Recently, at the funeral of an eminent jurist, Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, described himself as the “best governor” Rivers State has produced. Amaechi, known for playing to the gallery, also used the occasion to make uncomplimentary remarks about politics and development in the state.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo, responded to Amaechi by describing his predecessor’s tenure as a legacy of white elephant projects.
Governor Wike, who gave his response during a live television interview programme, on Monday, September 28, was reacting to comments made by the minister who cast aspersions on the security and development of Rivers State under the Wike administration.
Governor Wike, who listed the Justice Karibi-Whyte Hospital and monorail project as Amaechi’s “legacies”, said that his predecessor, Amaechi, was more interested in awarding political projects to boost his personal ego than delivering service to Rivers people.
Rivers watchers are aware of the fact that, for the past five years, since he assumed office as the number one citizen of Rivers State, Governor Wike has exhibited great restraint and admirable political maturity in refraining from joining issues with his predecessor. He has opted to concentrate on delivering on the promises he made to Rivers people, which, fundamentally, is to deliver good governance and legacy infrastructural projects to the people.
With this mandate in mind, he simply hit the ground running from May 29, 2015, and since then his administration has been a beehive of nonstop administrative realignments, project implemention and the completion of some critical yet abandoned people-oriented initiatives, from Operation Zero Potholes to the reopening of the courts shut down for over two years and the reinstatement of lecturers, payment of backlog of pensions, assembling a committed and functional cabinet and addressing the critical needs of the people.
It was little wonder, therefore, that, two years into his administration, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, during one of his working visits to Rivers State, christianed him “Mr. Projects” in recognition of the amazing transformation that the state witnessed in so short a period.
Those who have closely followed and monitored the political trajectory of the state would vividly recall the turbulent processes that defined the elections of 2015 and the casualties that emerged when the dust had settled. They would also remember that the opposition was relentless in its obsession to bring down the Wike administration from the first day till the very last day before the 2019 elections, when a Supreme Court judgment finally cleared Governor Wike and declared him eligible to contest for his re-election.
In the midst of all these, the opposition had embarked on a deceitfully salubrious image laundering merry-go-round in the media, celebrating all the failed or abandoned projects of the past administration and urging with a sinister motive for the rehabilitation of these white elephants while villifying the Wike administration, even without coming clean to Rivers people as to why these paper monuments cannot be rehabilitated in a hurry.
Governor Wike, mindful of the distractive energy that would be dissipated in joining issues with the opposition and careful not to be snared in the murky agenda of washing the dirty linen of Rivers State in the public space, refrained with stoic, unshakable resolve not to call out certain persons who defrauded Rivers State or expose the rotten underbelly of the past administration’s glossy outer veneer.
But there is always a limit to the elasticity of a patient man’s resolve. When the Minister for Transportation loquaciously bad-mouthed the Wike administration with his usual lamentations on its security and infrastructural scorecard, little did he realize that, finally, he had crossed that red line limit.
Without mincing words, Governor Wike laid in on his predecessor, with the direct, honest, fearless forthrightness for which he has become synonymous and greatly admired not only in the state but across the country.
Governor Wike, addressing a global audience, which had fervently anticipated his well-advertised interview on the continental television network, declared that a project like the Justice Karibi-Whyte Hospital was a scam because it gulped $39.9 million on paper as there is nothing to show on ground at the proposed site.
It was one of the biggest frauds in the history of governance both in Nigeria and internationally as the so-called Canadian foreign partners eventually claimed that they did not have the funds to meet up their own partnership counterpart funding, after Rivers State had fully and hurriedly paid up the non-refundable $39.9 million.
Suffice it to say that a judicial commission of inquiry, after comprehensive and exhaustive investigation, indicted the Rotimi Amaechi administration for fraud in its report, but, like the saying goes, those who go to equity must come with clean hands, and so they quickly ran to the courts they had shut down for two years with the intention of getting a perpetual injuction to nullify the probe and declare the judicial panel illegal to investigate the matter.
Needless to say that they failed first at the lower court, then failed again at the Court of Appeal and now they are at the Supreme Court and, whether they like it or not, justice will surely be done and Rivers money will be coughed out.
Not done with the exposé and reeling out figures with definitive authority, Governor Wike stated that the sum of N65 billion was spent on the 1.2 kilometers monorail project, which was conceived as another white elephant and conduit pipe to milk Rivers’ resources, adding that he was stunned when an evaluation to complete the project provided a figure that would have conveniently built more infrastructure across the state.
In a no-holds-barred revelation, Governor Wike said most of such political projects existed either on the pages of newspapers or were used to settle political allies. Amaechi and his political allies, after siphoning huge sums of money from the state, left behind uncompleted projects.
This is what Governor Wike said: “Amaechi does not have the moral ground to talk about development in the state when he wasted so much financial resources on non-existing projects. Go round the state, you will never see anything that looks like Justice Karibi-Whyte Hospital. It is a scam that never existed.
