‘Funding our projects is big challenge’

How would you react to the allegation by a senator that governors are frustrating the constitutional amendment process?

It is not everything that is alleged to have been spoken by people that should be reacted to. People will say all sorts of things on virtually all subjects and you can’t begin to reply to everything.

But have you been frustrating it?

How would I know that? Just tell me one role the governors are playing in the constitution amendment. Since when have the governors become the legislative arm of government? If you ask me, I think that question does not require an answer. What the senator is saying, in effect, is that there are no state Assemblies and there is no National Assembly; the governors have constituted themselves into state Assemblies and the National Assembly at the same time.

But we all know that the governors have enormous influence on their senators and House of Representatives members?

No, that is not true. We have absolutely no influence over anybody. You can ask Senator Magnus Abbey, who was here with me this morning. Did you watch the 2012 Budget presentation of Rivers State? Mr. Speaker blasted me and as he finished, we sat here and ate food. Many people were shocked, no quarrel. I said no need to quarrel because he was playing his role as a Speaker. He blasted me, saying “you are doing well, you have so many projects that you are doing, but you are not completing them; you have to complete them and consolidate them and stop this expansion of projects, we will not approve any further expansion, but we will consolidate”. I said thank you sir. I came home and rested. If I controlled the House, would he have said that?

You are against autonomy of local government…

Look, governors are one of the most patriotic elements in this country. There is no country in the world that has three federating units. There are only two. Why should you say that there must be third federating units in Nigeria?

In other words you are opposed to the autonomy of local government?

Of course, yes! Let a state governor or let the states create as many local government areas as they want to create. Don’t put it there as a constitutional issue. Why would you accuse some governors of mismanaging resources? How? In Rivers State, they not only collect their money directly, they collect my two billion monthly, ask them. I pay the salaries of all their teachers and that is two billion per month. If you take away that, my wage bill will come down to six billion per month.

Should we say you and your colleagues have lost the battle for the creation of state police?

I don’t want to discuss that issue. Until the constitution is amended, how can you know what is lost and what is won?

Recently, Professor Jibril Aminu described the Governors Forum as an oppressive body. What is your reaction?

No response to Jibril Aminu. I say leave Governors Forum alone. You can’t respond to everything.

You are building 24 model boarding secondary schools in each of the 24 local government areas which will admit 1050 students. Have you thought about the manpower to sustain it?

This January we are employing 13,000 teachers. And now, if you say we are in control of the Assembly, I may now ask you, how? We would have done this since October last year, but the Assembly stopped it by resolution and we obeyed the resolution. Up till now, we have not resolved the issue. If you watch my town hall meeting at Asatoro, there was an altercation between me and Mr Speaker live on the platform. I was trying to incite Asatoro people against him because he is from Asatoro when I said by now we would have finished employing teachers and some of your students would have been in school, but your son stopped us. Please beg your son. He came up and took the microphone from me and said the governor didn’t go through the proper process. So, we stopped him. So, I took over the microphone from him and said, yes, we did not, but your son didn’t remember from the beginning until when we were already issuing letters of employment that he said stop. So, beg him now that he should hurry because we want to give the letters by January. So, people started shouting and he said okay we will allow him to send the letters, I said we have won. But he stopped us from October. If we were in control of the House, who will stop us?

At a point the issue of kidnapping…

No kidnapping in Rivers State.

The schools and the hospitals in your projects are designed to be free for all citizens.How do you hope to ensure the sustainability of these projects after you must have left in 2015?

Power won’t be free, people have to pay for power. Within my period in office, they will be sustainable. I will continue to manage my resources in such a way that people will enjoy free education and free healthcare services. In planning for good education and health, you must know that affordability goes together with accessibility. If it is not affordable you will loose more lives, if you don’t educate people you will run into more crisis. So, if you want to educate people and have the society that is properly developed, then, you must make education both affordable and accessible. So, if you build schools every where and nobody can afford them, then nobody will go to those schools. As a temporary measure, government must be able to bear the responsibility of funding. The benefits of that can’t be quantified. About 80 per cent of all those criminals claiming to be Niger Delta fighters did not go to primary schools because they could not afford it.

I just had a meeting in the morning on establishing an educational training centre by the Israelis. They are coming and Germans will also be coming this month. The Israelis have just started. At the university level, you are made to pay because that is a choice, but we have to give free education up to secondary school level that will liberate your mind and allows your mental capacity to be able to make decisions that will better your future.

Do you have the requisite personnel to mange the medical equipment?

These are hi-tech equipment. An American firm will manage those two centers. But on the third one, we are talking to an Indian group. I don’t know who will manage it yet, but if it doesn’t work, then, we will give it back to the Americans. Their job is to take care of all the patients while ours is to pay for all the patients. So, it doesn’t matter whether they say it is this or that. When I go, it will be left for the next governor. If he likes, he could introduce fees. He or she is free.

Would you consider backing your successor up with a law so that nobody can change it over night when you leave in 2015?

No. Let the governor take his own decision. I tell people that, by the time the next governor comes, he won’t be facing primary schools because I would have gone far. Yes, he will be facing the primary schools to the extent that the more children are coming, the more schools he will build. What we met on ground when we came in terms of primary school pupils was 150,000. Now, we have over 300,000. So, I have to provide for the extra 150,000.

How much does it costs you to build one of those primary schools?

It is N112 million per primary school and that does not include furnishing.

What about the secondary schools?

The secondary school is N4.5 billion without furnishing.

You are planning to build a university, but Rivers State has a University of Science and Technology.

That is the one we are just trying to move to the permanent site.

How about the funding of your projects?

Funding is critical in the sense that we are pushing hard on Internally Generated Revenues (IGR). When we came, it was N2.5 billion. Now we a doing N6.5 and our target this year is N8 billion. We want to see whether we can pay our recurrent expenditure on IGR. If we do that, then, the money we get from the FAAC will be channeled into the projects but funding is a big challenge.

Do you have fears for 2015?

I have no fears at all.

Who are you bringing to take over from you?

There is nothing like that in my agenda.

Can you sum up your vision for Rivers State?

If I am allowed to do that, then I would say quality education, health, power and transportation. You see, I don’t emphasize roads. There is just one road we are building now, the Trans-Amadi Road. It is going to take about three flyovers; one at Garrison, one at Slaughter and another at Nbogo Junction. It is going to cost N47 billion. It is 10 kilometers long. There is another new road we are going to build now to the airport to decongest Aba Road. It is going to cost N200 billion and fifty percent of that will be spent on bridges with about four flyovers and inter-changes.

So far, the planning tells you that we have a design that we call the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan. It takes cares of both the old and the new cities. It was designed in South Africa. And they said, if you don’t build those roads, they have designed for you very soon, Port Harcourt will implode. And I give you an example. Port Harcourt is like a human being with so much cholesterol. If you don’t open it up, it will block inside and you die. But if you open it up, the blood can flow. All these roads are being done according to the master plan. We have the mono-rail which will also take out passengers. It is 25 -kilometre-long.

Don’t you worry about maintenance of what you are putting on ground? Are you considering who will take over from you in 2015?

Leave that to God.

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