- He Was Stoned And Nothing Happened
- My Relationship With Buhari – Wike
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, is one person who does not pull his punches. He’s brave; he’s vocal, he’s blunt. In this encounter with The Interview he speaks on politics and governance in Rivers State; his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the APC-led Federal Government which he accuses of running a regime of propaganda, deceit and intimidation. He also claims, among other things, that the 2015 presidential election in which former President Goodluck Jonathan lost to President Muhammadu Buhari was not a free and fair contest – forces in Jonathan’s party, the PDP, sabotaged him.
There are a number of projects, especially construction, going on in Port Harcourt. Is that why you are called Mr. Project?
Well, thank you for asking this question. I see that as a motivation. In the first place, I can tell you, categorically, that I never gave myself the name, Mr. Project. But again, you see, in life, when things happen or come in a way that people are shocked, they would look at you without you knowing it and say Mr. This or Mr. That. Why? Because in Rivers State today, unlike what obtains in other states due to recession, there is hardly any area you go without seeing a project being executed by government. People can see commitment. People can see a government committed to solving their problems, devoting resources to things that impact directly on the lives of the greatest number of our people. You will recall that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo embarked on a confidence-building tour of the Niger Delta months ago to engage the militants and ex-militants over the destruction of oil facilities, which was having a negative effect on our revenue. So, he went to other states and came to Rivers State. I can say, with all authority, that this was the only state he slept.
In the course of his visit, I took him to some of the projects. In fact, he laid the foundation of the Doctors’ Quarters here, and then went to the see the Ecumenical Centre at the foundation level, which to the glory of God we have now commissioned. During the banquet, the then acting president said, ‘I have gone round; I have seen lots and lots of projects. Indeed, you are Mr. Project’. So people said, ‘Oh, for the acting president who belongs to a different party to say this, then it means a lot.’
For me, I see that as an acknowledgement of our own modest efforts to improve the human condition of our people. What makes it significant is that we are able to sustain the momentum of projects and programmes despite the harsh effect of the recession. I take such commendation as a tonic to remain focused. I believe the vice president is a decent man who is very objective and will not allow petty politics to becloud his sense of judgement. We will continue to embark on projects; not just projects, but projects that touch the lives of the people. You would not believe the situation we met on the ground in Rivers when we came in 2015. Rivers was created in 1967. It is the state that produces the wealth of the nation; but the Federal High Court was a mess, nobody cared. It was so shameful that the whole structure was an eyesore. But we looked at it and asked: would we, because the Federal Government does not like us, also abandon ourselves? No. So we said we had to build a befitting Federal High Court complex; because, truly, apart from Lagos, in terms of commercial activities, the next busiest place is Port Harcourt. Now, go and see the new Federal High Court. We were given an Industrial Court, but in their own wisdom, the federal authorities did not provide where they would stay and perform their judicial functions. So they moved it to Bayelsa. But 80 per cent of the cases come from Rivers. Go there now; you will see a five-floor building we are constructing for the Industrial Court.
Is that because of your background as a lawyer?
No, no, it is not about my background. You are talking about justice. My predecessor shut the door of the court for two years. Sometimes you wonder what kind of a country is this. For two years a man shut the courts because he did not get the chief judge he wanted. Is it a personal thing? The courts were shut for two years: no magistrate court, no high court. Widows whose husbands were dead could not have access to the probate. Now, in such a situation where there is no court and nobody could access the court for two years, what is the likely effect? Nigerians forget! If there is no court in Nigeria for two years, what would the society be? Now people think, ‘Oh, it is Rivers. It is not a big deal’. But imagine there is no court in Nigeria for two years, what would happen? Anarchy, chaos. For me, the principle of hierarchy had to prevail. How can you talk about good governance, rule of law when there is no court? A contractor fails to deliver on a job he had received mobilization for, where do you go? A rich man came to take you father’s land, where do you resort to? Do you take a knife or a gun? So who encouraged violence? So, for me, there cannot be democracy without the rule of law. There cannot be rule of law without the court. So, if we keep talking of good governance, how can there be good governance without the rule of law?
Surely, the institution called the judiciary must be allowed to operate independently. So, on May 29, 2015, after I took the oath of office, I announced the appointments of those who, by convention, are supposed to fill the vacancies that existed. My support for the judiciary is because of their important role to the society, not because of my professional background or bias.
There were lots of bitter exchanges between your party and the Rivers chapter of APC in July when then Acting President Yemi Osibanjo came to Rivers State on official visit. What was the hullabaloo all about?
You see, it is a great pity that everything is now being politicized. The office of vice president or acting president, as it was then, is not about any party, but a national institution. But some people believe everything must be politicized because of their sense of insecurity.
Ordinarily, I have said I would not speak on this but some people have called me to ask questions. But now you are here. OK, I must clear the air. It is unfortunate, I must tell you. If we allow politics to colour all that we do, then Nigeria is doomed to wallow in crises. We must separate governance from politics. You know what it means, for the president of a country to come to a state for a function and you want to politicize it? He is not the president of a political party, but the acting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We wrote a letter to his office, inviting him to commission projects on July 19. They replied us, saying that the date would not be convenient because of his activities and we agreed. And they said he had an official function Indorama around month end. I had no problem with that. We wrote them that we would adjust our programme to suit that. In any case, Indorama is a company in Rivers State. It is a company doing well and Rivers State has a share in the company. The dividend Rivers State gets from it annually is so encouraging, so we will support them. In fact, anytime Indorama has a problem, Rivers State government intervenes.
So, the acting president came. Rivers State government and people went to receive him at the airport. I respect offices a lot. I do. There was a time Dr Goodluck Jonathan came here and Rivers State government then didn’t go to receive him. If they would go, they would send the secretary to the state government to go and receive him. But I cannot do that because I respect institutions, offices. So we went to receive the acting president. So there was nothing that should stop the acting president from commissioning our projects.
In fact, APC did an advertorial claiming that now that the acting president had come, after he goes, the governor will later use it to insult them to gain popularity. What kind of popularity is that? The only popularity you can get is the projects you have done. Whether the president comes or not, the projects are there for people to see. But you could see how really low they think. To them, the popularity you gain is that the president comes and commissions what you have done for the people. It is a matter of governance that the acting president came and he could commission one or two projects and see that the money we are given is judiciously used. Again, we felt – let him also have firsthand information so that when they are asking tomorrow: ‘What are they doing with the allocation given Rivers State?’ He can say: ‘I was there and I saw this, I saw that.’ It is not because you want to be popular. The only way you can be popular among your people is by the projects you are doing.
