My dear people of Rivers State,
In our maiden address to you exactly two years ago when, by the special grace of God, we assumed office as Governor of our State, we made a solemn pledge to partner with you in the task of improving the quality of our lives, and to empower the people in a peaceful, just and harmonious society. Following that pledge, we drew up a Blue-print of Action on how to achieve these goals.
We are keenly aware that a midterm report which in essence, is what we present to you today, cannot be conclusive. Nonetheless, today’s anniversary affords us an opportunity to reflect on the journey so far and to simultaneously make our projections into the next two years of our tenure.
But first, we would like to thank all of you, the good people of our state, for your support and understanding so far. Without God and you, the modest successes we have recorded would not have been possible. Therefore, as we reflect on the past and make projections into the future, let me reiterate that this administration remains unwaveringly committed to the covenant that the limited resources of our state shall continue to be managed wisely for the good of all the people of the state. Our belief that the prime purpose of government is the common good of the people remains unshakable. It is this resolve that has informed our policy of transparency, due process, popular participation and best practices in governance.
As I attempt, presently, to render an account of our two-year stewardship in governance, it would be manifest that some modest progress has been made. Yet, we still face great challenges. There is a lot more work to be done; which is why I ask with humility for an even greater support from you in consolidating our collective efforts to build a new and more prosperous Rivers State.
1. The Security Situation
As you all recall, when we took over two years ago, our state was literally under siege. The threat to security of lives and property was palpable. As a result of this dismal situation, the economic well-being of the state suffered severely.
But today, I am happy to report that the situation has improved tremendously, thanks to the combined efforts of the state’s security agencies, the Federal Government’s Joint Military Task Force (JTF) and of course, the federal government’s pronounced Amnesty for ‘militants’, which ended on Sunday the 4th day of October, 2009.
Social life has gradually returned to Port Harcourt. We were overwhelmed with joy when I visited the Silverbird Cinema which is a Public-Private Partnership initiative and saw our people with their families having fun without fear of molestation by hoodlums who had hitherto overrun the city.
From the outset, we, as a State, embraced the Amnesty Programme. Working closely with the Rivers State Social Rehabilitation Committee, headed by Chief Albert Horsfall, we provided logistical and practical support towards the realization of the programme. And as you are probably aware, in the month of September, we received the first batch of ‘militant’ trainees of the State Social Development Institute at Okehi, who had successfully completed their reintegration programme. Arrangements have been made for another set of 300 (Three Hundred) trainees to commence their training programmes at the institute.
Now that many of our youths have taken advantage of the Amnesty programme and embraced peace and reconciliation, we are hopeful that our worst days are over in the state. It remains, of course, for us to now confront the challenges of resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration of all who had strayed from the fold.
In this regard, we would like to place on record our gratitude to President Umaru Yar’Adua and Vice-President Jonathan Goodluck for their unwavering commitment to the Amnesty programme. We believe however, that the programme should not be seen as an end in itself, but rather as a means towards addressing once and for all, the seemingly intractable problems of the Niger Delta region.
Whilst expressing gratitude to the President and Vice President for the much they have done, may I most respectfully, call on the federal government to conclude this process by implementing all its post amnesty proposals agreed with the south-south Governors. On our part, we affirm that, we will match that effort in the task of transforming Rivers State into a peaceful, economic haven of our collective dream.
A major challenge of this government has been the dual task of building a network of roads and other transport infrastructure that would rapidly drive economic growth and activity, while at the same time making all our communities accessible by quality roads and bridges. To the glory of God, in two years, we have made tremendous progress in this sector. The very many roads and bridges already constructed or being constructed are there for all to see but permit me to mention but a few here.
We have in the past two years expended over a hundred billion Naira annually on roads. We have also completed 24 (Twenty Four) major roads in the same period, while a variety of some 162 road projects are under construction and in different stages of completion. These projects under construction include 506 kilometres of roads, 10 major bridges, 4 fly-overs/interchanges, 5 land reclamation/shore protection projects (in Andoni, Opobo, Buguma, Abalama, Olombie/Owukiri Island), 70 per cent of Rural roads in all the 23 Local Government Areas and the construction of Infrastructural works at the new Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
But by far, some of the most ambitious of these projects are the Port Harcourt Ring Road, the Port Harcourt Drainage Master Plan, Strategic Road Dualisation Projects and the Trans-Amadi-Artillery – Ada George diversionary roads.
Implicit in these expensive programes is a policy objective that allows us to train a crop of young engineers from our state, to compile, evaluate and monitor capital projects under the Ministry of Works. This policy thrust has also ensured that the state’s Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Agency is strengthened to make, through direct labour, quick interventions in the rehabilitation and maintenance of all existing roads in the state.
