MR Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the immediate past minister of Transportation in this interview, spoke on the state of the nation, how Nigeria’s democracy can be deepened and why the Igbo should be allowed to produce the president in 2023 even though they weakened their chances by not voting President Muhammadu Buhari at the 2019 presidential election.
On Nigeria’s 20 years of Democracy? It is a mixed bag of success and failure, some expectations were met, some were not. But the majority of the Nigerian communities are disappointed because their expectation is very high. But what I will preach is that we should be more understanding. We expect that the leadership of the country especially the second term of President Muhammadu Buhari would improve on the economy and ensure that the economy would be able to create jobs and income for Nigerians so that they would leave a happy life.
Has this administration done enough to curb the issue of poverty you mentioned? Not even three or four administrations in Nigeria can do that because the level of poverty is deeply rooted. Look at it this way if an economy is running purely on agriculture and a new president comes and say no, no, that it won’t continue, we have to re-gig the economy to create productivity. Before you cannot finish creating such products, it would take more than 15 years because at that point you are not just talking about agriculture, you are talking about industrialisation, you are talking about power, you are talking about roads and transportation.
Now, the president is focusing on roads, power, and transportation. Look at the railway, If we do Lagos to Kano for $8.3 billion. Of the $8.3billion, N5 trillion is for just 1,500 km of railway meanwhile our budget is just N8trilion. If you remove N8.5 trillion from our budget on rail lines, what about salaries and other sectors of the economy? So no one government can fulfil all that. It is a gradual process and that is why we are taking the railway project in several segments. And then we are under political pressure from everybody who wants rail lines in their side to be done.
We have done Abuja to Kaduna, we are doing Lagos to Ibadan, we have asked for a loan for Port Harcourt to Warri and then Benin to Onitsha while also trying to complete Ibadan to Kano. On humongous borrowing to fix the rail lines, do you think this borrowing is justified? Definitely, it is justified because we have not borrowed as much as they think. The problem of Nigeria is not borrowing, its revenue. We don’t have revenue. When they hear what we intend to borrow, they think we have borrowed.
We borrowed $500 billion for Abuja to Kaduna which was borrowed during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. The only thing we have borrowed in Buhari’s administration is $1.3 billion which we borrowed from China. Others are proposals we are looking for funds for. If I go to the press to announce that we need a loan of $8.2 billion to fix Lagos to Kano, it would be reported that we have borrowed such amount but we have not. We have also proposed to the Chinese government that we need a loan of $5.3 billion to complete from Ibadan to Kano, they have not given us, they said they are coming to Nigeria to evaluate the loan.
We have also proposed to them that we need $2.3billion to do Port Harcourt to Warri, Benin to Onitsha but they have not given us. The only money we borrowed is $1.3 billion which we are using to build Lagos to Ibadan. So in terms of loans, Nigeria is one of the least indebted countries in the world. The problem we have is that we don’t have revenue because if we have the revenue we would be able to refund the loan.
So there is a need to work on how to create revenue. People are not paying their taxes our revenue is only focused on oil. There is a need to create Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs. What about electricity? The next thing the government is focusing on is power. We got 7,000 megawatts and we are distributing 5,000 megawatts but we have a problem with the contract of the sales of power. In that contract, it appears there is a disagreement which the (immediate past) Minister of Power, Raji Fashola was resolving by the time we left government. I am sure we had resolved the issue in the cabinet and by the time they get the payment they are looking for, power will go back to 7,000 megawatts.
In the history of Nigeria, this is the first time we are increasing from 3,000 megawatts to 5,000 megawatts then to 7,000 megawatts. It has never happened before. But our target is to sustain it till it gets to 10,000 megawatts and 20,000 megawatts. By the time we get 50,000 megawatts, we would have reached our demand then it would be an issue of how to sustain it and ensure that we are able to create industrialisation. Once we get to 10,000 to 20,000megawatt there would be industrialisation.
So we have to also increase to meet the demand of the new industries that are coming. On why the power, rail and other projects are taking time Let us be sincere with ourselves, we can’t solve all the problems. Don’t forget that we have only four years, if the term was 20 years then I would say yes but because we have four years, what the president is doing is that he is focusing on infrastructure. What he actually did is that the free money politicians use to share in the past is what he is using to develop infrastructure.
