In an interactive session with the standing committee members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike talked about his projects, the rerun elections, foreign scholarships and and security issues in the state.
Why we are open to host national and international events..
Let me thank the Nigerian Guild of Editors for bringing their Annual General Conference to Rivers State. One important benefit of this conference is that it will let the public know that Port Harcourt is safe , Rivers State is safe. To let you know that several international and national conferences have taken place here in the last one month. In the course of the last one month, we have had the AMAA here, we have also had the Magistrates Association of Nigeria National Conference. We will be hosting the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association , the Federal High Court Judges Legal Year, the Conference of Chartered Arbitrators and the PDP National Convention. That shows that all the rumours you may be hearing are not true. Apart from that, these national conferences will boost our economy. We have several hotel bookings, local transport and feeding as well as other benefits that will accrue to residents of the state. The state government will also make revenue in terms of taxation.
The importance of the media. ..
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When they say we have three arms of government, I don’t agree. I believe the the Media is the fourth arm of government. Why do I say so. Everybody depends on the information from the media. Information is key. Information is the raw material for decision making . It is important that you always publish information that will promote democracy. Part of the reason the coup failed in Turkey was because of the publicity from the media.
The media should help this country to let the world know what Nigeria is facing.
For me as a governor, this is an opportunity and not a right. When you have this privilege, you use it for the benefit of the people. We know what we passed through to get to this point.
My struggles as a governor. ..
Nobody has had the type of legal tussle we have had. Mine started before my inauguration. Of course, attempts were made to make sure that I was not inaugurated. To tell you how bad it was, I was not allowed to use the police ceremonial vehicle for my inauguration. We had to borrow from Ondo State. We thank God that has passed but I have to give you the background.
Thereafter, the legal tussle continued until January 27, 2016 when we were free to move forward. If you compare from June, May 29 was on Friday and work started on Monday. From that time to January 27, 2016, it was one problem or the other. From the Tribunal to the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court . When you have such problems, you hardly can be focused. But I thank God that we were focused and we did not allow that to distract us.
Initial Challenges resolved. ..
When we came on board, we inherited four months salary arrears and six months pension arrears. We give God the glory that we have been able to pay all. The then Sharks of Port Harcourt, Dolphin and Rivers Angels were owed for eight months. We were able to clear that. And we said , with the economy, it would be difficult for us to maintain three clubs. For Sharks and Dolphin , we had to merge them to form Rivers United. The club is doing well and it is contesting for the league.
On foreign scholarships. ..
Some people may say that there are children who are on oversees scholarships whom they claim the state has abandoned. That is not true. We must tell ourselves the simple truth. Yes before, the state under the previous administration was getting N20billion, but now we get N3billion to N4billion monthly. You have to prioritize and tell the people the reality . I am not against giving out scholarships when you have the resources. At the time we came, the state was owing about N4billion on these foreign scholarships. If you pay the N4billion debt, that is not the end. You have to pay for those at different levels of study. Scholarship is good to encourage our people. But there are certain courses you don’t send people abroad to study because our universities offer such programmes. Why would I send students abroad to study English Language, Social Studies or Political Science? But we are ready to offer scholarships to students to study peculiar courses in medicine and engineering.
We said look, it is not possible for the state as it is now to fund scholarships in courses that are offered here in Nigeria. We agreed to pay off for those writing their final year examinations which amounted to N1.8 billion. Those of them studying English, Political Science and Accountancy, we said that we will still give you scholarships, but it will be in Nigerian universities. We expect them to return to take this offer. To say that they would remain on the state’s account is not possible. Some of them, their parents are rich and they are not from poor background. Yes, there are few from poor background. Some scholarships are for children who are not from Rivers State. In some instances, they were political scholarships. As it is today, we don’t have the funds to continue with such scholarships.
Infrastructural development. ..
