The immediate past Minister of State, Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, in this interview speaks on his ambition to become the governor of Rivers State, his quarrel with Governor Rotimi Amaechi and his stewardship as a minister
How will you respond to those who hold the view that by resigning your ministerial position for your governorship ambition, you are leaving certainty for uncertainty?
If you say I left certainty for uncertainty, you are asking whether I am sure of winning the election. What you should understand in life is that there is nothing that you partake in that does not involve risk. Every human endeavour involves taking risk. However, this type of risk, I can tell you, is the one that has a success rate of 80 per cent and a failure rate of 20 per cent. So I will say that I am not leaving certainty for uncertainty.
The Peoples Democratic Party is the predominant party as far as Rivers State is concerned. So there is no fear for anything. The structure is on ground. What we need to do is to work with everybody to ensure that the All Progressives Congress does not go back to the Government House although we know that it was the mandate of the PDP that the governor took to the APC.
The current governor is said to be doing well. What new things are you planning to bring on board if elected governor of Rivers State in 2015?
We are bringing so many things. We will ensure good governance. Good governance is not only about constructing roads. Good governance also includes or respect for the rule of law. Look at the state House of Assembly, today, state lawmakers sit in the Government House. So they are at the beck and call of the governor. Whenever he wants them to sit and approve something for him, they sit in the Government House and do it. Thereafter, they adjourn.
That is not democracy. We will give the legislature the required independence.
We will also give the traditional rulers their deserved respect. We will also give attention to infrastructure. Take for instance, there are only two roads in Rivers: Ekwere Road and Aba Road. Port Harcourt roads are bad, go and check. Look at the schools too. As the Minister of State, Education, I had to apply to the Presidency to intervene in some schools. We have been able to intervene in not less than 20 schools in the state.
So, as far as education is concerned, the state government will just build one modern primary school along the road and showcase it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes into Rivers State. Meanwhile, these schools are not in the rural areas. What the governor does is to build some of these schools on the road to deceive people that more schools have been given a facelift. Look at the health sector, all the general hospitals are dead. No one is functioning.
Look at how the government has wasted millions of naira talking about the mono rail. Is that what the people need now? What traffic are they going to curtail From what point to what point? Where the mono rail is, there is no single traffic. There is no population there and it is not more than 2km. As I speak to you, the mono rail is stalled. Each day, they advertise that they are on course. As I speak to you now, when they read this interview, they will tell workers the next day to move there so that people will see them working.
Look at the Karibi Whyte Hospital, the governor demolished the teaching hospital we used to have in Port Harcourt and said he was going to build a 1000-bed hospital. As I speak to you, nobody knows where that hospital is located. We have a lot of things to do, particularly in building our people’s confidence. Everybody has lost confidence in Amaechi’s administration. That is where we are. So, there are so many things that we are going to do and we are going to drastically pursue them. I have talked about the education sector, health sector, judiciary, etc.
We have a stadium within the city, he abandoned that stadium and said he was going to build a new stadium where there are no people living yet. That is to just let it be that he built a stadium, meanwhile there is Liberation Stadium in the city.
How will you react to reports that the political calculation in the state does not support an Ikwerre man becoming the governor after Amaechi who is also from Ikwerre?
Who does the calculation? Politics is all about propagating theories. If you say it does not favour one area, which area does it favour? I do not want to become governor because I am an Ikwerre man. It has to be put in perspective that I want to become governor to redeem my party, to make sure that APC which has no business to be in Rivers State is gone forever.
I don’t want to see myself as running because I am an Ikwerre man. I want to see myself as running because I have something to offer, to make a change for Rivers State to become the state that people want it to be.
PDP is not the ruling party as it is today in Rivers State. As an opposition party, what you are required to do is to field a candidate that has the capacity to match the ruling party for it to be able to take over the machinery of government. Opposition parties do not talk about whose turn it is. You only talk about whose turn it is when you are in government. The circumstance the PDP found itself today is such that it must go for whoever has the capacity and the confidence of the electorate to win the election. That is what the PDP needs.
All these talks are the imagination and propaganda of the APC government in Rivers State because they know who to be afraid of. They have said bringing out Wike is a walk-over for them, so we are helping them to win. They should not bother themselves.
How will you rate your performance as a minister?
How will I set examination for myself and mark it? Those of you who are out there should be able to know. When we were given the opportunity, did we make any impact? But as a human being and with the kind of support I got from my colleagues and the President, I think we did make a lot of impacts, particularly at the basic education level.
You can see it everywhere. Take for example, when we came on board, how many people wanted to go to Unity Colleges? But now, look at the huge number that apply to go to the colleges, not less than 200,000 for only 20,000 capacity. That confidence has been brought back. There were so many changes brought to the colleges, employing new teachers, putting basic infrastructure that were hitherto not there.
