This is part IV of The Tide Roundtable encounter with Hon Osima Ginah, Commissioner for Urban Development, Rivers State, first published last Monday. Read on, very refreshing. The most important demolition is the Aborigine type, and Okrika people have been saying we are aborigines in this place. What are you going to do there? As I said first, what is the definition of Aborigine? Now, I want one Okrika man who will tell me that he is not part of Kunuji or Tugbunuji, Ibaka, Ogboko. I know Okrika very well and for those who came to tell me I’m from these and that, they have their traditional homes and like I tell you, we are moving on. Nobody can coarse us. Nobody can force government out of its decision to do what it wants to do and once government moves in you cannot intimidate especially this present government. You cannot intimidate us. That we have not reached does not mean that we will not go. As I told you, we are not carrying out indiscriminate demolition of waterfronts, we are carrying out planned demolition and when we demolish it, obviously, government has plans to develop that area. And I want to put it on record that we will demolish all the waterfronts in Port Harcourt. One after the other. But if we reach any water front and where the people can, with facts prove that that area is an aborigine and that the people have no where to go and they can show us as Rivers people, their ancestral artifacts, the things that they worship. Go to Angulama for those who know Angulama, you know that in those days even up till now you don’t need to mention certain things because they are in the criminal code. Those are the things we use to deceive ourselves that once you mention, you will die because those were the things that our forefathers worshipped. It is there, that is our ancestral home. So when we find ancestral home, then we will relocate the people. Take for instance the Finima people, they have ancestral home and when government wanted to take their home, they relocated them. When we reach an ancestral home of the people we will relocate them. But let me also tell you, the Okrika people are not against the demolition of the waterfronts. They are not against the development of the waterfronts. Now because of the word “Demolition”. This is also synonymous with the forceful removal of illegal structures that people are afraid. No what we are doing is development and I want you to put it on record that it is development of waterfronts. What is urban renewal in itself? Urban renewal is the removing of an old thing or what is not supposed to be there and replacing it with new one. Do you like the way the waterfronts are? The answer is no. We want to get the water fronts to modern city status. Do we build in the way it is? No. We want to sandfill the waterfront. Do we pump sands on the people the way it is and upgrade it to the level needed? The answer is no. So what do we do? We have to remove those shanties and the structures there so that we can pump in the sand, construct roads, install water, put on light, build up recreational facilities and then you have a modern state status. That’s what we mean by urban renewal. The Okrika people welcome urban renewal. I put it on record that Okrika people welcome the development of the waterfronts. But what is their fear? Their fear is that the governor is an Ikwerre man. “So maybe if the place is developed, it will be given to Ikwerre people. That is their fear. I want any Okrika man to challenge me. And I say it and the governor has said it several times that it is open to all Rivers people. Now what the government is doing is not an Ikwerre agenda afterall the governor has said it that Ikwerre people who have taken over government land, take for instance, ‘Eagle Island’. We will demolish all the structures there and return to those whose land were not yet built on their own land. The governor has said it that we will move into Elekohia Stadium. Now the land that was acquired by the government and where Ikwerre people have taken and sold to people, we will demolish all the structures there and take over the land. The same way the governor has also stated that the sandfill that were planned and allocated to the people that the Okrika people have taken over. We will demolish all the structures and return it back. Government must be respected. Government is meant for all of us. Government for the people, by the people and of the people. My answer is that it is not Ikwerre agenda. So the fear of Okrika people is whether there is Ikwerre agenda where once the waterfronts are developed, the Ikwerre people will now move over from Diobu to go and live in town. That is their fear. Just make your statistics, how many Ikwerre people do you find that have property in the town? So there should be unity in diversity. Rivers State is a multilingual state. But I want to assure the Okrika people and the Rivers people that there is no hidden agenda. Take for instance, if they say it is Okrika or Ikwerre agenda, I am not from Okrika, I am not from Ikwerre? I’m a Kalabari man and we are talking about the development of Rivers State and Rivers State belongs to all of us. Rivers State is not Ikwerre. Rivers State is not Okrika. Rivers State is Ikwerre, Okrika, Kalabari, Etche, Ogoni and others. So Rivers State belongs to all of us. What gives you the boldness? I have over the time developed that boldness and I believe that anything that is worth doing is worth doing well. I’m one man who believes that anything any human being can do, I can do it. If I want to be a militant I would have been a militant but I choose to be a lawyer. Those who practised with me will tell you I move in to do my practice with boldness. Secondly what also gives me the boldness is that when I took over the responsibility of the Ministry of Urban Development I looked at it, it is a very sensitive job but I said someone must do it someday and so when? Now is the time. Who?, I’m the person. So it is an opportunity for me to contribute my own quota in the development of Rivers State. And I believe that my being in public service is divine because from Action Congress, coming to be a commissioner. If I were in PDP probably, I wouldn’t have been a commissioner. So God moved me out of PDP and pushed me to Action Congress and brought me back to PDP government and said serve. And that give me the boldness. Before I do anything, firstly I commit it to God. I say God, take over me, give me the courage to do my work and direct me well. And God gave me a spirit and I moved ahead and when I move, I move like Suname. You are a product of the Unity Government. Can you reconcile PDP government and AC vision for the government? No, No, No, there is no AC vision in government. Like I said the visioner is the Governor. Who is the governor? Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is the visioner. There can never be two visioners. There cannot be the vision of Amaechi and the vision of Tonye Princewill who is my governorship candidate. But you see in Amaechi vision, is Akin to Tonye’s vision so Tonye will say, Oh, Amaechi this is your vision, I also see the vision. Let me ensure that I put it into your government and we move ahead and it became friends to friends. They say show me your friend and I will tell you who you are. They have similar things. This, will also have done if I am the governor of Rivers State so let us move together and that’s how we came in to it. And when we came into it he said I saw this vision also, Okay His Excellency, you saw this vision”. We can partner with you to achieve that vision and they gave us responsibility and I will tell you that I pray that even after this government Rivers State should have a governor like Amaechi because one, there is no sycophancy. I don’t go to Government House to say His Excellency I come to say good morning to you, no. Amaechi doesn’t even like it. I’m loyal! What is your loyalty? Your loyalty is your service delivery. Now if you are performing your duties, then you are the one that is loyal. He is not the one that is just a PDP person, or the one that is Action Congress or the one that says good morning governor or the one that calls the governor. It may interest you to know that I don’t have the phone number of the governor and I never called him on phone. So there is no reason for that. If the governor wants me then it means that he has seen a vision. If the governor wants to direct me, then he has to call me. When he gave me an assignment, he expected me to go and deliver. He expected me to go and perform a duty. He expected me to sit down in my office and l am in charge. He expected me to go out and perform any duties. I’m incharge of the Ministry of Urban Development, I am the boss. My over lord is the governor who is in charge of all the activities of the state. What I do is when he sees the vision he calls me to go and deliver and I sit down and do my work. I am very comfortable. If I want to do a thing and it costs me one Naira, I say, His Excellency, this is the assignment you give me, it costs one Naira and the governor looks at it and says this one Naira, can you use it to do it and I say yes. He gives me the one Naira, and he monitors me, how I would spend the one Naira and I achieve the result, I give him the report, I have implemented it. He sees another vision and says oh from this vision, you also need to do this or atimes I go back to him and say His Excellency, this we have done, we have not done this, it takes Forty Naira, give it to me and he will give it to me. I go back and I spend the money and do the job. Every money released from the government is for a purpose. If that is not achieved, you loose the confidence of the governor. You don’t need to be the governor’s brother; you don’t need to be the governor’s friend. If you look at it, in our cabinet reshuffle what did the governor do? The governor reshuffled the cabinet and to some of his friends that were in government, he tries to distinguish himself from Amaechi as a Governor and Amaechi as a friend. What do we have? We have the government of Rivers State and I am serving in the government of Rivers State where PDP as a party brought the governor. But AC in Rivers State and people who are AC members in Rivers State are Rivers people. And what did the government do, government of Rivers State. We are also having a new orientation in politics. An orientation where irrespective of your political party or your political inclination what is paramount is your contribution and service delivery to your people, not to your party. It is not party inclination. Any feeling of regret in the course of carrying out your duties? No, there is no regret but not that I don’t have challenges; I have challenges but not regret. I had threats to my life. Even before I became commissioner I had threats to my life. Although, I have received several calls and text messages of threats to my life but I believe that service to humanity is a sacrifice and it is something that must be done. Like I said when I took over the mantle of leadership as the commissioner for Urban Development, the first thing that came to my mind was this job is quite sensitive because you are given the armour to go and destroy. But I quickly remembered in the Bible, God said go, destroy and build and I said God, be with me. That as I am going, I am going to war and you are the head of the war. We are going to destroy and build a new city and so direct me. I have an excess confidence in me. And the confidence is such that when I see the Governor’s house and it is an illegal structure, I will demolish it. I marked Government House personally. But what is holding it? Yes, you know that structure is built by Julius Begger and it’s so strong that we don’t have the equipment to even demolish it. So, the governor had directed the Chief of Staff (COS) Government House to ensure that Julius Begger corrects that place. But you see, we are also expanding the road, the Azikiwe road which also affected the parts that we want to correct and we believe that collectively, we are going to correct it. That shows that we have a governor who is not biased. Before now, no government can albow you even go close to a commissioner’s house talkless of Government House. And I went in, I did it by myself, marked it by myself being supervised and monitored by the security in the Government House. Hon Commissioner Sir, you said the word