This is just what is responsible in that regard and I want them to continue. So I think that you are right. In the area of empowerment, there is a lot that we should do. I would have loved to have seen an area where for instance, we have banks, where we have bank MDs. So that people can go to look for loans. I would have liked a situation where we are strategically building people. But, I also have to say that we have not always been in the best of books of the federal government. Because when I look into some other areas I would have loved to have seen our Rivers people rising. But I don’t see a lot of that happening. I think actually Rivers State is losing because for whatever reason, the chairman of the governors forum and the president do not seem to be as close as they used to be. When the president was the vice president, I know that Amaechi was very close to him. It is rumoured that one or two commissioner nominees is from the vice president. When Amaechi went to the Villa to see Yar’Adua, he must branch and see Goodluck first. So far whatever reasons, I don’t think that relationship is as cozy and I think that as a result Rivers State may be losing. But let us no go from zero to zero. I don’t think that Amaechi, has completely failed us there. Besides it is not over yet. May be by the end of his tenure, he may surprise you. There is no doubt that many people, and I agree, have complained that the area of empowerment is a problem and I think there is no clearer example of that than the 2011 election when Amaechi was sampling opinions and people said, yes, you have built roads, you have done this but “na road we go chop?. What of our pockets?” So he realized that doing all those roads and infrastructure in itself are not enough. He needs to do more. I want to think that he has taken that on board and he will surprise you. Beyond that, I have to confess that there is still a lot to be done in the area of empowerment. He needs to build individuals, but let’s not forget that people like O.B Lulu Briggs were awarded oil blocks and that is a prerogative of the federal government. May be we have to find another way of building other individuals. Am sure you are not looking for everybody to be like O.B Lulu Briggs. But what we are saying is that people should rise and we should take our cottage industries and make them more profitable.
Has PDP not failed Nigeria? Will PPA Transform to political Party? What platform will you use to deliver Rivers State?
Party politics in Nigeria is a study in human nature. The real story is that I was in PDP by association. When I came back, I remember, my cousin, Doris Fisher was a very active PDP member, so I was registered into PDP, but I was not really interested in politics. It was almost by association. But after the Buguma crises and I watched what happened there, my blood started boiling and I started witnessing the executions that were going on in the state, the cult wars and all the drama. When I decided to shoot for the governorship, I had to ask myself what platform was the best platform to do it. Some of us had a small meeting. It was almost 50-50 devided. Some people said use PDP, some said use AC. ANPP had approached me. In fact, I even went to Kano to see the Abachas who I felt were sponsors of the ANPP platform at the time, Mohammed Abacha. He wanted to offer me a platform of the ANPP. But I was not comfortable with being offered something. I wanted to fight for it. When I saw what was going on, I remembered the phrase we use, ‘green snake in green grass,’ for PDP and we knew that there was no way that we are going to get the ticket from PDP. So for us, the best alternative was A.C. primarily because we could see what was going on in Abuja and we knew that Atiku was going to join it. So we felt that it will end up being the available platform and Awuse was the leader of the party at the time. We felt that the only way we could truly defeat the PDP in Rivers state was to first try our weight against Awuse. I was lucky that we were able to come out of it. People said that I was planted by Amaechi or Odili. People can say what they like. What is black is black and what is white is white. I had a very clear ambition and that was to get rid of Odili and Amaechi, because I did not like any of them. I remember the day that Amaechi got the ticket and I held a press conference and I said the state has a choice is between continuity and change. Continuity as represented in Amaechi and change as represented in me. I was very clear and I was battle ready. But when I saw these people, what they did and removed Amaechi and put Omehia, I said these people are just walking in to a trap, because for us everything was getting better. Of course, we all know what happened in 2007, there was no election and we know the results were rigged massively. But Amaechi became the enemy of my enemy. That made him my friend and when he became a supreme court governor anybody that wanted to fight him was just wasting his time. We knew that they were just wasting their time. We saw it as an act of God and we just bowed to superior wisdom.