“Again, tell me what is the traffic along Azikiwe Road that a 1.2 kilometres monorail project will be awarded for over N65 billion. When I came into office, I was told that it will cost about N30 billion to complete that project. If I have such money, I will build more infrastructure across the state.
“His Economic Advisory Council, led by Prof. Nimi Briggs, published a report. The records covered the activities of his administration from 2007 to 2014. On education, the council recorded that 485 primary schools were proposed for construction. Some existing old schools were demolished when they required rehabilitation.
“Work actually started on 478 schools but only 116 schools were completed across the state. Amaechi also awarded 15 modern secondary schools for 15 local government areas at over N4 billion each. Only the Ambassador Nne Krukrubo School in Eleme Local Government was completed and functional before he left office. So, calculate the remaining 14 at N4 billion each and you will know how much of Rivers money was wasted,” Governor Wike stated.
The fact that there are foremost schools in Rivers State that had produced prominent Nigerians in the state that should have been rehabilitated but Amaechi abandoned them to embark on the abandoned white elephants, some of them even located in areas with little or no population of school-age children or in other places like Opobo town, where the structure had already been swallowed by water, will make every discerning mind angry.
This has prompted Governor Wike to commence the rehabilitation of renowned schools across the state and, speaking during an inspection tour of rehabilitation work going on at Government Comprehensive Secondary School and Enitona High School, both in Port Harcourt, Governor Wike reiterated his commitment to upgrading facilities in schools that have contributed in moulding prominent personalities and made the state famous, educationally.
He also expressed sadness over wastage of funds by the previous administration in building new schools far away from where large number of people reside while it abandoned structures of the old schools.
He said: “I feel so sad that these schools are in such bad state. They are schools that have made the state proud. I don’t know why government will build new schools instead of putting the old schools in a position where they can be very conducive for students.
“You know those who have made names in the Port Harcourt; some of them attended these old schools. I have promised that we will do all we can to bring back the schools to what they used to be. I won’t allow the schools to die. We must continue to retain the name. We will also look at the schools that missionaries have taken over like the Okrika Grammar School. We will invite the missionaries to discuss the modalities,” he added.
Those who have watched the Governor Wike administration with a keen sense of objective appraisal will also concur that, with the commencement of his second tenure, the Rivers State governor has set in motion a brilliant economic agenda to concession all the government-owned farms and assets, which had totally become moribund even before the end of the tenure of the last administration. Rivers watchers will recall that die-hard Amaechi attack dogs and apologists had cried and wailed to the high heavens that Governor Wike had deliberately refused to revive these projects, which their administrative ineptitude and ignorance of partnership conditionalities compelled the last administration to abandon, thus leaving investors to their fate.
Governor Wike had been very firm about not exposing the suffocating conditions under which some of these investors were engaged, preferring instead to take time and explore the best ways to resuscitate these assets and deploy them maximally for the benefit of the state.
When the announcement to concession them to willing and capable investors was released, most of these vociferous critics were suddenly and uncharacteristically very quiet, which was surprising given that what they had been clamouring for had actually been adopted, or was there more to their hue and cry than meets the ordinary eye?
The Rivers State Cassava Processing Plant was first on stream on the concession conveyor belt and a list of other state-owned farms and assets had been made public before the outbreak of COVID-19 temporarily truncated the process, which had really gathered impressive momentum.
Recently too, Governor Wike inaugurated a seven-man committee, chaired by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo, to revitalise some dormant health institutions in the state.
The Prof. Kelsey Harrison Hospital, which had been one of the institutions the naysayers were harassing Governor Wike to rehabilitate, was number one on the list, but what the opposition critics did not tell Rivers people was that the hospital has not been operational because of a litigation over the agreement between International Trauma and Critical Care Centre Limited (ITCC) and the Rivers State Government, which Governor Wike inherited.
The committee set up by the State Executive Council made fundamental recommendations and decided to ensure they are implemented immediately without bureaucracy and thus the hospital will soon become operational once again. These are some of the bottlenecks the Wike administration was saddled with when it assumed office but the past administration has been economical with the truth and instead is busy instigating Rivers people and fomenting all manner of distractions to mask the real truth of the fraud and underhand practices that went down in the last administration.
Governor Wike has been very diplomatic and circumspect in protecting the image and reputation of the state by holding back on exposing the gross atrocities and monumental fraud that hallmarked the past administration. His driving motivation has been to rebuild the state and position it for the challenges of the future.
He has already pledged that he will not leave any uncompleted project when his tenure is over but it is also important to set the records straight once in a while, like he did during the television interview.
Governor Wike is not a self-seeking leader who parades himself as one that knows it all, like some leaders who will betray their state for personal gains. He is a team player with a benevolent spirit and a generous heart, who will certainly not be distracted by anybody, and this is one fact that his critics know very well. No matter how much they try, he remains resolute to make the state a destination of choice.