Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State had an interactive session with the standing committee members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) ahead the Guild’s Annual General Conference holding in the state from August 3-7. He spoke on sundry issues affecting the state. DEPUTY EDITOR, DAPO FALADE, brings excerpts:
Why the state is open to host national and international events
Let me thank the Nigerian Guild of Editors for bringing their Annual General Conference to Rivers State. One important benefit of this conference is that it will let the public know that Port Harcourt is safe, Rivers State is safe. To let you know that several international and national conferences have taken place here in the last one month.
In the course of the last one month, we have had the AMAA here; we have also had the Magistrates Association of Nigeria National Conference. We will be hosting the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association; the Federal High Court Judges Legal Year; the Conference of Chartered Arbitrators and the PDP National Convention. That shows that all the rumours you may be hearing are not true.
Apart from that, these national conferences will boost our economy. We have several hotel bookings, local transport and feeding as well as other benefits that will accrue to residents of the state. The state government will also make revenue in terms of taxation.
On the importance of the media
When they say we have three arms of government, I don’t agree; I believe the media is the Fourth arm of government. Why do I say so? Everybody depends on the information from the media. Information is key; information is the raw material for decision-making. It is important that you always publish information that will promote democracy. Part of the reasons the coup failed in Turkey was because of the publicity from the media. The media should help this country to let the world know what Nigeria is facing.
On his struggles as a governor
For me as a governor, this is an opportunity and not a right. When you have this privilege, you use it for the benefit of the people. We know what we passed through to get to this point. Nobody has had the type of legal tussle we have had. Mine started before my inauguration. Of course, attempts were made to make sure that I was not inaugurated. To tell you how bad it was, I was not allowed to use the police ceremonial vehicle for my inauguration. We had to borrow from Ondo State. We thank God that has passed but I have to give you the background.
Thereafter, the legal tussle continued until January 27, 2016 when we were free to move forward. If you compare from June, May 29 was on Friday and work started on Monday. From that time to January 27, 2016, it was one problem or the other. From the tribunal to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court. When you have such problems, you hardly can be focused. But I thank God that we were focused and we did not allow that to distract us.
On how he overcame initial challenges
When we came on board, we inherited four months’ salary arrears and six months’ pension arrears. We give God the glory that we have been able to pay all. The then Sharks of Port Harcourt, Dolphin and Rivers Angels were owed for eight months. We were able to clear that. And we said with the economy, it would be difficult for us to maintain three football clubs. For Sharks and Dolphin, we had to merge them to form the Rivers United. The club is doing well and it is contesting for the league title.
On foreign scholarships
Some people may say that there are children who are on overseas scholarships whom they claim the state has abandoned. That is not true. We must tell ourselves the simple truth. Yes before, the state under the previous administration, was getting N20billion but now we get N3 billion to N4 billion monthly. You have to prioritise and tell the people the reality. I am not against giving out scholarships when you have the resources.
At the time we came, the state was owing about N4 billion on these foreign scholarships. If you pay the N4 billion debt, that is not the end. You have to pay for those at different levels of study. Scholarship is good to encourage our people but, there are certain courses you don’t send people abroad to study because our universities offer such programmes. Why would I send students abroad to study English Language, Social Studies or Political Science? But we are ready to offer scholarships to students to study peculiar courses in medicine and engineering.
We said look, it is not possible for the state as it is now to fund scholarships in courses that are offered here in Nigeria. We agreed to pay off for those writing their final year examinations which amounted to N1.8 billion. Those of them studying English, Political Science and Accountancy, we said that we will still give you scholarships, but it will be in Nigerian universities. We expect them to return to take this offer.
To say that they would remain on the state’s account is not possible. Some of them, their parents are rich and they are not from poor background. Yes, there are few from poor background. Some scholarships are for children who are not from Rivers State. In some instances, they were political scholarships. As it is today, we don’t have the funds to continue with such scholarships.
I have always maintained that nobody should politicise security because when you begin to politicise security, the society will be in trouble. I think I am the only state governor who has had more than four commissioners of Police since I became governor. Each time, they change a Commissioner of Police when an election is approaching: when the election is over, they bring another one. That is how they change the Director of the DSS. This is not helping anyone.
When a Commissioner of Police is settling down to plan with the state government on how to improve security, they transfer him, bring another person and the process starts all over. I ask myself what is the benefit of these frequent changes. There are people who believe that there should be crisis in this state. Who will it benefit if there is crisis?
When we had cases of kidnappings, instead of others to sit down with the state to resolve the challenge, they started making unreasonable remarks. So, I ran to God to pray. God now helped and the problem has been transferred to other states. Now, we have kidnapping everywhere in Nigeria. In some states, they kidnap diplomats and traditional rulers. Kidnapping is almost gone here. It is not by my power, it is by God’s grace. When they said they will declare a State of Emergency here, I said God save me and He saved me by pushing insecurity to other states. Kidnapping is now a national crime.
On deployment of armed forces for the rerun election
I have never seen the kind of security I saw during the March rerun election. Even if Obama [US president] comes, there would not be that kind of security. I thought even the president has never had that kind of security; it was unbelievable. I make a state broadcast as an incumbent state governor, some other person would go and make a broadcast. The Federal Government behaved as if nothing was happening. I knew it would be difficult because when you push a people to the wall, they react. We resisted them. The same people who said there was no election, are now the persons at the Tribunal saying that they won. When they claimed there was no election, now they are saying they should declare them winners. I have never seen such a thing in my life. People came out in press conferences [to say] that there were no elections, but today they are saying they won.