First published in BD Sunday
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has been marking his third year in office (many call it his third semester) and it seems loaded with activities. The biggest event may perhaps be his ‘world press conference’ which was attended by almost 200 journalists, yet not all journalists in the state were there. It afforded many newsmen who had not seen him except on television the opportunity. His commissioner of information, the barrister, Emma Okah, hinted earlier that the governor specifically asked for that meeting. Face to face with the Port Harcourt media family has been rare but things may change, because as Segun Owolabi of Rhythm FM who moderated said, many questions abound.
The governor came prepared, and as Segun observed, no suit, no fancy. The governor put on a blue shit with thin stripes and fitting trousers and smart shoes a fighter would envy. The knuckles were bare. So, it was a combat, and so it was.
Full of fights?
The first thing an observer would want to interpret was the fact that he did not take opening speech or preambles. The tradition was for the CEO to give remarks in which he would enumerate his achievements and allow you to take over the interactive sessions, thereby converting it to a speech-making event. Wike chose a straight fight. This may show his opponents that the champion was full of fights.
Straight and simple
Most of his answers were straight and simple. Most personality and management coaches advise their clients to keep it ‘simple and straight’. When the opening arrow came; what are your next plans after the success of Operation Zero Pothole? He said “Provision of infrastructure is a continuous exercise and wherever we find need, we use the budgets to accommodate and address it.” When a fighter is in this mood, opponents can only be careful.
And the venom came. Wike went straight to revealing a scandal-like scenario that shows he has many bullets for anything federal. “For instance, there is this N1.8Bn joint project with the NDDC for the Mother and Child Specialist Hospital in Port Harcourt. The NDDC asked the Rivers State government to pay N800m while they would pay N1Bn. The Rivers State Government paid their own N800m but the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded the contract and paid only N400m which is half of what the Rivers State Government released to them. Up till now, they have not paid their own N1Bn, they have not even released the remaining N400m that we paid since 2008 till 2018. We wrote to the NDDC to either contribute their quota or refund the money. They did none to this day. The job was abandoned; but it is important to our people. So, we now renewed the contract. The contractor demanded for review of cost and we haggled to N2Bn and we have paid N1.6Bn so far. It will take huge sums to equip it to international standards.”
He hinted that his administration could give the place out on concession for stable maintenance.
BusinessDay later reached out to the NDDC on the matter. The Director, Public Affairs, a chief, Ibitoye Abosede, said there was no controversy in the matter and that the Commission did not contend with Wike. He said paucity of funds was cause of delay of execution and that since the state government could not cope with the delays, they asked to take over and were allowed. He said the NDDC had paid out over N495m to the contractor, Rehab Vital Solutions. He said the initial plan was to build a three-floor facility but due to security reasons (the place is near a military facility), they had to scale it down to two floors. Abosede said work had reached 40 per cent before handover to the Rivers State government in 2017. He said the Commission was making efforts to refund the balance.
Wike was throwing blows left and right as he walked along the long media road. He said civil servants were always trying to use government projects to make money by allowing it to deteriorate, saying he was considering concessioning the Cultural Centre to independent managers too. Chibuike Amaechi used to speak this way and gave many facilities including the N4.5Bn international secondary school at Tai to Educom to manage.
Passion for health:
Wike strayed into the health sector unasked. “I have established a medical college in Rivers State University (formerly UST). The BMH is being upgraded and rebuilt, too. The past administration initiated zonal hospitals system but most of the buildings in the various locations were at early levels. We are completing them. The day we complete them and commission them, people would they, oh, the projects were 95 per cent completed before they left.” Watch the jab to the opposition (Amaechi and his APC).
You could see grooming. For every point he scores from his achievement, he gave a knock at the opposition. It was always plus one minus one.
Rivers people seem happy to hear what the past governor did wrong and how the present governor is repairing it; though they are always angered to hear what Goodluck Jonathan administration did wrong and the Buhari administration is repairing it. For instance, on why he was not releasing promotions, he said the past administration promoted without paying and asked why they did not hold them. He mentioned the UST, but however promised to pay. There was huge applause.
Security without security
When asked his greatest achievement, he named security. When asked his greatest challenge, same insecurity. Many wondered how a man can take first and last in same examination. For instance; “What do you consider your greatest achievement and your greatest challenge? Answer; Restoring security or stability in the state is my greatest achievement though no society is crime-free. My greatest challenge is still same insecurity; violence, getting people safe. I am happy to bring back security”.
This throws up the governor’s persistent lambasting of media men as those painting the picture of insecurity in the state where he said there was none. He has admitted that insecurity was and is still his administration’s challenge but that he fighting it. He cannot be fighting what does not exist. He voted N22bn in 2018 budget to fight more. So, take heart, journalists, and take the blame, but take solace in this great confession.
