There are as usual, countless complaints among stakeholders of poor service delivery by local government councils in Nigeria. The same is true in Rivers State but even more so because, after Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi took over payment of primary school teachers, amounting to over N1.2 billion monthly, many believed that the councils would be better equipped to the delivery of quality services to their people.
What went wrong? What role had the supervising ministry in charge of local governments, chieftaincy and community matters played to check the trend? Infact, is there hope for the rural people, considering the winner-takes-all-approach to local government administration?
Who else to proffer answers to these and many more questions than Dr. Tammy Danagogo, the man who heads one of the most sensitive ministries that touch the lives of the rural people most, Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Matters.
To do just to all these, Danagogo was guest of The Tide Round Table last week Thursday, and after two hours or so confessed that the experience was worth the while.
Following are first part of excerpts of the epoch encounter which we believe you’ll find most refreshing, cause we did.
Just before any question, I think we ought to have the first thing first. For us, here, we known you. For the public, who will you say you are?
Well, I am Dr. Tammy Danagogo, that is my name. I’m a lawyer by profession, graduated in 1990, I was called to Bar in 1991 and briefly, I did my youth service with National Concorde. I was like a press man.
I was a judicial correspondent for National Concorde in Lagos. I came back after my National Service. I was in legal practice between 1992 and 2003, 2004. I was elected local Government Chairman.
I finished my service there in 2007 and later 2007, I was appointed a Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Affairs. So that is me, basically. coincidentally, I had my first degree, masters degree and Ph.D all in law and I had my Ph.D in human rights and dispute settlement – an aspect in public law. That is why I was saying that in totality as a former chairman I know what it means to be a chairman; I know the tricks some Chairmen can easily do. But for Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, a good knowledge of Law and dispute settlement or dispute resolutions is key. What we do there, Chieftaincy and community Affairs, almost, say 50 per cent of it have to do with dispute resolution.
Chieftaincy disputes, disputes between community and oil company and so on and so forth. Basically, that is Dr. Tammy Danagogo.
We can actually describe you as a two time Commissioner for Local Government/Chieftaincy Affairs how has it been?
Well, let me start by thanking you for this opportunity at least to rob minds with you, to brief you as it were what our ministry is doing. It’s been challenging. The Ministry of local Government, Chieftaincy and community Affairs is a very big and challenging ministry.
But by the grace of God, we are up to the task. I have very experienced workers, Directors and other technocrats who have always been of assistance to me whenever I need it. By the grace of God, I also happened to fit into what is required there, as a former Chairman, as a lawyer I think by the grace of God, we are doing well.
Let me quickly take you up on what you said last about the tricks of local Governments, with that kind of tricks, you said you have, one would have expected that local government chairmen, would just keep quiet and do their work the way it should be, but if what the governor said at the last stakeholders meeting is anything to go by no local Government is performing, how did they outsmart you?
From the point you are looking at it, well that is a very good way to look at it. Every person sees every issue from the point he is looking at. Just like the story of the elephant, and the seven blind people. Everybody will tell you based on where he is touching I want to say, I want to be challenged on that, it is not true that all the local Governments in Rivers State are not performing. Even the Governor did not say that. The Governor is challenging Local Government Chairmen to work and to work very hard.
And as a Ministry supervising them, we have always been telling the Governor that it is necessary for the Governor to challenge them.. It is necessary for the governor to admonish them so that they would work harder.
But that doesn’t mean that all the chairmen are not working. I can tell you that there are some chairmen who are doing very well. There are also Chairmen who are not doing well. So I can say that you are correct, infact that some are not doing very well but some are doing well. So they have not out-smarted anybody. We are making sure that those that are not doing well; we will catch up with them. They say that, there are many days for the thief.
You don’t just stand up and begin to just say a Chairman is not performing. You take into consideration all the indices and when you finished and when you make sure every other information you need added to it then you tell the Governor, this is this and you can come out boldly and say this Chairman is a failure. This Chairman is a success. That is why you have not seen me may be come out to tell you that local Government ‘A’ is a thief, B is not doing anything, local Government C is doing that.