So the APC has not been comfortable that he came last time and laid the foundation of our Doctors’ Quarters. By the grace of God, by December, we will invite him to come – if they will allow him come, if they will not play politics; but he is a man I respect a lot. I do. But you know, politics is politics and party is party. But I felt embarrassed by the way the transport minister chose to conduct himself that day. I had never seen such in my life. You came with your boss and started acting funny openly. Even if the state government is hostile, were the people also hostile? If you did well for the people, would they be hostile to you? If you did well, the moment you go there, you will see the ovation. Nobody can stop it. But he failed to accompany the acting president to commission the projects. The only person that accompanied him was Senator of Rivers South East, Magnus Abe. And we heard the acting president speak the truth later – that it is not about party, it is about governance, and we must unite for the good of the people. When you have good upbringing, you will respect positions a lot. I do. But it is a matter of absolute disrespect to the office of the acting president for the minister to refuse to join his entourage to commission projects in Rivers. When the acting president came to represent President Buhari for the flag-off of the clean-up of Ogoni much earlier, there was nothing they didn’t do to hurt me. But I said no, the office they occupy should not be disgraced with the kind of negative politics they play. You should have gone beyond this level. I flew with the acting president, I went to the place, and I saw what they did. I did not bother myself, because by the office you occupy, there are things you can no longer do. Even when he was saying all kinds of things, I kept calm. Why? The acting president was there and I must respect his office.
Overall, I give God the glory for whatever happened. The acting president was there to commission the two projects. There is nothing they didn’t do to sabotage that. I saw the low-level politics and I laughed.
Talking about politicizing issues, it came as a big surprise on August 19 when President Buhari returned from his medical vacation in London and you, as a PDP governor, joined some APC governors to receive him at the Abuja airport even when your party has been quite hard on him. What point were you trying to make?
I am vocal and will continue to be vocal on issues that will move this country forward, but certainly not personalizing issues. I have been vocal that INEC has not been doing what they are supposed to be doing. I have been vocal that security agencies are not helping matters. I stand for the politics that seeks to challenge us to put in our best to develop our society or our nation to the best of our abilities by doing the right thing. But my own concept of politics is not to politicize issues of health or things over which we human beings have no control over. For Christ’s sake, you have President Muhammad Buhari who was ill – nobody prays for sickness; it can be me tomorrow; it can be any other person – the president of the country was ill, as a true Christian, the least I can do is pray for his quick recovery. When I do that, I don’t have to mount the rooftop to announce that. Now, by the grace of God, his condition got better and he returned to the country to continue to discharge the mandate that was given to him by Nigerians. Why should I not share in that joy of his recovery? For God’s sake, it is not about partisan politics this time; it is about rejoicing with a fellow human for the mercy of God. Even though Mr. President may disagree with me politically, should I wish him dead? Certainly no. Or that what I expected him to do, he is not doing, therefore I should wish him dead? No. That is not the value I share. As a true Christian, my religion forbids that. When I was told Mr. President was arriving from London after spending over 100 days undergoing treatment, why should I, as a patriotic Nigerian, not rejoice and be happy with him, his family and other Nigerians that he is back?
Of course, everyone knows the Federal Government does not like me and its agents have been doing everything possible to undermine me as governor and sabotage Rivers as a state. They don’t want anything good in my state. They want my state to crumble because of politics.
But for me, politics should be used to build, not destroy. If Mr. President pursues a policy that is against Rivers, will I for that reason hate him and wish him dead? No. But will I speak out against him to do the right thing? Yes. If President Buhari is ill, why will I not genuinely pray for him for quick recovery? That is my own concept of politics, not politics of negativity or backbiting or going to Abuja to spread lies. We must draw a line between governance and politics.
For those who care to hear, I am a member of PDP and I will continue to be PDP. Tomorrow, PDP will challenge APC. Will I come and support the policies and programmers of APC? No, I won’t do it -because it is not in tandem with what we in PDP believe. But when it concerns the health of our president, I will not play politics with that.
Photographs published in the newspapers at the airport showed Mr. President shaking hands with you. Some attributed the comment, ‘Are you with us?’ to him. Is that true?
Mr. President never said that. He never made any comment. I was in the line-up. He shook everybody. Everybody knows I can’t be in APC, so the issue of ‘Are you with us in APC now’ does not arise.
You mean he did not show any sign of surprise or appreciation that a top PDP member like you came to receive him?
I would be surprised if Mr. President considered my presence at the airport to be out of place. This was not the first time. When he went to Sokoto and I happened to be around, I joined others at the airport to receive him as a mark of respect to Mr. President. This was during a celebration by the Sultan of Sokoto.
But we want to believe your presence must have come to him as a surprise given that your party, PDP, has been quite vocal against him about his long stay in London.
No, there is nothing wrong in PDP telling him: ‘What you went to enjoy in London for your ill-health, also replicate that in Nigeria.’ There is nothing wrong in that. That is legitimate, so that poor Nigerians, poor people, the swamp-dwellers in the Niger Delta, the poor tomato farmer in the north who don’t have the means to travel abroad for medical treatment, can enjoy first-class medicare. There is nothing wrong in that. But that is not saying that PDP was wishing Mr. President dead. No sane person will say so. We need to differentiate what PDP is saying, which is that, ‘Look, Mr. President, we insist that you replicate the first-class medical facility you saw in London in Nigeria so that the masses of Nigeria too can enjoy first-class treatment.’ As a matter of policy and principle, PDP will continue to criticize APC when they are not doing the right thing.
The mandate of George Sekibo who represented Rivers East, which incidentally is your own senatorial district at the Senate, was recently quashed by the Appeal Court in favour of the APC. What is your take on this?
You know my background; I am someone who will never cast aspersions on the judiciary. I will never do that. But you see, what bothers me in this country is that APC has always won elections through the Court of Appeal. Suddenly, no one talks of bribery, no one talks about corruption; but when PDP wins, then the judges are corrupt. I will never say that. And no Rivers person will ever pick his or her pen and write against any judge or justice over court pronouncements. But what baffles us is that since 2015, 95 percent of the National Assembly seats was nullified, 95 percent of State Assembly seats was nullified, but we find it rather curious that one of those that presided over the panel at the tribunal was later posted to be part of the Court of Appeal after nullifying the National Assembly and State Assembly elections. I had no problems. Another justice who was a member of the tribunal that nullified my election was also appointed chairman of the panel that sat over the case of Senator Sekibo at the Appeal Court. Now, if you study the trend from 2015, we have had re-run and re-run and the cycle of violence; PDP has always been winning, but the results always got quashed because they would always say with confidence that, ‘This case will end at the Court of Appeal. When we get to Court of Appeal, it is a different matter.’ But remember, we complained before this last re-run in December – that they were printing result sheets. We arrested one of the culprits. They transferred the matter to Zone 6 (Police). As I speak to you today, no one has come to say: ‘This is what we have investigated.’ There was nothing like that. Remember, in that same election, they brought some people who said I induced them, and within two weeks they brought out a report that indicted me and I went to court to challenge that. But when we reported about the printing of ballot papers and result sheets, till today, nobody has said anything. This is the same country we are talking of justice and fair play and unity. Where is the equity and justice? We have been vindicated at the end of the day – that what we complained of has come to pass. INEC declared results from the polling units, and what baffled everybody and what should shock you is that the police tendered another result sheet bearing the same serial number with INEC, no duplicate copy, nothing. But INEC’s result sheet had a duplicate copy. In other words, two separate result sheets with the same serial number but with conflicting entries. INEC tendered its own result sheet, but for the first time in Nigeria’s electoral history, they went and now certified police result sheet, as against that of INEC, which is constitutionally empowered to so do. If they had said, ‘INEC, give us what you have’ and INEC now refused, then they could have grounds to resort to the police report. Now, they went and certified police result sheet and the court believed it. I am not going to cast aspersions on the court. I expect INEC to come out and ask how the police managed to get the result sheet with the same serial number as their own. When did it become the function of the police to produce or print result sheets? INEC, in its own report, indicted an officer who in its view messed up during the election exercise. Up until now, nothing has been done about that officer – the head of SARS, one Fakorede. But it only serves as a warning of what they are probably planning for 2019. That is why I made that comment before: are we sure these people want to keep this country together? Are we sure they don’t want to cause chaos in Nigeria. Since 2015, it has been a case of nullifying elections, then re-run and re-run and re-run. But we have been winning. Then we get ambushed at either the tribunal or the Appeal Court. But as a law-abiding citizen, what can I do other than speak to my people to continue to have faith in the process; don’t take laws into your hands. It is painful. But I can assure you these shenanigans will not happen again in 2019. They are boasting that they want to use police to rig the elections. As true believers, we take faith that, perhaps, that is how God willed it. But again, those who delight in perpetrating injustice and undermining the wishes and aspirations of our people should beware of pushing our people to the wall, lest they face unsavoury consequences. Why are there so many crises in Nigeria today? We preach one thing and do another thing. Why is there so much desperation to subvert the electoral wish of Rivers people? Why always Rivers State? We would work hard to win; Court of Appeal would annul the results. From the tribunal to the Court of Appeal, Why? Oh! Senator Sekibo is from the same area as the governor, don’t give him. Oh! the petitioner and the transport minister are in the same party, so give it to him; what kind of system is that?
