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
Wike Is A Good Product -Nsirim
On Thursday, January 9, 2020, the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, visited the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (RSNC), publishers of The Tide, as part of his tour of State- owned media houses. After addressing management and staff of the corporation, he granted an interview to members of The Tide Editorial Board. Our reporter, DENNIS NAKU, covered the session. Excerpts.
What new thing do Rivers people expect from you with your experience in the media; now that you are the Commissioner for Information and Communications?
First, I want to thank God Almighty who knows everything and who allows things to happen at his own time. I also want to thank His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, who has found me worthy to hold this position at this point in history.
This promotion is for all the journalists in Rivers State. I said that advisably because it is like somebody coming to your house to say, look I want to clean your house. I don’t want to bring a cleaner from outside. I know that somebody inside the house will do the cleaning better. So, for me, I’m going to be an effective bridge between the media and government. I am going to ensure that public communication in the state is given renewed vigour and attention. I am going to bring in new strategies for public communication which are going to be short, medium and long term. It is going to be a holistic strategic communication strategy that will be unfolding in the days to come. And those of you sitting around this table, one way or the other, will be part of that strategic plan that we are going to unfold. I said at the staff meeting that you cannot be doing something the same way all the time and expect a different result. So, we are going to build a strategic plan, also build a strategic partnership with major stakeholders who have something to do with the media in the propagation of government policies and programmes.
Over the years, we experienced that, despite what the media is trying to do, people still have the impression that Rivers State is insecure. Like the Port Harcourt International Trade Fair held recently by PHCCIMA; an official said the companies refused to come to Isaac Boro Park and that he had been trying to convince them. That’s why the chamber used the Obi Wali International Conference Centre?
You see, that is the negative perception that has been sold out there, and that is why those of us in the media need to join hands with the government to change that negative narrative. And that is why we evolved ‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ campaign. The truth of the matter is that the de-marketing that is ongoing is a deliberate strategy by those who understand the potentials of our state to deny us our God-given rights. They know that if Rivers State is de-marketed, there will be capital flight. Businesses will move away from here and so we don’t become that industrial hub that it is supposed to be. So, the insecurity that Rivers State people talk about in Rivers State is not different from what happens in Lagos, it is not different from what happens in Kaduna, it is not different from what happens in Kano, Abuja and the major city centres of this country. But those who understand the political economy of news have latched on these to ensure that they spread deliberate falsehood all the time about our state. You and I live and do business here. There are people who call you from outside the State and they will be wondering ‘how are you people managing in Port Harcourt?’ It is not true? They ask those questions and it’s like you know there are bullets that are flying all over. That is why all of us need to join hands to change that negative narrative. That there is a political economy to it that people are pursuing and they have involved some sections of the media to do that to the state. Which is why we all need to stand up to correct that negative perception.
Amnesty International issued a statement few hours ago specifically on Rivers State and said that there is rising cult related killings in the State. Having issued that statement, we all know that more than120 countries across the world would get copies of that statement and would publicise it across the world.
(Cuts in) That is the negative narrative you are talking about. And that also influences investors’ confidence in the state that they would say why do we need to come here because there is this narrative written across the world about the state?
That statement issued today (Thursday, January 9, 2020) says that 106 persons have been killed in Rivers State in the past 12months. And they listed specific incidents that resulted to those killings and also specifically mentioned the anti-cultism law passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly which was signed into law by the Governor in March last year. My question is, as a government, what is your response to those claims in the statement issued by Amnesty International?
Well, you should know that I can’t respond to that because I am not the State Commissioner of Police. I can’t respond to the statistics of Amnesty International. I am not the Commissioner of Police. I am not the Director, SSS. I can’t respond to that because I don’t have the facts.
I agree, but my problem here is that if the government does not say, for instance, the State is peaceful and everybody?…..
(Cuts in). You and I know, like I said earlier, that there is a deliberate ploy to de-market Rivers State. Two months ago, Stockgap Nigeria Limited opened its base at Rumuolumeni. Stockgap is a multi-million naira investment. They are producing domestic gas for the domestic market now. If you go to Rumuji, there is Greenfield Gas Company, a multi-million dollar investment. If you go to Trans-Amadi, Next Supermarket, the biggest in West Africa, is located here. Turkish Airline is flying Port Harcourt, Ethiopian Airline is flying Port Harcourt. Rivers State still remains the headquarters of the hydro-carbon industry. Oil and gas businesses are going on uninterrupted in this state and, till tomorrow, there are influx of people into Port Harcourt coming to look for what kind of business they would do. So, I won’t respond to Amnesty International until the relevant government agency responds to them. But the truth of the matter is that this place is safe for business. You just talked of the International Trade Fair that held here recently. There was Boli Street Festival that held here recently, Port Harcourt was locked down. You don’t hold such events in an unsafe environment.
‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ advocacy is your brainchild. How would you assess that campaign? Would you say the campaign achieved its motive?
I leave you to be the judge. But one thing I can say is that it has resonated so much with major stakeholder groups in this state. And if you look at the kind of narrative that was going on here before that campaign and what is happening now, you will see a kind of shift. People now understand that we have a shared prosperity to protect here and that whatever is happening, the people that are bringing those negative narratives are really designed to de-market the state. There is no stakeholder group that we have gone to that did not acknowledge the fact that there is a deliberate ploy by people to de-market Rivers State. And so, all and sundry are willing to join hands with His Excellency who has brought in a new vision development agenda to make Rivers State the destination of choice. You can see now that Rivers State has been turned to a construction site. So many things are happening, when a lot of governors can’t pay salaries, we have a governor who is embarking on three flyovers at the same time at the cost of N21billion and, of course, 70 per cent of that amount has been paid to the contractor. Not just any contractor, but Julius Berger. So we are into a new dawn and many of the stakeholders agree that His Excellency is the man for the moment and they are ready to support him.
It is said that a good product sells itself and we have in the Governor a person that is a wonderful product. As Commissioner for Information and Communications, how is this fact about the Governor going to change and influence your work ?
Well, you have almost answered the question. A good product does not need advertisement, and one thing I can confidently say about His Excellency is that he has a character. You know, on assumption of office four and half years ago, he told Rivers people clearly that he won’t make promises that he won’t fulfill. He won’t award contracts that would be abandoned. That for every contract he would award, he would make sure that the contract is completed. Again, with the numerous local and international awards that he has been getting, one is confident to say Wike is a good product.
In the recent past, Rivers State used to be a base of media activities. Then, The Tide was one of the few state-owned newspaper houses, still in existence in the country, while RSTV used to dominate the airwaves. So, I want to ask your vision or the plan to return these media houses to their leadership positions.
Yes, the message is simple. It is time for innovation and creativity. It is time to think outside the box. It is time for people to roll up their sleeves. We have the potentials. What has happened is that there has to be attitudinal change. I told you the story of a man that was given shoes to go and sell in a place where people don’t wear shoes and he came back and said that there is no market. Another man went to the place, sold out the shoes and asked for more. The difference between these two marketers is mindset. So, what we want to do, first of all, and I want everybody to note this; what we want to do first of all is to make everybody to wake up from slumber. Change this mentality of government work and understand that you have the potential to make a mark. When we have gotten every staff of these media houses get the right reorientation, then every other thing will follow.
Right now, we need that mental shift, we need it. And, of course, when people talk of those days, I like people to realize that, in the past, it used to be just Radio Rivers in the whole of the East. Now, in Port Harcourt, how many radio stations do you have? There is competition. In the past, Rivers State Television was alone here. Now you have other television stations competing. Like I was addressing the staff I was talking about strategy. If you want to survive in this market, you must evolve the right strategies. If you don’t evolve the right strategies, your business will suffer.
I am just wondering. We have known you. You have been with us as a colleague. Today, you are a Commissioner. What kind of person are we going to see different from the one we used to know, now that you are a politician?
I am not a politician. Of course, you know I am a core professional. And for those who have worked closely with me, I am a man of principles, I strive for excellence, I am very forthright. I don’t think those values are going to leave me. I cherish them so dearly. At RSTV, the other day, during a live interview programme, somebody was asking me, you are a pastor, you are now going to be government’s spokesman. He didn’t come out clearly, I said you want to ask me won’t there be conflict? And I said no there will be no conflict. In church, I am a purveyor of the good news. As Commissioner for Information, I will also be a purveyor of the good news about what is going on in Rivers State. So, there will be no conflict, so, don’t be afraid, I am still going to be Paulinus Nsirim.
