Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on whose back he rode to Government House, for newly-registered All Progressives Congress (APC), a development that has earned him friends and equally foes. In this session with Editor-in-Chief, IKECHUKWU AMAECHI, on that sunny Wednesday afternoon in May 2014, he speaks on his former and new party, Rivers politics and his face-off with the Jonathans
The story in town is that you may go back to your old party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), because of some issues in the All Progressives Congress (APC). How soon will that be?
I am not going back to PDP. I have moved from PDP to APC and the reasons for my movement are ideological. So, I can’t go back to PDP.
Are the differences so fundamental and irreconcilable?
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Very irreconcilable! That was why I said they are more ideological than just personal issues. So, I don’t see myself going back to PDP.
But are there really ideological issues in party politics in the country?
Of course, there are. I don’t agree with a party that will encourage corruption; a party that encourages the elite lording it over the poor, to the extent that the poor can’t even survive. I won’t agree with that. I will agree with a party that will provide social amenities, a party that will provide the social networks that allow the poor to manage themselves and their families.
So, I prefer a party that can look at such programmes like free education, free healthcare, and government being able to provide for those who can’t articulate their economic interests because of the lopsidedness of natural resources acquisition in the society.
How different, in real terms, is APC from PDP, because if what you reeled out are the ills of PDP, then APC equally stands accused.
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Again, go back to the issue of ideology. Look at the programmes pursued by different states whose governors are from the APC, you will see most of the things I talked about: free education, free healthcare and other social policies. You won’t see that in PDP states. Let us even assume there is corruption in the states where APC is managing, you will see that it is reduced, that is, if at all there is corruption, compared to PDP states.
But I am not particularly saying that there is corruption in those states where you have PDP; but we are saying that PDP as a party encourages corruption.
How do you mean?
You have heard about the $49.8 billion missing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). What has the PDP-led federal government done about it? You have heard about the $20 billion that has not been reconciled, what has the PDP government done? They have done nothing. If APC was in charge, we will respond to that quickly.
But these are mere allegations. They have not been proven.
How else do you prove it? The only person that can do that is President (Goodluck Jonathan). Where is the result of the forensic audit? When they announced that they would carry out forensic audit, I said it was political; nothing would happen. Why is it that the National Assembly has investigated so many federal agencies and nothing has happened? You ask yourself that question. Why has the president not responded to those things? Why has the PDP not expelled its members who were found wanting? If the president had dropped the Minister of Aviation over corruption, why has PDP not expelled her from their party? APC, which we belong to, will not condone that.
If APC won’t condone that, why has it not expelled some of its godfathers who are also deemed to be corrupt?
Are you talking about Muhammadu Buhari? The whole country knows him as one of the strongest fighters against corruption. He is known as an anti-corruption czar in the country.
Can you also say that about some of your leaders from the South West?
I don’t know who in particular you are talking about. But do you have any evidence? Does the person have any case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)? Most of the people serving in the current federal government are either people who have cases with the EFCC or nearly found guilty by EFCC.
Look at the governorship candidates that they have in some states; they have one case or another with the EFCC. Look at the ministers that have been appointed; they have all manner of cases with the EFCC. The fact that the president appointed them is indicative of the fact that nobody cares about corruption in the country.
But isn’t there need for caution here because the same EFCC accused you of corruption in 2007, a fact President Olusegun Obasanjo used to stall your governorship ambition before the Supreme Court came to your rescue. Will it be fair to accuse you of corruption simply because the EFCC alleged so?
Yes; it is true. But those people should do what I did. I went to court and the court freed me. They should do the same. I didn’t become governor until the court pronounced formally that they had no case against me. They should do the same.
I agree that these accusations may be levelled to serve political purposes, but the accused should go and discharge these allegations, after which they will then legitimise their stay in office. But to have a case with EFCC and you are still a minister is unacceptable.
Are you then saying there is no genuine fight against corruption in the country?
I didn’t say so. I just said corruption is everywhere. Whether there is a genuine fight against it or not, I am not in a position to say. But the body language that you see in the PDP and at the federal level does not show that corruption is an issue to those who run the country.
APC seems to be unravelling, with the crisis that characterised the recent ward congress.
(Cuts in) Where did you see that?
In Ogun State, for instance, the fight for supremacy between former Governor Olusegun Osoba and Governor Ibikunle Amosun is festering.
They were able to manage it. You saw Amosun and Osoba together. Don’t forget that these were regional parties that came together. This party is now a big national party, and you will see different interests clashing here and there. But what is important is how they will be able to manage it. Have we not had successful ward congress? There are 36 states and you mentioned only one, and that one has been resolved.
There was also crisis in Edo and some other states.
