July 19, 2024

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What Fubara Will Be Remembered For-Commissioner

18 min read

Mr Joe Johnson is the information commissioner, Rivers State. He came on board the state executive council at a time that the feud between Sim Fubara, governor of Rivers State and the FCT minister, Nyesom Wike, was just beginning. He was also at Aso Rock when the controversial peace deal between the estranged political gladiators was signed.

In this interview with TNN’s team of OFONIME UMANAH and EDITH CHUKU, the commissioner gave an insight into how the peace deal was signed and those who have breached the spirit and letters of the agreement. He also spoke on the lingering issue of leadership of the 23 local governments in the state.

Excerpts:

The opposition has said it’s been fight and more fight, war and more war in Rivers State and nothing tangible is being done by the governor. How do you react to this?

(Cuts in) It depends on who you refer to as opposition. The visible opposition we have as members of PDP and as a PDP government should be APC and APC is in tatters. There is the Chief Emeka Bekee angle which is the democratically elected and then there is also the factional chairman led by Tony Okocha; so I don’t know which opposition you are talking about. But for us, the Emeka Bekee is the one that if they say anything I can take it to the bank. For the Tony Okocha own, I do not want to glorify him because there is not one thing that he has said that has held waters. He had at some point said he was going to invoke an impeachment proceeding, calling on members of what he claimed to be members of his party in the house of assembly to commence impeachment proceedings. He never came. You can see where those gentlemen are.

He has also at some point raised the alarm when he was appointed a member of the NDDC board as the representative of Rivers State; he said there was a cholera outbreak and our team went into the community in the Kalabari axis and came out to say that it was a smokescreen. So there is nothing that Tony will say that will make any meaning to me because in his recent outcry that there should be state of emergency, I asked on what basis because it is only the governor, if he knows his onions, it is only the governor of a state that can ask for a state of emergency, it is not in the position of anybody, whether an opposition or a ruling party to say declare state of emergency and the consequences of it is that everybody will go down. All democratically elected officers and institutions will go down. So for any right thinking person, I’m not too sure that it’s anything to go by and the known APC to me has renounced that statement to say that they are distancing themselves from it. So I don’t know what you call opposition.

The issue is, what has Fubara done in one year? What tangible thing would you say this governor has done apart from fighting Wike?

No, we are not fighting Wike o. The governor has even said in his meeting with members of the senate committee on privatization and commercialization that he is not fighting Wike. He has never said, and I am not too sure that he has even used any abusive word, any strong word on His Excellency, the former governor. And if you listen to him, you will know that he is not a man that is given to perfidy and he is not very loquacious with words; he is stronger in action than words. So, for what we have done, I will like to refer us to our 37 page blueprint, which are classified sectorally. But of those items listed there, there are the ones that we have really made tremendous impact, particularly in the area of welfare. This secretariat is one place that was abandoned for eight years; civil servants weren’t promoted for about 10 years there was no promotion and pensioners were dying in droves and they didn’t have any shoulder to lean on. When this governor came, judging from his background as a civil servant, the first point of call he had on assumption was to pay a visit to the secretariat and ordered that they should do a scoping; scoping in the sense that we should try to bring in a few things gradually so that the place can take its right of place, and then you can see for yourself.

I am actually surprised that I am seeing light in the secretariat.

Yes, there is light, we have a dedicated power supply system that supplies light here, so our lifts are working, civil servants are happy, the withheld promotions have been restored, cash-backed, our wage bill which hitherto used to be in the region of about four point something billion moved up to about eight billion because the withheld promotions or people who ought to have gone at least minimum of three grades, stagnated all these years, so he came and jumpstarted activities here. Pensioners and the rest and then he also extended it to the local governments, which was one of the triggers why council chairmen were opposed to the promotion of local government staff who were also stagnated. He went ahead to grant the 35 per cent salary award by the federal government and then went further to promote them, moved them from where they were to be a reflection of what you had in the mainstream civil service so the local government staff and the mainstream civil servants are almost at par, as it were, they have been promoted.

We have also gone ahead to begin the construction of a 20,000-housing units, affordable accommodation for our civil servants and residence of Rivers State. It’s actually a PPP project and 20,000 is on-going. We have released a seeding fee of four billion to match the micro and smaller businesses that will need to do with people who are into barbing saloons and all that. These are part of the things and beneficiaries of that scheme, you have a hundred registered companies and then we have people; male and females cut across communities and even those who are non-indigenes of Rivers State are beneficiaries.

