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Thursday, 21 November 2013

"I Joined Politics To Serve Myself First" Amaechi

DID you ever think the day will come when the
discussion will be about you leaving the PDP?

Yes, I knew. First and foremost, I didn’t think
that PDP was progressive enough. Don’t forget
that by the time I came back, PDP had already
expelled me from the party when I was in
Ghana. It was when I came that they now
began to run around to reinstate my
membership and by then the opposition was
weak. But now the opposition is as progressive
as they can be and beginning to build up. So it
won’t be a bad idea to join them in building a
very strong opposition in as much as they will
remain progressive. If they are going to be a
replacement of PDP, then there is no basis
joining them. I am not in this battle for what I
can get. I’m governor. I am blessed enough by
God. I have been the Speaker, I become
governor. I should be able for the rest of my
life by God’s grace, to fend for myself. But the
struggle is not about myself, it is about the
society, it’s about the Nigerian community. Why should Nigeria that other countries used to come and beg for our assistance, be the one
now begging other small countries around.
Something is wrong and a wind of change is
playing; so we should just support the wind of
change.

You keep talking in terms of struggle, but there
are lots of people who don’t understand what
this fight between you, the president and the
PDP is all about. For many people it’s just a
battle of egos. Can you distill it for the average
person to understand?

What ego do I have against the president? The
president is the president of the county; he is
the strongest Nigerian living. Who am I to want
to compete? If it is ego I will submit right now
and will go to the president’s office and lie on
the ground. Do you know what it means to be a
president? He has attained an achievement
that very few persons can attain in Nigeria. So
you must respect him for that and I respect the president for that. No matter what anybody says about the president, the mere fact that he has gotten to the presidency by the grace of God and his hardwork, you can’t undermine that. But having said that, the struggle is not about President Goodluck Jonathan; it is about the system, it is about the country. It is about the kind of system he is running. He can change it and tomorrow see me being submissive. So what the struggle is about is that the president must look at the system, see what is going on, the level of corruption and say ‘look there’s a break’. If I see the break I will support him for 2015. If I see a clean break from the past, if he can chart that course, I will support him. But I
have not seen it and that’s the problem. There
must be a total break.

How did you find yourself in the PDP in the first place?

I found myself in the PDP because in Nigeria I
don’t think there’s a party with ideology yet. It
is now we are beginning to see APC looking as
if it is becoming slightly ideological. What we
had as parties were just platforms for elections
and I chose the platform that everybody was
running towards.

What would it have cost you if you had not
challenged the leadership that didn’t want you
to run as chairman of the NGF? If you had
played their way would you have lost anything?

Yes, my sanity! I would have lost my sanity. I
have told the president before… when am
challenged the best comes out of me. The party didn’t even talk to me, they didn’t even say don’t run.

But the signs were clear?

What signs were those? So anybody who just
says that I know the president, I know the
chairman of the party, ‘don’t run’ then you’ll say that’s the party. There has to be a party meeting. I am a member of the national
executive council of the party. They should have discussed it at the national executive council meeting where the governors will be present. If that decision was made and I disobeyed it, then you will say I went against the party’s decision. There was none.

Did the president at any point in time make
clear to you that he did not want you to run?

No, he didn’t speak to me

What about the body language?

Am I a body language reader?

Did the party chairman convey to you that the
president did not…

I say nobody! I was just hearing rumours. Apart
from rumours my colleagues – the governors –
will come and tell me ‘President called me today and said I shouldn’t vote for you. Not that I shouldn’t run. Okay, yes! Liyel did visit me one day… he didn’t tell how he got it but told me ‘please don’t run.’ I told him ‘keep that
to yourself.’ I left Liyel’s house at about 11 PM
that night. I called three of my friends and I
said I am leaving Liyel’s house by past 11 to
Port Harcourt, if anything happens to me just
have this information. I am driving back. I
entered my car and drove that night… in fact I
would have skidded off the road because I was
extremely exhausted and I was driving and
battling with sleep. But I still drove and got to
Port Harcourt at 1 AM and slept off.

