Dr. Dakuku Peterside was the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State in the 2015 elections and he is the immediate past Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA). The former member of House of Representatives in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE speaks about Nigeria’s debt profile, infrastructural development and governance in Rivers State
What is your assessment of governance in Rivers State under Governor Nyesom Wike in the last six years?
There has been probably no governance in Rivers State for the past six years. All major indicators of good governance are absent under Governor Nyesom Wike’s administration. He has led the most opaque government with zero transparency in Rivers State history.
No Riversman or woman has seen a clean copy of the state approved budget in the past six years and I challenge Governor Wike to make public the proposed and approved 2022 state budget.
No iota of public accountability and no government before his has been this nepotistic. All key positions in all tertiary institutions across the state are occupied by people from his own ethnic group.
Exclusiveness instead of inclusiveness is a permanent feature of his government. Wike’s government represents the worst era in the history of Rivers State. He is our albatross and rivers people are determined to wipe away the memories of this bad era and whatever he represents. He is not compassionate and has no interest in human development at all.
Almost all institutions of government have collapsed, and he is not interested. Wike’s past six years is a dark era in our history. In one word Wike has disappointed in all facets and history will not be kind to him.
You recently said government agencies under him have collapsed. What is the basis for this?
It is a fact, and nobody has challenged that statement of fact. As predicted Governor Wike has released his attack dogs to feast on my person instead of addressing the germane issues I raised.
All development oriented state institutions set up by predecessor governments have either collapsed or have been abandoned. A few that are still there are not funded and are underperforming.
Look at the State Post Primary Schools Board, Auditor -General’s Office, State Statistical Bureau, Rivers State Agricultural Development Programme, Rivers State Fire Service, Rivers State Bureau on Public Procurement- they are all underfunded and literally abandoned. Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, Rivers State Housing and Property Development Authority, WTTC Bori are all abandoned.
The Governor is just interested in brick and mortar as well as media attention and has no interest whatsoever in the development of Rivers State. Almost all companies that previously operated in Rivers state are all practically dead because our Governor has not provided a conducive environment for them to operate.
I wonder how the governor could go to sleep each day, knowing that thousands of Rivers youths previously engaged by these agencies and parastatals have been without jobs for years. As I stated in a press release I issued recently, even more shocking is that Governor Wike has done practically nothing to create employment opportunities for teeming Rivers youth.
Governor Wike has no interest whatsoever in employment creation. He virtually believes in giving out handouts to a few cronies as a substitute for a well-planned programme of economic empowerment for youths.
When I stated, over five years ago, that Wike was an accidental governor, many didn’t believe me, but I have since been vindicated by the irrational actions of the governor that have left Rivers youth and people poorer and hopeless.
The governor has no blueprint or clear-cut policy for the overall collective development of the state. This anomaly is even more evident in the way and manner he has ruled the state in the last six years, waking up and awarding contracts from his pocket. I challenge the governor to tell us what Rivers youths have gained under his administration other than using them for protests, thuggery and walks that have yielded nothing for them.
Rivers youths are worse off than they were seven years ago when they had access to limitless opportunities and programmes that aided their hopes and aspirations. Rivers people and the rest of Nigeria looked forward to carniriv every December as it created opportunities for tourism, hospitality, and economic activities.
But that has been lost under Wike. One would have thought that since Wike was part of the Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi’s administration, he would be in a better position to appreciate the significance of Carniriv, but it is apparent that he learnt noth- ing from experience.
Wike is just a brick-and-mortar ruler who believes everything starts and ends with flyover bridges without a trajectory of recourse to human capital development, socio-economic involvement and creation of leverages for our youth to excel. Sadly, we will manage him until 2023 when Rivers people will dump him and his party for a progressive movement that truly understands what economic development means.
Would you say development in the state is commensurate with the volume of revenue that accrues there annually?