is development and not demolition. Can we know when to expect structures in the demolished water fronts? Yes, you know like I said in the next two, three years, you will expect it? Now why in the next two, three years? It takes time to pump in the sand; you allow the sand to settle before you build. In the next two, three years, you expect very beautiful sight. Infact I’m even planning to live in the water front. You know I’m a water front product, 11 years as a fisherman. People have the fear that some government officials will hijack the place? No, I will explain to you that some government officials who used their positions as opportunity to hijack lands and build where they are not supposed to build, we demolished them. Not the money, you see the payment of compensation not withstanding. Even if you have the money, it will take your time to build. Now let me also tell you, we are not building alone as a government, we are partnering with private investors and we are also putting in statutory provisions (laws) to guide the development and management of those things. We have what is called the Infrastructural Development Laws before the House of Assembly. The law is put in place in such a way that even Amaechi himself cannot allocate anything to himself. So those of us in government can never use our privilege positions to get what we are not supposed to get. Infact this is one government that as a commissioner, you are not a demi god. We have demystified our offices in such a way that you can just come into my office; you knock at my door and see me. We want the Honourable Commissioner to tell us, where the job of the Ministry of Urban Development ends and where that of the Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority begins? I think this is not what you can just describe with words of description. If you look at the plan, you have about eight local government areas covered by Greater Port Harcourt. It is a conscious determined effort of Amaechi to ensure that we don’t live in one-city state anymore. Because Port Harcourt is already congested. Now parts of Obio/Akpor, the entire Port Harcourt is not part of greater Port Harcourt. Now Greater Port Harcourt will extend the city of Port Harcourt. That is how we came up with the name Greater Port Harcourt. Already Port Harcourt has been extended because Obio/Akpor which ordinary is not Port Harcourt, the main city of Port Harcourt is from UTC down here but development has already moved in. Now parts of Obio/Akpor will be taken by Greater Port Harcourt down to Ikwerre axis, you have part of Etche, Oyigbo, Eleme, Ogu/Bolo, Okrika. These are areas that are covered by the Greater Port Harcourt. But I think very soon, we will decimate the area and publish it for people to know this is the exact area. But you see the Greater Port Harcourt master plan covers the old city and the new city. What do we mean? While we are building a new brand city, we are also upgrading the old city. If we don’t upgrade the old city, by the time we finished the new city; people will run away from the old city. How many illegal structures have you demolished since you started? Over one thousand. It can be much more than that if you consider the Njemanze waterfront? No Njemanze, we don’t call it illegal structure because if they are illegal structures, we wont pay them compensation. We term it development urban renewal agenda. Now they were affected by the urban renewal policy of the state even though there were security issues and that informed government to say let it be. Of a truth, the structures in the waterfronts are all illegal structure except those ones that have approval to build. But even though before now, like I said these were carved approvals, if we had treated it as illegal structures, we would have demolished them. Infact, by now we would had finished between ten to twenty waterfronts. Because I have the capacity to finish the whole waterfronts for five days. Taking one waterfront five days, how many water fronts we would demolish in a month? You see that I may have finished a lot of waterfronts by now. But we said no, this is a government that handles this exercise of renewal with a human face. And human in human face we moved on not only the payment of compensation but payment of replacement value. The replacement value is higher than what the law said should be paid. And that is why we carryout our assignment with human face. Commissioner, as a matter of fact, we know you as an action man. How do you relax? Or do you have time to relax? Very well, I’m a man of the people. You know I practised law and in law you can’t survive if you don’t have good Public Relations. I came from a grassroot. Infact from the downtrodden. You know somebody who lived in the waterfront for eleven years cannot claim to be a big man. Even now I ask people what class, urban class, no middle class, no lower class. My class now is the privileged class. What I do is once I finished my official assignment in the official time, though my work is twenty four hours everyday. You can call me on Sunday, 5 O’clock, 10 O’clock, I will come. I don’t mind if it is a weekend, I will come. I will drive myself to that place. You won’t see the siren of the security and police. No, they are not really part of me. So a times I follow my friends, I attend parties, I sit out with friends and enjoy the things I know best to do. Do you still go fishing? No, what time do I have to go fishing when I am demolishing. There is no time to go fishing. But I visit friends. Not my friends as commissioners but my friends as my classmates and those who lived in waterfronts with me. I do go to visit them in the waterfronts. Before I demolish, I visit them, and I tell them I am coming. END
Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke
His Majesty King (Dr) Leslie Nyebuchi Eke, Eze Gbakagbaka, Eze Oha Evo III of Evo Kingdom in Obio/Akpor Local government Area of Rivers State, is a First Class Traditional Ruler.
Trained as a Biological Scientist at Illinois State University, Bloomington Normal, United States of America, he holds a Masters Degree and Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) from Wycliffe University & ATS, California.
