RIVERS: ‘I don’t want to talk about some children’
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has written off Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in next month’s presidential election.
In this exclusive interview with The Nigerian Xpress duo of Steve Nwosu and Rose Moses, Amaechi who is the director-general of the APC Presidential Campaign Council considers Atiku as no match for the All Progressives Congress( APC) candidate, President Buhari, short of saying the election would be a walkover. “I know we will win in most parts of the country, says the minister in response to a question,” enthusing, “The candidate we have is, as for now, and I hate to say it because I’m not God, but what is the alternative to Buhari?”
But reminded of the presence of Atiku on the ballot, Amaechi had a hearty laugh. He admits that he has respect for the former vice president but dismisses him as no alternative to Buhari.
He also spoke extensively on the infrastructural development projects embarked upon by the Buhari administration.
Your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) kicked off its rally for the 2019 presidential election in Uyo, December 28, 2018. What informed the choice of Uyo to kick off of the campaign?
I can’t answer that question, but that decision was made between the president, vice president and chairman of the party. But if I can guess, what they were trying to achieve was basically…. You know there is this rumour that we are weak in the South. So, it was important to show that we are not weak in the South. I’m sure the crowd you saw at Uyo indicated we are not weak in the South.
So, it’s not the case of Akwa Ibom being like your low hanging fruit for the South-south… that it may be one of the easiest states for you to take in the South?
We don’t believe that we will lose election in the South. We believe that our candidate is capable of winning election, whether in the South or in the North. What that rally showed is: ‘listen, that noise that we are in-charge of the South-south (by PDP), is not true.’ It’s just huge noise. That crowd you saw in Uyo…the preparation for that rally was just two days ago.
But they say it was a rented crowd…
It was not rented. At least, that stadium was full. But you know, that is the news PDP always gives. If the opposition wins election, it was free and fair, if we win, it is rigged.
Isn’t that what APC was also doing before they become the ruling party?
I am not talking about what APC was doing before (general laughter), I am talking about now. If PDP wins, it’s free and fair, if we win, it is rigged.
You said your candidate would win election both in the North and Southern parts of the country. What do you think is the biggest achievement of the government that you are taking to this next election?
I believe your newspaper will interview people in Ibadan, for instance. I will gladly wish that you take a train ride from Lagos to Ibadan before March. And I am trying to ensure that we are able to get to Abeokuta and possibly to Ibadan before the end of January or first week of February. I’ve taken a ride before up to Abeokuta. I want to take a ride again from Lagos to Ibadan. I know I won’t get to Ibadan but I will try. Wherever I get to I will stop.
But what is critical is that latest, either before the beginning or end of February, we should get to Ibadan. We may not have stations like we wish but, at least, we started a train service that will take you to Ibadan. That’s achievement. You heard me when I said that if they left the $2bn (past government), we possibly would have done train construction up to Ilorin because we are already in Ibadan. It’s another 200-300 kilometres that can take you to Ilorin and that’s about $2bn.
So, what we front is our achievement in infrastructure. Itakpe-Warri, if you are Delta-Ibo you will know that Itakpe-Warri was abandoned for 34 years. Now we are doing free train services. The way it was abandoned…No stations, it wasn’t built to house stations but now we are constructing 12 stations.
Is that the one with a line to River Niger or something like that?
That’s a new rail line from Lagos to Calabar with a spur…There are different spurs, but there is a spur from Benin to Onitsha. So you go to Benin, Agbor, Asaba and then Onitsha.
What about the one running through the South-east, the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line?
There are two decisions I have to make on that, either to have individual spurs on that line…That is, you get to Aba, you get spur to Owerri; you get to Enugu, you get spur to Abakiliki and to Awka. Or you take a different one that goes to Port-Harcourt, while the main line goes straight to Maiduguri. There is another line that takes off from Port Harcourt to Owerri, Owerri to Nnewi, Nnewi to Awka, Awka to Abakiliki.
That will get us to 2,000 kilometres instead of 1,500 kilometres if you had gone straight. But if you go straight, then all these spurs, if you remove them, that’s when you do 1,500 kilometres. But if you add them, it will get you to 2,000 kilometres. And so, there will be need to connect it through Port Harcourt to Owerri, Owerri to Nnewi, Nnewi to Awka, Awka to Abakiliki passing through Enugu and then you continue at the point where you get to, I think Gombe, then you can approach Damaturu and Yola.