It was when we came on board that we pursued the issue of almajiri education; it was not there before. The issue of girl education was tackled. We are not saying we have achieved what we ought to achieve but we can see the progress that we have made. Look at the issue of vocational schools not only for skill acquisition but also for basic education. Fundamental changes and innovations have been put in place during our administration.
What were the personal efforts you put in to resolve the crisis between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities?
For me, it is not a personal thing. It was a collective effort put together by the government. The President in particular played a lot of role; although it was when I was there as the Supervising Minister of Education that the matter was resolved. Prof. Ruqqayatu Rufai did a lot before she left. I continued from there. We thank God that we were able to resolve it but I cannot say it was my personal effort. But as the then Supervising Minister, obviously, I did make a lot of impact to see that the strike was called off. But fundamentally, the President played a very crucial role in resolving that impasse.
How do you feel when people speak harshly about the quality of Nigerian graduates, describing them as half-baked?
Well, because of the quality of education we have had, you know that education was bad in the past 10 to 20 years. That is why it is not easy for you to see a turn-around immediately, it takes time. That is why the Federal Government is injecting fund to revitalise not just the higher institutions but also the primary education because if you get it wrong at the primary education level, it will be difficult at the tertiary level.
Lack of basic infrastructure is a problem. Lack of qualified teachers is also a problem. The Federal Government has been able to focus on these issues: infrastructure and quality of teachers. Training and re-training of teachers, making sure that teachers are availed with current happenings and are able to compete globally with their colleagues. You can see today that out of 13 centres of excellence by the World Bank, Nigeria alone has 10. Ten Nigerian universities are centres of excellence for research purposes. It has never happened before.
Back to Rivers politics, is it true that Governor Amaechi was instrumental to your appointment as a minister?
It depends on what you mean by being instrumental. He sent more than 10 names to the President for nomination and my name was one of those names. The word “instrumental” may be difficult because people have submitted names and Mr. President rejected such names.
He may be right after all by accusing you of stabbing him in the back?
That is a laughable thing. When you say “betrayal” and “stabbing,” we must have agreed on something. Maybe he said when you go to that place, do this and now you are not doing that. Or that there is something we agreed on that I refused to implement, that is when you can talk of stabbing or betrayal. Did he tell me that as I go to the Federal Executive Council, I should oppose Mr. President’s policies and I am not doing that? Did he tell me that as I get to that place, he will leave the PDP and I will have to join him? So when he says stabbing and betrayal, one should ask what actually he is talking about. Or is he expecting that as he is taking on Mr. President and ridiculing the office of the President, I should have supported that? Is it that because I did not support him in abusing the President and his office, I have stabbed Amaechi and betrayed him?
Look at the person talking about betrayal. Everybody in this country knows that Governor Amaechi was not in the state, he was in Ghana. Most of the people who are running around Amaechi now were nowhere to be found. I challenge anybody. I know that when I did my thanksgiving, when God saved me from the hands of those who wanted to assassinate me, the governor said one quality I have is that I am a man of character. He is on tape. He said this because when he was in Ghana, I championed his fight here. I knew what was on ground. There was everything for me to have betrayed him and I did not do that. So is it when he became a governor that I will start betraying him? When I had all the opportunity to betray him, I did not do that. It is laughable. I championed his re-election, I did not betray him. It was a big hell. You see, in politics, when you disagree with somebody, the only way you describe it is that the person has betrayed you. Where is the betrayal? If you hear the circumstance of my appointment as a minister, you will know who really betrayed who. If not by God’s grace, I won’t have been a minister. You can submit somebody’s name and go back to say that he is not the person you want. You can submit somebody’s name and the State Security Service will disqualify the person and you will come back to tell the person that it is no longer your business since it is the SSS that disqualified him. We know what happened in my case. So who actually betrayed who? Amaechi stabbed me in the back after I had passed through what I passed through for him and with him. When he got the power, he now saw that I was a threat. People started telling him that this man that did everything and made sure you became a governor, what you should do first is to edge him out.
You worked with the governor as his Chief of Staff and the Director-General of his campaign organisation, what is the cause of this current disagreement?
When he saw that I was to run for Senate, he denied me that with the hope that he was going to run for Senate in 2015. Unfortunately or fortunately for him, he became the chairman of the Governors Forum. He then saw the forum as an avenue to really launch his political aspiration in the country, which is now manifesting. The whole essence of Amaechi was not really to make me a minister, he believed that if he sent me out of the state, my influence would be cut and I would lose the support of the people because I will not always be there. He does not understand that God does not work that way. While he pushed me away so that I would not be relevant in the state, he did not know that God had a different plan. God said you are not just pushing him away, you are making Nigerians to know him more. Before he knew it, it was too late for him.
