GOVERNOR CHIBUIKE AMAECHI
GOVERNOR CHIBUIKE AMAECHI OF RIVERS STATE SPOKE TO SOME JOURNALISTS RECENTLY IN PORT HARCOURT ON VARIOUS NATIONAL ISSUES, INCLUDING THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT BY THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, REVENUE SHARING FORMULA, STATE POLICE AND THE NEED TO ALLOW STATES DEVELOP ACCORDING TO THEIR CAPACITY. ERNEST CHINWO WAS THERE
In the ongoing constitution amendment, the issue of immunity for State Governors has been on the front burner and we think we should get your position on it?
I have always supported the retention of immunity for governors. Nigeria today, there is so many people who go to the governors for so many favours. When they don’t get whatever they want, these favour seekers get very angry and begin to find a way to plot against the governor.
The moment you remove the immunity, you remove good governance that is when you will see the strength of those people.
Okay, some say remove criminal immunity leave civil immunity, what is the difference? For mere mistake you may make people will go to court just because they want to bring you down because you refused to share public funds or share the economic benefits of government. I think that those who argue for the removal of immunity as a way of finding solution to corruption may not be completely right. I think so. I abhor corruption.
I think that it is not right that our resources are carted away everyday, but I also think that removal of immunity will distract the President, will not allow him confront the issues as they are because every day he will find himself in court, the same manner governors will find themselves in court.
I think any governor that is corrupt should be held accountable after he leaves office, but while in office he should be allowed to discharge his responsibilities, that are what I think.
What is your own view concerning the issue of State Police?
I am Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, my view is the view of the governors’ forum, I would not want to hold any view to the contrary, but currently the view of the governors’ forum as at now is that we are in support of state police. So we are going back on Tuesday, we are dealing with the issue of constitution; we will deal with these issues and let us see the outcome of the meeting. That is why I say I cannot talk about that now because I am Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, the Governors’ forum in their last meeting came out strongly in support of the formation of state police and there were 31 governors-23 state governors and eight deputy governors and deputy governor is a governor. They were 31 out of 36 and nobody opposed it.
But is there a crack in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum?
There is no crack. Let us get to the meeting next week. I don’t think we should be talking about crack or no crack.
Do you think that the political class in this country at the moment has the capacity to effectively manage the state police?
It is not about the Governor or the political class, at the end of the day the governor will leave office, will he leave with the state police? So if he fought people with it, the next man will fight him with it. I don’t think that is the problem. We should talk amongst ourselves first.
One issue that has also been of importance to the people of the state is that of power generation and distribution. There was a time you promised the people of the state that very soon they will have 24-hour power supply. What have been the problems, what have been the limitations?
Is there no power improvement? There is. The problem is that of distribution, let us wait and sees what the Federal Government will do, but with or without the law, we are going ahead with the distribution. That is why I asked you, are you not seeing an improvement in power. There is no place I have gone I have heard people in the state call me to say there is an improvement in power and it will continue to improve until we leave office.
Is there any likelihood that there might be a change in the law?
I’m not a member of the National Assembly, neither is I the President, but I will be protesting against the law as a citizen of Nigeria that states should be allowed to develop according to their capacity.
One other issue is that of Local Government Autonomy. What is your take on it?
I am Chairman of Governors’ Forum, I am not Amaechi. Even as an individual governor, whatever I say may be misunderstood to mean the position of the governors. Let us wait and see, the governors will come up with a final position on all the issues. That is what will happen and once we do that, I can speak as Chairman of the Governors’ Forum. We must wait and see what the governors will say.
We take you briefly to Okogbe Community where they lost over approximately over 200 persons...
Where do you get your figures from? The first day when I heard this, it was 150 then 200, some 300 and I rushed to the President, I hear 150 persons have died in Rivers State, can I rush back to Rivers State and he said yes, only to hear then it was 98 from 98 I heard, a total figure of 156 because they found some in the bush and all that but let us go by statistics that are verified. It was very sad.
