers State Government owned aircraft?
There was nothing like that. I didn’t even see anybody in the Federal Government; we didn’t even have any meeting. I just called one person. It was not this plane they were interested in releasing, but the (security) helicopters. I said I wanted to sell the helicopters and the person I called offered to talk to the president to seek the approval of the helicopters and they got the approval. (to bring them into the country)
And in the course of getting approval for the helicopters, they got approval for the plane to be released. There was no negotiation, no interface or whatsoever other than the telephone conversation. So, what is all this rumour that I am going to the PDP? I have finished with the PDP.
There is the insinuation that you were planning to run with Aminu Tambuwal?
There was nothing like that. These are fabrications by people.
Why do political parties in Nigeria usually abhor internal democracy and adopt consensus for party positions?
Who did we force to step down?
Why did you ask your candidate (Sam Jaja) to step down?
Why I asked my candidate to step down was because I had given my commitment to Asiwaju that I would support whichever candidate he supported. And the reason I gave him my commitment was because I had said to him that we needed to look at this issue of being a Muslim party.
Commitment to Asiwaju
So, first we need to get a new chairman and he has to be a Christian. So, he said to me: “Okay, I have brought a Christian and according to what you said the day we were negotiating things. Then why are you now asking somebody to run against the person based on the promise you made to me?” And I like to keep promises.
In October, the number of APC governors would have decreased by one and another election will hold in Osun in a few weeks, what is your party doing to avert another disaster?
You will help us to tell the president to keep the soldiers in his house. All of us are part of the problem of Nigeria. President impounded newspapers and journalists did not do anything. In another country, they would have protested on the streets. We are talking but there is need for him (president) to stop using soldiers to conduct election.
Does it mean your party is afraid it may lose Osun?
How can we lose Osun? Say something else.
Are you satisfied the country’s democracy is evolving?
Are we not ashamed that it is still evolving; every year it is evolving? Next year will make it 16 years of post-Abdusalam Abubakar. When shall we grow up?
Given the allegation of the militarisation of the Ekiti election, what do you think is the proper security measure for election?
The law says police and let us see the consequences. Are you saying there are no soldiers in Borno?
What is your take on the issue with the NJC over appointment of Chief Judge of Rivers State?
The quarrel we have about the NJC is that the constitution says 10 years at the bar and that is the only qualification for a Chief Judge. It didn’t say whether you should be from Rivers State judiciary or most senior Judge.
But there are recommendations by the NJC?
Yes, I agree. You send your names to the NJC. You send three names; they pick up one and send it to you. In our own case, they sent a name to us and said the reason why they didn’t take the person we preferred was because he was a Judge of the Customary Court of Appeal and that was what disqualified him. Then we wrote back and said you are wrong, the law says 10 years. It doesn’t matter where he comes from. So, I didn’t see where you saw it must be the most senior judge. And the court said so.
What prompted you to move out from the normal because that has been the tradition.
It is not true. Was Teslim Elias a Judge? He was a Professor of Law. The law says 10 years.
Won’t people read that as interference in the judiciary?
No. It is not me. They are the people interfering.
The same law says the governor has the right to accept your recommendation or reject. If he rejects, he writes to you that I have rejected. I rejected in writing and re-forwarded the name of the person I felt by law qualified to be the Chief Judge. They said I have no right to reject. So, you see, I am fighting on the side of the people and I thought journalists would join me.
You sent three names…
Yes, including hers (Justice Okocha) but we said in this order and to help NJC, we attached the reports on all of them – the SSS report. They said it doesn’t matter because it is not part of the requirement. We sent report by NBA – they all rejected her nomination. All their comments on the three judges were sent to them and we didn’t favour anybody. We said these were the three judges you said we should send and all that informed our choice.
It is not me. Don’t forget that there is State Judicial Council. I didn’t mind any of the three, the only reason why I reacted was the reasons they gave for rejecting the first person. Don’t forget that when they sent it, I was aware and I said fine, I don’t mind working with anyone of them. But when they wrote to me to say we reject the number one sent by the State Judicial Council because he is not qualified since he was the President of the Customary Court. I said Haba; that is not what the law says.
The law simply says 10 years at the bar. He didn’t say it must be a Judge or marry from Rivers State. It didn’t say it must come from Rivers State. We once had a Chief Judge, Justice Douglas. He was already in Court of Appeal in Enugu when they brought him back to Port Harcourt to be Chief Judge.
What plans have you after office? Is it true you have your eyes on the Senate?
I will go and love my wife because she is harassing me every day. I have not shown her enough love and attention, so I need to do that for six months to one year. I will spend one or two years with my children since they lost the chance of staying with their father. That is three years. Then I will be 53 years old. I will go to the university to do another first degree either in history or law. I will do a Masters and a PhD and then I will be 60-something. Then the remaining years, I will teach as I get closer to the grave.
Are you exiting the political scene?
It was Channels Television that asked me whether I wanted to run for presidency and I said I couldn’t answer that question. They asked why? I said because in Nigeria nobody runs for president. You just sit and you become president; you just see yourself one day wake up and become president prepared or unprepared. There were only two persons who have emerged president by wanting to be president of Nigeria. They were Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. So, the rest, especially the civilian presidents sat down in their houses and were made president. So, why not allow me to sit down and see if I would be president?
What are the chances of the APC in Rivers State in 2015?
Wait and see. Just tell them to keep their soldiers at the barracks and allow us to go and cast our votes.