It is said that all politics is local. What is it
about you and the First Lady Patience Jonathan
– because she seems to be a major factor in this crisis?

I have said it severally; she wants to control
Rivers State government and I don’t think she’s
elected. There can’t be two governors in a
state. You can control the Minister of State for
Education, that’s your…

What’s do you mean by control? She wants to
have a say in who you appoint or…

She wants to have a say in the government. Just know that she wants to have a say. I don’t want to go beyond that; that will become too explicit. There are things that you have to keep as the governor. Just know that she wants to control the government of River State, that’s all. So that’s at the core…
Beginning and end of the story.

You look rather harmless but…

(Cuts in) I am very harmless. (Laughter)

Specifically Mrs. Jonathan has two charges
against you: she said you are arrogant and have
a bad temper…

(Laughter) I have never heard that. I have never heard her say that. Are you sure you don’t …..

And that if you could play down…

(Laughter) She even accused me of beating my
wife and I said to my wife: ‘you know I have
never tried it before and you’ve never asked me why I would try beating you up. The reason I will never try this is because I don’t know whether you’ll beat me up. (Laughter) I don’t know who is stronger and the only way you can know who is stronger is to try it. Supposing I have tried it now and I got beaten up, my ego would have been badly bruised (Laughter). I don’t want to find out so let us remain as peaceful as we have been. I have never beaten up a woman before. Never! For so many reasons: the first is you don’t know whether I’m strong or not. The second reason is you must respect womanhood. She’s not a punching bag; she’s equally a human being like you. If she says I have a bad temper, what kind of temper? That you don’t agree with things that don’t go with your principles. If she has a superior argument, I will bow to that argument. But if it is not a superior argument, I will not bow to that argument.

In the course of several interviews you have
talked about how federal authorities took oil
wells from River State and gave to Bayelsa. Just
reading between the lines it’s almost as if it
was the president himself who gave them to
Bayelsa. Is that possible?

I don’t want to discuss who took it or not. Just
know that they have taken our oil wells to
Bayelsa. If you see the documents that were
filed by the Federal Government… if you looked at what the Federal Government filed they said it was a mistake that they made and they wanted to correct the mistake. So why haven’t they corrected it? They don’t need any of the parties. If you come to court to say this 2007 map of Nigeria… there’s been a map of Nigeria since 1960 and then in 2007 you change the map and take part of Rivers State into Bayelsa.
When we complained you said it was a mistake
and you’ll correct it. Why haven’t you corrected
it since? Do you need River State government
and Bayelsa State government to sit down and
correct the map? All we are saying is just go back to that map to be what it used to be; that’s what we are talking about. We are not
talking about taking oil well or not taking oil
well; go back to the old map.

Could you be more specific as to your political
philosophy? What actually defines your ideology, if you have one?

From the way I speak, don’t you think I have
one? (Laughter) You don’t believe? Eh? You don’t think I have one? I’m asking you.(Laughter) I wouldn’t know… Then you have a problem. It is possible that actually politicians can just be speaking the way they are speaking because that’s what they think will attract sympathy for them. It is possible; a lot of people do that. I have seen people who theorise on Marxism just because they want to be part of a government and when they are appointed they are not able to meet that principle and standard. You can even ask
actually whether I live a Marxist life. I just
believe that the ideas I have are progressive and I live that life. I believe that we have no
business having the kind of resources that we
have in the country and we can’t manage them
well to turn the country around. I believe that
we have no reason to… in 1970/71 the poverty
index used to be 30 percent and by 2011/2012/2013 the poverty index is 70 percent.
Something is wrong! We should be reversing
the 30 percent downwards, not progressive
growth. That’s what worries me. We can’t have
reduced corruption a bit under Gen. Obasanjo
and then we are at the apex of corruption in
2013. Something is wrong and the corruption is
with impunity. Now you see politicians buy
houses and go to inspect them in the day time
with soldiers and police. Under Obasanjo
people were hiding to even buy bungalow where they would live after office. But now they buy it openly. And when they are going, they go with siren, they go with police, SSS and soldiers to inspect the house they are constructing! They build mansions street by street: something is wrong. I should be asking you as journalists what have you done? While that is going on, the states are not able to receive their due. We are in court with the Federal Government on oil subsidy; we are in court with the Federal Government on excess crude. That’s why they fought the Nigeria Governor’s Forum because we asked these questions. By January this year excess crude account was about 9 dollars, today it’s 4.3 billion. What has happened to the 5 billion dollars? Somebody has tampered with it
and the Federal Government should be able to
account. The level of impunity when it comes to corruption is something else. Imagine the case of the Aviation Minister … and then some
people are queuing up and protesting in the
street saying ‘she’s from our town, don’t
prosecute her.’ So corruption has ethnicity?
This country baffles me.