Our concentration now is on the secondary health which is the general hospitals, which ought to take up the pressures from the lower and reduce the pressure from the tertiary-the teaching hospitals. We are trying to bring in six, those six actually are staggered across senatorial zones, so that it can truly serve people across the various senatorial zones, and we are making sure that hospitals like Bori General Hospital, we will be able to take up the load from that senatorial zones, Okehi General Hospital, we will also take from the Rivers East and then the Ahoada axis; all these ones are staggered across the three senatorial zones that we have, so we are trying to breathe life into them.

The governor has assured that in no distant time, in a matter of months, those hospitals will be very effective, we are building new hospitals, we are actually building one in Obio/Akpor for which contract has been awarded, I think in the region of N13 billion, to just build a brand new general hospital in Obio/Akpor because of the population.

 We didn’t end at that, we have also put boards which never existed in all our health institutions; primary health board, secondary health board and then the university teaching hospital board. We have done all that and we have paid all the outstanding of what medical doctors were entitled to, just to spur them into giving attention to our people and we have started the recruitment of clinicians, 1000 in the first instance, because if you have hospitals and then you don’t have medical doctors to run the hospitals, it’s as good as not having a facility. These are some of the things we have done in the health sector.

For the education, quite a lot. We continued with what we inherited, some of the projects we inherited were at several percentages of beginning and then we tried to take them to the percentage that you may find them now. Quite a number of them we have built, furnished, and they are in use, even though the governor is not funfair type, trying to flag-off, bring people to commission and all that. We build and open for public use, that’s what you will find, just build and open for public use.

We knew Wike for roads, flyovers and bridges. What is Fubara going to be known for?

We will be everywhere. It’s not good for us to put all our eggs in one basket. Even in our local parlance, they say don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you build roads and you don’t have human beings to ply the roads, what have you done? You need people to be healthy, we need our educational system to be up and running so that when we leave, the things that we have planted today will replace us. If you have a society that lacks education, then there is a problem.

You can build all the beautiful roads and then you find monkeys that are living around in the name of human beings. So we are putting so much efforts in human capital development; that may appear to be in my own opinion the soft spot of the governor, anything that has to do with humanity. That is why his mantra is ‘Rivers first’, and that Rivers actually is whoever finds his way, whoever lives here is first point of call. If it is to improve on the health facility or the transport situation, if it is housing, it’s all about the human angle. We are doing the trans-Kalabari road, that Trans-Kalabari Road is the first of its kind; it’s even costlier than the Port Harcourt Ring Road, that was a programme that he hatched on his own, it’s about N235billion. The Port Harcourt Ring Road is N200 billion, this one is N225 billion, it will tie up our brothers in the entire Kalabari zone. It’s going to run through the Rumuolumini, it has a lot of bridges. It will be like what you find in Lagos, those who are into film making, they go to third mainland bridge, you are going to find that kind of thing running through the galaxies, so you can just at the press of a button take off with your car here and you find yourself in the Kalabari region. This one will link up the whole of Okuruama, the Degema into the Akuku Toru, Asari Toru and then you return back to the Ikwerre axis, which is the Emohua axis.

It does appear as if this crisis between the governor and Wike started after the governor visited the Songhai farm which was started by Amaechi. Recall that Wike never wanted to do anything with that farm, but Fubara went there. Shortly after that visit, the problem started. Am I right?

I can’t put a finger on it. I can’t say where this problem started. The only thing I can vividly say is that on the 30th of October, there was an attempt to impeach the governor, that was the genesis of this whole thing. I can’t say what the problem is and I was like two days as a member of the cabinet, I was just appointed commissioner on the Friday which is like 27th, that was my first outing in the state executive council and then on Monday which was 30th and then there was trouble. I do not have any fact, the governor has not said expressly that this is the problem but a lot of people are alluding quite a lot to it. 

You are a commissioner. What really do you suspect to have been cause of this problem?

If I use the language of the governor, he says it’s a family fight, it’s an internal fight, he is not able to put a finger to say this is where this problem is, I’m not also able to say that this is the problem.

Yeah, but this internal fight, this family fight has claimed lives?

It’s power struggle. Even in Heaven there was power struggle. That’s why Satan, Lucifer was thrown down from Heaven.

So, what power are they struggling for?

The control of the power of the state. The governor is a governor but there is an attempt to undermine the governor. He is one governor that has been so badly abused and he has been swallowing quite a lot of things because we need to move on as a state.