I was offered N1.5bn by Omehia to withdraw my case from the tribunal but I decided that I was going to fight it till kingdom come. But once the Supreme Court judgment came, the same Omehia came back and offered me money and evidence that they rigged the election against me to kick out Amaechi. That was the single act that made me to withdraw my case, because I said so keeping my case is going to make Odili and Omehia happy and I did not like them. So people can say about planting and all that but God knows the truth and my conscience is clear. Now, when we held on to the AC platform, we prosecuted election now working with Amaechi. People did not understand and said how can AC work with Amaechi and I said my state is more important than my party. This was the phrase I used then. Some people did not understand and said it is because of money. Some people said I sold out. When you take tough decisions you have to live by them and stand by it. It is what men are made of. So we decided to work with Amaechi. Now in working with Amaechi, something became immediately obvious that there was no difference between the parties. I was idealistic. You have to understand that I have never played politics before. I was what people called “London Boy.” For me, politics has ideology and none of the journalists asked the question, ‘what is the ideology of the PDP? What is the ideology of AC?” Nobody asked that question because there is no answer. PDP does not have an ideology; AC or ACN now does not have ideology. All across they do not have. That is why you see a PDP governor in Akwa Ibom State doing completely different from a PDP Governor in Rivers State. They do not have any ideology. Their ideology belongs to the individual not the party, the parties lack ideology. So when somebody moves from one party to another party and none of these parties have ideology, what does that mean? The person has an .ideology and moving a platform is like joining a football team. You go where you think you can make the most impact. So for me, I looked at it and I thought to myself. The party, AC, was asking me to bring money because of my relationship with PDP and I said that is not the kind of relationship I have with this man. I criticize this man, I tell him what I want to his face because I know that he cannot insult me and if he gets angry and upset with me, it’s not going to make any difference to me. I can survive. So for you to ask me to now get money from him, I can’t do it. They said if you don’t do it we will give the party to Sekibo. This was a direct threat and all these things I am saying, of course, I can give you names and phone numbers. ‘We will give this party to Sekibo, Omehia and co are offering us money for this party, what are you doing? If you are there go and bring the money.’ I resisted this from 2007 to 2009. Many people did not know, but when I decided to leave AC, it was like good riddance. That at last, no longer can this people continue to disturb me for money, bring this, bring that. In fact, at one point it got so much and I said ‘see Amaechi, go and meet him yourself.’ So, I was able to sustain the party. You have to understand that Awuse has left. According to the party, these people wanted to come back to the structure but because of the fear of me they could not come back. So for them, it’s either you bring the money or we hand the structuren over to these people. Anybody knows politics in Nigeria knows that he is playing for the centre. That explains why in Bayelsa, we have a new governor today. Politics is not played for the state. If you are ACN leader in Rivers State you have to be loyal to the centre, if not they will remove you. Only God knows how I survived Sekibo and Omehia and all those people, bearing in mind that all these people lived in Abuja. I don’t know any other person who had never had a political office that has managed a political party from 2006 to 2009 when I decided to leave it myself. So I left AC of my own accord. I was very happy to leave. I wanted to leave a long time ago. But when Atiku was leaving, it was a perfect excuse for me. But besides that I asked my self a very moral question, are you prepared to challenge Amaechi 2011? And when the answer to that question was no, what business did I have for moving to an opposition party that was not going to oppose?
Was I going to go and pretend to people that I was opposing? And then lose and then negotiate for tomorrow? I was not going to do that, so I left the party for others to take it and oppose. I am sure we all saw what happened in 2011. AC now becoming ACN opposed Amaechi and got absolutely nowhere with it. Opposition is not easy. It is difficult. But if you are not prepared to oppose with all your heart, all your life, then there is no point bothering yourself. So my own attitude really was. AC good riddance, PDP let’s support Amaechi. So it is not really party politics, it is Amaechi because it is the same PDP under Odili, the difference is the leader. So the attitude of PDP is reflected in the attitude of the leader.
Many of you will remember that in 2008 we had local government elections which were equally rigged and I and Amaechi had a big fall-out because I wanted to leave. In fact I just said all my commissioners, none of you should get involved in this government because these people are just deceiving us. When I looked at people in office, my AC people who were in office, I said, even if me, I am not interested in government let me give all these other people an opportunity. That’s how the AC was there if not left to me, we have already drafted a press release to remove ourselves from the Unity government. I am a very radical person but some people don’t know who I am and I am hoping that over the next few weeks, months, years, you people will get to know understand who I really am.
