Rotimi Amaechi: Our 2019 Experience Won’t Happen Again in Rivers


The Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi’s disposition to any media engagement is nothing short of an opportunity to relax and unwind, even when the issues involved are serious. With candour and humour, he always waltzes through, no matter the stretch of time. Yet, Amaechi is not one of those sources, who would ask to have your questions in advance or an idea of the areas you intend to cover, although nothing is bad in being prepared for an interview. Just ‘come and shoot’, whilst he plays through the session, curiously, dealing with some of the most difficult questions arising from his beat. Interestingly, his familiar approach to what might have been considered obnoxious issues, took a different form this time, making the time spent with THISDAY a lot more interactive. From the business of railway infrastructure development in the country to concerns in the maritime sector, the local politics of Rivers State, the clamour for power shift, the man called Muhammadu Buhari and the journey to the 2023 presidential bout, the former governor of Rivers State, had his answers structured for every probing question, somewhat. Excerpts:

For nearly 6 years, you’ve been the minister of transportation and the major focus has been mainly railway infrastructure. How has the journey been like?

The journey has been tough; it has not been easy, honestly. There is somebody that I am battling with now or a group of people that I am battling with. They are trying to blackmail me, they want me to give them a contract and they have come to me physically and I said no. Now that the contract is in the process of approval, they have sent some text messages to me. Let me just show you the message they sent to me so that you can see how bad they are, but me, I will never fall for blackmail.

Listen to what they sent to me: “We are working on a cargo-tracking note story and we need the minister’s reply to some questions below. The VP says the minister has contravened the public procurement act in obtaining the presidential approval for the contract.” How do you contravene a public procurement act when you have a presidential approval? Don’t forget I said they had approached me physically. When they could not reach me, they got to my wife. And so, for not giving them, they now contracted a press team and I say they can publish. At least, I have got approval from the president.

Three times they tried to stop it, they got some government officials to stop it – three times – but I still continued. Having failed in the last one, which happened two weeks ago, they have now contracted a press team. So those are the things you meet in the course of your work as a minister of transport. It has not been easy. If anybody thinks it is easy, it is not, coupled with the fact that there is a political element to the issue of railway construction. And I told a joke, I said see the Yoruba, they are not complaining, no shouting, nothing because we have done Lagos-Ibadan. If we had not done Lagos-Ibadan, the Yoruba would have been shouting by now.

So that is the political element to it. It is just like the Igbo are saying, oh, you have done nothing for our side. They merit having a railway but I have always said that railway construction is not political; it is economics. I am constructing Lagos-Ibadan, not because I want to satisfy the Yoruba, it is because Lagos-Kano will generate about 11 million tons of cargo. So in the whole of the country, that figure by far makes economic sense for anybody who wants to construct a railway than going to construct, for instance, from South-south. If the South-south is about 3 million or 4 million tons, I will first and foremost construct Lagos to Kano, because it makes more economic sense than doing the one where I come from.

So we are pursuing Lagos to Kano, and as we are talking now, we are constructing from Kano to Kaduna. We have finished Lagos to Ibadan, we are looking for money to go from Ibadan to Abuja to complete the whole gamut of Lagos to Kano. Now, the next most important rail line to Lagos –Kano is Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, which includes the South East area, because it has 11 million tons of cargo. We have not been able to generate the data for Lagos to Calabar. The president has said to me, Ameachi, complete Lagos to Kano, Port Harcourt to Maiduguri and then Lagos to Calabar. These are the three most important rail lines in Nigeria. The next one will be the central line, which is Itakpe to Warri but then, there is a new addition, which comes from Abuja to Barro to Itakpe. That is the central line. Once we finish this, the areas that will be remaining will be Yola, Adamawa, Taraba, Gusau in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi. These are the five states that are remaining and we are working towards it. They are not contiguous and that is why we are finding it difficult. The professionals are doing their feasibility studies so that we can add them.

You have the numbers for Lagos to Kano, the volume it carries, 11 million tons, what is the economic data that supports the construction of Kano to Maradi rail?

I have answered that question to the whole country. I have answered it outside Nigeria. I have also answered my wife and children. We did not design Kano-Maradi; it was not our idea. We met it on the table. Somebody told me that it was Goodluck Jonathan’s government that did the feasibility studies and design and all that, I don’t know how true it is. Two, it is a critical arrangement between Nigeria and ECOWAS. So Nigeria is bound to do two major rail lines to join the West African rail line, that is, Lagos to Seme and Kano to Maradi. And for me, Kano to Maradi makes more economic sense than Lagos to Seme. Maradi makes more economic sense than Seme.

Don’t forget Benin Republic is a competing nation. They are competing with Nigeria, because they are a coastal state; they have a seaport. What ECOWAS is trying to do is to bring landlocked states to be able to use their waters. So you shouldn’t be encouraging your neighbouring state that has waters. What you should do is to see how you can make sure it does not have enough cargo. If you want to do that, then, Kano rail becomes a priority. I now said okay, Nigeria will fulfil its obligation by constructing Kano to Maradi. I flew to Niger Republic, had a meeting with the prime minister and said to him, ‘look, we are going to construct rail line from Kano to Maradi and we are already constructing Lagos to Kano, which means that, if you board in Maradi, you will not stop anywhere until you get to Lagos. What is the benefit? The seaport in Lagos becomes busier than it is now, because they have promised us and we should put that in writing. I am not a lawyer; I have to imbibe that culture of putting things in writing. I usually believe that everybody is a gentleman but these are nations – Nigerian nation and Niger Republic. There is a need for us to put it in writing. They have agreed that their country will import national cargos through Lagos seaport. That is the way to make money out of the Kano-Maradi rail line.

But how do you action that in an international court, assuming they reneged on the agreement?

How did you action Bakassi? An agreement is an agreement. I am a law student; I am a fourth-year law student. I am doing a double degree in law. I am doing LLB Law at Base University, LLB law at the University of London. I have done contracts here and there, and contract means if you and I reached an agreement, in any form – whether oral or written –you are bound to keep to that agreement. Any breach of it, I will go to court. There are so many international agreements in the world. Like this one I told you now, why are we doing Kano to Maradi? Because there is an agreement between all the West African states that each person will do its own.

Yet, the president said on national television that he was doing the rail to Maradi because his cousins were there?