At the moment the community is saying they don’t have power?
We are doing rural electrification, it will get to them. Before we leave office we want to electrify all the rural communities in Rivers State and they are between 300 and 500. But some of them are being attended to by some local government chairmen, some of them we have already done, we hope that by the time we leave office we would have reached the total number of communities without power.
This ongoing constitutional amendment, what is your view concerning the issue of revenue sharing?
Clearly, we think that the states should be allowed to have more revenue than they currently get. The states are suffering now, some I doubt if they can still pay salaries and if we continue that way then I wonder what will be the expectation of the people when the states cannot function.
We think that the responsibilities of the Federal Government should be reduced as well as their revenue. The states should be allowed to have access to those federal revenues that are unnecessarily given to the Federal Government so that they can function properly. You are first and foremost a Rivers man before you are a Nigerian so where you take off from is Rivers State. Who owns the land, not the Federal Government, the states so what do you develop, is it not the land? You want to build schools; do you build it in the air? You want to build generating plants for power, is it in the air? So why Ministry of Agriculture or Ministry of Land for instance, why not allow the states to develop by giving them these resources; that is my view and I have held that view publicly.
Then some people are talking about inclusion of the use of Local Government as a basis for sharing revenue?
No, that can’t be. When the state governors have said this we need more revenue they have not seen how the revenue will come. There are those who hold the view that let those who produce the resources keep their resources and pay taxes to the Federal Government. There are those who hold the view that these resources are national wealth and be shared depending on the formula that the National Assembly is able to come up with.
You spoke on state creation at the last Senate Retreat in Asaba, but you were not too direct. Do you think we need more states?
I just think that the reason why people ask for more states is because of the sharing structure that Nigeria is based upon. Nobody is asking for good governance. If you treat this country well, if you govern properly and run the economy properly most people won’t ask for any state. We can live happily. The reason why you are seeing this agitation is that the country is so poor, we are so rich in terms of resources but so poor in terms of the human beings that inhabit the territory called Nigeria. The Bureau for Statistics has said that 71 per cent of Nigerians are poor and now the states are beginning to say we are getting broke so it is worse, it is bad.
But do you think we should revert to this onshore-offshore dichotomy agitation?
I don’t know, I am Chairman of Governors’ Forum.
Why is it difficult for us to practice true federalism?
Ethnic politics and selfish interests. There are those who are earnestly benefiting from the federal system and you know change is one challenging thing, it doesn’t come easily.
Let’s look at the roads in the state, some of them are relatively bad and why is that so?
I can mention the good roads we have done, I’m saying that you are finding it difficult to name the ones that are bad, but I can in one full swoop name for you three to four to five good roads we have done. I can mention to you, Old Aba Road, Rumuokwuta-Rumuola, Elekahia-Rumuomasi Rumuobiakani-Oginigba, Oboloma-Amadi-Ama. Peter Odili Road, Azikiwe Road, the whole of Old Port Harcourt Township, in Diobu there is a road we are doing in Diobu, Port Harcourt-Owerri Road, Ada George, I have called about ten.
Is there any plan by the Governors’ Forum to ensure that other resources too apart from petroleum are exploited…?
It is not the Governors’ Forum; these are questions that are federal in nature, we have no business with any federal structure…
Or maybe any suggestions?
The only suggestion we are making is that we should grow in terms of agriculture so that we can create employment for our people; because if we don’t grow agriculture you can’t do mass employment. The Federal Government can support the states, the states will be willing to give out land for agriculture. At Sogho in Rivers State, we have given out 2,000 hectares of land and we are partnering a Mexican company to establish a 2,000 hectares of banana farm and we have just signed an agreement with a group called LR Group to establish 3,000 hectares of mixed cropping in Etche for $140 million fish farm and we are constructing so many other things, so it is for the Federal Government to encourage the state governments to go into agriculture with private investors.