I tell you that from our observations and the monitoring, we’ve been doing, some local Governments are doing well.
I can tell you that before I start , let me tell a kind of may be lodge a caveat why you’ve not seen us come out with an official result of this Chairmen is the best, this chairman is the worst, before you come out with that kind of result, first and foremost you will have briefed His Excellency. It is only after you have brief His Excellency that you can now come out and announce to the world.
That is why we hardly do, as a commissioner because the moment I make that statement it is supposed to take a stamp of finality, because the only person who can talk after that is the Governor, if I am talking, it means I have the approval of the Governor.
We don’t announce it because we are still in the process of getting the final approval of his Excellency. On what we have observed, we have been briefing His Excellency. Infact at the last count, even your paper published it.
His Excellency said O.k. Commissioner and Officers of the ministry, you have been assessing them this way. That is your assessment. I also want another team to join you.
He appointed the team he said that, I should appoint the Secretary, which I did. Let them also reconfirm some of these in this kind of thing, before you go out to say, the public officer is bad that is good, it is in law, we say it needs corroboration.
Other persons need to say that, yes, the commissioner said, I also confirm. Infact when we are setting up our own team, usually we make sure, we invite some external bodies so that when I said this Chairman is the worst, naturally, I expected that, he would go round shouting, he would cry wolves. He would say that, oh; the commissioner does not like me; the commissioner did it for one political reason or the other.
Politicians have a way of painting everything, making everything look light. So he would say. But when, he would say that, my only resort would be the fact that, these other people were also part of this exercise and they also said this. That is just trying to lodge small caveat before we begin to address the question of who are the Chairmen performing.
The society expects so much particularly in Rivers State where you have a Governor that is doing so well. He has raised the standard so people expect the kind of corresponding performance from Local Government Chairmen.
But where, I sit, I see how much they get , I see how much they spent on their staff. I see what is left, so, I tailor my expectation to meet what we know they have.
A follow up to this, now there was this Excellence in Local Government Initiative (ELGI) Award and there was an award ceremony where, local Government Chairmen were rated as first, second and third that report was turned to your Ministry and having selected the first, second and third, you must have also selected the worst three. Is it possible for us to have an idea of who they are?
This is one issue that becomes very topical at this point in our stewardship in this Ministry. The Excellence in Local Government Initiative is a sort of a joint exercise between the Ministry, Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) and corporate organizations.
You know, when I started I told you that, certain local Government, I always as a policy, having been a Chairman I know that once Ministry comes out with a score so many of the Chairmen will challenge it. I started out looking for external collaborators, external Audits, those that will support me, that will support us, so that when I tell you this is the result, I will be telling you that is not some thing that was done by the Ministry alone.
Shell was part of it First Bank was part of it, Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency was part of it, Sosoliso was part of it, so if, I am politically biased against you what about First bank, what about others that is the idea behind excellence in local Government Initiative.
And the idea, very wonderful idea. When the idea came up, after my assessment of the Caretaker Chairmen. Because I did an assessment of the Caretaker Chairmen and I submitted to His Excellency. In submitting my assessment, I told His Excellency what we want to do and we are already talking with Sustainable Development Agency.
We are talking with these organs. Shell, First Bank and so on and the idea, is that when we come out with the result, we will look for a way of giving incentives to those who are doing very well.
And also punishing the worst three. Is a carrot and stick way and His Excellency approved it, to do it that way, because, he also saw that there is a big sense in that way of doing it. But a few things went wrong which we are trying to get right now.
The thing was supposed to be comprised of some of our own people who have been doing the assessment from the Ministry. Five from the Rivers State House of Assembly, and three from all the various collaborating Agencies and corporate bodies that is what we agreed, at the beginning. At the end we couldn’t come out with what we agreed.
The Agencies and corporate bodies just went ahead on their own and started assessing and came out with that result. The Ministry was not part.
You see, a few things are wrong with that result and that is why we could not wholly and even His Excellency cannot wholly rely on it, as a standard basis of this is the best Chairman and this is the worst Chairman. Why you, see when the Ministry’s Assessors are not part of what they did, I can tell you that no Professor any where in the world can come to Rivers state and assess local Government and do it better than us.