Suave, ebullient, accessible, humble, down-to-earth and cerebral, Eke is also the Secretary General of the Association of Niger Delta Monarchs (ANDMON) and the Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State Chapter of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities (TROMPCOM).
In this exclusive interview with our Production Editor, Donatus Ebi and cameraman, Egberi A. Sampson, Eke poignantly bares his mind on sundry issues affecting the State and the nation. He particularly eulogises the Executive Governor of the State, Chief Nyesom Wike for the giant development strides of his administration within the past six years and comes to the inevitable conclusion that he has surpassed the achievements of his predecessors, having performed beyond the expectation of Rivers people.
His Majesty, by virtue of all that you have seen in the State in the past six years, what are your comments on the achievements of Governor Nyesom Wike?
As it concerns us and the Governor, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is God-sent, a purposeful Governor, a vision-full Governor and a man that knows why he is Governor, why he did come to contest and contested as Governor. And this man, meticulously, seriously, honestly, has continued, day by day, month by month, to roll out projects that are impactful to the society, to Rivers people. Roads infrastructure, schools, hospitals, human capacity, I mean continuously. This man has turned the Garden City into a city of flyovers. And that is very meaningful. We very much appreciate such a person. And unfortunately, he can’t go for a third term. We wish he goes for a third term. He is going to give so much to the Rivers people.
He has made us so proud. He has distinguished himself among the Governors and governments in Nigeria. All the things he has done, other governments and even the Federal Government should learn from him.
A case in point is the Coronavirus pandemic. Our Governor took proactive actions in time and that is why Rivers State did not suffer much from the pandemic and they had to learn from him. He has impacted on the people commercially, economically and otherwise. Even our Christian lives have improved because he gave this State to God and declared it a Christian State. He built an Ecumenical Centre and God literally has come down to work with His people and has begun to give us a sense of direction, a sense of belonging. We appreciate so much from the man, who has unlike others, really worked even in the second term, working like it was the first term. And we are grateful to God for all his achievements. He is a true Ikwerre son. We appreciate him. We pray that he would find more to do even after he has left this stage of governance. We couldn’t have had it any other way.
Would you then say that Governor Wike has performed beyond expectation?
Very true. This Governor has done beyond expectation. Looking at precedents, looking at people before him, what he has done even per month, it is unequalled anytime, anywhere in the history of Rivers State. This Governor has done so much.
In spite of all that you have seen he has done, is it not surprising that there are still pockets of opposition in the State?
Well, it is unfortunate but we must have opposition. We must have people that agree and people that don’t agree. It is normal. We just want to encourage them to criticise constructively. They should engage in constructive criticisms. They should criticise him constructively. Not just opening your mouth for opening sake. This time around, it will be very difficult. You know, he has been accused of 3D projects. It is no longer 3D now, because you can come there and see it for yourself. You will see the flyovers. Who does three flyovers at the same time? Nobody. And he has told us that he has more, seven more to deliver to Rivers people and put us on the world map of very very improved humane settlements. We appreciate that.
You said it is unfortunate that the Governor won’t run for a third term, but there are people out there calling on him to run for the Presidency come 2023. What is your take on this?
At his point, I am not a politician. For him to run for a federal office, it is entirely his prerogative, it is at his discretion. It is left for him to decide. He has to watch the politicial terrain and decide what he wants. But one thing is sure. Anywhere this Governor, Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike finds himself, he would deliver on his promises, he would deliver on the NEED Assessment of the people. This man is in tune with development. He is in tune with the people. And I am not afraid. If tomorrow, he runs for the Presidency, it is Nigerians that will gain because he is going to work tirelessly. I don’t know where he gets his energy; he is going to work tirelessly and fearlessly and deliver on the things that matter to the people.
As a royal father, which areas would you like to advise the Governor?
Well, first and foremost, he has to watch his back. He is a Governor that works by self-conviction. And so he cannot be deterred by anybody, by superiors’ stories, very bad advice; he is unaffected by those kinds of things because he is a man of conviction. When he decides on a project, he delivers, because he is in tune with the people. He is a grassroots politician; he feels the pulse of the people. And I am sure he knows what Nigerians want too and if he finds himself in that national stage, I have no doubt in my mind that he will win and provide dividends of democracy to our people.
We have been having some security challenges in the country and even in the State in recent times to the extent that Governor Wike had to impose curfew in the State. How would you react to this?
Well, the Governor has done well in the area of security. This Governor has done more than any government, to give state of the art equipments to security operatives in the State, both water and land. He has done so much and continues to do. So, the rest is left for these professionals to deliver. The Governor is not a policeman or a soldier. He has built a Guest House for the Army, giving them vehicles, and the police, you know it, giving them so much including other security organisations. The government has done so much for the security people and they are supposed to complement the huge expenditure of government on them.
