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AMNESTY: I’ve no business discussing with Ateke Tom – Gov. Amaechi

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By Ehis Osajie
PENULTIMATE week Rivers State governor Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi held the maiden edition of his monthly media briefing in Government House, Port Harcourt. Amaechi, always passionate about developing the State, spoke extensively on the numerous projects and programmes of his administration and his efforts at rebuilding the State.  Excerpts:

WHAT would you say are your major achievements since you assumed office?

Let me start with the educational sector, after this administration took over primary schools from the Local Government councils, we started building 250 new primary schools. We have currently added another 100 to it. Our target is that by the end of our tenure we should have built 750 new model primary schools. And that is the recommendation of the committee that we set up to look into primary education in the state.

We took over the payment of teachers emoluments. And we also took over the payment of junior secondary school teachers salaries. At the end of the first month we paid between 1.1 to 1.2billion naira as teachers’ salaries at the primary school level and at the junior secondary school level which before now were the responsibility of the Local Government councils.

We have already completed 10 out of the 250 new primary schools. We believe 25 should be ready before the end of this month. By December, we should be delivering at least 150 new model Primary schools.

As for Secondary Schools, the one at Eleme is nearing completion. I heard work has gone far in the secondary schools at Oyigbo and Omuma Local Government Areas. You should go and see what is happening in those two areas. Unlike the Primary schools where we are spending only N27 billion, we are spending nearly 90 billion for the Secondary Schools and we are building 23 new Secondary schools. It will now be 24 because I have decided that they should build one at Ubima.

In the health sector, we are building 150 health centres. Some of them have been completed but they have not been opened  because there are no doctors. I met with the Rivers State Civil Service Commission and told them to hire all qualified and capable doctors that applied for jobs.

I heard over 190 doctors applied. By the end of this month, we will have about 50 health centres completed. If we employ these doctors and nurses, then we can open them up for people to use. The essence is to reduce maternal and child mortality ratio in the State.

In the area of roads, there are challenges in vehicular traffic flow. There are two other reasons outside bad roads that cause the heavy traffic congestion in Port Harcourt. First, we don’t have enough roads in the city. This is why I think that the media should support us in our demolition exercise. There are so many new roads we want to build but these roads will include the demolition of people’s houses.

Another reason is the bad driving behaviour of motorists. To tackle that, we have sent a bill to the State House of Assembly. I try not to influence or be part of what happens in the State legislature, but I have sent that bill for over three months now – the “Traffic Management Law” so that we can set up a Traffic Management Agency that can manage traffic in Port Harcourt.

All I’m doing is to recover and restore Port Harcourt to what it used to be. Even if I can’t move it forward, let me get it back to those days that people used to say that this is Garden City.

On rural infrastructure, a lot of roads have been completed in the rural areas. People were writing that we are not doing anything in these places and I responded that we have done more in the rural areas than in the city. Some said we have done nothing in the coastal areas and I say they should tell me where.

Some people who wrote on my Facebook page mentioned Krakrama community, so I called the Commissioners for Education and Health to name the projects we have in those areas. There are schools and health centres there. There is no Local Government Area that we don’t have new health centres or primary schools.

Another area that we are proud of is security of lives and property. I’m sure that some or most of you now feel a sense of safety in the city, better than it used to be before. I would like to take your minds back to 2005, 2006 when men will sit in their houses and young boys will walk in with guns and shoot people to death. How many times has it happened since I became governor? The simple reason is anybody who commits an offence must be punished for that offence. And now people know that there is somebody who says, any offence you commit, you will be punished for it, that has reduced the number of times they commit offences.

The major demolition that is causing some confusion for which a few people are writing all sorts of things is the demolition of slums and shanties in Port Harcourt Waterfronts. And they know that I will not respond because I am going ahead. I have made up my mind, I have talked through the process, I have gone to the Executive Council and the Council said I should go ahead; I have called series of stakeholders meetings_one, I met with leaders and Chiefs of Okirika and I made the proposal to them.

Nothing will stop me from demolishing Port Harcourt Waterfronts except God and probably the courts. If we end up at the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court says don’t demolish, then we have to obey the law. Beyond these two, I must demolish waterfronts.

Why do I want to go ahead with the demolition of shanties and slums in the Waterfronts of the city? The first reason is crime. If you go to waterfronts and they steal your property or they kill somebody, nobody from that Waterfront is allowed to report to the police. If you report, they will kill you. So they have their own structures, they have their own supreme court. And there can’t be two governments in a State, just like there can’t be two presidents in Nigeria. The governor of Rivers State is Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, so why do I have to allow other “governors” in the same state. We must bring down the Waterfronts for the interest of security.

In the power sector, between now and December, Port Harcourt will have about 280 mega watts of power. But the problem is not in generation but in distribution. The President will come and commission the 100 mega watts of power that we will complete before the end of December.

Our plan is to change all the small transformers, do distribution lines so that once we hit the 280 mega watts of power, we will at least enjoy 70 per cent of power supply. And our target is that by 2011 we should be able to deliver 500 mega watts of power which means Port Harcourt and Rivers State should be able to have uninterrupted power supply by  2011. Also, we are awarding a contract to Saipem to build a new power plant at Afam (power station)180 mega watts to complement what we have. If you add them together we will be having over 650 mega watts.