Aren’t you embarrassed that you are in that
company?

I don’t have a choice. Someone has asked me
before what prompted me to run for office; why did I join politics. They said other governors when asked said because they wanted to serve. I said ‘who told you I joined politics to serve?’ I told the person I didn’t join to serve. I finished university, no job and I thought this was where my bread would be buttered and I started the struggle. And my bread has been buttered. So it is my turn to contribute to those people who have buttered my bread. I convert that desire to serve myself first to now begin to serve the
people. So from day one, what propelled me
wasn’t the service of the people but service to
myself and then after that, I started serving the people. Having gotten to that point where… look I owe this nation, I owe this state; I owe the people who have helped me out of
unemployment… Don’t forget that unemployment as we are talking now is 23
percent. Under Yar’Adua it was 20, under
Goodluck it raised to 23 percent. People are
suffering, the way I was suffering before I got
employed by the people. Not everybody can be this lucky; God has not blessed all of us
equally. If God has blessed us equally then all
of us by now would be sitting in this hotel as I
am sitting and then that’s a wonderful world.
You can be an agent in the hands of God to
begin to change the lives of the people. You
don’t change the lives of the people by putting
your hands in the pocket. That is why pressmen
and people that follow me call me ‘Armstrong.’
It is because if I give you money now what will
you do with it? But if I change the economy
that you can on your own not depend on me,
produce what will give you your daily income,
then you don’t need me. But if I give you
money you will be dependent on me, once the
money finishes, you will want to ring again and
say let’s go and visit the governor. Then you
can’t question how badly or how well I am
governing. Can you? So it helps to give you that
freedom to be able to question governance. I
think that my contribution to the growth of the
country will be to reverse this trend where
people are dependent on governors and public
officers.

You touched on the economy and in the last
couple of months governors like you have said
that the country was virtually broke…

I said it as chairman of the Governors Forum.
The Finance Minister said Nigeria is not broke;
we just have cash flow issues.

Who should we believe?

She didn’t say that.

What did she say?

She said Nigeria is not broke. Two weeks or one month after, Bright Okogwu, my friend, under cross examination in the National Assembly said we are not broke but we are cash-strapped. If you are cash-strapped what does it mean? I asked an economist what that meant and he said you can’t back you expenditure with cash.

What is broke?

You don’t have money (Laughter)…
That’s one signal. The second signal is you are
not able to pay the states their dues. Last
month I was paid 14 billion and I was entitled
to 19. How bad is it? I have just given you an example. I was entitled to 19 billion last month and I was paid 14. What does it mean? I have lost five billion. Do you know how many roads I would have done with 5 billion? My wage bill is 8.9. If you take out that, I would have been left with 5.1. So if you added the other 5, I would have been left with 10.1.
How do we get out of this?