The idea of having a curfew is also part of his own actions to mitigate these security lapses that are creating fears among our people. So, he is helping them. It is good for them. It is good for them to complement what he is doing, in terms of speaking to the people by his now and then broadcasts. It is to encourage them to know exactly what government is up to. It is for them to know what is happening. In this way, they are able to work with him, and stay distance and time with the Governor and not begin to feel that he is not doing enough. He is talking to them constantly. The security operatives should complement this government’s efforts and prove it right in its activities to secure lives and property. I support the government of Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. I support him wholeheartedly and he has done well. I score him high and give him excellent mark.
But some people are still complaining about the curfew, what do you have to tell them, both the residents of the State and Rivers people?
The curfew we should obey. The residents and people of Rivers State should obey the curfew. It is even in the Bible, that we should obey the laws of government. And so, if it is this one regulation that government has brought, we should obey. It is not for peace-loving rivers people but this is to catch the criminals. We too should complement government’s efforts by obeying the rules and regulations. Like when we had the lockdowns, don’t we see that we are enjoying health now? At that time too, people criticised the government and the Governor, but today, they have swallowed their words. They are enjoying health now. If the Governor had left Coronavirus to fester, then, it would have been terrible for our people. But today, we are walking around, the markets are open, and everywhere else, people are able to live their lives.
His Majesty, some Nigerians are today calling for the restructuring of the country and some too are calling for secession, from the foregoing, what do you think is the fate of Nigeria and what do we really need?
Obviously, to sustain the various geo-political zones of Nigeria, we do need restructuring within one Nigeria. And people that are resisting this, obviously, in time, will bow to the yearnings of the people. If you go back to the time when we had regions, we had relative peace. We are not saying we should go back to that but those kinds of things we were enjoying regionally, should begin to be apportioned within the States. Like for us in the South-South or the core Niger Delta, it is very important that we enjoy the proceeds of the God-given minerals that we have. We cannot have these minerals and people who are somewhere else, even beyond the shores of this country, are enjoying them. We can’t have that. No responsible government can do that. What God has given Nigeria is for Nigerians.
What do you have to say about the ongoing Constitution Review vis-à-vis the need for the traditional institution to be given roles in the Constitution?
The Constitution Review is welcome even if we are hearing that they are spending so much. Unwarranted expenditure is not good but the Constitution Review is good. And as it concerns the traditional institution, we need to spell out the functions of traditional rulers. With what we are doing, now, that I say it is illegal, as per it is not captured in the Constitution. But when it is captured in the Constitution, then, it serves as a support for us to do what we are supposed to be doing; and that is to complement government in the area of governance. So, that is very important. We should be captured in the Constitution. Traditional rulers are very important in nation building. They are very important in creating national identity. We are doing it now. There is this unofficial regulation, as it were, for Northern traditional rulers to come and visit their counterparts in the South and vice versa, both in the East and the West; that kind of friendship is ongoing. But it needs to be captured in the constitution. If it is captured in the constitution, it will be sustained and it will be done as a matter of duty.
FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba
We thank Mr. President for flagging off the clean-up of Ogoniland as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The long delay in starting the Ogoni Clean-Up had sapped confidence locally and had caused the broader Niger Delta to doubt the intentions of Government. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to speed up this exercise, especially by following through the emergency steps outlined in the UNEP Report, which includes the provision of safe drinking water for a populace whose water has been declared unfit for human consumption by UNEP, years ago. We also urge the federal government to commission a Region-wide credible assessment of the impacts of crude oil pollution of the environment in the Niger Delta and undertake to enforce all environment protection laws.
We similarly urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to enforce the Zero Gas Flare deadline.
The devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The Maritime University Issue
The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is largely regarded, by persons from the Zone, as symbolic and deserving. Its closure and certain statements around it, have been viewed as insensitive and out rightly provocative. This, of course, is aside from the obvious potential benefits that the Institution offers to the technical and managerial capacity enhancements of, not just persons from the Zone, but all Nigerians. We, therefore, strongly urge the President to direct the take-off of the already approved Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State. The prompt take-off of this University will most certainly assure the people of the Niger Delta that President’s Administration is truly a sensitive, listening and inclusive Government. Also, we strongly urge that the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, to a university should be implemented.
Key Regional Critical Infrastructure
There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative Regional Infrastructure viz:
• We wish to thank President for ensuring that the first phase of the coastal railway project is provided for in the current 2016 budget. We urge the Federal Government to further ensure the full implementation of this project that is designed to run through all the states in the Niger Delta, up to Lagos.
• Complete the existing East-West Road.
• Work should resume on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road Project. We note that NLNG had already offered 50% funding for this Project.
• Implement the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State (Design already completed by NDDC).
• Implement the development of inland waterways and riverine infrastructure.
• Remove bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of the existing ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commence dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep sea-going vessels and expedite work on the dredging of the Calabar Port. The Deep Sea Port project in Bayelsa State also requires consideration.