At your inauguration, the Governor clearly told Commissioners ‘don’t get involved in political meetings. That is already generating discourse within the political circles. What is your perspective to that particular instruction?
Well, you see, as a leader, he has a vision. And if the man who has the vision is saying this is how I want to run my administration, I don’t think that anybody should query him because he has something he wants to achieve.
After the election, His Excellency extended an olive branch to the opposition in the State. And it is suspected that this de-marketing of the state is mainly done by the opposition. So far, we don’t seem to be hearing from the opposition any longer. Is it that the olive branch worked and they have all agreed to work with the Governor?
It is for you in the media to say. But, you see, Rivers people need to thank God for His Excellency. He has demonstrated statesmanship and sportsmanship by extending that olive branch to those in the opposition. And from that perspective, you can say that the traditional thing is for the politician to say I have won election, then every other person doesn’t count. But as a statesman, he has repeatedly said elections are over, it is time for governance. I am the Governor of Rivers people, not the governor of a political party. And so, the policies and programmes that he is going to drive in the next three and half years will be for the benefit of Rivers people and we are seeing that already happening. We can just say to ourselves that this is the man for the moment.
What would you want us to see as your main policy thrust as Commissioner for Information?
My main policy thrust ? To drive public communication in a manner that will engender peace and development in Rivers State.
On a daily basis, Rivers people and residents of the state need assurances with respect to the three flyovers being constructed. The Governor when he initiated these projects said the completion date will be within 16 months. Is this time frame still sacrosanct?
The architect of the vision says 16 months and he has marched words with action. A project that is N21billion, 70 per cent already paid. That shows you that he means business and he is not somebody that does double speaking. He is a very forthright politician. That is why what he says he would do that is what he does. He doesn’t make promises he doesn’t keep. I like making this point; Governor Nyesom Wike did not jump into governance. He was prepared for the office of Governor. So, having served as two-time local government chairman, served as Chief of Staff, served as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he was prepared for governance. That is why before he took the oath of office, he had rolled out the NEW Rivers Vision blueprint which encompasses open governance, accountability, education, infrastructure development, agriculture, human capital development, empowerment and others. So, he has a blueprint that he is working with. And that blueprint, I can assure you, is a development tool. And as a development tool, every inch of that blueprint is going to be implemented to the letter.
For some time now, something has been bothering my mind on the relationship between Rivers State and the Federal Government. We, here in The Tide have written two editorials on this situation. It is public knowledge that Rivers State has not gained significant projects from the Federal Government since the President Muhammadu Buhari administration came on board in 2015. I remember last year, the Governor (Wike) cried out over this matter. Till date, the disposition of the Federal Government towards Rivers State has not changed. As I speak, we have some federal roads that are terribly bad like the Ogoni axis of the East-West Road, the Port Harcourt-Aba Road, to mention but a few. As a media manager of the state, what do you think informed this and what is the state government doing to change the federal government disposition towards Rivers State?
I will answer you straight away. You need to ask Buhari and the Federal Government.
I ask this question because this is a state that contributes significantly to the GDP of the country.
Ask Buhari and the Federal Government. It is something to ponder about.
You have been a practising journalist and one-time Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Rivers State. Over time, journalists have been crying for Governors to appoint one of their own as Commissioner for Information from within their ranks. I want you to tell us how and what you will be remembered for after your tenure as Commissioner for Information?
No. I have been asked this question severally and I said a dancer does not see his back. So, what I will be remembered for will be for you to judge after I have left the seat as Commissioner. You will write the history. When he came, this is what he did. So, the remembering will be for the public to judge.
Specifically on policy; policy designed to push Rivers State, particularly its future to the next level. Today (Thursday, January 9, 2020), the Commissioner for Education held a meeting with principals of private and public schools. At the core of the meeting is the issue of JAMB and UTME for SS3 students of Rivers origin.
(Cuts in) No, not Rivers origin.
Specifically, the statement says all students of Rivers origin in their schools that are going to write JAMB and UTME this year. My real interest in this is that I want to know maybe government might want to be doing that for the future, targeting some key indices for development. As Information Commissioner, can you give us a little detail about government’s policy towards preparing the students, particularly in secondary schools, for the future development of Rivers State?
That will be for the Commissioner for Education.
While I thank the Hon. Commissioner for granting us this time from his busy schedule. I want to end this session by asking: do you intend to continue with ‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ and at what pace? Do you want to increase the pace or slow down?
