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Special Interview

‘We Want To Regulate Housing Development In Rivers’

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How would you want people to know you?

My names are Mr. Marshal Stanley Uwom. I am Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Housing Rivers State. I was born in 1965, and I attended several Schools. One of such is Okrika Grammar School., Okrika.

I did my Cambridge in O and A levels in England.

I came back and attended, then School of Basic Studies, Port Harcourt, I did my IJMB there, before I proceeded to the University of Ibadan initially to study Language Art, but I had to truncate it when I lost my father. I registered for law in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Nkpolu, and currently, I’m a Post Graduate student of external programme of the University of London. I have served government in several capacities. I was a Special Assistant to His Excellency, Dr Peter Odili, Special Assistant on General Duties in the year 2004, I became Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development under the Dr. Odili Administration, I had been a Commissioner for Agriculture under Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi and I came back as Commissioner for Housing and after the dissolution. I was now reinstated as Commissioner for Housing.

Are you married?

I am happily married with two kids. One girl and one boy.

What was growing up like, what was your position in your family?

First son, family of five children. We actually moved around Nigeria a lot. I was in Calabar before the war, I was in Uzuakoli with my grand mother. I came back, Warri was afterward and Lagos, before I found myself back in Port Harcourt.

My father used to be Controller of Customs in 1979 and I found myself in Okrika Grammar School.

He chose Okrika Grammar School because of the discipline.

How will you view Gov Amaechi’s Administration even as an insider?

I will say there is something unique about it. I speak now as a Riversman. Let me try to extricate myself from my position in government. It is dynamic, one that has a focus to achieve certain goals and objectives within the shortest possible time.

Revolutionary I must say, the way we find ourselves in government, and one that is bottom up, trying to see how to respond to the rural dwellers. You see, a government that is daring, government that invests substantially in projects that can be vividly seen not just in the state capital. It takes a lot of courage for you to say you want to build roads, primary schools and health centres all over the state simultaneously, it takes a lot of courage because the challenge of ensuring that they are completed on time is there.

Some others would prefer to concentrate on the urban areas because majority of the people reside there and so want people to see those projects. In the process, they neglect rural areas.

If I am to talk about the poor people, the poor people said money is not circulating at all.

Yes, money is not circulating in the sense that most people expect, the usual extravagance that is associated with political system in our part of the world, where monies are liberally released to cronies and political allies perhaps to that dimension. I won’t say the poor people. I must say, the generality of the public because you will notice now that you have a situation where Commissioners are not adding so much weight and those appendages of office, a lot of Commissioners cannot afford that, because we are frugal and so perhaps that is where people may say, oh the government is not throwing money around. This administration is not into wastage. Let me use that word, throwing money here and there, praise singers will be singing the praises of government to the roof tops even when that government is not performing and they will get some amount of money. That is not happening now because this government does not encourage praise singing. This government is tackling the challenges we have faced over the years, by laying the foundation for the future. His Excellency, Governor Amaechi, is injecting a lot tremendously in education, in infrastructure, but the fact that you see some parts of the country being more developed is because of a deliberate effort of visionary leaders. Let me be specific. The Western region now seems to have an advantage in terms of employment in all sectors.

In the bank industry, there is a preponderance of people from that region, in the oil sector you see a large majority of people from that area but we have been disadvantaged, I think we are trying to fill up the gap for the future and so perhaps the flow and direction of funding is not being appreciated, in the short term, but in the long term they will understand.

Let us come back to your Ministry now, how will you want to be remembered after now?

One fundamental challenge with government is sustainability, of ensuring continuity. What we did was perhaps, that may be the reason for which I am always brought back to the Ministry. It is the fact that, we believe that strengthening institutions, the Civil Service is a sector that has not been given the attention it deserves. I believe that, that’s my opinion and I am convinced about that, in-service training has been relegated to the back burners. For so long and we have a pool of professionals in the civil service that we are not utilising.  We work to ensure that there is proper synergy between the civil servants and political office holders to build structures of governance that are sustainable. I want to be remembered as one that created or released the building code which we are working on. We want to address the building code that will regulate housing development in Rivers State, so that, proper standards are maintained and the one that will ensure that, there is orderliness. And one that will permit also professionals from the building community, architects, the engineers and quantity surveyors to be integrated into what government is doing by making them more relevant.