PPA really is not an agenda other than for those of us that believe in the same principles that left AC. Don’t forget that we also organize a forum to manage several other political parties as well. At one point we were controlling about 43 political parties under one umbrella. We formed PPA as an opportunity for all these people to come together. So if you really mean well for Rivers State and you are interested in improving Rivers State politically the idea was that through us, you can actually actualize those kind of dreams. So if I see somebody I believe in, I can fight for the person. If you look carefully you will see right now we have no any political appointee in Amaechi administration as it currently stands. Not that we have not been offered. It is just that I also need to first of all decide this is what I want to do then who will go. And I want somebody that really cares about the state, not their pocket. So PPA is really an opportunity for me to see how people think and an opportunity for them to actualize true care for the state. For you to now draft or form a political party is not necessary. I mean, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel.
Recently, the PDM structure, many people who know politics know the PDM that found the PDP What was missing in the PDM structure, and I told them where they failed Nigerians was that there was an absence of an ideology. If the PDM structure had developed an ideology and handed it over to the PDP, if you are joining PDP, you will know that when it comes to education, this is the policy of the party on education, when it comes to health, this is the policy of the party on health. So I don’t think that I want to reinvent the wheel, but I do want to drill it in to the conscience of the of politicians that the political parties lack ideology and the sooner we start to infuse an ideology in politics, the better.
My message to the new incoming chairman of PDP is that he should stand out from the rest by actually proffering an ideology. Take a position on every single major issue. When you do that people ultimately people will now know what you stand for. So if you are in PDP, governor, local government chairman, whatever position you are occupying, you will know what your party stands for in a given issue. So that is really my take on that so party politics is very interesting topic.
What do you want in Rivers State?
I want Rivers State to move forward. I want Rivers State to be the best state in Nigeria, I want Rivers State to have good health care. I want Rivers State to have good education. I want Rivers State to have good roads. I want our money to work for us. I don’t have to be governor to achieve these things. When the governor came for my 40th birthday, I remember saying to him that he is the one drinking red bull trying to stay awake. Me, I am sleeping at night very peacefully. The burden of the state is on his head. I travel when I feel like. I move here and there when I feel like, as long as the state is moving forward, I am at peace. When I am not happy is when I see things going bad. So this idea of ambition, if I was really ambitious, I would have collected Omehia’s money and knocked Amaechi out and who knows whiwill happen after that? So it doesn’t have to be me. I don’t have to be the one there. What I am interested in is that my moves forward, that the mony for the state works for the state. That’s what I want.
When we say “Remember the youths because the young shall grow,” that is directed at the leaders. That is a specific comment that is directed at the leaders. When we say that you should remember the elders because you one day will grow old, that is directed at the leaders.. There are some messages that appears be directed at the youths or the people but is actually directed at the leadership. “Think not of what Rivers State can do for you, but what you can do for Rivers State”. It may appear to be directed at the people but it is also directed at the leaders because when you enter into the position of political office, most people are looking at how they can line their pockets not what legacy they can leave behind for future generations. So I doubt that there is any billboard that has only one message. If you look at the billboards, there are usually two to three messages behind the billboard. It is for you to make of it what you want to make of it. “Have a forgiving spirit” is also one of the billboards that we put up and that tells you to have a forgiving spirit. We all made mistakes. There is nothing more dangerous than a vindictive leader, somebody that does not forgive. That message is equally directed at the leaders. Sometimes the people leave the billboards blank for others to give us ideas of what should be there. If you go to my face book page, sometimes I ask people what should be written and we have opportunities for individuals to contribute and the winning contributor’s message goes up on the billboard. So you can also feel free to make your own suggestion if you have anything you want us to tell the leaders. we will put it. When I put up ‘Remember the youths because the young shall grow,’ some people said I was warning Amaechi. Like I said every billboard has a message.
