The empty treasuries at the federal and in many states of the federation is no longer news. The challenge before President Muhammadu Buhari is how to deliver the promises made to the electorate. In this interview, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State explains how he has decided to tackle the challenge of providing infrastructure for the people of his state, as according to him, the people did not vote for him to be giving excuses. He also spoke on a wide range of issues including the rancour between his administration and the immediate past government of ex-governor Rotimi Amaechi and why he has decided to complete projects started by the last administration. Excerpts:
Your predecessor has accused you of a witch-hunt as exemplified in the forceful evacuation of a vehicle belonging to his former commissioner. Why?
You can recollect that after our inauguration we went into Government House and we told the whole world, first of all, that there was no handover note. If there was a handover note that would have guided you to say look this is where we started and this is where we ended; these were the things that were given to people as a kind of parting gift or whatever. We later learnt that the Government House had been looted. There was just nothing. The last government said that I sent people to take those things away so that I would award contracts for the replacement. I said I didn’t need to carry anything away before I award contracts. So the issue of removing those ones so that I will go and award contracts is not correct.
Why we are retrieving vehicles
Now we got information that most of the Government House vehicles are scattered here and there. First of all we got information that most of these vehicles were kept somewhere at Trans Amadi and we sent security men and we discovered vehicles were parked there.
Security men helped us to recover those vehicles; it was all over the news. We also got information that a Lexus bulletproof 570 was parked at the house of a former commissioner. We reported to police that one of the Governments House vehicles was at the house of the former commissioner and it was not the vehicle she was using in her office.
As a commissioner she can’t use a bulletproof vehicle, a Lexus for that matter which is not less that N60 – 70 million. So we sent in the security men to go and retrieve the vehicle.
Initially she said on phone that it was given to her as a parting gift and I said no problem but there should be record to show that this was given to you as a parting gift but we didn’t get such records because they didn’t handover anything to anybody.
She later said it was her husband that bought the vehicle. We said if it is your husband that bought it we have no problem, you can come with the particulars of the vehicle that your husband bought to prove that the vehicle was your husband’s vehicle.
When I came in here last week I went to Bank of Industry Building and the former Liaison Officer here, not knowing I was around had one of the vehicles we were looking for so we sent the ADC and he retrieved the vehicle and they brought the man and I said ‘Sir why do you have to go away with government vehicles? Is there any paper that says it was given to you’ and he said no and I told him to go and get all the papers and as I speak to you one or two weeks after the papers are yet to be brought here.
They said it was monetization
It is not correct, there is nothing like monetisation policy there. Let me explain what monetization means. As a minister, no vehicle was bought for me in the ministry.
Whatever thing had to be given was built into your salary, even housing. So where did they buy these cars? I worked there so how can anybody say that? The point is very clear. If you didn’t handover anything to me and I am getting information that this is where our vehicles and properties are am I not in the position to see how I can recover those vehicles?
On the former governor saying we were out to witch-hunt. Witch-hunt for what? Is this the first time that official Panel of Enquiry has been set in Rivers state? When he set the panel of enquiry was it also a witch-hunt?
Nobody was there to explain anything to us. If he had worked with the transition committee, his commissioners would have been asked one or two questions but no transition committee was set up by government.
Even police ceremonial vehicle the governor denied us. We had to go to Ondo State to borrow Ondo State ceremonial vehicle. Where in this country will you say that inauguration ceremony wasn’t funded by any state? Government is not a personal thing. As you leave today the other person will also leave tomorrow so there is nothing like witch hunting anybody.
The last administration claimed to have handed over to you. It said the Permanent Secretary of the Government House gave you a handover note.
That is not correct. Let’s go to the national level; when the president was handing over did he just handover just the villa? Didn’t he handover the entire structure, the system from one ministry to the other, stating where they started from and to where they are now?
Then you can ask one or two questions. The Permanent Secretary never one day handed anything to me, that is even the Government House. I am not talking about the Government House, I am talking about the government of Rivers state. So when you say handover I am not the governor of Government House, I am the governor of Rivers State so you can’t handover to me and say Government House; no! That is not correct.
What is the state of finance of Rivers state?
From what the Accountant-General gave me, first of all, we have what we call the government account and the government account was zero. The other ones are ministries’ accounts and I can tell you in ministry of works two days to our inauguration they were collecting 10 million, 200 million to go and build curves, roads. So I called the perm sec and I said perm sec you mean you people gave someone contract and you paid him cash of 200 million and he said ‘oga I refused but there was nothing I could do. It is so funny.
The last administration claimed it left N7 billion in the coffers. Did you see the N7 billion?
They say they kept N7 billion, how could you have kept N7 billion and you are owing salary for how many months, what is the N7 billion doing there?
For two months they haven’t paid salary; April and May they haven’t paid. Shark, Dolphins and Rivers Angels were owed 8 months. I had to give them their money last week it was just this morning the permanent secretary said he is paying all the civil servants today (Monday). So how can you say you kept N7 billion? Four months refuse contractors where not paid and the whole Port Harcourt was filled with refuse and you said you kept N7 billion. The N7 billion is to do what with it now? And you owe refuse contractor for four months, sharks, dolphin and Rivers angel 8 months, pensioners haven’t been paid up till now since February. If you find any money anywhere it was because we started raising alarm by 26th, 27th of May.
Some banks in order for us not be angry with them had to stop some cheques in fact there was one money of N700 million naira, two Skye Bank cheques that didn’t go through because we raised an alarm.
Even by 28th of May money was being taken out of some government accounts; how do you justify that? Frankly speaking looking at ministry of works alone of the contracts that were awarded the debt is not less than N150 billion.
Just Ministry of Works only I am not talking of Ministry of Health and the others but the one he said he owes Zenith bank is about N15 billion so we are negotiating with Zenith Bank. Zenith bank was deducting 1.5 billion every month but we said no, that will be too much for us, we are just coming. What is the allocation that they will be taking N1.5 billion every month? So we are talking with the bank on how to review it.
It has been alleged that there was a deal for you to be remitting money to Mrs. Patience Jonathan monthly. Is it true?
In this country we don’t have respect for leadership. It is very ridiculous for anybody to say that I and the former first lady had a pact to be remitting money. It is rather very unfortunate. What can I give to the (former) First Lady? She is from Rivers State, she wanted her husband’s party to win (gubernatorial election in) Rivers State and looked at all the people who were running for the election and said who can actually make her husband’s party to win Rivers State and said Mr. Z can do it and decided to support Mr. Z, then it becomes a bad thing? I can’t understand this country.
You were here when they said I was giving her $2 million. It is so ridiculous. That is why we don’t respect leadership.