Evolving a housing policy now may be a challenge. To get a housing policy, there must be a foundation and that’s what we are working on. We believe that there is need to build a housing data bank. It will not be one that will cover the entire state, may be one that is confined to 10 km radius. But if you work at the demographic trend, if you, look at the house style, you look at the issues of Land Use and household, that means government is going to the point that says look, we observed that may be in ten years from now we are going to have a certain amount of people and they will live within our city, how do you address the issue of housing need, and that is something that we believe from this year we should work on. We set up a committee last year on the low cost houses; we gave it that nomenclature but it’s not exactly confined to low cost housing. We have about five hundred housing units. How are they? These are housing units that will impact directly on civil servants as well as other Rivers people. We need to ascertain the proper allotees, because they have been occupied by criminals and hooligans. We need to bring to the fore the importance of completing the projects, like the Igbo-Etche estate, we have low cost houses built by the administration of Dr. Peter Odili, commenced and constructed. They are at various levels of completion. There are over 3,700 of such houses in all the 23 Local Government Areas of the state.

A committee is taking a compendium of the allotees, who are the contractors, how much have they been paid. It also extends to what you have at Sangana Street which we call Orojie housing estate, and Oromenike housing estate, the one you have on Wogu Street. We are not even ending there, Creek Road, Bonny Street, Aggrey Road estates as well, so I believe that the legacy I can leave behind is getting these issues sorted out so that the real owners of such houses can take possession, so that the state can recoup its expenses. We believe and we hope that before I leave, we can fast-track this.

To come up with that report we also set up an Eviction Committee. We have asked the Ministry of Urban Development to head it. Because they have the personalities in their system, Nigeria Police are also part of the Committee, the Ministry of Justice, the report of the Low Cost Committee and the Eviction Committee we will implement it. They are far reaching.

We want to ensure those genuine allotees will be given opportunities to occupy their houses. We want to ensure that those who have never received allocations from government will be given opportunity and it shouldn’t be something that will fall within the circle of politicians. I’m very emphatic about that, I don’t have one allocation and my relatives may not have the opportunities to have one. And how can we get the Rivers people who are not so financially buoyant and who may not compete with other ethnic groups to take advantage of the opportunities is a big challenge. We believe that the houses should be sold at their level of completion whatever stage they are. Now they were supposed to be sold at subsidized rates. Two bedroom apartment in various blocks with living room and other facilities, that is what we refer to as low cost houses in all local governments.

Now, the administration of Dr. Odili believed that it should be subsidised, at N1.5 million if a house is at 50 percent completion, we believed then it should go for N750,000. If it is at floor level, it should go for about N75,000, that way our people will be able to have access to them, then complete them, I’m trying to ensure that, civil servants are also given the opportunity on owner occupier basis. We are trying to see that whatever housing programme we want to embark on, even if it is through Public Private Partnership (PPP), Mortgage element, will be such that is of benefit to our people. Now we also set up a committee on Housing Authority. What has been happening to all our housing schemes. Why is it that, the play ground where our youths initially referred to as restive are now referred to as militants were all converted to other purposes. Why are our estates that are supposed to be neighbourhood that will foster proper interpersonal relations and also provides for recreational facilities, that will also help us reduce stress be turned to something else? What has been the mode of the deduction of the National Housing Scheme? Why are we not benefiting from the Federal Housing Authority scheme, why is it that our own is always different? These are the issues, it should not be considered as confrontational, but we believe that is important that we resolve the issues. I want to be able to resolve these issues as much as possible before I leave. We want to have a compendium of all the houses that Rivers State Government under my Ministry ever had, so that we can have a data bank. What is the state of affairs of those houses, who are the occupants? What is the status? This will also extend to finding out what is the funding. That committee is a very important committee. The Ministry of Justice is there, it is an inter-ministerial committee, and we also have the labour.

