The countdown to the rerun election in Rivers State drew much national attention and created fear and anxiety among the people of the state. With gladiators locking horns – a former governor of the state now Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and Governor Nyesom Wike were locked in a turf fight. For Amaechi, it was a fight for his political redemption and influence. For Wike, it was a battle for his political survival in office. With both sides determined to prove a point, and with the stakes so high, tension reached fever pitch. Governor Wike Speaks to THISDAY on the challenges he has faced, the quest by the All Progressives Congress to take control of Rivers ‘by all means’, the alleged complicity of INEC to skew the electoral process in the rerun election in favour of the APC, the violence and much more
INEC has just released some of the collated results that were initially suspended and your party, the PDP has prevailed, which shows that your initial fears about the whole process have not exactly turned out the way you imagined. Having prevailed, what is your reaction?
There is nothing that has changed. The results that INEC claimed that they have released are the results that were declared before now. So, nothing has changed.
In Port Harcourt, the two federal constituencies were declared; we had the declaration certificates given to us; the two Port Harcourt constituencies were also declared on the same day.
So nothing really has changed. The issue in contention which INEC is running away from because they want to protect a particular individual has to do with the Ikwerre local government state constituency and the federal constituency which has to do with the Ikwerre and Emohua local governments.
So INEC thinks they are being fast. They are not. These results have already been declared before now and we have the documents. If they are sincere, Degema has been declared. They have made the declaration. And if that was the position, they didn’t cancel it the day it was declared and after more than one week, they are trying to say they will not release it. That is funny.
Secondly, Akukutoru Constituency 1. It is unfortunate and this is why we say if your hands are clean, you come out and show your hands are clean. He who seeks equity must come with clean hands.
Now, first of all when the matter got to Court of Appeal, we never saw the judgment of the court of appeal. In fact, it was INEC that said our candidate was disqualified and on what basis was the candidate disqualified?
Okay, if the candidate was disqualified, still PDP was put on the ballot as those running election. Now, PDP won with over 30,000 votes and then he was declared as the winner of that election and was given the declaration certificate.
But after one week, INEC now comes to say that the court of appeal disqualified him. He ought not to have won. What sort of statement is that? Are you the court?
So as far as I am concerned, that fear is still there. INEC has not done anything that anybody would applaud them. We have won all the elections. So, the issue of the fear no longer being there is incorrect. We do not trust IINEC and that is the truth of the matter.
So what are you going to do about the disqualified candidate?
Of course, we are going to challenge it. It is very obvious. We will not allow it. As I have always said, as an electoral umpire, show that impartiality. Don’t give sign that you are up to something.
Right from the beginning we have always told them, these are our fears and INEC has has not for once made any attempt to allay those fears and since they have not done that, it is clear what their intentions were. Just that by the grace of God and the will of the people, the people tried to resist INEC. INEC was in total collaboration with security agencies to rig the election. So we are going to challenge that. We are not going to allow it.
For me I see INEC as trying to play a role to destabilise the state. INEC is not being truthful and INEC should come out. Results that were declared from unit to unit, down to ward. Now you are saying you are looking into it. Looking into what? You have cancelled eight local governments. You cannot cancel after elections have been declared. The law is clear. So, all what INEC is trying to do now is to buy time and we will not accept it. And this is the crisis that I have always talked about. Who is interested in always causing crisis in Rivers State? Whose interests are they protecting? You say you want to conduct elections. You have conducted the elections. People have won. Allow those who are grieved to go to court. Not you any longer and not you playing the role of the court. So, we will not accept. So, nobody is jubilating that INEC said they had declared three federal constituencies and one state constituency.
What is your message to INEC concerning the eight local governments that were cancelled?
We are now hearing that INEC wants to release some of the results they cancelled in some of the eight local governments obviously to help the APC. Don’t forget the election was cancelled around 2p.m before the election process was even concluded on the 19th, the very day of the election. How can they have results for a process that was ongoing when it was cancelled by the same INEC? Where did the result surface from? Their claim now is that some of the results in the eight local governments they cancelled were already collated and I ask how was it possible when it was cancelled when voting was still going on by 2p.m for you to have results? This is fraud on the part of INEC. INEC is trying to help APC by manipulating the results. The APC lost badly in Rivers so they want to save Amaechi’s face.