What then is delaying the project, is it funding or what?
(Cuts in)….If we have the fund we won’t steal the money. But you see, the funds are not chicken change. They are not the money you use to construct roads, they are in trillions. Like I told you, $2.5bn or $2.6bn is about a trillion naira. And so, if you check the project for Lagos-Ibadan at $1.6bn, it is about N600bn.
And you are saying past government stole N2 billion?
(Cuts in again)…You are not aware of it? Answer the question. Are you not aware of it?
That is what you are saying and that is also what those I think you are talking about are saying of the present government…
Didn’t you hear what I said, yesterday (at APC rally in Uyo)? I said the problem with us and PDP is that PDP is not denying that they stole. That’s why I like them. I like them because they are a bit honest when it comes to corruption. They agreed that they stole. They are not saying they did not steal. They are saying but even you people too stole. But if we are stealing money, the money for Lagos-Ibadan (railway), wouldn’t we have stolen it, will we have Lagos-Ibadan now?
If we argue along that line one may say, well, at least you have to put something on ground before stealing the rest of the money…
Ok, so what did PDP put on ground?
Are most of the projects the APC government is commissioning not started by PDP?
You know how much we put in? I like the word you used –started. You know how much we are putting in? Take the Kaduna-Abuja rail. In every speech I make, including President Buhari, we’ve always acknowledged the former president. But how many of you know that we put about $200 million to complete it?
Take the airports. Look at the standard of airports that everyone is talking about. You go through the Lagos airport. What I’ve told Stella Oduah before is that: listen, I am not among those people criticizing you, at least you started something, whether it was substandard or not. Before you people started something, it was bad, right? But if you want to start something, start something that will last, that you can be proud of.
Ok, the only reason why we commissioned these airports now is because you people won’t let us rest: ‘Oh, go to Ghana airport, go to…’ And we have twice that airport. We have built better airports than that.
When I got to the one in Port Harcourt, there was nothing. It was just empty hall. So, within us and the minister of state for aviation, we got the Chinese company to sit down with us and tell us what the problems were. And they told us what the problems were. We said, ok, listen, we must commission them before the next election, before the end of the government. So, you must get to work and we pay you whatever it takes. And they were paid.
There were documents for us to sign, payments that had to be made. We paid. Well, there is a Nigerian component to all these contracts. That’s why you saw when they were releasing the list of ministries that were owing, they listed us. It is aviation money we had to pay outside what the Chinese were bringing. They had to list our names as people who also had to bring money and we brought money to complete all those airports.
So now, if anyone tells you: ‘Oh the airport in Ghana’…so bloody what? The next thing, they should open the airport in Lagos. They are better than the Ghanaian airport. The difference is in the size but you don’t build according to size, you build according to numbers…How many people use the airport? For how long will it be used and all that? The one in Abuja is 15 million persons per year.
I think that the people should first acknowledge that Buhari is determined to change the country.
That sounds quite good but the problem a lot of people have with the government is this penchant for singing 16 years of PDP misrule at every junction. Can’t the APC government in the course of doing all the good work you’ve mentioned, stick to identifying areas that need attention and deal with them without always singing 16 years of PDP?
I am a student of history. You never grow if you don’t study your past. How do you know the mistakes you made in the past? We are doing the work and at the same time calling attention to what I call short therapy. Don’t forget this… Don’t imagine, ‘oh, this one built an airport so there was an airport before this time.’ Don’t imagine this one built a rail, so there was rail. No, there was no rail, you must acknowledge that.
READ ALSO: Lagos govt. holds Thanksgiving Service
I went to Lagos-Ibadan. The contractors and Italian project supervisor was saying to a lot of people that mentioned to me that: ‘Ah, they have never seen a minister who comes every month to ensure that work is going on and well.’ And it is not like I just go, have a meeting with them on site and enter my car and go back. No. We trek through. We will drive to Ibadan from Lagos on that same bad road. And by the way, not in government car but my private car, fueled by me o, not by government. You should first acknowledge that President Buhari’s government is doing a lot.
You said hunger was because of what past government stole and all that, but are you not worried that there is real hunger in the land?