What development are we talking about? He erroneously believes that building a few flyover bridges equates to development. Rivers State from federation account and 13 per cent derivation earns more than 10 northern states combined.
In the past six years, Rivers State government has earned over N2.5 trillion and what we got in exchange are a few flyover bridges, pensioners owed, teachers of Rivers State University International School, Ken- Polytechnic, Bori Comprehensive Secondary School, Ignatius Ajuru University Secondary School owed and our state secretariat that is now home for rodents. Education has been completely abandoned save for cosmetic renovation of few schools, there is practically no value addition or innovative thinking in any area.
There is nothing tangible to show that the state received money from the Federation Account in the last six years. Rivers people have been unlucky having a self-serving feudal lord in the office of the governor.
APC reportedly missed its opportunity in the 2015 election. What was your take away from that experience?
We literally had no election in 2015. The election tribunal and court of appeal said so. The Supreme Court in an earlier judgement acknowledged that Rivers State was just a theatre of war during the 2015 elections. Men of truth can all testify that there was no semblance of election in 2015.
The critical lessons in 2015 were the role of a compromised Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in elections. You would recall that a number of INEC officers who conducted the 2015 elections have been found guilty by different antigraft agencies. Some are being tried in court.
The other lesson is interference of police and military institutions in a routine democratic exercise. Most importantly, state backed violence is dangerous to free and fair elections. Recall that the state was dubbed “Rivers of Blood.”
The state recorded the highest rate of violence across the country pre-election, during and after the election. The memories of the 2015 election in Rivers State will haunt us for a long time to come. We have learnt invaluable lessons which we can apply going forward.
Your party, the APC is said to be disunited in Rivers State. How prepared is it for the 2023 governorship elections in the state?
My party is not disunited. This narrative of disunity is promoted and funded by the Rivers State government.
They have a few allies in the APC. It is not like there are no issues but not issues that cannot be resolved. As a party we have a strong internal conflict resolution mechanism that will deal with some of these issues. There is no way you will expect that a party with such a large membership base will not have conflict.
The important thing is that we have put in place a system to resolve issues. Stakeholders have learnt lessons from what happened in 2019 and we are determined to get it right in 2023.
I can assure you, Rivers APC will go into 2023 as a united party focused on dislodging the failed government in Rivers State. Rivers people are tired of this level of recklessness and selfcenteredness.
What is your view on the state of the Nigerian nation under the APC? Would you say it has delivered on its promises?
APC has done well in infrastructure. There are still gaps in security, economy and human capital development. However, it is a work in progress. What is important is the fact that the party recognises that the problems are there, and she has a programme to tackle it. APC has been in power for six years and you don’t expect the party to fix the destruction that was done in 16years.
Democracy is a process and not an event, so also is development.
How do you score the Federal Government in the area of infrastructural development nationwide?
I have already commented on this. If there is one area the government is doing well it is in infrastructure. Railway is being reinvented. Roads are receiving attention and projects are being executed across the country.
Look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge. Like the Minister of Works said recently some of the 600 on-going federal road projects whose completion will immediately impact the economy are being handled.
There is also the reconstruction of the 375km Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria- Kano Expressway and its transformation to a six-lane configuration; reconstruction of the Benin – Ofusu – Ore – Ajebandele – Shagamu Expressway; the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, and the Kano-Maiduguri Expressways.
The Loko-Oweto Bridge, linking Benue and Nasarawa States, an important interstate project started by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, is being completed by President Buhari. More can be done, and I am optimistic that in this last one year so much will be achieved.
How do you see the proposed 2022 budget and its ability to deliver the goods?
I have not had the opportunity to go through the details of 2022 federal budget. However, from the bits I have read, the government appreciates the fact that it is important to end well. Our challenge is usually not on the budget but the implementation.
Beyond the budget, we need to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of institutions, our approach to development, issues of transparency, accountability, project execution, ease of doing business, creating the right environment for inflow of investment and human capacity development.
