This is the part II of The Tide Roundtable encounter with Chairman Rivers State Scholarship Board, Captain Elechi Amadi (rtd) first published last Wednesday.
Here is the excerpts. Read On.
Don’t you think that his writing style is too complex for WAEC level?
It is, Is too complex that is the truth of the matter and that’s what a lot of people complained about, he is writing for the elites and he makes no boast about it he is quiet about it he is quite clear about it, he is not apologizing to any body.
You are the chairman of the Rivers State scholarship board, and there are so many problems, what would you consider as your greatest challenges as the manager of that body?
We have almost finished the bursary for the year, but a few cases is still out standing, we are doing our best, we pay through the banks you know about 50,000 students,then you are paying through the banks students have accounts and then these accounts are in various banks, so the collection, you know bank account numbers sometimes run upto fourteen digits so when you are now computerizing it, you have to be careful when once you miss a digit, you made a mistake and that student cannot be paid.
So we had to employ extra hands, especially computer boys to make sure we computerized the thing, we now send cheques to the various banks to pay students. Some banks have e-mail, e-banking or something like that. We have to devise direct payment by cheques and then, where that didn’t work, we have the system where you load with certain amount of money and the students just go and get their money, I can say we have almost cleared the bursary, for the year.
Yes fraud is widespread in Nigeri is a very big problem. I had to send my 23 board members across the nation. Now go to every institution, so that we can know what they are doing, they toured the whole country, every tertiary institution, that took us a lot of time, when they went there, they went with forms for students to fill and then they brought back the completed forms, when they came back, they still had problem, because, you give a student leader forms said ok give to your members, let them fill and bring to us, some of them will give to their friends who are not students, they are also part of the blame for the delay but some will give to their relations and some to their friends who are not students to fill, thinking that when they get the money they will now share with them. So to sort out the students is another problem.
The 23 LGAs are represented on the board, so every member had to now look at the students from his own LGA: Fraud in this country is so widespread that it bedevils everything you want to do.
So we had to do all these eventually we were able to sort out the genuine students from the fake students and then we corrected the thing in computers, then, we have to look at the disable students many of them infact were suffering, crippled students in wheel chairs and so on we thought we should do something for them, I think we paid, atleast a hundred disable students, we paid each one N500,000 a year so that they can cope.
Then we looked at the law students, after your LLB you go to the Law School, so we had looked at the law students and then we got the list of those in the Law Schools and paid. Is an on-going thing, we paid the one of last year, we are set now to pay for the current year.
Then we looked at another vital areas, doctors in training you know after your normal degree as a doctor you do what they call House Manship, so during that training, they need money, so again we paid them for this year we paid them. We had to go to the various schools where they are trained all around the country, collect the names authenticate them, get their bank whatever and pay so all that is bursary.
The scholarship aspect of it we have undergraduate scholarships.
How much have you spent on bursary for students so far?
Well I think, I didn’t come with the figure but, we paid each student N20,000 and when you multiply that by 30 or 40 students, you can work out how much it is, lets say 40,000 students.
We paid N40,000.
The scholarship thing, we have the undergraduate scholarship, the masters and the doctorate. So for the undergraduate scholarships, each of these categories, we have both local and overseas.
So to do this, scholarship means excellence and that means somehow you have to devise a method of determining who should deserve scholarships. So we had to get some consultants from the universities to set up exam for them, marked and then just send us the list of successful students and that is what we’ve done, we’ve done that and we are now in the process of awarding these scholarships to the locals and I think, about N200,000 a year, something like that for each of them.
Then for the masters, we have the overseas again we had an exam, and we have short listed students for that, ofcourse we have 23 LGAs we have to make sure that all the LGAs are catered for.
So first of all, there is a quota where every LGA has the same number, then beyond that you now think of excellence, so on and so forth.
Now the overseas trainings we are paying about N3 million per student per year.
What we got from the British Council infact is N3.7 million but from my own research we just feel that a student with N3 million should be able to manage.
When once you paid the fees, what is left, you should be able to manage. Live frugally and then you should be able to manage, so we are paying N3 million per student.
Like I said this is very expensive, and you are paying N3 million per student, then that means you get about 33 or so scholarships out of your hundred million.
Now divide this 33 among the LGAs, the 23 LGAs you find you have between one and two per LGA.
You spent a hundred million, you are going to have one or two, so if you have two hundred million, you are going to have about three per LGA so is like a drop in the ocean so when these people are awarded, it looks as if nothing has happened so what we are doing is a very expensive business, is very expensive and we want to concentrate more on our own local universities, then for the scholarships aboard we concentrate on vital areas like engineering I.T. medicine and so on, and then we try to go at the higher level more, masters and Phds who will acquire special skills and come back hopefully to impact on our system, So that is what I can tell you about scholarship, but is on-going now, infact in the next few days we will be sending students to Abuja, you know the UK embassy thing, visa problem, is rigorous so we have their additional problem of sending these boys to Abuja for their visa interview.