His latest strategy on security could the law establishing the Rivers State Neighbourhood Corps. “It is when you stay alive that you can go to work or do business.”
Who wants to kill the governor; who is always leaking it?
The interaction drove to a dangerous lane. Someone asked if he meant it when he said he uncovered plots to assassinate him and how he knew. Answer: “The position in Nigeria at the moment is that people are desperate for power. When we said, they want to give me the DSP (framing and arresting DSP Alamieseigha of Bayelsa State those days) treatment, it is no empty alarm. The senate president, Olusola Saraki raised his own alarm. I wonder why people cannot have a different view anymore. See what is happening to Dino Melaye. The alarm I raised is not empty. When we raised alarm that INEC indicted a certain SARS commander, we had documents, and we went ahead to mention the particular page in the INEC report where they said the said commander beat up INEC officials and hijacked ballot boxes. We only helped to show it to the world. We should rather be commended. They always ask how I knew. I say, do not ask how I knew but is it true? Deny it, if it’s not true. We have information on every set up”.
End SARS continues
If they know how to fight so well, why did they not take out Don Wanni all these years? He even attacked my wife’s convoy. I said, ok, we will see. I set about it.
They want to shut down the court to cause crisis. I am too steps ahead of them. I came prepared for this. They want to impound our accounts but they forget there is an EFFC judgment saying nobody should tamper with the Rivers State account. They have to vacate that judgment first before tampering with our accounts, anywhere.
Am not afraid of court
Wike recently took front page adverts in most top national newspapers to reveal what he termed SARS’s infractions during the rerun elections in the state. A journalist alerted Wike that the IGP has asked the SARS Commander (Fakorede) to him for defamation of character. Wike countered; “I am not afraid of court action. It is an irony that those who do not obey court order want to go to court now. The way I am looking at these people, they look like people who want to write election results.’
Refering to his predecessor (Amaechi), he said; “You did your eight years, you won’t allow us to do ours. Must you continue to put people in position here? You even did eight years as speaker, why not thank God and go on with life? Are you the owner of the state? Is it your personal matter? If you like, bring the submarine, it won’t work. Look, the day I finish and leave here, I will not look back or want to know who takes over. Let the people decide. Must you violate all known rules just to install somebody?
Even you, press people
Newsmen were Wike guests and preys at the same time, maybe not preys but punching bags. First, he said journalists were also on his radar for surveillance. (They have always been). “We have intelligence on you people. We know what you do.”
“The press people are part of de-marketing of the state by daily reporting violence. Try and write good stories, not juts bad ones. Everyday; “Rivers of Blood.”
No government official has reported to the NUJ one single story about insecurity that was untrue. He said most Journalists in the state were unhappy that their friend (Amaechi) lost but that they should learn to manage their sentiments and report the truth.
Most journalists have however learnt to put up with this job hazard. But, let no middle man intervene when husband is beating his wife oh, somebody hissed from the press gallery. Gov Wike will still be the first person to jump into the ring to rescue any journalist that is in trouble. Allow him to insult them as he likes; do not help him. Emma Okah grinned all through as his principal whipped his friends. He knew better. It was same Wike that mid-wifed most of the friendships he complained about. He was Amaechi’s chief of staff and his 2011 re-election chief. He won many media men to Amaechi. That is why most journalists say if loving Amaechi is a crime, Wike is the biggest offender. The governor must know that Amaechi’s early media ‘friends’ were mostly Assembly Correspondents where he was speaker for eight years. Most media ‘friends’ from the mainstream media came to him from Wike, Blessing Wikina (CPS), Freddy Ndigbara (Blessing’s assistant), and Ibim Semenitari (his acclaimed information commissioner.
Nigeria Info FM station came under persistent fire. Wike has never gone there to talk to the Rivers people. He said they were always broadcasting fake comments. The media aides must help to explain that opinions are from callers. They also say worse things on the president. Their news bulletins stay with the facts while callers stay with opinion which is free. In America, the biggest gift to the citizens is liberty (right to opinion and right to a gun). In Nigeria, the biggest is same liberty (right to opinion and right to government money). In the US, the second right is being threatened or questioned; in Nigeria, the second right is being threatened or questioned. So, freedom of expression remains the biggest gift in a true democracy, plus the right to be yapped by the governor or other hazards of talking too much.