He was joking. You know how our elders saw Nigeria; they saw Nigeria as a big brother to everybody. Unlike now because of poverty, we the younger ones are saying no, no, our leaders keep that your concept of Nigeria being big brother. So our president is still seeing Nigeria as a big brother to everybody. It is not the nature of the president to explain to you, which I have done now. I go to the cabinet and they ask me questions, some people attack me and I defend it. The approval by the cabinet was not done by the president alone, it was done by all of us. So when the president tells you they are our cousins, he was trying to make you remember that all of us are one. If somebody from Niger walks in here now and doesn’t open his mouth, will you know? Just like if a Cross River person walks in here, you won’t know; you will think he is a Rivers man until our intonations come to play.

A lot of people thought or believed that the president must have influenced that particular contract.

Oh… no no no, it is so annoying when I hear statements like that. Do you know why I said that? I wrote to the President four years ago, he refused to approve for a different reason. His argument was that, I am the president of the country, if you take the rail to pass through Daura, it will look as if I influenced it. And I made a joke to him. I said, ‘Oga don’t worry, when we get to the boundary between Daura and there, we will jump to Katsina and leave Daura alone.

The Maritime University in Daura, or is it Transport University? Some people described it as another northern agenda. What informed locating in a place like Daura?

There is no maritime university in Daura. That is where they say my arrogance comes in. What is in Daura is Transport University. The Maritime University is in Okorokiko in Delta. What you have in Daura is Transport University and the federal government or you and I are paying no kobo. I usually brag about it and say, I could have taken that money, get CCECC $50 million to go and invest in Duara and build a university for us. Why? Because you can build all these railway tracks and all that but the day the Chinese go, you don’t have any technology to manage it. We had a battle. They agreed, just like I had a battle, that they should build one in my village. By the way, they are building one in my village and it is called federal university.

Much as Nigerians love the feats in the railway sector, there had been concerns about endless borrowings to fund it. Do you think the worries are misplaced?
Again, that is where you people accuse me of arrogance. What is the evidence about borrowing? So far, we have only borrowed $1.4 billion in my ministry, which is for Lagos to Ibadan. If you do your investigations, Lagos to Ibadan is $2 billion, the federal government is putting $600 million and we have put in $600 million even though we still owe less than $100 or $200 million. Now, we borrowed $1.4 billion – that’s what we borrowed.

Under President Goodluck Jonathan, they borrowed $500 million to do Abuja-Kaduna. So Abuja-Kaduna which is $1billion, the Chinese government gave us $500 million. If you add the two, it is $2.1 billion since Goodluck Jonathan. Kano-Maradi is $1.9 billion, we have not borrowed, yes, we have seen the money for Kano-Maradi but until we sign the agreement, we have not borrowed. We have not seen the money for Ibadan to Abuja, the Chinese are no longer giving the money they wanted, so we are looking for the money. We are looking for money for Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, which is $3.020 billion. We have not borrowed.

When we go to the National Assembly, it is to get the approval, which is the requirement to get a loan, because your parliament must agree that you can borrow. For Kano-Kaduna, up till now, we are funded about $300 million dollars from the budget. As I am talking today, they are constructing Kano-Kaduna. The only place you can say we borrowed will be Lagos-Ibadan, $1.6billion; Abuja-Kaduna, $500 million and we don’t have money yet. So when people say we are borrowing money, I am tired of explaining. Let me give you an example. I go to the cabinet and say, I want to do Port Harcourt-Maiduguri, $3.020 billion, people will shout…Amaechi! They will exclaim.

But they have forgotten that all we have got was an approval to find the money. As I am talking to you now, I am scouting around the world to look for $3.020 billion. I am looking for money to do Lagos-Calabar, which covers my area, South-south; it is not there, $11.1 billion. We have seen some movement of cash; they have told us that they will give us $300 million to start while we look for $1.65 billion. Supposing we finished the $300 million and they say they don’t have money, what will you do? But so far, they have not given us any money, which is why I said I have seen, because once you put pen to paper, they will raise the first $300 million for us to commence construction.

Central line is even the worst, the Chinese company said they want to do PPP, we signed and got the contract for them to sign, now they said no, we should convert it to contract. I said no, I will not. Instead of me to convert it to contract, I will cancel it. We will advertise it and I won’t let you bid. You misled us. When you are asking for PPP, everybody I met in the world told me there is nowhere since the world was created that they have seen PPP in railway. And they said there could always be a first time. Now, they have gone to look for the money and can’t find the money. They say we should convert to a contract, but I will not and I will go back to the cabinet to ask for cancellation. So all these things you are hearing – all of them put together – is about $36 billion dollars. We have not got more than $2 billion.

The ones you have borrowed, are they repayable, I mean can it repay the loan?

We are already paying. We have paid over $100 million for Abuja-Kaduna. And to contribute to the payment, the ministry of transport has said to the ministry of finance, once you remove the operational cost for the rail lines, take the rest. And operational cost is about a 100-and-something million naira and we are making N350 million now.

There’s a problem of model, because the Lagos-Lekki expressway is a toll road. So what are you doing to your rails?

Is there anywhere they toll rail? There is nowhere they toll rail. In fact, if railways are tolled, rail will be the cheapest means of transportation. We are here subsidising rail. You have to understand that rail is not only for passengers, it is also for cargos. So what you should say is that why is Nigeria not producing? We don’t produce anything. A man met me and said we don’t have rail in my town and I said tell me what you want me to do. If I bring rail to your town, what will it be carrying? Absolutely nothing. The only reason I encouraged the president to continue the rail construction is this, at the end of the day, when Nigerians begin to produce, they won’t tell us they had logistical problems, because what train is about, is logistics. But here, what are you moving? There are no metals or iron ore, not even chicken. We have the capacity to move fuel, diesel. If you are going to Ibadan, once you reach Kajola, look to the left, you will see our wet cargo wagons.

We have wagons that can carry frozen cargos. They are all there, we bought them. But unfortunately, we are not producing. I thank God for making me a minister. I used to come across people of affluence, and when the president said we want a new shipping line according to the law. What does the law say? The law says that Nigerians will hold 60% shares and foreigners will hold 40% shares. I was very enthusiastic as a young man who wants to get everything done. I boarded a plane to Singapore, and we got a Singaporean company that says they will bring the 40%. Till today, no Nigerian has raised one kobo.

Talking about rail, you once said the solution lies in rail. Now, you have been a minister for about 6 years, and not much has changed, would you say you have failed on Apapa?

How can I say that? The crisis in Apapa is not ours. Why I said the solution lies on the rail is that the moment you take the rail to the key side, any cargo that comes in just stops on the rail. Why have we not done that? Two things are affecting us. The first one is that, in the course of construction, there was a place that they used to dump waste. We thought by engineering this, we had found a solution to it, so we laid the tracks and passed. Few months after, depression started, the engineers called our attention to it. The consulting supervising company, the Chinese company, all of them came and said no, we need to find the technology to deal with it. Further investigation showed that it was 10 meters deep. The Chinese have reviewed that, to excavate the 10 meters and do soil replacement.