We decided to commence our infrastructural development from the State Capital because that is where the first time visitor lands. When you get a bad impression about the state capital, this impression is likely to force you out of the state. If you see bad roads in the state capital, you are likely to have negative impression of the state. We took a decision to fix the roads and other infrastructural needs of Port Harcourt City. They were really bad at the time we assumed office. We also resolved to use reputable construction companies to carry out the works. We engaged Julius Berger, CCECC, CGC, Setraco. In fact, the whole of the city has been handled by Julius Berger and CCECC. That is why you see quality roads with no potholes in the state capital. You can see within the Government House, Julius Berger is restoring the old Brick House, the former administrative office of the state. They are also building a chapel of worship.
I had a policy that even though we did not start some of the roads, when we feel that they are relevant we will complete them. Why do you abandon relevant projects where public funds have been committed. When we took that decision, some criticised us, saying start your own. The problem we have in this country is leaders insisting on starting their own projects. All projects that had bearing with the needs of the people have been completed. That is why today, you will hardly find abandoned projects in the state. Look at the law faculty at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Since Okilo , nobody wanted to complete it. But we have completed it and it is the best in the country, with electronic and traditional libraries and other state-of-the-art facilities. See our roads. The whole of Diobu , the whole of Borikiri have had their roads reconstructed. If you are a Port Harcourt person, you will appreciate the massive development that is taking place. For the past ten years, we have never had Street lights. We made it a policy to fix Street lights on all the major streets in Port Harcourt. Since you are in town, take off time in the night and drive through Ikwerre road, Aba road and other major streets to appreciate the transformation taking place. This has also enhanced security.
Security in the state
As regards to security, I have always maintained that nobody should politicise security. Because when you begin to politicize security, the society will be in trouble. I think I am the only state governor who has had more than four Commissioners of Police since I became governor. Each time, they change a Commissioner of Police when an election is approaching. When the election is over , they bring another one. That is how they change the Director of the DSS. This is not helping anyone. When a Commissioner of Police is settling down to plan with the state government on how to improve security, they transfer him, bring another person and the process starts all over. I ask myself what is the benefit of these frequent changes. There are people who believe that there should be crisis in this state. Who will it benefit if there is crisis? When we had cases of kidnappings, instead of others to sit down with the state to resolve the challenge, they started making unreasonable remarks. So I ran to God to pray. God now helped and the problem has been transferred to other states. Now, we have kidnapping everywhere in Nigeria. In some states, they kidnap diplomats and traditional rulers .Kidnapping is almost gone here. It is not by my power , it is by God’s grace. When they said they will declare State of Emergency here, I said God save me and He saved me by pushing insecurity to other states. Kidnapping is now a national crime.
On pipeline vandalism
This is the only state that you have not seen oil pipeline vandalism. I believe in the unity of this country. I believe that if the economy collapses, the state will collapse. We are doing everything to make sure we don’t have that kind of crisis here. What the Federal Government should do is to give us support to consolidate our security measures.
Rivers State is for PDP. ..
There are states that traditionally belong to a political party. Even in the United States , you have states that are for Democrats and those that are for Republicans. You also have swing states. In Nigeria, there are states that are traditional to some political parties. Rivers State is one of such states. It belongs to the PDP. When you use force to attempt to collect it, you cause crisis. People will resist. When you want to steal the mandate of the people, it is more heinous than other crimes. Stealing the mandate of the people is a serious crime and it is worse than armed robbery. The difference is that while the ordinary armed robber uses arms to steal money, this political armed robbers use arms to steal votes. When you are armed to snatch ballot boxes, is it not armed robbery? It is even worse . If you have in mind to commit election robbery, the people will resist it.
That was what happened during the March 19 rerun elections. They came to rig us, so that they will have the number in the Assembly to impeach me. You know they cancelled over 90percent of the Assembly seats and everything for the National Assembly. So they came to rig the elections. I told them to have a rethink because it would not be easy to do that in Rivers State.
Unnecessary deployment of armed forces for the rerun elections. ..
