In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter, Cletus Ukpong, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State opens up on the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, his quarrel with the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and his many battles with the federal government and its agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
PT: Whenever your name is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is a man who is always standing up against the federal government.
Wike: No, that’s a misconception. I don’t stand up against the federal government; I stand up against injustice, I stand up against marginalisation. It has nothing to do with you as the federal government. If this government is not in place tomorrow and another government comes in and perpetuates injustice, I will stand up against them.
PT: You mean if it were a PDP government…?
Wike: (Cuts in) …. Of course, go and ask people! Now, let me tell you something. When (goodluck) Jonathan was the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Aminu Tambuwal was not the one that was supported to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives; Mulikat Akande-Adeola from Oyo State was the one PDP proposed and I said ‘Look, we are talking about how to move the country forward’ and I supported Tambuwal then.
Wike: Of course, it was not hidden! Even before Mr. President made me a minister! So, it has nothing to do with whether it is PDP or another political party in government. I have no delight to say because it is APC-led government I must, therefore, stand up against it. No! What is right must be done. What is wrong is wrong and what is right is right!
PT: You have constantly accused your predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, of election-rigging. As one of the pillars that helped him to become governor, it could be assumed that you may have also taught him the art of rigging?
Wike: I admit I am one of those who helped him to win the election. But who is that person who contested against Rotimi Amaechi that would have won the election against him as at that time? People must be realistic in life. Who contested against him that would have won that election at that time? The issue of rigging does not arise. Who would have won the election against him as at that time? Abiye Sekibo? Under ACN? How would ACN have won election in Rivers State as at that time? You must take into consideration that Rivers State has been a PDP state since 1999. For you to say that the election was rigged, you must also know who contested against him. Is there any way ACN would have won election as at that time? Not possible!
PT: Will there ever be peace between you and Rotimi Amaechi?
Wike: I don’t have any problem with him. My concern is in the interest of the state which supersedes the interest of individuals.
PT: When last did you speak with Amaechi on phone?
Wike: We didn’t speak regularly on phone even when he was governor and I was his chief of staff. It was purely official. I did my work and he appreciated it. I don’t know what he thinks now. And we don’t belong to the same political party.
PT: For instance, Rivers State has just lost its attorney-general, one would have expected him to probably call you.
Wike: You see…. Again, that’s what I am saying. The attorney-general of the state died. Am I the one to call you to say my attorney-general is dead or you are the one to call and say you heard that the attorney-general died and that you want to pay a condolence visit to the state? The chairman and the managing director of NDDC (Nsima Ekere) just left here. They came on a condolence visit.
PT: What have you done behind the scene to get the two of you working for the good of the state?
Wike: What do you want me to do? I was a minister, he was in APC as the governor then, but I brought development to the state. I brought the Faculty of Law to the University of Port Harcourt, I brought N500 million grant to the Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic. I brought N500 million grant to the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education. I brought UBEC (Universal Basic Education Commission) intervention to so many schools in Rivers State. I am from Rivers State and must contribute to the development to the state. This is my state.
PT: It’s often said that the gang up of politicians and security agencies, especially the police, started with you when you were a minister and the PDP was in control of the government at the centre. You were using the police against Governor Amaechi, when you were a minister. Now, some people believe what is happening to you today is nemesis.
Wike: I never knew the then commissioner of police in the state, Mr Mbu. Mbu was not even in Rivers when I did my governorship election. Okay, assuming, though not conceding, that I used security agencies against Amaechi, and you promised Nigerians that all these things we did would not happen in your own time. So, what has happened?
PT: Are you saying that you did not use the police….
Wike: (Cut in) …. To do what? Let me tell you I never used police convoy anywhere when I was a minister.
PT: But are you aware that this is the public perception….
Wike: (Cuts in) What is public perception? It is the media. The media, of course, is one body that created problem in this country, sending out false information against the government of Goodluck Jonathan. Tell me what I did. Has anybody ever seen me moving with army for one day? Has anybody ever seen me with SSS? The Department of State Security, they are here. Let them say it if they have ever given me with one SSS officer as a minister. I challenge the DSS, I challenge the army, whether as a minister I have ever used the army for one day.