The Italians, who are the supervising engineers, said no, that it requires bridging. That is what I approved two weeks ago. Now, we have given the Chinese the directive to do that, so that there will be no further depression. They told us it will be done in six months. What they agreed with us was that by December, they would have finished work there. But that was because the Chinese thought it was soil replacement. So if I had approved soil replacement, it would have taken them one month to excavate the 10 meters and get soil somewhere else, maybe in Ogun or anywhere to replace it. But the other company felt that a more permanent solution would be a bridging facility, which I have approved.

I don’t know how much longer it will take them. When they finish that, there is another problem in front, near the key. The custom building that has scanners, and scanners come with dangerous chemicals. So we get a company from outside the country to come and take it away. That will take us some few months. The president has already approved cargos that can go on road transportation. Once we finish that, we will now compel those people who do not meet the requirements for road transportation to use the railway facility up to Ibadan. I have told the governor of Oyo State to prepare once we start this. I would have done him one good thing, our last station is outside Ibadan. So do a road that links that station to the express so that nobody comes into Ibadan because if they come into Ibadan, they will clog Ibadan. But if you do that road to the express, anybody who is coming will just drive from there, pack at our station, pick up his cargo and leave.

Are you likely running this rail infrastructure at a loss presently?

There is nowhere in the world that they make profit in railways, except, probably China. But it is very small. So yes. When it comes to Abuja-Kaduna, we have moved from N70 million profit per month to N350 million. If you look at the cost of construction, you must deduct it from it to know whether you are making a loss, because no rail line has been able to pay for itself. So if you say, I want to pay for this rail line, and you make N350 million per month, multiply it by 12, that means our grandchildren will pay what we are paying. But if I see it from the other way of being a politician, I can say yes, I am making N350 million per month in Abuja-Kaduna, I am not making that much in Lagos, yet, because we are yet to introduce the number of rail.

By December, we’ll introduce 16 trains per day, 8 going and 8 coming and each will contain 14 couches. So I should be able to make money also in Lagos-Ibadan. Where we may not make money is Warri-Itakpe. The reason we may not make money on Warri-Itakpe is because first, there are no passengers, because it’s not meant for passengers. It’s for iron ore and cargo.

Talking about making money, there are allegations of ticket racketeering.

If at all there is, maybe Lagos, because we have cleaned that out in Abuja-Kaduna when we introduced e-ticketing. Let me let you know, I am under the same pressure for this electronic ticketing in Lagos. So in Lagos, it may be possible if at all there is ticket racketeering. But it is not as pronounced as it was in Abuja-Kaduna. In Abuja-Kaduna, we arrested the guy and took him to court. And he had a good case. He said look, I am a Nigerian and a businessman. I buy tickets and resell, what is wrong with that? He said, he comes early in the morning, buys ticket, say 20 at N1000 and resells for N2000, what is your business? But he lost the case.

The issue of safety and security in the railway business. How are you handling that especially, in the light of the recent bombing of the Kaduna rail tracks?

You know when people asked me before, I was saying it was not bombing. But the security information I got this morning indicated that it was an IED. So whoever gave them that sense to put nitrate, ammonia and every other thing, to put on the track, then, we need to be more careful than we have been. The first thing is that we are going to talk with the Air Force again. Before, the air force used to fly above all our routes, so they see whoever is on the track at any time. But I think at a time they stopped, maybe because of the cost of doing that. So we need to re-introduce that.

The next thing we need to introduce is the rail bus. We have a rail bus that runs on the track. If a train is coming, it can just veer off, so when the train is gone it comes back. The third and final one is that we are going back to cabinet to get approval for a digitalised security system. What that digital system does is that if you touch the track, it triggers wherever we are. So you know who is on the track and you see the track end-to-end and you are able to make decisions. It doesn’t stop people from walking on the track but we are seeing it and we know what they are doing. If we had installed it, you would have seen the gentleman who dropped that IED on the track.

Are you likely to be able to recoup these investments?

As I said, in railways, you cannot recoup. It is just what you need to grow your economy. Take for instance, what impact that act would have had on people who live between Abuja and Kaduna? Most people who could not afford to pay house rent in Abuja are now living in Kaduna and coming to work at 6am. They arrive here at 8am and go to work. So you are looking at how much the person has saved. Now, what happens to the economy of Kaduna? Landlords will make more money because they now have tenants. The micro economy of Kaduna will grow. You cannot see railways put money in your hand, it just grows an economy. And that is what we have done so far. But the greatest economy the rail will grow is the productive economy.

Your government has been in power for almost 7 years and one of the issues has been Nigeria being a consumption economy. What is really being done to make the country productive?

You would think I am a sycophant when I say you should praise the president. And why did I say you should praise the president? I visited Borno when we campaigned for Dr Peter Odili and I saw that watermelon was growing in the wild, not planted. If you go to Borno and plant watermelon on 100,000 hectares of land, imagine how many people you will employ. Imagine whether Boko Haram will survive. The reason people will enroll in Boko Haram is just hunger, it is not religion. Hunger which is driven by poverty and a lack of education. So if I were the governor of Bornu State, I would focus on education and how to reduce poverty. Why do people join Boko Haram? Hopelessness! Don’t forget the reason Nigeria could move and progress in the past was because we had hope. Nigeria used to believe that once an administration comes, in four years’ time, they will go.

Another administration comes and repeats what the last one did. They will be hoping that the next one will be better. But now it is so hopeless that they don’t even believe that anyone and anything will change. So we’ve lost hope and because Nigerians have lost hope, they are taking the laws into their hands since there is nothing to live for. The reason you can see a man commit suicide is because there is nothing to live for. Now, if Boko Haram calls you and say, take 5, 000 naira and go and bomb this man, it is because if he doesn’t take it, nothing will change. So we need to give hope and how is the Buhari government giving hope? Have you looked at our contribution in Agriculture? In a rural economy like the Nigerian economy, if we can’t manufacture, then, you can do agric production.

I remember before I became speaker in Rivers State, everybody was going to look for work and they had other sectors of the economy. We were producing cream and all other things, the value chain was there. It was in my regime but I now sold it to a Belgian. The general manager who actually built it was ashamed that he handed over the thing, because Nigerians don’t produce. They don’t care. They want money to just feed; they don’t even ask how the money comes. If you are not getting the money, they say you are a thief but when you share the money with them, that is when you are a good man.