You can’t be callous to say we are not hungry or we are hungry. You can only say to the Nigerian public that we are not reckless with Nigerian’s funds. If PDP that were in power for 16 years managed our resources very well, you and I won’t be hungry. So, when I said we are hungry because they took the money, if they left the money, won’t we work? How is an economy managed? An economy must be productive. Now you need money to make an economy productive. You need power.
Are you not acknowledging the fact that power has improved? No, be honest. Let us all be honest to ourselves, forget PDP and APC. You said slightly, but whether it’s slightly or not, if we all improved slightly, slightly, slightly, we would have gotten to 20,000 megawatts.
The point is that we met it where there was no improvement whatsoever. And with all respect to former presidents, they could take us to only 3,000 megawatts! All put together, all! I am not joking, I said all!! But as we are talking now, we are talking about 7,000 megawatts.
You know what I tell people when they say: What’s your legacy? I say, you know what’s the problem with Nigerians? Roads are not legacies for government. Nigerians forget…Nobody can remember who built this road. I tell people that if you want to leave a legacy so that you can be remembered, please build structures that people will say, that’s Amaechi or XYZ structure. So when you go now to Port Harcourt, people will say, that’s Amaechi school; that’s Amaechi health centre. Nobody remembers that I dualised all those roads you see.
Most of the roads Governor Wike (incumbent Gov Nyesom Wike) is commissioning are roads I completed. I dare him to a public debate. It’s not about paying journalists and shouting. It’s about the real fact. Let him call a town hall meeting by NUJ let’s go and I will ask them, ‘do you remember how many times I’ve taken you to these places? Have you suddenly forgotten or because one man is shouting like a madman?’
You said the improvement is a bit, and I’ve always told people too that if a governor comes from one local government and we say four years per governor, by now, as governorship gets to his local government, he should develop his local government. He goes. Next governor comes… At least we move forward.
The problem is, those in power don’t want to leave and when they get there, they don’t want to develop the place. It’s about their private pocket; it’s about their children driving cars; it’s about their children living overseas… Ok, let me tell you again, let’s go back to transport because, actually, sometimes I tell myself you must keep away from politics and focus on your job. But this year, you can’t focus on your job alone. I’ve focused a lot on my job. Now, I have to mix the two.
So, let’s mix the two. In transportation, you can’t function in Nigeria if you don’t have transportation. Look, food items are expensive because of railway. The roads are bad. So if you fix the rail, cost of food items will crash. Wait and see what will happen between Lagos and Ibadan once we fix the rail. My prayer is that when we start this January, we won’t witness one bad thing we won’t like. People will start climbing the train because it will be cheap…First and foremost, it will be free.
But even when we begin to charge, it will be cheaper than using public cars. So that time, when you see you have to go for a trip with N500 instead of paying about N1,500 to travel by road, for instance, you would have saved N1,000.
Now, government cannot say, look, come and take N1,000. No! The way government put money in the pockets of the people is to provide the necessary amenities that enhance business.
So, go and review the PDP government now. You see, I tell people that one good thing about this election is that there is no opposition. All of us are government in power because PDP was in power. We must all give account of what we did with peoples’ resources.
You have talked a lot about stealing of public money, but do you actually believe stealing has stopped? Is stealing not still going on over now?
I am not in a position to answer that question. What I can answer or respond to is that if you are caught now stealing, you will be punished. So you see the difference? The difference is that before, it was done with impunity. There were no documentations, there were no processes.
In other words, if you are a clever thief, you are free as you’re not likely going to be caught?
I didn’t say that. There is no thief until you are caught, true or false? You are a thief when you are caught and no matter the government you have, these are situations you face. So, if a man is able to hold himself back and no one catches him, how will the president know you are stealing until you are caught? That’s why we are putting in place a government policy that improves the system to catch a thief. This whistle-blowing thing is a government policy. It’s a Buhari policy! Now, everybody is afraid to take money home because your cook can blow the whistle (laughter).
There is a case in Kaduna where it was alleged that a sister blew whistle against a brother. I don’t know whether she took the money, but she is entitled to five per cent of the $10 million. You’ve heard cases of those that abandoned money at the airport. Look, when I talk to the elite, I say, beyond selfishness, we should praise this government.
Are we also not over dramatizing the issue considering the recent interception at the airport of money belonging to a bank that was being moved from Enugu to Lagos?
