There is only one condition for violence-free election in Rivers… —Wike
Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, recently hosted a select team of newsmen where he spoke on a number of issues affecting the state. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, presents the excerpts:
WE have seen a number of projects by your administration, how are you are able to maintain the pace despite the recession in the economy?
It is difficult to answer but as I have said it before, what is important is not the amount of resources you have. Is about how you are able to utilise the little you have by making sure that you do not allow contracts to be highly inflated. This is in the sense that contracts that are supposed to be N1bn are not put out at N7bn. But overall, I would say that there are certain explanations I cannot give. I have told people who have spoken with me that we run a Jesus economy.
How do you explain that?
If you ask, what is Jesus economy, it has to do with things you cannot explain economically. As an economist, if you are arguing, there are factors that you use to back up your argument, but in this case you will see that the Nigerian economy is under recession and Rivers’ economy is part of federal economy. Companies are folding up; workers are being sacked. That means the income of the state will be coming down as relates to internally generated revenue. The money we get from the federation account, it is on record that it was last month that we had about N10 billion. The highest had always been about N5 billion and we pay pensioners and workers’ salaries of about N5.6 billion monthly. So if we use that, it means we will not be able to do projects.
But, for us, even as the economy has not been doing well at the national level, our IGR has been going up and one cannot explain that when the economy is bad, our IGR is going up.
As of the time we came on board, we were making about N4 billion to N4.5 billion. As I speak to you, at a point we got about N10 billion, but now it hovers between seven and nine billion. So, with that, we saw the opportunity to carry out developmental projects. Work will continue to go on; we will not stop. We thank God people are paying their taxes; the tax is not going down. It is improving.
But I cannot explain how we are getting money from our IGR when the economy generally is down. If you believe in God, there are things that would happen that you cannot explain and that is why I said we are operating a Jesus economy. Like in the Bible, how many loaves of breads did Jesus use to feed thousands of people?
The usual question in Nigeria is about federal character or state character, as you may have it. How are the projects you have done spread across the zones in the state and can you give an idea of the cost implications?
All the projects we have been doing cut across the three zones in the state. On the cost, I want to be precise, but I can rightly say we have spent not less than N100bn in terms of road construction and other projects in the last 18 months, though I do not have the accurate figure, so that I do not make mistake. But the one I can say is the Sakpenwon-Bori road; it is about N9 billion. It is a 16km road. I can tell you that road was designed by the previous administration at the cost of N14 billion; they wanted to use laterite. But when we came on board, we said how can laterite cost N14 billion? We said we preferred to use sharp sand because of the terrain. So, you will ask yourself, how can laterite cost more than sharp sand? That is to tell you the kind of problems we have been having in terms of contract award – it is highly inflated. For us, that is not in the best interest of the state.
We have seen quite a number of projects embarked upon by the administration but one would want to ask, how much have you been able to do in terms of human capital development and poverty alleviation?
When you talk of poverty alleviation, take for example, you went to Government Girls Secondary School, you could see how many people and contractors are working out there. In terms of helping our people, we have released not less than N3 billion for men and women to help them improve on their businesses. In fact, we said they will not pay interests.
In some of the rural areas, there are no medical facilities. If anyone needs emergency care, there is no hospital to provide them with that. So, we also provided financial assistance to private hospital owners who are also involved in healthcare delivery in the rural areas. Some of them got N25 million, N30 million, depending on how much you request and we have a committee to supervise and ascertain that the clinics that applied are qualified. The process was not discriminatory. Out of about 30 people that got the loan, non-indigenes were about eight. We told them not to pay interest on the loan. The state government will pay the interests.
I do not see poverty alleviation as the only thing about human capital development. We would also talk about education and scholarship. When we came on board, the previous administration gave scholarship to so many people; some are not even from the state. Some are from Niger; some from Kaduna. We owed not less than N7 billion as of the time we came on and when I looked at the programmes for which they were awarded scholarships– you see, the problem we have in this country is that we are always politicising issues. Somebody wants to read Political Science; you are sending him to Canada. Somebody wants to read Literature, you are sending him to India, but here we have so many universities that can take care of these courses. Then, what was the exchange rate of dollar and Naira as of that time and what is the exchange rate now? Naira is now about N400 plus to a dollar! Look at Pound Sterling, almost N600 and look at Euro about N500 and you are talking about not having enough money to pay workers. If you pay this N7 billion, it does not mean you have paid the total tuition fees. And we said the best thing is that some of these courses that we can do in Nigerian universities, come back to the country we will give you scholarship. Those other courses like medical courses, some kinds of engineering courses, they can stay back and we will pay for those courses.
