BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME
Establishment of state police and removal of the immunity clause are among key issues that are dominating discourse in the polity. In this interview at the Government House in Port Harcourt, Rivers State Governor and Chairman, Governors Forum, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, bares his mind on these and other topical issues. Excerpts:
WHat is your view on the controversy over the removal or retention of the immunity clause in the constitution?
I have always supported the retention of immunity for governors. Many people go to governors for favours, when they don’t get whatever they want, these favour seekers get very angry and begin to plot against the governors. The moment you remove immunity you remove good governance, that is when you will see the strength of these people.
Some say remove criminal immunity leave civil immunity, what is the difference? For mere mistakes people will go to court just because they want to bring you down because you refused to share public funds or share the economic benefits of government. I think that those who argue for the removal of immunity as a way of finding solution to corruption may not be completely right. I abhor corruption. I think that it is not right that our resources are carted away everyday.
Removal of immunity
However, I also think that removal of immunity will distract the President, it will not allow him confront the issues as they are because every day he will find himself in court, the same manner governors will find themselves in court. I think any governor that is corrupt should be held accountable after he leaves office but while in office he should be allowed to discharge his responsibility.
Do you support demand for state police?
I am Chairman of the Governors’ Forum my view is the view of the governors’ forum. I would not want to hold any view to the contrary. Currently, the view of the governors’ forum is that we are in support of state police. We are going back on Tuesday, we are dealing with the issue of constitution; we will deal with these issues. The Governors’ forum in their last meeting came out strongly in support of the formation of state police and there were 31 governors-23 state governors and eight deputy governors. They were 31 out of 36 and nobody opposed it.
Gov Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State
How do you view allegations that there are cracks in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum?
There is no crack. Let us get to the meeting next week. I don’t think we should be talking about crack or no crack.
Can the political class at the moment manage state police effectively, if created?
It is not about the Governor or the political class. At the end of the day, the governor will leave office. Will he leave with the state police? So if he fought people with it, the next man will fight him with it. I don’t think that is the problem. We should talk among ourselves first.
There was a time you promised the people of the state that very soon they would have 24-hour power supply. What have been the problems and limitations?
Is there no power improvement? There is. The problem is that of distribution, let us wait and see what the Federal Government will do. But with or without the law we are going ahead with the distribution. That is why I ask you, are you not seeing an improvement in power? There is an improvement in power and it will continue to improve like that until we leave office.
What about the issue of Local Government Autonomy?
I am the Chairman of Governors’ Forum. Even as an individual governor, whatever I say may be misunderstood to mean the position of the governors. Let us wait and see.
The governors will come up with a final position on all issues. That is what will happen and once we do that I can speak as Chairman of the Governors’ Forum. We must wait and see what the governors will say.
Could you speak on the
Okogbe Community disaster that cost about 200 lives?
Where do you get your figures from? The first day when I heard this, it was 150 then 200, some said 300 and I rushed to the President, ‘I hear 150 persons have died in Rivers State, can I rush back to Rivers State,’ and he said ‘yes’ only to hear then it was 98. From 98 I heard 156 because they found some in the bush and all that. Let us go by verified statistics. It was very sad.
At the moment, the community is saying that they don’t have power…
We are doing rural electrification, it will get to them. Before we leave office we want to electrify all the rural communities in Rivers State and they are between 300 and 500. Some of them are being attended to by some local government chairmen, some of them we have already done. We hope that by the time we leave office we would have reached all communities without power.
What is your view on clamour for re-jig of the revenue sharing formula?
Clearly, we think that the states should be allowed to have more revenue than they currently have. The states are suffering now, I doubt if some can still pay salaries. If we continue that way I wonder what will be the expectation of the people when the states cannot function.
We think that the responsibilities of the Federal Government should be reduced as well as their revenue. The states should be allowed to have access to those federal revenues that are unnecessarily given to the Federal Government so that they can function properly.
You are first and foremost a Rivers man before you are a Nigerian so where you take off from is Rivers State. Who owns land? It is not the Federal Government, it is the states. What do you develop, is it not the land? You want to build schools; do you build it in the air? You want to build generating plants for power, is it in the air? So why do you have Ministry of Agriculture or Ministry of Land for instance, why not allow the states to develop by giving them these resources?
What about using the local governments as a basis for sharing revenue?
No, that can’t be. What the state governors have said is that we need more revenue. There are those who hold the view that let those who produce the resources keep their resources and pay taxes to the Federal Government. There are those who hold the view that these resources are national wealth and should be shared depending on the formula that the National Assembly is able to come up with.
You spoke on state creation at the last Senate Retreat in Asaba but you were not direct. Do you think we need more states?
The reason people ask for more states is because of the sharing structure that Nigeria is based upon. Nobody is asking for good governance. If you treat this country well, if you govern properly and run the economy properly most people won’t ask for new states.
We can live happily. The reason you are seeing this agitation is that the country is so poor, we are so rich in terms of resources but so poor in terms of the human beings that inhabit the territory called Nigeria. The Bureau for Statistics has said that 71 per cent of Nigerians are poor and now the states are beginning to say we are getting broke so it is worse.
Why is it difficult for us to practice true federalism?
Ethnic politics, selfish interests, there are those who are earnestly benefiting from the current system and you know change is one challenging thing that doesn’t come easily.
Let’s look at the roads in Rivers State; some of them are relatively bad?
I can mention the good roads we have done. I’m saying that you are finding it difficult to name the ones that are bad but I can in one full swoop name for you five good roads we have done. I can mention to you, Old Aba Road, Rumuokwuta-Rumuola, Elekahia-Rumuomasi Rumuobiakani-Oginigba, Oboloma-Amadi-Ama. Peter Odili Road, Azikiwe Road, the whole of Old Port Harcourt Township, in Diobu there is a road we are doing in Diobu, Port Harcourt-Owerri Road, Ada George, I have called about 10.
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