Wike: Condition for Peaceful Polls in Rivers is Simple


The Gubernatorial Interview

After a recent tour of projects with journalists from across the country, the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesome Wike assured the people that the state is not at any risk due to indebtedness. Shola Oyeyipo brings the excerpts:

We have gone round to see some of the projects by your administration despite the state of the economy. How you are able to achieve these?
It is difficult to answer but as I have said before, what is important is not the amount of resources you have, it is about how you are able to utilise the little you have to make sure that you do not allow contracts to be highly inflated in the sense that contracts that are supposed to be N1bn are put out at N7bn. But overall, I would say that there are certain explanations I cannot give. I have told people, who have spoken with me that we run a Jesus economy.

If you ask, what is Jesus economy? It has to do with things you cannot explain economically. As an economist, if you are arguing, there are factors that you use to back up your arguments but in this case, you will see that the Nigerian economy is under recession and Rivers’ economy is part of federal economy – companies are folding up, workers are being sacked – that means the income of the state will be coming down as relates to internally generated revenue.

The money we get from the federation account, it is on record that it was last month that we had about N10bn, the highest was about N5bn and we pay pensioners and salaries about N5.6 monthly, so if we use that, it means we will not be able to do projects. But for us, even as the economy has not been doing well at the national level, our IGR has been going up and one cannot explain that while the economy is bad, our IGR is going up?

So, I cannot explain how we are getting money from our IGR when the economy generally is down. If you believe in God, there are things that would happen that you cannot explain and that is why I said we are operating a Jesus economy. Like in the Bible, how many loafs of breads did he use to feed thousands of people?

How spread are these projects and what’s the idea of the cost implications?
All the projects we have been doing cut across the three senatorial districts. On the cost, I want to be precise, but however, since about 18 months, I can rightly say we have spent not less than about N100bn in terms of road construction and other projects, though I do not have the accurate figure, so that I do not make mistake. But the one I can say is the Sakpenwon-Bori road. It is about N9bn. It is 16km road. I can tell you that the road was designed by the previous administration at the cost of N14bn – to use laterite.

But when we came on board, we said how can laterite cost N14bn? And we said we prefer to use sharp sand because of the terrain. So, you will ask yourself, how can laterite cost more than sharp sand? That is to tell you the kinds of problems we have been having in terms of contract award – it is highly inflated. For us, that is not in the best interest of the state.

How much have you been able to do in terms of human capital development and poverty alleviation?
When you talk of poverty alleviation, take for example, you went to Government Girls Secondary School, you could see how many people and contractors are working out there. In terms of helping our people, we have released not less than N3bn for men and women to help them improve on their businesses. In fact, we said they will not pay interests.

In some of the rural areas, there are no medical facilities. If anyone needs emergency care, there is no hospital to provide them with that. So, we also provided private hospital owners, who are also involved in healthcare delivery in the rural areas. Some of them got N25m, N30m; depending on how much you are requesting and we have a committee to supervise and ascertain that the clinics that applied are qualified. The process was not discriminatory. Out of about 30 people that got the loan, non-indigenes were about eight.

We told them not to pay interest on the loan. The state government will pay the interests.
I do not see poverty alleviation as the only thing about human capital development. We would also talk about education and scholarship. When we came on board, which is unfortunate, the previous administration gave scholarship to so many people. Some are not from the state. Some are from Niger; some from Kaduna and like that. And we owed not less than N7bn as at the time we came on and when I look at the programmes – you see, the problem we have in this country, we are always politicizing issues.

Somebody wants to read Political Science and you are sending him to Canada. Somebody wants to read Literature, you are sending him to India, but here we have so many universities that can take care of these courses. Then, what was the exchange rate of dollar and naira as at that time and what is the exchange rate now? Naira is now about N400 plus to a dollar! Look at pounce, almost N600 and look at Euro about N700 and you are talking about not having enough money to pay workers.

And if you pay this N6bn it does not mean you have paid the total tuition fees. And we said the best thing is that some of these courses that we can do in Nigerian universities, come back to the country we will give you scholarship. Those other courses like medical courses, some kinds of engineering courses, they can stay back and we will pay for those courses!

In terms of human capital development, I will say for now we are doing the best we can. Poverty alleviation does not necessarily mean you should start dashing out money. Like what we are doing now in terms of amnesty, we have made sure that there is a lot of jobs to be done – cleaning of schools, cutting of the grasses – that will engage our youths and help them in making money for themselves.