You know, right now, the status has changed. So, I won’t comment on that because, right now, the status is higher. So, I won’t comment on that until I discuss with my principal.
‘I Support And Will Always Support One Nigeria’
Dr Rosalyn Dressmand is a Sociologist, founder of African
Tide Union and President, Nigeria In Diaspora Organisation, NIDO, Germany. She is a well-bred and properly educated Nigerian. She proved that much when The Tide team of Arnold Alalibo, Deputy Features Editor, and Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi, Woman Editor, interviewed her where she spoke on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:
What’s the make-up of the NIDO Germany?
Nigerians in Diaspora Organization is a body of Nigerian citizens living abroad. It was founded in the year 2000 by the then administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo (retd). The whole idea was to replicate the diaspora movement that is made across Asian countries. For example, diaspora built India, China, and many other countries. So, former President Obasanjo felt that Nigerians abroad should come back home and develop Nigeria. NIDO is not very complex. We have Nigerians in diaspora worldwide, which encompasses all the diaspora organisations round the world. We are in over 189 countries which means we are doing better than embassies around the world. We have Nigerians in diaspora in different continents. For example, NIDO Europe, Asia, America, etc. We in Germany fall into NIDO Europe. Then in Europe, we are NIDO Germany, Switzerland, Austria, UK, etc. So, I am representing NIDO Germany.
You have talked about the contributions the diaspora has made such as building India, China, etc. What has NIDO Germany done for Nigeria?
We have done a lot; it is like people seem not to pay attention to the things we do. Now, singularly, we do a lot of remittances that nobody cares to know about. As you know our children have no proper insurance policies, we have no pension plans that cut across the common man. For example, part of my parents was a civil servant. After she died, we did not get any remuneration. So diaspora becomes insurances for their families. Apart from that, we do singular projects; education projects, gender specific projects. We also work very hard to advise Nigeria on policies.
Tell us what the projects are; and in executing them, do you synergize with government, agencies or you undertake them single-handedly?
It depends on the project. There are projects we carry out single-handedly and there are ones we need to synergize with other organizations. There are also projects we need to collaborate with government. But our first assignment as diaspora organization is to drive back investment, that is what they call foreign direct investment to Nigeria. That is our first assignment and we are doing that, but we cannot quite be successful if government doesn’t collaborate with us. However, in 2013, we did a sensitization project for gender; “women in politics”. That project did not need us to partner with government but with organizations. So we partnered with different organizations in order to get women sensitized and make politics attractive to them, and through our intervention that period, we had many women getting interested in politics. The NIDO Germany has also done projects with hospitals where we gave them equipment. We gathered the equipment in Germany based on the hospitals’ demands. All the hospitals need to do is pay the cost of container shipment and collect their consignment. That is a notable humanitarian support. We have also done a project in Edo State where they forgot bunch of young people for some irrelevant political reasons. A bunch of us collected several humanitarian materials and delivered to them just to give them support. Right now, we are doing educational project. This educational project needs collaboration with government. How? We had in the past 6-3-3-4 education system. I am the first product of the 6-3-3-4 system. I can proudly tell you I can do almost everything we’ve done with hand. I can type, write shorthand. I learned them then. I can paint a house, comfortably put tiles on walls and floors, I can do virtually every skill you can think of. I can cook very well, make dress with sewing machine, but today it is not the case anymore. Today, nobody respects skills, nobody respects vocational learning and that part of it is dying off. So what we agreed in NIDO Germany as part of our policy is homeland development, and how do we go about this? We bring the needed education to Nigeria. We try to sensitize the ministry of education in every state so that they can properly log in so that we can have a proper 6-3-3-4 system back in the country and, of course, that is a humongous assignment. It takes a lot of our time and a lot of our money. First of all, convincing the German government to support us on that, secondly, convincing the state government to work in collaboration with us, is not an easy task. But in 2017, we had managed to log in with the government of Bayelsa State and we have set up a huge training centre there, where we are training in various skills young men and women of between 117 and 120 trainees in Yenagoa precisely. You may probably ask why Yenagoa? Yes, Yenagoa because they accepted us. I read in the book that they were looking for diaspora to come back home and support them in their restoration program. So we logged in there and we have been working with them. This project is a model project, it has not been done in any African country at all. And, of course, other states too that are willing to log in will be welcome to log in with us.