But a report by AFEXT, a commodity trading exchange, claimed that production has been poor because of insecurity.

I agree. Where is the incentive? We are not here for only two years, it is not something that started happening two years ago, we’ve been here six years. Before, we used to import chicken. I am into poultry farming. You know Obasanjo started as a poultry farmer. He could not get the licence to buy GPS and he knew only one person had that licence. Now, a few people bought the parent stock from that licence, because you won’t import. And that person did not have the capacity to produce the parent stock for us to buy, so chicken was being imported. Yar’Adua (former president Umar) came and expanded it to 15 persons. I was one of the 15 people that could buy GPS. Buhari came and removed everything and said, “Anybody who wants to buy GPS can go and buy.”

Now, people can buy GPS. So GPS starts producing PS. You have in the country people know who and who is producing. And the fact that he said we won’t use our dollar from NNPC to go and buy GPS outside means that even though it is more expensive, because if you buy chicken from outside it is $1. If you buy from Nigeria it is $3 but at least, we have started producing. It will get to a point where MTN got. Remember, when we started the GSM, it was very expensive, as soon as everybody stepped into the market, the thing started coming down. Now, everybody is saying there is glut. Sometimes, there is a glut in the poultry market, because everybody is now producing.

You know India or Croatia is the highest producer of banana but you know India imports banana because they are 1.4 billion people. In Rivers State, I had a banana plantation as a government. The young man who came there chased away the Mexican company. This thing you people call RUGA started in Rivers State. We got N3 billion, paid Israeli company to come and gave them 10,000 hectares of land to start constructing houses for 1000 persons. They built schools, markets, church for those who wanted to go to church. So the housing was for accommodation and each person had 100 hectares of land. As soon as the man came, he took the money back from the Israeli company and the company left. The company was introduced to me by Obi Ezekwesili.

So imagine 1000 people in 10,000 hectares of land all farming. Even if they don’t feed anybody, they will feed their 1000 wives. They will feed their children, that means you have taken out 3,000 people from the poverty index. You see, what the president is doing is to create opportunities. If you want the government to give you approval, show him evidence of how many jobs it will create. So when you said it was not our government, I wonder how. Take the railway for instance, it was the Obasanjo government that started railway modernisation but that was theory, which was on paper. When I came, I dusted the paper and read it through and I said, let’s go to the field.

The Goodluck Jonathan government started the Abuja-Kaduna, but at a point they stopped. They could not pay the money. We had to pay the money. When I came, I told the President to call the minister of finance, and the woman said, I should go and look for money. The woman still insisted on the budget, and the president said, ‘Okay, I agree with you. I am a man of the rule of law, so the budget. But before the end of the budget, look for this fund’. There is no fund that will be used to fund this project. And it was up to N18 billion, so he said, give it to Amaechi. Amaechi you start spending when the budget is approved. As soon as the budget was approved, she gave me money to go and start Abuja-Kaduna. But as a good man that I am, I made sure we did not forget President Goodlck Jonathan.

How are you addressing vandalism?

It is mostly between Nasarawa, Jos and some parts of the South East and then Port Harcourt. It is the law that is the problem, because the law says if you are arrested, let’s say you take 10 tons of cargo and it is N10 million for instance, and the law says you will pay N200, 000, won’t you take the risk? It is an old law but President Obasanjo had sent an amendment of the law to the National Assembly as far back as when he was in government and nothing has been done. We are arresting them but not much is being done. In fact, most times, the Nigerian Railway Corporation is complaining that we are paying for their feeding.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Secured Anchorage Area, what is the situation now?

The president has approved the cancellation.

Does the government have the capacity to secure the country’s maritime domain?

What capacity did the company that was doing it have? You have about three to four vessels, you arrest all vessels coming to Lagos, so you say, listen, we will escort you to Lagos, because our job is to protect you, park here, that is the anchor. So park here and we will keep you for 30 days. Meanwhile, your plan is to enter Lagos and go back the next day. The first day you pay $2500, the next day you pay $1500. $1500 multiplied by 29 days plus $2500 that made it 30 days. You are carting away a $100 and something million for doing nothing. So I kept quiet so that they wouldn’t accuse me of taking away their business. When I finished with the deep blue project, I called him and said, it is time for you to leave. He said why, I said because we now have the capacity to protect our waters.

NIMASA has provided that capacity of having more vessels. I am just coming from a NIMASA programme and I saw the vessels, so we have them now. He said, okay what do we do, can’t you hire us? I said why am I hiring you, for what? I have the equipment. I have the personnel, what am I hiring you for? So the battle started again, just like the foreign people who are petitioning now. The president set up a committee, one headed by the VP, the other headed by the minister of defence and then the EFCC.

Don’t forget this same issue consumed the former minister of transport. I told the president, sir, how much is in maritime? The budget in the federal ministry of transport is N6 million. That is the budget of maritime. Where the money is in the maritime is in NIMASA, NPA and all these our agencies but that is not the real money; that is not the money they are looking for.

The money they are looking for is illegal money inside maritime. When I read what a former chief of naval staff wrote against me, I laughed. I am sure he didn’t want me to address it publicly. What is the interest of the former chief of naval staff? Okay, what about NNPC? There are actors that cause confusion in the waters and go to NNPC to ask for security contracts. If you aggregate all the monies that non-state actors are diverting, vis-a-vis the ones that state actors are diverting, you will see that Nigeria is bleeding more from the non-state actors than state actors. In that case, I said I was ready to die on this matter. When NIMASA paid $20 million to the company, the company from day one said our account, our company – we are in Seychelles. So once they saw an official transfer from NIMASA to the company in Seychelles, they petitioned against me. They said they have caught Amaechi. I wonder why they have not released the report since. Before I went to the president, they had started this fight amongst themselves on how to share their money. One of them went to the newspaper and said he gave the presidency 8 million dollars, National Assembly 10 million dollars.

But at the end of the day, the president was convinced that something was wrong. He felt that the level of corruption going on needed to be checked, because who pays the money? It was not transport, it was not the federal government. It was because of that money they were adding. If a camera is $10 dollars in Ghana, because they have added $500 on that camera, the owner will pass it back to you ordinary Nigerian. So who are the people being cheated? The ordinary Nigerians! The president realised that the ordinary Nigerians were being cheated. First, there was no contract, it was just them harassing poor people like us. What they had was an understanding with the navy. So I wrote to the navy and said it was not the responsibility of them or anybody on earth to decide what was an anchorage area. The law says the honourable minister of transport will. I therefore said I did not give it an anchorage area. So the president has solved it.