I started by saying that I know all the tricks the Chairman can pull. If you just wake up here now, you are an experienced man you have all the knowledge, but it is very easy to just trick you and make you score a chairman very high and how will he do it. All he needs to do is, projects that was executed by his predecessor he will just repaint them and show you that this is my project, Professor for God sake from the U.S. you don’t know what is happening in Abual/Odual, you don’t know what is happening in Akuku-Toru, you just be taken in by it. What a lot of Chairmen do repaint and repackage projects executed by others and present them and you score them based on that.
But if it is the Ministry Officials, who have been assessing we assessed the last Caretaker Chairmen appointed by His Excellency, so the moment you show me a project that was not executed by you, I will say no, we have assessed this project for so so. So that is what I tell people, I’m just the ceremonial head. I just want to make sure I see things for myself, but the technical assessment of the value of projects and everything is done by the technical group.
So that was done without this data. It is the officials in the Ministry who will give you the data of what level of development was there before this Chairmen came in. How much money has this Chairman received? How much of this money is he using to service his staff? We have a nominal roll of all local governments. We have their allocation figures. So nobody can deceive me. Our assessment is usually based on your staff strength and your allocation strength.
Nobody can come here now and tell me that a Local Government like Port Harcourt and Ogu/Bolo we should use the same yardstick to assess them, no. Because virtually, what Port Harcourt gets is almost about double what Ogu/Bolo gets. So can you say, if I am earning N20 million per annum and he is earning N10 million per annum, you expect two of us to do the same thing. It is not possible.
The bigger they earn the bigger the headache.
Yes, but there are parameters. But if PHALGA gets N20 million, what they spent on their staff is, say N5 million, meaning that they are supposed to be left with N15 million. And Ogu/Bolo gets N10 million and what they spent on the staff is N2 million, so meaning that what will be left for him is N8 million. So while assessing what I will be looking at what PHALGA has done with its N15 million and what Ogu/Bolo has done with N8 million.
If Ogu/Bolo man has executed projects worth, say N8 million, I will assess him hundred percent. If PHALGA man with his N15 million left executed projects worth N10 million, I will score him 67 percent or there about. So PHALGA would have executed projects worth N10 million, Ogu/Bolo N8 million. But I’m saying that Ogu/Bolo is a better chairman than PHALGA. One thing is that, we also as a Ministry expect that there is a given percentage of your allocation that you are supposed to give to each sector.
A chairman cannot tell me that he has spent all his money on security. If he is fighting a war, I will know. If there is a war situation I will know. If there is a situation of emergency that requires that high level of expenditure, almost always since I become Commissioner I know that His Excellency will intervene.
So it will not be for him alone. These are some of the things, they used to deceive outsiders. If you come for instance and you don’t know, they can tell you oh; security problem, I did this JTF this, JTF that, but he cannot tell me because, I know what aspect the Governor does and what he does. So these are all the problems we had with that assessment.
These areas were not there. The other part of it was that because this fact that our involvement which is very crucial was not there, although we jointly conceived and worked on the idea.
You find that the issue of punishing those who are not good, was not addressed, because we were not there.
Also the issue of incentive was done wrongly. Because when we conceived the idea, the incentive is not for the chairman, as I am today, if I do very well, and you are giving me a prize, you give to my Ministry, you can say, a dedicated project, then you give us hundred million, we can use it for a dedicated project. You don’t give me money, because all of us were sworn to different forms of oath, code of conduct, this or that code of allegiance and that. And code of conduct is clear, you don’t give incentives to public officers, personally, you can give, for instance, the way we conceived it, there will be some money for dedicated projects handed over to the Chairman, quite well. Go and built or do so or so projects in your LGA and we will come and commission it and announce that this was given to you and your local Government because you are the best Chairman. The mistake was also done there because I didn’t attend, because we wrote to them that we didn’t know when they went round. We didn’t know. We were not part of that. So we said look we have not gone round. You don’t know how much each of these local governments have, some chairmen show them projects that were done by their predecessors and you are giving personal gift to them and these are not in consonant with the idea of this Excellence in Local Government Initiative.