What if they bring in soldiers?
I won’t tell them what I will do. Didn’t you hear Osun State saying carry your charms? Did you read the story of Ombatse? Did you hear that people were handing their guns on their own volition?
What is the assurance that you would complete your projects before leaving office, especially the monorail?
Monorail would be completed. The reason the monorail must be completed at all costs is political. I want to ride in the monorail and call the Amaechi haters to come and see that I am riding on the monorail. Even if it is May 29, 2015, people will ride on the monorail. We would hang rail. What is delaying the monorail is just the terminal where they would maintain it. That is what they are fixing now, once they fix that, it will be ready.
What about the secondary schools?
It is huge and that is the problem we had with that. We have completed at least seven out of the 23 that we want to build. The cost is N4.5 billion per school. It is huge and basically the financial diversion at the national level – the oil sector has crippled the states. All the states are being denied money. The stealing in the oil industry is so bad.
How would you compare your first term to the second?
First term we had money and the problem we had in the second term is the fact that the wife of the President is from here.
We have a situation whereby she is in direct control of the police, SSS, Air Force. I didn’t say she controlled it through her husband; she is in direct control. Kidnapping is back into Port Harcourt and how do I stop it when the forces I used to stop them with have been removed?
Now, people cannot move freely in the state because of kidnappers.
So how do you account for that in a situation where the wife of the president takes over the security? This is not the first time I am saying it; I have said it severally and they have never denied it. The army has not denied it, the president has not denied it, the wife has not denied it, and the police also have not denied it.
Since the exit of Mbu as Rivers State Commissioner of Police, have there been any changes?
No. The only difference is that one police commissioner is more civilised than other but it is still the same. You run a government whereby the police are not working with you at all, so you can’t even say you want to go on demolition and the police will follow you.
What if the helicopters come in now?
Before we had a wonderful security system, so it was the security system that gave us the control of the state that made us to introduce helicopters where we would have camera in the helicopters and they can fly round the state and whatever we see we act on it.
Now, how do you manage it? You have a system where if you go to arrest anybody; if the person says he is PDP or working for the president with AK 47 in his hand, they would let him go. The army arrested seven people with AK 47 and people are not asking, where are they? When they were arrested, I called the brigade commander that I heard that seven people had been arrested. He told me that he has handed them over to police.
Where are they now?
They have been released. Police have confirmed that they have been released and they were seen with seven AK 47!
Why were they released?
They were released by Mbu not the current man and that is why I said the current man is more civilised than Mbu.
Is the Nigerian Governors Forum still effective as a body?
What are we doing before that we are not doing again? The only thing we were doing before that we are not doing again is controlling the stealing of oil money. Now, it has gone bad that nobody can control it. Before when we saw the stealing, we would come together and tell the President that we don’t like the stealing.
Stealing in the oil industry
They were more careful then. So, if you say it is to stop us from shouting against the stealing because that was what was annoying the president that every day we were shouting about the stealing in the oil industry. The stealing was controlled by then, but now the stealing has no control at all. Beyond that, has president stopped me from what I want to say? The answer is no because I can still say what I want to say.
What is your succession plan and why are you insisting the next governor should not come from Ikwere?
I have said that severally because as an Ikwere man, I have served for eight years.
You can’t do upland and riverine politics in Rivers State. If you do that, it would be unfair to the riverine people. And I have been telling my friends who are in riverine area not to pursue that politics. Fifteen local government areas are upland, eight are riverine: who will win? Politics is a game of number. So, it is not in the interest of anybody to do riverine/upland. All you can say for now is that it would be unfair for an Ikwere man to come back as governor, no matter the numbers. Yes, Ikwere people can claim that we have 1.1million votes out of the 2.3million votes. What it means is that if you are a patriot, allow others, give the 1.1million votes to anybody of your choice, not to have appropriated those votes because the number exist.
We are saying that Ikwere fought political injustice when Bayelsa was here and by then we used to hear about one million from Bayelsa, we didn’t know that they are only about 600,000 people. And then the Ikwere people fought and fought until they created the new Rivers State.
Having created the new Rivers State and you have the highest number, the right thing to do, having served it is for an Ikwere man to have served eight years and we ship out since there are other groups. There is no group that does not have qualified candidates to govern Rivers State.
Fulfilment of agreement
When Ikwere people visited me in my first two months as governor, I asked them to go to Dr. Peter Odili with gifts to thank him because he was an instrument to the realisation of an Ikwere man as governor. They did it and I know he was shocked because he didn’t know I sent them. He was shocked to receive them and they thanked him. They thanked him because he pursued it and that was why when I was dropped, he took my cousin (Omehia), who is also an Ikwere man in fulfilment of that agreement.
So, once I became governor, about three or four months later, Ikwere people came to visit me and I told them ‘thank you for coming to see me as your son and you are my fathers, go and thank Dr. Odili for the realisation of your dream. You have been dreaming to become governor and this is the first time you are getting it.’
Now, my own dream is to leave office and not supporting an Ikwere candidate because the reason for which Dr. Odili supported an Ikwere candidate was to ensure that this power rotates round the ethnic groups in Rivers State.
Rivers has regularly harvested 2.1million votes for the PDP. In 2015, do you think the votes in place would be up to two million?
I am not God. We should even surpass the two million but what I don’t know is where it will go to, whether PDP or APC. Let us wait and see.