This narrative about the media is not just to share fun but to help interpret the inner minds of Gov Wike. He loves newsmen but he does not spare them in tongue-lashing nor fear their poisoned pens. It also shows that he is man who wants hold the ‘four aces’ in any game he is involved in. When he is not, he seems to blow out. Those around him may not hold much onto the leach because he has strong opinions on any matter he is interested in. So, in the coming days, Wike may fight harder to ensure that what he does not control does not control him. That also is the beauty of a plural press system. Most journalists resolved after that encounter to be more meticulous in building the pegs and facts of their stories so that at no time can they be found wanting in facts of any story. After all, Gov Wike only asked that the truth be written, not minding who your friend is. That is the greatest gift any leader can give to the press.
Wike will force Peterside to drive home this time
Those outside the riverine areas won’t understand this logic. Most people in the deltaic areas do not go home by car but by canoe (or now boat). Dakuku Peterside, the DG of NIMASA is one of them. The state has been struggling with N37bn to create a road almost on water to Opobo his home town from the Ogoni areas. It began during Peter Odili, spanned through Amaechi (when Peterside was Works commissioner) and goes on now. Wike thinks Amaechi/Peterside did not try enough, Peterside said the road was over 90 per cent completed. Wike screams its untrue. So a pressman asked Wike thus: “Peterside said you should be prepared to go to jail when you go out of power, what is your reaction?”
Answer: “Its frustration that makes men talk anyhow. I assure you, it won’t happen. He wants to be governor and he has right to contest but he must look for what to contest with, the projects he or his FG/APC has done in Rivers State. He must drive on the road I constructed to his community from Ogoni (since he did not complete it when he was in power). I must force him to drive to his home. They awarded the road contract at N37Bn, I continued it. I pay N1Bn per month to RCC for that project.”
How ‘Mr Project’ funds projects
Wike always recalls how the then outgoing governor boasted that the incoming governor would not see money to pay salaries let alone execute projects. This was when federal allocation had crashed from almost N30Bn in some months to N5Bn, when salaries and overhead alone were over N9Bn per month. When asked about this, Wike said God was to take the credit. (The state gets almost N10Bn from FAAC and N7Bn from IGR some times.) He said he sets aside N4Bn each month for projects.
Hear him fully: “We negotiated down the huge contracts they awarded to enable us be efficient. For instance, they awarded the Sakpenwa Road in Ogoni at N14Bn but we negotiated it down to N9Bn. They inflated contracts everywhere. I also cut down on overhead from N1.6bn to N800m. I know that commissioners are not happy, civil servants are not happy, but it is sacrifice we must make to do projects in the state for the people. The way I pay contractors is: this month, I pay some contractors, some N500m, some N800m, some N1Bn. I bargain hard. They even say it.”
For months, many have said the commissioners are not feeding fat. Visit to the state secretariat will look like a trip to a demoralized community. Many say the governor holds tight to all money. Now, the landlord has explained his policy. He said he wants to do projects that would be of benefit to all, period. Those who want to get rich may have to look elsewhere.
How he intends to catch votes
“I will not say, vote for me, but take project. I will use commissioning of projects to campaign. Let my projects speak for me. We have money in Rivers State but the past governor used it to do national politics. I know who they sold each government project to. Let them come for campaigns and we will tell the Rivers people what they did.”
My room too has soot
Those who want to use soot to intimidate the governor may better know he too has soot, right in his bedroom. “See soot. My room has soot too. Security agencies are not under our control here in the state. I have called them agents of cancer and killing. I asked them to find other ways of disposing crude oil vessels but they said, well, they would look into it, but for now, they have to continue burning them. If I go and seal off NNPC which is another polluter (Refinery), they will call it sabotage.”
A suit for soot
“Everything is politicized. That is why we are sensitizing people on soot. We have reached an agreement with Agip and Total. They said they have a technology that can solve it. The soot can discourage investors just like the international airport at Omagwa is doing. We have asked Luscious Nwosu to sue the FG. He is an environment expert. Tyres are also a cause but we have set up a task force to pick up tyres and bring to a dump near the Isaac Boro Park. People burn these tyres every time and thick smoke will spiral into the sky. We commenced arrests and prosecution. We now plan to build a recycling plant for tyres but its not going to be quick. We cannot stop the security agencies quickly either.”
CP’s off and on phone
“Yes, the security agencies are not under our control. For instance, the day the high court was invaded, I called the Commissioner of Police and he said he would find out and get back to me. On hour later, he did not call back and I called him again but his phone was switched off. We consider it a serious matter because if there is no court, the government is gone. But the day the Army stormed their station and clash was imminent, he called me to intervene, and I said, so his number can now go?”
I have no reason to use violence to win
“I keep telling people that I have no reason to use crisis to get power because I have done so much for the people. Everywhere I go I will point at projects we did for them and win. It is those who have nothing to point to that need crisis to snatch power.
“On the threats, I am not afraid because death can come to you even in your bedroom. So, we will not give in to threats and manipulation will not work here.”
