I Have Never Been A Cultist, Says Wike
Governor Nyesom Wike has courted controversies and fought political battles in the course of his more than two years running the affairs of Rivers State. In an interview with Maupe Ogun on Channels Television’s Hard Copy, the governor speaks about his decision to sack his cabinet, the alleged revocation of Novotel Hotel’s 99-year land lease, his accusations against the police and his relationship with his predecessor, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, among other things.
You have been governor for over two years now, how principally different would you say it is from being minister?
First of all, as a minister, you are under the President. So, whatever you decide to do, you have to seek the approval of Mr President, which means you have a boss directly. Now, as a governor, you are the Chief Executive. So, you don’t report to anybody. The only thing you do is that decisions are taken at the state executive council and you are the chairman of the executive council.
Which means that you carry a heavier responsibility…
Yes, because as a minister, whatever you intend to do – whether you succeed or not, the whole blame goes to Mr President. Now, as a governor, if you fail the whole blame comes to you. So, as a governor, it’s heavier than when I was a minister.
When we talk about education now, it’s sad that ASUU is on strike. Do you get a little apprehensive, considering the fact that you co-managed that ministry for a while?
One thing that is so fundamental in this country that I have found out is that everything has been unionised. One problem again is that when government enters into an agreement, I think that government should be able to implement (it). When I came on board, the agreement that ASUU is talking about now was entered in 2009. At that time, of course, I was not a minister. Even when I was a minister, I was a minister of state for education until when the minister of education had left, so I had to supervise the ministry for that time till I resigned to run for gubernatorial election.
I know that in 2013, there was a very serious strike and I can tell you it all boils down to the non-implementation of agreements. One of the things I have always said is that government should always be fair. When you are entering an agreement, the things you can do, it’s better you tell them ‘these things are possible’. The things you cannot do, it is better you tell them ‘these ones are not possible’. But you find out that in order to strike a deal, government will be able to say, ‘Now we have agreed, can you go back and resume? We are going to implement this.’ At the end of the day, you will find out that some of these things are difficult to implement. That is the major problem – lack of communication or letting them know that this is where we are and these are the difficulties we found ourselves in.
Let’s go to Rivers State, which you oversee. Right now, you do not have a state executive council; You seem to have been doing all by yourself for two months now…
It is not possible for me to do all by myself, you have permanent secretaries.
So, you are working with the civil service…
Of course, you have no choice; it’s just for the time being.
But you are taking all the decisions by yourself…
No, no; you can’t take all decisions by yourself. You are taking decisions with the permanent secretaries.
Are they (permanent secretaries) your new executive council?
No. You see, the way it is, there are certain decisions that you have to call the permanent secretaries (for). Mind you too, there is the Attorney-General there who is a member of the state executive council; you have the Secretary to the State Government who is a member of the council; you have the Head of Service who is a member of the executive council; (and) you have the Chief of Staff who is a member of the executive council. So, it is not as if, totally, there is no executive council. Sometimes, you also invite some key ministries – the permanent secretaries – to be also involved.
So, why did you decide to sack everybody in your cabinet?
One problem Nigerians must always understand is that the tenure of your appointment is decided by the Chief Executive, the person who appointed you. The only tenure (not affected) positions are positions like the governor, the President, members of the legislature – the law says you must be there for four years. If you have done well, you can’t go more than eight years as regards the executive, not the legislature. In terms of appointment, you appoint – and we have been there (in government) for two years. Obviously, you’ve seen the weaknesses and you’ve seen the strength and you have to rejig the entire cabinet to say, ‘look, for these two years, we think we should have a different kind of cabinet that would now focus on what we intend to do.
It’s a good thing you used the word ‘rejig’, which is usually what a lot of governors (do) – we even see that at the Federal Executive level where the President will sometimes rejig his cabinet. So, you send ministers who have been there before to other ministries and then you drop some. But in this case, you sacked all of your commissioners.
Yes. There is nothing wrong with that. That does not mean that some of them will not come back.
In other words, you are reconstituting…
If you want to use the word (reconstituting), there is nothing wrong in dissolving the executive council. It has happened severally. This is not the first time. You see, it depends on what the Chief Executive feels, what he intends to do. Now, having dissolved the executive council, it gives you the opportunity to sit down and really look at the whole thing holistically and then now know who fits into a particular ministry. And you know that sometimes when you come into government, there is a lot of pressure. As you are sworn in, there will be a lot of pressure; people under political circumstances, some people will say well, in terms of technocrats… There are pressures. So, you may have made mistakes that you intend to correct. And you look at developments and their (the commissioners’) performances. Have they been able to meet up? Or you think that this person may not be fit for this particular ministry; (and say) ‘let me see whether I can send this person to the other ministry’. Dissolving them is not their offence. Some of them may come back. Some of them may not be in the particular ministry where they were before. That is the entire process.