So we did not attend, His Excellency also did not attend. But right now we are back to the drawing board. They came, they saw reason with what we said and they expressed sorry. We all agreed that is a very good idea, and we need to work together, so we are working together.
Sorry, talking about failure to punish poor performing local Government Area, only recently House of Assembly suspended two local Government Chairmen you have not punished; you have not warned did it embarrass you?
Well it did not embarrass me. You see, we are different organs of government. Every organ of government has its statutory or rather constitutional responsibility. Actually, if you look at the Rivers State, Local Government Law, it is the responsibility of the House of Assembly upon proper cause, may be petitions written to them to investigate any local government and recommend appropriate punishment; petitions were written to them, they investigated their petitions and they came out with their result. It is their statutory responsibility so I cannot be embarrassed because, they have the right to do it.
My own responsibility, like I said, after assessing, I will submit to His Excellency: His Excellency can punish them. In most cases through the House of Assembly. Either on grounds of misconduct, which can include fraud and all that or security ground. And then request the House of Assembly to ratify his decisions.
I will not directly punish them. That is why I told you that when we conceived the Excellence in local Government Initiative, the idea was that, the Ministry would bring five, the Assembly Committee on local Government would bring five persons. The idea is that it is a one in all kinds of exercise. Both the Assembly, the Ministry, external people everybody is now aware, this is the best Chairman, this is the worst chairman.
While the Governor, the corporate bodies are given incentives, Governor and the Assembly will be working towards punishing those who are not performing well. The Assembly don’t need to go back to reconfirm our recommendations of who to be punished, because they were also part of the process.
So are we to say that the ministry has no power to punish any erring local Government Chairman?
The Ministry has powers that are exercised through the Governor. We recommend to the Governor I cannot as a commissioner suspend the chairman. They are only two ways you can punish a Chairman. If not anything you do to him, is like water on duck fowl, The only two ways are; suspend or remove him, that is one.
The second is to detain his money. That is the only way. None of this, I can do without the Governor’s approval. Their allocations as they come from Federation account, the highest it can stay with me are three days. The Governor has given the right. I don’t even need to tell the Governor before releasing it to them. Because, he has delegated me as the Chairman of Joint Allocation Committee. So as soon as the money comes, three days is the highest, then if we are calculating and distributing, highest is three days, we release their money to them.
On no account do you delay it. So if you can’t delay the money you cannot deduct from it, you can’t punish them except you have approval and that must be on a very strong ground. So far we came, we have not delayed any local government Allocation.
The Media’s Endorsement Of Wike’s Governance Style
Media scholars and polemicists have since concluded and rightly so too, that the media, over the years, have been globally acknowledged as the watch dog of the society.
Therefore, their information monitoring roles have been considered a sine qua non for democracy and good governance.
With the progressive consolidation of our democracy, good governance has become more imperative and yet critically measured.
Periodic situations of dwindling resources caused either by unexpected natural occurrences or sadly by the retrogressive policies of inept leadership have imposed great hardship on the masses.
Luckily for us, there are still a few good men at critical points in the country, delivering courageous, strategic, articulate and progressive leadership.
This group of leaders are determined to sustain the delivery of qualitative and enduring legacies to maintain our hope in democracy as the best form of government.
One of those few leaders is Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike and we are happy that the Media, that watch dog of the society, even against the backdrop of thinly veiled autocratic censorship, is recording the achievements of this extra ordinary leader, for posterity.
Thus it was that between Sunday, June 6 to Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), comprising members as well as the State and National Executives, converged in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital for their 3rd National Conference, with the theme: “The Media, Insecurity And National Unity.”
Governor Nyesom Wike was the Special Guest of Honour and represented by the Rivers State Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Harry-Banigo, declared the conference open, while the keynote address was delivered by the Governor of Abia State, His Excellency, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu.
The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was represented by the Director of NTA Port Harcourt Network Centre, Abosede Adebayo, while the Chairman of the opening ceremony was the distinguished legal luminary and former President of Nigeria Bar Association, Onueze Okocha(SAN).