Because of the importance that this administration attaches to education, one of the first things we did upon taking office two years ago, was to declare a state of emergency in the education sector and to take over the responsibility of our primary schools entirely, including, the payment of teachers’ salaries. We have also taken over the payment of salaries of Junior Secondary Schools which was hitherto paid by Local Government Councils. We also promised, in the face of the tremendous infrastructural decay in the sector, to build 250 primary schools and 24 new secondary schools. Whilst striving to fulfill this promise, we have renovated several existing school structures. We are also instituting programmes to tackle the moral decay in our schools with a view to restoring sanity in our educational system.
We are happy to report that we have completed the first phase of these primary schools, and that the first 100 of them, will be available for use by the people of the State before the end of the year. Also, work is at different stages at the sites of the model secondary schools in the state. The idea is to have, hopefully, by the end of next year one model secondary school in each local government area of the state. When completed, each model secondary school will have a standard laboratory, two workshops, one theatre/auditorium, a library, an administrative block, a dining hall, dormitories to hold two students per room at one thousand (1,000) students per school, a sports field and a Demonstration Farm. Boarding will be compulsory.
It is also gratifying to note that we shall soon commence the distribution of free textbooks to all our secondary and primary schools. Furthermore, to ensure that these schools are fully equipped, we have commenced the provision of adequate furniture and facilities for them.
We should add that a key component of this radical attempt to restore sanity to our schools is the Teachers Training and Evaluation Programme which we have embarked upon, in partnership with the British Council. At the end of the programme, our teachers will be evaluated and certified by Cambridge University in England. To date, 3,000 teachers have been so retrained and certified.
We have continued to provide scholarships to deserving students of the state to pursue studies both at home and abroad. As at today, more than 1000 indigenes of the state are pursuing higher degree programmes in foreign universities.
4. Healthcare Delivery
In the health sector, our major objective is to adopt a broad, efficient and effective programme that is anchored on primary care in a manner that guarantees improved health delivery to all our people.
As we told you last year, we commenced the construction of a total of 150 Primary Health Centres to replace the existing dilapidated ones. So far, 53 of these centres are ready to be commissioned. By the end of the year, 100 health centres would have been completed and made fully functional. The construction of a one thousand bed specialist hospital named after Justice Karibi-Whyte was awarded to Clinotech Group of Canada at the sum of $150 million and construction work has since commenced.
It is pertinent to add that we have completed a number of other major facilities in the health sector, among them, the Prof. Kelsey Harrison Hospital Complex in Diobu, the new Dental Hospital on Aba Road, the Medical Centre at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and the new Mortuary at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital.
Let me emphasize that as in many other areas of our life as a state, the challenge of ensuring the availability of competent manpower remains a daunting one. Although we have recruited 200 medical doctors and 200 other medical personnel to help run existing health facilities and the ones under construction, we would, as a government, continue to encourage our indigenes to take up the challenge and embrace education as well as the enhancement of capacity at individual, family and community levels.
5. Water Resources
The provision of sufficient portable water and adequate sanitation for all our people, on an affordable and sustainable basis, remains a major challenge. Indeed, we are mindful of the danger of failing to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development target of ensuring that every person living in Rivers State has access to good, portable water by 2015.
Our effort in the years under review was, in the short-term, to provide adequate and sustainable water supply to all parts of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local government areas. For instance, we expended considerable funds in upgrading obsolete water pumps and distribution pipes and providing power for a number of pumping stations. In the course of this endeavour, the purchase of diesel, lubricants and repairs of burst-pipes in the Port Harcourt metropolis alone came to over N226 million, while the purchase of new standby Caterpillar Generators for some of the pumping stations came to over N158 million.
In the end, these measures, expensive as they may seem, are mere palliatives. The real answer to our water problem in Rivers State is, in my view, a more comprehensive, long-term strategy, which invariably entails the adoption of a regional water supply system .The details and engineering designs of both Port Harcourt and the General Water Scheme for the State are being completed. Work will commence as soon as contractors are selected.
6. Power Generation
Our government is committed to ensuring that the state meets its energy needs, through a sustainable framework that will support the state’s economic growth and the needs of all its citizens. It gladdens our hearts to let you know that we have made considerable progress in the generation and distribution of power in our state. All things being equal, we should, by the end of November add another 100 megawatts of power to the grid, bringing our total megawatts generated in Rivers State to 280.
It is also heart warming to be able to report that in the years under review we extended electricity supply to several new rural communities. These include the electrification of 21 communities in Khana local government area, the electrification of six communities in Akwa and Ulakwo II, the electrification of Odiabidi and Okponwo, the construction of a major Injection sub-station in Borikiri and the construction of a 33Kv High Tension Line from Ahoada to Ogonokom, Abua as well as electrification of communities in and around Abua central. We should also add that the maintenance of the Gas Turbine Power stations and the adequate supply of gas to the Turbine stations have remained top priorities for us.