Realistic revenue formula
This is an academic discussion because you just want to get my opinion because my opinion is not going to change anything. One thing is that we need to sit down and have a discussion or let’s say dialogue. I was saying to somebody, I said there is no way the south-south will give up this presidency in 2015 without that discussion. Why? Because if we give up the presidency in 2015 without that discussion, we don’t know what is going to happen to us. Because if we have the power and we do not abuse it, the next person can abuse it. So for the good of the nation, for the sake of the nation, let us agree how we are going to live together. If I propose somebody else can oppose and we will be talking. One thing is clear, when we talk about true federalism, the argument has been and it is a very saved argument, and I want anybody that can defeat that argument.
The argument has been, how can you, when you have groundnut and palm oil be collecting 100% and paying taxes to the centre, and then when we have oil, first it was nothing, 3% and then 13%. Now on what basis are we collecting that 13% when others were collecting more? So it is not fair. But I don’t want to talk too much about what is fair because I believed that when you are having a discussion or dialogue; it is more than one party. They will talk, you will talk. Ultimately you will arrive somewhere. But what is inherently clear is that the current position does not favour either. They say it doesn’t favour them because you can see that they can’t even pay their salaries. We says it doesn’t favour us because before, you were collecting 100%, now we are collecting 13%. Go and develop your own resources. As far as am concerned, both sides haves a valid case, if we are talking about one Nigeria. Because if you are here and we are eating and your plate is full and the other person cannot eat, if he is your brother, it will concern you. The sooner we have this discussion and agree the way forward, the better. No one side can take a position on this and there is no way the south south will be prepared to give up presidency in 2015 unless this discussion takes place. Because if it doesn’t take place and the presidency goes to the north, we can’t trust what they would do. That’s just the reality of it. So this thing is beyond Jonathan. I have said it, and it is on record that Nigeria is now more divided than it has ever been. Let’s not deceive ourselves.
You will hear the average southerner describing the northerners as them and fellow southerners as us. So there is a “them” and “us” mentality. So if we discuss revenue formula is Riviera Hotel, you can be discussing it till tomorrow; it is not going to make a difference. What needs to happen is that various people need to come together and sit down at the table and look at a variety of things from the illegal acts, land use decree, inland waterways act, and all those other acts that were just made in favour of people against us. All these things need to be reviewed. I am a member of the Niger Delta Technical committee and we looked at a host of things from the Willinks Commission to all sorts if other reports. We came up with recommendations. As I speak to you today, nothing has happened. It has been kept on the shelf. That’s my own problem with Mr. President because he was there when we were inaugurated and he is there today. UNEP reports, nobody has talked about the UNEP report, was also issued. We have heard nothing about the UNEP report. A committee was inaugurated in August and it was to report in two weeks that was August last year. We are now in March, nobody has heard anything. So there is a host of issues, but the problem we have is that when it was a Northerner in power, we were angry with the north, now we have our own brother in power and there are issues. So I think that there needs to be a discussion, there needs to be a dialogue and in the absence of that, there will be lack of trust. So the prediction of 2014, when Nigeria will break up, is not a joke. There is a basis for it and the basis for it is that in 2015, the East thanks to Ojukwu will have a case, the North will have their case, but the south will have the president and they have a case and it will be an issue.
Does it bother you that this government is not paying attention to Riverine areas in terms of development?
Yes it does. The governor calls me an ethnic jingoist because he believes that I am always making case for Riverine. For me, it’s very simple. In the proportion of our spending, it is important that we distribute it. It is important that different parts of the state feel the effects of government. The other day I understand that there was a seminar or lecture in national assembly and he called my name as an excuse. He said that it was because of me he has built schools in Riverine areas. That because I was disturbing him that he is not doing enough in the Riverine area that is why he has gone to build schools where there are no children. So what I was saying is if there was no proper due diligence done before? So, I disturb him on the issues. It is not because I am an ethnic jingoist but because I hear the complaints of the people and I see their dissatisfaction. I don’t expect that you build schools where people don’t have students. I don’t expect that you build roads where there is no land to build the road. But I expect that land reclamation and a variety f other things that are relevant to the people should be addressed. I don’t think he has done enough in those areas. But I suspect that he believes he is going to do in his time, what he can and the next man will probably take over from where he let go. But there is no doubt about it that in terms of proportion of spending it is not enough in the Riverine areas. I think that is absolutely clear even to the blind man. But we will thank him for the one that he has done. He has done significantly more than his predecessor clearly. But if you ask me; my own opinion is that he has not done enough.