There’s this criticism of governors every month going to Abuja to pick up a cheque. From your end what are you doing to …

I have an IGR that gives me between four and
six billion in a month. When I came it was 2.5.
Now we get between 4 and 6 billion; it depends on how bad it is, but that is not enough. You are running a government which you have to do so many projects: you are into agriculture not because you want to farm but because you want to create an alternative economy. When we came we had said that we would try and run three different economies. We would run the education economy and you can see the investment we are doing in education. We would run an agriculture economy and an ICT economy plus the oil economy. We are doing well in the education and agriculture. We are not doing too well in the ICT economy; oil is not within our control. If you check nearly all the states, the governors are now more patriotic than anybody. We are the only people shouting
in this country that there is corruption. Show
me any other person? The businessmen have
joined. They are part of what is going on at the
federal level. If the president is travelling to
Ghana, every businessman will just move to
Ghana. If he’s going to Cotonou, everybody will
go to Cotonou. So the only people who are now
saying things are going wrong are the governors. Was it like that in the past? Things
are actually wrong because ordinarily before,
they used to accuse governors that they were
stealing, but now it is governors that are now
saying ‘no, no, they are stealing, they are
stealing.’ Are you not worried?

Aren’t you saying these things just because…

(Cuts in) Please! Please! Don’t forget that we
started saying that before they stopped giving
us the actual amount. We went to court on
excess crude more than two -three years ago.
We have gone to court on oil subsidy. We filled
our case on oil subsidy since December; Federal Government has not responded till today.
Under Yar’Adua, the highest he spent on oil
subsidy in a year was 300 billion. The first year
under President Goodluck Jonathan we spent
2.3 billion. The second year we spent 1.2
trillion. Only God knows how much is being
spent now because they are no longer in
contact with the Governors’ Forum; they don’t
want to feed us. The only way we know now is
when we get information like I had given you
the information that the last we saw of excess
crude oil was 9 billion. Now it has gone down
to 4 billion.

Which governors’ forum?

There’s only one Governors’ Forum. Maybe the other faction is getting information… No. If they are getting information they are broke; they would have been asking them to pay them some money from the excess crude account.

Let’s talk about security; how do you protect
yourself these days that you don’t have a
battalion of policemen around you?

It is God. I will just kneel down and pray.
Will God physically stand in the way of armed
robbers if they are …
God won’t let you go through the areas where
the armed robbers will present. God will just
say my son use the other road and you will see
yourself using the other road.

Is it that you don’t have any policemen around
you?

Very few. They have taken everybody. That tells you the kind of government that we are
running. It is not the president that says take
away his policemen. The problem we have is
that we have people who sit down and take
decisions and you don’t know who is making
those decisions. Minister of State for Education
will go to Mbu; an ordinary Evans Bipi who was
an ex-policeman, who was a militant, will tell
Commissioner of Police ‘my mother, my Jesus
Christ on earth says you must remove
policemen from governor.’ Then Mbu will obey. Is something not wrong?

You are sounding too sure that the president
didn’t order…?

I know the president very well, he wouldn’t
have ordered that. I know what the president
can order and what he can’t order. The
president can’t order that they should remove
your policemen. If the president wants to order that they should remove your policemen, he would say remove all the policemen. I know what the president can do and what he cannot do.

But he hears when they remove them?

He hears.

So what does he do?

When you see him, ask him. You should be able to interview the president. It’s like when they took away my aircraft, I called the president and he said; ‘My God! Who did that?’ I said ‘I guess the Minster of Aviation.’ He said
‘Amaechi, I will get back to you. Let me get to
her and find out.’ Up till today the president is
yet to get back to me.

The local opposition in your state say you could
have done much more given the amount of
money you receive. They say your so-called
performance is exaggerated?