I have never seen the kind of security I saw during the March rerun elections . Even if Obama comes, there would not be that kind of security. I thought even the President has never had that kind of security. It was unbelievable. I make a state broadcast as an incumbent state governor, some other person would go and make a broadcast. The Federal Government behaved as if nothing was happening. I knew it would be difficult because when you push a people to the wall, they react. We resisted them. The same people who said there was no election, are now the persons at the Tribunal saying that they won. When they claimed there was no elections, now they are saying they should declare them winners. I have never seen such a thing in my life. People came out in Press Conferences that there were no elections, but today they are saying they won.
Rivers State is peaceful. ..
They say Rivers State is not peaceful and I say that Rivers State is very peaceful. Since there were no elections, have you been hearing of killings? That tells you that the reports of insecurity were only sponsored for political gains. When they come now to say we should make peace, I agreed because I am a peace maker. Even though it was a set up because nobody told me that I was invited for a peaceful meeting. I was invited to go and see the DG of the DSS without knowing that something was going on. If you look at the pictures, I was alone. I didn’t go with anybody thinking that I was going to see the DG. Reaching there I saw the other people. I am not against peace, but what I am discovering now, calls for vigilance. Nigeria is to big for you to think that you will plan and nobody will know. Nobody will take me by surprise. You told me to make peace and I am making peace. But what I am seeing now shows that there is a game going on. As I speak to you, they have transferred all key senior policemen and they are bringing people they think will do their bid. The one that is shocking is the police officer who caused serious crisis during the March 19 rerun elections. He was queried and transferred out of Rivers State, now they have brought him back. The same security people who said we should make peace are doing a different thing. Tomorrow, you will say there is no peace in Rivers State. Do we need to deceive ourselves? Rivers State is a critical state as far as Nigeria is concerned. You can’t take our mandate by force. As I speak with you, there is nothing I can’t do for Rivers State. I can lay down my life for the state. If you like , bring American marines, the worst that will happen is that they will kill all of us. If that is the sacrifice, so be it. I don’t when we agree on something, you start doing a different thing, it is not the best.
My information to INEC :
I wrote to INEC use your staff for the rerun elections. Leave these university people. Why? You don’t know where their loyalty will be. I schooled at the University of Port Harcourt, so I know all the lecturers. I know who is a supporter of PDP and I know who is a supporter of APC. Rivers State is the only state holding elections, so go and take all your staff , bring them here, let them conduct free and fair elections. Because they appointed the Vice Chancellor of the university, they made him compile names of their loyalists as returning officers, took same to INEC and INEC approved. There was no problem. But the problem started when they saw the results from the field. When they noticed that the APC was not winning, they ran away. There was nobody to collate the results. Then the elections became inconclusive. I just can’t understand. Even if it is your father’s younger brother, bring him. Results will come from the field and he must collate the results. When results come from the field, you won’t see the returning officer, he has taken off and they say it is inconclusive. And they reschedule.
Failing Propaganda. ..
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They intensified propaganda that once you land in Rivers State, kidnappers will abduct you at the airport. But you have been here for days and you have experienced the security. Lies are easy to sell, but they don’t last. They have a terminal period. When the terminal period comes the truth takes over. This Port Harcourt you have come will expose you to the truth. I will give INEC all the support to conduct free and fair elections. This is only one state. What happens in 2019 when they conduct elections for the whole country. I have told my people to be prepared. If you are sleeping, don’t sleep again. This peace we are making, I suspect they want to come without us knowing. Let’s be prepared. I don’t trust these people. INEC can announce election any day. They did it in Abuja. When they fixed elections on a working day. Nobody is travelling.
PDP will continue to win in Rivers State. . .
Do the elections 200 times, it will be the same results. They are only postponing the day of reckoning. They are trying to cover the political inadequacies of one man. They say they don’t want him to be embarrassed. But there is no embarrassment. It is the voice of the people that matter. Elections are the prerogative of the people. It has nothing to do with the political image of anyone.