We have the chairman of NLC who, nominated somebody to represent the interest of the workers, because this programme is geared towards the benefit of those who have been putting in so much energy to move the state forward.

You are having a third stint as the Commissioner for Housing and just as you said, a lot of people will be expecting there will be an estate here, there will be one there, people want to see these estates, but they won’t understand that there are things, you are doing to ensure proper implementation, how do you feel, how do you explain this to the public?

There are a lot of houses that can be made available in the pool, it is important that we look at the direction of government, not only at the state level, national level but even globally.

Governments globally have challenges with providing social houses, there is no society even the advanced one that has been able to cater for the housing needs of all the people. If you go to the United States for example, in New York, there are a lot of homeless people. They live on the streets. We thank God that ours is not as deplorable as that. Going by our culture, you can go back to the village, you have a relative you can attach to. However, we believe that with what we are doing, like I pointed out earlier, government may be informed of the need to build more estates.

As you know currently, the policy of this administration is the public private sector partnership. In housing, our challenge is the fact that most prospective investors want to recoup their investment as fast as possible. It is a sector that we believe, that eventually, government will have to have a total look at. We have a concept which we believe, we will develop. We believe that housing needs cannot be addressed entirely by government. Private sector element is required. But also we have three tiers of governments, we have the local councils, we have the state and we have the federal.

We are looking at the issue of having a better relationship with the national level. At the national level, you have the federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Urban Development, and Environment, all merged up. We want to see how the federal housing scheme will work properly here. Rivers State Government previously, the previous administration bought what we refer to as Eleme garden, big expanse of uncompleted houses of about 252 housing units, an appendage to that was 49 hectares.

Practically, the federal government is not investing in Rivers State, perhaps because we have not been so forceful, we are going to address the challenge and task the federal government to come and develop the 49 hectares, because they said it is not part of the original purchase and they said they also have to manage the facilities so we are trying to see at the federal level how they can invest more and how we can harness it.

At the state level, I know that this current administration will embark on what we refer to as the prototype housing estate for the low and medium level bracket. This is already provided for in the 2010 budget proposal we sent to the House of Assembly. In Diobu, we believe that we will embark on initially 700 housing units, one and three bedroom apartments, it will not be overpopulated, it’s just a prototype district for the housing renewal programme and it will also have eleven storey building with a ground floor. The issue of management, we have considered that. There will be a management training programme, Rivers indigenes will be trained to manage the estate, a three management arrangement with the prospective developers and that is going to be done by government directly.

Is that  a PPP arrangement?

We as a Ministry are not directly in the Rainbow-First Bank arrangement, but we believe the programme will be geared towards affordability. For me, that is my watch word. The Diobu estate for example, the maximum cost for a unit and referred to as high rise which we refer to as opulent, because it will be fully furnished like what you have at Eastern Bypass will not exceed ten million naira and we hope there will be a mortgage element.

When it comes to PPP, you know you have the Greater Port Harcourt, we only sit on the board. The Greater Port Harcourt intends to embark on housing programmes, which by virtue of my presence on the board, we hope will be affordable and within reach, and that’s where the mass housing concept comes in, using technology that will be affordable and most cost effective. We also hope that, the local governments will begin to see the need to invest in houses to check the challenges of rural-urban drift.

Hon. Commissioner, just a clarification on what you said about the prototype housing estate, when do you intend to complete it?

 The completion is a legacy. The fundamental thing for government is to give a direction. We are not in a dictatorship where a government believes that it is best suited to manage affairs. We can ensure that governance continues to flow. Don’t forget that this administration inherited many programmes from the immediate past Celestine Omehia’s government, there is a continuity. A programme of that nature may not be concluded by this administration. We do intend to commence this year, with what is provided for in our proposal. I believe that at the executive level, we have no problem. The other housing type are three storey building. Don’t forget there had been a lot of piling work to be done at that place, because of the soil type and the water table is very high. But we believed that a substantial amount will be made available and our target is that 50 percent of the project will be achieved within the tenure of this administration.