The budget is an important barometer to measure the direction of government but let’s also focus on important frameworks that will catalyze development. We desperately need growth.
What is your view about the proposed removal of subsidy and the proposed N5,000 palliative? I am a supporter of subsidy removal, but I don’t believe in this method proposed by the Federal Government and the timing. I advise against removal of the subsidy now till a few critical things are put in place.
The N5,000 palliative proposed cannot be the immediate solution. The mechanism of choosing beneficiaries and method of disbursement will even be contentious. We need to rethink the proposal. I urge the government to rethink its strategy. It may be counter-productive. I appreciate the fact that subsidy as it is today is not sustainable.
Globally countries are cutting down on subsidies for obvious economic reasons. Nigeria’s debt profile has risen to about N40 trillion. Do you think the nation can sustain this or are we receding to the pre-1999 era? Debt in itself is not sin. What matters is what these funds are deployed for and the resultant effect. These funds are helping create employment and wealth?
My understanding is that we are investing this loan in critical infrastructure that can spur growth. As a citizen, I am concerned about our debt profile and I think the government should do more to communicate with the people so we can appreciate why we are obtaining loans and for what.
Most Nigerians I have interacted with do not seem to understand the rationale and justification for the loans. Most experts believe there are alternatives to these loans. My immediate concern is to let these loans be applied to the things that can address our real development gaps and not be diverted to individual pockets. I can see the good work going on with the railways and its spiral effect.
That is justifiable and the public appears to support the progress being recorded in this sector. It is unfair to compare the 2020–2021 era with the pre-1999 era. We are talking about two different economic scenarios . Recall the present administration inherited a huge domestic debt profile.
The new wave of external borrowing is targeted at critical sectors unlike in the past when we cannot explain what those loans were obtained for and how they were spent. I appreciate those who say it is not sustainable to use 90 – 95 per cent of our revenue to service debts. The end point is that the government needs to engage more with the citizenry.
How do you describe the state of insecurity and what is the way out?
Every well-meaning Nigerian must be concerned about insecurity in the country right now. It will most likely get worse as we approach the Yuletide. It has affected agriculture, social life, investment inflow and has practically crippled economic life. It is one area of our national life that requires focused attention.
The immediate solution is to tackle the criminals using a combination of hard and soft approaches. The medium term approach is to address the political and socio economic conditions that gave rise to this state of insecurity. All of these solutions fall within the purview of good governance and particularly law enforcement.
What is your view about agitation and calls for restructuring in the country?
The problem is that of a dysfunctional system. Almost all component parts of the country feel they have not gotten a fair deal, meanwhile the truth is that it is a challenge of poor leadership.
My proposal is that these fears, concerns and issues need to be discussed. Without addressing them things will linger and agitations will continue . The ultimate solution is not in restructuring or not but we have to first decide our ultimate destination as a country and ask ourselves how can we get to that destination.
Do you intend to throw your heart in the ring come 2023 governorship poll in Rivers?
Rivers State must be salvaged from visionless leadership with no feeling for the masses. I want to be part of a team that will salvage the state, create employment for our youths, empower the people, fix education and healthcare.
If that team asks me to be the face of the new era I will accept the challenge. Right now I am engaging people trying to build a critical mass who believes that a Rivers State that works is feasible. Specifically, the discussion about whether I will run for the office of Governor will be made public soon after consultation with my immediate and political families .
President Muhammadu Buhari just returned from the Dubai Expo. How do you think the nation can maximize the benefits especially in attracting Foreign Direct Investment?
It is a good move. I am optimistic our economic managers will leverage it to attract investments to the country but let’s seriously deal with the issue of creating the right economic environment that is conducive for investors.
Investors will not depend on what you say to them but what the world is saying to them about you. Let’s do the tight things in our country and I believe we will get the narrative right. That way we can attract investments. Nigeria has a lot of potential, we just need the right leadership to harness it.