This is where I have my reservation about the new official coinage of ‘hate speech.’ Is it hate speech when you speak up against injustice? You see bare armed robbery against people’s political interest and you speak up against it; does that also constitute hate speech?
When we win elections, we must lose at Court of Appeal. But on occasions that we win, they would say, Oh! corrupt judges! When judgements are entered against us in a manner that mocks hard evidence, no one talks about corrupt judges. Now, Wike’s person has lost, no one will go and comb the judges’ houses. But if the reverse were the case, of course, they would storm the judges’ homes at night in search of the money used for the bribe. When people clamour for restructuring today, we must see this in the context of injustice and people simply saying enough is enough. I am not happy, but I accept the judgement. But I can tell you that Rivers people are now tired of this and now say ‘Never again!’ How can a person win election three or four times only to keep losing at a particular court? I can tell you Rivers people are ready to defend their votes and ensure their votes count next time to the last drop of their blood.
Do you think the clamour for restructuring today is as a result of perceived injustice?
Yes. If there is good governance, equity and justice, no one will be talking of restructuring. Now I hear APC is setting up a panel on restructuring. I laugh. What kind of games are they playing, blowing hot and cold. It is too late. The people can see through their insincerity. You use power to intimidate and blackmail people. Now, because of the views I have expressed, they have gone to Education Ministry, looking for what is not lost – that Wike should be investigated; for what? You must bring Wike down by all means. Who tells you the power you wield today will be there forever. Only God can tell tomorrow. People should have the fear of God.
Talking about opposition in Rivers, there seems no let-up in the media war between you and your predecessor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi…
(Cuts in) I think it is wrong to say I am engaged in a media war with Mr. Amaechi. I am happy you earlier alluded to my being called Mr. Project by the good people of Rivers State who appreciate our own modest attempts to improve the human condition in our state. It takes a lot of hard work to sustain the momentum. I refuse to be distracted by the antics of those desperate for political relevance in Abuja. The only way they get attention in Abuja is by trying to drag me into a media war. They need Wike’s name to stay afloat in Abuja. Without Wike’s name, they can’t get attention, front-page mention in the media because they are idle and clueless on the job allocated to them by the ruling party in Abuja. They spend all their time spreading gossips, saying, ‘Mr. President, Wike does not like you. Please Oga, empower us to fight him on your behalf.’ If you are gainfully employed, you would not have that kind of time. I am committed to serving Rivers people and have no time for the frivolities of political desperadoes and hustlers.
After more than a year of factional politics, the PDP finally has only one chairman. Unfortunately, the party is seen to still suffer a credibility problem from its 16-year misrule. Is the party fit to challenge the APC government in 2019?
Why not? When they say perception about credibility problem, who are those who said that the party has credibility perception problem? Is it about this party that deceived Nigerians with the help of the media and told Nigerians lies – how they would turn one US dollar to N1? Which party has credibility problem? The party that has credibility problem is the APC. They told Nigerians they will do this and that, but they have not done them. What is the credibility they have?
I think their credibility is premised on the fight against corruption…
Fight against corruption, how?
Like Dasukigate and Deziani cases are specific cases on corruption, among others.
Oh my God! Oh my God! We must get one thing right. I am not speaking for Dasuki or Deziani. However, has Deziani been convicted of any crime? Has she been charged to any court in Nigeria to be convicted? By training, I am a lawyer. You don’t enter a generalized statement. You don’t pronounce someone guilty until a court of competent jurisdiction has so pronounced. So, for now, what has been said is still in the realm of allegations; not enough to crucify anyone, or PDP as a party for that matter.
But the US government has seized illegally acquired assets belonging to her…
This is what they tell you in the media…
No, it’s the fact, not what we have been told.
What you must know about this government of deceit by APC is they are all about propaganda, lies, blackmailing people.
But even the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, admitted that there were loopholes in his administration…
No, you must not misunderstand the statement of Dr Jonathan. There is no country that you can say there is no corruption. What he was saying was that there has been corruption in Nigeria but his government put in place institutions, agencies, to tackle the issue of corruption. That was what he was saying. Now, let me ask you, this corruption we are talking about, did it just come when Jonathan was president? We have had PDP government since 1999. Most of the APC stalwarts today were PDP governors for eight years; they were ministers. What are we talking about? Some of those who are governors today were in PDP until a certain point, even under GEJ. What happened? People are taking advantage and telling Nigerians lies. I’ve been a victim of that several times, but you know it is not correct. This same fight against corruption we are talking about, how many convictions have they gotten? Rather, you saw how they have been holding judges and justices hostage in the night like criminals. Is that the way you fight corruption? There is no rule of law, no laid-down rules. Just wake up in the morning, ‘Oh, Joseph is corrupt. Therefore, don’t obey any law; go and take Joseph. Then, let’s go back to the military to carry out the operation.’ With this kind of mentality, then there is no need for democracy. There must be processes. There must be procedure for doing things, and not just because Joseph is a corrupt person, you go and get him in the middle of the night, chain him. Haba! How many convictions have they gotten? How many of the cases have they proved? In advanced countries where democracy thrives, before they come out to say, ‘Hey, we have this information,’ you and I know there must have been thorough investigation. Here it is a different ball game. Let me give you an example. I used to have a director of finance administration in NDDC. He was in PDP. APC won, they chased him out and did all sort of things. Then he defected to APC and they left him. Then I came out to tell Nigerians: ‘Look at the kind of corruption they are fighting. When this man was with us they were chasing him, now he has joined them the case is dead.’ So they came out and said: ‘No, we don’t want to face this embarrassment.’ They now rearrested the man. Mention these PDP stalwarts who have joined APC. Mention those that they have gone after. Who are they fooling? Who is deceiving who?
