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Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha

Posted by By AUGUSTINE AVWODE & WILLY EYA on 2008/05/11 | Views: 809 |

Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha


Between 1999 and early 2007, Honourable Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi was Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly. He then aspired to be the next governor of the state. In the primaries to pick the partyís flag bearer, he scored over 96 per cent of the votes cast by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) delegates. Suddenly, the party hierarchy in Abuja thought otherwise.

* Odili asked me to go to court, turned his back on me Ė Gov Amaechi

Between 1999 and early 2007, Honourable Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi was Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly. He then aspired to be the next governor of the state. In the primaries to pick the partyís flag bearer, he scored over 96 per cent of the votes cast by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) delegates. Suddenly, the party hierarchy in Abuja thought otherwise.

At a well-attended political rally in Port Harcourt, former President Olusegun Obasanjo announced with relish that the party could no longer field Amaechi for the governorship race. Reason: ďThe matter get K-leg,Ē he had ruled. But Amaechi would not stomach such arbitrariness from his party.

More so, his political godfather, Dr Peter Odili, then the serving governor, encouraged him to challenge the partyís decision in court. Amaechi obliged! He soon faced serious pressure and even threat from sundry quarters to withdraw the case. He rebuffed all entreaties.

Six months after the general election had produced Sir Celestine Omehia, incidentally Amaechiís kinsman, and sworn in as governor, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, declared that indeed Amaechi was the bona fide candidate of the party. Thus, the apex court credited him with the votes cast at that election. On the orders of the court, therefore, Amaechi was sworn in as governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, succeeding Odili.

And in the last six months, Amaechi has been in the saddle.
Last Saturday, he spoke with Sunday Sun in Abuja without any airs at all. In a simple, unassuming manner, he talked about his modest achievements in Rivers, security, the stateís revenue profile, his relationship with God and those who stabbed him in the back. EXCERPTS:

Six months in the saddle, how has the journey been and what have you been able to achieve for your people?
I want to say that it has been extremely, very challenging. But I donít know what you expect me to tell you on what I have done. You should be asking of what Ďweí have done because we are operating like a team. So, let me say we have done a lot in different sectors. We have gone into the various sectors of the economy that can be funded by the same economy. By that, I mean that we have gone into public-private partnership.

As soon as I came in, that was one of the first things I announced: that government would no longer be a charity organization, neither would it continue to be a welfarist organization. We are going to do things in partnership with private investors. Already, we have gone into agreements with so many outfits. Like the First Bank, we went into an agreement with them to build a N50 billion Housing Estate. We call it the Rainbow Town Housing Estate.

There is one that will be built by some Chinese firms and about one or two other Nigerian firms but we expect that they should be in charge because it is their money. Our equity is the land. We have gone into an agreement with Silver Bird and I think they are on the site now to build a Mall, an International Conference Center and a Hotel. They have not started actual construction but they will certainly start between now and June. That one too, our equity is the land. We have also gone into an agreement with a company to build a $96 million hospital, which will be about 16 or 17 floors. The contribution of Rivers State government is 40 per cent.

We are already concluding an agreement with another company to build an 88 kilometre road round Port Harcourt, called the Port Harcourt Ring Road, which we have estimated will cost us $1 billion. But after that, the contractor that would be in charge wrote that, based on estimation of their experts, it would cost $700 million and not $1 billion. The company is to bring 60 per cent while we are to contribute 40 per cent of the fund.

I just concluded discussions, again, with a company from Canada that would build a Women and Childrenís hospital in the state for $50 million. It is going to be a 250-bed hospital. Again, they are to bring 40 per cent and we will bring the remaining 60. These are some of the things we have done and we are also looking at the Education and Health sectors.
We released a total of N2.5 billion for the Rivers State University of Science and Technology for renovation, equipping of the school and hiring of teachers. We are doing that to enable the school regain the accreditation of some departments, which have been de-accredited.