To be continued

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Special Interview

Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke

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His Majesty King (Dr) Leslie Nyebuchi Eke, Eze Gbakagbaka, Eze Oha Evo III of Evo Kingdom in Obio/Akpor Local government Area of Rivers State, is a First Class Traditional Ruler.
Trained as a Biological Scientist at Illinois State University, Bloomington Normal, United States of America, he holds a Masters Degree and Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) from Wycliffe University & ATS, California.
Suave, ebullient, accessible, humble, down-to-earth and cerebral, Eke is also the Secretary General of the Association of Niger Delta Monarchs (ANDMON) and the Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State Chapter of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities (TROMPCOM).
In this exclusive interview with our Production Editor, Donatus Ebi and cameraman, Egberi A. Sampson, Eke poignantly bares his mind on sundry issues affecting the State and the nation. He particularly eulogises the Executive Governor of the State, Chief Nyesom Wike for the giant development strides of his administration within the past six years and comes to the inevitable conclusion that he has surpassed the achievements of his predecessors, having performed beyond the expectation of Rivers people.
Excerpts.
His Majesty, by virtue of all that you have seen in the State in the past six years, what are your comments on the achievements of Governor Nyesom Wike?
As it concerns us and the Governor, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is God-sent, a purposeful Governor, a vision-full Governor and a man that knows why he is Governor, why he did come to contest and contested as Governor. And this man, meticulously, seriously, honestly, has continued, day by day, month by month, to roll out projects that are impactful to the society, to Rivers people. Roads infrastructure, schools, hospitals, human capacity, I mean continuously. This man has turned the Garden City into a city of flyovers. And that is very meaningful. We very much appreciate such a person. And unfortunately, he can’t go for a third term. We wish he goes for a third term. He is going to give so much to the Rivers people.
He has made us so proud. He has distinguished himself among the Governors and governments in Nigeria. All the things he has done, other governments and even the Federal Government should learn from him.
A case in point is the Coronavirus pandemic. Our Governor took proactive actions in time and that is why Rivers State did not suffer much from the pandemic and they had to learn from him. He has impacted on the people commercially, economically and otherwise. Even our Christian lives have improved because he gave this State to God and declared it a Christian State. He built an Ecumenical Centre and God literally has come down to work with His people and has begun to give us a sense of direction, a sense of belonging. We appreciate so much from the man, who has unlike others, really worked even in the second term, working like it was the first term. And we are grateful to God for all his achievements. He is a true Ikwerre son. We appreciate him. We pray that he would find more to do even after he has left this stage of governance. We couldn’t have had it any other way.
Would you then say that Governor Wike has performed beyond expectation?
Very true. This Governor has done beyond expectation. Looking at precedents, looking at people before him, what he has done even per month, it is unequalled anytime, anywhere in the history of Rivers State. This Governor has done so much.
In spite of all that you have seen he has done, is it not surprising that there are still pockets of opposition in the State?
Well, it is unfortunate but we must have opposition. We must have people that agree and people that don’t agree. It is normal. We just want to encourage them to criticise constructively. They should engage in constructive criticisms. They should criticise him constructively. Not just opening your mouth for opening sake. This time around, it will be very difficult. You know, he has been accused of 3D projects. It is no longer 3D now, because you can come there and see it for yourself. You will see the flyovers. Who does three flyovers at the same time? Nobody. And he has told us that he has more, seven more to deliver to Rivers people and put us on the world map of very very improved humane settlements. We appreciate that.
You said it is unfortunate that the Governor won’t run for a third term, but there are people out there calling on him to run for the Presidency come 2023. What is your take on this?
At his point, I am not a politician. For him to run for a federal office, it is entirely his prerogative, it is at his discretion. It is left for him to decide. He has to watch the politicial terrain and decide what he wants. But one thing is sure. Anywhere this Governor, Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike finds himself, he would deliver on his promises, he would deliver on the NEED Assessment of the people. This man is in tune with development. He is in tune with the people. And I am not afraid. If tomorrow, he runs for the Presidency, it is Nigerians that will gain because he is going to work tirelessly. I don’t know where he gets his energy; he is going to work tirelessly and fearlessly and deliver on the things that matter to the people.
As a royal father, which areas would you like to advise the Governor?