But Senate President Bukola Saraki is an APC member and was charged for corruption, regardless…
No! No. No. No. They are not fighting Saraki for corruption; they are fighting Saraki for disobedience.
Disobedience to what?
They say he must not be Senate president. Where do they have facts against Saraki that he is corrupt? If Saraki did not run for Senate president, will they come after him? Mention one other person. It is because Saraki disobeyed them and contested to be Senate president. That was the only crime he committed.
What is the credibility problem? Mention one man in PDP and mention one man in APC and let me tell you their records. Which credibility problem? I dare them to contradict me. Not a few of APC governors were once PDP members and were in control of their states in PDP. What are they talking about?! Mention them. They are there. Why are we chasing shadows? If we want to really fight corruption, let us ask: how many former governors in PDP who joined APC are they prosecuting today? Why are they prosecuting Sule Lamido? Because he wants to run for president they are prosecuting him. How many of the former PDP governors who joined APC are they prosecuting today even when there is glaring evidence? When there is glaring evidence, they cover it up.
Are you saying that, for instance, if the EFCC and DSS attempt to arrest another judge in your jurisdiction – like they did the last time, you would come to the person’s rescue – like you did the last time?
Let me tell you the simple truth. You see what happened in Turkey when people tried to overthrow the government; people came out and resisted. If you are doing something, you think that you have the impunity to do because you have the gun, some people can also say, ‘No problem, we are ready to die.’ If what happened last time repeats itself and I am around, they would have to pull the trigger on my head – I’d prefer to die. No person, no one region, or group owns this country more than you. So this idea of you come and do whatever you want to do so that people can be afraid is unacceptable to us. That you’ll come in at 2am and take justices under the guise that you are fighting corruption is very ludicrous. How are we supposed to know whether they are kidnappers? And tomorrow they will say they can’t find them and they have been killed, and then they will now come back to say, in Rivers State, they can’t find judges and justices; kidnappers must have taken them. Meanwhile, they are the ones who committed the crime. We must be careful. I know so many attempts have been made to bring down this state. I know them very well. I know the conspiracy against this state because I am the governor. We must not allow them.
You were central in recruiting Ali Modu Sheriff to serve as PDP chairman against the advice of those who knew his history. In hindsight, do you regret your action?
Why should I regret? I am not a coward. I am not one of those who take a decision and go to the back to say I am not part of that decision. Look, in dealing with human beings, don’t deal with those that don’t have address; deal with those who have address that you can identify. My father told me, ‘My son, wherever you find yourself and you have anything you do, stand firm and say that you did it and justify your action.’ It may be wrong, it may be right. But it is so unfortunate. That is why people say politicians are unreliable. Well, I don’t believe it is peculiar to politicians. I think it has a lot to do with individuals who have no character, who have nothing to show. You need to understand how the issue of Modu Sheriff came about. After Adamu Muazu suddenly left, Prince Uche Secondus was our acting national chairman. Six months to the end of that tenure, the North East came up and said they wanted to complete their tenure. And we said, ‘We are now in opposition; what is in the six-month tenure you want to complete? What is the advantage? Why not allow the acting national chairman to complete the tenure so that we can have a convention? But because some of them had ulterior motives; some of them were APC agents; some of them have personal issues with the man who was being fair and straightforward, but they ganged up and went to court. I know one of my colleagues, but I won’t mention his name. Like I said before, I prefer not to die as a coward. No. No. No. Count me out. North East was not able to recommend one person that would take over as the acting national chairman to serve out the tenure. We had two governors from there. Let them tell us whether they recommended anybody. I attended the meeting. With all due respect, before PDP Governors’ Forum’s chairman, Olusegun Mimiko, I was there; everybody was there. I spoke my mind. Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti spoke his mind. Some other people spoke their minds. The National Assembly caucus came, everybody came. For me, my own consideration was this – and it was in good faith: he was a former governor, former senator, and former board member of an opposition party; therefore, in terms of experience, he should be the one that has the experience. I had never met Modu Sheriff before. Never! So, people must face the reality. We all agreed there. Later, some people now went and started saying it was Wike, it was Fayose that brought Modu Sheriff. They don’t have address. But I stand firm; whatever I say today, tomorrow and in the future, I will stand firm. If the decision was wrong, so be it. But when we saw that what we thought was OK was wrong, we said no, no, no, thank God it was early; now that we had discovered it, we could not continue with the decision. I have nothing personal against Sheriff. I did what I did because I thought I was right. I may have been wrong but I stood firm. If I was wrong, then I must correct it. And I challenge any of them peddling such false stories to come out and state whether they stood firm to fight this Sheriff matter when the chips were down. In fact, most of them were going behind, seeking accommodation with Sheriff while we were in court fighting. Some were forming parties as their own Plan B. I said, in my dictionary, in my state, we don’t have Plan B.
What do you mean by no Plan B?
Plan B for what? As men of principle, we were ready to fight to the last, believing in the justness of our cause. For me, my thinking was that the energy I was going to give to Plan B, why couldn’t I put that energy to make sure that where we are we succeed there?
Nigeria is full of deceit. Most times, what they tell you in the morning is not what they will tell you in the night. So, you must be careful. I stood firm. I said, ‘Sheriff, no, not this party. You will not continue; we will fight it to the end.’ I said so and I did not regret it. Sheriff knows. There are even some people who went to Sheriff to negotiate. Ask Sheriff whether one day I ever came to him.
Who were those going to Sheriff?
So many of them went to Sheriff. We know them, but because we are doing reconciliation I will not mention their names. But I don’t have any respect for them when I see them. My father told me, ‘Look, my son, I am your father. In our family meetings, group interest comes first’. When the family meets, my father may not be there and the family takes a decision. When my father comes back, we will not suddenly overturn the decision because he was not around. No sir, the family has taken a decision. They may be right, they may be wrong. Yes, you are the old man but you are just one person in the family, allow the majority view to hold. If there is need to change the decision, it shouldn’t be immediately, because if you do that, you will kill the entire family spirit. Allow them, you will see at a point they will come to you and say that we have seen the wisdom in what you said as an elder, we are sorry. It normally happens. There must be sacrifice – it is allowed, but don’t just impose it. Some of the elders who wanted to be the national chairman of the party abused me. What did I do? They abused me because I stood and said I had the right to support Candidate A. They were abusing me, saying we were promoting impunity in the party. You see, impunity is only when you are not supporting them, but when you are supporting them, it is not impunity. Now they are coming back to me. It is the Nigerians system, which is not good. So, if the same situation arises over Sheriff, with the circumstance in which we found ourselves then, I will do what I did. I have no regret.
Have you spoken with Sheriff since he lost at the Supreme Court?