• We urge the commencement of work on the Ibaka Deep Sea Port for which Feasibility has long been completed.
Details of other regional infrastructure projects will be presented in the course of the dialogue.
Security Surveillance and Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure
The incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the economy of our dear Country. Pipeline vandalism also damages the environment, health and economic activity of inhabitants of affected areas, as well as complicates environmental cleanup efforts.
It is therefore our view that an urgent review is done to pipeline surveillance contacts to give the responsibility to Communities rather than individuals in a manner that ties some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility for the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
The Headquarters of most Oil Companies are not located in the Niger Delta Region. As a result, the Region is denied all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the Region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
Despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta remain unconnected to the National Grid.
We, therefore, advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the Region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in improved stability. Because of existing infrastructure, this should be an area where the Government could deliver the swiftest and most noticeable change.
Economic Development and Empowerment
The Federal and State Governments need to signal their interest in sustained economic development in the region by:
i. Implementing the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant Project and similarly concluding Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny
ii. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta Region
iii. Creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the Region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources, where they are produced, to create industrialization and a robust economic base in the Region that would improve the living condition of the Citizens.
iv. Expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the Region, in particular, the Gas City, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu, in Warri South LGA of Delta State.
v. Harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied Industrial Clusters.
vi. Harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the Region to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, and away from restiveness.
vii. We urge the use of ICT as a tool for peace, job-creation and development. Appropriately deployed ICT can be the elixir to create much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the Region.
vii. Resolve the various issues leading to the non-operation of Delta Steel Company, Oku Iboku Paper Mill, Edo Textile Mill and ALSCON.
Inclusive Participation in Oil Industry and Ownership of Oil Blocs
The sense of alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land will continue until there are affirmative actions that guarantee the involvement of these communities in the ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of Oil and Gas Assets.
We similarly urge the institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework, across the entire enterprise chain of the Petroleum and Maritime sectors.
Restructuring and Funding of the NDDC
There is the urgent need to adequately restructure the NDDC to refocus it as a truly Interventionist Agency, that responds swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them. We also urge the full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
Since the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, even though it was meant to function in the mode of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, its funding has been abysmal. There is an absolute need, therefore, to adequately fund, and strengthen this Ministry to the purpose for which it was created.
The Bakassi Question
The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon continues to threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta Region. The unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement continues to create tension and plague the region. There is also the lack of a well-coordinated transparent blueprint for the development and resettlement of the displaced populations. The host communities face huge abuses and are unable to reestablish their respective means of livelihood. We, therefore, recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People.
The clamour for fiscal federalism has continued to be re-echoed by different sections of the country. The people of the Niger Delta region support this call and urge that the Federal Government should regard this matter expeditiously.
What message would you want to pass to the Federal Government for being insensitive to these issues five years after?
It is regrettable to say that the 16-point agenda has not been attended to thereby bringing about high rate of insecurity in the region.
For emphasis, after having several interface with these boys, they saw the reasons for dialogue than allowing the region go in flames as a result this brought about ceasefire in the region making everyone to be enjoying the relative peace being enjoyed today.
I want the Federal Government to know that when these boys see that there is blatant refusal in addressing their issues by the Federal Government, they are capable of making the region go into flames, adding that he appealed to the Federal Government, and other critical stakeholders responsible for the implementation of this 16-point agenda to be sincere to themselves and do the needful, adding that what the people in the Niger Delta region want is that all must be fair, just and equitable in what they do, so as to engendered peace and security to the Niger Delta region.
Rivers, Now Investment Destination Of Choice-Nsirim
Rivers State Government, under the leadership of His Excellency Nyesom Wike, is one administration that has experienced several attacks from the opposition party in the state. Ironically, the more the attacks, the more adorable the governor becomes going by his infrastructure developmental strides across the nooks and crannies of the State. In this interview, the State’s Commissioner for Information and Commu-nications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, speaks extensively about the Wike administration. Excerpts:
Prior to your assumption of office as the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, you initiated a project called “Our State, Our Responsibility.” What inspired that project and what were the issues you wanted to address with that initiative?
The truth is that Rivers State is blessed with human and material resources. It is also the headquarters of the hydrocarbon industry in Nigeria. We have two sea ports and an international airport. We have a welcoming culture and a rich cultural heritage. We have cuisine that is second to none in this country. But we have found out over the years that a lot of people are de-marketing the state, making investors to flee. So the campaign is designed to correct that perception and let people know that Rivers State is set for business and to make everyone living and doing business here in the state understand that we have a shared prosperity to protect. This means that if Rivers State economy is booming, everyone that lives and does business here will be a partaker of that boom. The campaign was aimed at injecting into the psyche of everyone even children yet unborn and those who will visit the state in a couple of years to understand that as long as you live in Rivers State, it belongs to you. Every resident must participate in ensuring that the state is positively projected at a level where it becomes the investors destination of choice, just like His Excellency, Nyesom Wike is building the right infrastructure now.
