In this interview, last week, Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers State and now Transport Minister, bared his mind on the crisis rocking the state and why peace has continued to be elusive. Amaechi insisted that the incumbent state governor, Nyesom Wike, should tone down his rhetoric on violence, to bring down tension in the state while asking him to also distance himself from ex-militants, to send a clear message that those engaging in violence will not go unpunished. Excerpts:
6,000 policemen and some very senior police officers have been deployed to Rivers State for the re-run election. What sort of impact are you expecting that to make?
Well, if you’ve been following events in Rivers State in the last eight months, you would have been able to appreciate why that needed to be so – that is, the deployment of the policemen there. The President of this country has the responsibility to protect lives and property. If you’ve observed very well, I have tried as much as possible to stay away from the goings-on in Rivers.
The election for governorship was contested by Dr. Dakuku Peterside (APC candidate) and I left him to continue to fight his battle. Now, the most significant role a state governor is expected to play is the protection of lives and property of the people.
I went to Omoku to visit the family of the Chairman of APC in Ward 4 of that local government. He was murdered, his pregnant wife was murdered, his son was also murdered. The second family I went to visit, the story was the same thing – he was murdered and his pregnant wife was also murdered. Fortunately for the child, they didn’t see him. In fact, it was the grand mother who escaped with her grandchild and that was why that one escaped death.
The police say they have looked into the matter and established cultism as the reason for these killings?
Okay, so it is PDP cultists against APC cultists, is that it? Look, let me tell you, the reason lawlessness thrives is because you do not punish those who break the law. Rotimi Amaechi I went to these communities, penultimate Saturday, Buguma, Abonema, and Omoku – these communities have been deserted.
Okay, let us even assume that all the killings are related to cultism. The responsibility of the police is to protect lives and property. If, for instance, a governor begins to wine and dine with alleged cultists in the state, you embolden them. I am a Catholic Christian and I am proud of that. I will never meet with a cultist.
But then, shall we say the Federal Government has failed in its responsibility since it is in charge of the police?
I thought you know that the responsibility of protecting lives and properties in the state lies with the state governor.
But state governors have always said that they don’t control the police?
That is not true.
It is rare and in exceptional cases like the one I had on my hands when I was governor. It was under the former President when the citizens and even the state government were helpless because of the siege created by the Federal Government on the state.
You know there was a time when just before an election, leaders of our party were detained. But under this President who preaches the rule of law, that is not happening.
Whereas the police are saying the reason for the killings in those communities were as a result of cult clashes, you are saying they are political. Are you, therefore, vouching for all the members of the APC that they are not violent or that none of the APC members in Rivers State is a cultist?
I wish you knew me very well. One thing I fear about life is that it is irreplaceable and, if you are going to be one of my followers, you must not own a gun, you must not carry machetes.
So you cannot work with me and carry weapons.
But that does not answer my question in the sense that what I’m saying is that, are you saying every single member of APC is not a cultist?
Yes. That is what I am saying. To follow me, you must be God-fearing.
So you’re saying there are no sinners in APC.
Being God-fearing does to mean you cannot commit sins, but there is always a limit to which you definitely know you must not go beyond.
Looking at the rhetoric, is it not obvious to both you and the state governor, Wike, that your incendiary comments have been overheating the polity?
I told you I kept away from that state having served my eight years. But one man has consistently used language and words that encourage violence.
So what have you done to tone that down?
You cannot tone it down because he is the person using the violent language. He thrives in violence.
You say that your former Chief of Staff thrives in violence,that says something about you too?
He does. I had him under control.
When he became a Minister, then we all saw the true colours of the type of person he is.
A Chief of Staff is someone who is so close to you; so, for you to have appointed him meant you knew him very well?
By the time I knew who he was, we had to manage him. If I’d heard the type of things I heard about him, I wouldn’t have appointed him.
Look, I even had to return to Port Harcourt when people started feeling abandoned, that I had abandoned my people for the comfort of Abuja.
So you are on the offensive now?
No. I am not on the offensive. I just went to Port Harcourt to commiserate with the people. It is for the state governor to be civil in his pronouncements and dealings.
Let me tell you this: Three armed robbers were arrested by the police; they were said to have confessed to have killed soldiers;
but the Attorney General of Rivers State now writes a legal opinion that they should not be charged to court. If you care for Rivers State why don’t you and the incumbent sit and find a way forward?
I’m willing, but how does that happen? When I was governor, I had people who did not like me but I had to visit them late at night to resolve issues with them. My mandate now is to deliver logistics to Nigeria.
I am not the governor. You cannot just drive to Government House, Rivers. Okay, let us even assume that Peterside and I are the aggressors, what do you think the state governor should do? Shouldn’t he find a way to reach us and seek ways of creating peace.
He is the state governor for Christ’s sake.
What is the way forward?
Those supporting and sponsoring violence must stop. If you don’t encourage these criminals, they won’t be doing what they are doing. That was why I did not support the Amnesty Programme because I believe that, if you break the law, you must be punished.
You don’t pay a lawbreaker because, if you do, you embolden him or her. I predicted that if you pay militants in the South, you must pay to militants in the North too. So, if Boko Haram members come out now to demand that they want to be paid to lay down their arms, why shouldn’t we pay them? Or if MASSOB members say they will stop their protests but they want amnesty, what do we do?
Some of us believe that if you sit down with your friend, your former Chief of Staff, to trash these issues, there will be peace in Rivers State?
Look, in politics, there are things you do as a product of consultations. We agreed to nominate somebody for the ministerial slot of Minister of State which came to Rivers State.
A mutual friend advised that Wike was a bit down since his removal as Chief of Staff, and we decided that that counsel was a good one. But you know what, in retrospect, that advice was the worst advice I’ve ever received and acted on in my life.
I was overwhelmed by the number of people who called on his behalf and we had to swallow the bitter pill; and mind you, people had already branded me as a stubborn person; so I also needed to bend over backwards and that was how we nominated him.
On this issue of way forward, a state governor should be able to do everything possible to have peace in his state. As for me, I fear God a lot. That does not mean I am a saint, but I fear God a lot because the consequences of not fearing God are so grave
THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST AIRED ON CHANNELS TELEVISION