No. I’ve not even seen Sheriff since after our convention last year. He called me, and I said, ‘No, don’t talk to me.’ Ask him. You know some of us cannot compromise. In fact, last time before the Supreme Court judgement, he called and said he was in Saudi Arabia. I asked him, ‘What are you doing in Saudi Arabia?’ He said he was there for prayers. I said, ‘No, no, God cannot answer you now!’ Ask him. I said God cannot be with you. How can God support Satan? You are just an agent trying to destroy the party!
You told him that?
But you should know me. Why will I not tell him? Ask him. He called and said after he leaves Saudi Arabia, he would be going to Egypt. I said for what, he said for prayers. I told him God does not support a bad thing. If it is the same God we call, he cannot support that. I said Sheriff, ‘Look, I supported you with all my heart – nothing attached to it, nothing. You betrayed us. What are you going to give to me? I did what I did because I believe I was right.’ I said, for the peace and unity of the party, why not leave this thing and let’s move on? Then he said it was within my capability. I said what capability are you talking about? All these people you see running around now, shouting that PDP won, they were all going around to see Sheriff. I have no regret and nobody will bend me. See, Rivers State, we don’t go, like others, to negotiate. That is why we are trained. We were brought up to hold certain values dear: value of honesty, value of uprightness, value of reliability, value of sacrifice, value of faith, value of godliness. That is how we were brought up. It is not, ‘Oh, go and negotiate with them because they can give you this.’ Give me what?
The perception out there is that Modu Sheriff was an agent of the APC, sponsored by the Federal Government with a specific agenda. Do you subscribe to that?
Well, let me say that, at that time, it was not apparent. You know, you talk with the facts that you have; what I don’t know, I don’t want to claim that yes it is right. But with later happenings, I tend to believe it. At that time, I could not say, ‘Yes, they were right.’ But with what I have seen, I tend to believe. They said when he (Sheriff) was in APP, he was an agent of President Obasanjo. I wasn’t there; I didn’t know. I was just a local government chairman trying to see how to do projects for my people. And that’s what has kept me going. I also saw a lot of unfortunate things perpetrated by some people, which I don’t want to go into now.
I just don’t want to talk about it because there are things I shouldn’t say. It is so unfortunate in this country…
But you are a blunt man and you don’t come across like someone who is afraid of saying anything.
No, the fact is that I don’t want to be joining issues with some people publicly. I believe someone like Buruji Kashamu has not helped this party. It is not a question of you having money to throw around in your state. No, it is not so. With all due respect, if you watch me, I don’t talk just because I want to talk. I don’t criticize because I am looking for publicity. I have respect for elders. I have respect for positions. But in terms party and its programmes, I will continue to talk because APC has failed. But APC is not an individual. I can say APC administration is not doing well. But I won’t come out to insult your person; I don’t do that. I am purposely very careful about that. I don’t want to talk and people will say, ‘Oh, this man is just talking.’ No. Anything you see me challenge or say, I am ready to face it. So, that is it on Buruji.
We were with Sheriff and we said, ‘Look, did you instruct people to go to court when you said you were going for election?’ He said no. In fact, the deputy Senate president, Ekweremadu, was there. We had to call Ahmed Raji and told him, ‘OK, write a letter to show that you are not the one who instructed them to go to court.’ He wrote. Behold, before the next day, he had written another letter that they should not listen to that letter he wrote. That was Sheriff!
That was when you pulled out from his faction?
That was when I knew something was wrong somewhere. You know, God works in miraculous ways, not the way you think He will come. I couldn’t believe it. The deputy Senate president, Ekweremadu, was there, I was there, (Governor Ayo) Fayose was there in his office. You see what human beings can do? No. No. No. I had never seen that happen before. I have heard people talk about things like that, but this one I witnessed it. So I said I could never continue with this kind of a character.
Did the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election come to you as a surprise?
Yes and no.
That’s a political answer…
Yes in the sense that you could foresee it; no in the sense that certain things happened that I couldn’t believe people will behave like that.
So as minister of state for education then, you foresaw Jonathan losing to Buhari?
That’s why I said yes and no. Yes in the sense that I saw the gang-up. The PDP in the north ganged up against Jonathan. The truth must be told; nobody will die! PDP in the north ganged up against Jonathan; they were not sincere to him. That is the truth of the matter. These things that people are saying now – that Jonathan did this and that – are stories. You see, one thing I don’t do is treachery. If PDP says something today and I know that my conscience cannot take it, I will say, ‘Look, I won’t do this. Whatever support you want I will support, but I will not do this. My conscience cannot allow me.’ So, people saying that Jonathan did this and that are stories. I am from the Niger Delta; they should go and check the record whether any money was given to me. They should go and check the records.
You said the PDP in the north ganged up against Jonathan. At what point did you realize that?
I realized that after the nomination.
Did you take any step to avert that?
I was not at that level.
What were the signs?
The signs were there when he went there to campaign. You saw in a PDP state they would be stoning Mr. President and the governor could not do anything. What are we talking about? Even as a governor of this state, no matter how anybody looks at President Buhari, he cannot come here for a campaign and you do that to him in my presence. I will not take it. You cannot try it. I am not in APC, but you cannot try that against Mr. President of Nigeria even though he belongs to APC. We have to learn to respect an office and the institution.
Don’t you think that was because he was a weak leader?
No. You know, God gave every leader his own strength and ways of doing things. You see, I will not accept that. Let the heavens fall! If Nigeria was going to end that day, let it end. I will not accept that. I will not take what he took. That is why I respect the man a lot. I will not take that. If Nigeria will come down that day, let it come down. I mean, what is it? He was president, and you were throwing stones at him? No single respect for that office? And you tell me to accept it. No, I will clamp down on you.
As a fellow Niger Delta person, did you have the opportunity to advise him on issues?
I didn’t have that kind of access.
But you were a minister and you were close to him…
No. As a minister, I wasn’t very close to him. Even Mr. President knew I was not very close to him.
But people will be surprised to hear this.
It does not matter, but that’s the truth. You see, that I am close to the wife does not mean I am close to the president. People must understand this. I don’t take privilege for granted. The wife is from my state. We discuss state matters and I move on. I am not close to the president. I don’t jump from federal matters to the wife. I can’t go and take an official matter that is supposed to be between me and my boss to the wife. I don’t do that. But as regard the politics of Rivers State, I will discuss with her.
Do you think that he lost the grip of his cabinet as a leader?