The opposition, particularly Tony Okocha,  has accused the governor of importing militants from the creeks to come and cause commotion in Port Harcourt.

(Cuts in) Let him show proof. It’s one thing to allege, another thing is for you to show proof. The governor is not into thuggery. If there is anybody that is into thuggery, we know, the governor is too gentlemanly to think about importing thugs. If anything, he is a Christian, he is a knight of St. Christopher. I am sure that you know his pedigree, that he is not even into too much noise, he is not somebody that is too loud and he can’t even kill an ant.

Maybe that is why they said he is a silent killer, the way he is dealing with Wike now. The other day he said jungle has matured and things are happening.

Dealing with Wike how?

Yeah! He is pulling the rug off Wike’s feet kind of.

I am not seeing the rug, you are the only one seeing the rug. I don’t know where Wike’s legs are that he is pulling the rugs but he is up and doing with what he has promised Rivers people, to be very serious, I will wish that the opportunity will come when we will sit down with him one on one, you will discover that he is a reflection of what you see from a distance. I am sure that the organic love that Rivers people are enjoying is because of the love they have for him, it is not anything to do with an induced situation, if there is anyone that wants to induce, you know the area to look at but for him, no rug is being pulled, whatever is coming is the way God has designed it to come.

You were in Aso Rock when the peace deal was struck. What really happened on that day?

If anybody violated the peace deal it is the Amaewhule group. I am saying this because the first thing on that 8-point agenda was ‘withdraw all court cases, first.’ Two,’ there shall be no impeachment’, three, ‘there shall be no premature dissolution of councils.’

When we came back, we withdrew all our cases, even the one that was in Justice Omotosho’s court. But we were ambushed, they went behind and got judgment.

You took me to court, you have filed your reliefs, I made responses. I withdrew mine, I would have expected that you should also have come to that court to withdraw your own, you didn’t withdraw, you quickly secured judgment, because the law is not seeing anybody, do you understand? The law acts on the fact before it. If I say you stole my phone and you put your defense that you never stole, if you withdraw your defense the law will see my own release, that was what the law passed judgment on, on the Omotosho’s case.

The second thing they did was that as they came back, we had expected that they should have extended hands of fellowship but everything we saw was to repeal this law, repeal the other one, continue to hold sittings, override the governor, those were the things and if anything. If we were to be making peace I am sure it should be a symbiotic thing, it should be something between two people and it should be reciprocal; I give to you, you give to me, but we were giving and we never got but we kept all our own bargain.

The governor seems to be fighting with renewed vigour and is now talking tough, not paying attention to the peace deal any longer.

(Cuts in) We have concluded that. I have already told you that we completed everything on that 8-point agenda. We withdrew our case; we didn’t dissolve the local governments, what else did we not do there? We accepted the former commissioners who hitherto resigned, they returned, we even honoured the assembly by accepting their own screening, but when it came to the point when the assembly wanted to, through the back door take over the power of the governor, what would you expect, we must fight back, even if you were a weakling.

The assembly, we were here before all of us as media people when they invited somebody for screening for the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission, they screened. You know that they have right to screen but it is not for them to nominate, screen and then swear in. If you do that, it becomes abusing the sensibilities of the government. So I am sure that one was an affront.

And then a civil society organization went to court and the court ruled that whereas the assembly had the right to screen, they do not have the right to appoint, that was Justice Dagogo’s judgment, that you have the right to screen, you do not have the right to appoint, you also don’t have the right to nominate.

Okay but how come the governor subjected himself to the whims of the Amaewhule led state assembly by sending nominees to them in the first place?

You recall that we went to Mr. President and Mr. President said we should let go and move on. The governor came back. I am happy that the world could see that the governor went ahead to subject it’s constitutional requirement for the assembly, for them to perform. Once he saw when they started fluttering, started repealing all the laws that were hitherto in existence, to the extent that they will get up and say they are doing tenure elongation, they will get up and they are repealing local government, they want autonomy for whatever, they did quite a lot of things, we are all seeing. It didn’t show any hands of fellowship, I mean, to be honest to Rivers people. So when things started happening, my people say if water dey you for knee, you no begin find way, na when eh reach you for nose na him you go find way? So the water has reached a point when every normal human being will say okay, enough is now enough.

In other words we can say that the Wike group choked the governor to the point of fighting back.