PT: So, the then Rivers State police commissioner, Joseph Mbu, was not working for you?
Wike: He was not even here. How did I know Mbu? As a minister, I was coming home. Protocol demands that you must tell the police commissioner that you were coming home. I wrote a letter and the CP sent one convoy vehicle to take the minister, which was me, from the airport. The governor confronted him and asked him why would he send police in a Hilux truck to escort the minister. A minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is coming home and you send an escort vehicle! I never knew Mbu before. I never saw him anywhere. That is how I knew Mbu, because the governor queried him. What is nemesis? Nemesis is catching up with who? What I never participated in?
PT: There’s reduction in crime rate in Rivers and the state has been peaceful. How did you achieve this?
Wike: It is God! There’s nothing the APC government did not do to turn Rivers State into a place of insecurity.
PT: How did God come in here?
Wike: I believe in Him. Of course, this state is a Christian state, I didn’t do anything.
PT: You didn’t do anything?
Wike: Do what? I have been doing that before. Did it work? And our state is one state that has supported security agencies in this country. I have been sabotaged, but God in his infinite mercy has kept us in this state. Has the federal government ever said one day that they were sending special squad to tackle insecurity in Rivers State? We cannot rely on man, God is the ultimate, and he is the chief security officer.
PT: You recently declared to run for a second term in office. We will like to know what projects and programmes you have executed that could motivate the people to support you.
Wike: The public has seen what we have done so far. The former president was here to commission projects. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Senate President, including Senator Godswill Akpabio all came here individually at different times to commission projects. The European Commission Ambassador came here. The British High Commissioner, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Ooni of Ife, and the Obi of Onitsha came here to commission projects. The former vice president, Atiku, was here. Sule Lamido was here. Markafi was here. Aminu Tambuwal was here. I don’t need to say it; the people have seen what we have done.
PT: But President Buhari has not come here?
Wike: We will invite him to come, we have so many projects to commission in October. But I know he won’t come because he doesn’t like us.
PT: Did Senator Akpabio tell you he was moving to APC?
Wike: He knows I won’t believe it. It’s a smokescreen.
PT: It is like the APC in your state wants to pick someone from the private sector as their governorship candidate, someone with a deep pocket. What implication would this have on your ambition for a second term?
Wike: What implication? Is it all about money? Yes, I know money is important…. From what I have read, Senator Magnus Abe said he never knew the man was a member of his party.
Look, let me tell you, in 2015, Tonye Cole is the man the former governor wanted to bring out for the governorship election. But he couldn’t bring him out because Jonathan was running for president, and the man felt he couldn’t have run against an Ijaw man. The man he is presenting today isn’t a new thing, except for those who don’t understand the politics of the state and what has been going on. We know and so we are not surprised. APC has a right to choose whoever they want to choose to fly their flag. I don’t have a problem with that. We have prepared and we have been waiting for them to choose whoever they want to choose. What we have done will speak for us. I know the young man, there is no need to talk about him since he has not won the primary yet.
For the APC to even think of bringing out anybody to stand election against me in this state, to challenge whether I have done something or not, then you should know that something is wrong somewhere. What has the federal government done for this state? Is it in terms of electric power, port, or roads? All their meetings, all their gatherings, is that they must take over Rivers State by crooks or whatever means, they want to use soldiers, police, and the SSS. The cry by the international community does not matter to them, they don’t care.
PT: Recently, you rejected EFCC investigations into the finances of your state. You told them to back off. Have they backed off?
Wike: I’m not interested whether they back off or not! A body that doesn’t respect the rule of law. A body that is full with impunity, because that is what the federal government is all about – impunity! You heard when the federal government, through the president, said that national security supersedes rule of law.
I’m not against EFCC fighting corruption if at all they are fighting corruption. My concern is we must do it according to the law. Assuming, though not conceding, that we withdrew $1 trillion, what is your business? The law says we have a federation, comprising the federal government, the state government, and the local government, we go to monthly federal allocation committee meetings. When money comes into the federation account, the federal government takes its own shares of the money, the states take their shares. And now the federal government is saying that the money that comes to us as a state government, they have to monitor and know what we are doing with the money. The law says no. That is why we have the state House of Assembly that could query the governor on the expenditure or as regards the money that comes from the federation account.