We have to send them by air, and each one will cost us N40,000 to and fro, what of feeding, accommodation is a problem, we are still trying to work out the logistics.
So how many people have overseas scholarships this year?
I think we have about a hundred and fifty three, in various categories, undergraduate and masters.
There is rumour that you tend to favour children of politicians?
No, you can see the system we do an exam under it, you don’t pass, you don’t pass. We do our best, we go to universities get consultants, who are left in setting this kind of examination and then we tell them go ahread and give us result.
When they give the result, we scrutinize the result as such.
Do you have pressure from the politicians that you should favour their children?
How do you handle such things?
Well, I just tell them sorry, scholarship is scholarship, and if your child hasn’t passed, he has not passed.
What really happened was when we announced the examinations and so on, you know, yes we have pressure, people brought their list, I put them in the list, you have to do the exam so if you do the exam and you pass, then you are likely to get a scholarship, but if you don’t pass, as far as I am concerned, there is no back deal.
Because of the amount of money we have, we put a sealing to cut off point, so that we get the required number.
Because of N3 million per student, you can’t give to everybody who passed, you can’t get the money. So we have a sealing to get just the number we can pay for.
What of the controversial Malaysian students you inherited, what is the situation now?
No, we didn’t inherit any Malaysian students, what happened was, when we come on board, the then commissioner for Education, said they have a programme for Malyaysian students, and so on and so forth and he gave us a list.
Well since there was no board before us, we saw the list, said ok if it is an on-going thing, and it has the governor’s approval, we are bound to continue it. So we looked at the programme, then we conducted interviews, and so on and so forth.
In the end, we shortlisted students for Germany, Russia and Malaysia then we computed the amount of money needed so we had a consultant to deal with the whole thing, so, the figures he gave us, we computed the thing and it came to something like N2.8 billion, so when we now took this to the Governor, I told him, we did not inherit but when we came on board we were ordered to send the students to Malaysia, they were already there, so the bill is this, he said no, no, he gave no such authority to anybody and that was it.
I told the Honourable Commissioner you had what Oga is saying, he did not approve it, because there was no money made available for it many of them had come, so we are going to look at them and then see what we can do to help those of them who are already there.
But Sir, you’ve been talking about the amount of money, you budget for each student and every thing, that is why you are short listing persons who are qualified?
How much has the state government provided for bursary and scholarship for this year?
This year, we have one point something billion Naira, last year we had N1.3 billion which we are now using for all these.
But you know how the civil service works, we are in October, not so, we have not yet got any allocation for 2009. I didn’t know where the hitch is, I had a meeting with the Commissioner this morning, I told them that education cannot wait.
We know there are compeling demands but you cannot tell your child, you can’t go to school this year, I don’t have money, wait until next year, it doesn’t work. So my point is let education go on, all the nitty gritty you can work it out later on but for God sake let the thing go on.
Give us money, lets operate, we can give you all the details later. So as I was saying, education cannot wait, but we are yet to have allocation for 2009.
And you know, all these students when we award them scholarships, you have to sustain them, so there can’t be a break, if there is a break, all the students will die of hunger in the place, you need the will to keep it on.
I just felt that there may come a time when the students cannot be paid as result of this problem on ground?
Well, is possible, is possible, but we will not let it happen. I will lead a personal demonstration to Government House to get that money if I can, because, the students will die. In aboard if you don’t have money to pay your house rent, pay your electricity bill, pay your gas bill and so on, you are a dead man and nobody gives you money. Here in Nigeria, you can go to a friend he can even give you some soup, or uncle I beg I can’t manage, your uncle will say ok, take one thousand or something but in the Uk or USA nobody gives you one dime dash, is impossible, so when you have no money, you have no money and you are in real trouble so whatever we are doing now, I’m emphasizing the fact that it must be sustained.
The Governor has so much confidence in you as somebody who can push the matter forward, from what you have said so far, do you not see bad situation arising, have you ever thought that somewhere along the line, you were disappointed?
Not the governor’s fault. Just the system. It has nothing to do with the governor. The Governor can say, yes give mandate, you take the mandate and go to the Ministry, they said fine, ok but we can only pay when cash is available and only them know when cash is available.
You said, you hated the civil service, why the hatred?
Because of agrueling job, you know I hate a job where you docked in at 8 0’clock or 7.30 and you stay there you clock out at 4 0’clock.
So I didn’t like it, I like teaching because, when once you finished for the day, you have a lot of work to do, you prepare your lesions, you mark scripts and so on. You can organize your work, weekend, you are free you can organize the whole thing. But the civil service, in those days, civil servants worked on Saturdays, you may not know, so they had only Sunday, whereas teachers had Saturday and Sunday and that was the attraction that teaching had for me, so I could organize my time and write.
Your board members, protest amongst themselves that, you appear to be like a saint may be they don’t have their way, their entitlements, you don’t oblige them, how do you react to that?