(Cuts in) They never accepted that peace deal, Wike group never accepted that peace deal, they never, if you listen to even the body language, if you listen to the principal, if you hear his utterances, you will see that there was never a time they wanted the peace deal, they said they will fight, they know that they will lose but that they will fight, they will make the government uncomfortable, now they are talking about state of emergency. You have seen how they carried dynamite and move around. Police said nobody should protest, our people agreed and stayed back because the governor advised on the day he swore in the caretaker committee, he said look, don’t go and fight, your local government has jurisdiction and there are district offices, there are places you can sit that also belong to your local government Go and operate from there. Let’s allow this phase to be out of the way so that we will not play into their net; what they intend to achieve is to say two people are fighting, therefore declare state of emergency. If you remember the Solomonic judgment where two women who were fighting over whose child was the late one and the living one, and the other one who didn’t have the child said split the child into two. That’s the scenario that we found ourselves and I am happy that the governor in his wisdom is managing the situation and people are seeing the one that is combative and the one that is peaceful.

The governor talked about probing the immediate passed government. When are we expecting that probe to start?

He has not said but from his language it won’t take long. His body language it won’t take long.

 Why the delay? He talked about it with so much energy.

They say the wheel of justice drives slowly. For him to have said it, he would have put a lot of things going, but to come to its finality, there are things it will require before you can now announce who will head the panel…

(Cuts in) So is he shopping for members?

I wouldn’t know what he is doing. But I know that quite a lot may be on and as soon as it is open to us, everything will be done.

Is it very likely that before the end of this month or before the end of next month that the panel will…

(Cuts in) I don’t have the clairvoyance to know, I am not God.

(Cuts in) But you are very sure that that probe will happen?

Of course, if he said a thing, that’s one thing that you must know about Governor Fubara, if he says anything, take it to the bank. I said to you from my beginning that he is not very loquacious with words, that if he tells you I will do something, go and sleep you will see it done.

He wants to probe his oga?

What is wrong with probing his oga? Probe is an introspection to see where we got it all wrong, to see how we can remedy and then see whether, you know, even Aboki’s who sell in small, small shops, at some points you get to their shops you find their things put all over the ground, they are counting how many sweets, how many chewing gums, how many bitter kola.

 So what if they do this probe and his oga is found wanting, arrested, jailed?

We don’t deal with if languages.

These are probabilities.

You are saying if, for me, I don’t deal with ‘if’ words, probability…

But anything can happen in the course of a probe.

When we get there, whatever it is there will be a way to it.

Okay so but what does the governor want to achieve by this probe?

I don’t know, he has said that he wants to look into the administration, whatever it is, ones the result comes, he will make a decision, you cannot make a decision before you go into a system, you have to see what is on ground and then look at it, and then draw from there and run with it.

Chidi Lloyd has said repeatedly he should be addressed as the current chairman of Emohua Local Govt.

If I tell you to call me doctor, will you not call me? Whether I am a doctor or not, it’s for me and my God to decide. If I say please my name is Pastor Joe Johnson, you will call me. So it’s between me and my God to know whether I am pontificating or I am saying the right thing. So I want to believe strongly that they are only grandstanding, they have no place in law. I refer them to Justice Kio’s judgment. They were not even sued, two council chairmen and seven functionaries of local governments within the state went to court against the governor, the attorney general and government of Rivers State, not to do anything with them and Justice Kio granted that prayer because in the wisdom of the judge, that judgment said that in our law, that is the law of Rivers State House of Assembly, law number five, section two does not give them the right to elongate the tenure of a local government chairmen. Instead, that law gave a window for any governor who is not able to, for whatever reason, conduct election, to enjoy a window of minimum of 90 days. That is the one they attempted to expunge and then to put it as tenure elongation, and our law, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 104, talks about prohibition of retrospective law.

By the way, it’s only the National Assembly that can extend the tenure of a president if there is war, assuming neighboring countries are at war with us, we say for the sake of war. Let me use the case of Ukraine. Assuming there is supposed to be election in Ukraine because Ukraine is at war with Russia, you cannot do election, because the atmosphere won’t be convivial, you understand? But in this case there is no war so you cannot preference that as part of what is the reason why you need to extend.

And if you need to extend, there are processes, I tell people that God created this world through miracle but the world operates by principles. One of the very principles of what you find is if you must have tenure extension or elongation, you must take a fresh oath because the first oath that you took is for three years. You must go and renew it and to renew it means that you must return to the assembly by nomination.

When you return, the assembly will screen you, clear you and now pass you on to the governor who will swear you in. You don’t just walk in to an office that you had already enjoyed within the tenure as specified by your own law; you don’t just return.

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