Recently, the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi signed the bill that has elevated Rivers State College of Education to University of Education, into law. For the fact that a lot of emphasis is placed on education, especially training and retraining of teachers in the state, The Tide Roundtable, a personality interview programme of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation invited the Acting VC of the new University of Education, Prof. Rosemund Dienye Green Osahogulu to throw more light on the new development. She talked about the foundation, challenges, funding and many more issues facing the institution.
The excerpts. Read on, very fascinating.
Madam, how do you want the general public to know you?
My name is Rosemund Dienye Green Osa-Oghulu. I started life in the care of my parents who then were civil servants in Eastern Region of Nigeria. I did my primary and secondary schools there. After my Secondary school we needed to come back home after the Nigerian civil war and my parents decided we should start coming back, especially those of us who finished by 1974. So when I came back my desire was to read medicine. Then we had College of Science and Technology (CST) and then we had Advanced Teachers Training College (ATTC). CST offered me Medical Laboratory Technology. The ATTC offered me Chemistry/Biology combination but instead of taking up that Medical Laboratory Technology, I had this inkling that I needed to teach people and that is how I entered ATTC then they were at Orominike street Port Harcourt. From there we moved to main campus, Rumuolumeni.
We started the main campus before it became College of Education, St. John’s campus, as NCE students. When I finished my NCE, I proceeded to do my Youth Service because then as Nigeria Certificate of Education (NCE) student you are moblised for NYSC. I was sent to Ogun State for my National Youth Service. When I came back I was able to secure admission at the University of Wales. I traveled out, finished my first degree, came back and fairly enough, I was employed as graduate Assistant into the Rivers State College of Education. And at that time, the state was into manpower development after the civil war so they picked those graduate assistants and they sent us off insisting that the scholarship should be within a Nigerian University. So I went to University of Jos and read my Masters degree. I came back to the College and continued teaching. When I had put in enough years, because for every year you are trained, you put in two years of service. I later went for my Phd, came back and remained in the system until I started getting positions, like the Head of my Department for Integrated Science, because I studied Integrated Science, Education. I became head for the first four years and was able to secure sabbatical leave appointment with the University of Port Harcourt. I went there in 1998 and finished after 12 months and came back in 1999. Upon return, they still put me back as the head of department (HOD). I was there till I was made the Dean, Faulty of Science Education and it was from that position that I became the Deputy Provost. I was a Deputy Provost for just three weeks, when I became the Acting Provost. And I was an Acting Provost for exactly 12 months before I become the Acting Vice Chancellor (AVC).
To get to that position you would say it is easy but it is not. But it’s something I am grateful to God Almighty because I was deprived a lot. I was to rise to the rank of a professor in 2003 but there was some academic politics and I was denied till 2006. Even I was to become the school’s Deputy Provost in 2004. I was also denied so at some point I was temtped to think I suffered all the denials, perhaps because I was a woman. But you can see that when the blessing starts coming, it would come in chains. Today I’am the Acting Vice Chancellor of Rivers State University of Education.
Can we know a little more of your family background?
My family background has been strong even though my dad is late. His name is Warisenibo Victor Piabo Dublin-Green of the Dublin-Green family in Bonny. We were eight of us as children but we lost five remaining three currently. My mum is alive but she went to Canada to visit my last sister and she is still there. she hasn’t come back. I am married to a Professor of Operations Research, Management Information system, Prof. Osa-Oghulu. We met in Rivers State here in the College of Education and we have six children.
As an academic how did you find the time to produce that number of children?
(Laughs). Well it depends on when you started getting serious. You have to learn to marry the two. If you make up your mind to be a career woman, you have to work hard towards it. And you find out most times we hardly sleep. Like yesterday, a job just came in and I left the office around 7.30pm, managed to get to the house around 8.30pm. And there was this job that came from Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Abuja and they needed to see me and I told them that we have left. On that same yesterday night we have to start a proposal writing. When it gets to this kind of duty I wake my husband up, because he is into management information system. He has been the British Council Adviser in Rivers State because he has been trained in that. Most times we stay awake. I remember when I was traveling to be an Associate Professor in 1998, I had my Toshiba Satelite laptop with me, and once I get to work he would never sleep again. So when you put in your best you would always get something good including six children.
How often do you stay in the house to take care of the family?
If I leave for work when I come back, I don’t go out again. And already my children are grown up and it is only the last one that is in secondary school, Jephtah, the rest can take care of themselves some are working, while the others are in the university.
It is often said that too much reading and high academic accomplishments scare male suitors. If your husband were not a Professor, would the marriage remain the same?
Why not? It depends on your career. You work hard to achieve the best in your career. While I am struggling hard to achieve the best, that even makes the fun. When I come home we discuss our jobs and we enjoy it. Any other man could have because it depends on the kind of person you are. Once you see your wife working hard even though that man is not hardworking he would be pushed to put in his best. But I would say, I am enjoying being married to a professor because most times we sit side by side, writing and discussing.