Desire to touch the youths
The desire to touch people is so strong in me. I actually derive a lot of joy from giving, so I hope that I can only shake some other people who have enough money than me to also do the same. If I have N10, 1prefer to give N8, so it will look like I have a lot of money. But the truth of the matter is that maybe I have probably given may be 80% of what I have and so it appeared to be a lot. But like I said, I don’t have a house, I don’t have a piece of land to develop and if I decided not to give money I could go and buy land to build a house and may be, nobody will know about it. I think my happiness is that for whether reason as you give it just keeps coming back. So whatever that theory is, let it continue because I intend to continue. So we will keep doing that.
Rush in Rush out of the Kalabaris in Politics
As for the rush in, rush out politics, very few politicians are actively playing politics like me. I am just coming from Abuja. What was I doing in Abuja, national politics. I entered the state. Before the end of July there will be political meetings. I have not stopped playing politics from 2006, for six years now, constantly playing politics. Between 2006 and 2009, I was handling AC, that means local government chairman, women leaders youth leaders and for those people that know me, they know that we were meeting regularly addressing their problems. So we are constantly working and we are constantly reaching out. So there is no rushing in and rushing out. Once I can find people who are motivated and passionate about the state of the state as me, I am happy to sit back. Because I always tell my people that I prefer to be a Dangote than a Yar’Adua . But may be now that Yar’Adua is death it is not the right example to use, but the point I was trying to make is that I prefer to be a business man than a politician. Because as a businessman you can make your money quietly and do what you have to do. As a politician you spend a lot of it. Nobody knows my background. Very few people know my background. The fact that I am a business man is not known to people. They think that I am a politician who has the money. So once you are a politician, your head is raised. There are lots of people who are far richer than me but they are under the radar, nobody will know. Once you are a politician, you become visible. And so most people who are my colleagues in business, they don’t want to be involved in politics because of the exposure that it gives them. I have been involved I continue to be involved and anywhere I go the message I try to send is that things should be done differently. So if I am in a political meeting, I am usually making some controversial statements about how are we affecting the lives of the people? How does that change the price of rice? Statements like that in a political meeting are not very popular.
So if anybody describes me as a rush in, rush out politician, not fair. As for the Kalabari, let me call it, decline, I think for me, it is a fallacy. They are not in power, power is not permanent thing, it moves and you too should also learn to accept that. The Kalabaris, may be sometimes we are a little too arrogant and sometimes it is good for humility. Sometimes it is good for you to remember that you are human just like everybody. I think there are many people who felt that the Kalabaris were arrogant and they needed to be brought down a peg or two. May be our fathers generation took things for granted. I think there are lessons to be learnt from that. What we should be doing now is to think what lessons have we learnt. The idea of acting in isolation no longer works. We are now part of a larger society. The dominance of the Kalabaris is no longer necessary. It is like America for instance, I can remember Obama saying that the kind of America he wants to see is not the one that has to be involved in everything. There are times when they can be in the background. Let other people lead and if you saw what happened in Libya you will see that America was at the background and France and England were the ones who took the forefront. So as an ethnic nation Kalabari also has to learn humility. We also have to recognize that the dynamics are different. When it was the old Rivers State, you had the Ijaws in the majority. I remember some Ogoni people complaining. They did not know I was in their midst. They said you remember those days of the old Rivers state that we will be waiting for the results, the results will come from those areas and the numbers will overwhelm us. We can’t do that anymore, so what is happening now is a lesson in humility. You must learn that if you are given power, you manage it well. Do not create enemies, instead create friends because tomorrow you will need those friends. So I am quite optimistic about the future because I believe that the kind of leadership that were are about to create is a leadership that will understand the lessons of humility. I thank God for my father, he taught me humility. He taught me that because things are good for you today does not mean that it will be good for you tomorrow. So you must learn to understand and appreciate human beings. Nobody is your subordinate. So that attitude for me is what will take us forward and I am quite optimistic about the future.