One of the key highlights, which hallmarked the power packed three-day national conference, was the comprehensive projects tour by the National President of NUJ, Comrade Chris Isiguzo and members of the NUJ.
This was to prove to the Journalists, as chroniclers of good governance, that what they had been hearing and seeing about Rivers State were not audio or Newspaper prototype projects like some detractors had been desperately misleading Nigerians, but verifiable and functional legacy projects.
The project tour was incorporated as part of the conference activities and they had visited in split groups, a number of projects sites undertaken by Governor Wike in Rivers State.
The journalists inspected completed projects including the Mother and Child Hospital, the Real Madrid Football Academy and Emmanuel Chinwenwo Aguma Judges Quarters, amongst others, as time would permit.
Of course, the NUJ members had cruised across some of the newly commissioned legacy flyovers that adorned the capital city and the exclamations of awe and wonder they gushed as they beheld them, spoke volumes for the architectural beauty and construction excellence that Governor Nyesom Wike had delivered to his people.
At the end of the tour, a visibly overwhelmed and pleasantly astonished team of journalists in their unanimous verdict, described Governor Wike as a pride to Nigeria’s Democracy. They also noted that by redefining governance, Governor Wike practices democracy in action.
Corroborating what has now become generally accepted and greatly admired by many, as the core extra ordinary attributes of Governor Wike, the views of National and State Executives and members of the NUJ, was captured first by National President of the NUJ, Chris Isiguzo, who stated unequivocally that the 1999 constitution bestows on the media the responsibility to hold government accountable to the people and having placed the projects side by side with the expectations of the populace, it is obvious that Governor Wike’s investment in critical infrastructure will remain as lifelong empowerment tools for the people.
“We were at the Mother and Child Hospital. We took time to look at the facilities there. That can easily be said to be first of its kind in the country. At the much talked about the Real Madrid Football Academy where you are going to train the young ones, and they have good facilities. At the moment, they have also offered admission to 140 pupils.
“That’s also to catch them young and I want to believe that by the time this kind of resources are continuously invested in sports development, Nigeria, in just a matter of time, will gain its pride of place in the sporting world.”
National President of National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Ladi Bala said the projects she had seen are entirely unique, unprecedented and very uncommon in the country, especially the Emmanuel Chinwenwo Aguma Judges Quarters which stands as first of its kind in Nigeria.
“Its serene ambiance will surely translate into enhancing the productivity of Judges of Rivers origin.
“I believe that democracy is at work in Rivers State and, for Rivers people, I want to congratulate them and to say, this is the true reflection of what democracy should be across board.
“I want to call on other governors across the country to borrow a leaf from what the governor of Rivers State is doing. Wike is working and we are very proud of what we have seen here.”
National Internal Auditor of NUJ, Muhammad Tukur described Governor Wike as a committed leader with the vision of uplifting the standard of his people.
Vice Chairman of NUJ North Central Zone, Chief Wilson Bako commended the quality of the various roads and flyover bridges constructed in the Port Harcourt metropolis to make the city a tourists attraction, while the Vice Chairman of NUJ in Jigawa State, Larai Musa said she has confirmed all that the news media had carried about Governor Wike and his project mantra and asserted that it is leaders like that that are needed at the national level.
Chairman of Oyo State Council of the NUJ, Alhaji Ismail Ademola Babalola asserted that the Mother and Child Hospital and the Real Madrid Football Academy are part of projects Governor Wike is using to secure a productive future for youths of the state because they meet global standard, while Ikechukwu Ordu of the Enugu State Council of the NUJ advised other political leaders to emulate Governor Wike in the way he was providing the dividends of democracy to Rivers people and changing the fortune of his state.
Anyone who has visited Enugu State will fully understand why Ugochukwu Chukwudieke, from Enugu State Council of the NUJ confessed that she was completely overwhelmed by what Governor Wike has done in providing the flyovers at Okoro-Nu-Odo, Rumuogba and Rebisi, delivered within a short space of time.
She also observed with the eye of someone who lives in Enugu, the emerging architectural beauty and practical ease of traffic which the GRA junction flyover, Orochiri flyover and Oro-abali flyover, all of which have reached advanced stages of completion, will provide, when they are delivered.