What we want to do is to help the school get to a standard where the affected departments would be re-accredited. We are also trying to build a new Rivers State University of Science and Technology. If you know the old Niger Hospital, we have demolished it to build a new one there.

By the time we came in, the old Niger Hospital was almost collapsing. It is just like we are about to demolish the old Dental Hospital along Aba Road. We are doing a new Health Center and we are very ambitious in this because our target is to build one Health Centre per ward and we have 319 of them. I hope we will achieve our ambition of completing them before we leave office. My target is to continue to build until the money is finished before we stop.

We have awarded the one in Okochiri, Ateke Tomís village. We seized the place which, he regarded as his camp and shooting range, it used to be called an evil forest but we are converting it to a Health Center.

That contract has been awarded and they are constructing already. We have also awarded one in Borokiri and one at Okija Street. There are three more we have awarded in the rural areas. Every ward we go to, we tick it and let us see how far we will go before we leave.

The secondary schools are our next target but again it is also an ambition. We want to build one school per local government area and they are to contain every modern thing that a secondary school should contain. We are yet to award the contract. We have done quite a lot and we are doing so many roads at least in Port Harcourt, the state capital.
We employed a South African company that is redesigning the Port Harcourt master plan and re-designing the new cities. We said we will build three new cities but we are starting with one first. So, the company is designing both the new and old cities.

When they finish, we will begin to open Port Harcourt. We have finished the drainage master plan for Port Harcourt and we are about to do the engineering design. When we finish that, we then award the contract just as they are doing the water master plan.
So, when you leave office at the completion of your first tenure, where would Rivers State be?
My objective is to achieve a new Rivers State.

The first is to overcome the security situation in the state. When we came newly, we attacked the situation. We fought to a point where the gentlemen escaped to the sea. We will continue to fight them even in the sea. I think that the security worries in Port Harcourt have reduced tremendously. Before, there used to be shoot-outs and hoodlums coming to the police stations and all that but those things are gone.

It is just like what happened in Bonny but such will not happen there again. We have sent 125 soldiers to Bonny and since then, everywhere has been quiet and calm. I assure you that those bad boys would never come out again because if they do, the repercussions would be grave for them. We have achieved that in Port Harcourt and what we have been able to overcome to a great extent in illegal oil bunkering has been confirmed by the Naval Senior command and Shell.

Having controlled illegal oil bunkering to a manageable level, we should expect an increase in the area of robbery and kidnapping and all that. We have been meeting on how to tackle it and we expect to achieve results in that area before the end of June and July. It is a challenge that we are currently facing.
Could you tell us, 24 hours before the judgment that declared you the authentic governor of Rivers State, what was your state of mind?
I never knew whether they would give judgment in my favour or not. So, I would not say exactly what my state of mind was. But there was apprehension, uncertainty and a lot of prayers. This is because, the fact that we won was essentially 99 per cent the handiwork of God. We did not know anybody and we kept faith because men of God told us clearly that God said I will be governor. If they didnít tell us that, probably we would have chickened out.

But were you making efforts to know what was happening, say like working the phones and so on?
Yes, I did all that but I did not consider that as important. In fact, there was one gentleman that I have been looking for till tomorrow, who was in court and as they were arguing, he continued to text me of what every lawyer said.

I think I will look for him again because somehow, he sustained my prayer level and was a source of encouragement. Even when they rose, he sent a message to me that they have risen to consider judgment. But when the judgment was given and we won, he wasnít the person who announced it to me.

I think he was overjoyed to even remember to tell me again. Others who were not sending me texts of the proceedings were the ones who eventually told me of the judgment. My lawyer didnít even get to me.
The rumour was that you were outside the country?
Yes, I was in Ghana because if my fellow men could look at me and accuse me of corruption; if those who God used me to put into position would arrange with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to accuse me of corruption, then anything could have happened to me.