Long queues in filling stations, lack of electricity, the Greater Port Harcourt Project
I am not too sure why the state that has refineries would be faced with such a problem. It is embarrassing, very embarrassing. I don’t know the details of it, I have to be honest with you. But for whatever it is worth, I know that one of the issues that you must recognize is that it is not a state issue. It is a federal issue. And probably more than just a government issue, it is also a national issue. We all know the problems of Subsidy and the absence of petroleum products. I think if you are in government and you are now calling the people who bring in the product thieves. Meanwhile there are some people who supplied products and did not get their money for two years. Many people did not know what goes on behind the scene. There is a lot of corruption. That is the word I want to use to describe it. And I think that banks are not giving importers money because the banks cannot be sure of when they are going to be paid and how much money is going to be cut from what they are paid. I just give a typical example, PNB Paribas is a French bank that used to guarantee a lot of transactions that were taking place in Nigeria. They stopped effectively last week for one reason and one reason alone. They have suffered a huge hit from the fuel crises. What is going on in meant that their debts will be cut by 50%. So if they are billed for instance, N1bn, because of the fuel crisis and the negotiations that took place, they cannot collect N1bn. It’s now N500m they will collect. Meanwhile NNPC is owing them a lot of money so they are refusing to guarantee and that was one bank that was guaranteeing a lot of transactions. The Nigerian banks of course they don’t have the capacity to do it. Ultimately the government accusing the importers as cabal and thieves has meant that those people are not prepared to stick their neck out as they did before. So it is affecting Rivers State. But I am a little upset why Rivers State is peculiarly bad.
The problem we have is that many people struggle over little money. I believe that we can develop Greater PH. and the rest of the state. I think that what is happening in greater PH now is to a priest extent is government money. But that doesn’t need to be the case. I think that yes, the governor needs to put in place basic Infrastructure. The development of the city itself can be driven by the private sector if the private sector is given the right kind of incentives. Abuja for instance, is being built by private partners. If you will give people security, if you give them the ability to make their money, they will do business. There are some people that are spending money in this country that will develop land if the land is available for them. So I think GPH can still be developed. But I think we also need to develop other parts of the state. I for instance will like to see the state developed in a more sort of regional fashion where you decentralize PH. and allow people to flow out ward. I don’t see any reason why we cannot have some of our ministries situated outside of the secretariat as opposed to all of them being centralized.
Lack Of Electricity
I like the way you put it, ‘despite the amount they claimed to have spent.’ At the last time I had a discussion with the governor, there are three issues with power. There is generation, there is transmission, there is distribution. I think that what Odili concentrated on and what Amaechi continued was the generation. The absence of an enabling legislation meant that state government could not handle transmission and distribution. That means that it doesn’t matter how much power is generated by Amaechi we cannot transmit and distribute it without federal government approval. What has been happing in recent months is that Amaechi has been fixing substations that belonged to federal government with the hope that federal government will refund him even though federal government has not agreed to refund him. So even if you generate the power you can’t evacuate the power and you can’t now take the power to people’s homes. Amaechi is saying why will I do all these and I will not distribute it? So he actually started to effectively get involved with generation and distribution. He said to hell with it. If they want let them come and arrest me. As I have generated this power, if I cannot get it to people homes they will abuse me. Now, as of last week the federal government has allowed state government to get involved in distribution and transmission. So, let us say, in a negative way, Amaechi has run out of excuses. He doesn’t have any excuses any more. So ultimately, we except that we will see power in our homes. When I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago on this matter, he said to me that he expects that by this time next year the difference will be clear. But I am sure many people have heard this thing before, so people would be skeptical but if we give him benefit of the doubt then I suspect that by the time his administration ends, our power situation would have improved. If it had not improved, I don’t know what excuse Amaechi will give us again and don’t think that he will be able to give us excuses. So let’s see what happens. But I know that, of the power stations I saw, they are building additional capacity. The state needs about 400 megawatts. I think what they are targeting is over 750 megawatts, so ultimately I am hoping that we will have much more steady electricity. Like I said, if we don’t have it in the next couple of months, may be a year plus, I don’t know what excuse the government can give again. But I think Amaechi realizes that. ###