As I said before, INEC has not show any sign that they are impartial. They have not shown signs of that. Notwithstanding, we have complained to them and they have seen that our complaints are genuine. So why are they running away from the issue. Why?
Even the so-called eight local governments they approved, I am still afraid of them. I foresee a situation where all they are doing now is to perfect a system where they will now want to rig us out. Just like I said before: that will also be highly resisted, so no one will say that there is crisis in Rivers State.
INEC should not be causing crisis in Rivers State. INEC should allow the people’s will to prevail. Look, these people came with the intention to capture the state by all means. They wanted to rig the election. We merely resisted them. So they started shouting that we were inciting violence. That is the true situation.
I will not fold my arms and allow INEC to perfect that strategy they want to use and rig in those eight local government areas. Rivers State will still resist it. It does not matter to me that I am the governor. If I die for the cause of Rivers State, no big deal about that.
It is a sacrifice I can make for Rivers State as Rivers State cannot be cheated any longer. Allow the people’s will to prevail; allow their mandate to stand. Don’t try to satisfy an individual whom you think might have contributed so much money to a political party. And so the only way you can compensate him is not to embarrass him. The people will decide where their votes will be and so we will resist any manipulation with all it takes. Just allow the will of the people to prevail. It is not too much to ask of INEC.
There has been a reports in the media, especially in the run-up to the general and re run elections that suggests Rivers State is a state flowing with blood. Why is there violence and what is your take on that?
With all due respect, the media has not been fair to this state. The media ought to tell the world the truth. I think part of the crisis we have in this country, with all due respect, is partly contributed by the media. I have said that we must do what we call investigative journalism: go down and get the actual facts before over-blowing everything. Now how is it Rivers of blood? Where is the blood flowing?
Let us take for example: we heard what happened in Benue State, in Agatu where they said over 500 people died in one incident. Did anyone say Benue of blood? No. you heard recently the cult killings in Imo state. Did anyone say Imo of blood? You heard of the deaths in Lagos State: armed robbery, collapsed houses, one thing or the other virtually every week. Did anybody say Lagos of blood? Recently, we heard of the Shiite incident and some people were kidnapped in Kaduna: a colonel was abducted and he was killed. Did anybody say anything? No.
That is not justifying that somebody should die, no.
But the point is in a state of this nature, an oil-producing state, multinationals are here. We cannot run away from the fact that some crimes are committed but that does not allow you to say Rivers of blood. The APC people are desperate to get Rivers, they want to control it resourses. So for that they came with a lot of determination back by security forces to rig the election. It is painful. I don’t know what the people who do this want to achieve. I believe that in the nearest future people will see that these stories are politically sponsored by people whose interest it is for Rivers State to be in chaos.
The APC has always wanted to do anything legal or illegal to take Rivers State. They believe that the South-South states have some oil and so will want to use it. They believe the former governor of the state brought out alot of money. So for that reason, they feel it is one of the states they should control. I don’t think Rivers people are interested in that. What they need and have been clamouring for, is development; someone who is going to give them development.
So if the APC thinks they can manipulate all sorts of things so they can take Rivers State, I don’t think it will be possible. They tried it at the Tribunal, Appeal Court and right up to the Supreme Court. They lost. They came to the rerun poll with the hope of getting the 22 seats. God exposed them. They lost. The only alternative they now have is to cause crisis so that the Federal Government can declare a state of emergency. I can also tell you God will not allow them.
So you cannot push a people like that, things are now changing and people are becoming more aware. I believe that by the grace of God, Rivers State will continue to grow under PDP. Look at the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. It is so surprising that an old man at that level will be crying that he lost Rivers State. But it is obvious now because when the former governor was there, Oyegun had the privilege of staying at the Presidential Lodge. He cannot imagine that he would not enjoy that privilege again. But if he knows me well and knows the state well, we don’t care which party he belongs to. If he comes to Rivers State, we will still give him the place to stay.
