River State Governor and Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has remained adamant in championing the governors' opposition to calls for the autonomy of local governments in Nigeria, but he debunked the notion that they are frustrating the constitutional amendment process. In this interview with journalists, he made it clear that the governors will hold on to their position. He also spoke on issues in governance in his state.
A Senator recently alleged that governors are frustrating the constitutional amendment. How true is that?
You want me to reply to all what people say on all subjects? No. Governors Forum is too big to begin to reply everybody. If you say this we reply you and another person say that we reply him. No.
But have you been frustrating it?
How will I know that? Just tell me one role the governors are playing in the process. Are we the legislative arm of government? That question does not require an answer because what he is saying is that there is no state Assemblies and National Assembly, the governors have constituted themselves into state Assemblies and the National Assembly too.
But the governors have influence on their Senators and House of Representatives members and the State Assemblies too?
We have absolutely no influence, absolutely no influence; you can ask Senator Magnus Abe who was here with me this morning. Did you watch the 2012 budget session of Rivers state? My Speaker blasted me and as he finished we sat here and ate food. Many people were shocked there was no quarrel, but I said no he was playing his role as a Speaker. He blasted me saying to me that; 'you are doing well, you have so many projects that you are doing but you are not completing them, you have to complete them and consolidate on them and stop this expansion of project, we will not approve any further expansion but we will consolidate. I said thank you sir, I came home and rested. If I controlled the House would he have said that?
Why are the governors opposed to the Autonomy of local governments?
The governors are a pressure group if we succeed in putting the pressure on both National and State Assemblies and say look there are times ...Look governors are one of the most patriotic elements in this country. I say to you. Look there is no country in the world that there are three federating units, there are only two all over the world. Why should you say that there must be third federating units in Nigeria.
In other words you are opposed to the autonomy of local government?
Of course yes, let a state governor or let the states create as many local governments as they want to create. Don't put it there as a constitutional issue. Okay, you say for instance, you are accusing some governors of mismanaging resources how? I have given example in Rivers state where not only do they collect their money directly, they collect my two billion monthly ask them. I pay the salaries of all their teachers and that is two billion per month if you take away that one my wage bill will come down to six billion per month. I can't beat that.
It appears you and your colleagues have lost the battle for the creation of state police ....
No I don't want to discuss that issue. Until the constitution is amended how can you know what is lost and what is won?
Recently Professor Jibril Aminu described the governors' forum as an oppressive body...
No response to Jibril Aminu I say leave governors forum alone. You can't respond to everything.
You are building 24 model boarding secondary schools in each of the 24 local governments areas which will admit 1050 students, how can you sustain the manpower?
This January we are employing 13,000 teachers. Again if you say we are in control of the Assembly how? We will have done this since October but the Assembly stopped it by resolution and we obeyed the resolution. Up to now we have not resolved the issue. If you watch my town hall meeting at Asatoro there was altercation between me and my Speaker live on a platform. I was trying to incite Asatoro people against him because he is from Asatoro when I said by now we will have finished employing teachers and some of your students will have been in school but your son stopped us please beg your son ooo. He came up and took the microphone from me. And said the governor didn't go through the proper process so we stopped him. So I took over the microphone from him and said yes we did not but your son didn't remember from the beginning until when we were about issuing letters of employment he said stop so beg him now that he should hurry because we want to give the letters by January. So people started shouting and he said okay we will allow you give the letters, I said we have won. But he stopped us from October. If we were in control of the House will he have stopped us?
At a point the issue of kidnapping....
No kidnapping in Rivers state.
One of the things we saw in your projects is that the schools and the hospitals will be free for all citizens how do you ensure the sustainability of these projects even after you must have left in 2015?