Let me tell you the truth: so many people were not sincere with Jonathan. You saw that even in the way some were being unduly sycophantic on issues that were totally out of point. Of course, some of us have also learnt a lot of lessons from what happened. I detest sycophants. I don’t even want to centre on the cabinet. You see, just like in my own cabinet in Rivers, the day I know that you are not sincere with me, nothing will save you. Pray that God does not give me the wisdom to ascertain that you are not sincere with me. Because you don’t deal with people who are not sincere with you; you will definitely have problems sooner or later. For me, sincerity is far above capacity. Sincerity has to do with character. If you have capacity and you are not sincere, then what are you doing around me? So, people were not sincere with Dr. Jonathan. It is unfortunate when I see the way people treated him and the way they abused him. This is not how it is supposed to be. Most of his cabinet members were not sincere. That is why if you watched me, I didn’t talk too much when I was in his cabinet. I had two or three friends. Some overrated themselves on what they were not in their states. I came back home and worked vigorously and sincerely for him and the party. We delivered. But you have to realize that Jonathan didn’t lose in the north alone. In the west, he lost. In some of the eastern states, he lost. What was that advantage I have that most of them did not have? The whole thing boils down to commitment and sincerity. We said if things would not happen, all of us would go down with it. That was the driving spirit for us. And that is what we are going to repeat in 2019. If the Federal Government is going to kill all of us, so be it. Because we know that they have planned their strategies and we know. So, when it is time, we will face them squarely; APC – we will face them squarely in this state! Watch!
But every political leader is a reflection of those he surrounds himself with because he chooses them
Jonathan couldn’t have appointed his ministers alone. There were recommendations. There is no one person that can appoint everybody. It is not possible. It is like me in the state today. I cannot go round the 22 local governments. Even though I may have friends, I cannot dictate that all of them will be commissioners. The party leadership is there. They have a role to play. You did not make yourself the governor all alone. People played roles. So you must give them a hand to contribute to the government. In governance, in government appointments, if anyone tells you that the president does all, it is a lie.
How did his defeat not surprise you?
It did not surprise me because, having gone round during the campaign, I saw that there was a lot of deceit. It was too late then. Some of his minsters would tell him, ‘Oh, sir, as I speak to you now, so and so state is down for PDP.’ But they were in Abuja. I don’t want to go too far. It pains. Nigeria has 36 states. Even as a governor of Rivers State of 22 local governments, it will be difficult for you to monitor everywhere. It would be difficult. In Rivers, it is even possible for me to try to monitor everywhere. You know, in every local government, if there are ten or 10 leaders, it is possible to closely follow them. But the president cannot do that in 36 states. Nigeria is too big. It’s not easy for me here, but I try – because I have been here all along. I’ve played the politics of this state for long. I know every nook and cranny of this state.
Is that what you mean by bumper-to-fender tactic?
Yes. In politics, it is not a question of not trusting you. In politics, one needs to also be careful. Human beings can be complicated; they can do anything. I trust people but I am also very, very careful. In the Bible, didn’t they say, ‘Trust only God, not man?’ (Laughter). So, why do you think I should give you my trust 100 per cent? Are you God? I cannot do that. It is only God I give my 100 per cent trust. But man, I won’t do it. God is the only one that will never fail and cannot fail. But man can fail you.
You watched Elder Orubebe at the INEC headquarters throwing tantrums when the final results were to be declared. What went on in your mind?
Well, the truth of the matter is Orubebe didn’t do anything outside what any committed PDP member would have done in the circumstance.
You support what he did?
I did. Of course, why not? You saw clear rigging. I don’t like a system where you see something is going wrong and you keep quiet. You see, in Nigerian politics, you know the system and know the court. The court hardly overturns the supposed people’s mandate out of a consideration not to cause political crisis. So, what they will tell you is, ‘Leave whatever the electoral umpire says and go to the court.’ That is what they will tell you. The fortunate thing was that there were (party) agents in the various states; the unfortunate thing is that they were mostly compromised. They compromised.
If you were in Jonathan’s shoes, what would you have done?
I don’t want to put myself in that position now. I respect Jonathan but I don’t want to put myself in that shoe now. I won’t lie to you. I won’t put myself there. I will not. In Rivers, we will not allow anyone to thwart the wishes and aspirations of our people. So, we are prepared. I won’t put myself in that position. I won’t.
You head the reconciliation committee of PDP. There were reports you would try and bring people like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo back. How true is that?
Do you bring back somebody who is willing or somebody who is not willing? Let’s not jump the gun; we will see the work. I have been hearing stories about Wike and Atiku and all of that. That’s why I said the press is part of our problem in Nigeria. In fact, if today I see Atiku (former vice president) at an occasion and I went to greet him, then they will say I was in essence going to woo him back; all kinds of speculations – unnecessary speculation that is not healthy for the polity. But if Atiku feels like coming back to the party, his former house, what is wrong with that? If he feels like returning to his former house, what is wrong with that? They, APC, didn’t they go and woo people? They can’t stop us from wooing anybody. If we are interested, we will woo anybody. That blackmail and propaganda cannot stop us. Is it not a proper political arrangement? What’s the crime in wooing people? Who told you we would not woo people like (Asiwaju Bola) Tinubu, (Alhaji Rabiu) Kwankwaso? You see, whether they will come or not is immaterial. Those of them that the APC wooed, did they all join APC? Who told you that we would not go and woo prominent APC governors? That does not mean they will come. All the APC leaders at the National Assembly, were they not PDP people? What is all this trouble about wooing and not wooing?
You dragged yourself into the the controversy surrounding the $43million found in a Lagos apartment some months ago which the authorities said belongs to the National Intelligence Agency, but you claimed the money belongs to Rivers. A Federal Government panel headed by the vice president has since met and submitted a report to the president. Are you still standing by your claims?
Yes, but you and I know the truth. Now I challenge them to make the report public.
But they said it belongs to the Federal Government.
Which federal government? Let them come out and tell us.
You promised to go to court. Have you taken any step to reclaim the money?
No. Don’t worry. Let them come out with their report. Did they consider it fit and proper to invite Rivers State government to be part of the panel in the first place? They should have invited Rivers State government to be part of the panel if truly they wanted to be transparent.
Can’t you go to court yourself?
Don’t worry. When the truth comes out, it will shock Nigerians. When people get to hear about the real truth, they would be shocked. You will see the earthquake. They said $43million is for NIA, used for overt, covert operations, this one, that one. When did federal government sign the money for them? Look, we have not heard the last word on this issue.
How did you arrive at that conclusion that the money belongs to Rivers State?
In law, what is important is evidence, not the source of evidence. Is the evidence relevant? Yes. How I got it or the source is immaterial; it is immaterial. How I got my source or my information is not your business. What you should consider is the relevance of that evidence to the issue.
Are you ready to pursue this to the end?
You just wait and see. Let them come out with their report. They say they bug phones. They think they are the only one who can bug people’s phones? We will tender our own bombshell. Let Nigerians wait. You see, technology has gone far beyond you bugging Governor Wike’s line. What are you bugging? I have never planned a coup before and I won’t plan a coup. But we will tender our own when you were talking about this money. (Laughs)
Let us go back to the midnight raid by the DSS on some Supreme Court judges in Port Harcourt some months back. You virtually threw yourself in the way. Why did you take that risk?