Are you disputing categorically the issue of violence before and during the rerun election?
When you say violence, It will be unfair if I say there was no kind of skirmishes or struggle or violence but that is not to say violence has broken out in the entire state.
But we see why ordinarily there should be violence. Firstly, a party came with ruthless determination and venom and wanted to take over the state by hook or by crook.
So if you have that mindset and with the plan to impeach the governor, the people will say no and ask why do you want to impeach him? Therefore they will stand by the governor and resist you from rigging the election and in resisting you, it will then lead to violence. Amaechi came with the security agencies. Throughout my political career, I have never seen that level of invasion by security agencies of a state.
In fact, the day the former governor and minister of transportation came to Rivers State with loads of security. No president has had that level of security with him as he had. In fact at the level, it was as if President Obama was coming to Rivers State and so security was tightened for his safety. So the way he came was like ‘I’m coming for war;’ ‘I want to take over.’ And the people said no, you cannot take over. That was why when he was leaving, he sneaked out. Nobody knew when he was leaving. Because of all the noise he had made and the security he came with he could not rig the election. The power of the people was too much for him and his security. Power belongs to the people and they made sure their mandate was protected and respected.
So the violence was not so much as people not wanting to stay in the state. It was violence that the people said you cannot rig the election. We resisted him and I thank Rivers people for that.
So you are saying that the call by some interest groups for a state of emergency in the state was uncalled-for.
Totally uncalled-for. As I said, it is a product of desperation that ‘I must take Rivers State by all means’. It is desperation of the highest order. The people clearly don’t want the APC from the partern of vote so far. Is it by force that the people must accept the party? I am sure if Akwa Ibom had had the number of seats that were annulled by the Court of Appeal, like we had, that kind of violence would have happened. It did not happen because they had only four seats. The governor told me that even for those four seats, the way they came was terrible. So, assuming it was more than four and it was such that whoever wins the seats would take control of the Assembly, you can imagine what would have happened. So it was a different thing for Rivers State because Rivers had a situation where we lost 22 seats because of the judgment of the Court of Appeal. So, with 22 seats, if they won, they would produce the Speaker and they could now start the impeachment process. So, there was this ‘Let’s go and take it’. But the people said no.
So a person calling for a state of emergency is neither here nor there. Okay what state of emergency? All the multinationals are working here, the oil industries are working here, you go out in Rivers State there is traffic jam everywhere. So why are they calling for a state of emergency. If they had won, would they have called for a state of emergency? Would they not have started the impeachment process immediately?
You see each time they have one game plan or the other; when the plan does not work out for them, they resort to another plan. Now they are calling for a total cancellation. And I ask, you are calling for a total cancellation because you lost? In Opobo, you did not dispute that you did not win, why call for cancellation? So they are blowing hot and cold at the same time.
So the person calling for a state of emergency does not mean well for the state neither does he mean well for Nigeria.
If they want a state of emergency, why don’t they call for it in Benue State where Fulani herdsmen are killing people and in Kaduna state where a colonel was killed? They had a religious problem there when some Shiites tried to kill the Chief of Army Staff. Why didn’t they call for a state of emergency in these areas? Why Rivers State? Because they are desperate to take the state because of its resources.
What is so special about Rivers State that you must declare a state of emergency? Obviously, you should know I am the target. But I am not moved, whether I die today is immaterial. Rivers people have made up their minds that they will not go back to Egypt.
You have accused former Governor Amaechi (now Transportation minister) of boasting and dropping President Buhari’s name in trying to manipulate the rerun poll. Is there any evidence to this?
Very clear evidence. You see I have worked with Amaechi and I know him too well. He is somebody that can come to you and say the president said this while in actual fact the president did not say anything.
From my investigation, the President is a victim of this kind of thing. Amaechi had said he had been victimised, he had been robbed of victory. If you see a man who has been a victim of such a thing, such a man will not encourage such a thing.
Amaechi is a name-dropper. In fact, he says with the kind of money he put in the election of Mr. President, there is nothing he will need that they would not give to him. And I say what has the president not done for you; he has made you the minister of transportation; he has given you NIMASA; he has given you NDDC. What kind of money did you put in his election that you think if you ask him to declare a state of emergency in Rivers, he will grant it to you? He goes to the commissioner of police and says Mr. President wants you to do this. He will go to the Brigade Commander and tell him, Mr. President wants you to do this and that.