I was not here in 2007. In 2007, Rivers State Government went to court against the EFCC to say that you have no constitutional power to look into the expenditure and the finances of the state government. And the matter was adequately addressed and judgement was given against EFCC. Since 2007, EFCC has been struggling to appeal against the judgement, and they have not succeeded till now. What they are doing now is that if they feel that this government is not pro-Buhari or is not talking well about Buhari, they would come out to say we are investigating Rivers State Government for $300 million withdrawal. And they think that would worry us. No! No Rivers State government official will appear before them. We don’t have any sleepless night. If the EFCC does not follow the law, we will not respect them. If they think they have what it takes to surround a state, they would be pushing people to do what they wouldn’t have wanted to do.
We are not running a military government. We are in a democracy, and democracy is shaped by the rule of law. Okay, you don’t like Wike. So, what? Must you like him? Those that APC accused of being corrupt in the past 16 years are now in the APC, helping them to fight corruption! The APC people are shameless!
PT: We understand there is this dichotomy between the upland and the riverine people of Rivers State. We are told that an agreement exists on power rotation and that the riverine people should take their turn for the governorship in 2019?
Wike: I don’t want to reduce myself to ethno-politics. Tell the person who say so, during the Ada George period, who are those who contested the election against him? In 1999, when Dr. Peter Odili contested for governor and won, who and who contested against him? Chief Ebenezer Isokariari ran against Dr. Odili. In 2003, did Dumo Lulu Briggs not run for governor against Odili? Where was it zoned to? In 2007, who and who ran against Amaechi? In 2011, who and who ran against him? In 2015, who and who ran against me? But that does not mean that one would say that it would not be fair to allow power to go to them.
Okay, if Odili, as they claimed, is from the upland area and he was governor for eight years, and after that, he gave it to Amaechi, why would Amaechi not say no, it is the turn of the riverine areas? This is somebody who wants to preside over the state as a governor for the third time, and the only way he can do that is to bring a stooge to contest for governor!
PT: If you win re-election in 2019, after your tenure, will you support a riverine person to emerge as governor?
Wike: Fine! When we get to the bridge, we will cross it. There’s nothing wrong with the riverine people becoming governor of the state. You see, I work as a team. I don’t want to deceive people, we must sit down to agree, and which is correct; not one person sitting down to dictate. They are really qualified. They have supported the PDP, and when the time comes I will do everything to support them. If you want it to go the riverine, allow the riverine people to bring anyone, and not you choosing someone for them.
PT: Does it work that way? Isn’t it the governor who determines who succeeds him?
Wike: Let me tell you today, I will not put a successor in office.
PT: Your Excellency, you are on record!
Wike: Yes, I am on record! My friends and colleagues, they know me and I have told them I am a student of history. Mention who have survived it – that you put your life at stake and bring up somebody to become the governor, and therefore you’ll be in charge and he will protect you! It is not correct! As a student of history, I know it does not work that way. I’ll do what I have to do to serve my people and will retire when my time has come to an end, those who want it let them go and take it. Let the people of Rivers State decide. That’s the problem we are having in Nigeria, people want to continue as godfather.
PT: Some of the leaders in the PDP complain that you have a strong grip on the party because you are one of its major funders. And they are uncomfortable with it.
Wike: In politics, every governor supports the party. Most leaders support the party. Those who are complaining about me are those who are afraid because they are the agents of APC. We know those PDP presidential aspirants who are agents of APC. We know them. The presidency and the APC have planted people within our party, and we know it. They planted Modu Sheriff and we fell for it. I bought into it not knowing it was a set-up. And then when we realised, we said no, we have to fight it. And we fought it. I cannot again fall the fool that I became under Ali Modu Sheriff. I know some of our presidential aspirants who are running on the sponsorship of the APC and the presidency.
(To be continued.)