Is there any parameter by which the success of such projects is measured?
There are practical ways. Since that campaign, we found out that a lot of investments are coming in. For example, you have the biggest supermarket in West Africa and other markets in Port Harcourt. You have stock gap company here in Port Harcourt that deals with producing domestic gas. Prior to now, LNG would ship gas to Lagos and truck back to Port Harcourt. But right now in Port Harcourt, you have a company that produces domestic gas for the domestic market. Also, before the outbreak of COVID-19, Ethiopian and Turkish Airlines had begun flight operations to Port Harcourt. Businesses are booming in many parts of Port Harcourt industrial area. Those in Real Estate are also experiencing a boom because a lot of people are coming in to do business here and of course, the narrative is changing gradually.
God helped us with a visionary leader who has put in place a strategic security architecture which has checkmated all forms of insecurity that was holding sway in the past. Now, things are stable and the narrative has changed for the better. One can always find out with the National Bureau of Statistics that these things they say about the state with the highest Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). After Lagos, the next is Rivers State. You cannot generate the volume of IGR that we have if our state is insecure and the business climate is not thriving.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one thing that has changed the global environment. What lessons would you say that Rivers State government has learnt from this virus?
I like to underscore this point that before His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, came on board as governor, he initiated what he called the “NEW Rivers Vision” blue print which encapsulated everything that has to do with health. A lot has been put in place. We have what we call the Mother and Child Hospital now in Port Harcourt, we have five zonal Hospitals. The General Hospitals in the state have been reactivated and fully functional. The state now has a University Teaching Hospital; the former Braithwaite Memorial Hospital is now Rivers State University Teaching Hospital with the right infrastructure. We have a Medical School now in Rivers State University; all these have happened before COVID.
So what has occurred is that, the onset of COVID has helped the state to build more on infrastructure and facilities and also ensured that the medical personnel have the requisite training and knowledge.
Are you saying that if there is a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, Rivers State has the right model to sustain its economy?
If you are very current, you will find out that this was one state that had a robust palliative committee; we had a food purchasing committee, that was designed in such a way that they bought off all that the farmers and fishermen produced, thus empowering them. You will also know that this State was in the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, which the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), affirmed when he visited Port Harcourt. So, Rivers State is fully equipped. We have a functional Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) which is located in the State Ministry of Health, working in conjunction with strategic international partners.
We have a technical working group properly equipped and trained. It’s been in place before COVID because prior to this time, we used to have the outbreak of Lasser Fever and other such diseases. So, the EOC of the state has been fully functional. In fact, the Emergency Operation Centre will avail you the opportunity to see the kind of coordination from the field at a glance. Like even COVID now, at a glance, you will see at various places where they are collecting samples, what the statistics have been within the last one week and so on.
Still on COVID, most Nigerians were disappointed by states who claimed that they distributed palliatives, but during the EndSARS protest, many warehouses stocked with undistributed palliatives were discovered. How did Rivers State handle its palliatives distribution that you did not record any ugly incident?
Rivers State has become a model for good governance. When the issue of palliatives was booming, we did not play to the gallery. His Excellency ensured that the palliative committee that was set up consisted of representatives of all the interest groups you can think of. We had all the Armed Forces, Police, Civil Defence Corps, Civil Society groups, Clergy, Women Groups, Youth Groups and the Media. It is a model that I am so proud of. I was the Secretary of that Palliative Committee. The Central Committee was overseeing what was happening at the Local Government and Ward levels. At the Ward level, a mini committee was also set up that had Traditional Rulers, the Civil Society reps, Clergy, Women group and Youth leaders.
So, when the palliatives moved from the Local Government to the Ward level; for example, in my own Ward, the Chairman of the Ward distribution committee was a Clergyman who is not even an indigene of Rivers State but because he is the Vicar in an Anglican Church there, he coordinated the distribution. These palliatives got to the real beneficiaries and we did it twice. We did the first round, second round and the people were satisfied that this government meant well and what the governor promised was also given. So we did not have any issue of anybody breaking any warehouse looking for any palliatives. Even people who were trying to induce some propaganda and instigate people to say something was hidden, were ignored.
You were once the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Rivers State and now you hold the position of Information Commissioner, as a Pastor, how do you balance your calling and working in a political environment?
A lot of people ask this question. When you have an understanding that any office you hold, you hold that office in trust for God and for man, then, your attitude and style would be different?