No, the entitlements are not paid by the board, it is paid by the office of the Secretary to the State Government. They determine the allowances, and so on and right now, we have operated for several months, before we had the first payment and the payment came from the SSG office, not the board.
To be continued
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.
Rivers Roads’ll Stand Test Of Time -Commissioner
Poorly maintained roads are known to cause most of the fatal auto accidents that occur in Nigeria. Issues such as potholes, clear zone issues, confusing signages, inadequate signage, sudden driver manouvres, and reckless driving have been identified as the major causes of more than 85 per cent of deaths on Nigerian roads yearly. Bad road conditions have also been blamed for many injuries and damages to cars. The Tide’s Correspondent, Susan Serekara-Nwikhana recently interviewed the Rivers State Commissioner for Works, Sir Austin Ben-Chioma, to gain insight into what the present government is doing differently to change this ugly narrative in the state.
Honourable Commissioner, looking at the near collapse of the Iloabuchi-Eagle Island Road constructed five years ago, how do you feel?
A report came alerting me of the near collapse of the bridge. So, I sent my engineers to check the level of damage and they saw it was bad. I went there myself to find out whether what they told me was what it was. It was true and the bridge is an old bridge. the bridge given its age and the condition the bridge is in, we found out that if they continue to use it, this bridge may fall and claim lives, which is one thing that we are guarding against; so we said ok let’s close it.
The governor has approved its repair; we are just waiting. It is a matter of time for the fund to be available to put that bridge to use again. As of now, that portion of the bridge is blocked because we wouldn’t want anybody to manage it and, before you know it, something bad happens. But we are optimistic that in a short while fund will be made available to carry out repairs soonest.
What do you think is responsible for the near collapse of the bridge barely five years after despite the huge sum of money put in for the repairs?
Yes, I wasn’t the commissioner then and the factor that played out there is not under my purview to have known why they took the decision they took, but the truth should be said. The bridge can be rehabilitated just as it was done at that time. Apparently, they thought the rehabilitation they did would last longer, but it did not because the biggest problem there is the embankment, the erosion. As we know, once embankment is exposed to river or water, erosion sets in.
What would be done about the bridge to bring a lasting positive impact to users?
We want to rehabilitate it now. We want to do a thorough work that will last for some time again; we are not building a brand-new bridge, but it is rehabilitation that we still want to do. It will be something better that will last longer.
It is generally observed that roads constructed by founding fathers of the state last longer than those constructed today by present leaders. What do you think is responsible for that?
Two things are responsible for why roads constructed by present leaders do not last long. One, the number of vehicles then and now is not the same as every road is designed with the anticipation that there is duration of length of years or life span for the road. If the road is used always by heavy vehicles carrying loads, then, the usage will determine the life span of that road. Those days, the cars we had in Nigeria and in Port Harcourt, the numbers are not the same compared to what we have today. As you can see, we have cars everywhere now and the same roads that the few cars that plied the road then, now, we have ten times the number of cars plying that same road, so you don’t expect it to last that long.
But the point is, yes, the usage is quite high now, higher than the way it was used in the past, but given what Julius Berger is doing for us now, the roads will last as it’s observed that Julius Berger roads last longer than those of other construction firms.
Based on your conclusion, are you implying that Julius Berger should be used for road construction instead of indigenous contractors?
One, I am not saying that but, I tell you, you can’t compare Julius Berger roads to those built by our indigenous contractors.
Two, Julius Berger has a good reputation in the whole of this country. As such, they are supposed to be given Number One position when it has to do with construction and if that is the case.
Number one is number one and they should know that Julius Berger is more expensive than other contractors because of the durability and quality of job they give you. You will pay for it. It is not free, that is what it is, but everybody that likes good job would want to give such job to Julius Berger if they have the fund because you will like the road and infrastructure to last for a very long time. So, if you have the fund you will want to give Julius Berger.
There are some other good indigenous contractors too, but not at the level of Julius Berger.
Is there any effort being made by your ministry to draw the attention of the Governor to the poor state of the Agip Roundabout by Abacha and NLNG Roads so that these roads could be repaired any time soon?
We have a project, and the project is from Education (Bus Stop). It is a 19.1-kilometer road from Education to the New Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium. LCC are the contractors handling that project. We are re-surfacing from there to Rukpokwu Roundabout. After this roundabout, we are now expanding three meters on both sides making it a total of six meters up to Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium. From that part to Igwuruta has been expanded with drainages before doing the final work.
For the NLNG Bridge, we know that we have small depression, the bridge is intact. There is nothing wrong with the bridge. The whole structure of the bridge is intact, but there is this material depression at the surface. This has led to our blocking that area and everything is being put in process for us to progress and start.
What is your take on the Agip-Mgbuoshimini Road awarded to a contractor almost three years ago by His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Wike; the central market in which marketers were displaced?
We will visit the area as soon as the demolition exercise is over to ascertain the true position of things.
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