Well, first and foremost, he has to watch his back. He is a Governor that works by self-conviction. And so he cannot be deterred by anybody, by superiors’ stories, very bad advice; he is unaffected by those kinds of things because he is a man of conviction. When he decides on a project, he delivers, because he is in tune with the people. He is a grassroots politician; he feels the pulse of the people. And I am sure he knows what Nigerians want too and if he finds himself in that national stage, I have no doubt in my mind that he will win and provide dividends of democracy to our people.
We have been having some security challenges in the country and even in the State in recent times to the extent that Governor Wike had to impose curfew in the State. How would you react to this?
Well, the Governor has done well in the area of security. This Governor has done more than any government, to give state of the art equipments to security operatives in the State, both water and land. He has done so much and continues to do. So, the rest is left for these professionals to deliver. The Governor is not a policeman or a soldier. He has built a Guest House for the Army, giving them vehicles, and the police, you know it, giving them so much including other security organisations. The government has done so much for the security people and they are supposed to complement the huge expenditure of government on them.
The idea of having a curfew is also part of his own actions to mitigate these security lapses that are creating fears among our people. So, he is helping them. It is good for them. It is good for them to complement what he is doing, in terms of speaking to the people by his now and then broadcasts. It is to encourage them to know exactly what government is up to. It is for them to know what is happening. In this way, they are able to work with him, and stay distance and time with the Governor and not begin to feel that he is not doing enough. He is talking to them constantly. The security operatives should complement this government’s efforts and prove it right in its activities to secure lives and property. I support the government of Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. I support him wholeheartedly and he has done well. I score him high and give him excellent mark.
But some people are still complaining about the curfew, what do you have to tell them, both the residents of the State and Rivers people?
The curfew we should obey. The residents and people of Rivers State should obey the curfew. It is even in the Bible, that we should obey the laws of government. And so, if it is this one regulation that government has brought, we should obey. It is not for peace-loving rivers people but this is to catch the criminals. We too should complement government’s efforts by obeying the rules and regulations. Like when we had the lockdowns, don’t we see that we are enjoying health now? At that time too, people criticised the government and the Governor, but today, they have swallowed their words. They are enjoying health now. If the Governor had left Coronavirus to fester, then, it would have been terrible for our people. But today, we are walking around, the markets are open, and everywhere else, people are able to live their lives.
His Majesty, some Nigerians are today calling for the restructuring of the country and some too are calling for secession, from the foregoing, what do you think is the fate of Nigeria and what do we really need?
Obviously, to sustain the various geo-political zones of Nigeria, we do need restructuring within one Nigeria. And people that are resisting this, obviously, in time, will bow to the yearnings of the people. If you go back to the time when we had regions, we had relative peace. We are not saying we should go back to that but those kinds of things we were enjoying regionally, should begin to be apportioned within the States. Like for us in the South-South or the core Niger Delta, it is very important that we enjoy the proceeds of the God-given minerals that we have. We cannot have these minerals and people who are somewhere else, even beyond the shores of this country, are enjoying them. We can’t have that. No responsible government can do that. What God has given Nigeria is for Nigerians.
What do you have to say about the ongoing Constitution Review vis-à-vis the need for the traditional institution to be given roles in the Constitution?
The Constitution Review is welcome even if we are hearing that they are spending so much. Unwarranted expenditure is not good but the Constitution Review is good. And as it concerns the traditional institution, we need to spell out the functions of traditional rulers. With what we are doing, now, that I say it is illegal, as per it is not captured in the Constitution. But when it is captured in the Constitution, then, it serves as a support for us to do what we are supposed to be doing; and that is to complement government in the area of governance. So, that is very important. We should be captured in the Constitution. Traditional rulers are very important in nation building. They are very important in creating national identity. We are doing it now. There is this unofficial regulation, as it were, for Northern traditional rulers to come and visit their counterparts in the South and vice versa, both in the East and the West; that kind of friendship is ongoing. But it needs to be captured in the constitution. If it is captured in the constitution, it will be sustained and it will be done as a matter of duty.

