In this interview with TNN/Goshen TV team, a former member of the House of Representatives and immediate past Director-General of NIMASA, Dr Dakuku Adol Peterside speaks on governance in Rivers State in the last six years and what the people should expect in the years ahead.
Let’s begin with your life after NIMASA, how has it been?
Well, it’s been eventful, hectic, quite demanding. I got involved in a number of projects. One, immediately I left NIMASA, I tried to conclude a book about my time in NIMASA and the reforms I championed. That book is titled The Strategic Turnaround which was published in the first quarter of this year, that’s one. Two, I started writing columns for newspapers and that’s quite engaging. I got involved in speaking and I started despite the COVID, having a speaking engagement in Kenya, in South Africa, in Egypt and in Ghana. That also kept me on my toes, also working on a second book. Then, I set up a consulting outfit on leadership development and organizational re-engineering or what they call transformation. I try to also get in touch with old classmates, school mates, those I’ve not been in touch with for a very long time and look at interests that I consider personal. So it’s been quite, quite challenging having a lot of engagements in the country, out of the country. I don’t have too many research assistants; so I end up doing a lot of research myself to engage whether as a speaker, as a public opinion analyst, as a contributor to public affairs, or even speaking on my primary area of interest in leadership development and in my secondary area, maritime politics and other areas that I have interest. So it’s been quite, quite eventful and I think that I’m a lot more busier now than I was when I was in office.
Well, you’ve been in the House of Representatives, you’ve been commissioner two times, commissioner of works in Rivers State, you’ve been DG NIMASA and you’ve say you are quite busy now. Have you been able to convert this busy schedule into naira and kobo?
Well, you know, it depends on what is your primary interest in life. My needs are not too many, that’s one. My primary interest has never been money, has never been financial or economic gain. I’ve lived a life of service and I’m still living a life of service and what matters to me is impact. If in course of making that impact it generates money, fine and good. I don’t set out to make money my priority, at all. I’ve never, whether in public life, in private life, I’ve never made money my priority and that’s why I’m among the few Nigerians who can say certain things. Very few. Because I know my moral standing, I know my value system. I know what is important to me, it’s not what is important to most other persons who are in public life.
You are saying money is not a priority to you and that reminds me of one statement that your leader, the transport minister used to say, Rotimi Amaechi, he doesn’t like money.
That’s his value system and you can’t fault it and those who think otherwise should challenge him with evidence or facts. I’m among the few Nigerians that can say I’m not corrupt at all.
Amaechi has also said he is not corrupt, but I remember there was a time the current governor of Rivers State took him on and told Nigerians about the kind of things that happened, what he met in office, that there was nothing, he started off from nowhere, there was no money in the treasury, he listed some of the projects that were abandoned which he has to even take over from, so how do we reconcile these things…?
(Cuts in) You are talking about two things. One, opinion is free, facts are sacred. The governor has right and he is entitled to his opinion. His opinion is that he met an empty treasury and that it’s not a fact. The fact is that he met a lot of money in Rivers State treasury at the level of the various ministries, at the level of the state, that’s one. Two, he met the least debt profile at the time he became governor, among the six Niger Delta States and that’s a lot of value. If he says that his predecessor is corrupt, please he has one or two options; one, go to court and get him to come and explain what he did with Rivers people’s money, challenge him in court. The second one is, go back to the Rivers people through the state House of Assembly and lay the facts there and I believe that the young men and women who are in the house of assembly are patriotic and reasonable enough to call the former governor, the honourable minister, to question. He has not done any of that, he has not presented facts before the people or evidence, he made some wild allegations. I’m aware he made those wild allegations and it’s usual with him. But it is what it is, no substance, no fact. No evidence, and if you take him seriously, well, it’s up to you, I’ve learnt a long time ago, people no longer take him seriously.
But I think Rivers people do take him seriously when he is talking about the monorail project because that one is there for everyone to see.
Good. That’s why I said you are talking about two different things, talking about corruption and projects that were not completed. Monorail was a project in progress, it’s not completed and there is nothing wrong with that. Government is a continuum. What anybody expects a reasonable governor to do is to continue the project. You can redesign the project, you can re-evaluate the project and this, does it amount to corruption in any way? It doesn’t in any way amount to corruption.