The professor, Ben Nwabueze, has said our democracy is threatened, my police was posted to me. I promise you they will not succeed in their plot to assassinate me. We are always ahead of them.
State owned media houses may yet smile digitally
The Tide newspaper has a chance to lead again at least in the South-South. The state’s FM that ruled the east is ruling Degema Street now. The television station (RSTv) seems to be watching others instead of being watched when it can be the leader through modern equipment, studios, and creative programming.
“The governor promised, just like many before him, to do something. “We are trying to get the RSTV to go digital and we hear the budget is N1.6Bn. We will ensure it is done. We will install the equipment procured at Radio Rivers too. We just want to do it on a renovated building. It will be done soon because it is one thing at a time.”
What th governor said in this sector has been published in BusinessDay. He said he depends on IGR to do more. He expects N10Bn per month and was ready to fire the revenue boss if this does not happen soon.
He has handed the state Rubber Plantation to SIAT of Belgium for doing well in managing RISONPALM (palm plantation). He mentioned some investors on the way in banana, trye recycling, rice project, etc. He talked about many loan schemes he has floated for doctors, civil servants, young traders, women, etc.
Do they win or buy awards?
“They (detractors) say I bought the awards; Sun, Leadership, Silver Bird, abroad, Sports, BusinessDay. How can somebody buy all these awards? If it is easy, go and buy.
The governor omitted some questions while answering, not out of nothing to say, no. BusinessDay man had sent in a question on whether it was true he had got proposal by the Marine Club of Nigeria (MCN) proposing partnership to develop a Maritime Free Trade Zone in Port Harcourt to house world class shipbuilding, maritime banks, maritime insurance, etc. This was expected to swallow all the pirates and bad boys into waiting jobs and create wealth in the area. He did not remember to react. We hope he hives us a chance to get the answers.
There was the issue of an AfDB loan to deliver world class water system in Port Harcourt. What held it back was the sign-off by the FG (ministry of finance) needed for draw down to start. It was completed by the Amaechi administration waiting for sign-off that never came due to the quarrels with Jonathan. Wike came and reviewed the loan and project and seemed to pursue it but it seems not coming also.
Federal officials oppressing Rivers State:
Wike persistently harries federal government for allegedly intimidating his state. Many wanted to ask him if this started now and if he felt the past administration did not also accuse him and the FG of same.
Police: Mbu Mbu was an issue at a time. Militants once blocked the government house, they say. These were blamed on some Rivers persons with powers in Abuja. He was one of them. Many therefore believe that it is all part of a prolonged political crisis. Before then, the state and FG were chummies. If the situation changes tomorrow and Wike is on top at the centre and Amaechi is at home, they would still accuse the centre of same. It shows that until the centre and the state align, intimidation would continue in Rivers State because of the need to gain the upper hand. The bad blood is already planted.
Wike points to the East West Road and PH International Airport as evidence of federal neglect. Many wondered if these were not the same thing Amaechi was saying. In fact, the quarrel came to open with East West Road and Orubebe. What Wike may be saying is; you people felt it was easy to do them, now, do them!
De-marketing: Many think even now, both parties are de-marketing Rivers State. Pointing out the evils done by the other against the state and showing how you are doing good is pure de-marketing. The investor hears all the evils you point out and runs away. This is because the evils, by you or your brother, are evil and is bad for his business. What markets a state is when you point at the good things your state has built up over the years and will continue to build up; the good policies, etc.
Press: The press thrives in bad news. They also report bad news caused by Wike’s opponents. In fact, the press here does not report kidnapping anymore, except profile ones or mass kidnapping. The pen is tired. The governor keeps winning awards and says he is not positively reported. His activities are all captured by his indefatigable press secretary and reported by the media nationwide. His own media (state owned) do not report his opponents and attack them daily. Buhari suffers far more pen attacks than any governor. Wike’s budgets get passed in hours or days; Buhari’s budgets get stuck for months. Gov Wike may have to look at the press again.
Wike kept showing how the Amaechi aministration inflated contracts and he is now reducing them. Amaechi, when he was governor, was always saying Wike collected school contracts and pocketed the money without doing them. Wike asked him to take it to court. He never did. Wike says he is unearthing things in in Rivers State where Amaechi ruled, Amaechi seems to be unearthing things at the centre where Wike worked too. So, who would have the last laugh; who is cleanly clean, then?
The world press conference was one of the best ever. The attendance was huge and of quality. The handling is described as superb, except for PAS problems caused by unplanned media recording systems. Many asked for more in the absence of ministerial briefings.
Many say the governor is has a good heart hidden inside covered with outward looks. It may be true.
That is the interpretation from his inner mind.