Power won't be free; people have to pay for power. Within my period in office they will be sustainable. I will continue to manage my resources in such a way that people will benefit from free education and health care services because the consequences of not paying is that the poor children or the children of the poor won't have access to education and health . In planning for good education and health you must know that affordability goes together with accessibility, if it is not affordable you will lose more lives, if you don't educate people you will run into more crises. So if you want to educate the people and have the society that is properly developed then you must make education both affordable and accessible. So if you build schools in everywhere and nobody can afford it then nobody will go to the schools. As a temporary measure government must be able to bear the responsibility of funding. The benefits of that can't be quantified. 80 percent of all those criminals claiming to be Niger Delta fighters did not go to primary schools because they could not afford it. I met some children who were arrested that period that were weeping before us, saying that their parents could not afford school fees, house rents both for themselves and their siblings and they saw their age met coming back with jeeps and flashy cars. I now say to myself that government has a responsibility to take care of these children up to secondary school level. I just had meeting in the morning on establishing an educational training centre with the Israelis, they are coming and Germans will also be coming this January to sign the agreement with us. The Israelis have just started. So we train at that level. At the University level you pay because that is a choice but we have to give free education up to secondary school level that will liberate your mind and make your mental capacity to be able to make decisions that will better your future.
About the medical equipment. These are hi-tech equipment that people need to value and the system in Nigeria is that if something is totally free people will say it does not have value...
No matter what they say it will be free. Now an American firm will manage those two centres but the third one we are talking to an Indian group but I don't know who will manage it yet but if it doesn't work with them we give it back to the Americans. Their job is to take care of all the patients while ours is to pay for all the patients. So it does not matter whether they say it is this or that, when I go is left for the next governor whether he wants to introduce fees or not.
Can't you back them up with a law so that nobody can change it over night when you leave in 2015?
No. Let the governor make a choice. What do I want to do? I tell people that by the time the next governor comes he won't be facing primary schools because I would have gone far. Yes he will be facing the primary schools to the extent that the more children are coming, the more schools he will build. But it won't be as high as me who is starting from the beginning by building primary schools all over and the more I see the pressure I build more. And even many children are asking when are the next exams they want to go and write. What I met on ground in the primary schools was about 300,000 pupils and now we have exceeded over 150,000 so I have to provide for the extra 150,000.
How much does it costs you to build one of those primary schools?
It cost N112 million for each of the primary schools to be built not to furnish it.
What about the secondary schools?
The secondary schools cost N4.5 billion excluding furnishing.
You are planning to build a university but Rivers state has a university of science and technology, why?
That is the one we are building we are just trying to move it to a permanent site.
Do you have fears for 2015?
I have no fears at all.
Who are you bringing to take over from you?
There is nothing like that in my agenda.
Can you sum up your vision for Rivers state?
It is education, health, power and transportation. You see I don't emphasize roads. There is just one road we are building now, the Trans-Amadi road, it is going to take about three fly overs; one at Garrison, one at Slaughter and another at Nbwo junction. It is going to cost N47 billion. It is 10 kilometres long. There is a new road we are going to build now to the airport to decongest Aba road. It is going to cost N200 billion and fifty percent of that will be spent on bridges with about four fly overs and inter-changes. So, for the planning tells you that we have a design that we call the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan, which takes care of old and the new city. It was designed in South Africa. And they told us that if we don't build those roads they have designed for us, in small time Port Harcourt will implode. And I give you example; Port Harcourt is like a human being with so much cholesterol, if you don't open it up it will block inside and you die, but if you open it up the blood can flow. All these roads are being done according to the master plan. We have the mono-rail which will also take care of passengers, it is 25 kilometres long.
On maintenance of what you are putting on ground; are you considering who will take over from you in 2015?
Leave that to God.
How about the funding of your projects?
Funding is critical in the sense that we are pushing hard on internally generated revenues. When we came it was N2.5 billion, now we are getting N6.5billion and our target this year is N8 billion. We want to see whether we can pay our recurrent expenditure on IGR if we do that then the money we get from the FAAC will be channelled into the projects but funding is a big challenge.