Now, INTELS. The federal government is believed to have lost several billions since INTELS took NPA to court over the pilotage contract a year ago. But recently, the FG announced plans to award the contract for another 25 years to the same INTELS that was disqualified for violating bidding rules for contracts? Does that make sense?

There are two answers. The first answer is, it will be sub judice since it is one of the issues before the panel of investigation. The second answer is, ask the NPA whether they followed due process in proceeding with it. There is a process. You must come to the ministry of transport, and they didn’t come for the bidding process. So I wrote to them and said no, I don’t agree, that they didn’t follow the process. And I also wrote to the president and he approved.

It appears you were not briefed on the INTELS matter. INTELS built two berths at Onne Port for $2.5 billion and it was amortised for 10 years. But the contract didn’t speak to who collects revenue. INTELS’s argument is therefore that they built the berth, so they must collect the revenue from the pilotage contract, which is a different agreement to offset the debt. But the NPA said anyone could collect revenue as long as the debt is paid. But INTELS has collected the revenue for over 10 years at 38% from the government, then, the balance goes to offsetting the debt. How do you reconcile this?

For all those issues, let NPA and INTELS sit down and iron it out. NPA doesn’t agree with INTELS’s standard. What the president is interested in is what is lawful and what is right. But again, as I said, this matter would be sub judice; it is before a panel.

Is it true that the suspension of the former NPA has to do with the fallout from the INTELS matter and the Lagos Channel Management contract?

Did you see the letter that was approved by the president? We never ever mentioned INTELS. We never ever knew there was a crisis between INTELS and NPA. When the NPA wrote to me, I didn’t even know they were proceeding, because I wrote that you couldn’t proceed. There were two contracts that I told NPA that they couldn’t proceed with. The first one is this and the second one is the channel management. In writing, I told NPA that you are spending N57 billion a year for channel management, why not buy the equipment. Those white men don’t use white people to do this thing, they use Nigerians to do it. The difference is the equipment, which you can’t go to the market and buy. They’ll say because I am Nigerian they won’t sell to you. So buy the equipment and come and do it here.

Since 2019, they ignored me, until it was critical. That is the argument they are making now that it is too critical. We can’t afford to buy it now. Before we can finish the process to buy the equipment, it will take us two or three years. But I knew about it. I wrote to you in 2019 to say that I would not support this contract, because I thought Nigerians could do it. Now, the contract has got to N104 billion for all the channels by their bidding process. And I said I won’t send it to the cabinet, because for me, why do I have to buy that cloth in London if it is here? I said they should not renew the channel contract. Don’t forget that what most ministers like is this kind of situation, where contracts are expiring in their time. I could have just renewed it and collected some of the contract. But from day one, I said no; that we must move forward. We will save this country money. The first year, it may even be more than N57 billion to buy the equipment, so you buy the equipment, you deliver it. Let’s even say it is N90 billion, next year you will only pay salaries. To be paying N57 billion every year for 15 years, Nigeria is bleeding.

But it was alleged that you declined to take it to cabinet because you recommended two Chinese firms and the NPA turned you down.

Do you know me very well? If you know me very well, you will know that I will never call any of my agencies and recommend a contractor. Even as a governor, I didn’t call my commissioners to say they should go and give a job to somebody. Just like president Buhari gave me a free hand to run my ministry, that is the way I gave everybody a free hand to run their agencies. But do you really think as the minister in charge, they would not concede to me if I asked for two from the contracts? That must be a joke. The truth is, I was not interested but just wanted the right thing to be done. Period!

You suspended Hadiza in March and up till now, the committee has still not finished. Is the delay intentional?

I did not suspend Hadiza nor did I recommend her suspension. If you read the letter, the letter stated to the president, ‘Mr President, I am the minister for transport, I don’t know what is happening in NPA. Not one day have they reported to me or told me what is going on. Mr President, I would like to know what is going on. I want an audit.’ The president approved. From nowhere, the auditor general refused because that is his power. So I wrote the president that I no longer want an audit, I want to do what they call administrative enquiry. But let the Managing Director of NPA just step aside. So that is not suspension, in civil service they say, you are hereby suspended. And she is not under investigation. The MD of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usma, is not under investigation; it is NPA that is being investigated.

But it has taken seven months to carry out an administrative inquiry without a report.

The panel has not finished. They are investigating five years. One year alone will take them 10 months. But have it at the back of your mind that all we are doing is going through what happened in NPA for the five years that I never knew anything about NPA.

Are you likely to recall her?

I am not the president. That is the decision for the president. I will only send the panel report to the president. If the president is convinced that she should come back, so be it. If you look at the NPA law, only the president has the powers to fire or hire. The minister doesn’t have any power to hire.

It was said that you instigated her suspension because both of you were not working well and you have just insinuated it too by saying you didn’t know what was happening in NPA.

If you know me well, I am a very busy administrator. I like smart people around me. They do all the work, I get the credit. So there is no way you will say I will be angry with the MD of NPA if she was doing her job according to the law. And the law includes the fact that you should come to the minister for approvals. There is something we are querying now in NPA, I just saw the file yesterday and I asked the permanent secretary to brief me. I don’t know if I should tell you this, but let me give you an example. We had an agreement with Lekki Deep Seaport. The permanent secretary said an unknown person went and entered into a second agreement without the knowledge of the ministry. Meanwhile, the minister doesn’t have the power for such an agreement. The right thing is to go to the cabinet. I saw it yesterday and I read it once and read it the second time. But how do you sit in an office and somebody in NPA, whoever the person is, goes to drop a second agreement with Lekki Deep Seaport? And it has to do with exclusivity.

You said NPA is being investigated and not Hadiza, yet, you reported to the president that funds were not being remitted to the federation account, even when the ED F&A, who was a key figure in the NPA management, was appointed to Act pending the outcome of the investigation. How do you even explain that away?

Why not wait till the report is out? You have a structure, where the Managing Director of NPA is in charge of most of the issues. If today the ED finance has not remitted funds, whose responsibility is it to call me? If I want to see anybody in NPA, I don’t go to Koko, all I need to do is to say, ‘Perm Sec, tell the MD of NPA to see me.’ I have friends in NIMASA, even when they come once, they raise NIMASA issues. I just tell them to go to the DG. That is the structure, just like the president does. If the president is asking everybody in transport, how will I run my ministry? So if you say I did not hold Koko responsible, there are two things that will happen: I am holding NPA responsible for not remitting funds, whoever is in charge should tell me who is not doing their job. If the panel says Koko didn’t do his job, then, he will go.

