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Government House is a Prison, Says Amaechi

13 Dec 2012

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Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

Rivers State Governor, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, hardly grants interview for the simple reason that his work schedule has been compounded by his assignments as chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum. But last weekend, he took out time with Olawale Olaleye where he addressed some of the topical national issues and scoffed at others. Excerpts:

There have been misgivings on the constitution review exercise but as a bloc, the governors have not really pulled as much weight?
What weight are we going to pull? We have met, we have been able to conclude our meetings on some issues that we have reached consensus on and when the National Assembly is ready to proceed, we will proceed. Anyway, don’t forget that we are not too important. So, those of you who say governors are powerful, you can see that we are not.

Do you really believe this amendment process will lead to anything significant?
I think so, once the National Assembly is serious.

If they are serious and we now have the same level of seriousness from the governors and the state Assemblies, do you think we will realise anything?
You should ask them, we are not the speakers of the state assemblies. The state governors will be contributing as citizens of Nigeria.

The exercise has thrown up a lot issues amongst which is state police but your group as body of governors is more or less split on this.
It is among the issues we are yet to reach a consensus and of course, it is still in progress, we are talking to ourselves.

State creation is another issue the Governors’ Forum has to deal with. What is the situation now?
There are only two issues we have not agreed on…

One really can’t remember any issue you have had an agreement except how to get more money from the Federation account.
We decided not to bring to public notice, all the issues we have agreed on. We have agreed on several issues which we said should not go public yet until there is a need to go public.

Issues like?
We have agreed on local autonomy, we have agreed that the funding of the House of Assembly should not be a constitutional issue; it should be left to the laws of the state.
If you’ve agreed that you should not go public on some issues, the impression that is in the public suggests that the Governor’s Forum is divided on so many national issues, across ethnic divide.
You guys are correct but Edo State Governor is not a northerner, the Plateau State is not also a southerner. I can call more for you. The governors are just divided on a personal line and not ethnic line.

How would you rate your chairmanship of the Forum?
I don’t even know how I am performing. You should be the one to tell me.

So much has been said about true federalism and fiscal federalism. But do you think some of these issues can bring about genuine federalism at the end of the day?
Well, let’s see what consensus we can get. We need to meet with the National Assembly- they are key on this issue. It’s important that we realise that this is their responsibility and we have to work with them. So, let us first and foremost work with the National Assembly and then, we can get back to the public and say this is what we are looking at. We will certainly meet with them and lobby the National Assembly on issues we think are of importance to the country.

The court case between you and Omehia has refused to go away. Does it give you sleepless night?
I don’t know you people have become the Supreme Court Justices. It will be subjudice to discuss a matter that is before the court.

There is cause to worry.
I have to be the Supreme Court to know if there will be cause to worry or not.

You are involved and people are pondering what lies ahead?
How will I know? I have to be with the lawyer representing me to know or I have to be the Justice of the Supreme Court to know.

Do you often meet with your lawyer on this matter?
We don’t meet like that. We only meet when it is necessary.

But is it also true that you are behind the several adjournments of the court cases.
No.

The argument is that you are using it as delay tactics
Oh, please, we were in court on Thursday.

Are you in anyway worried as an individual?
It is only God and the Supreme Court that should determine whether I should worry or not.

Some of your critics believe that the way you are going on your projects that by 2015 there would be a lot of abandoned projects.
Why not wait till 2015 to see if there will be a lot of abandoned projects? We must not guess as to as what will happen in 2015.

Those who say this argue that aside your health and school projects, so many other things you started are not near completion like some of the roads.
That’s not correct. On one of the roads, out of N57 billion, we have paid N20 billion even the Port Harcourt/Owerri road, out N36 billion, we are owing just N9 billion. That is two-third of it.

What is the benchmark of some of these projects?
They have exceeded it.

But the pace at which you started in the first term has really gone down; not much has been done in your second term. Why?
I thought I took you on a drive to some of the schools we built in the second term and some of the roads we constructed in the second term. We have projects you deliver in six months and there are also projects that are long term. Now, if you go to Aba road, you will see that there is a road construction that is ongoing. Is that first term? That is the road we are doing for the second term. As we were coming, you saw the Mpogu Nwaja road, is that first term?
That one is under construction now. The road from Idebili road to Apajio is under construction and it is second term. The secondary schools that we are completing now are also second term. I don’t have a choice but to deliver to the people because I was elected to serve them. There are two hospitals you can go now that we also did in this second term- the Dental Hospital and the general hospital. There is nothing that I did in the first term that I am not doing now.

Is chairmanship of the Governors’ Forum taking your time?
Obviously, you have to split your time into two to be able to serve as the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum. It is not a question you will bother to ask because you know that as chairman, you have to make some sacrifices and then you have to also govern. Don’t forget too that there are benefits that we have made from that office. We never had two Ministers here before but now, we have two ministers.

What is the situation on the oil well feud between you and Bayelsa?
We are waiting for the boundry commission and the office of the President who had promised to call us.

So, have you been called since that process?
We have been called only for me to travel and they said it was that week. Since then, they have rescheduling the meeting and it’s because of the pressure on the office of the President.