You know how our system works, the seemingly close relationship you think he has with Mr. President can influence some things.
But I do know that the president could not have approved this kind of atrocities that Amaechi has come to commit in this state.
Tell us 10 months of being in office, what have you been able to achieve so far?
To God is the glory. In fact, people ask: how did you remain focused, not distracted with the kind of projects you have embarked upon? After the day we were sworn in on May 29, 2015, we all know we have been battling in Abuja from tribunal to Court of Appeal to Supreme Court. It just ended January 27 when the Supreme Court gave their verdict. So you can imagine when you are on seat from June you never rested. The tribunal was not here. The tribunal was in Abuja. So, we were virtually in Abuja every other day, every other week. When will you sit down to even talk about what you will do? But we thank God Almighty that we never lost focus.
First of all, when we came on board, the former government never paid civil servants salaries for three or four months. I paid all. They never paid pensioners for six months; I paid all. Our students overseas, they never paid their scholarship which had amounted to about 3 to 4 billion naira. I have paid almost N2 billion and I have also paid so many debts that one cannot begin to recount.
But in terms of infrastructure, I did say, and I will continue to say, that we will continue with any projects we think that has a direct impact on the lives of the people. It doesn’t matter that we did not award such contracts. So, we carried out such projects and we have been paying the contractors. So many of such projects have been completed. I hear today the former governor is saying he was the one who awarded such projects. We never denied that fact that he awarded the contracts. But what baffled us was that it was the same former governor, who on May 27, 2015, said during his 50th birthday celebration at Obi Wali Cultural Centre that he would see where Nyesom Wike would get money to pay salaries, let alone execute projects. But by the grace of God today, I have paid the salaries he didn’t pay; I’ve paid the pensioners he didn’t pay. I have been paying those contractors whom he didn’t pay. Now, the only one I have not got money to pay, because it has no meaning and Rivers people have said so, is the museum they kept which they call monorail: 1.5 kilometres for which he had spent N45 billion. And he was the one who said, ‘Let me see where he is going to get money.’ Truly I have not got money to complete the monorail project. The money I have got really is to pay salaries and complete those projects I think the money we have can go for. Why I say I will not continue with such projects is because the state is so indebted that they cannot even get the money to continue with that project. I am not playing politics with any projects. Those projects that I think have direct bearing on Rivers people for their development, I will continue to do them.
We have also been able to award some projects which by the grace of God by May, which will be our first year in office, we will roll out. I have just gone for inspection of Oroigwe Road. The former governor lived in Oroigwe and he told the people since 2007 when he became the governor of the state through the court that he would do that road. He did not even start it before he left. But by the grace of God, we are almost completing that road. He lived also in Diobu but before he left, the whole roads in Diobu were not in motorable condition. As I speak to you, I brought in CCECC that has done not less than 42 kilometres of all the roads in Diobu. He also lived in Okarki Street in Borikiri, Port Harcourt. Before he left there were no roads in Borikiri. Go and see today what we have done in Borikiri. The one that will surprise you is the one opposite DSS (Department of State Security) office, what we call UTC Junction, a road that leads to Government House. It was too bad but go and see what Julius Berger has done on that road.
I thank God today that despite the distractions, we have been able to do the much we have done. So by May 29, Rivers people will be to see what we have done in spite of all the distractions.
So you think the monorail was economically unviable?
Now, if you want to solve traffic congestion, where is the traffic in Azikiwe Road to Aggrey Road? Where is the traffic? There is no traffic. If you are talking of traffic, you should talk about Oyigbo area. If I was the one to do that, I would have partnered with the Railway Corporation to see how we could make the train to ply between here and Oyigbo in order to decongest Aba Road. And in any case, how could I have spent N45 billion on a 1.5 kilometre project which has not been completed. I mean it doesn’t make sense to me economically. Again, look at the Karibi Whyte Hospital where he spent over $39 million. Go there it is a bush; not even one block was laid.