What exactly are these projects?
We are doing Smart Houses A-Z. Smart houses A-Z encompasses plumbing, mechanical, electrical, engineering, roofing, tiling, preparing of P.O.Ps, paints, painting, sewing and everything about skill. A smart house is a self-sufficient house that generates its own energy, water and recycles the water and energy for re-use. It is environmental-friendly. You will not use a generator instead you will need to log in to use solar energy. That means you will need to produce enough solar energy that will run your house 24-hours and by so doing, you have already secured that house. The cost of security is very very expensive here in this country. We are doing a project called ‘QUATIA’. The project quatia is supposed to qualify young people in solar energy. Our environment is very polluted; one day oil will come to an end and the question is where do we go from there? And we have what I tag structural violence in this country. So the best way to go to create some little structures for the common man is to dig more into the research and development of solar energy and its components and use it here in this country. So we have started that training. Our first trainees are set to kick off with practical course which comprises building their first grid of 100 kilowatts of energy which will not be a joke. Today, Engr Clause Brand is flying with the boeing 737 to Port Harcourt with a lot of hardwares we will be needing to kick off the practical training of building our own solar grid in Yenagoa.
Do you teach people how to construct the smart house or you build it having certain beneficiaries in mind?
No, no, no! We will teach them, empower them, let them know how to do it. The idea here is that they will form cooperative and then through the cooperative, they will be able to build the smart house because a smart house needs more than just a builder. It needs skills in masonry, carpentry, plumbing, electricity, water management and more. So, all these things come together to form a smart house. So they will form a cooperative to be able to build smart houses for people. Smart houses sound luxurious, of course, it is luxurious; it sounds expensive, on the contrary. They will be building houses that will be both environmental and commoners-friendly.
You became the President of this body in June this year. How would you rate the past executive, vis-à-vis fulfilling their mandate?
Yes, we have lived up to the mandate. I have been in the executive for sometime. I was the vice president of NIDO Germany two and half years ago. In 2016, I lost my president and I automatically became acting president. I sat in his position until I was elected the president. Yes, we have been fulfilling our mandate because every year we have a team we work with, we set milestones for ourselves of what we would want to achieve each year. We spell out how we intend to achieve development yearly. In the last two years, we have worked so much in building awareness; we have worked very hard in contributory, social assignments and this year, we have moved a step forward. We want to do direct home land development which involves, of course, addressing practical investors. We encourage them to come and invest in our country, and in our various states. We do not settle right now in Abuja or Lagos alone, we encourage members to go to the grassroots, for example, I am in Bayelsa State. This is the first time a project is going to a place somehow remote as Yenagoa, instead of Abuja or Lagos. So, we are fulfilled and are still working very hard to meet our target come the next two years.
We know how persons in diaspora have impacted on their countries politically many of whom have contributed to political developments in their nations. Some have even returned to be part of the political process. How has your own community in Germany contributed to political development here?
Thank you very much. You can see that for everthing I have described here, by and by there are political components in it. No, we do not sit there and wish that every thing be well so we can come back home occasionally and enjoy. No, we also actively contribute. When we talk about Nigerians in diaspora, it is a totality of a whole body. We meet on national, continental and international levels to discuss and decisions are reached and people are mandated to come along to write policy papers. Do not forget that we can only write policy papers, and suggest to the federal government. Again, it is one thing to write yet another thing to carry out the suggestion. Until now, we have managed in collaboration with all the diaspora bodies to gain the attention of the federal government. At the moment, we have a commission set up by the central government known as NIDCom headed by Hon. Abike Dabiri. She is doing quite great in that area. You know it is not only about enjoying the remittances sent by loved ones in diaspora, another thing is to protect the interest of these loved ones, so that they can bring the remittances more. Abike is doing so well in this, so I can say that politically we are making impact.
The former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, was recently attacked by the IPOP group in Germany. What has been the reaction of NIDO Germany to the incident?