No. Let me tell you something, there is no perfect situation, there will be mistakes; there will be overzealousness. You don’t expect that all will… That’s why we are human beings. What’s important is that now, monies are no longer stolen with impunity.
What do you then say of the case against former Secretary to Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal ……and even that of Abdulrasheed Maina at Pension Fund? Don’t you think they would still be in this government if not for public outcry…
Cuts… Why did Maina run away from the country? The reason Maina ran is after the president had given signal that he be arrested. Nobody brought Maina. What I found about Maina is that there is no court of law that has found him guilty of any crime. Instead, he’s been freed by law. So by law, he is a free citizen if he wishes to come in. Unfortunately, I am making a defence for Maina… I don’t even know the man. But the truth… I asked because I was very mad when I heard the story like every other person did on the street. And they asked me to please, show one judgment. He defeated EFCC in all the court cases. So, if he won EFCC and there is no court case against him, what makes him criminal as alleged?
But whether you like it or not, I suspect that the president asked that he be arrested following the public outcry and the man took off again. How he took off, I don’t know. But you will be surprised that in response to what they were saying, president…. whether president or government, authorized that they should investigate the matter again before the man escaped. But the most important thing is that, ‘please show us one case, not even on appeal.’
So, carry out your investigation. Not even on appeal. But public outcry led to government’s reaction and Maina running away. The court cleared him. So it was just public shouting and the man took off again. If it is rule of law, he has not been found guilty by any court.
Let’s digress a bit from this corruption issue and focus on infrastructure, like the issue of East-West Road, Second Niger Bridge, which though is not directly under your ministry. We keep hearing Onitsha-Enugu Road has been done, for instance, but when we go there, you don’t see anything….
No, no, no, don’t be unfair to us. Even the Anambra government, when they were to do election, I was in Anambra. They approached me to ask the minister for works to ask the contractor to move to Anambra end of that which shows the contractors were working. Port Harcourt-Enugu Road is under construction. The area that was difficult and defied solution was the Port Harcourt to Aba road. That one is bad. There was community problem; there were also cases of militancy.
It’s like a lot of people can actually criticize us on Itakpe-Warri. They can. We have put rail in Itakpe-Warri, we have started running and then we are getting people attack us. I’ve gotten two formal letters from the Chinese people on watching people being shot and then they kidnap the people.
When I was working from Lagos to Ibadan, I didn’t see one, not one, no community problem. Nothing! But between Itakpe and Warri we had that crisis. We had that crisis on the road. We had that crisis in Bonny-Bodo road. In fact, Julius Berger pulled out. But most importantly, we are working. I want you to say that to us that we are working.
Still on the security matter, at the kick off of APC presidential campaign, you said only Borno State had been attacked by Boko Haram since the APC came to power. Is that true?
I didn’t say only Borno State. I said we’ve limited them only to Borno. But outside, Borno, tell me which other place?
At least Adamawa…
That’s just recently now, that’s about few weeks ago.
But there was an attack…
Well, again the military has moved in. All that was to make us lose election. But I also said that Kano, I couldn’t sleep in Kano. I couldn’t sleep… Abuja, ok, you live in Lagos. If (Babatunde) Fashola can remember what we did to keep you people safe both in Lagos and Port Harcourt as governors, because when they (criminals) commit crime there, they come here. And we are afraid that once they reach here, they may re-build themselves. They started building cells in Lagos and Port Harcourt. We caught them and handed them over to SSS in Abuja. As governors of Lagos and Rivers, we were not sleeping. If we slept, the attacks in those areas would have happened in our states. We refused to sleep.
The problem is that there is no money again in the system to steal so everybody wants us out so that the stealing will resume.
What have we done? We promised security. We’ve provided at least enough security. Remember they bombed the United Nations office in Abuja, among others and as the governor of Rivers State I gave out my liaison office to the United Nations as temporary office in Abuja until they rebuilt.
Now, you can drive late into the night in Abuja. You can visit without…as minister, you can go without security to visit anybody. They see me on the streets driving. Please, like Buhari, hate Buhari, but acknowledge the things he has done.
Ok, let’s delve into APC and Buhari. Even as we are heading to election, we see a lot of squabbles in APC….
(Cut….) I am not the APC chairman, so you can talk to the APC chairman on that.