Madam your institution was recently elevated to the status of a University, how do you intend to confront the challenge?
It is indeed a big challenge. First and foremost the big one is getting a University license and we have started working on it. We have set up a Programmes Development Committee and all the Heads of Department have started developing their programmes because we don’t want to stick with the University of Ibadan programmes anymore. You know we were a College affiliated to the UniIbadan now as a full fledged University, we have to develop a programme and there must be something unique to us. Now if you look at what the Rivers State environment has, you’ll agree oil and gas is key, so we are now talking of Petroleum, Petrochemical Sciences and that is one thing we want to be unique of. So that as our students come we give them that liberal knowledge on Petroleum and Petrochemical because it is like, we in the Niger Delta are struggling over the resource control, while some of our children don’t even know what we are talking about. This Petroleum thing we are all scrambling for let them just have foundation knowledge so that they can discuss very well. And most times it is like our children don’t have the right skill to be employed into these companies. So we need to lay a foundation and give them the basic idea on Petroleum and Petrochemical so we want that to be a unique aspect of the university. And we have decided to include it in our General Studies (GS), which would run from year one to three so that all the students will have knowledge.
However, the biggest challenge we have now is for us to get the license because National University Commission (NUC) would come back to see how far we are ready.
Currently do you have enough facilities to meet the challenges?
Yes we have what it takes to take-off because we are fortunate to have a professor who was there when Tai Solarin University of Education took off. You know they are the premiere even though we would have been the premiere if ours had started 15 years ago. So, he is with us but then he was a provost while there so when we recalled him to come and discuss, he said what you people have, Tai Solarin didn’t have it, 1/20; that was when they were made a University. And you know there own started as a pronouncement before the legislature came in but you know our own started with the legislature. So we can take off with what we have and we are comfortable with what we have to take-off but to meet up with the Global Standards we will need funding, we don’t intend to be a University of Education servicing only Rivers State, we should be open to the world and being open would also attract funding, from donor organizations from international agencies. Just the name that was declared last month and the time it was signed into law on 20th October by the Governor, we have started getting applications. Already UNICEF has called us, and UBEC which used to give us little jobs are coming in a full swing so it would attract funding from international agencies. Currently that is the only problem we have now in getting the license because NUC will do most of the jobs, they will equally come and conduct soil test based on the structures we intend to put up in the future, to see whether it can take it.
Like how much are we looking at?
Well you know we have three campuses. We have the main campus at Rumuolumeni, we have the Ndele Campus then we have the Rumukalagbor, St. John’s Campus. The Ndele campus has been neglected for a very long time. The structures are dilapidated, the hostels are really bad the same thing obtains in St. John’s campus. Our main campus you will see some of the structures looking good outside but inside is bad, including the hostels. So if you put everything together we may be talking about billions, say going to N3b to N4 billion which would give us a Senate building, Council Chambers and new classrooms because we intend to add new departments. For instance, at the Ndele campus there are about three new departments added, the same thing at St. John’s and main campus. So with what we have now, the existing department can survive but in the next five years these new departments will spring up with new structures.
Prof. earlier on you said you were denied your position several times how do you curb such internal hiccups now you are on top?
Let me tell you that all of us worked hard to get to this stage, including those who worked against us and today all of us are working together. You know we had a rally where all of us came together. In short we had a public forum and we had to mobilize the whole campus whether you are there or not we are now working together, everybody. And I like working as a family. When I was the Dean of Science – Education it was like a family unit. We were always doing things together. And a times we cook and bring to the faculty and we all eat together and that is the kind of atmosphere that I appreciate.
Madam you talked about the new departments you intend to introduce, how many departments do you have now and how many more would come in the next five years?
We have 26 departments now. We have introduced six more departments making it 32 and we intend to add some departments because the school subjects are sometimes increasing like we talk about population and family life to be infused into the curriculum and in future we may have these departments to take care of how to educate our children to manage their homes instead of having too many children.
Before the pronouncement when you were affiliated to the University of Ibadan, how much did that cost you?
Yes that affiliation was costing us almost N50 million a year. And it was difficult to pay and the only money we had was generated from fees and to pay we had to make sure we spend exigently so that we just don’t run into debt. We are not owing a kobo currently (laughs).
How long was the affiliation?
We became affiliated for degree programmes since 1981, that is about 27 years. But we were affiliated as a College of Education for NCE, before then. I think that started when ATTC started that was when the College got affiliated to the University of Ibadan
Would you say the expenses started when you wanted a degree programme?