That has also been resolved. So, in 36 states, you mentioned only two. If it were other parties, by now, they would have been fighting. Here in APC, there is no fight.
There is also this issue of APC presenting a Muslim-Muslim ticket in 2015. Can that fly in today’s Nigeria?
Honestly, I don’t know; and why I said I don’t know is because the issue of Presidency is not before the party now. I don’t know where the speculations are coming from that we will field a Muslim-Muslim ticket. We are not discussing Presidency. What we are discussing now are ward, local government and state officers and possibly national officers of the party. So, those who are talking about a Muslim-Muslim ticket or Muslim-Christian ticket are just speculating, and I don’t want to respond to speculations.
But you must have heard of moves by chieftains of your party to field Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Senator Bola Tinubu as Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates in the 2015 elections?
I have not heard that. As a governor, I am in the leadership cadre of APC. So, I should be able to know and tell you. I have not heard about it.
But will that surprise you if it turns out to be true?
When we get to the bridge, we will cross it. We are not there yet.
Your state, Rivers, seems to be relatively calm now since the redeployment of the former Police Commissioner, Joseph Mbu. What is the relationship between you and the new Police Commissioner?
It is neither good nor bad. He is doing his work as a professional Commissioner of Police. I am doing my work as a professional politician. But Mbu was a policeman and a politician. Instead of doing his work as a policeman and leave politics for politicians, he was busy playing politics. You saw all sorts of photographs of him and PDP members. Now we have a Commissioner of Police who is in his office, who is driving round the state to find out what is going on and not going from one politician’s house to another.
You know I said to the country that there is no political crisis in Rivers. It was crisis of the taking over of the security infrastructure in the state and handing it over to the PDP headed by Mbu. It was the crisis of police versus Rivers indigenes. Since the president transferred Joseph Mbu, have you heard of any crisis in Rivers? Haven’t we had peace? At the time he was here, a Rivers indigene from Choba announced to Choba people that they should not obey the law again, that anybody who confronts them that they should confront the person, that police won’t arrest them. A staff of the federal government announced to Choba people not to obey the law. At that point, as a governor, I knew that law and order had broken down because of Mbu.
Some people are yet to understand what differences you actually have with President Goodluck Jonathan who is the first Nigerian president from your zone. So, what are the issues?
The issues are ideological too. I disagree with the president on a lot of issues. On the issue of development of Rivers, issue of development of Nigeria, and I thought I had a different idea on how we are going to move forward in Rivers without interference. I put that forward before the president and I asked him a basic question; we gave him 2.1 million votes and we have got nothing, and I think the president should respond to that.
In fact, I raised the issue under Umaru Yar’Adua’s government who started by giving us a skills acquisition centre, which was under construction before he died. When he died, President Jonathan took over and I continued to emphasise that nothing is happening in Rivers.
Then all our oil wells were being taken and given to other states, and I said that was not fair to Rivers. I had to fight to defend the interest of the state.
The Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, recently said the cause of the crisis in Rivers was your attempt to take the state to an opposition party which he said was unprecedented since the state was created in 1967.
You want me to respond to that man? I can’t respond to him. Why should I respond to him? He does not have any sense of history. Was the crisis not there before I moved over to APC? In fact, what induced my movement to APC? When public officers speak, they must do so with a lot of facts and intelligence. When somebody speaks like that, it means he is not intelligent enough.
Was Mbu brought in after I moved to APC? When the wife of the president came for a wedding where she declared that this same so-called Minister of State for Education is now the leader of the PDP in Rivers, was I still not a member of the PDP?
So, you shouldn’t have asked me the question; you should have asked him if he was the person who made the comment. I doubt if he did. But if indeed, he did, then I question both his University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) and Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) degrees.
The First Lady, Patience Jonathan, has thrown her support for Wike’s governorship ambition on the platform of the PDP. Don’t you foresee a tough battle for you ahead?
I wish them luck. When we get to the bridge, we will jump across. I wish the president’s wife luck. I wish her candidate luck. That is the best one can do as a governor; to wish all those running luck. I am not running.
Do you have issues with the First Lady?
Why should I have issues with her? She is my president’s wife. I don’t. Maybe she has with me, but the most important thing is that I am the governor of Rivers State. I was elected to govern Rivers, and nobody should govern the state with me. The only person who can govern Rivers with me is the deputy governor who was elected on the same ticket with me. Any interference from Abuja, I will resist it.
How has your fight with the president impacted Rivers?
