In this interview, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi speaks on the achievements of his administration and expresses frustration over certain federal government policies which seem to stifle development in some states. He speaks with Adekunbi Ero, general editor, Anayochukwu Agbo, senior associate editor and Tony Manuaka, associate editor. Excerpts:
You unveiled your Master Plan for the development of Rivers State in 2008, four years down the line, how far have you gone in the implementation of your dream for the state?
I’ll look at it from the saying that a dancer doesn’t judge himself; so how do I assess myself? I should be asking you that question.
What I mean is, how far have you achieved the goals and milestones as indicated in your blueprint for the development of Rivers State?
We told the state that we will build 750 primary schools; we have built 500; we have furnished and equipped 250. It doesn’t matter whether we commission or not; we don’t believe in commissioning. It’s the noise by the opposition that made us do the 60:6060 – 60 health centres in 60 days in 60 communities. Because we were not commissioning the projects, they were saying oh, too many projects, uncompleted and all that. So, we say okay, we will do it in batches. To tell them that we built 60 health centres in 60 days, you know that it’s not possible to build one health centre in a day, but the fact that we are commissioning everyday for 60 days is an indication that these health centres were already in place, with doctors and nurses, furnished and equipped. So, we did that.
Now, we were preparing to do 250 primary schools in 250 days in 250 communities. And if you’ve been to our primary schools, you will see that the equipment and furnishing that you have there cannot be done in one day. Most of the schools have been functioning. Like the one at Elekahia, was done in 2008; it was among the first primary schools that we built. When you visit any of our primary schools you will know that the equipment cannot be done in one day. And then within that same period, we intend to commission two or seven of our new secondary schools. The one at Eleme has been furnished but there is so much dust on it. It’s been there for about two years because of Due Process.
We had arranged to get a manager from outside the country but Due Process said that we didn’t comply with due process. They said we must comply with due process. It took us two years of argument to get an approval and the company said they can’t come in now; it will affect the children. They said they will open in September. It is an Indian company, Educom. They are already on ground doing preparation for take-off.
Why a foreign company to manage the schools?
I don’t know. It doesn’t matter whether it is India or not India. How many schools have you run in Nigeria in the same condition as India with 1.2 billion population as against our 160 million? I just felt that they should manage. I went to two secondary schools today; they were a pitiable sight. In fact I asked that they shut down one of the schools. The Education Commissioner disagreed and said we should rather renovate the buildings since the once we are building, those ones you saw, we are building 24 and they cannot satisfy the need of our people with about170,000 children in secondary schools. So if you want to build such schools you have to build 150! And we don’t have that kind of money. One school is N4.5 billion. Where will you get N4.5 billion to build 150 secondary schools?
We are building 24 of them and we believe that the best way to go about it is to renovate the old schools. Like those schools had no laboratories; how do you pass your practical exams? They couldn’t answer. That is why I said they should close them down but wise counsel said no, instead, let’s do a six months programme; build, not necessarily big schools like we have – emergency secondary schools - 15 classrooms, laboratories and office spaces for the teachers and principal. That’s all you need in a day school; most of them are day schools. You don’t need all the facilities you have at Eleme and other model secondary schools at all the local government headquarters. So we have agreed to build two of such per local government at between N500 million and N600 million each.
I’m sure you have seen the monorail; I’m sure you have seen that work is going on there. The columns are being done. It’s a very tedious and slow process; that’s why most people are saying it is a white elephant project and that we will not complete it! But we are sure that we will complete it. We were assured by the contractors that before we leave office they would have completed at least seven, out of the 21 kilometres.There are quite a lot of things we have done. You have seen some roads; in Port Harcourt metropolis, from Education to Agip has been dualised. At Agip we did a flyover. We did a flyover at Eleme Junction. There is another flyover at Eliozu. There are also the new Eliozu Road and the new Stadium Road.
Almost all our projects, you won’t see the drainage, or what people call gutter; they are all underground. All the roads we are building, except the one at Amadi-Ama, Abuloma, the rest are all underground. And in town where we are doing an integrated drainage system with overlay of the road, that is where you have covered drains, not under-ground. Apart from these two, almost all our projects have sub-surface drain which is underground. All you see is the manhole which takes the water. And all our roads must have streetlights. I’m sure you didn’t go to Ada Geroge. It is one road they have criticised us a lot for too long but it is nearing completion. The Choba–Rumuokwuta Road and the flyover at Obiri–Ikwerre; it is a flyover that looks like a roundabout, and it is along the East-West Road which is a federal road.