So how do you recover the money?
That is what we are talking about. I have put all the machinery in motion. We set up the judicial panel of inquiry which indicted him. He went to court and the court told him no. He went on appeal. We have even written to EFCC. We have written to the police to invite him to make a statement. Well, he tells you he is in control of the police; he is in control of EFCC. Nobody will invite him. But it is good we let the public know what is happening.
The courts in the state were shut down before you came on board and were re-opened shortly thereafter. Has that ended the crisis in the state’s judiciary?
Of course, it ended the crisis. As I speak to you today, when I was sworn in, I told the judiciary that I would follow due process. I came and I appointed an acting chief judge and an acting president of the Customary Court of Appeal. Thereafter, the acting chief judge became the chief judge on the recommendation of the NJC. Even though she didn’t stay up to one month before she retired, we followed due process in the same way it has happened to the president of the Customary Court of Appeal. The present chief judge today, not acting chief judge, is not from Rivers State. She is from Edo, married to a Yoruba person. But we said we have to follow due process. She is the most senior judge, so why would I disobey the practice of NJC. NJC recommended her and I said, that is it. So, today the judiciary is peaceful. Things are working out. In fact, I hear that next week they are going to defend the appointment of the president of the Customary Court of Appeal, who also is the most senior judge in terms of ranking. So, I have come to stabilise the judiciary and to God be the glory, the judiciary is stabilised today; no crisis, no rancour. Everything is moving normal.
Let us take you back a bit. Did you really say Amaechi has never won any election?
Sure. In 1999, he ran for the state’s House of Assembly under the PDP and one Uche Okwukwu ran under the APP as it then was. Uche Okwukwu won that election; he was declared winner. Unfortunately for him, Amaechi went to court. It was the Court of Appeal which declared Amaechi as the winner and that was how he became a member of the House of Assembly; and the Speaker through the mercy of Dr. Peter Odili. Odili allowed him to be the speaker for good eight years. Now, in 2007, all of you know what happened in this state. He never ran for the election but we were the ones who stood firm when he ran to Ghana and fought and then the Supreme Court said no; that he was the governor-elect even though his name was not on the ballot. So he became the governor. The first election which he actually contested and won was in 2011. I was the Director General of the campaign and that was the only election he won. I coordinated the entire election and we won. After that, we had some problems and he left PDP and went to APC. He was the governor and he said he was going to install who would be the governor. In 2015, he lost. He said “Oh, it was federal might”. Luckily an opportunity came where there was a rerun poll in the state and national assembly elections. He came also with federal might on the 19th of March. Did he win? No. he didn’t win. So, you can now see. The only one he would have said he won was the 2011 which I supervised as DG of his campaign. As I left, what happened? He has not won any election. Let him show one. So the history is clear, very open.
Some people in the streets refer to you as the Strongman of Rivers Politics. How does that make you feel?
Well, I don’t know. I would only say that when the people are behind you and God is with you, nothing is impossible. The people believe that I have not betrayed them; I have stood firm for them; Amaechi came to make a lot of noise, yet I stood firm; I was able to withstand him and we have won. Probably to them I am a strong person. But I don’t see myself being strong without the people. Even when they say strongman, I laugh. I say you are the strong people. Without you, how can I be strong? But I thank them for that. It makes me feel these people appreciate what I am doing. So I will continue to do that which will make them to be happy. That is what is important to me in life.
How have you been able to cope in the face of dwindling revenue and still carrying out major projects when many states can’t even pay salaries?
It is a matter of management and planning. When we came on board, the overhead for the entire state was about N1.8 billion. That was what the former administration was spending on overhead of the ministries. But when I came I said we cannot do that. Where will we get the funds? So, I reduced it to about N400 million. Yes I did. As I speak to you, no commissioner; no special adviser has any public vehicle. I said we must make sacrifices, we must make commitment. So, it depends on what you want: do you want to serve the people or do you want to make yourself comfortable?
Now, reducing it from N1.8 billion to N400 and something million was not easy. Those who are working with you may not be happy about it, but if they are truly working with you to move the state forward, these are some of the sacrifices and commitments they must make. This is what I have done.