I don’t like putting that question that way. I would rather ask, how has the inability of the federal government to pay us our money affected development in Rivers? It has. We don’t have money to pay for all the things we are doing. We are struggling now to complete the monorail. We are struggling to complete the roads, like Trans-Amadi, which is about N49 billion, all I have paid so far is N13 billion. The road to Owerri, which is a federal government road and which we did for N35 billion, we are still owing the contractors about N7 billion. The road to my village is yet to be completed, which is very strange to everybody because they thought that as you become governor, the first thing is to complete the road to your village. But we are struggling to complete it now. It is about N13 billion, and we still owe about N6 billion.
There are so many roads we owe people. The schools that we have started, we are finding it difficult to furnish them. We have completed seven out of the 24. So we need to complete more. We need money to complete a lot of our projects, which we have already started. There are a lot of rural roads, power, primary and secondary schools, the health centres and hospitals that we are building. So that is the issue, not the disagreement between me and the president.
If they pay you all the money they owe, are you prepared to make peace?
Why? Is the issue money? It is not war. You asked me if I was prepared to move back to the PDP and I said I won’t be able to move back. It is not the money that is the issue. They should give us back the money that belongs to Rivers people. It is more of ideology, the issue of development of my state and the country as well as how the resources of the state and country are managed.
What are your personal expectations from APC come 2015?
Nothing! Don’t forget that APC is now a national party and we will all sit down and decide on what happens. It is no longer the regional parties where you had the ACN, CPC, APGA, etc. Now you have a national party with a broad outlook and we as members will take it in that light.
Are you not afraid that by playing the opposition politics, you may ultimately lose out not only in the politics of Rivers, but South South?
Why should I lose out in the politics of Rivers?
The state has been a PDP state since 1999.
Let us wait and see. You attended the church service with me today and I was bold to ask about the performance of government; what did you hear? Maybe they were intimidated, but I told them that they were before God and that I was standing in the altar of God and I wanted to get an answer and they repeated it. And you heard me preaching APC in that place.
Your critics allege that considering the huge sums of money that have accrued to the state since you became governor; there is really little or nothing to show for it.
Other governors had been there before me. They should compare what I have done and what other governors did. You heard me say it in that church, that I met 1,300 primary schools with six classroom blocks on ground built in the past 50 years by several governors, local government chairmen and oil companies, no sanitary facilities, nothing.
In seven years, I have completed 500 out of the 750 primary schools that I promised. And I have been able to furnish 300. Look at the classroom blocks I am building; not six classrooms, but 14 classroom blocks with computer laboratory, library, and office of the headmistress or headmaster, a sick bay, classroom for pre-primary school children. What else do you expect from me? The kind of secondary schools that I have built, can you compare them to anyone else nationwide? The principals have said to me that if they don’t make the best results in Nigeria, I should cancel their contract, and I like the challenge. So far, we are beating states nobody thought we could beat. This year, they have announced that we are third in West African Examinations Council (WAEC) tests.
So, the achievements we have made will speak for us, not them. Is it the type of roads we have built? What of fly-overs (bridges)? When I came in, there were only three fly-overs in Rivers. Have they forgotten that? One in Kaduna Street, one at Rumola junction and the one Dr. Peter Odili built across the Airforce Base. But we are building about 11 now. We built one at Agip, one at the interchange at Eleme junction, one at Woji. The Trans-Amadi Road has two or three fly-overs. These things cost billions. Are they claiming that they are not seeing these things? How much have we received? Nearly N2 trillion. How much is our wage bill? Our wage bill is now N8.9 billion a month. But let us even take the average of N6.5 billion or even N6 billion. How much is it in the last seven years? So, how much is remaining for the free education, monorail, the roads we are building, the schools we are building, the power plants and hospitals we have built?
But some insist that the monorail is a white elephant project. Is there any assurance that it will be completed before you leave office?
We will paint it black, if that is the problem.
Your opponents say Chibuike Amaechi is arrogant; is that a true characterisation of yourself?
If they say I am arrogant, it is just because I am one man who can say his mind at any point in time without fear, and that is what worries them.
Why should I be arrogant? I come from a poor background. My parents are poor. There is absolutely no reason to be arrogant. But no matter the accusation, that won’t stop me from saying my mind the way I feel at any point in time. If that is what they misconstrue to be arrogance, I wish them well.
But that I should be intimidated, no; that will be wrong. Even my children are not intimidated by me. I remember the last ceremony I attended with my first and second sons, a fashion show in Port Harcourt, and I told them: let us go and take food, and they said “no”, but I said they must follow me now. They got there and said they won’t take. When they insisted, I left them. When we went back, one of them came and said, “Dad that was not the right thing to do. You should not intimidate us and tell us what to do. You should also take into account our feelings. If we don’t want to eat, we don’t want to eat.” I said: ok, I understand, I am sorry.
Those are the kind of children I like. And that is the kind of person I am.