What is corruption?
Corruption is taking advantage of your office to benefit from the system, you can benefit from the system legitimately, but when you take undue advantage of your position, that’s corruption, and so it may not be financial benefit alone, it could be other forms of benefit, once you use the influence you have, you apply it wrongly, it’s corruption.
So, would you say Amaechi never took advantage, financially, of the system, that’s one. Would you say Wike as at today is taking advantage of the situation corruptly?
Now, there are two things, the first is that I am not ex-governor Ameachi’s spokesman, and so, you can’t put me on the spot.
He is your leader
He is my leader and mentor.
No argument about that, to the best of my knowledge, I can say that he is not corrupt and that if anybody thinks otherwise, he should come forward with evidence. We don’t live in a banana republic. We live in a society governed by laws and there is a prescribed manner of doing things. If I think that this man is corrupt, I come forward with the evidence. This is the evidence of corruption, he took advantages of his office to either appropriate things, misapply things, or secure things for himself that ordinarily he is not entitled to, or he abused the office he occupies or public trust. None of these has been advanced. That’s all.
Rivers people have accused the Amaechi government which you served as commissioner for works of not doing certain things right. One of the things they point to is the Eneka-Igbo Etche road. I’m sure you are familiar with that road, what can you tell us about that road, people have said you were interested in the contract for the construction of that road, it was abandoned, what’s the truth about it?
There is no government that will do everything right, so that’s a starting point. Now I can tell you what happened with that, that was awarded after I left office.
And what we are hearing is that that road was actually awarded during your time and you were also an interested party on that project.
(Cuts in) I’ve never been interested in any project. I am challenging anybody on earth, on earth, on earth, I’m among the few Nigerians who can say listen you cannot see any trace of bribery with me.
Yeah! I say it every day and nobody has challenged me.
What’s happening to APC in Rivers State? It appears to be a house that is on fire, a house in commotion. People are leaving every other day. What’s going on?
APC like every other political family and have its own internal dynamics and will have external factors that affect it. Even in nuclear families, from time to time, there will be disagreement, people will disagree and agree and people will see things from different perspective. My doctorate is in organisational behaviour and one of the earliest lessons they will teach you in organisational behaviour is that you are dealing with human beings and human beings see things from different perspectives based on their environment, genetic composition, upbringing, and the influences they’ve had in life. As you think or you see that people are leaving APC, people are also coming into APC. Wike’s former commissioner for transport, of course you know, is in APC now. His former commissioner for urban, I’m sure you know he’s in APC. So many former commissioners that served his administration they’ve all moved to APC, the same way a few of them are also leaving APC for the PDP and so there is nothing strange. It has become part of our political culture. Is it right? No. But like many other political cultures, it is dynamic. And so unless you have a mindset problem, you will think that people are leaving APC in droves. That’s not the true picture. For every one person that left APC, there is also one person coming from PDP. Maybe we don’t make as much noise as they do in the PDP. The reason is simple. We’re in power at the centre and so for the PDP, this is their own last straw, holding on to Rivers State is their last straw. So they will do everything to hold on to Rivers State but they’ve since disconnected from Rivers people and it’s just a matter of time, it will begin to manifest.
How do you mean, they’ve disconnected from Rivers people?
They no longer represent the aspiration of Rivers people; they’ve not helped Rivers people in any way fulfil their desires. What has happened is that they’ve technically abandoned Rivers people in pursuit of their own self-interest.
They’ve totally ignored young people. They’ve created no employment for young people, they’ve not given them opportunity to excel in life, they’ve neglected education, if you talk about the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, they’ve paid no attention to it at all and that’s a tertiary institution that is supposed to produce teachers who will teach the next generation of Rivers people. That’s how much they are not interested in education. You can see what is going on with our secondary school system. It’s literary in comatose. Nobody cares. What of the primary schools? They’ve not sustained what the last government started, they’ve not built new primary schools, they’ve not built new secondary schools, they’ve renovated a few and I acknowledge that they’ve renovated nine secondary schools, that’s all they’ve done to show for education, renovation of schools. But that’s a minor part of infrastructure; they’ve not done anything and if you measure the outcome of education or the impact of the products here and the outcome of education. You will just know that we are mortgaging the future of our young people. So in the area of creating employment for them, they’ve been absolutely unfair to Rivers people. In the area of raising the next generation of Rivers men and women who will go and excel, they’ve not. They don’t give a hoot. They don’t care. If you look at their investment in education, it is limited to the area of renovation of schools because it is transactional in nature. They just want to do transaction and make some money for themselves, no improvement in curriculum. They’ve not been able to align the educational policies with current realities and so, never before have we had a government that is so disconnected with the aspirations of the people like we currently have in Rivers State, what of health care?
