Exclusive Interview with Nigeria’s Governor Nyesom Wike: Rivers Beyond Politics- Performance Beyond Rhetoric

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Penultimate before our team touched down in Port Harcourt, the Capital of Rivers State, Nigeria’s 3rd most commercialized city behind Lagos and Kano and the country’s oil and gas hub; there were reports of the growing level of insecurity in the state. Our team however remained resolute in discovering and reporting developments first hand, especially because the state has become a center of attraction in recent times.  On arrival, the African Leadership Magazine Team settled for an exclusive interview with the Governor, His Excellency, Nyesom Wike to discuss some of his developmental strides in the state, insecurity, and his efforts towards creating conducive environment for business to thrive, among other national and continental issues. Excerpt:

Within one year in office, you have achieved so much in infrastructure, how did you do this?          

I thank you very for the opportunity. First of all, we want to thank God almighty for the good health we have. If we do not have good heath, it will be difficult. God is in charge of that; and then for given you a team that you work with. Commitment is key to everything that you want to do. If you don’t have a team that is committed, you go in slow pace. You have to be committed yourself and the team will be committed. Again, your willingness to serve; some people see service in different ways. Some people see it as an opportunity to sell oneself, as a way of publicity. Some people see it as a way to render services to the people. There are two things: One, nobody knows me; therefore, let me use the position for people to talk about me. Let me appear in all pages of newspapers, electronic media and the rest. But I said it is an opportunity for me to make a difference.

There are things that people have done in a particular way differently, if it is not the way things are supposed to be done, I want to make that difference. And when you make that difference, people will appreciate; they can see the difference in terms of governance. So for us, the opportunity to serve and for you to be able to serve require sacrifices. It requires commitment. And if you don’t have this, then it becomes a problem. I do not know what happen in other states, so I will not be in a position to about them; but for me, it is commitment, making sacrifices, and working as a team. It is not an opportunity for you to say: “I will enrich myself”.   It is not an opportunity for you to say: “now, I am known in the world; those who are not hearing about my name are now hearing my name”. But if you have the opportunity, you should know that people gave you the mandate, and therefore you must make a little contribution by making a difference of what used to be and.

Unfortunately for us, we came at a time that economically things are not going on well in the country.  We knew there were problems. You told the people that if they give you the mandate, you will be able to fix the problems. Coming on board, I can’t begin to say, there are problems. I knew that this is the state of things and this is where we were getting to. So, am I prepared to see what we can do?  Yes. So, we must do things in a different way.

As part of the problem with governance is that you see projects and contracts awarded by the previous administrations, and you say no: “I will not continue with it because I am not the one who awarded it.” You need your own contractors. That is wrong because those contacts awarded are all with public funds.  They are not private funds. Then, if you have abandoned them, it means you have wasted public resources. And they are projects that would have positive impact on the lives of the people. So, why should you abandon them simply because you did not award them?  You that have come should see it to the end so that the people will be happy. Their lives will be changed in positive ways. So for us, all projects that have been identified as awarded by previous administrations that we know will have positive impact on the lives of the people must be completed; and so we took that on. That is why today you can see that most of the projects were completed.  Like the previous people will say, they are not my projects. But I have never claimed it is my projects. I have said I will not abandon projects.

Another problem we have in this country is contract padding. I don’t know about budget padding, but I know about contract padding. A job you will do for N200million, they put it at N700million. So, by the time the job is done by 30%, there are no funds to pay. So the job is abandoned. But for us here, if a job was 200million, we must make sure we do it. And I don’t believe in jobs variation, jobs that are not completed within stipulated time. I don’t do jobs for 3 years. We will call the contractor and say: “we want the job to be completed in 8months, and we will pay you within the 8months. We want this job to be completed within one year and we will pay you within that one year. We want this job to be completed within 2 years and we will pay you within those 2 years”. So there is no room for variations so that we can have results.  But that will not be the case for other areas. So from onset, every contractor knows there is no room for variation because I am not going to owe. So these are the differences we have made.

Your Excellency, your state has been portrayed as an insecure state. As the CEO, what is the position of security, and what are you doing to address it?

The way I answer such question is like this: “what is the insecurity situation in Nigeria”. There are two ways, the security situation in Nigeria, what is it? Mention one state in Nigeria that you will say, there is no crime. Mention that state that is at the same level with Rivers state. And then compare the level of crime for you to say the state is secure or insecure. Now take Lagos, you are aware of the crime in Lagos? You are aware Nigerian government had to use air force to bomb people? Have they bombed Rivers state before? Has there been any Air-force in Rivers state to bomb criminals? For me, these are political blackmails. They don’t want to see Rivers state heard around the world.