Even at that, it still doesn’t smell nice that Koku is the acting MD when a panel is investigating NPA at a time he was the ED finance. Does it?

The management of NPA was not dissolved. I don’t have such powers. Only the president can dissolve the management and board.

Recently, you said Nigeria was the only country in the world where shipowners have no ship and the shipowners have replied you. They said you didn’t know what you were saying. But what did you mean by that statement?

Okay, let’s even say it is true, tell me one Nigerian that’s Ocean going? They all do carbotage. Finish! Again, I am the minister of transport, maybe I misspoke. What I mean by I misspoke is that I should be protecting my people; I should not be putting them out there. But if they want that debate, let’s have a meeting on that. They know I know the people I spoke about. They have told me themselves.

Still on shipowners, the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) was designed to help Nigerians who don’t have ocean-going vessels. Recently, you were quoted to have said the government had withdrawn the approval of the disbursement of the Fund. And the shipowners said you were not correct. From their own investigation, the approval has not been withdrawn. The question is, has the approval been withdrawn? If it has been withdrawn, how then do you develop the sector?

I will go back to the president. It took us three years to get approval from the president, because there were so many interests. The president minuted to the attorney general, who then advised that it was not public money; that it was money belonging to those who do business in maritime, especially shipowners and that it is held in trust by government. That the government should disburse to them, and the president approved. Then, we sent it to the ministry of finance, asking them to release the money according to the law to a specific bank, without telling us (ministry of finance), they wrote back to the president and said it was public money.

But NIMASA has been doing Cabotage waiver for foreign players, which the law forbids.

When did NIMASA do that? Please can you show me because that ends with the minister and I have never signed any of them?

So if there is no cabotage waiver how are the foreigners operating in the industry?

(NIMASA DG, Badhir Jamoh, who was present, interjects…) “We don’t give a waiver. There are two issues, one, only the minister can give waiver and NIMASA has a duty to process the waiver. So if you are a shipping company, you apply for a waiver and we process it. And when we process it, we send it to the minister. But the pattern and the main way the ministers operate, they don’t want to give the waivers. So usually most ministers, if they come, they don’t attend to those applications. But NIMASA continues to file in the applications on the processing of the waiver. The owners of those waivers assume once they pay and they have a receipt, they will go and continue trading. This matter went to the National Assembly, it called us and said we were giving waivers.

“We said we don’t give waivers. We said give us the evidence where we issued a waiver, and they didn’t have. The person responsible for waiver is the minister; this is what the act says. So they called the minister and he said, call the DG NIMASA; I have never given approval. When these two contradictory statements came, I now went to NIMASA and said all application forms received in respect of waiver and processed, send it to the honourable minister. If he doesn’t want to give, let him send it to us that he does not want to give. And that is the position till today.”

Let’s go back to the railway. The frequency of breakdowns of the locomotives has cast doubt on the quality of what you have. Aren’t you concerned too?

You are right about breakdowns, and it happened only in Kaduna-Abuja. But from 2016 till now, we have not replaced anything. We have run out of rolling stock. It is good to be a governor. As a governor, I can go and buy the rolling stock, but here, I have to advertise; I have to get approval from the president. The president gave me approval about four or five months ago. I have to do what you people refer to as due process. If I don’t do it, it will be on the front pages of the newspapers. So we are doing the due process to go and buy rolling stock. Rolling stock has been there since 2016 . We don’t have enough anymore to recover or to keep the rail running. If some are bad, we replace them and they move. So we will continue to have breakdowns. You should even praise Nigerian engineers. Recently, we have never had any breakdown. They fixed the rail after the attack. It was a young lady engineer that did it. I thanked her and said Nigerian media will not see this.

Still, a lot of people are attributing the breakdowns to poor quality

Just imagine that you have not eaten for four or six years, will you still be alive? So I said until we buy those rolling stocks, I don’t know whether it will be bought while I am in office, because of the due process. Because at the end of the due process, I still have to go to the cabinet. Take Lagos-Ibadan, if it is a state governor, it is easy but we are doing due process and it took us over six months to get this thing from ICRC. Now that we have got it, we are advertising it and we will give them six weeks, then, we will start our own internal due process.

When we finish, then, we’ll go to the cabinet. In fact, when we came to government at the beginning of 2016, the majority of members of cabinet were of the view that they should give us some emergency powers. But then people screamed, and they stepped that idea down. But if we had those emergency powers, all we need to do is to call, say, a Chinese company to supply us what we need. But because we have to do due process, it takes time.

Let’s play some politics. The All Progressives Congress (APC) is conflicted seriously in Rivers, and your friend, Magnus Abe is at loggerheads with your own faction in the state.

If you call an APC meeting now in Rivers State, who would you call? The law simply says there is a national APC, and the national APC sends people to organise primaries. If somebody says he is a parallel APC, he is on his own. It is like saying, because I established one oil company, I am now the NNPC.

What will it take for the crisis in Rivers APC to be resolved?

I don’t know, I don’t even know there is a crisis in Rivers APC, because I am a member of Rivers APC, but I am not the chairman of APC in Rivers State neither am I the secretary.

But you are a central figure in the party and also in the thick of the crisis.

The question is, what are these issues? Am I running to be a governor, apart from being a former governor of Rivers State, I can’t be Rivers state governor again. The law forbids that, however, I can be governor of Ogun State, but I can’t be governor of Rivers State again. So I am not among those in contention. You should ask those parties that are contending for the governorship of Rivers State.

Are you not worried that what happened in 2019 as a result of your scuffle with Senator Abbe could repeat itself in 2023, if you do not come together?

How will it happen? If they repeat what they did the last time, you will see what will happen. They were celebrating the last time. No known politician will allow what happened the last time to happen again. They went to court. Have you seen a situation where even a judge asked a party to a matter to come and was pointing their lawyer to them? The party refused and said it was not their lawyer. The last time we didn’t speak because we wanted to respect institutions, Now, this is the last lap.

You will say to yourself, how will it happen again? I don’t know how it will happen, I am not God, but I know that I am not in conflict with anybody in the party in the state.

Let’s look at the last time the court judgment came and the Supreme Court said, you people should go home and make peace. I came to the party in the state and I rallied everybody. And I said gentlemen, no victor, no vanquished, let everybody come together, we don’t need to make trouble and all that. But just because I said me, Chibuike Amaechi will support a riverine candidate, the trouble started again. So until somebody is made governor of Rivers State, you are not at peace? You can only be a good man when that man is made governor? They are denying me my right in choosing who I want to support. And I have said whether they like it or not, the whole Rivers State can go upland, for me, justice is served if I support a riverine man.