That is not a risk. For me, it is standing up for what is right and just. Death will come when it will come. You can sleep and not wake up. You can be in your house and a plane will crash and fall on it and you will die. That you are fighting against impunity in Nigeria is not a risk; no it is not. I prefer to die that way than dying while I am sleeping. In fact, let me tell you: this thing happened when there was serious tension in Rivers State. Kidnapping was so high. I was out in one of my leader’s house. I got a report that the whole of Forces Avenue was in confusion. They said there were people who were wearing black shirts, carrying heavy weapons. I asked why. I didn’t go out with security men; I went out with a car and a backup, no DSS, nothing. So I told my leader that I was going. He said I should wait. I said no. If this is the way death is coming, let it be so. He wanted to lock his gate. I just moved out. When I got there, I met them. I asked them, ‘Who are you?’ They said they were DSS. I asked, ‘What is the time now?’ They said, ‘After 12am’. I told them, ‘See your office just few metres away, see the judge’s house, why couldn’t you pick the judge in the morning or afternoon? Why this period?’ Anyway, I started calling the director, DSS (Directorate of State Services). The phone was not going through. I got another one, he didn’t pick. I think they now got to him that I had come there and he now came. I had to physically get involved to rescue the judge.
You got involved physically?
Yes. And I will do it again. I was waiting for them to shoot me. As a governor, I have responsibility to fight for every person on Rivers’ soil under duress. Why would you pick a judge by midnight? Is it a coup? And their office shares a boundary with the judge’s house, because that area is close to judges’ quarters. The judge in question was a woman for that matter. I said no. Nobody could tell what might happen if they took her away. Who knows whether they were sent to eliminate her and later blame it on kidnappers? The next thing they would say is that Rivers was unstable; Oh, in Rivers State, they are now killing judges, whereas it was being sponsored from outside to destabilize the state. I told myself it was better they killed me first. We will not allow this to happen. That was what happened. But it is not a risk, I can tell you. It is not a risk. It would only be a risk if I am going on the road and armed robbers show up. Then, it is a risk. But I will rather stand against impunity and die and say, ‘Oh, to God be the Glory’ rather than stand by and watch the rights of any Rivers man or woman trampled by the oppressors. God’s name will continue to be praised. Anyway, each morning I leave home for work, I tell my wife that if I come back, to God be the glory. If I don’t come back, that’s how God wants it. I have nothing to worry about. That’s me. The security men have done so many things to eliminate me. Everybody knows. So, what is it? Am I alive because I am strong? No, it is because God said, ‘No, you won’t die now.’
Can you share with us any specific instance when they tried to eliminate you?
So many times. Have you not heard about the policemen, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) commander, one Akin Fakorede, who has said that he would kill me, and I wrote to the IG and the IG, I was told, rebuked him.
When was this?
When we were having this re-run election. You see, they plot a lot of things ahead of the 2019 elections and I laugh. They have started plotting who will be assistant commissioner of police for operations, deputy commissioner of police, operations, so they would be in charge of the election. But they forget to realize that, that is their own plot; what about the plot of God?
During a church thanksgiving after the court affirmed your mandate last year, you were quoted as saying something to the effect that Dr. Peter Odili who is husband to a Supreme Court Justice, Justice Mary Odili, fixed the judgement. What role did Odili play in securing the judgement?
You see, it was all fabrication by our political opponents out of mischief. When you see criminals, they always think everyone acts like them.
What do you mean by that?
There was nothing like that. While speaking that day, I only said I wanted to appreciate Dr. Peter Odili for standing by us, giving us moral support, asking us not to lose faith, to be hopeful that God Almighty would fight us, be our advocate against those who were bent on oppressing us. Dr. Odili has been someone whom God used to mentor all of us politically since 1999. I don’t know anybody in Rivers State from 1999 to date who did not pass through Dr. Peter Odili’s mentoring to get to where he or she is today politically. It is not hidden that he is a PDP member. Is it hidden? It has never been hidden that he is a PDP member. He is experienced and he understood what I was passing through. While we were in court, sometimes he would come around and give us words of encouragement. He would say, ‘I know how you are feeling. I know you may not be concentrating, I will advise that you concentrate, the will of God will always prevail.’ Sometimes he would call and ask, ‘Where are you?’ I would say, ‘I am at home. I didn’t go to the office today.’ He would say, ‘Why did you do that? Don’t make your supporters lose hope. What you must show is character that will rekindle hope for your supporters. But if you begin to do this, you will kill their hopes. If it is the will of God that you will not be governor, there is nothing you can do about it. We believe, as Christians, that God cannot take you to this level and bring you down.’ That is the kind of wonderful morale boosting words we constantly got from Dr. Odili, our political leader.
At the service, I thought I should seize the opportunity to thank him for standing by us when our enemies were already celebrating they would use power to oppress and crush us. Now, these political desperadoes decided to twist my words to say Dr. Odili fixed the judgement for us. When we heard, we just laughed at their level of desperation. They don’t have the fear of God at all. God will judge them accordingly for lying against an innocent man and his wife. While telling that lie, they did not tell people that we had challenged the jurisdiction of the matter to the Supreme Court. Mrs. Odili was in the panel. The Supreme Court dismissed our appeal. The tribunal gave judgement on Saturday, for example; the next Monday was the Supreme Court judgement on jurisdiction. Mrs Odili was a member of that panel. They dismissed our appeal. Now in the substantive matter, Mrs. Odili was not a member of panel, and we won. Now they said it was a purchased judgement through Odili. Does that make sense to you? That’s why I said fear criminals; criminals – see how they behave. My brother, it does not matter what anybody says; my wife knows that it will be incomplete to write our story without mentioning the family of Dr. Peter Odili. So, why am I going to deny that? It has never been hidden that he is a PDP member. Is it hidden? What’s wrong with acknowledging a man who has helped me in life, like I acknowledge other people? Is it because his wife is a justice? Now, is it a crime? So, if I mentored people in life, they cannot acknowledge me because my wife is a judge? These are evil people. Can Rotimi Amaechi tell the story of his life and he won’t mention Peter Odili? Can Dakuku Peterside say anything without mentioning Peter Odili? Who? Is it Celestine Omehia? Is it Abiye Sekibo? If you can’t appreciate people who mentor you in life who are alive and people can see, how are we to believe you will appreciate God Almighty who no one has seen?
But it was reported that you courted the then Chief Justice with your repeated attempts to see him and finally gate crashed his office. Wasn’t that enough to raise suspicions of compromise?
That’s why I said they are criminals. When I came on board, there was a controversy on the appointment of chief judge then; so I went to him. I am saying this because there was a controversy. You don’t just go to the office of the chief justice without an appointment. Since we were having this stalemate in judiciary in Rivers State before I came, my priority was to try and resolve it so that the courts could quickly resume. It was only proper that the chief justice be briefed on our efforts to resolve it. So I went to the Supreme Court, booked audience, but they said he was not around, that he travelled, that I should come on Wednesday. I said OK. On Wednesday I went. They were meeting. I think the Body of Benchers was meeting. So I left. I now wrote the letter that I had appointed this person as acting chief judge. I did that because I was advised to just give him that honour by telling him; because there was a lingering crisis on the appointment of the chief judge of Rivers State. So I was not just going to announce. We wanted to give him that honour by telling him ahead.