You do know that the political rivalry in your state is quite fierce. I mean the fact that you are a state governor in the opposition. If anything happens in your state, there will be a lot of interest and a number of people are already beginning to input reasons as to why you sacked your commissioners, especially looking at the fact that just days before you did that, a commissioner resigned from your cabinet.
There is nothing you do that people will not read meanings (into); even when you don’t wake up on time. People will read meaning and say, ‘why did he not wake up by this time?’
Sometimes, people say that the actions that you take can be a bit drastic. For instance, you are firing commissioners and, only recently, you withdrew the C of O – a 99-year-old lease – of a hotel in your state. Isn’t that drastic?
How drastic is that? Now, let me tell you something; if it is drastic, the hotel will not apologise and say such a thing will not happen (again). Did they even understand what happened? We are aware. What is the essence of giving C of O? To carry out business… We didn’t give you C of O where the hotel will be used as some kind of criminal act. Do you understand that that day, investors, people, were running for their lives? And why will you allow that to happen for such a reputable hotel? Your management should be able to control (that). At the bar, everywhere, people were running away and we couldn’t have accepted that. So, the issue of whether decisions you took are so drastic cannot be said by people who are not informed. The hotel knew they did the wrong thing and that is why they have written to us apologising.
What exactly did the hotel do precisely that was wrong? Because you accused them of being a den of electoral fraudsters.
But that is not the first time. It has been happening and we have only cautioned them. Now, apart from that, what image did it gave the state?
Did you tell the police?
Why do I need to tell the police before I take actions?
But some people think it is ‘a hostile signal to the business and investment community that Rivers State is a toxic environment that a 99-year-old land lease could be withdrawn impulsively by the governor’.
First of all, they should understand what I said. I said in the church that I was going to revoke the C of O of Novotel. When you say you have revoked, you have made the publications. I said I was going to revoke.
In other words, you did not do it…
We have not even revoked. I said I was going to revoke but they (the top management of the hotel) now ran to us and explained to us and apologised that they are sorry for what they have done and they will never allow that kind of embarrassment to the state again. In revoking C of O there are steps you take.
That wasn’t because opposition politicians usually lodge there?
No. The point I am trying to make is that even if you are going to revoke, there are steps you take; you give notice and the rest of it. People when they hear something, they will not even analyse it; because of the interest they may have, one way or the other, they begin to make comments. But whether you like it or not, like I have said, there is no decision any government takes that will not have advantages and disadvantages – merits and demerits… So, we are not perturbed about people who are not informed about what is happening or what is on ground. It’s not just that you hear something, enter into the streets and start to make comments for the mere fact that you have nothing to say.
Let’s talk politics now. At a state banquet for members of the African Bar Association in Port Harcourt, you said that democracy in Nigeria is gone and that by 2019, nobody should talk about democracy. Why did you say this?
Why will I not say so? Because I know as a fact that the ruling APC, what they intend to do is just to manipulate the election and that in itself is not democracy. I am taking my state for example with what we saw, and that is also what they are intending to do in 2019.
What did you see in your state?
Oh, come on, it was not democracy at all. You see a contingent of over 40,000 security men and over 20,000 paramilitary (personnel) for just what? A legislative rerun. Not even in the entire state; in some constituencies and senatorial districts.
But the accusation against you is that you were trying to stifle the opposition in your state…
What do you call stifle? The only way you stifle opposition is by providing the dividend of democracy. If you don’t want the opposition to say anything, it is for you to perform. That is the end of opposition.
So, are you saying in the state where people perform there is no opposition?
What opposition? What are you going to criticise?
You have also made strong allegations against the Nigeria Police Force. You said, “The police is the one promoting crime in Nigeria. Most of the kidnapping in the country are done by the police. We cannot continue like this”. Very strong allegations.
I can give you an instance. Now, there is one particular kidnapper that we have been looking for. And that is why I said you don’t need to politicise crime. When you politicise crime, then that is the end of it. Now, this kidnapper was arrested. In fact, one early morning, it was my deputy governor who drew my attention that this man has been arrested.
By security agencies.
The Nigerian police?
Including the Nigerian policies, the army. But the point I am trying to make is that some politicians came because they believe they could use such person in the 2019 election. They started putting pressure for the boy to be released. I got wind of it and I called the commissioner of police (and said) ‘If this happens then you people have shown that you are not ready to fight crime’. Who was doing this? It was the SARS commander who I have reported from day one of his activities in the state. Now, if we did not shout, they nearly released that kidnapper. A senior police officer who is in charge of Special Anti-Robbers Squad.