Why? Upland has been governor for 20 years, which is unfair. If Wike is the best governor, there can be another Wike in the riverine. So upland, allow these riverine people even if it is four years. And you can take the power from the riverine, any day you wake up and say I want back power. You will take it so easily. There are 18 local governments in the riverine area and 15 upland and, Ikwere alone has 2 million votes as at the time I left. So any day, Ikwere wakes up and say, we want back our power, they can do it. But allow what is fair and just; allow them governorship and that’s all I said. In fact, I say I don’t have a candidate, whatever candidate you people bring from the riverine, I will support. That is the quarrel in Rivers State APC.

Do you think APC, as it stands today in Rivers, has what it takes to challenge a Governor Wike-led PDP?

Wait until the elections. The last time, how did he defeat us? They used government institutions to defeat us.

No, that’s not correct, minister. You were alleged to have used the military to try to take power
I did not use the military. I did not even know there was military at Abonnema. I swear to God. I’m not joking. When I heard about the shooting at Abonnema, then, I asked: what happened at Abonnema that you people went there to shoot? That’s when I heard that a military officer, protecting INEC’s materials was standing like this; a lieutenant Colonel in the army, and you were courageous enough to shoot him?

Who shot him?

Whichever Thugs. The man slumped and died, then, the military immediately opened fire to save themselves.

But there was a body of women, protesting?

Please, please, could they come out? Can any woman come out in that kind of situation? They came out after and said they were demonstrating. What sort of demonstration? Even a policeman, you can’t past the policemen. But you see an army officer guarding INEC’s materials and you opened fire? Did they tell you that they went to Obi Akpo? A sitting government, shot an army Colonel and took Obi Akpo’s results? Did they tell you that? You know one thing about our journalists? Before you write, always make proper investigation.

Do you really want us to believe that..?

That is what happened, I did not not use the military

Let me take you back to the rail issue. You are the man in charge of the railway today at the national level, looking back at your time in Rivers State, you started a monorail of about 1.5 kilometres in length that you could not complete. How does that make you feel?

It’s more than that, it’s about 5.3 kilometres not 1.5 kilometres. The only thing remaining for that rail to be completed was the last station, that required less than N1 billion to complete. The problem is, when you pick young boys and give them what they cannot carry…Listen, I don’t want to go into that. Truth is, we have finished the tracks, we bought the coaches and locomotives. It was the consultant that advised us to extend it to the last station so that more trains can come and park. We awarded the contract for about N1billion or N2 billion. But the man there refused to complete it. What about the schools that they stopped? We will talk about all these during the election. Now, I am obeying my lawyers and publicist who have advised me not to talk. I am writing a book, Nigerians will know more when the book is released.

Your party has been in power for over six years and the country is a mess now.

Who told you that? I disagree with you

The statistics are there: insecurity everywhere, the economy is paralysed. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world under your party. No one can travel by road anymore, yet, you think the APC is a big deal?

That is not true. When my CSO died, I drove from Abuja to Asaba. I have told you when we were discussing that the reason for Boko Haram is not religion, it is not Muslims looking for Christians; it is basically the fact that there was a lack of education and poverty. Until we address that, the challenges will remain with us. Now, take for instance, I say go and open this station in Borno, they will say Amaechi is Hausa-Fulani man. You have forgotten that the reason is that some areas in the north tend to be poorer than some areas in the south. And there is a need for us as a country to balance out. You must balance out deliberately. Government must make deliberate efforts to do this.

Look, if you make me president tomorrow, I am going to run free education especially, in the north. Let the government fund free education, because the same people you are denying free education today are the people that are not allowing you to rest. There is no boundary for kidnapping, even the herdsmen you are talking about, we must find strategic measures to deal with the issue. You can’t just say don’t come to Rivers, or don’t come to Ogun State, no. The governors must meet as a people and say the reason why this is happening is XYZ. We will agree that we will partner the federal government to do the following and find solutions to them. Now, there are only two places people go to in Nigeria. There are 36 states and the FCT, but only two are functional – Abuja and Lagos. And why you are functional here (Lagos) is because of the federal government. The federal government will rather die than have anything happen to Lagos because of our economy.

Then, Abuja the same. Why are other places abandoned?

You and I, the rich men, when we are stealing the money that belongs to the people, didn’t we know? It has got to a point where access to public funds is no longer possible, because Buhari stopped people from getting access to public funds, except you do project. There is always a choice we have to make between infrastructure development and just spending the money recklessly. At other times, we’ve been reckless with our expenditures. We have never addressed infrastructure. I remember what the president asks me all the time, he says, “Amaechi, when you go to Cape Town, how do you feel?” I say I feel ashamed. Cape Town looks like overseas. When you go to Cape Town, you won’t believe it is a South African environment. So for him, he wants a replication of Cape Town in all parts of Nigeria. He thinks that we can build railways everywhere no matter how bad it is.

And I continue to remember the question he asked me, “Amaechi if those people, who were heads of state by that time we had money, had done this railroad, would we be doing railroad now?” No. We have been reckless with our funding. To address what you said, poverty is the basic factor for the issue of kidnapping, the issue of insecurity and all that. When I was governor of Rivers State, there was one statement I made clearly and I still maintain that. I said because few governments and Nigerian elites refused to provide a legal economy for the poor, the poor will provide for themselves an illegal economy. What I am trying to say is that poverty did not start with Buhari’s government. What I said was that, what is happening today started long ago. If we all went to school, we would not be looking for employment.

By the time there was this Tunisian revolution, everybody was educated in Tunisia. If we took time to put people in school, train them, then, you will have manpower.

Let me say this here, that all these railways we are building, what are we carrying? We did not create this poverty that people are blaming us for, it is just that the poverty showed in our time in office. If the poverty had tarried a bit, we would have finished our tenure and leave, and the next government would have suffered it. Buhari came and inherited it but he realised that the way to address it is not by sharing the little money we have, it is to provide infrastructure. If that infrastructure is able to provide employment, we would not be here, because everybody will be at work. I will repeat what I used to say those days. If all of us are working in Shell, would we have time to go and steal? You will be at work, and by 6pm, you’ll go home.

I will give you another example. There is one of my friends, he kept telling me that his wife was giving him problems. And I said what is the problem? He said she used to ask where are you, where did you go to? I said I have the solution, he said what is the solution? Is she employed, he said no. I said bring her. We gave her a job and now, when she gets home by 6pm, she sleeps off. Even if the husband comes back by 2am she does not know because at 6am she is awake rushing to work. He told me ah! Now that there is peace in his house. So when you say there is poverty and insecurity, it is not because our government is reckless; it is because we inherited poverty. There is crime because people are not engaged.