But you also have an issue there. Like in Rivers now, which is your state, we don’t know who is the legal governorship candidate of APC
Yesterday (December 28, 2018) when they presented the party flags to the candidates you didn’t see who they handed the one for Rivers to? (General laughter)? You journalists can be funny eh!
But the case is still on and we can’t just write it off like that
I’m not the chairman of the party, if it is an APC issue.
But don’t you think this will affect APC in the election you are going into?
I won’t be able to answer that question because as DG of the presidential campaign, my work starts on Monday (Dec. 31, 2018) after the campaign kickoff. And what we agree we are doing is to study state-state-by-state affairs of the party and address what needs to be addressed.
With this development, your party could lose Imo. You don’t have Rivers, and Zamfara is a different kettle of fish altogether, you could also lose Ogun….
How do you know?
Because the indices are there
To say that you have to be…. Don’t forget it’s presidential election, different from governorship election…Even if I say I don’t know where we will win and where we will lose, I know we will win in most parts of the country. The candidate we have is, as for now, and I hate to say it because I’m not God, but what is the alternative to Buhari?
There are so many people on the ballot, including Atiku….
(Dismisses that with laughter) ….Second question please. There is no question. You didn’t ask me any question. You see, I have huge respect for Atiku, former vice president Atiku. But I don’t agree with him that he is an alternative to Buhari. No, because he does not fall into the change mantra.
But he is no longer in APC, that is, talking of the change mantra slogan
So, you want us to go back to where we were before? That’s what he offers and that is not an alternative. Okay, I want to create employment, he says. But how? Look at what we met on ground under Atiku’s PDP.
But you were also in PDP…
There is something that Rose needs to admit and admit publicly and that is that I was in the progressive wing of PDP.
Atiku might say the same thing too because he was in APC before rejoining the PDP for this election…
I wasn’t in any progressive party. I was in PDP. This is my second party. And when I was in PDP you can all acknowledge that I was one of those who formed the resistant movement from the first day I became the governor.
In fact, go and ask NANS, National Association of Nigerian Students, I was the first to start mobilizing them that you people are not doing what we were doing when we were in senate. When we were in senate I demonstrated against Buhari, I demonstrated against Babangida…Now, NANS president has a PA, he has a convoy. I said what nonsense is that.
As NANS president we used to trek. Now you have NANS president…he has a car, he is looking for how to get to Aso Villa, how to see a governor! How? In our time, if we saw you with a governor… How to lose election then in schools, if we take a good candidate and see you may defeat us the progressives, we just tag you: ‘That’s Oshiomhole’s candidate’ and you’ve lost the election. But now, you have to show that you are Oshiomhole’s candidate to win.
So when you talk about me being a member of PDP, please say, I was in the progressive wing of PDP. When it was time to move, we looked at ourselves and said to ourselves: Is PDP really going the way it should go? Is the country going the way it should go? Will PDP produce the kind of result we think that can take the country forward? And we came to a conclusion that the answer was a No! So, we moved to APC.
But there are so many reactionary elements too in APC
Plenty, huge! You see, you should ask yourself one question: Is there a political party in Nigeria? You have a combination of people who came together, named this or that… A political party is one with ideology.
So you mean you people are ideology free, completely?
I wouldn’t say completely free, but I am saying that when people then move from one political party to the other when they see it as a platform to… it’s about power contestation. You will see those in Republican Party (in the US), if you like, threaten to kill them, they will never leave the party. Even those who are democrats that voted Republican they remain as Democrat and will say ‘I voted Republican because I was complaining on this or that’. But they are still Democrats.
In Nigeria, however… In fact, there is no difference between the Nigerian voter and the politician. The voter himself is a politician because he believes that once the Nigerian politician gets to power, he will not give him anything. So before election, he asks for what… When you look at Nigeria as a country, you ask yourself, where are we heading to? I am one man who doesn’t have sleepless night but I am beginning to have sleepless night. It’s not about PDP or APC. The only reason why they don’t want Buhari is because the money is no longer there. I feel the impact.
But some of us are also not happy with the president’s mode of appointment, with most of his appointees coming from one part of the country…
You are also wrong. You know why you are wrong? And I hate to say this. He will appoint those that he knows. You locked him in the house for three-four years under then Military President Ibrahim Babangida. He related with some people, he came to power. Will he appoint his enemies? Two, there is no time that all the regions will be part of the…because this whole complaint is about security appointments… So, there is no time… Let’s go back to all the appointments, there is no time all.