Those funds they were sharing in the past administration why didn’t they build a railway with it? By the time Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was leaving, he left about $58billion in Nigeria’s excess crude account, why didn’t he use the money to build the rail line because he was the one that awarded the contract for Lagos to Kano rail line? Because he did not execute that contract even though he left money, by the time Goodluck Jonathan came into office, the money vanished. I don’t know who vanished it but if they had used that money, we could have done the $7.8billion railway project from Lagos to Kano without having to borrow.
But the opposition has described these ‘blame-game’ as the only virtue this administration has for not being effective History is the study of past events to discuss how to deal with the present and the future. We are not even blaming Goodluck or Obasanjo but we are stating the history. I was part of that administration lest you forget. What we are saying is that if the money that was kept in the savings was utilized for these infrastructures, why would President Buhari ask Rotimi Amaechi to go focus on Lagos to Ibadan rail line?
So we are compelled to start afresh. Majority of infrastructures in Nigeria was built in General Yakubu Gowon’s regime, a bit of it was built by Obasanjo and the 3rd mainland bridge was built by General Babangida. So tell me what else we have done as a country? Port Harcourt -Enugu road bad, Lagos – Kano road bad, Ibadan – Lagos road bad. So assuming the blame game they accused us of is true, we are not blaming and not working. I drove on Lagos – Ibadan road to Abeokuta, we are completing it. By the time we finish Lagos – Ibadan railway to Abeokuta, it will become an alternative route because the number of people that died on that road is unimaginable.
How would you describe the kind of politics being played in Nigeria today? As much as I can, I am trying to avoid issues that would hurt people. The politics we are used to in Nigeria is what I would describe as ‘Chop I Chop politics’ and the fact that President Buhari is trying to stop the chop I chop kind of politics has not been easy with politicians. So they gang-up against the President in PDP because the free money is no longer there. What is your take on agitation for power shift to the South-East in 2023? I had made my views clear when I spoke before the election. I encouraged the Igbo in a lecture I delivered in Awka where I said Nigeria’s politics is not about merit. I think we can choose the best president from the Igbo this time because they have not been elected as the president of Nigeria.
That is the only part among the three majority tribes that have not produced the president and I feel it is their turn. After the election, I made another comment that if they had voted for President Buhari, it would have been easy for you as a people to make a demand on the presidency. These were the two comments I made and since then I have gone to sleep. Should voting President Buhari be the determinant for power to shift to the South-East? It may not be the determinant but it has a great role to play. Because it is a lot easier to convince the ruling party that you brought in your votes and therefore you should be considered to produce the presidential candidate for the office.
In the same way, is it the best for Nigeria to produce the president on a zonal basis? I don’t think so but since we have not grown to look for the best material that we have in any part of the country, it would have been right to say let the Igbo have a shot at the presidency and that does not mean they don’t have a good hasnd. You would certainly see a very good material in that area for the presidency. Looking at our challenges as a nation, where did we miss it? It is a difficult question to answer but we missed it from the First Republic when we began to play ethnic politics. If we did away with ethnic and religious politics we would have advanced as a nation.
If you look at my 2015 campaign, I described my brother as anybody who puts food on my table as against my blood brother who can’t put food on my table. When I was campaigning in the South, I defined my brother as the man who can build a road in my village and provide security for my parents and my community as against an inefficient brother who would be there and allow my people to be killed. The Governor of Rivers State Nysome Wike extended a hand of fellowship for peace in the state to you and the APC, what do you make of this?
The party as a group met and I was in that meeting and we agreed that we should also extend our hand of fellowship by addressing a press conference telling him death cannot continue in Rivers because lives are irreplaceable. So, we asked them not to bother about our party but to address issues of lives lost in Rivers and we are ready to work with him.
Later, they said APC begged PDP. I warned the party about that press conference saying this man extending the hand of fellowship is not sincere that he would spin these statement. Instantly they twisted it to ”APC begs Wike, APC surrenders.” I have been a politician for 33 years, I know Nigeria’s politics up-side-down, when I advise people, I see it happen. R