Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, has come a long way in building himself into an irresistible political brand, having served as two-time Speaker Rivers State House of Assembly, two-time governor of Rivers before his appointment into his current position in the federal cabinet. Speaking to SATURDAY SUN in this no holds barred exclusive interview during a railway project inspection recently, he went down memory lane on his political journey. He equally commented on the fate of the South-east geopolitical zone ahead of the 2023 presidential election, what awaits the ruling APC, the impact President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has had on the country and essentially why he did not fancy the position of SGF as touted by many.
The election victory of the APC has come and gone, but Nigerians are asking what to expect from the party in the next four years?
If we get revenue, we will deliver on all our promises. The problem is not whether we have the capacity to deliver on our promises, the problem we have is the issue of revenue. Are we able to manage the economy, the answer is yes but to manage the economy, there are basic instruments that must be in place to manage it very well.
There has to be power to create jobs, otherwise, we will be exporting labour or development to countries like Ghana where they have power. The goods produced in Nigeria are not as competitive as the ones produced in other countries because the forces of production are cheaper there.
Here we have cheap labour, they have it there but they have power and we don’t have it here. They have security and we don’t have. The man producing here pays for water, security, power while the man producing in Ghana pays for little because he has water, power, and security.
So, it is cheaper to produce in Ghana and transport to Nigeria than to produce in Nigeria and sell there. For us to move forward, those forces of production must be put in place for our goods to be competitive.
How true is the impression that Amaechi has borrowed so much for railway project?
There is no iota of truth in that impression. That is not correct. Don’t forget that former President Goodluck Jonathan borrowed the loan for the Abuja-Kaduna project. He borrowed $500 million. For Lagos-Ibadan rail project, it was $1.6 billion out of which we were given $1.4 billion while the federal government paid $200 million. That is all we borrowed.
What they hear that make them reach the conclusion that I have borrowed so much is because we said that Lagos-Kano will cost $1.8 billion but nobody has given us that money. Lagos-Calabar rail project will cost $11 billion, yet nobody has given us that money. We said that Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line would cost $12 billion, yet nobody has given us this money.
I have said that the total requirement for the completion of these three or four rail lines, including Abuja-Itakpe comprising a seaport in Warri, will amount to about $36 billion. We will transform the country if we have $36 billion.
Considering what you did for Buhari during the 2015 presidential election, many felt that Minister of Transportation is not rewarding enough for you; do you feel that SGF would have been better?
I am a hands-on person and probably would not have been a good Secretary to the Government of the Federation. But essentially, I did not reach any agreement with the President. He found me suitable in the transport sector, fine, let me go and deliver there. It is not a thing to worry about. What is important is that this is where I have been called to service.
Will you likely continue in the same ministry in Buhari’s second tenure?
I don’t know and perhaps you may go and ask Mr President that question. If the President reappoints me, I will be glad to serve, but I am not in position to tell you whether he will reappoint me or not. That is at the discretion of Mr President.
What is the way forward, to bring peace to the ruling party, the APC?
I don’t really know how to answer that question because the National Chairman of the party and Mr President are in the best position to answer it because they lead the party. I will however say that the APC needs to do a lot of reengineering and put the party together.
There are lots of meetings that are supposed to be going on in APC like we used to hold those meetings when we were in the PDP. They need to bring caucus together, set up structures at the states and local government levels that will be meeting regularly. They also need to fund those structures.
If these things happen, APC will continue to rule the country but I have a problem with the fact that everybody is not completely involved. When I say that everybody is not completely involved, it is not that because people are holding meetings, there are not anywhere people are holding meetings more than the other, but just that we need to play more party politics.
Why did you sing war song during presidential campaign in the South East and South-South?
I don’t see anything wrong with those war songs I sang during the presidential campaign. Those songs are the traditional songs those people are known with. If you go to Aba, for example and don’t sing Nsogbu Nsogbu, you have not started. Even though the other song was an Ohafia war song, it is better known as Owerri song. They are traditional and artistic.
Again, the songs are to let the Igbo know that it is high time they came into the national politics. They are completely out of the national politics and it will pay them. If Igbo are not found in the national politics, it will be to the detriment of their children.
As the first to dangle the 2023 president carrot to the Igbo, what is the situation now?
I was the first to do that but I don’t know what the situation is now. I don’t know what they will do now for voting against the APC. For refusing to support the APC, they cannot come to the table to demand the presidency slot.
For people like us in the APC, if the Igbo had come and voted Buhari, they would boldly tell Mr President and the National Chairman of the party that presidency should go the Southeast since the South-south; South-west and North-west have produced president. What argument would the Southeast come up with now to convince anybody that they deserve the slot for 2023 president?
What do you advise the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, for dragging President Buhari to court?
