“ if you make me president tomorrow, I am going to run free education especially, in the north”~Rotimi Amaechi.

The Nigerian minister for transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi have declared that if made president, he will make education free especially in the north.

Amaechi who was granted interview with thisdaylive reviewed. Below are the excerpts from the interview.

“We’ve lost hope, and because Nigerians have lost hope, they are taking the laws into their hands, since there is nothing to live for. The reason you can see a man commit suicide is because there is nothing to live for. Now, if Boko Haram calls you and say take 5, 000 naira and go and bomb this man, it is because if he doesn’t take it, nothing will change. So, we need to give hope and how is the Buhari government giving hope?

“Don’t forget Benin Republic is a competing nation. They are competing with Nigeria,because they are a coastal state; they have seaport. What ECOWAS is trying to do is to bring landlocked states to be able to use its water. So, you shouldn’t be encouraging your neighbouring state that has water. What you should do is to see how you can make sure it does not have enough cargo”.

“It is a critical arrangement between Nigeria and ECOWAS. So, Nigeria is bound to do two major rail lines to join the West African rail line, that is, Lagos to Seme and Kano to Maradi. And, for me, Kano to Maradi makes more economic sense than Lagos to Seme. Maradi makes more economic sense than Seme”.

“The Goodluck Jonathan government started the Abuja-Kaduna, but at a point they stopped.They could not pay the money. We had to pay the money. When I came, I told the President to call the minister of finance, and the woman said, I should go and look for money. The woman still insisted on budget, and the president said, ‘Okay, I agree with you. I am a man of rule of law, so budget. But before the end of the budget, look for this fund”

“What is the interest of the former chief of naval staff? Okay, what about NNPC? There are actors that cause confusion in the water and go to NNPC to ask for security contract. If you aggregate all the monies that non-state actors are diverting, vis a vis the ones that state actors are diverting, you will see that Nigeria is bleeding more from the non-state actors than state actors”.

“If you read the letter, the letter stated to the president, ‘Mr President, I am the minister for transport, I don’t know what is happening in NPA. Not one day have they reported to me or told me what is going on. Mr president, I would like to know what is going on. I want an audit.’ The president approved. From nowhere, the auditor general refused, because that his is power. So, I wrote the president that I no longer want an audit, I want to do what they call administrative enquiry. But let the Managing Director of NPA just step aside. So, that is not suspension”

“I don’t know if I should tell you this, but let me give you an example. We had an agreement with Lekki Deep Seaport. The permanent secretary said an unknown person went and entered into a second agreement without the knowledge of the ministry. Meanwhile, the minister doesn’t have the power for such agreement. The right thing is to go to cabinet. So, I saw it yesterday and I read it once and read it the second time. But how do you sit in an office and somebody in NPA, whoever the person is, goes to drop a second agreement with Lekki Deep Seaport? And it has to do with exclusivity”

“That is the structure, just like the president does. If the president is asking everybody in transport, how will I run my ministry? So, if you say I did not hold KoKo responsible, there two things that will happen: I am holding NPA responsible for not remitting fund, whoever is in charge should tell me, who is not doing their job. If the panel says Koko didn’t do his job, then, he will go”

“Okay, let’s even say it is true, tell me one Nigerian that’s Ocean going? They all do carbotage. Finish! Again, I am the minister of transport, maybe I miss-spoke. What I mean by I miss-spoke is that I should be protecting my people; I should not be putting them out there. But if they want that debate, let’s have a meeting on that. They know I know the people I spoke about. They have told me themselves”.

“Rolling stock has been there since 2016 till now. We don’t have enough anymore to recover or to keep the rail running. If some are bad, we replace them and they move. So, we will continue to have breakdowns. You should even praise Nigerian engineers. Recently, we have never had any breakdown. They fixed the rail after the attack. It was a young lady engineer that did it. I thanked her and said Nigerian media will not see this”.

“No known politician will allow what happened the last time to happen again. They went to court. Have you seen a situation, where even a judge asking a party to a matter to come and was pointing their lawyer to them? The party refused and said it was not their lawyer? The last time we didn’t speak because we wanted to respect institutions, Now, this is the last lap. So, you will say to yourself. How will it happen? I don’t know how it will happen, I am not God, but I know that I am not in conflict with anybody in the party in the state”

“Upland has been governor for 20 years, which is unfair. If Wike is the best governor, there can be another Wike in the riverine. So, upland, allow these riverine people even if it is four years. And you can take the power from the riverine, any day you wake up and say I want back my power. You will take it so easily. There are 8 local governments in the riverine area and 15 upland and, Ikwere alone has 2 million votes as at the time I left. So, any day, Ikwere wakes up and says, we want back our power, they can do it”

“Look, if you make me president tomorrow, I am going to run free education especially, in the north. Let the government fund free education, because the same people you are denying free education today are the people that are not allowing you to rest. There is no boundary for kidnapping, even the herdsmen you are talking about, we must find strategic measure to deal with it. You cant just say don’t come to Rivers, or don’t come to Ogun State, no. The governors must meet as a people and say the reason why this is happening is XYZ”

“There are 36 states and the FCT, but only two are functional – Abuja and Lagos. And why you are functional here (Lagos) is because of the federal government. The federal government will rather die than have anything happen to Lagos, because of our economy.Then, Abuja the same. Why are other places abandoned?