But they have not responded to what I accused
them of. I accused them of corruption, I
accused them of chop-i-chop politics and they
want to share in this thing that I refused to
make them share. But let’s address the issues
they’ve just raised. When I took over government, the wage bill was 2.5 billion, there was embargo on employment. Then Labour met me and said the governor just before he left approved 15 percent wage increase for them. I was new so I couldn’t say no. I approved that increase in the wage bill. The Federal Government increased the minimum wage from N7,500 to N18, 000 – so that is part of it. Then we began to look at the medical sector. We had only 200 doctors and our population then was 5. 1 million persons. So I engaged another set of 200 doctors and I have increased it to another 200, I have employed 400 doctors. There were no nurses; I had to hire another set of 400 nurses. They didn’t have enough architects, land surveyors – all those people in Ministry of Lands. I had to hire them. I looked at primary education and decided to take it over. In taking it over I had to also inherit the wage bill for the teachers at the primary school level. That is 2 billion per month, not per year. That blew our wage bill from 8.9 – from 2.5 to 8.9. I said okay, let’s take an average of 6 billion per month for current expenditure, multiply 6 by 12, 72 billion per year. Multiply 72 by 6? Close to 500… So you remove 500 billion out of their so-called 1.2 trillion. They say if you add my IGR it is 1.9; so let’s go by 1.9 – so you remove 500 billion from 1.9 as wage bill. Don’t forget that I didn’t go to 8, I took an average of 6. Road construction… are they also denying that I have constructed roads? All the projects we did on Federal Government roads took us 1.05 billion. We’ve applied to the Federal Government. We named the road, the contractor and how much is the cost of the contract and it came to 1.05. So remove 1.05 from the remaining 1.4, you would be left with 1.295. Then we have another 400 billion with road project that we have awarded and out of which we have paid 300 hundred. So
remove 400 from the 1.29.
We have completed 500 schools; we’ve not furnished but we are about to start commissioning of 350. We are waiting for Obasanjo; he is coming on the 10th.
He would start the commissioning of the 350
primary schools. Some of them were at the cost of 112 million if it is in the mainland, if it is in the coastal area, it is 120. So let’s go by
average of 112, let’s forget the 120, multiply it
by 300? We built seven new secondary schools
at 4.5 per school. We spent between 120-130
billion for power. The power they are enjoying
in Rivers State comes from us; nobody has
asked ‘how do we enjoy this power.’ We are
making between 15 and 18 hours per day. We
promised 24 hours but unfortunately we are not there yet not because we have not put the
entire infrastructure in place. We now have
distribution which we installed by ourselves; we have transmission lines, we have new power stations. We are going to commission one as Obasanjo comes, then the second one he would lay the foundation stone even though we have paid for all. Just for them to install, they are bringing the machine from Paris for installation so you are talking about between 120 and 130 billion for power. Monorail… we have done close to about 30 billion out of the 140 billion we are expecting. Health centers… at 140 million and we have done three new hospitals. Each hospital took us between 1.5 and 2 billion. We awarded new hospitals of international standard. I am not talking about furnishing yet, I am talking about completion of the project. This shows by far that we can account for the so-called 1.9 trillion. That’s not the argument. You know they never accused me of corruption; they said he refuses to run an inclusive government. Ask them please to define inclusion. Look at the argument by Chibudom Nwuche – that he’s more educated than me because he has a master’s degree. Is that an argument? I replied him. I said I have a Masters as well and I am a registered PhD
student in the University of Port Harcourt. So
what is the problem? Education is not the
degree you get in the university; education is
much more than that.

They have also said that the kind of frontal
challenge you have taken to the president and
the party, you will not tolerate. They say you
are authoritarian and have dealt with anybody
that tried to challenge you at the local level?