I won’t give him any other advice because everybody wants to crucify me over the one I gave to him previously. I had told him that it was unnecessary to drag President Buhari to court. That he should rather allow him do his remaining four years for the interest of the country since 2023 is already here with us. Some persons felt that it was an unnecessary advice and I stopped.
Can you dispel or confirm it that you are strategizing for 2023 and that you may go for President or Vice President?
I am not up to age of those contesting for the positions because the president is for those that are 70 years and above. It is implied in the constitution that you must be 70 years and above to be the President and you must be 68 years to be the Vice President. I am just 54 years this month, May. And since I am not qualified by age, how can anyone say that I am going for the positions.
Did it occur to the APC-led federal government that things are getting very difficult for Nigerians now?
They are lying to say that things are getting difficult for Nigerians. It is not true and people are not being fair to the President to say that things are getting more and more difficult. The story of Nigeria is the story of the pyramid. Nigeria had like 10,000 rich men and 10 million poor people before Buhari came in. Starting from the former military Heads of State to the civilian presidents, big men were created here and there.
They used instrument of authorities to create those wealthy men but as they created those rich men, people were getting poorer. Creating poverty cannot be under one year, it is over the years. They allowed the rich to acquire wealth to the detriment of the poor. Public institutions were not strengthened, schools were not built, and not much was done about primary health centres.
Don’t forget that when we came in, the dollar was already bouncing and running, forcing many to take the position to devalue the currency and remove oil subsidy as a way of securing the economy. And when the president tried it, and saw dollar ran to N500 per dollar, he got frightened and said no more devaluation.
That is why it now came down to N300 per dollar. If we had continued with that, we would have been in trouble. That was why I said that the intervention of Buhari stopped the Nigeria revolution. If we had continued, people would have started eating themselves.
What we are doing now is to manage what would have happened earlier. What the president is doing now is to get the economy trickle down to the base. If it successfully gets to the base, there will be no revolution. But it will not be easy.
What will you say is the most striking achievement in Buhari’s first four-year tenure and where he needs to improve in his second term?
There is no way anyone can ignore Mr President in the area of infrastructure and he is among the two presidents you cannot ignore. Buhari and Gowon did very well in provision of infrastructural facilities in every part of the country.
Babangida equally tried especially in Abuja and building of the Third Mainland bridge in Lagos State. Buhari equally did well in agriculture and security. In terms of security, it is not about how many policemen deployed in the field, but essentially how you address poverty and hunger.
It is all about employment and that is why he has been shouting that we must create employment. An unemployed must look for food even if you put policeman at his door.
The best way to address insecurity is to create employment and create avenue where income can come to the people. We build infrastructure to create employment. Once contractors are paid and they pay workers, wealth will trickle down to the masses.
What is your take on the impression that President Buhari’s appointments have been sectional?
I don’t have comment. I have said that I don’t understand what people describe as sectional appointment. President will appoint people he knows. You don’t expect him to appoint his enemies. In fact, let us situate this, 60 to 70 per cent of the economy, budget are in the hands of two people from the south, Fashola and Amaechi.
So, why are the northerners not complaining that he gave those key economic positions to the southerners? If I were a northerner, I would tell Mr President to give the South everything and give them those two key positions.
Did it occur to you that you created too many enemies in Rivers like Magnus Abe and others?
Ordinarily, I would not want to comment on that but let us take Magnus, who wants to be governor, for example. I told him that since both of us come from upland, he should allow riverine to go. But he said that I abused him before his wife.
As an Ikwerre man, the assumption in Ikwerre is that if nobody can control a man, his wife should and that was why I called his wife to beg her husband not to run. To show how much he is not a Christian, he told the world that I told the wife that I would finish him if he runs. Is that possible and can you do that to even a mad man?
Most Christians take God for granted because of the principle of forgiveness. It is like what I told Peter Obi after I had won the chairmanship of the Governorship Forum, 19 to 16. I saw him in the Catholic Church after watching him campaigning round the media that I did not win.
I challenged him to kneel down before the Blessed Sacrament in the altar to swear that I did not win that election and I will resign there and then. But he told me that it is politics and I should not bring religion into politics.
So, Magnus, and others rose from my hands politically. God used me as a tool to spring all of them. During the APC presidential campaign in Rivers State, I told Mr President and the crowd that 80 per cent of the current Rivers politicians passed through me. I nominated Austin Opara, the Deputy Speaker for House of Representatives. I put my cousin Celestine Omeha as Commissioner under Rufus Ada George. Magnus and many others passed through me.
Is it true that you cannot walk freely on the streets of Port Harcourt now?
I am surprised you did not see a video of where my people were falling on each other to touch me. The security had a rough day stopping people to allow me pass. I was running and they were chasing me.
I went into a market that would have been very dangerous for anybody like me to prove a point. My security did not even anticipate it. As dangerous as Port Harcourt may be, I can go to anywhere I want to go. I still go out with one car in Port Harcourt.