“It has gotten to a point, where access to public fund is no longer possible, because Buhari stopped people from getting access to public funds, except you do project. There is always a choice we have to make between infrastructure development and just spending the money recklessly. So, at other times, we’ve been reckless with our expenditures. We have never addressed infrastructure”

“To address what you said, poverty is the basic factor for the issue of kidnapping, the issue of insecurity and all that. When I was governor of Rivers State, there was one statement I made clearly and I still maintain that. I said because few government and Nigerian elites refused to provide legal economy for the poor, the poor will provide for themselves illegal economy”

“I tell people that when the Igbo man or Ikwere man or Hausa man are sharing money, do you hear north and south? You only hear north and south, when the sharing is not favourable. It is an elitist thing. The illiterate southerner does not know that the rich northern man with the rich southern man are colluding to deny him or her. The same way with the northern poor man”

“So, I don’t think it is an issue. I just think that the politics of merit, the politics of national interest should be at the front, because we must know that this country has to be one, it is not at all cost but there is benefit in being one. Market is by size, the problem today why our market is not important to anybody is because we don’t have the purchasing power. The day everybody has the purchasing power here, even those who said they are killing here will come here to be killed. But unfortunately no Nigerian can purchase things, what can you purchase and where is the money?

“That is a more difficult question to answer. And I will tell you why. Whatever capacity I deployed in Rivers State, still exists in me. One of the things I heard before I became governor of Rivers State was that, ‘he is too young, he is too rascally.’ But when I came and in six months, the kidnappers were on the run. I am the first Nigerian to call them criminals. Look at what they are doing, they are killing people, and if you kill people, are you not a criminal? You see, government has the coercive capacity to put anybody down, it depends on whether you want to deploy it or not. So, being president is not an issue, I should focus on the responsibilities I have been given”.

Thisday Newspaper: For nearly 6 years, you’ve been the minister of transportation and the major focus has been mainly railway infrastructure. How has the journey been like?

CRA: The journey has been tough; it has not been easy, honestly. There is somebody that I am battling with now or a group of people that I am battling with. They are trying to blackmail me, they want me to give them a contract and they have come to me physically and I said no. Now that the contract is in the process of approval, they have sent some text messages to me. Let me just show you the message they sent to me so that you can see how bad they are, but me, I will never fall for blackmail.

CRA: I have always said that railway construction is not political; it is economics. I am constructing Lagos-Ibadan, not because I want to satisfy the Yoruba, it is because Lagos-Kano will generate about 11 million tons of cargo. So in the whole of the country, that figure by far makes economic sense for anybody who wants to construct a railway than going to construct, for instance, from South-south. If the South-south is about 3 million or 4 million tons, I will first and foremost construct Lagos to Kano, because it makes more economic sense than doing the one where I come from.

CRA: why are we doing Kano to Maradi? Because there is an agreement between all the West African states that each person will do its own.

CRA: We are pursuing Lagos to Kano, and as we are talking now, we are constructing from Kano to Kaduna. We have finished Lagos to Ibadan, we are looking for money to go from Ibadan to Abuja to complete the whole gamut of Lagos to Kano. Now, the next most important rail line to Lagos –Kano is Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, which includes the South East area, because it has 11 million tons of cargo. We have not been able to generate the data for Lagos to Calabar. The president has said to me, Ameachi, complete Lagos to Kano, Port Harcourt to Maiduguri and then Lagos to Calabar. These are the three most important rail lines in Nigeria. The next one will be the central line, which is Itakpe to Warri but then, there is a new addition, which comes from Abuja to Barro to Itakpe. That is the central line. Once we finish this, the areas that will be remaining will be Yola, Adamawa, Taraba, Gusau in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi. These are the five states that are remaining and we are working towards it. They are not contiguous and that is why we are finding it difficult. The professionals are doing their feasibility studies so that we can add them.

Thisday Newspaper: The Maritime University in Daura, or is it Transport University? Some people described it as another northern agenda. What informed locating in a place like Daura?

CRA: What is in Daura is Transport University. The Maritime University is in Okorokiko in Delta. What you have in Daura is Transport University and the federal government or you and I are paying no kobo. I usually brag about it and say, I could have taken that money, get CCECC $50 million to go and invest in Duara and build a university for us. Why? Because you can build all these railway tracks and all that but the day the Chinese go, you don’t have any technology to manage it. We had a battle. They agreed, just like I had a battle, that they should build one in my village. By the way, they are building one in my village and it is called federal university.

Thisday Newspaper: Much as Nigerians love the feats in the railway sector, there had been concerns about endless borrowings to fund it. Do you think the worries are misplaced?

CRA: So far, we have only borrowed $1.4 billion in my ministry, which is for Lagos to Ibadan. If you do your investigations, Lagos to Ibadan is $2 billion, the federal government is putting $600 million and we have put in $600 million even though we still owe less than $100 or $200 million. Now, we borrowed $1.4 billion – that’s what we borrowed.

Thisday: The ones you have borrowed, are they repayable, I mean can it repay the loan?

CRA: We are already paying. We have paid over $100 million for Abuja-Kaduna. And to contribute to the payment, the ministry of transport has said to the ministry of finance, once you remove the operational cost for the rail lines, take the rest. And operational cost is about a 100-and-something million naira and we are making N350 million now.

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