Well I met the N50 million. They were calculating based on the number of students and there was a period we had up to 11,000 and then school fees was about N5,000 per student. Then later it was increased to N10,000 per student. It is like every year the fees increase and then not only just paying the fees, we were paying them for supervision. You know the programme is theirs, we are running their programme. When we admit from year one to year four, we set the questions we take it to them to moderate, then they send back the moderated ones then they now agree on the date for the exams; they will come down and do the supervision, while we conduct the invigilation, when we finish, we would mark the scripts. After marking we would take the scripts to Ibadan. It’s Ibadan that would moderate, send back the scripts and we would compute results and we also approve it in our own academic board here we then make up corrections and parcel back to Ibadan. Ibadan will go through it and moderate, give us the date to come for the Joint Examiners Board Meeting. After we will bring back our results and converge for another joint meeting when we have finished and agreed we now take it back and present to the Senate. So you find out that these processes takes us about five months to conduct and it was affecting our students, delaying them from graduating at the normal time they would have graduated, even when they are supposed to be mobilised for Youth Service. And all that period they come for supervision they come with a team of not less than 10-15 persons we have to keep them in good hotels, feed them and provide them with allowances and you know the least that comes with the term is a Senior Lecturer and if they are staying for 10 days you know you have to take care of their upkeep for the 10 days, so you see how expensive it is.
Madam you mentioned that the new University would introduce courses on petrochemical? Is that not off your scope as a university of education?
Yes! For General studies (GS). Giving them just the background and basic foundation.
Like I said, we want to use that as a GS course so that we give all of them this liberal education on petroleum and petrochemical.
What new courses have you introduced?
We have introduced Environmental Science Education. Before we had Business Management but now we are going to have Educational Management. I know that Ndele Campus has three extra courses, St. Johns has one and the main campus has two. These total to about six.
Do you think it would be easy breaking that bond from the University of Ibadan considering what you have on ground now?
For now, our year two students currently are reopening this week. Our year two to year four for 2009, 2010 session are still University of Ibadan students because it was the university that did the admissions. So it is a gradual process you can’t just cut-off. And if I may further inform you, in 2004 when we had our convocation ceremony, the Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan turned to our Governor then, Sir Peter Odili and said, “this College is ripe to stand on its own”, then I was in Council representing Academic Board. And the Governor was too impressed because that year we graduated about 4,000 graduates and the Governor was saying there are some Universities that don’t even graduate up to 2,000. For a College to be graduating 4,000 he was very impressed. And actually we thought that was when our autonomy would have taken place. So we are not cutting off we have to tidy up, because we can’t start today and then graduate students immediately.
With the university status, these new intakes we are having now are our own because we are concerned fully with admission. The other ones, they influenced our admissions and they gave us conditions as to who and who to admit at one time we became stubborn and said No! We would admit our children because we found out that our children weren’t coming in as much.
Few years ago you started a master’s programme, do you think that with this elevation you have all it takes to maintain it?
Of course. You crawl before you jump but I know that in the next few years they would come up.
Earlier, this year there were controversies surrounding the employment of staffers and one of your staff was indicted for employment racketerring. What is the situation now?
You know how that employment took place, there were no Due Process. Whatever happened I just came in on the 17th of November to inherit it. They were not interviewed, they were just collecting employment letters. I mean everybody knew about it, inshort it was a very big scandal and you don’t employ people that you can’t pay. The number of people employed at that time was about 1,243, which was beyond our capacity and vouch for their employment. There were a lot of others who were taking signatures of employment officials, When the racket was discovered by the chairman of Council we discovered that they were about 1,664. And the total workforce combining the three College campuses came to 1,019. So if you add 1,664. What do we do with them? I was even summoned when I was barely two weeks old on the sit, to come and bring the approval for that employment. Since there was no approval to that effect, the only thing to do was to terminate all such employment. That paved way for a Due Process, during which we can carry out proper interview. And immediately, their appointment were terminated in less than two weeks we advertised and those who thought they were qualified re-applied. And we got about 8,000 applications in the process and out of the 8,000 applications, we can only employ 319 but then we decided to give everybody a fair chance. If you are qualified for the position you applied, you are invited for interview. And the rest is left to you to defend your academic qualification.
As I am talking to you now, we are still collating. You can imagine a situation where we ended up interviewing 6,000 people it is not easy because we decided to give everybody a fair chance. Currently we are still collating and I assure you that we are going to appoint people basically by merit, if really we want the new University to stand.
What about the allegation that one of your staff was involved in the scandal, that she was collecting money from applicants?
One thing about our society is that when things happen to somebody or somebody gets involved in a scandal and there is a panel of inquiry, nobody could come out and tell us that he had money to get the job. So it became very difficult for us to ascertain the corruption involved. But we made sure that everybody that were involved in the process were effectively punished. Because to me I saw it as criminal.
What kind of punishment was meted out to them?
Some were demoted, some were posted out. We made sure the head person was demoted. The lady in question was demoted and for three years she can’t come in again for any promotion and she was posted out to Ndele campus secondary school over there.
To be contd.
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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