The Unity Road which connects many riverine communities to the rest of the state by road for the first time, has been acknowledged as a very ambitious project; what inspired that project?
It was Dr. Odili’s vision. He started the road but he didn’t go too far. He had done like a bridge before we took over. One of the reasons for which my friend, Uche Secondus didn’t want to support me for governorship then was that he felt that if I became a governor, I will not complete the project. But not only did I expand the scope; when I took over, the road was N11 billion. Then we expanded the scope, it became N18 billion. We reviewed it further, it is now N27 billion out of which we have paid more than N19 billion. It was intended to make transportation easier for those who live in those areas, including Opobo. The land there is swampy so the mode of transportation has always been by water. You can see how challenging it was for them; the cost of building was twice what it costs here in Port Harcourt.
We have even recently approved the construction of another road to the Kalabari area, which is similar to that of Andoni.
So,Altogether, how many roads are you doing?
I can’t remember. So many roads! The rural areas are the ‘worst’; we have so many roads in the rural areas. Some completed; some uncompleted, but by the time we leave office, we would have completed all the roads. There is a road we call M1, which begins from somewhere here (Secretariat) to UTC, breaking through those houses at Diobu to the airport. It will cost us a lot of money; I don’t want to say the price now because it is in Due Process but it’s in hundreds of billions because 50 per cent of the road is on bridges. We hope that when they finish with Due Process, they can start and complete the project before we leave office.
There is another road called M10. It starts from the airport to the seaport, parallel to East-West Road; it goes to Onne. That we have awarded and they have started work. So, there are quite a lot of projects.
What more have you done on power?
I went to one of our power projects this morning. In fact I went to the farm this morning with my children. We walked to a primary school where I told you there were no laboratories. After that, my children and I drove to a power plant to see it because I had assured them that by the the grace of God, before the end of this year, we will have regular power supply and my second son was doubting. I needed to show them the power framework. We have power projects scattered here and there. We already have over 500 megawatts of power; it is distribution that is the problem. Because of the law, the federal government has not given us the approval to distribute but we are going ahead, with or without federal government approval.
The federal government recently claimed in Abuja that they had given the approval.
Stop saying that they have given us approval. What they gave is constitutional; the Constitution says you can distribute where the federal government is not present. That’s not what we are asking for! We are asking for distribution in the whole of Rivers State. If they do that, we can assure you that there will be no power interruption in Rivers State from December.
Do you have enough capacity now to distribute the power you are generating?
We have enough power. We have about 500 and something megawatts when we need only 400. We are constructing another 180 megawatts to get us to 750 megawatts; the problem is the distribution.
Do you already have a power purchase agreement with the federal government?
So how do hope to recoup your investment?
PHCN is just taking our power free of charge, since 2005 till today!
Part of the power reform is to free the sector for private investors to participate.
I don’t know what reforms they have but what we have argued with them is that they should give us approval to distribute our own power and recover our money. In fact we have made so much investment into PHCN; last two years, we bought two transformers for them; then we are supplying them power free of charge and we are not getting any payment from PHCN. You can’t get money from the federal government, from any of federal agencies! The roads we are constructing, we have put in over N103 billion; not one kobo refund!
Now, in terms of power, all the investments we’ve made on their own infrastructure, no refund! For us that is not the issue. For us the issue is on power, what we are saying is give us approval that we should distribute and give our people power. They are not willing to listen. They are hiding under the guise of what is the law; what the Constitution provides and it doesn’t augur well for people who have the capacity. We think that the Niger Delta states have the capacity to generate and distribute power. And if you remove the Niger Delta states from the national grid, then you’d have found 20 per cent solution to the power problem in the country. Akwa Ibom has the capacity to generate their own power; they have 190 megawatts. Akwa Ibom is a small state in terms of power consumption. I’m sure they may not consume up to 100 megawatts; I hear it’s about 60 megawatts.
So, if you give them licence to distribute their 190 megawatts, they can give their people power. I’m sure that Bayelsa, Delta, others can also do the same for themselves. But the federal government is an inhibition. That is why we talk about the type of federalism we are practising; sometimes, the federal government becomes an inhibiting factor to the development of those states that have the capacity to develop themselves. They slow you down to develop either at the pace of the federal government or at the pace of other states which is not the best for this country.