So, my going outside was for security purposes as my safety was then no longer guaranteed in Nigeria.
But what gave you the courage to pursue that case?
My former boss, the immediate past governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili encouraged me to go to court and I did. But I told him the consequences of going to court and what to expect and all that. So, what you should ask me is not what encouraged me to go to court but why I went on with the case in spite of all the pressure to withdraw.
I continued with it because so many men of God were praying with me. In fact, there was one that would tell you what was going to happen and it would happen.

Are you that religious?
Do I look as one who is not religious? In fact, am not religious but I am a Christian.
You said Dr Odili encouraged you to go to court but he also facilitated the emergence of Omehia who was governor before the judgment. Was he not aware of the implication?
I donít know because I canít answer for my boss. I have told you the role he played. The role he played was in helping me during the PDP governorship primaries with those of my friends who were supporting me but were opportune to be working in Abuja. But somehow, because they were close to Obasanjo, they became the agents, which they used to stop me. Then, I went to court and I think where Dr Odili got it wrong was abandoning me in the court.
Was it at that point that you fell apart?
Yes, it was at that point.

You were considered as one, if not the closest associate of Odili, before you fell apart. What is your relationship with him now?
My relationship with Odili is cordial. We speak as often as possible.
But all those friends you referred to who worked against your interests, do you still maintain relationship with them?
One of the things the men of God told me is that I must forgive everybody if I intend to stay in power.
Your state is associated with cultism. How far have you tackled the menace?
But I gave you the history of what we are doing that I stood my ground.

I was the first speaker to pass a bill into law on cultism. As soon as we came on board, we set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Kayode Eso. In all the petitions that I have been asked to appear before the commission, nobody has accused me of cultism. All people have accused me of is that they would say although you were not the governor when all that were happening but what did you as a speaker do to check him. And I said, I passed a bill on cultism into Law. I am not the person to implement the law but my own is to pass it, which as a speaker, I did.

The story out there is that you are losing grip of the security situation in the state?
I told you that when we came on board, the problem of security was multifarious. There were gangsterism, street-wars, attacks on different police stations and Army. Do you know that even Navy people were being killed on the sea. I remember the last attack that they had to bury some Army Officers. Since I came, the highest I have heardí is the shooting of policemen. That was on the first of January that they went and attacked some police stations. After that, we took some security measures and after that, they could not come to town again because we took the war to them. Now, they had gone to Bonny to attack the police but that would soon stop.

How far have you been able to reconcile the PDP family in your state since you came to power?
I have done quite a lot in that direction. I have visited virtually everybody. I am not a governor who sits down at home and say because am a governor, people should come to me rather than me to them. Rivers State people would tell you that I am not that kind of person. Before you call me to say you want to come and visit me, I will offer to visit you instead. I will drive to your house, and I listen to you. But the issue is not me driving to your house, the issue is that I have been making efforts at reconciliation. Some of them are not accepting because they do not take God into consideration. You know my victory took some people unawares. They never believed it was possible for me to be governor of Rivers State.

People didnít know that God had a different plan. They had too many contacts and they relied on those contacts and they never bothered about Godís contact. I sought Gods contact as far back as 2002. I was quite popular too, and I had a political machinery that everybody could see in Port-Harcourt, but I knew that you could not be governor without God. So, I surrendered as far back as 2002. I said God here I am because I have not seen anybody who have been governor of Rivers State that was not put there miraculously.

I cannot tell of Melford Okilo because I was too small and young then. I know about Rufus Ada George. He was not the most popular but he believed in God and was praying everyday.
I was popular but do not forget that if I had relied only on my popularity, I would not have gone anywhere.
The big men had already thrown me out. Dr Odili was also popular but if he had relied on his popularity alone, he would not have been governor of Rivers State.

He also knelt down and when God wanted to make him governor, He held Abachaís nose because then he was a stumbling block. So, I knew that Rufus, Odili were put there by God and I then decided that one thing I would do is to ensure that God was at the forefront of my ambition. I donít have any big man that I relied on than God, the Almighty. My wife is a very prayerful Christian. We began to pray and pray until we ran into that crisis.