Talking about projects, I cannot carry everything at the same time. Federal allocation as I speak to you today is about N4 billion that we receive. That is not enough to pay salaries but what we have done in terms of internally generated revenue (IGR) is to beef up IGR and see how we can improve on it even further. We got people who said they can improve on it. When we came, the last administration was generating about N5 billion. As I speak to you now, God willing, we are making up to N8, 9 to 10 billion. And that is what in a way we add to pay salaries, and use some of the money to run government and also execute projects.
Now, with the kind of funding we have, we cannot carry all the sectors at the same time. In carrying one sector, the other sector may lag or suffer; but that is the sacrifice we have to make because of lack of funds. So, what we have done in terms of the roads now, when the rain becomes too much, we will stop paying contractors and then move to another sector that may not necessarily be physical projects. So, this is the kind of things we do: it is management. By the time dry season comes again, you come back to road projects. And by that time you must have also gone far with other sectors that are not entirely physical project-oriented or what you may call infrastructure ministries. So, it is planning. Everything depends on how you want to go about it. It is like what you call scale of preference in economics. So we have to scale our preferences and match them with the resources available to us.
People say Wike is rough; Wike is in a cult; Wike is uncouth and all that. Can you clear the air and tell us why people hold this view about you?
Let me say this: all through my career in the university; I was in the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State University of Science and Technology and the Nigerian Law School; anybody who cares knows that I never belonged to any cult group. It is quite clear. Those who are Vikings, Mafarians, Buccaneers, etc, let them say whether I have ever been a member. I have never in my life been in a cult. I am also not going to judge them. It is their personal life. But I have never been in any cult and I challenge anybody to prove otherwise. The only society I belong to is God’s society because my life is dependent on God. If you say that I belong to God’s society, I have no regrets about it.
People say I am rough; I am not a rough person. However, I understand that in this country, in the politics we play, people like to trample on those who are quiet. And in an environment where you come from…. take for example, if you know Amaechi very well, and if you are somebody that is quiet, you are gone with Amaechi. He is the kind of person that when he barks, you let him know that he cannot bite. If Amaechi flogs you once, flog him three times. He appreciates it; he understands it. But if Amaechi flogs you and you say ‘Okay. Don’t worry, God will pay you back’, then you are finished. You will be buried. So, if people are saying that I am rough, I don’t regret it but I am not a rough person per se. Those who are close to me know that I am not a rough person.
But you see, in this politics we are playing, you must know your opponent and the strategy to adopt. Amaechi is not the kind of person you give a gap. Don’t you ever! My mother used to say that when a mad man hits you with a stick don’t run. Take the stick back and hit him two times. He will understand the pain and he will run away. That is the case of Amaechi. Don’t ever you turn the other cheek. Don’t ever! So if you understand that, then you will know I am not a rough person. But again, in the jungle, you can’t be gentle. But under normal circumstances, I am a very simple and easy going person. But when you want to trample on our rights, the rights of Rivers people, I can be mad about that. Then, you can see the lion in me rise to defend my people. To defend Rivers State, I can be a lion and I will not look back. That is the situation.
What does politics mean to you?
Politics to me is service. Politics is not to put myself far above the people and to enrich myself. With all due respect, I won’t say that I am from a very rich family. No. But I can say it has not been too bad by the grace of God. People who know me know my background. But that is not the point. For me, politics is an opportunity to serve your people. It is not everybody that has that opportunity. So if you are given that opportunity, it is one opportunity that you must not allow to go by. Because service means a lot: service to the people endears you to God. Service to the people makes you to have a lot of benefits and compassion from God. So for me, politics is all about service. The central thing for me in politics is service. I was the chairman a of council in one of the most important local government councils in this country. People saw the services I rendered. When I was the Chief of Staff, people saw I was the engine room of government and that I offered services. When I was minister, you saw the commitment I gave as minister of state for education. So for me it is service and that is the way I am going to leave it.
So why do you think you are misunderstood?