In terms of human capital development, I will say, for now, we are doing the best we can. Poverty alleviation does not necessarily mean you should start dashing out money; like what we are doing now in terms of amnesty. We have made sure that there is a lot of jobs to be done; cleaning of schools, cutting of grass; that will engage our youths and help them in making money for themselves.
Are you working on some inherited projects or all of them are newly conceptualised projects?
There are some that are inherited. When we got on board, the Woji-Akpajio bridge was about 30 per cent completed. In fact, when the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) came, if they come back now they will never believe. When the lawyers came during their annual bar conference, we took them there. That time they were still filling sharp sand there. If they come now and see that we have crossed that bridge, they will never believe it. And the company promised us that by December we will go over the bridge. I did not award the job but it is an important road that, whether we like it or not, any governor must finish.
Some of the projects started by the previous administration that we felt were key projects, we said we should not abandon them because we did not award them. The whole essence is not whether you awarded the project or not; if we have the opportunity of completing the project, for me, that is the key.
There are so many projects I completed. Take for example, the University of Education road. It was about 40 to 45 per cent completed. I came on board and I completed it. The Ozuogba-Ogbogoro road was awarded at the cost of about N8 billion. They paid the contractor about N3 billion and they abandoned it; we came and completed it. Former Senate President David Mark came to commission it. There is Abuloma-Woji bridge; we completed it. On the way to Etche, there is Igwurita-Umukuruchi road; they could not complete it. We completed it. The Woji road towards Aba road, they awarded it to LCC, but they did not mobilise with one naira. So LCC did not go to site. Rather than demolish houses and
pay compensations that will not be enough for the people to build another house, we brought the price to about N4bn and completed the road.
There is the issue about what the previous administration called its signature project, referring to the 21 model secondary schools. What can you say about this?
I will always tell the truth and it is unfortunate that where we come from people don’t like the truth. It is fraudulent for anybody to talk about 21 model secondary schools. It is very fraudulent.
In fact, I don’t know how I forgot. When we were entering Bori, you would have seen buildings – schools; that is the only one. In fact, I wanted to give it to Bori Polytechnics. Mention anywhere. Just go anywhere.
Out of over 500 schools they said they were building in terms of primary schools—by their own economic advisory council report, only 200 were completed and they were, but not furnished. The major ones that were completed and furnished were the ones within Port Harcourt here, where I can take you: Elikhia, Rumuomasi, Airforce Base and the old Port Harcourt Primary School.
Take your investigations to them and ask them for the location of those 21 schools, so that you can see the model secondary schools. If they say they planned to do it, may be. If anyone says he did 21 model secondary schools in this state, I think they would have to take such person for a psychiatric test.
There is a woman who has been complaining that she won election and that she has not been sworn in as a state House of Assembly member. Isn’t there any way you can facilitate her swearing-in?
Have you checked? Did she go to court or not? Is the matter in court or not? It is good for you to investigate, not just hearing the complainant. She went to court. The assembly alleged that she impersonated them by using their letterhead paper to write a petition against the Chief Judge of the state when she was not an assembly member. So, the Assembly is saying, how can you impersonate us when you are not an assembly member yet? So, she went to court. It is good to find out; it is not about what she says. Find out from the other people. What is my business for her not to be sworn in? PDP has more than two-thirds. So what is my business whether she is sworn in or not? So, please, there is nothing like that.
With the level of development going on and the state of the country’s economy, there is always the fear that debt might be piling up. What is the debt profile of the state?
As I came, I inherited N14 billion from bank loans, which by our agreement, we are paying through bonds, which have been taken over by the Federal Government. The banks were deducting money from us every month to pay themselves, but it was inhibiting us. So there was the agreement between state governments and the Federal Government to buy over some of these debts, but money is being deducted from us monthly. We are not indebted to workers.
Of course, I inherited six months pensioners pay and four months salaries but I paid all. As I speak with you, I have paid pensions up till November. I am ready to sign the money to pay them December pension and workers’ salary. But if you say whether we took loan to do projects, why not, which government will not take loan to do projects? But I can tell you that the state does not have any risk at all.
Whenever there is going to be an election in Rivers State, there will be panic nationwide. The recent election generated so much anxiety. What are the conditions you think will guarantee free and fair election in the state?