Is the security situation in Rivers State now safe for investors?
Yes! Not only are investors safe, you should know that there are more and more investments coming into the state. Indorama has announced their methane gas launch. The Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company has moved to Rivers State. First Bank is doing an estate of N50 billion already; UACN has started another estate at Eliozu and many others. Investments are coming in gradually.
What about the Greater Port Harcourt City project?
We are about to start the roads. That is where MTN is taking off from. We are building a new university there. We have completed the sports city.
People appear to have a lot of reservation about your monorail project. What are the economic benefits of the project?
The question people are asking is- they are not sure if it will be completed. The economic benefit as a form of public transportation, first and foremost, if you see the traffic on Aba Road, if you have a monorail on Aba Road, it will solve part of the traffic. You know how`many man-hours people spend on that road due to traffic and how much energy and time spent which would have been utilised, if you quantify it, it may pay for the cost of the monorail. Now, what the monorail affords you is that when you get to Waterlines, from that point, you can park your car at home; in five minutes you are in Government House.
We’ve seen Songhai. What made you adopt Songhai as an economic development strategy?
It’s for the purpose of skills acquisition so that the children can prepare themselves for their own empowerment. That is what we are trying to do.
Most of your projects are rather ambitious. How do you raise the money to fund these projects?
IGR is one. And then the Federation Account. When we came, our IGR was about N2.5 billion; N2.5 multiplied by 12, how much is that? Now, we have an average of N5.2 billion, which is quite high. But we are believing it can be higher; our target is that we must be able to pay our recurrent expenditure from our IGR so that we can then take Federal Accounts Allocation Committee for our capital projects.
Between now and when your tenure ends is just about four years, you must have been indebted to banks, how do you intend to fund the loans taken for these projects that are ongoing?
Don’t forget that by the time you begin to wind down, say next year, you would have funded most of the projects and completed them. So, IGR can pay for that. A governor who may be failing after you have finished, will say the reason why I am failing is because they left XYZ amount of money and people won’t remember that you borrowed it to do projects. They will just say you embezzled it. Nigerians are quick to forget. Now, everybody is singing halleluya; few months after you leave, you will hear crucify him. I want to reduce the number of those who will say crucify him.
You have been passionate about creating jobs, how much of that have you done?
We are seriously thinking about engaging a consultant to be able to document the number of jobs we have created. Why are we doing that? People won’t also remember that if you are awarding contract for roads and you employ more than 500, you have created employment for 500 people. Multiply that by the number of roads that we have awarded. People won’t remember that you built a sports city that employed over 1000 persons. People won’t remember that you built over 100 health centres; if you are employing 50 each, multiply 50 by 100. People won’t remember that you have built primary schools out of the 750 you promised, and even if you are employing 50 per primary school, multiply it by 500. People won’t remember that you are building 24 new secondary schools.
So, in terms of job-creation, if say construction jobs are not permanent jobs, what about the farms? The fish farm is under construction. The banana farm is under construction – 2,000 hectares. The approval we just got today to improve our LR in Israel to partner with us to create a farm of 3,000 hectares. We are bringing $100 million, they are bringing $22 million. It will create 750 employment directly; that is indirectly another 750 employment. Songhai Farms is well over 2000. Until somebody documents it, because we didn’t document it, we won’t be able to know how many jobs have been created.
You came into office under a circumstance one could term a judicial miracle. How has that affected your perception of life?
It’s always been the same. I’ve always believed that what God cannot do, nobody can do it for you. What you saw that you call judicial miracle was God in action. If you have faith in God and worship Him, whatever you ask, He will do it for you. Nobody gave me a chance that I would come back. Rather I heard there was a rally, I was called Nebuchadnezzar; that I have run into the bush and that I was not coming back. But whoever said this was prophesying because the Bible said Nebuchadnezzar went into the bush but that he came back to possess his kingdom.
If you had had the governorship without so much stress, would it have changed your attitude towards your job in terms of the zeal and passion?
No, it wouldn’t have changed that. What it could have done was there would be a little control from elsewhere, from politicians. Now you are free. I owe my allegiance to God and the people of Rivers State.
You work so hard and for very long hours, how do you take off pressure?
Sleep, just as I wanted to but I had to attend to you. If not that you are here now, this place would have been full. Once the pressure comes like that, I just go to sleep. By the time you wake up like that, they’ve all gone to sleep.