The agglutination of these media voices is not only historically definitive, but resonates stridently with the multiplicity of voices which have been consistently unwavering in capturing and reporting the exceptional achievements of Governor Wike in the last six years, in the media Constituency.
Rivers watchers will recall that one of the earliest media award bestowed on Governor Wike, was the New Telegraph Newspaper Man of The Year 2017 Award.
Mrs Funke Egbemode, the then Managing Director and Editor In Chief of the Newspaper, had said that the Award was in recognition of the Governor’s outstanding achievements and activities in office and in particular, his rising profile in the management of state resources, projects execution, massive construction of roads, renovation of general hospitals and schools in the state, which were some of the considerations that placed Rivers State at the top in the stiff competition.
Other media awards from reputable National and Continental Newspapers and other media establishments for Governor Wike include: The Sun Newspaper, Independent Newspaper, African Leadership Magazine, United Kingdom, the Authority Newspaper, Hallmark Newspaper, all of them conferring on him the distinguished Awards of, “Governor of the Year” or as the “Best performing Governor in Nigeria”, and echoing the same excellent sentiments about Governor Wike’s developmental strides and accomplishments.
Silverbird Group also gave him the Extraordinary Personality of the Year Award for 2020.
He also bagged the Daily Independent Newspapers Infrastructure Governor of the Year 2020 Award, while only recently the Rivers State Governor got the Blueprint Newspapers Governor of the Year Award, in the company of former President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who was bestowed with Icon of Democracy in Africa Award.
A select delegation of the Nigeria Guild of Editors were in Rivers State in October 2020, for an on-the-spot, fact finding, verification mission of some of Governor Wike’s reported projects and at the end of an independent tour of the projects, this is what the President of the Guild, Mustapha Isah said:
“Anytime I come to Port Harcourt, there is always a new project on-going. Flyovers are being constructed, existing roads are being expanded, and new roads being built. This is your second term and you’re maintaining what you said that you will work until the last day of your tenure. You have zeal and passion in handling issues of Rivers state, from COVID-19 to issues of security,” he enthused.
Indeed the place of Governor Wike in the annals of the media was best captured by Silverbird Creative Development General Manager, Jacob Akinyemi Johnson, when he led his management team to confer the “Extraordinary Personality of the year 2020” on Governor Wike.
He said the award is to let the Governor know that he is doing a fantastic job for the people of Rivers State and Nigeria and his actions have not gone unnoticed.
“Your boldness made you the first prominent Nigerian to raise the alarm over the atrocities of the now disbanded SARS. And you also spoke against the politicisation of security. Now your forthrightness in telling the truth to power including the presidency when you think things are going wrong, is worthy of emulation. You did not hesitate to commend when necessary also. And on political issues, you are not afraid to tell even your own party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) the whole truth when necessary. “
“There are very few Governors like you who walk the talk and there are very few Governors like you who have the passion and are not sentimental. You say things the way they are and you also say the things that you believe in.
“So we sat back and we said the person we can think of this year is your Excellency Nyesom Ezenwo Wike
“Also in the area of projects, the last time I was here, you were referred to as Mr. Projects. Now you have been elevated to Mr. Quality Projects.
“You promised on the day you were sworn in for second term that you will work for Rivers State people to the very last day and you are living up to that task. Seven bridges in a record period of time and all these were embarked upon in 2020 when the country and indeed the entire world were greatly impacted by the COVID- 19 pandemic, but you still delivered.”
There is no doubt whatsoever that despite the dubious, misleading and often desperate and delusional propaganda spewed by the fractured and dwindling opposition in the state and their hirelings of detractors, the reports of the amazing and superlative projects delivery of the Rivers State Governor, continues to grab the top headlines nationally in the media and silence his detractors at home.
The 3rd NUJ National Conference, in Port Harcourt has come and gone and once again, it has afforded the globally acknowledged watch dogs of the society, a first hand opportunity to perform their information monitoring roles in reporting the reality on ground, as Rivers State continues to transform in the unfolding kaleidoscope of amazing development, under the visionary, determined, focused and progressive leadership of an extraordinary man, who believes and is fully committed towards ensuring that the resources of the people work for them and only the best will be good enough for Rivers people.