Even assuming I had a sinister motive, would I go to his office in the broad daylight to see him? Haba! That tells you the low mentality of these political desperadoes who specialize in peddling falsehood against us in Rivers. So when they resort to such low tactics, we just laugh at their idiocy. It is absolute rubbish. If the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court wants to ‘chop’ (take) bribe, is it in his office you will go and give him? You can’t even respect that office. If not, how can you ever condescend that low to demean the office of the Chief justice of Nigeria? What rubbish is that? We are building a befitting Judges’ Quarters here in Rivers here. We are not only building for Rivers State judges, but judges from Rivers State who are serving at the federal level must also benefit from the project. We invited the CJN, which is within the judiciary function; he came. The next thing these comedians went to town with is, ‘Oh, Wike now has the chief justice in his pocket.’ Haba! We need to respect the office. Forget about who is there.
In the first place, do you remember that Justice Onnoghen, the CJN today, was in the panel that ruled on October 25, 2007, that Amaechi should be the governor even when he did not run in an election? Justice Onnoghen, Justice Musdapha, Justice Katsina Alu, Justice Mahmood, Justice Tanko were in that panel; Justice Oguntade read the lead judgement. This Justice Onnoghen was in the panel that gave judgement that it is not the person, that it is the party that stands in election. Therefore, since it is the party that won election and he (Amaechi) was the party’s valid candidate, he was the one that won the election. Thereafter, under Amaechi, every October 25, we did thanksgiving, celebrating Supreme Court’s judgement, calling it Judgment of Hope, Judgment for the Masses, Judgment for the People.
Today, the Supreme Court does not stand for that anymore; what an irony. Every October 25, we celebrated the Supreme Court’s judgement that brought Amaechi to government. We used to sing: ‘You are the lord, you are the king…’ What kind of country is this? When the judgement was passed for a man who was in Ghana and never stood for an election, we celebrated the Supreme Court. Today the same man, without respect for the court, closed the court for two years and nobody will say anything; nobody will condemn it?
A tape, suggesting that you bribed some INEC officials and were even threatening to kill them if they didn’t ‘deliver’ in the re-run poll, was released some months back. Did you do it?
You know, when they say they are fighting corruption, instead of them to fight corruption, they go into fabrication.
Did you do it…?
Was that not your voice?
Which voice? I am surprised that any intelligent person could ever believe such childish things. Don’t you know how government operates? Didn’t they also clone the voices of (Governor) Shettima (of Borno) and Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun, the other day and attribute some nasty things to them which the governors later denied? Was that correct? What are we talking about? Assuming, though not conceding, that I ever threatened, what is threat? It is such a cowardly thing to say or try to do, to try and clone someone’s voice and you now put such a nasty statement to the person. It shows the level of desperation to pull Wike down. But I only laugh. Let them come to me face-to-face and say we met with you and you said so and so. By now, you should know that I am a very blunt person who is ready to stand up for my convictions. I am not the type who will say something and tomorrow will deny saying so. Remember, as a law-abiding person, I went to court to challenge that nonsense and the court ruled in our favour. This is purely political.
So that conversation never took place?
It never took place. That was the handiwork of some mischief-makers.
But why would they do that?
Why would they not do that? I am a threat to them. I am a problem, according to them. Even when I am a peaceful man, they must bring Wike down by all means.
Over one year after the federal government promised to start the clean-up of Ogoniland, nothing has happened after much fanfare. Have you received any explanations for this?
Is there any clean-up? They did that when we wanted to do the re-run election. Let us tell ourselves the truth. You people know the truth. They will bring it up next year. This clean-up issue will come up next year towards 2019 election. But who are they deceiving? They want to deceive Rivers State as if we don’t know anything. (General laughter). We want to do clean-up; for God’s sake, for how many years now? What has been done? These are nothing but political gimmicks to deceive our people. But the people are wiser than that now.
IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, has said that he considers Rivers a legitimate part of the Biafran country. And he said there would be no election except a referendum is done. Do you agree with him?
Where is that? Where will there be no election? Referendum? Why do we promote what does not exist? If the Federal Government had not gone to arrest and detain him, would all these things be coming up? You only succeed in making people to shine and be popular? How can he say Rivers State is part of Biafra? He is not fair. It is not a fair comment. I didn’t want to say this because many Rivers people, elders, have talked about it. But it is unfair. With all due respect, we are close to the Igbo. Rivers State is a place where everybody comes to do business and we encourage it. But it will amount to taking things a bit too far if he begins to make this kind of statement that will ignite a problem.
I want to believe he is just joking. We would not take that. If a problem comes, who are those to lose? Don’t ignite problems. It is not necessary. Two, like I said, I don’t believe all that the media publish these days; because, sometimes, what they publish may not be correct. There is too much sensationalism these days. The way the media handles things; sometimes you don’t even know which is the truth. I have never met Nnamdi Kanu. I have never spoken to him one day. If you remember, when IPOB started, I was the first governor from the South-South who made a state broadcast that I would not accept that. What the ruling party at the national level did then was that they went behind me to instigate them to fight me here in Rivers because we have a lot of Igbo traders here. But I told them it would backfire on them, not me. So, who has now been vindicated?
Do you know that our political opponents instigated them in Abuja to investigate me – that I was one of the sponsors? Ask them. It is not hidden. With what has happened, who has now been vindicated. They look at the narrow political interest; I look at the bigger picture. They think of the next election, I am thinking of the next generation. I insist it is important we learn where to draw the line between petty politics and the issue of governance. Meanwhile, I was the first to do a state broadcast, saying enough is enough to IPOB; that we will not take this in Rivers. But the same people went back to peddle falsehood against me. But I told them they would suffer for it. So who has now been vindicated? There is nothing I have not passed through. It is madness trying to link me with such. But, like I told them, because they are focused on me and chasing shadows in Rivers, the problem they have they can’t come out of it – until they remove their hands from Rivers State. We are God’s anointed. And remember what the Lord said, ‘Touch not my anointed.’ God will not stop to fight our battles.
What keeps you awake at night as governor?
The problems of our people; the problems of Rivers State. When you move around in Rivers today, it is if nothing was done in the last eight years before we came on board. So there are many problems we have had to tackle head-on. The more you battle them, the more you realize there is still much more to be done. But the consolation is that at least the people appreciate the genuine efforts we are making to improve their condition of living. So, thinking of how to solve the many problems keeps me awake at night. Remember, we are grassroots politicians who have spent our entire political lives relating with the people at the grassroots level. We feel the people’s pains. We know what they want. How I wish we had all the resources to solve all the problems. But we have what matter most – the vision and the courage to manage the resources we have to bring development to the greater percentage of our people. Sometimes I move round at midnight just to have first-hand information of the situation. That is how I work. Sometimes I come across some roads our people ply and I feel like crying, ‘Oh, my God, look at this road; how would the people pass here? How do they cope?’
Especially the federal roads…
I don’t want to go there. As far as I am concerned, Rivers State is no longer part of Nigeria. You see, if we are, they can’t keep us off the radar of amenities. But I am happy that Rivers State people can now see those who love them and those who don’t love them. How do I sleep? How? A man who has a problem in his heart, can he sleep? Yes, you try to sleep, but it is not easy.