If you know me, you will know that I am one
man who believes in rule of law. They should
call one person that I have dealt with or call
one Commissioner of Police that I have told to
go and arrest anybody.
The First Lady mentioned a particular name…
(Cuts in) Let her call the person. That’s what I
told Mbu when he came the first time. I said
please don’t be part of politics. I will never call
you any day to do anything that is illegal, if I
do please refuse. But we had already heard that Mrs. Goodluck Jonathan will remove our
Commissioner of Police. Imagine… She is not
the Commander- in- Chief but she could
transfer a Commissioner of Police and post
another commissioner. The wife of the
president, not the president and I have said
this severally, nobody has denied it, the police
has not denied, the president has not denied.
I have been saying this since they posted Mbu.
I said to Mbu: ‘look, I don’t mind who posted
you. I don’t mind whose bidding you’ve come to serve, don’t be part of politics. Just do your
work.’ I am being told today what has not
happened before in Port Harcourt is beginning
to happen: three persons were shot between
Saipem and Agip because the woman has
helped to compromise security. She brought
back the militants into Port Harcourt. We are
not able to hold Security Council meetings
because she held a Security Council meeting at
Otuoke. Wife of president calling Brigade
commander, Commissioner of Police (though he said he didn’t attend because he wasn’t well)
and the service chiefs. But I heard they didn’t
go that day but the rest went: SSS, army. I
don’t know why the naval chief didn’t go.
Imagine she calling them, JTF commander, they all had a meeting with her at Otuoke. We didn’t even know that it was all of them we thought it was only the Commissioner of Police. So when the press reported that she had a meeting with the Commissioner of Police she denied and rushed to Port Harcourt that day. When she got to the airport my wife was there, the deputy governor’s wife was there to receive her at the airport. She excused everybody into the presidential lounge and asked the Commissioner of Police ‘Did I meet with you? Did I meet with you?’ The Commissioner of Police said ‘No, ma! No, ma! You didn’t meet with me, ma.’ She said ‘Is it not four of you that I met with? (General laughter) It is ridiculous.

If you were asked to do a characterisation of
Mrs. Jonathan, what would you say?

I have no say in that. I can’t do that because
you must respect the wife of the president as
you respect the president because if you don’t
do that you are undermining the president. As
for the president, I hold him in high esteem.
He is a wonderful man. You need to stay with
the president; you will know that he is a very
wonderful man.

So you mean you can’t say one or two words
about his wife?

No! She’s not a public officer. I can’t go there.
The best I can tell you is the president. The
president will disarm you; he appears when you see him to be harmless.

He appears?

Why I said he appears is that with the actions
that happen outside, you will be wondering if
this is the same president I saw last night.

Someone likened him to a snake?

Somebody said that he said that; the president said that there are two animals in the bush:
one is the tiger, the other one is a puff adder
and that he is that one. He said the tiger
makes noise. If it is coming to attack and you
hear the noise you should be able to run. But
the puff adder just stays and strikes. That is
what they said the president said; I was not
there. I don’t want to mention the person’s
name.
With regards to the idea of inclusiveness, they
said you have been highhanded over Obiakpor
local government…

Obiakpor Local Government… I wasn’t involved; it was the house of assembly. He was found wanting in the areas of financial management and he was suspended. They said okay we are investigating but we need you not to tamper with the documents so we suspend him. When we finish, if you are not guilty, we will reinstate you. It is between him and the state house of assembly, I have no business with them. First police takes over the place; he goes to court. We went to court, police was directed to quit the place, they refused. They don’t obey court judgement. If you liken what is going on to a military government, you wonder whether the president is running a democracy, a civilian government or military government. I used to accuse him of running a civilian government, not a democracy. But now I don’t know whether to say it is a civilian government or military government because a civilian government has a similarity with a military government. The difference is that the person in charge is a civilian in attire not in military uniform. But sometimes you see Abacha wearing French suit or you see President Babangida who also was a military head of state wearing agbada. So the fact that they wear military uniform is not what makes them the military government. What makes them the military government is first: they are military officers, secondly because the
orders they issue are by fiat and not by
democratic process. So what is the difference
between the current government and Abacha’s
government?

Then they said there was a meeting where one
local government chairman came late and you
first of all fired him and later reinstated him.
Some people say the fact that you did that
shows that you are devious…

Not one chairman… we have what we call inter-
governmental meeting where we bring everybody together and say ‘listen, the fact that I am governor does not mean that I am an expert in governance.’ So let’s hear your view. We take up the issues one after the other. Council chairmen will not come; if they did, they would come 2 to 3 hours into the meeting. So that day we needed to set an example. It wasn’t one; they were nine.

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