7. Revenue Generation
One of our biggest challenges has been the problem of revenue generation. Our major constraint has been how to effectively generate all accruable revenue due to the state in a manner that is transparent and that ensures accountability. To this end, we entered into a formal agreement with Skye Bank Plc as a Lead Collection and Monitoring Bank to spearhead this drive. In addition, we strengthened the Internal Revenue Service by restructuring and decentralising Revenue Accounts generated by Ministries, Departments and Agencies. And earlier in the year, we introduced Automated Vehicle Registration to further minimise corruption, touting and fake vehicle registration.
We are delighted to report that these measures have started to yield results. For instance, our monthly collection in 2008 rose from N2.3 billion to N3.5 billion. And in 10 months, we have recorded a 40 per cent increase in revenue collection already.
8. Greater Port Harcourt New City
When we addressed you a year ago, we made a solemn promise that together, we would transform Port Harcourt to its old glory and beyond. Towards this end, we have embarked on a bold mission to build a new Greater Port Harcourt City, a world class city that would be internationally recognized for excellence and a preferred destination for investors and tourists.
The new city will not only serve to decongest the older Port Harcourt area as we know it, it will, through the implementation and enforcement of policies and regulations, ensure the provision of first rate infrastructure and the delivery of quality services to enhance the standard of living and well-being of our people.
Obviously, this is a long-term project. But we have taken the first measured steps by creating the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority (GPHCDA), the body that will regulate the development, planning, improvement and maintenance of the new city. We have also prepared a comprehensive Master Plan which would serve as a road-map towards realizing this dream. When the bulk of the ongoing Engineering and Infrastructure Designs and drawings are completed, construction work should commence in earnest before the end of the year. We have appropriated the sum of N50 billion in the current budget for the Authority’s take-off.
It is our hope that our people, especially those who are domiciled in the areas designated for the new city, will continue to cooperate with the Authority as it engages them in property buy-backs, through adequate compensation for the areas needed for the new city.
9. Water-Front Development and Urban Renewal
You are aware as you did approve in the various stakeholders’ consultative fora that we should demolish the waterfronts to minimize or eradicate crime.
The administration is going ahead with your recommendations. The waterfronts are a haven for crime. Lives are being lost daily. We can only redevelop to better the lives and properties. We would continue with our policy of buying back the properties at the waterfronts at commercial and current price to enable our people provide an alternative accommodation and be proud owners of their own decent and habitable accommodation and environment.
My fellow citizens of Rivers State, we cannot conclude this address without renewing the pledge, which we made when we assumed office two years ago, namely, that we shall continue to consult widely with you before embarking on key programmes that affect the lives of the people. Our policies will always be people-oriented and value-driven. To this end, we shall intensify our consultative meetings with all stakeholders in the Rivers State project. Your interest will guide our programmes always.
We want to assure you that, we are painfully aware that our spirited effort to correct many years of urban misplanning and disregard for planning regulations has inevitably brought hardship for some of our people. This is why we have directed that proper and adequate compensation be paid in appropriate cases to affected persons in our urban renewal drive. Our policy of property buy-back at market value will continue until we can transform our entire state into veritable pockets of urban centres that will meet the aspirations of all our forebearers and generations to come.
In a presidential system as ours, the executive is but one of the three arms of Government. An efficient model of democratic governance must be one in which there is a high degree of cohesion and interplay between the three arms. Let me acknowledge therefore, that the modest milestones of this administration in the past two years would not have been possible if we had a cantankerous legislature or an indolent or compromised judiciary.
The State House of Assembly has worked tirelessly in the cause of the current Legislative year to provide requisite legislative framework to support our government’s Policy initiatives. We must specially commend the House and its leadership on the prompt passage of the Rivers State University of Education Law 2009 which has enabled us to convert the old College of Education to a University of Education principally for tertiary training of much needed teaching personnel in the State. Government is working presently on the establishment of Teacher’s Training Colleges which will serve as feeders for the University of Education.
The Rivers State Judiciary has been truly independent. The dividends of this are manifest in the prompt and equitable dispensation of Justice by the various tiers of courts in the State. The judiciary is currently building the new Ultra Modern High Court within the State Judiciary Complex. Government has actively supported and will continue to support the judiciary whilst being mindful of the need to preserve its fiscal and judicial independence.
We are also not unmindful that politically, Rivers State has remained relatively calm. The positive attitude of opposition groups has allowed us to devote our time to the real job at hand … that of engaging in the governance of our state. Government thanks them for their constructive contributions and their commitment to our shared belief that, together, we can build a new Rivers State of our dream.
Once again, the Government thanks you for your continued support, encouragement and prayers, which we do not take for granted. The assurance that we can always count on your support is the catalyst that propels us to strive harder for a better Rivers State for us all. But as we have had cause to say in the past: there is more work to be done; the time to do it, is now. And we must do it together.
I thank you all and God bless you.
God bless Rivers State.
October 25, 2009