Paulinus Nsirim, Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State
Radio Rivers FM @ 40: The Journey So Far
It was the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, who once said: “Let the people know the facts and country is safe”. This notable aphorism of Lincoln’s is crucial for the development of society.
Radio Rivers Two FM Stereo, as it was then called, was 40 years on May 2, 2021, following its establishment and launch of its signal on May 2, 1981. Ace broadcaster, Dafini Gogo-Abbey, signed on the new frequency modulation radio station with the call signal: Radio Rivers Two FM Stereo.
The radio station was tagged Radio Rivers Two then because the Amplitude Modulation (AM) began operation on June 1, 1978 under late Chief Olu Benibo Fubara as General Manager of Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation (RSBC) as Radio Rivers alone. It is on record that Mambo Tumbowei, later known as Elizabeth Odumo, signed on the station with the call signal: Radio Rivers.
At inception, the original plan of the founding fathers was that RSBC would serve as an umbrella body for radio and television. The late literary icon, Gabriel Imomotimi Gbain-Gbain Okara, was the pioneer General Manager of RSBC-Radio and TV together; but the television station, known as RSBC-TV, commenced operation before the radio arm. And this was largely due to the fact that there had been radio broadcasting service provided by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in the state.
It is pertinent to accentuate the fact that RSBC was encapsulated in the vision of the founding fathers to promote the favourable identity of the old Rivers State created from the defunct Eastern Nigeria.
Following the restructuring of radio broadcasting in Nigeria in 1978, NBC transformed to be Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) wherein the Rivers State Government inherited the personnel and equipment of the former. The personnel included the legendary Opuerembo Gloria Fiofori, Elder Goddy William, Japudiari Jumbo and Elder Walson Asako, among others.
Interestingly, this pool of staff aided Chief Fubara to actually commence broadcasting using NBC equipment at William Jumbo Street, Old GRA with the engineering and technical services at Ozuoba in present day Obio/Akpor LGA of Rivers State.
It is common knowledge that Radio Rivers AM truly promoted favourable identity of Rivers people as envisioned by the founding fathers. This was articulated through community broadcasting module where premium was attached to programming in indigenous languages as well as translation of programmes into Rivers languages.
The administration of Chief Fubara was remarkable and would particularly be remembered for sending staff for training abroad in England, The Netherlands and the United States. Specifically, Dafini Gogo-Abbey trained in the US, Eric Uzoma was in The Netherlands while Ibiye Degbani went to the UK, among other staff who benefited from overseas training. This does not in any way demean those who trained at home at the time. No doubt, such training equipped members of staff to tackle the challenges of rural broadcasting ahead.
The government of Chief Melford Okilo did build on the legacies of the regimes of Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, Col. Zamani Lekwot and Commander Suleiman Seidu to broaden the broadcast space by introducing the rave of the moment: Radio Rivers Two FM Stereo on May 2, 1981.
While it was the first FM radio station to be established by a state government in Nigeria, the Rivers broadcast facility came after the first FM studio called Radio Nigeria Two or Metro FM Ikoyi, Lagos, established in 1977. The superior sound quality and highly-skilled professionals’ commitment to duty endeared Radio Rivers FM to many, not only in the state but across the nation.
Tribute must be paid to the founding fathers and managers who had a clear sense of purpose and vision to provide favourable identity for Rivers people through this medium. To this end, one must acknowledge the commitments of pioneer staff as well as their team spirit. The General managers and management staff included Mrs. Nguba Aspinnal, late Jonny Abasa, Ernest T. Ogbanga, late Sunny Joe, Gloria Fiofori, Dafini Gogo-Abbey, Florence Ekiye, Digi Hart, Mike Yempe, Brighton Sorgwe, among others.