This is the beginning of new school session. What is the student population for primary and secondary schools in the state? And how many teachers do you need?

You really caught me here. This is the same question I have been asking the Commissioner for Education. When we said we will take over primary schools from local councils, we got a figure of 12,000 teachers. As soon as we announced takeover, in less than one week it increased to 16,000 teachers. So where did this additional teachers come from. It’s either that extra teachers were employed before the time of the count or the Education Board must have added some new teachers.

So, I told them to give me the exact figure but till today, the Ministry of Education is still battling with that figure and that is why we have not employed. I told them I must know how many teachers we have now, how many teachers we require and for what subjects.

To your question, I have challenges in answering it, except the Ministry of Education gives me the complete and correct figure. But I have told them we need to get an Independent Consultant to get us the actual number of pupils we have. It is the same in the Secondary Schools. In fact, I am told that there are so many ghost teachers and people are collecting their salaries.

What is being done in the area of waste management? The Eliozu road to Olu-Obasanjo Bye Pass is fast becoming a death trap and the contractors should be made do something to it…. From all the revenue generated from environmental sanitation, how much has the State got as internal revenue?

The company doing the road you talked about is Bulletine. Everywhere on that road is a death trap.  That flyover was awarded by Celestine Omehia (the sacked former governor) and it was awarded two days before I became governor and full payment made, so I have no form of control over the contractor. The contract is for 1 year and 6 months, I have spent nearly 2 years in government and the contract by law should have been delivered by now. A friend of mine said it is a contract where they use shovels and wheel barrows to build a flyover. Should you be building a flyover with shovel and wheel barrow?  But so that nobody accuses me of witch hunting anybody, I have left them to finish their work.

When they finish, I will call a bigger contractor to work on that road from Ken Saro_Wiwa road to Ikwerre road because that road is very important.

I just think that we should endure. Rivers people should endure. The contractor will complete that job latest by November. We will put pressure on them to complete the flyover.  Let them complete it. Then, we will get a reputable contractor who will do the entire road. By December you will see that we have started the process of awarding that road contract.

On the issue of roads, contractors who are not qualified are seen doing roads and some of the roads in Port Harcourt have gone bad after one month.

There is no road that we have done that has gone bad except for one or two roads we just resurfaced and those were roads awarded before we came and they were completed before we came.

I understand there was supposed to be a reconciliatory meeting between you and AtekeTom.

About Ateke Tom, I have no business speaking with him. I have said it to the whole world that I have seen Ateke once or twice in my life. The one I can vividly remember is the day Hon. James Fauyefika was having a thanksgiving service and I went to Okirika to chair the ocassion as Speaker of the Legislature, and one young man walks in and they said that’s godfather, and I said who is godfather and they said it’s Ateke Tom. Beyond that, I have never seen or  talked with him all my life and probably may not talk with him.

I am not in charge of amnesty so I do not have to meet with him. If Ateke needs assurance from the Rivers State Government, I hereby assure him, nothing, absolutely nothing will happen to him if he surrenders his weapons and comes out to be a free man because the President of Nigeria has declared amnesty. But it is important that everybody knows that it has an expiration date.

Rivers State is one of the states listed as not paying the Teachers’ Salary Structure (TSS), what is the position of government on this?

On the issue of TSS, I have told the teachers that if they want TSS, then let’s go back to their salary structure and remove all those other extra allowances that are not suppose to be there. Teachers in Rivers State are currently the highest paid anywhere in the country. We pay more than Federal Government; we pay more than any State government. And I have challenged them to show me any State that pays higher and I will pay TSS.

So we are not going to pay TSS except they accept that we should withdraw those allowances and then start paying TSS. It’s better for me because I will save money and pay less. Now, they want me to pay TSS and pay the allowances on top, that’s not possible because teachers do not constitute 90 percent of the public service neither do they constitute 90 percent of the people, and I have the people to take care of too.

If you are indeed in support of the amnesty programme for militants, may we know to what extent you have supported the activities of the implementation committee?

On amnesty for militants, it is erroneous for anyone to accuse me of not supporting it. They said provide a training ground and a ground for residence for the militants, and I have. I have released money for the renovation of the Aluu Training Centre. I was the first one to open a training ground for anyone who comes out and surrenders his weapons and we are now graduating the first 300 repentant militants. We took them to Jos and some other places for leadership training, skills acquisition etc.

We are now talking about how to deploy funds and assist them to establish and own their individual businesses. So how can anybody say I am not supporting amnesty? It’s political and I don’t bother myself with political talks. The Federal government has made a lot of progress in Rivers State as far as amnesty for repentant militants is concerned, and I support it whole heartedly.

I have said here that the State government will not harm any repentant militant that takes advantage of the federal government amnesty deal.
I will rather support anyone that comes out and surrenders his weapons. The only other issue is to rehabilitate them; we need to rehabilitate them for them to be able to fit into society again.

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