This is a hot topic. First of all, as the president of the Nigerians in diaspora Germany, I will do my best not to bring in ethnicity or any kind of discrimination here. As NIDO Germany, we have condemned what happened. But again, we must know that in every society, it doesn’t matter if it is Nigerian or European society, there are some persons that are out of the way, you don’t have control over them. On another point, without stepping on any person’s toes I condemn this hundred per cent as I said earlier in a press statement. However, I think that the former Deputy Senate President must have also over-reacted because in every country, democracy is real; only in Nigeria I wonder how real is democracy. If your subjects are not satisfied about anything and they want to discuss it with you, I wonder why you should run away. I have seen politicians in Germany that got stoned with tomatoes, bananas and things like that but they did not run away. They rather brought peace and order. These people love you, they voted for you, may be they have a ptoblem that you should look at. Let me move away from the issue of IPOB. For me, I support, and will always support one Nigeria, after all, my father gave his life for Nigeria. If I don’t support one Nigeria that means I don’t value the life of my father. But there is always bound to be a disagreement in any set-up. The best possible way to approach that is to calm your subjects down and listen to their problem and not to run away from them. I can remember during Obama’s regime, when he was being interviewed somewhere, somebody picked up his shoe and stoned it at him. Did he run away? They sorted it out. So, without stepping on the toes of politicians in Nigeria, it will be nice to sort issues out when they start instead of making a huge national problem out of them.
But there is a difference between protest and assault.
Well, in the videos I have seen online there is nothing like assault.
What happened in Germany calls to mind a similar thing that occurred in Geneva when the Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, visited the country. There was a large protest against him. Don’t you foresee a situation where this trend will smear Africa’s image? Is there no better way to register our grievances against our leaders by the Diaspora?
I think we need to do more work in the area of acculturization. For example, some of the Nigerians in Germany are not even in the cultural system of Germany. They are neither here nor there. So, that kind of acculturization will support them so much. Another way that we could collectively solve this problem is by keeping promises. When politicians make promises during elections, they should at least keep half of them. The masses are suffering, we will not say we don’t see that, we all know that. We have energy, yet we don’t have electricity; we export our raw materials and buy same as finished products. We are a consumer country; we produce nothing. Over 49 percent of Nigerian youths are jobless. These problems are not pertinent to Nigeria alone, it is pertinent to the whole of Africa. The migration wave towards Germany, I experienced it my self. I am sure nobody would like to live his home, if he is satisfied, to go out and die in the Sahara desert. The other day I saw a video of a young woman in deportation camp who said even if she was deported, she will still go back because she has no prospects here. Have you ever asked why are people carrying guns. Why are people so unsecured nowadays?. I talked about structural violence, I picked that word very carefully before I said it. When I traveled from Bayelsa to Port Harcourt, I counted 25 checkpoints; two redundant, 23 active. And you are practically assaulted every way on your travel. There is no human right in this country as well as some African countries. Look at Ghana, I remember the huge noise about Ghana must go out of Nigeria, I wonder if they will say Nigeria must go out of Ghana nowadays. This is because the development in Ghana is very striking. These are things, very little things, that blow up the minds of people that are not capable of handling things and then they see these politicians, they come around, instead of addressing what we have. If you invite some of them to come and discuss problems with you, they will not come. But invite them to come and celebrate with you, they will come. It is very disheartening.
Nigeria at the moment has global image crises. As members of the Nigerian community in Germany, how do you manage the image of this country over there?
