‘We are developing Rivers State in spite of recession’
The mention of Rivers State sends shivers down the spine of outsiders, as it has of late been associated with violence and destruction. But the Governor, Nyesom Wike argues that those who want to subvert the will of the people created the perception. According to him, Rivers is witnessing more of infrastructural development than the superficial anarchy foisted on the public. He spoke with some journalists including SUNNY OGEFERE, on how this is made possible in a recessed economy.
Sources of funds given the economic downturn
It is difficult to answer but what is important is not the amount of resources you have, it is about how you are able to utilise the little you have to ensure that you do not allow contracts to be inflated in the sense that contracts that are supposed to be N1billion are put out at N7billion. But over all, I would say that there are certain explanations I cannot give. I have told people who have spoken with me that we run a Jesus economy.
If you ask, what is Jesus economy; it has to do with things you cannot explain economically. If you are arguing, there are factors that you use to back up your argument but in this case you will see that the Nigerian economy is under recession and Rivers’ economy is part of federal economy; companies are folding up, workers are being sacked that means the income of the state will be coming down as it relates to internally generated revenue.
From the federation account, it is on record that the highest was about N5bn; and we pay pensioners and salaries about N5.6 monthly, so if we use that it means we will not be able to do projects. But for us, even as the economy has not been doing well, our IGR has been going up and one cannot explain it that when the economy is bad our IGR is going up.
As at the time we came on board we were making about N4bn to N4.5bn; as I speak to you, at a point we got about N10bn but now it hovers between seven, eight, nine billion. So with that, we saw the opportunity to carry out developmental projects. Work will continue to go on. We would not stop. We thank God people are paying their taxes. The tax is not going down. It is improving.
So, I cannot explain how we are getting money from our IGR when the economy generally is down. If you believe in God there are things that would happen that you cannot explain and that is why I said we are operating a Jesus economy. Like in the Bible how many loafs of breads did He (Jesus Christ) use to feed thousands of people?
Spread of the projects
All the projects we have embarked upon are spread across the three geo-political zones of the state. In almost 18 months now, I can rightly say we have spent about N100bn in terms of road construction and other projects. Though I do not have the accurate figure. But the one I can say is the Sakpenwon-Bori road. It is about N9bn. It is 16km road. I can tell you that road was designed by the previous administration at the cost of N14bn and they were to use laterite, but when we came on board we said how can laterite cost N14bn and we said we prefer to use sharp sand because of the terrain. So, you will ask yourself, how can laterite cost more than sharp sand? That is to tell you the kind of problems we have been having in terms of contract award – it is highly inflated. For us, that is not in the best interest of the state.
Human capital development and poverty alleviation
You went to that Government Girls Secondary School, you saw how many people and contractors are working out there, that is poverty alleviation. In terms of helping our people, we have released not less than N3bn for men and women to help them improve on their businesses. In fact, we said it would be interest-free funds.
In some of the rural areas, there are no medical facilities. If anyone needs emergency care, there is no hospital to provide them with that. So, we also provided funds for private hospital owners who are involved in healthcare delivery in the rural areas. Some of them got N25m or N30m depending on how much you are requesting and we have a committee to supervise and ascertain that the clinics, which applied, are qualified. The process was not discriminatory. Out of about 30 people that got the loan, non-indigenes were about eight. We told them not to pay interest on the loan. The state government will pay the interests.
We also focused on education and scholarship. The previous administration gave scholarship to so many people; some are not from the state, some from Niger, some from Kaduna etc. and we were owing not less than N7bn as at the time we came on board.
A review of the programme showed that it was politicized; somebody wants to read Political Science, you are sending him to Canada, another wants to read Literature, you are sending him to India, but here in Nigeria, we have so many universities that can take care of these courses. Apart from that, what was the exchange rate of dollar and naira as at that time and what is the exchange rate now? Naira is now about N400 plus to a dollar! Look at the pound, almost N600 and you are talking about not having enough money to pay workers. And if you pay this N6bn it does not mean you have paid the total tuition fees. We resolved that beneficiaries of these courses that we can do in Nigerian universities, would come back to the country and we will give them scholarship. Those other courses like medical courses and some engineering courses can stay back and we will pay for them.
There are some inherited projects. When we got on board, the Woji-Akpajio Bridge was about 30 per cent. In fact, when the lawyers came during their annual bar conference, we took them there. That time they were still filling it with sharp sand. If they come now and see that we have crossed that bridge, they will not believe it. The company promised us that this December, we would go over the bridge. I did not award the job but it is an important road that whether we like it or not, we must finish.
Some of the projects started by the previous administration that we felt are key projects, were not abandoned by us. The whole essence is not whether we awarded the project or not. If we have the opportunity of completing the project, for me that is the key.
There are so many projects I completed. Take for example, the University of Education road. It was about 40 – 45 per cent completed. I came and I completed it. The road Ozuogba-Ogbogoro road was awarded at the cost of about N8bn. They paid the contractor about N3bn and they abandoned it. We came and we completed it. Former Senate President David Mark came to commission it. There is Abuloma-Woji Bridge. We came we completed it. On the way to Etche, there is Igwurita-Umukuruchi road. They could not complete it. We came we completed it. The Woji road towards Aba road they awarded it to LCC but they did not mobilise with one naira so LCC did not go to site. Rather than demolish houses and pay compensations that will not be enough for the people to build another house, we brought the price down to about N4bn and completed the road.
Debt profile of the state
I inherited N14bn from bank loan, which by our agreement we are paying through bonds which has been taken over by the federal government and they are deducting money from us every month to pay themselves but it is going to inhibit us – because If that would be bank it is going to affect us. So there was the agreement between state governments and the federal government to buy over some of these debts but money is being deducted from us monthly. We are not indebted to workers.
Of course, I inherited six months pensioners’ pay and four months salaries but I have paid all. As I speak with you, I have paid pensions up till November. I am ready to sign the money to pay them December and workers’ salary. But if you say whether we took loan to do projects, I will ask you which government will not take loan to do projects?