On Ajaokuta Steel Company
In the case of the railway, what we did is for Ajaokuta to also have access to the railway. Things were looted in Ajaokuta and abandoned. Agbor had an estate for junior staff and an estate for senior staff, all abandoned, set on fire. We are going to rebuild it. They brought a bill of over two billion to rebuild it. I have received a bill of over one billion from our project managers, the Italians and I said if the bill won’t go back to one point something I will advertise it, or hand it over to the Chinese to go and rebuild.
The rail from Itakpe up to Ajaokuta was vandalized and no one could trace the vandals. That’s why when you are writing, please write praising us, because the government of President Buhari would have joined others to ignore it. But he said no, how much? And I said a hundred and something million dollars, or nearly $200 million. He approved and said, go and source the money. Go and get the money.
Nearly $200m will be paid for Ajaokuta. Go and ask Julius Berger. Julius Berger is full of praise for us, saying before now, they will pay them once a year. But now, they receive their money on time.
You see, government is back to what it used to be before. You do your work, you get paid. Now, the difference between us and the past government is that the loans we take are not taken to ministry of transport or any other ministry. The contractor is paid in his own country. Once he finishes and I sign that this man has done his job, then they pay him there. Once our project supervisors, they are Italians, confirm, then I minute on it to the director of railway, who confirms, then I say pay, then they get to minister of finance, minister of finance signs, then it goes to China, China says see your money.
You see the difference? You see that here, there is no corruption because you won’t see the money to steal.
There can always be a way
Tell me how so I can know. You see, it’s like computer and man. If we all put our things inside the computer, there will be no bribe. The reason why there is bribe the human interface.
There is this road that everybody talks about all the time – East-West Road. What is the situation with that road?
Concede to us first now that, at least, you can drive from Warri to Ikot Ekpene. We’ve not upgraded the two lanes but at least now, you can drive one lane. You know that a presidential committee was set up consisting of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; Minister for Niger Delta and myself. We drove from Benin first to Warri because the assumption was that the road actually starts from Benin, but it starts from Warri. So we droved from there till we got to Eket. Either at Eket or Ikot Ekpene…. That’s the new one we want to award now, which is very expensive, across Cross River to Aba by bridge. It’s quite expensive, so the Federal Government is looking for a loan to do that. You must ask yourself one question: Where were all the money that we were getting before?
You see why we will not avoid corruption as an issue?… And I like PDP when they said it must be an issue-based campaign because you can’t avoid it. Where was the money to fix East-West Road? If they say there was no money, where did they get the money to fix the ones they fixed?
The only problem with East-West Road is that it must operate the two lanes but at least you see one lane that will take you from Warri….In fact, from Warri to Patani, the two lanes are operational. From Patani you go on one lane till you get to Ahoada. From Ahoada to Eket, two lanes.
So, the problem, actually, is between Patani and Ahoada and to complete all those they said N100 billion. Well, I’ve written a report to submit to cabinet but what I told the minister for Niger Delta is that it’s a gradual process. Put N40 billion in your budget. Maybe, next time another N40 billion.
So, concede to us that we are a determined government focusing on delivering on our promises. There is no impunity in our government.
This question is for you not the party chairman though you’ve said we should take it to the party chairman. Out there, there’s this feeling of a silent war going on between Tinubu/Oshiomhole tendency and Amaechi/Buhari tendency. Is this real or are people just concocting things?
(Laughs) In fact, when you were talking, I didn’t know you will put my name there. Small fry with Buhari? Nothing, there is nothing. Unless you are the one introducing the division or you are one of the people who prophesy these days. By this time in 2015, people were already running prophecies. But now, everywhere is quiet. I am not talking of the one they do in New Year. New Year is annual thing pastors do, but in the last… Jonathan’s government, there were so many…In fact, there was a prophecy that I will die in an air crash. But I am still alive o!
As a Rivers son and a major leader in the South-South, and how do you go to sleep everyday with this spate of violence….beheadings and muggings going on in the region?
What the president has approved, again, politics came into it. The president has approved a contract of $95m to get an Israeli company to train Nigerian security, who will stop maritime insecurity and at the same time be able to attend to the crisis we have in the Niger Delta. They are training our security here, they are buying a lot of equipment. They are buying copters carrying cameras and all that…huge equipment.