Did you inherit some of these projects from the previous administration?
No. There are some inherited. When we got on board, the Woji-Akpajio bridge was about 30 per cent. In fact the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) came back now, they will never believe. When the lawyers came during their annual bar conference, we took them there.

That time they were still filling sharp sand there. If they come now and see that we have crossed that bridge, they will never believe it. And the company promised us that by December we will go over the bridge. I did not award the job but it is an important road that whether we like it or not any governor must finish.
Some of the projects started by the previous administration that we felt are key projects we said we should not abandon them because we did not award them. The whole essence is not concerning whether you awarded the project or not. If we have the opportunity of completing the projects, for me, that is the key.

There are so many projects I completed. Take for example the University of Education road was about 40 – 45 per cent completed. I came and completed it. The road Ozuogba-Ogbogoro road was awarded at the cost of about N8bn. They paid the contractor about N3bn and they abandoned it. We came we completed it. Former Senate President David Mark came to commission it. There is Abuloma-Woji bridge. We came, we completed it.

On the way to Etche, there is Igwurita-Umukuruchi road. They could not complete it. We came we completed it. The Woji road towards Aba road they awarded it to LCC but they did not mobilise with one naira so LCC did not go to site. Rather than demolish houses and pay compensations that will not be enough for the people to build another house, we brought the price to about N4bn and completed the road.

Can you talk about the signature project of the former administration, referring to the 21 model secondary schools?
I will always tell the true and it is unfortunate that where we come from people don’t like the truth. It is fraudulent for anybody to talk about 21 model secondary schools. It is very fraudulent! In fact, I don’t know how I forgot when we are entering Bori you would have seen buildings – schools – that is the only one. In fact, it was given to Bori Polytechnics. Mention anywhere. Just go anywhere!

Out of over 500 schools they said they were building in terms of primary school, by their own economic advisory council report, only 200 were completed not furnished! The major ones that were completed and furnished were the ones within Port Harcourt here where I can take you: Elikhia, Rumuomasi, Airforce Base and the old Port Harcourt Primary School.
Investigate into them and ask ‘can we have the location of those 21 schools?’ so that you can see the model secondary schools. If they say they planned to do it, may be. If anyone says he did 21 model secondary schools in this state, I think they would have to take such person for psychiatric test.

A certain woman claims she won an election but has not been sworn in as a member of the state House of Assembly. Isn’t there any way you can facilitate her swearing-in?
Have you checked? Did she go to court or not? Is the matter in court or not? Not only complaining, she went to court.

The assembly alleged that she went and impersonated them by using their letterhead paper to write a petition against the Chief Judge of the state, when she is not an assembly member. So, the assembly is saying, how can you impersonate us, when you are not an assembly member yet? So, she went to court. It is good to find out. It is not about what she says. Find out from the other people. What is my business for her not to be sworn-in? PDP has more than two-third. So, please, there is nothing like that.

What is the debt profile of the state?
I inherited N14bn from bank loan, which by our agreement we are paying through bonds which has been taken over by the federal government and they are deducting money from us every month to pay themselves but it is going to inhibit us because if that would be bank, it is going to affect us. So there was the agreement between state governments and the federal government to buy over some of these debts but money is being deducted from us monthly. We are not indebted to workers.

Of course, I inherited six months pensioners pay and four months salaries but I paid all. As I speak with you, I have paid pensions up till November. I am ready to sign the money to pay them December and workers’ salaries. But if you asked whether or not we took loan to do projects; which government will not take loan to do projects? So, the state does not have any risk at all.

Each time there is going to be an election in Rivers State, there is panic nationwide. The recent election generated as much. What do you think are the conditions that will guarantee free and fair elections in the state?

The condition is you. Tell the public, tell the Nigerian Police and tell INEC: let us do free and fair election. I have always asked: what causes violence? I was here and they wanted to stop my senatorial district for results to be declared so as to manipulate it.
If in the course of resisting and they killed someone, would there not be violence? Why would you carry material and give to one party at the detriment of the other party? We said allow everybody to vote. You used security agencies to snatch election material and to beat up our agents.

Ask your reporters, why couldn’t they tell you the simple truth? If they conducted free and fair elections here in Rivers State, who would win? Who is going to lose when there is violence? We are going to lose! The only condition is free and fair election as it done all over the world.

Ask your reporters, why couldn’t they tell you the simple truth? If they conducted free and fair elections here in Rivers State, who would win? Who is going to lose when there is violence? We are going to lose! The only condition is free and fair election as it done all over the world.