You know this world is quite difficult. When people are not close to you, they draw all sorts of conclusions. It also depends on those who really want to get you out of the system. I worked with Amaechi, he never told people that I was bad. I made all the sacrifices. I was not bad then. But when there was a problem he started saying all kinds of things. You know power is one of the most difficult things to manage. Amaechi had power and he never thought any person could compete with him. Nobody talked when Amaechi was around. As far as he was concerned, as the governor, he was the alpha and omega; he was the one who was to direct anything. He never believed in team work. His team work was whatever he said. Amaechi goes to any length to see that anybody who appears to have something that will prop him up goes down. I used to know in those days how he talked about me; “if not because of Wike, I would not have achieved this.” Now he sings a different song. He had gone to churches to say that they should thank me, that without me it would not have been possible (for him to be governor). That God used me. But he cannot say that now. So he goes on to give all kinds of impressions. So, when people come to you and say, Sir, this is not what we were told; so, it is perception. You don’t stay away and make up your mind based on what you hear. But when you have the opportunity to get closer to the person, you say why is somebody being killed for nothing?
But what makes me happy is that I know that what they say is not what I am; God has been very kind to me and I have done everything I wanted in life. Luckily, those of you who have come to interview me should also say this is not the kind of person we were told. I am a different person.
What are you looking forward to in the rerun poll of the eight local governments where elections were suspended?
We are still campaigning. The candidates are campaigning the way we did when our elections were annulled in December last year. We went to the grassroots to campaign. That was actually what we did. So, even though INEC has not come up with a new date, we are still campaigning. We don’t want to be taken unawares. We are still campaigning to give confidence to the people that we are the party they should rely on.
Now let me come to Mr. President. What is your relationship with him?
Frankly speaking I don’t think I have any problem with Mr. President. As I am now, I am an opposition party person. I respect Mr. President. He is the symbol of this country. It doesn’t matter whether he belongs to another political party. As it is today, as it pleases God, God has made him the president of this country. I respect him at all times. But I am not an APC member, so I don’t need to begin to talk about him; I shouldn’t be praising them. My business is to criticise them; my business is to tell them they are not doing well. But that in itself does not mean that I am against Mr. President. So, if Mr. President wants me to do anything today which I think is in the interest of Nigeria, I will do it. It doesn’t matter and that is the kind of politics I play. When it comes to general election and politics, we begin to talk about that. So many people may see Mr. President in a different way; so many things happen and people say Mr. President is aware but my take on this is that, it is not everything that happens that the President is aware. I am a chief executive and sometimes some of my aides or those working with me go out and do something thinking that it would satisfy me or interest me and you find out that I may not have a hand in it. So, that is the same position that the President may be in. So my relationship with him is cordial because I have never had any personal problem with him. Never.
Have you met with him or discussed with him on phone lately?
I have seen him one or two times. If I require anything that Mr. President can do for me, I go and see him. But one thing some of us don’t do is sycophancy. I am not a sycophant. I will call president when it is necessary to call him; not to call him just to say, Mr. President, ‘I am loyal.’ That is sycophancy and I don’t do that. I call him when it is necessary to do so. If there is any need; if it is Easter, Christmas or New Year, and I should wish Mr. President well, I do that. If I don’t have time to speak to him, I can publish in the newspapers to wish him well. That is what I do.
Senator Magnus Abe publicly accused you of being behind an assassination attempt on him. What is your reaction?
I know Magnus Abe very well. It is unfortunate that people forget the past. What am I going to kill him for? Did he run for governorship election with me? Even if he did, did he win? So, what am I going to kill him for? The only problem he has is that I opposed his senatorial election. Yes, I opposed him because he is not a member of PDP. He is a member of APC. Why should I allow APC to win in my state? It is a natural thing and they must see it that way. But you see; if I am supporting the PDP candidate, he picks offence. I have never taken offence against him that he supported the APC candidate in the last election. But all I know is that I want my candidate to win in order to further project the state and follow up on the policies and direction of the state.