The man of God told me that I never told you that you would be governor without hitches; I told you that you will meet difficulties and challenges but what I know is that you will overcome those challenges and become governor.
So, prayer did it?

Honestly, nothing else. Those who are fighting me should be careful because they are fighting God. Once I donít depart from God, one day, God will tell them look, leave this man alone.
The Revenue profile of your state is very high but Rivers is not remarkably different from other states in terms of development. What is the problem?

If you are looking at the Revenue profile of the state, you should also look at the problems. I have no answer to why Rivers State is not different from others in terms of development because I have just been governor for six months. But if you ask me the Revenue profile of the state in the last six months and what I intend to do, I will answer you. But as for what happened before, I canít say because I was not there.
So, what would you say the state has achieved under you?

I had told you what we have been able to do but may be I need to repeat some of the road projects, which we have awarded. Two or three days ago, I signed N11.7 billion as 30 per cent payment on the projects. The total contract we have awarded is N38 billion excluding the ones we want to give to Julius Berger who also won in the bid.

Why we have not concluded on the one to Julius Berger is that we are disagreeing on the cost but we are negotiating. When we conclude the negotiation, we will award the contract which means we would go beyond the N38 billion. We are doing the roads from Rumokwuta to Uniport and between Diobu and Uniport. We will do a flyover because there is always a terrible traffic jam at that Uniport junction that causes so many headaches. Such traffic situation could affect economic activities. So, we intend to decongest that area by building that flyover there and we have awarded it to a company. Just immediately after that, you will meet a road, which has been awarded by the federal government from the airport.

We are negotiating with Julius Berger to do flyover there. We have not yet agreed on the cost. I am talking about the Ada George Road. They named the road after him.
There is a place called First Bank on old Aba Road, we have awarded that too. We have also awarded the Agip Road, which is another area where you have traffic jam. What we have done is to tell Agip to do the road while we do the flyover. Between Abacha and Agip, we are doing a flyover. We are yet to award Elekeahia by Rumubi junction. We have not awarded it because of disagreement on cost.

We also intend to award from the Garrison junction to Slaughter. That one, the Zenith Bank is contributing N1 billion while we pick the remaining bill. Then from there, we will do a flyover across the River from Trans Amadi. In deed, we are doing quite a lot and I hope that before we leave office that by Godís grace, we should be able to achieve them.
When you came in, you called for a unity government but recently, the national body of the AC, the main opposition party said they were not part of it. Are you worried by that?
I met with all the opposition parties apart from those who are in court.

Those who agreed to work with us have come forward to be part of the unity government and we took three commissioners from them.
Am not bothered by the position of the national hierarchy of the AC over whether they are part of the unity government or not. My interest is about those who are from Rivers State, what are they doing to move the state forward. When the election comes, we can fight for election.

But when it comes to the interest of Rivers State people, letís work together. No party can come and tell you it has the best expertise on how to govern. So, if other parties bring ideas, we work together. But I should be able to defend what I have been able to do as governor or the man who comes from the PDP.
What would be your advice to people of Rivers State?
First, they must defend Rivers State. They must not allow these criminals to frighten them to a point where they canít assert themselves.

They must be prepared to give information where necessary because the people live around us. However, most people now come from outside. The last kidnap of Briggs wife was perpetrated by people from Bayelsa. Thatís where they kept her and thatís where she was released. The truth is that Rivers State is becoming a bit too hot for the kidnappers and some of those criminals. What we do is that we are making sure that if they kidnap, we locate them if they are in Rivers State.
Another advice I will give to the people is gentlemen, learn to ask your government questions.

Ask the government what are you doing with our money? I have said it several times that if you are not convinced that we are utilizing your money well, go on demonstration. There is no law against peaceful demonstration. People think I am not serious when I say that people should go on demonstration. If people in authority are stealing money and buying properties, it shows that they are not utilizing your money well. Every kobo should be accounted for. You may be a private man in whatever you do but donít be a private person in resources that belong to the people including yourself. You should ask questions. This is because the resources remain a common wealth of the people.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.