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Special Interview

FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba

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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.
Power Supply
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.
Fiscal Federalism
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.

Concluded.

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Special Interview

Rivers, Now Investment Destination Of Choice-Nsirim

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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?
For COVID?
Yes!
If you are very current, you will find out that this was one state that had a robust palliative committee; we had a food purchasing committee, that was designed in such a way that they bought off all that the farmers and fishermen produced, thus empowering them. You will also know that this State was in the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, which the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), affirmed when he visited Port Harcourt. So, Rivers State is fully equipped.   We have a functional Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) which is located in the State Ministry of Health, working in conjunction with strategic international partners.
We have a technical working group properly equipped and trained. It’s been in place before COVID because prior to this time, we used to have the outbreak of Lasser Fever and other such diseases. So, the EOC of the state has been fully functional.  In fact, the Emergency Operation Centre will avail you the opportunity to see the kind of coordination from the field at a glance. Like even COVID now, at a glance, you will see at various places where they are collecting samples, what the statistics have been within the last one week and so on.
Still on COVID, most Nigerians were disappointed by states who claimed that they distributed palliatives, but during the EndSARS protest, many warehouses stocked with undistributed palliatives were discovered. How did Rivers State handle its palliatives distribution that you did not record any ugly incident?
Rivers State has become a model for good governance. When the issue of palliatives was booming, we did not play to the gallery. His Excellency ensured that the palliative committee that was set up consisted of representatives of all the interest groups you can think of. We had all the Armed Forces, Police, Civil Defence Corps, Civil Society groups, Clergy, Women Groups, Youth Groups and the Media. It is a model that I am so proud of. I was the Secretary of that Palliative Committee. The Central Committee was overseeing what was happening at the Local Government and Ward levels. At the Ward level, a mini committee was also set up that had  Traditional Rulers, the Civil Society reps, Clergy, Women group and Youth leaders.
So, when the palliatives moved from the Local Government to the Ward level; for example, in my own Ward, the Chairman of the Ward distribution committee was a Clergyman who is not even an indigene of Rivers State but because he is the Vicar in an Anglican Church there, he coordinated the distribution. These palliatives got to the real beneficiaries and we did it twice.   We did the first round, second round and the people were satisfied that this government meant well and what the governor promised was also given. So we did not have any issue of anybody breaking any warehouse looking for any palliatives. Even people who were trying to induce some propaganda and instigate people to say something was hidden, were ignored.
You were once the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Rivers State and now you hold the position of Information Commissioner, as a Pastor, how do you balance your calling and working in a political environment?
A lot of people ask this question. When you have an understanding that any office you hold, you hold that office in trust for God and for man, then, your attitude and style would be different?
As a Pastor, what do I do? I have the flock to cater for, teach them the Word of God, and take care of them. As a Commissioner for Information, what is my responsibility? To disseminate information about the policies and programmes of the government to the people and I have that understanding that public interest is paramount in the discharge of this assignment. So, there is really no challenge for me, because having risen from the rank to the position I occupy today, I understand the intricacies of governance and the meaning of leadership. I have the requisite training and experience.
To say balance, I do not even have a challenge with balance because I understand that the position I hold is in trust for God and for man.
Do you attend Church regularly and still do your job?
Yes, I still pastor my Church; even though there is no way I can do 100 per cent now but my assistant pastor covers for me when I am not available.
That must be a very challenging?
Yes, the next question you should ask me now is what are the challenges? But for me, several years ago, I understood that the Chinese word for crisis is opportunity. Now, when you have opportunity or if anything presents itself as a challenge, it is an opportunity for you to excel. For me, I do not see challenges when I am doing things, I do not see obstacles when I am doing things. I see them as part of the routine on my daily schedules.