Why the perception that you and the President do not like each other?
That can’t be true. I respect and adore the President and I don’t know what everybody wants me to do. I am not aware if that is what the President thinks but one thing you must know is that there are people who are inadequately trained; whose work is to gossip and it is left for the President to believe them or not. But as far as I am concerned, I have a cordial relationship with the President.

This time last year, Port Harcourt was practically unsafe. What is the security situation like now?
Yes, there were some crises that we had over insecurity but this year, the Improvement is tremendous because all our security systems have worked together for the whole year to ensure that we are secure and I thank them for that. In the last two months, there has not been a single case of robbery or kidnapping. We are on top of security.

Apart from the issue of funds, what is the greatest challenge you are facing as Governor?
Personnel! In terms of capacity, the governor might as well become governor, commissioner and permanent Secretary. You have to look at the fact that we are not getting exactly what we are meant to get. But we should look more at the majority and assess what to do.

Are you sure your cabinet composition is not a function of political considerations?
No, it’s not true. I became governor without godfather, so why would that be an excuse?

But people nominated certain persons to you
Nobody nominated anybody to me. I go round looking for the material I want.

Is there any form of training exposure you have sent some of your staff as a way of improving their capacity to deliver?
Of course!

Let’s take you back on the issue of council autonomy, what in specific have you actually resolved?
That there are just two tiers of government- the Federal and State.  And that the local government is not a tier of government. No country operates federalism with the local government as a tier of government. So, they are not.

Why don’t you scrap them?
No! Whatever the National Assembly says is what we are going to go with.

But the constitution provided for it?
The fact that the constitution provided for it does not make it a federating unit. The constitution provided for it in section seven and eight where it says that the existence of the local government is hereby recognised. Two, which is, it is governed according to the laws enacted by the state assemblies.

You have some states that have not conducted local government election for over six to seven years. Are you comfortable with that?
Some states have already conducted. States like Benue, Adamawa and Kaduna.

So why do you think that of Anambra State has become so difficult?
I am not aware. I have to be Anambra State Governor to know why it has not been conducted. I don’t know why. But we have spoken to him and he has promised to conduct it.

A lot has been rumoured about your ambition after office as governor on account of your performance.
You saw the adverts of different governors that were given awards and my name is not there.

So, what are you actually looking at?
I am looking at nothing.

Why are you not looking at anything?
Why must I look for anything?

Why have you decided not to look for something?
Because I have decided not to look for something!

An active player like you should not just keep quiet
Why? There cannot be two Presidents at the same time just as you can’t have two governors at a time.

Aren’t you prepared for service to the people?
This is the one I was compelled to and which I have prepared for.

Is it that you don’t want to continue to serve the people?
That shouldn’t be your worries. Allow me to take time and sort it out.

How has governance affected your private life?
Seriously! You can’t go anywhere without security; the country wants to know where you are, where you sit, what you do. You can’t have that freedom you used to have.

Has it affected your management of your family?
Of course!

Do you have any regret for that?
Of course and that was the reason I did not want to run for second term but when I had a meeting with my children, they said no Dad, don’t use us as an excuse for that. My first son told me that, so, I had to run for second term.

But were you serious about that?
I was serious. I was not joking. I was exhausted after making a lot of contribution and I thought let the next governor come and continue.

Towards 2015, what is the greatest thing that you think you really want to be remembered for?
Friendship! I was friend to everybody. I am your friend.

Is that the only thing you want to be remembered for?
What do want them to remember you for? You want them to remember you for schools? That is your responsibility to grow education. You want them to remember you for health? That is the reason you are paid salary. You are paid to do that job and that is why they can take you for granted and forget you so easily.

Do have any plan on how to manage your life as a private citizen?
Yes, I will go back to school.

To do what?
To study in school; to learn first.

What do you want to learn?
I will do a first degree in Law and then a PHD in English.

But you were in Law before.
I did not complete it.

Earlier, you raised the issue of personnel as one of your greatest challenges, are you worried that by the time you leave office, you might find it difficult to have an ideal successor?
I don’t know. It is left for God to know who will succeed me. It is open for everybody.

The PDP in your state is factionalised and some people are kicking against your style of governance.
They are in the minority. Whatever feelings they have, we the people of River State are members of PDP and we are waiting for them. When you meet a minority you will begin to talk about them.

Are doing anything to win the minds of the minority?
I have to be the chairman of the party to win their minds but I am not.

But you are the leader of the party?
No, I am not.

But that is the practice
No, that is not the practice here. May be that is how you do it in Lagos. I am just a member of the party.

Have they ever directed you on the way to go or not?
No, they haven’t.

That means it is because they feel you are the leader
The party is the only organ that can say we must do this. We have meetings in which decisions are made.

Do you think your workers are happy with you?
I wouldn’t know that. I need to ask them the question or you help ask them.

Do your people think you are corrupt?
I don’t know. I have asked that question often.

What feelings do you get in governing the people of River State?
Mixed feelings! Sometimes, they make you happy while at other times, they make you wonder whether they shouldn’t do more in supporting you.

Will you miss the government house when you leave?
This is almost like a prison. Will anybody miss a prison?

Looking back, when the Supreme Court handed that judgment in your favour in 2007, what does it feel like?
I am grateful to God, I am grateful to the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. I want to assure them that I will try not to disappoint them so that I will not disappoint God and the people.

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, Government House, Prison, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

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