So, your allegation was an alarm. Was that what you would say it was?
Because of the activities…
But when you say the police is the one promoting crime in Nigeria when this same kidnapper was arrested by the police…
When we say ‘the Nigerian Police’, that does not mean they are no good ones. But in Rivers State in particular, they are trying to politicise crime. Take for example today, somebody had multiple murder cases. The high court did not grant the person bail. In a court of appeal, he was granted bail. And the essence of granting bail is for you to also attend the court. Now, as I speak to you, for more than one year, this accused person has refused to attend court to the point that the courts have made orders that the person must be brought to court. You go to the police, the police will tell you, ‘Well, we don’t know where he is’. Meanwhile, the same person is moving around with security men. Now the court went to tell the commissioner of police he must appear in court to show why this man has not been brought to court. Somebody facing (allegations) of such a serious crime and you are telling me that it’s not being politicised? If we can play with the issue of murder, then what happens to other cases? Again, when we started the issue of amnesty, the police did not give us support.
Is that right?
It was the army; I can tell you this.
Why do you need to give amnesty first of all?
Of course, you have to. I mean, some people in Boko Haram surrender and they go on to train them. We said, ‘Look, why are you involved in this crime? If you come out of this crime, we will give you pardon and try to fix you where you can work to be of help to your life. And the security council said what we should do is to give these boys amnesty. Those who agreed to surrender will be pardoned. Those who say they will not, then we take them head-on. And as I speak to you, it yielded a lot of dividend. If you see the weapons (they surrendered) … If such weapons were still in their hands, what would have happened?
It’s a question we should ask you because some people say that these cultists are used by politicians, hence the need to deploy the amount of security they deploy for even small elections in your state.
Now, let me tell you, I have never been a cultist – from my first university to my second. Two, I don’t need to use cultists for election. Why? What will they do?
So why do you think cultism is a problem in Rivers State?
First of all, the problem is – and which we have said – when you have rival groups and they are fighting for supremacy.
But what are they contesting?
That is what you ask yourself because I am not a member. Two, we have discovered that the oil companies… Take for example, if cult A appears to be strong in this local government and the oil company tries to patronise them for them to be overseeing their pipelines and the rest of it, now the other cult group will say, ‘hey, why will you be recognising them when we are also here?’
So, will you attribute it to oil money then?
It’s part of it. I raised this issue even when we met with heads of security agencies. Yes, I did. Everybody knows; it is not hidden.
It’s part of it, but what is the other part?
For those who are into it, I do not know. What will inform you? What will motivate you to join this to take somebody’s life? What is the joy in taking somebody’s life? So, it is an issue like you know today. It is everywhere in every state.
But it’s more prevalent in some states…
No. You have heard of it in Ogun State, you have heard of it in Kogi State, Imo State, several states.
But you are the one that has granted them amnesty?
So many states have done that. I did not grant them amnesty without consultation with security agencies. It was a decision that was taken in security council meeting. But as far as I am concerned, it has yielded fruits.
Governor Wike, a lot of people will say that part of the reason why a lot of these problems broke out was when the political rivalry in your state began when your predecessor went to the APC. Would you attribute it to the relationship that has broken down between you and him?
Why should that be so? Must we agree every time? So does it mean that I cannot have a different view and you have a different view? So, if we have different views, is it why we should encourage cultism? What has cultism got to do with us having different opinions?
So, you deny completely that this has anything to do with political divisions in your state?
Completely. Even before now, there has been that.
Do you ever think that the relationship between yourself and himself will ever mend?
I don’t want people to see us as so important people in the state. Why is it so particular that our relationship will normalise? Why? Why are we attaching so much about a relationship?
Because people believe that if the relationship between the both of you mends, there will be political stability in Rivers State…
I don’t think so. The issue is for you to understand that you have served the state, you are no longer in charge of the state. Therefore, the government in place must be allowed to do their work. (Saying) ‘Having lost out, I will never allow peace to reign’ – that is not a good thing to do.
You blame him for the instability?
But who is causing the crisis? Or the seeming crisis that appears to be in the state?
You talked about cultists…
That is a different thing. Cultism is a criminal act. That is true. Having political crisis which may lead to criminal activities is also another thing. For me, I have always said that one thing I have always had at the back of my mind is that you have a privilege to serve the state, you have served the state – to God be the glory. The day I finish serving the state, I will not continue to make sure that the government in that state does not perform. I will not do that.
Even if it is not of your own political party?
It does not matter. It is God who gives power.