The condition is you (the media). Tell the public, tell the Nigerian police, tell the security and tell INEC, let us do free and fair election. I have always asked them what causes violence. I was here; they wanted to stop the declaration of results for my senatorial district so as to manipulate it. If in the course of resisting that, they kill someone would there not be violence? Why would you carry material and give to the other party to the detriment of the other party? We said allow everybody to vote. You use security agencies to hijack materials, to beat up our agents.
Ask your reporters, why can’t they tell you the simple truth? If they conduct free and fair elections here in Rivers State, who would win? Who is going to lose when there is violence? We are going to lose. We
want free and fair election to see who is popular, but they don’t want that. They want to bring collation officers who will do their bidding; they want to bring INEC officers who will do their bidding. But we don’t care; we say let there be election. When we win, they won’t bring the person that will collate; the person will run away. And I said what type of system is this? I am not giving any condition. The only condition is let us do free and fair election as it is done all over the world.
During the 2015 elections didn’t the Federal Government controlled by the PDP give you an upper hand?
How could that be? Let me tell you [President Goodluck] Jonathan was running in the election and it would be difficult for another party to win in Rivers and Bayelsa. People should face reality.
The fact that Jonathan lost was even more painful before our governorship election. People said, ‘now you have made their son to lose, let us see how you will win the governorship election.’ So if Jonathan aided us to win in 2015, what about the March 19, 2016 election, was it Jonathan that still helped us to win? They said Jonathan appointed (IGP) Arase; we won and they ran away. Was it Jonathan that also appointed Idris? There are areas you should know you can’t win. Leave them. But by forcing yourself on people, it means you are going to kill a lot of people, which is not necessary. As a governor, I‘ve never used the Army. I have respect for Nigerian Army. How many policemen do you see with me? How can somebody be a minister and he is coming with one battalion? Assuming without conceding that when I was a minister I had soldiers, I had American Marines, I had Russian KGB, but this is a government that said it is bringing change.
Some months ago, DSS operatives raided the homes of some judges and in Rivers State you stopped them from doing that. Why did you do that and have you been vilified for doing that?
Well, I don’t know who is after me because of that. Nobody can be after me; God is with me. Now, people say they kidnap people a lot in Rivers State and you saw a text message around 1 a.m. that there was problem in an area; that people wearing black and black had taken over the place. You called the Director of SSS he didn’t pick; you called the CP, he didn’t pick. Won’t you say, gentlemen, let’s go and find out what is happening? We got there and they said they were SSS and that they got orders from above to raid the house. And it is the house of a woman judge. They didn’t even know the house of the judge they were looking for.
Assuming they kidnapped the woman and killed her in the middle of the road, people would say Rivers is not safe; a judge has been kidnapped and killed. Won’t that affect the image of our state? What if some people plotted that to affect the image of our state? And up till now, have they invited the judge? I took an oath to defend [and protect] lives and properties. Why can’t you invite the person? Why that kind of odd hour, when you have said our state is not safe? I have no business with any judge; if you have committed a crime, you face the music.
What is your reaction to the audio tape being circulated where it was alleged that you threatened to kill someone?
Who is the INEC officer I spoke to? Have I not said before that if you come to rig election you should prepare your will? You know I don’t have time to listen to all this crap. From what somebody told me, he said they claimed I said that upon what you collected. You look at me; I will talk to an INEC officer? What for? And they said I was asking the man where he is from? A man I gave money, I don’t know where he is from?
But sir, the voice resembles yours?
Resemble my voice? I can plant your voice now. As I am now, someone can take my voice now and plant on some other things. Let them bring video. We have shown video where you see policemen doing something. I heard them say it was through somebody’s phone I spoke. That is not true.
The only person I can talk to is the REC or the national chairman or national commissioner if I have any report. How can I descend to the level of adhoc staff? Do you know how many adhoc staff they had?
They had over 2,000. Which one did I talk to? So, please simply discard such talks.
But the IGP has said they have launched an inquiry into it to probe you, are you saying they are embarking on a wide goose chase?
He will not investigate the one in which they caught his men. Look at the video now and the police are denying that those people are not policemen. Everyone saw the SARS man, and you are saying they are not policemen; but in my case they are talking of audio. Please disregard all such things.
Are you going to challenge the victory of Senator Magnus Abe of the APC?
For sure, that’s an election we are going to challenge. When there was no election.
How can you say there was no election; INEC declared the result?
Didn’t you see reports everywhere? Let them show us the server where they uploaded the results. Let us see the results. Look at the place we won, you will see the votes. Let them show us the server. It is unfortunate.