When did I make the attempt on his life and when did he report the matter to the police? I know Magnus Abe very well. I understand how he feels – desperation. He wanted to be governor, his friend, former Governor Amaechi, disappointed him. He wasn’t happy and even the Senate ticket they gave him, he didn’t make it. The governor has gone for a ministerial position. The DG NIMASA has gone to Dakuku. The NDDC has gone to Ibim Semenitari. So, if he does not make the Senate, what will he hold on to? What will he tell his people? These are the kind of challenges he has. But he should not put those things on me. I am not the one who caused those problems for him. If Amaechi promised to make him governor, as if he is God to make somebody governor, and he didn’t get it, why should he blame me? Now that Amaechi has taken the ministerial position that he would have said, ‘Magnus, since you did not make it to the senate to represent the Ogoni people and the senatorial zone, now hold this’, or ‘since this is the problem you have, let’s make you DG NIMASA’. He didn’t give him. These are the kind of problems he has. So, the young man is thinking: now that Wike, the governor is all out and saying that he does not want any other party to take any position in the state, he is probably saying; “where am I now? I am just like the parable leper, I don’t have anything to tell Ogoni people.” So, let him not shift his problems to me. I am not the cause of his problem. I never promised to make him governor. Let him meet the man who promised to make him governor and disappointed him.
What is your assessment of state of the economy under APC-led government?
It is not a question of my assessment, you have seen the assessment by Nigerians that things are not moving on well. So the issue of my own assessment is neither here nor there. You have seen that things are not working well in the country. You can see that even the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, has said it all. If he, who is national leader of APC, would say that things are not moving well even to the point of asking the minister of state for petroleum to apologise, what do you want me, a PDP member to say? Tinubu has said it all. The result has been called. I am not the one who called the result. Asiwaju Tinubu called the result. Having called the result, what do you want from us again? If I had said anything, you will say it is because I am of the opposition party. Now, the leader of the APC has come out to say that you cannot embarrass Nigerians; things are not moving on well. The leader of the party has passed the judgment and I rest my case based on his judgment.
Did you say that Amaechi lost in Ikwerre Local Government Area in the last rerun elections?
Yes, he lost in Ikwerre Local Government and that is why they are playing games; INEC is trying to play games, particularly one national commissioner, Amina Zakari. Amina Zakari is the brains behind all these problems you see in Rivers State. She has been tele-guiding and manipulating the process. In fact, I can tell you that one of the monitors wrote condemning the attitude of Amaechi during that election. Amina scolded the supervisor why he should write a report against Amaechi. We intercepted all those information. Indeed, most of the result swapping that INEC tried to do in Rivers State emanated from Amina Zakari.
Yes. We followed her up. We raised the issue in our last campaign that it was Amina Zakari. It was not hidden. We monitored and followed her up.
So, their decision not to release Ikwerre is a bone in their neck. But I dare them. Let them try to say they are cancelling Ikwerre Local Government. You cannot cancel what has been collated from the unit to the ward. You cannot do that. That result must be released. If they don’t want crisis, that result must be released. We will not fold our hands. It doesn’t matter. No threat will make us to forego that. We trounced Amaechi in his local government. He failed. And let it be said he failed. Let the whole world know that he failed. What is INEC protecting him for? INEC should protect the votes of the people and not a single individual. He failed.
Are you sure about this?
Yes. I said he failed. Go and check the results that have been collated. He failed. He also lost at the federal constituency level. He won’t get Senate, he won’t get the federal constituency and he won’t get the state assembly. So, it is making them desperate; and they are resorting to ‘let’s protect this man, it’s too embarrassing’ to say he can’t even control a state House of Assembly’. Well, I say, it is not the business of INEC to sympathise with anybody. The sympathy should come from the people: okay let us not embarrass Amaechi, let us vote for his candidates. But in this case they did not vote for his candidates. So, why are trying to turn it upside down, saying you are investigating. Investigating what? Results that have been collated? And when we now say this is what you are doing and what it will lead to, he will say we are inciting people. Meanwhile, he is the one inciting crisis. That is our position. We are merely defending a free and fair election. They are the one trying to steal the peoples mandate. INEC should release Ikwerre local government result. In fact, they must. They have no choice. Whatever they have ‘eaten’, they should send it back to the man they collected it from. Whatever they have taken from him, they should give him back.