Interestingly, Radio Rivers 99.1 FM was born at the time when the war of words between Governor Sam Mbakwe of Imo State and his Rivers State counterpart, Chief Okilo, reached a crescendo following the controversy over post-Biafran War abandoned property policy and non-inclusion of Imo State in the list of oil-bearing states to benefit from the derivation per centage of that time. As a result, Mbakwe never saw anything good in the administration of Okilo.
This was where the news commentaries churned out by the News and Current Affairs Department of Rivers FM radio rose to the occasion and the specialised news features of staff, particularly Dumo Oruobo, remained exquisite. The other notable writers were Oju Daniel-Kalio, Eriye Iyaye, Simon Ambakederemo of the Ministry of Information, Kudo Eresia-Eke and Bobo Brown; while literary giants like Kenule Saro-Wiwa, Ola Rotimi, Paul Naale, Elechi Amadi and Gabriel Okara were regular guests on the literary discourses hosted by Oruobo.
Speaking in a live interview tagged Spotlight on Rivers FM radio on Sunday May 2, 2021, Chief Oruobo noted that Governor Mbakwe did surrender to the fireworks from the AM and FM studios of Radio Rivers.
“Yes, Governor Sam Mbakwe caved in and pleaded with his colleague, Governor Melford Okilo, to stop the war; then Governor Okilo asked him to tell his people to stop the propaganda too,” he said.
In her remarks, Opuerembo Fiofori, who was also a guest on the live interview programme admitted that she headed a team mandated to produce the public service jingle of old after the war of words. She sang recalled the lines thus: Love Rivers State or leave alone; don’t pull her down, no no; think what you can do for her; engage yourselves in meaningful activities; no room for gossips; do something meaningful.
Additionally, it is on record that RSBC introduced News In Special English in 1984, another milestone in the annals of radio broadcasting while bridging the gap between government and the governed through programmes and translations in indigenous languages. Tamunokuro Akaluogbo anchored Arokerenime in Okrika, Billy Evans handled request programme in Kalabari, Dehkai Ema was for Khana, Nyemavuchi Ohaka and Austine Weji Akajile for Ikwerre and Francis Vibeleh for Bonalo-lobel for Gokana audience.
On account of the outstanding achievement of Radio Rivers FM, it was not only a tourist site but training centre for other FM radio stations. It is common knowledge that Benue State Radio and Cross Radio State Broadcasting Corporation (CRBC) came to radio Radio Rivers for training.
Radio Rivers accorded adequate airtime to coverage of RIVIFEST, Peoples Parliament and programme such as English By Radio while it also organised outdoor events such as Miss FM and Mr. FM. According to the former General Manager, Gloria Fiofori, Tonye Koko was the first to win Miss FM while David Ibiyeomie (now founder of Salvation Ministries) won Mr. FM, respectively.
Despite its contributions to state affairs, the authorities concerned did not replace obsolete equipment as at when due and Radio Rivers began to experience incessant off-air syndrome. Truly, broadcast equipment have lifespan and approved room temperature to function well. Worse still, the government of Dr Peter Odili directed RSBC under Sir Mike Oku, as General Manager, to vacate the AM studio’s premises at Ozuoba and handed it over to Daar Communication.
The attempt to combine community broadcasting of AM station with FM programming resulted in shapeless programming. Thus Radio Rivers at 40 requires restructuring and programme re-engineering. Similarly, the RSBC Management has been directed to vacate its William Jumbo property.
The government of Diete-Spiff established the Rivers State College of Science and Technology in 1970; Okilo upgraded it to Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) in 1980, while Governor Nyesom Wike amended the law to make it Rivers State University (RSU) in 2017.
In the same vein, the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH) grew from a nursing home to Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH) and later to Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH) before transforming to its present status. This is the way to keep vision alive.
Edict No. 8 of 1973 governing the establishment of RSBC must be amended to enable the Corporation handle present-day challenges while effort must be made to restrict radio broadcasting through merger of Garden City Radio and Radio Rivers as well as meet deadline for digitization.
The point must be made that funding a vision is different from funding road project as gestation period and profit motive vary. Truly, Radio Rivers 99.1 FM is the voice of experience and it has the potentials to rise again.
Congratulations at 40!
Sika is a public affairs analyst in Port Harcourt.
By: Baridorn Sika
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