Rivers state is the state Nigeria cannot do without no matter how they pretend about it.   Now if they talk about insecurity, mention anywhere in this world where a sitting governor within one year in office has had 5 commissioners of police (CP). So if you have 5 commissioners of police in a year which is 12 months, it means that you have each commissioner of police working for about two-and-a-half months, before another one comes, at average. What security architecture and network will you put in place?  So if you have been posted to Rivers state now as CP, you have come with your security strategy. And as chief security officer, we sit down with you to draw out the security architecture of the state, and then you request that these are the things that you want in order to enhance the security network of the state. Then, within the two months that you are organising yourself to provide logistics, they have moved out. They bring another person. What happens?  Then, they will stay for a time to understand the terrain, the environment of the place. He comes up with a proposal of his. And while you are working towards that, he is removed. So, the question is who is interested all this? Who is behind the removal of all this commissioners of police? Those who are doing this, do they want the stability of the state or not? What do they want to achieve?

They say Rivers state is insecure. Of all the oil pipeline vandalisation news, how many have you heard in the state? So the state is stabilized for oil production, but not for them to carry out other activities. So, we ask ourselves, who is fooling who? Who is given out all this information? And it makes me laugh. So for me, what I can say here is that Nigeria today has security problems. Is it Abuja? Haven’t you heard how they killed a pastor and the rest? Is it in Kano? Is it Kaduna where a diplomat was kidnapped, where kidnapping has been the order of the day? Is it in Benue? Is it in Plateau? Is it in Imo state? Mention which state today that you would say.

Assuming that there are criminals in Rivers states, it is expected. Why? It is part of developmental problems.  When you talk of development, Kano is never associated with development.  We are talking of oil production. There are lots of activities taking place. I am not saying it is good to have criminals. Even in the United States, France, with the level of their security network, look at what is going on there. So this so-called problem of insecurity in Rivers state is over-bloated by the APC-led government. And that is the truth. When you come to Port Harcourt; you see traffic congestion. A place that is insecure, you talk about traffic? For there to be traffic, it means there are human beings.  If you go to Abuja at weekend, you won’t see any traffic because there are no people there.  If there are people there you will talk of traffic. So when you come to Port Harcourt, and you see traffic, it means that there are human beings. And how will human being go and stay in an insecure place. Is Rivers state really insecure? You answer that.

You have been a local government chairman, a chief of staff, and a ministry. There is so debate among your colleague that Nigeria needs restructuring. What is your take on this?

Looking at it holistically, what is the problem with Nigeria? What type of restructuring do you want? True federalism; yes, where the state will be responsible; that is people who are operating at the state level. What if those from the community say no, “let us take responsibility of our resources, and let us pay tax to the local government’ and the local government pays tax to the state government.”  

When they say true federalism some people clamor for the one that ends within the state. Whether you restructure or not, it depends on leadership. If you talk of true federalism where the resources are with the state, and you have poor leadership, what happens? At the local government level, if you do not have good chairmen of councils, what happens? Even at the community level, if you don’t have leadership that can carry the entire community along, what happens? Leadership is very key.

Before now, people talk of creation of state to address the problem of oppression, to solve the problem of minority. States have been created, local governments have been created and, but has it solved the problem of minority? Even at local government levels, communities are agitating. They have no say in local government because of minority. They want community development. The totality of everything is leadership. Once you have the right leadership, everything flows. You must have the right leadership everything flows. You must have leaders that believe in the state and in the country. You want a leader that will lead by example, not a leader that will chant a thing and do a different thing. If you ask me as a governor of a state, because I am a governor, I want the federal allocation reviewed; I want more money to come to the state for me to preside over. We ask ourselves questions too. States have had more money before. What has happened with it? Leadership! I am not saying there should not be a review of federal allocation and the powers of the federal government, but even at that, you will still have problems at the state level and local government level.

Do you have the right leaders? Do you have the leaders who are committed to doing the right things to improve the lives of the people?   Or they are people that are being produced, so to speak, to be at the helm of affairs at the local and state level, who are doing it for the interest of the so-called leaders, who have put them there. When you look at it, you see a lot of interests everywhere.  I am not carried away by the word- restructuring. Everybody propounds a theory at the given time he sees them. If you ask the state government, “why don’t you want the autonomy of local government”? They want to oversee what the local governments are doing. They don’t want to lose their powers. People just run away from realities. When you talk about the people, are they hanging at the state level? Are they hanging at the Federal level? They are hanging at the local government level, they are in the communities. So, you will be talking about taking it down to where the people are. The people will say we are in charge of our communities; we want to develop our communities. The resources should come to our communities. To me, everything is leadership. Once you have the right leadership, everything is put in place. But we have leaders driven by ethnic sentiments, driven by religious sentiments; hence, we will continue to talk about restructuring.

Religion is a key factor in terms of governance, and leadership. I am a Christian. I am a Muslim. So we must vote for you based on your religion. We need to leave all this things. In Rivers state, the Ijaws will say they are in charge, the Ikwerres, and so on. We should talk about leadership. Look at where we are today. People say Jonathan (Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan) has not done well. Religion came in; ethnicity came in. Now look at it.

Your Excellency, before you continue, you were quoted recently to have said that the way out of recession is for the people to work together.