Even with all the infrastructure, roads, flyovers…
(Cuts in) What infrastructure? You see, infrastructure doesn’t make a people. Government is about people’s development and that’s one area that they failed completely. Infrastructure is supposed to provide the catalyst for people’s development; it’s not an end in itself and that’s where they get it wrong, they have warped understanding of the concept of development. For them, development is transactional, build bridges, collect some money and you are fine. Beyond that, what else have they done? I challenge them, there is no government that visited so much hardship on the people like the current government in Rivers State. Civil servants are not promoted, they’ve never been promoted in the past six years. Those who are owed arrears are not paid, pensioners are being owed. Go to the state secretariat it’s literally stinking.
When last did you go there?
Of course, from time to time I go there for service. I don’t think a government has been so unfair to a people like the current Rivers State government has been.
So what will the APC do differently, if they happen to get in, in 2023?
APC will do everything differently and I can cite a few. Number one, we will prioritise security and that’s what they’ve not done, Rivers State remains one of the most insecure state in the country. We will prioritise human development and when I say human development, starting with the concept of creating opportunities for people, quality education, access to health care, not just quality health care, access to health care, and of course youth employment. And so we will do everything different. We’ll ensure that we give priority attention to civil servants, pensioners, those who gave the best years of their life to the service of the state. For God’s sake, if for nothing else, they deserve good treatment, they deserve quality attention from their government and so if you ask me, if I had time, I would have given you details of the many ways we will act differently. Even in the infrastructure development, it will be guided by a master plan, Rivers people will know what to expect ahead of time. They will prepare for it and we’ll ensure that we get value for every kobo, every naira spent. Today, this government is shrouded in secrecy. There is total lack of transparency. Transactions that he undertakes, nobody knows what is going on. Rivers people have never been in this darkness before.
In 2015, you contested for the seat of governor. Are we expecting you back in the race in 2023?
Why not wait. Is it not too early?
Is it too early?
Okay, so but what’s your thinking?
My thinking is that I will make my position clear by January next year, my position will be very, very clear.
What’s possible, what’s on the card?
What’s on the card is that I am very busy doing the things I love to do right now and I will give attention to politics at the appropriate time.
Will you also be giving attention to the crisis within the APC?
Do we still have crisis in the APC?
That’s what we see, that’s what we hear.
No, that’s your own perception, not what you hear. We have a relatively united house, there’s not a political system where you will have 100 per cent unity and I challenge anybody. What it means is that even in the United States, in the Democratic Party, you have different groupings in the Democratic Party. In the Republican party, you have different groupings within the Republican party. There are different tendencies in every political party and so APC is not an exception. There are different tendencies but relatively we are a united party, we’ve had our ward congresses, you can see that it was crisis free, we’ve had local government congresses, we elected our officers, it was crisis free and we are going to have a state congress and I bet you, it’s going to be crisis free.
Yeah but the Magnus Abe group doesn’t think that way.
Well, I don’t know who you spoke to in the Magnus Abe group. I’ve also been in touch with them; they understand that a lot is being done to unite the party and get the party to speak with a common voice. Like I said to you, there’ll always be different tendencies in any political party, whether in PDP, APC. Just any political party, not only in this part of the world, even in more developed democracies, there’ll always be different tendencies.
It was this same crisis that caused the APC in Rivers State, their inability to…
(Cuts in) we are beginning to put our house in order, and I think that we are putting our house in order.
What is feasible about it?
Well, it’s not for you to know all the internal dynamics of what is going on. The most important thing is, please be assured that we are putting our house in order. I want to be sure that all hands are on deck. Every voice will count and the views of every person will be heard. We may not take the views of every member of the party, we are in a democracy and if there is any party that can lay claim to a progressive credential, we are that political party.