On my own little shoulder, it is a very huge problem. When I became fully imbibed in the culture of Germany, my lord mayor suggested that I become a German. I said I would want to think about it. I gave thought to a lot of things. Of course, it is not a bad idea picking a German green card. On the other hand, if all Nigerians give up their Nigerian passport and become Germans who will be Nigerian? I changed my mind and I said no, I don’t want to be a German. I am a Nigerian, it won’t change anything. So, I told my lord mayor, I am sorry, I will not be a German, I am a Nigerian. But that does not free me from my responsibilities in Germany. It is only because I am patriotic and I want to remain a Nigerian. Not quite long, my son approached me and said mummy why are you a Nigerian and not a German? And I replied that it is so because I want to be a Nigerian. Before I realized it, my son had completed every legality to become a Nigerian. My second son logged in and my daughter followed suit so we are all Nigerians. It is a difficult thing. Now I keep a Nigerian passport, the good thing is that I can move around. I can wake up in the morning, pick up my passport and go home for any reason at all. Another good thing is that the Nigerian Embassy in Germany works very closely with diaspora. You will not have problem any where that they will not come to your aid. I lost my passport and that is the only means of identification I have. I don’t go around any where in this world without it. I am a very proud Nigerian. Charity, they say, begins at home. If you are not proud of yourself, you cannot attract people’s respect and attention. As a Nigerian, I do my best to live a legal life. Apart from petty traffic offences like over-speeding, I think I am as clean as a baby’s pooh. However, it will interest you to know that most of the people claimed to be Nigerians are not truly Nigerians. In 2007, there was an article in New York Times; “Every second man with a brief case is a Nigerian”. Of course, it is not true, but it was a catchy article that actually got the attention it wanted. The image of Nigeria is bad. In Germany, our ambassador has started a new project; a cultural project, where he is trying to show the people that we have different cultures. I will call it an image booster for Nigeria. Apart from the traditional work we Nigerians are doing there to portray a good image of Nigeria, you hear only the bad things that happen to Nigerians or Nigerians are doing. It is very difficult to read about the numerous good things Nigerians are doing abroad. In Germany, if you ask two institutions who Rosalyn Dressman is, they will tell you and also tell you where to find me. But in this country, nobody knows me. Nobody cares to know what I do even though everything I do and live for is for homeland development. African Tide, our first mission, is to support Africans in Germany, and we are a very successful organization in Germany. Who knows about the African Tide here in Nigeria? Nobody. So, that is the point. People enjoy carrying bad news, so the best we can do is to keep pushing and replicating the good name of Nigeria. The other day I read about Nigeria making it very high academically in UK. Which local newspaper carried that? But as soon as there is a bad news, it will filter through all the local newspapers. I will suggest that we as Nigerians move a little away from negativity and put on the coat of positivity so that we don’t see ourselves in such bad light.
Don’t you think that it is the responsibility of those living over there to disseminate such positive information emanating from there?
It is a collective responsibility. We are doing that. It is the responsibility of the civil society as well as the government. So when will the government start calling us to discuss our problems as diasporas? Government is mostly interested in the remittances we do, but they are not interested in helping us continue to do that remittances. That is where I will call on the government to open their doors a bit wider to accommodate us diaspora.
In the course of responding to the last question, you talked about culture, as well as how your children became Nigerians one after the other. Have you been able to Nigerianize them properly?
Yes, in our upbringing most of our parents failed to teach us our language. You go to any home that claims they are super home, they don’t speak language they only speak English which was a wrong step towards a right direction. First of all, I made that same mistake. My two sons speak a bit of Ogba language. Nigeria is a very diverse country; there is no Nigerian culture, it is difficult. Even though we are strong in our diversity, there is no Nigerian culture. There is only culture of where you come from, for instance, Ikwerre, Ogoni, Ijaw cultures, etc. As you drive through every 50 to 100 kilometers, you have new settlements, new understanding, new language and culture, how do you imbibe all these? It becomes difficult. There government has to think of some policies that will culturally bring us all together. For example, the former Deputy Senate President was invited to a new yam festival. This is cultural move, a good move though in the right direction that ended not so tasteful. Through that kind of gathering, our children learn about our various cultures. It is a good move in the right direction. I will encourage this kind of move because this is exactly what I do with my family. Right now, my children can cook all manner of Nigerian food. It is lots of work; it takes us lots of discipline to do that.
‘NIOB Has Been Vocal On Building, Construction’
The Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) is the professional body for builders and those who are about to be engaged in the building profession.
The institute has its origin in a similar body called the “Builders which was formed in 1834 by a number of prominent Builder in London. The Builder’ Society later became the Institute of Building in the United Kingdom which later became the Chartered Institute of Building in 1980 and now the Institute for the Management of Construction.
Nigeria became the firs overseas centre of the Institute of Building in 1967. the Nigerian centre of the institute of Building became autonomous on November 5, 1970 and from then acquired the name “The Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB).
The institute holds its 49th 2019 Builders National Convention and Annual General Meeting in Port Harcourt today and will end on August 9, 2019.
The convention is expected to draw participants from across the nation. The State Chairman of the institute and the Local Organising Committee ( LOC), Builder Akinola Bammieke spoke with The Tide correspondent, Ike Wigodo on the forthcoming convention and its importance in town planing in Rivers State among many other issues. Excerpts
Sir, you are the state Chairman of NIOB in Rivers State and also the LOC Chairman of this year’s National Convention of the institute holding in Rivers State. What is the purpose and reason for hosting it in the State?