So it’s unfortunate this training didn’t start when it should start. It should have started the past two years. When they finish the training, then I can answer that question about insecurity in the Niger Delta. But I feel pained. It’s so disgusting. A number of people being killed and for Rivers State, they are mostly APC members.
How long will the training take?
I don’t know. May be one year, or six months, or even three months. In fact, you don’t need too much training. Once the cameras can pick them at their activities – kidnapping, every one of them will run. How did we work in Rivers State then when I was governor? Because we had this kind of cameras! We bought helicopters, which Wike dashed out to Air force. Don’t forget that Goodluck (former President Goodluck Jonathan) seized them. We bought two helicopters, one to do 12 hours, the other one, 12 hours. So in 24 hours, we have watched the whole of Rivers State.
So, crime would have not just reduced because if you are committing crime and somebody is seeing you, telling the police, if you are running they are pursuing you, then you know you have nowhere to hide.
But Goodluck seized it because I was APC governor, although I bought it as PDP governor. All that, I put in place for the security of Rivers State.
Any other thing you may wish to say that may not have captured in this interview?
Vote for APC because the president means well. The president intends to take us further than where we are. It may be slightly painful but everybody has to bear the pain because we are at the point where we will say, hurray!
We were importing 500,000 eggs per day from South Africa, we were importing poultry products worth about $3m, we were importing fish between two and three billion dollars. Rice- over three billion dollars worth of rice. I hope you know?
We are no longer importing the 500,000 eggs and all that.
But we are still said to be high on rice importation, despite what government is saying to that effect
What you didn’t know is that whatever we are now spending on such importation is one third of what we were spending before. And it is not because government is supporting it. It is people who are smuggling. People are smuggling because they see that we are no longer importing, they go to Republic of Benin and bag it, write on them, Made in Benin. And by ECOWAS protocol, you are allowed to come in. So that’s what is happening.
Can rice actually be banned completely? Is Nigeria in a position to feed itself without importation?
In the next one to two years, we may not find a place to sell rice as local rice will flood our market. If you say you didn’t see Nigerian rice this Christmas, it may have been because you went to the market and were looking for foreign rice. You see why I said the problem with Nigeria is the elite?
Can you say categorically that the APC is not going to write results of the coming election as many have feared?
I hope you know President Buhari very well?
He is not the one that will write it, people will write it on his behalf
And he will accept it?
He has accepted too many things
Well, it is said that many people around him are corrupt and his family members are buying shares here and there
And you believe that?
He hasn’t denied it
See, if I am the president, I will ignore such. Look at it this way, if I say you are a thief, you are stealing oil in Rivers state, will you start replying to such? It’s a waste of time. What have they not accused me of? There are only three people I explain such things to: My wife, Judith, my three boys. Once I explain to the three soldiers, my wife and my God, that is all. For me, conscience governs my activities. I want to be able to know that the EFCC man is not knocking on my door. Or if he is knocking on my door for political reasons, my lawyer is in a position to say that’s wrong.
I can tell you what my lawyer said to his staff when they started that accusation of Ikoyi money warehouse, linking it to me. It was in Ilorin because my lawyer is in Ilorin and as soon as the staff heard of it, they were running up and down, saying: Oga, we have to prepare for a court case. As they were doing that, one of the staff said, Oga, we should ask Amaechi if he is sure the money does not belong to him. My lawyer screamed at him: ‘Will you stop that?’
As soon as I heard of that, I told my lawyer that indeed, he should have asked me, and he said, ‘ask you for what? First, he had confidence in me and knew I didn’t have that kind of money. Two, he said, “If you had it, you would have told me. I know you; I know your appetite for money. When you said you don’t like money, I know.”
So, these are not the things that bother me. What bothers me is my conscience – how I relate with you and how I relate with my God.
As regards the monorail, what are your feelings on the state of that project in Port Harcourt?
I challenged the Governor of Rivers State… Anywhere that the cost we have given on that monorail exceeds what he finds out …he doesn’t need to go ask them, he should just Google it. You know, one thing about European companies is that whatever they do that has corruption, they will face the case in their country.
Actually, I like this interview to be on the ministry of transport, I don’t want to mix it up with some children, some children in Port Harcourt (laughs). If you meet a child, you treat him like a child. And once a child is above 30, he can be governor.