As a Pastor, what do I do? I have the flock to cater for, teach them the Word of God, and take care of them. As a Commissioner for Information, what is my responsibility? To disseminate information about the policies and programmes of the government to the people and I have that understanding that public interest is paramount in the discharge of this assignment. So, there is really no challenge for me, because having risen from the rank to the position I occupy today, I understand the intricacies of governance and the meaning of leadership. I have the requisite training and experience.
To say balance, I do not even have a challenge with balance because I understand that the position I hold is in trust for God and for man.
Do you attend Church regularly and still do your job?
Yes, I still pastor my Church; even though there is no way I can do 100 per cent now but my assistant pastor covers for me when I am not available.
That must be a very challenging?
Yes, the next question you should ask me now is what are the challenges? But for me, several years ago, I understood that the Chinese word for crisis is opportunity. Now, when you have opportunity or if anything presents itself as a challenge, it is an opportunity for you to excel. For me, I do not see challenges when I am doing things, I do not see obstacles when I am doing things. I see them as part of the routine on my daily schedules.
There have been calls from some quarters for government to regulate the social media. What is your opinion on this and how do you think the government both state and federal can harness the opportunities in social media to strike a balance between the negative and positive?
That is a thorny issue. I think that we need to have adequate stakeholders’ engagement in this direction. The stakeholders’ groups that are involved need to come together, to look at the issues and then work out the best way forward. No doubt, a lot of people are abusing the use of the social media. We, who are in government, are the worst hit. You know, anybody can write anything, say anything, do photo-shop and put on the Internet. The regulation here is key, but before implementation, the various stakeholders need to be engaged for us to have a kind of balance on what should be done. Also, before implementation, adequate preparation and orientation of the citizenry would also be very relevant.
As a journalist trained to balance stories and promote objectivity, with your current position, do you still maintain your standard and not dance to the tune of the government to water down the truth from what it should be?
A few weeks ago, I hosted journalists in Rivers State here. In journalism, facts are sacred, comments free. A fact is a fact; there is nothing you can take away from something that is a fact. You see, people have that erroneous impression that if you are a Commissioner for Information, you will be padding things and covering things – No! Facts are facts, and I am lucky to have a principal who is forthright. With His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, you know where he is standing on any issue. He does not play to the gallery and he is also a principal that I would always like to work with because he is not one of those who carry out governance and development on television.
There are governors who use 3D images to deceive the public. But for us in Rivers State, the facts are there. If we tell you we are constructing Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, you go there and you will see it. If we say the Rebisi Flyover has been done, you go there and you will see it. If we say, Mother and Child Hospital, Real Madrid Academy; we say Abonnema Ring Road, Zonal Hospitals, you will see them. If we say we are rehabilitating schools, we give you 1, 2, 3, schools, if you go there, you will see them with your eyes. So, what’s there to hide?
The Opposition in the state are criticizing His Excellency that his infrastructural developments are basically in Port Harcourt; what happens to other areas of the state?
The truth of the matter is that people will always have something to say. I can tell you, apart from the flyovers that are being built in Port Harcourt, (of course, which you know; I said that His Excellency is building infrastructure for tomorrow), if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the state, a lot is happening. There is a road we call Sakpenwa-Bori Road – it is about 16 kilometers, it is completed and commissioned. His Excellency has even extended it further now to about thirty something kilometers; it is not in Port Harcourt. There is Abonnema Ring Road; that Ring Road is on water. There is Andoni/Opobo Unity Road. We went to Opobo few days ago; everybody including Opobo people drove to Opobo by Road for the first time in the history of that ancient town of 150 years. We went recently to also celebrate with them on their 150 years anniversary; it is not in Port Harcourt. Do you understand?
There is a big Cassava processing company at Afam in Oyigbo Local Government Area. There are several zonal hospitals that are scattered in Bori, Degema, Ahoada and Omoku, they are not in Port Harcourt. There is Elele/Omoku Road, it is not in Port Harcourt. Several of such projects are all over the state. But you see, if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the State, you will see several schools that have been rehabilitated. There are sand-fillings that are going on in the local governments. In riverine communities of the state, because those places are Islands. You do sand-filling first to create places they can build on. Those areas are not in Port Harcourt.
But armchair critics will always have something to say about Nyesom Wike. The Guild of Editors came here and I took them on a tour, they were shouting. If you go to that Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, what is being sunk in there is not up to what is being used to build anything in Port Harcourt, because it is on water. So, a lot is going on in the local government areas. There is no local government in Rivers State that is not receiving the impact of Governor Wike’s administration.
During and after the EndSARS protest, the governor compensated all the families of the security agencies that lost their lives during the protest; but the Rivers citizens who were killed did not get any compensation. What happened?
I may not comment on that.
Why is the governor described as a lion?
Who is describing him as a lion?
He is described in the media as a lion?
People are entitled to their perception. One thing you cannot take away from His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, is that he is fearless, courageous and forthright. These are the qualities of great men. That is why I am so proud to be associated with him. He is not a lily-livered man.
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