So it was like ‘let me push him out’ and God turned it around. He lobbied that I should be given a Minister of State. Of course, as a Minister of State, what are your powers? But God does not work that way. The whole thing is ‘take him out of the state, I will see how he wants to do whatever he wants to do. I will be free to put anybody I want to be the governor. If this man is in the state, he will likely give me a problem, so let me push him out.’ But pushing me out even became more problem for him.
With this glaring difference between you and the governor, is there any possibility of the two of you reconciling and becoming best of friends again?
The issue of best of friends is neither here nor there. We are both in different political parties. I think one day, he will realise that he has made a mistake and come back to the party that produced him. The party that made him to be speaker for eight years, the party that made him to be governor for almost eight years and the party that made him whatever he is today. I believe knowing him well, at his most quiet moment, he is regretting. Also knowing him well for his ego, he will say instead for him to do that, people will now know that he has lost his conscience, so he will remain where he is. If not that, if you ask him very well, he knows that he made a terrible mistake.
Like I said, PDP is a family, we will welcome anybody, prodigal sons can change. There is nothing wrong in forgiving him.\
The Grassroots Development Initiative is an association you are sponsoring in the state to add to the political strength of the PDP. Do you think the group is achieving this aim?
Absolutely yes. That is what you can see today. Before now when Amaechi was in the PDP, we knew it, we saw it coming. We did not have the capacity to use the PDP to mobilise. So we formed this association to use it to mobilise, knowing well that he would one day jump ship. We want to ensure that the PDP does not die. So when he was moving out, the GDI became the strength of PDP. That is why we can talk about PDP in Rivers State. A party that has no governor, a party that people thought it was over when the governor jumped ship. GDI has done tremendously well.
How do you react to reports that the group is responsible for some of the political violence recorded in some of the local government areas of the state, especially in Obio/Akpor, Etche and recently in Port Harcourt and of course in Abuja?
What was the violence in Obio/Akpor? APC wanted to hold a rally and the police said they did not obtain permission, which is the normal thing to do. Where is the violence in Port Harcourt?
In Abuja, we came here for the reintegration committee. I was there and those who petitioned were there. A BoT member was there, former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, was there, all National Assembly members were there, all assembly members were there. They were there to make presentations to the committee. Where was the violence?
You know that in politics, we can be here discussing while supporters may be quarreling outside. So where is the violence? Of course, they may be struggling to come in. Those are natural things in politics. Did it affect us not to do what we were doing? Did it stop the panel from taking reports from people? It did not. So I don’t know the violence they are talking about. GDI is not a violent group.
What is your response to insinuations that you are a stooge to the President and his wife?
What is the meaning of a stooge? Stooge to do what? Do I need to wait for the President to tell me that somebody wants to cut short my political participation? Do I have to wait for the wife of the President to tell me that I should participate actively in politics? We are not kids here. Does the President need to tell me to go to court to realise our mandate? So, if I am the President’s stooge in Rivers State, who are his stooges in other states? I am very happy with the kind of President we have: very calm, very humble. We decided not to even tell the President when we were fighting this war because he is somebody who does not believe that there should be crisis.
But for us, we know Amaechi very well. My father tells me that when a mad man flogs you, one mistake you must not make is to start running. When you are running, the mad man will continue to flog you. But if a mad man flogs you, take something and hit the mad man back. He will feel the pain and he will start running. That is what is happening in Amaechi’s case. One mistake you must not make is to allow him intimidate you. So, I am not a stooge to anybody. Mr. President has never called me one day to go and fight Amaechi, neither has his wife done that.
As the primaries of the PDP draw nearer, what are you expecting as an aspirant?
You don’t prepare for examination because it holds tomorrow. You start preparing for examination from the day your lecture starts. The problem of most people is that they only prepare for election when the timetable is out. For those of us who know politics, we have been involved in it. We have started participating from time, to make ourselves available to the party, to make sure that we build the party to make it strong. You can see the difference. A student who starts preparing from the first day of lecture and a student who starts preparing because there is examination cannot be the same.
I have never asked anybody to impose me and I don’t want any imposition. What I want is for people to test their popularity; that is internal democracy. But a situation where somebody will come and tell you that it is his father’s turn, therefore somebody should not run for election, is that democracy?
Our team is quite sure today that if they do free and fair election in Rivers State, we will win very well. We are ready to face anybody in the election. Even at the general election, we are ready for the APC. They know we are ready, that is why APC people cannot sleep. The members can’t sleep and so they planted their moles in the PDP to cause problems, to say that it is the turn of A or B, when they know that we are in the opposition.