Yes, in unity. Governance has nothing to do with party. Governance has to do with everybody working together. Rivers state is not being supported by the Federal government. Politics is being played in terms of security. There is nothing they give to other state that they give to me. I challenge anybody. Why? Politics; there is somebody here (in Rivers state) who supported them; and if they are supporting the state, it means the person will no longer be relevant politically.  Therefore, deny the leadership of the state now so that by the next election we take over. Our interest is take-over. It is not the interest of the people. So, I call for unity for the interest of our people. 

I am not an APC (All Progressives Congress, Nigeria’s ruling party) member; but that does not mean, if I see certain policy of the Buhari administration, I will not commend it, if there is anything to commend; that does not mean, if the president is coming to Rivers state, as a mark of honor and respect for the office of Mr. President, I will not go and receive him.  Why will I not receive Mr. President? The symbol of the country? Because he was elected on the platform of APC? No. We must differentiate this. That is the problem we are having. That is why the Federal government will try to change the Commissioners of Police here. Why? They do not want the administration of the PDP governor to succeed. And if that is the case, how can we work in unity to keep the country moving together? Why do they not want to hold election in Rivers state? Why? It is because APC will lose. Therefore, let Rivers state not have representation at the National Assembly.

Some of these problems will make you call for restructuring; but even the restructuring has its own inherent problems.

You also recently called for institutional reforms.

Yes. Take for example, in this state, how can you talk of development when institutions are weak? The former governor of the state closed the legislature; they never sat. They were sitting in government house here. He called them daily: “Go and approve this for me”, they will go. There was no debate. Budget is brought, they approve within two minutes. Judiciary was shut down. Nobody said anything. How can there be development when there is no judiciary, and when the legislature is weak? How can there be development when a government has not control over the security apparatus of the state?

If there are criminals, and I tell the CP we want you to fish out the criminals, and then those who are in control says, “no, let the criminals be operating there to bring down his government”. That is Institutional weaknesses.

INEC (Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission) fixes a date for elections in Edo state; today, the president visited the state for campaign; tomorrow security report came out; the election date has been postponed. That is Institutional weaknesses when there is no independence of INEC.

INEC postponed an election that was on-going in Rivers state. People left. After about six months, INEC came and said there were results. Results from where you said there was no election. How can there be development? Institutional weaknesses create challenges for development in the country, state and local government council.

What is the rationale behind the recent law in the state that empowers the Chief Executive of the state to extend and appoint care taker committees?

What is caretaker? Not elected committees. They are not elected by the people. I don’t see anything there. It did not say, if you are elected for one year, you can stay for office for 10 years; that would be against the wishes of the people. In this case, they said they don’t want to appoint committees to serve for 3months, 6 months maximum. I have no problem about that.  But they do not have the mandate of the people. It is the mandate that the governor gave. Take for example, if I have certain security challenges in a local government, and I know that the security chairman security committee is doing well, why do I need to change that?   So, people have misinterpreted this.

Will you say truly that it was the past administration that ran the country down?

This is rubbish talk. Obasanjo was one of those who brought Buhari. So, is he saying Obasanjo didn’t do anything? Kwankwanso was PDP; so, is he saying that all those years they were there he didn’t do anything? Saraki was governor for 8years under PDP too; Amaechi was there for how many years? Wammako was governor for how many years? Does it mean that for all those years they were there they didn’t do anything? Mention all the governors.

So what the president has said was an indictment to all of them. Those who are in the so-called APC were part of those who have caused problems of this country. If I were them, I would leave in shame and I say, “this man has embarrassed me”. The man has been in office for the past one year; he didn’t say that for the past 4 years Nigeria has not moved forward, but he said for the past 16years.

What an indictment! Nobody who was in PDP that is in APC now should stay there. They have been indicted. He said 16 years, of which Obasanjo spent 8years. Obasanjo should have come out and say, “why did you indict me this way”: If not for anything, he should remember that there is GSM. Nigeria never had GSM before.

Nigerians forget easily. This place I am staying here was built by Odili. The state House of Assembly was built by Odili; the Judiciary was built by Odili. I am happy (at the president’s statement) that Kwankwanso didn’t do anything; that Tambuwal didn’t do anything as Speaker (House of Representatives); that Saraki didn’t do anything; that Amaechi didn’t do anything, judging from what the president said. I didn’t say so.

It seems there is no end to the problem of PDP… 

The ruling party does not want an opposition. And this was the opposition PDP allowed to survive for democracy to thrive. If we did not do anything at least we allowed opposition to thrive. If you say anything, you go and face EFCC. Why do they interfere in the internal problem of the party? Because they are having problems, they want to also cause problem for PDP.

What is your final word about the award?

I thank them for the award. It means that people somewhere watch what you are doing. It gives us encouragement; that spurs us the more. It makes us to be at alert and continue to work. You may not speak for yourself but people will speak for you. We are happy. We thank the African Leadership Magazine and we are going to partner with them to promote what Rivers state is doing.