We inherited $2.5 billion in excess crude account, which was between $50 and $60 billion that Obasanjo left. They said, oh, the governors said they should pay them. What they paid us was only $10 billion, how did we say they should share the money? The constitution says you must hold an economic council meeting minimum of once a month. We came for the first month, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said we have spent $1 billion, the president approved. Next month, the president approved, third month, and the fourth month. This money is for the local government, state and federal, he can’t be approving for himself alone, let him approve for us too. We fought and fought and they disbursed $10 billion, in which they still took 56% and we took the remaining.

So what happened to the difference? The day they were leaving the government, what was left for President Buhari was $2.5 billion. I am speaking as a former chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. Nobody will accuse me of divulging government information, because this is privileged information I got to know. What was the first problem that confronted us? If you don’t give states money to pay salaries, there would be revolution in Nigeria. To avoid that revolution, states were given money, but don’t forget there was no money. We are not magicians. You should praise Buhari. This insecurity and poverty were created before we came. Nigerians want to know how you are handling it, they don’t want to know where it started from.

Let’s go to the burning issue of power shift. Many prominent northern figures are saying it is not by threatening that the heavens will fall that power will shift. That what the south should do is to negotiate power moving to their region. What’s your view on this?

Is there anywhere you play politics without negotiation? Even if they didn’t say power shift, even if they say the North should produce the president, the man who wants to be president, won’t he negotiate? Listen, Nigeria is such a big country, there is no place called South or North or East or West, it is all about interest. I tell people that when the Igbo, Ikwere and Hausa are sharing money, do you hear North or South? You only hear it when the sharing is not favourable. It is an elitist thing. The illiterate southerner and the poor northerner do not know that the rich northerner is colluding with the rich southerner to deny them opportunities. In fact, I always say that the day these two people will come together, all the elites will run away.

So I don’t think it is an issue. I just think that the politics of merit, the politics of national interest should be above other considerations, because we must know that this country has to be one, it is not at all costs but there is benefit in being one. Market is by size, the problem today why our market is not important to anybody is because we don’t have the purchasing power. The day everybody has the purchasing power, even those who said they are killing here will come here to be killed. But unfortunately, many Nigerian can’t purchase things. What can you purchase and where is the money? You are hearing today, North, South, East and West because there is no purchasing power.

The reason you are seeing all the ills is the economy is not working. Mind you, it is not by Buhari; it started before he came. Don’t forget that when he was head of state in 1983, he inherited a similar situation from Shagari. So you are hearing power shift because the elites are talking about how to share power and share the wealth of the country. It is beyond just power shift, it is a thing that you must say to yourself; if I take this action now, will the country divide? You must consider the issue of national interest. Will there be insecurity? Will the people suffer? There is no politics without negotiation.

Do you think you have what it takes to be the president of Nigeria?

That is a more difficult question to answer. And I will tell you why. Whatever capacity I deployed in Rivers State, still exists in me. One of the things I heard before I became governor of Rivers State was that, ‘he is too young, he is too rascally.’ But when I came, within six months, the kidnappers were on the run. I am the first Nigerian to call them criminals. Look at what they are doing, they are killing people, and if you kill people, are you not a criminal? You see, government has the coercive capacity to put anybody down, it depends on whether you want to deploy it or not. So being president is not an issue, I should focus on the responsibilities I have been given.

What are the attributes you want the next president of Nigeria to have?

The next president must first ensure that we have a united country. These elites must leave him alone to do his job, because the problem we have is that the elites are causing problem. Before, you had a Nigeria where people just gather because someone has just turned 50 and you spend $1 million dollars that could have been used to open an industry and employ people. I just spoke to you how the maritime sector is a problem to us. As speaker, 40% of my friends were Yoruba. There was no Yoruba speaker that was not my friend when I was a speaker. There was nothing like you are a northerner or a southerner, we were just comrades and friends.

In 2015, your party proposed three things, economy, corruption and security. In 2019, it reinforced the same thing and incidentally you were the campaign DG in both instances. Can you rate your party on these accounts?

I rate us 90 per cent. Let’s start with security, it could have been worse. When we came, states were unable to pay salaries. At that time, only Rivers State and Lagos could pay salaries. Out of 36 you are talking of 34 states that would have been on fire. And don’t forget we went into recession. Pundits, World Bank said it would take three years for Buhari to come out of recession. But it took him one year; in fact, it took him nine months. It is in this government that two past governors were jailed.

Pre-2015, your relationship with President Buhari. What is it now and what kind of man is he?

It’s the same. The only difference is now you have a president. Before I could joke and say, “Oga you know I am the campaign DG, everybody should obey the DG.” He would laugh and say, “Okay, oga DG, you are the power man; go ahead.” Now, go and tell him you are the DG and he will ask you who is the president. He may crack a joke, a lot of people don’t know him. He jokes a lot. The only time you will not see the president crack jokes or laugh when you are cracking jokes is when a visitor enters, then, he takes his military discipline and keeps quiet, because he is a very quiet man. But the moment the visitor goes and he is in his natural environment, he will laugh. He is now the president, but beyond that, our relationship has been smooth.

But people say you have lost out in the power game

Was there power?

But your access to the Villa is said to have been restricted. Are you denying that?


Yes, there are rumours that you have lost out in the power game. Isn’t it true?

I didn’t know there was a Villa power game. Honestly, I see the president anytime I want to see the president. I shouldn’t be saying this, but I see the president anytime. All I need do is to inform his office that I’d like to see the president and they will tell the president, “Amaechi wants to see you,” and he will give them appointment. I have never been stopped from seeing him.

Lastly, what do think about Nigeria? Do you think the people have a future together as a nation?

How can anyone suggest that and we are still here? When we graduated from the University of Port Harcourt, a lot of my classmates ran overseas, some of them are sending text messages now asking when they will come and see me. Nigeria is a land of opportunities. Just remain, work hard, be patient, pray hard and God will answer you. This is a virgin land in terms of agriculture. We have 200 million persons, just start a farm, feed only 10 million and see how rich you will be. The thing is, we want quick money. NNPC, bring this money and all that. When I retire, I am heading straight to the farm. If you feed 1 million persons with poultry at $1, how much is it? Nobody wants to do anything. We just want to see Buhari, Amaechi or Wike. Just start something small; don’t go big at first, before you know it, you are big. You sell and make money. Nigeria is a land of opportunities; we should all work together and make this country great.


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