There have been calls from some quarters for government to regulate the social media.  What is your opinion on this and how do you think the government both state and federal can harness the opportunities in social media to strike a balance between the negative and positive?
That is a thorny issue.  I think that we need to have adequate stakeholders’ engagement in this direction. The stakeholders’ groups that are involved need to come together, to look at the issues and then work out the best way forward. No doubt, a lot of people are abusing the use of the social media. We, who are in government, are the worst hit.  You know, anybody can write anything, say anything, do photo-shop and put on the Internet. The regulation here is key, but before implementation, the various stakeholders need to be engaged for us to have a kind of balance on what should be done. Also, before implementation, adequate preparation and orientation of the citizenry would also be very relevant.
As a journalist trained to balance stories and promote objectivity, with your current position, do you still maintain your standard and not dance to the tune of the government to water down the truth from what it should be?
A few weeks ago, I hosted journalists in Rivers State here. In journalism, facts are sacred, comments free. A fact is a fact; there is nothing you can take away from something that is a fact. You see, people have that erroneous impression that if you are a Commissioner for Information, you will be padding things and covering things – No! Facts are facts, and I am lucky to have a principal who is forthright. With His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, you know where he is standing on any issue.  He does not play to the gallery and he is also a principal that I would always like to work with because he is not one of those who carry out governance and development on television.
There are governors who use 3D images to deceive the public. But for us in Rivers State, the facts are there. If we tell you we are constructing Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, you go there and you will see it. If we say the Rebisi Flyover has been done, you go there and you will see it. If we say, Mother and Child Hospital, Real Madrid Academy; we say Abonnema Ring Road, Zonal Hospitals, you will see them. If we say we are rehabilitating schools, we give you 1, 2, 3, schools, if you go there, you will see them with your eyes. So, what’s there to hide?
The Opposition in the state are criticizing His Excellency that his infrastructural developments are basically in Port Harcourt; what happens to other areas of the state?
The truth of the matter is that people will always have something to say. I can tell you, apart from the flyovers that are being built in Port Harcourt, (of course, which you know; I said that His Excellency is building infrastructure for tomorrow), if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the state, a lot is happening. There is a road we call Sakpenwa-Bori Road – it is about 16 kilometers, it is completed and commissioned. His Excellency has even extended it further now to about thirty something kilometers; it is not in Port Harcourt. There is Abonnema Ring Road; that Ring Road is on water. There is Andoni/Opobo Unity Road. We went to Opobo few days ago; everybody including Opobo people drove to Opobo by Road for the first time in the history of that ancient town of 150 years. We went recently to also celebrate with them on their 150 years anniversary; it is not in Port Harcourt. Do you understand?
There is a big Cassava processing company at Afam in Oyigbo Local Government Area.  There are several zonal hospitals that are scattered in Bori, Degema, Ahoada and Omoku, they are not in Port Harcourt. There is Elele/Omoku Road, it is not in Port Harcourt. Several of such projects are all over the state. But you see, if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the State, you will see several schools that have been rehabilitated. There are sand-fillings that are going on in the local governments. In riverine communities of the state, because those places are Islands. You do sand-filling first to create places they can build on. Those areas are not in Port Harcourt.
But armchair critics will always have something to say about Nyesom Wike. The Guild of Editors came here and I took them on a tour, they were shouting. If you go to that Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, what is being sunk in there is not up to what is being used to build anything in Port Harcourt, because it is on water. So, a lot is going on in the local government areas. There is no local government in Rivers State that is not receiving the impact of Governor Wike’s administration.
During and after the EndSARS protest, the governor compensated all the families of the security agencies that lost their lives during the protest; but the Rivers citizens who were killed did not get any compensation. What happened?
I may not comment on that.
Why is the governor described as a lion?
Who is describing him as a lion?
He is described in the media as a lion?
People are entitled to their perception. One thing you cannot take away from His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, is that he is fearless, courageous and forthright. These are the qualities of great men. That is why I am so proud to be associated with him. He is not a lily-livered man.

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