The purpose is to educate the public on the roles of builders in the building industry, create awareness on same and emphasise the need for safety in all our operations. The decision to host the conference was made two years ago and the reason is that NIOB wants a paradigm shift in the building industry planning, approval and execution processes in the State. Driving into Rivers State gives you the impression that we need more planned environment. The problems we are facing in the industry are man-made. However, we must confess that the government is trying its best but more needs to be done.
What is the theme of this year’s National Convention?
We have tagged this year’s convention as health, safety, environment and professionalism for sustainable development in the construction industry.
Sir, NIOB has been silent over building construction and lack of town planning in Rivers State. What measure should be taken towards that?
NIOB has not been silent. The institute has been vocal on the subject of building and construction. Definitely, there is a ministry in charge of planning which is the Ministry of Urban Development. However, the ministry is not properly structured and staffed. The ministry should be split into two; the planning is Physical Planning Department) and the construction department ( Building Control Department).
The Control Department must be headed by a registered builder while the planning department must have registered builders too. The regulator of the building profession is the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria. No one is permitted to engage in building practices without meeting the requirements of the law pursuant to “ Builders Registration Act Cap.B13LFN 2004 ( formerly known as Decree No 45 of 1989). Section 19 (1) of the Builders ( Registration, etc.) Act states thus: 19(1) Any person, not being a registered builder who (a) for or in expectation of reward, practise or holds himself out to practise as such; or (b) without reasonable excuse, takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is authorised by law to practise as a registered builder, commits an offence punishable under this Act.
What should Nigerians expect before and after the programme?
Expect intensive media campaign and public awareness programmes on the role builders in the building industry. I believe you must have seen our billboards all over the places and heard our jingles on radio stations. After the convention, expect more intensive engagement with all stakeholders in the building industry.
The Ministry of Urban Development and Physical Planning in Rivers State, have they been able to meet the expectations as required by law?.
The answer is capital NO. It is not enough to approve building plans, most important thing is to monitor the approval made to ensure it is what has been approved. This will also help to check collapse of buildings across the nation.
How far has government been able to implement and comply with the Building it meets what has been approved Code.
On implementation, more needs to be done. Specifically, we want enforcement of the Builders Registration Act.
Please, give a general view of your take about NIOB, government and the public?
Generally, builders are specialists. The building profession is a specialisation. Just like some professions are going into specialisation right from the first degree in higher institutions. Building as a course of study was among the very first. The world is changing and specialization is what would deliver the cutting edge. Government needs to enforce the laws and the public need to obey it.
What is your message to the people?
The NIOB uses this medium to invite the public to the conference. We are privileged to host the institute in the state. The business environment in the state is very rewarding one. Major construction activities dot the landscape. The government has equally invested in infrastructure development across the state. We encourage you to take advantage of the beautiful tourist attractions on offer in our state such as the Tourist Beach,Isaac Boro Park, Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt Zoo, Port Harcourt Mall ( SPAR) to name a few.
“It is noteworthy that this singular achievement of the Nigeria Centre acted as a catalyst for the establishment of other autonomous overseas centres of the Institute of Building (U.K) in Australia, Canada, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya, to name a few.
In 1974, the NIOB began the struggle for official recognition in form of statutory Registration Council for Professional Builders. Through the relentless effort of NIOB, the Federal Military Government signed into law the Builder’ (Registration etc) Decree No 45 of 1989 (then ACT CAP 40) to establish the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON) on December 15th 1989 and the Council was officially inaugurated on 24th April, 1990.
The Law gave statutory backing to “Building” as a distinct profession in Nigeria as obtainable in the U.K., Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Australia, etc. the Law also recognizes The Nigerian Institute of Building as the only professional body for those engaged or about to be engaged in the building profession. Since the statutory backing of Building as a profession in Nigeria by Builder’s (Registration etc) Decree 45 of 1989 (now B.13 LFN, 2004). The Institute has done a lot for the development of the profession, its members, the government and the Nigerian public. .
Some of the Institute’s objectives as set out in constitution of the Institute include the following:
· To promote the Science and Practice of Building Technology, Building Maintenance, Building Surveying, Building Production/Construction Management and Project Management including all research and publication of the results for public benefit.
·To establish and maintain a high standard of competence and conduct of those engaged or about to be engaged in the said Science and practice of Building and the education and research connected therewith.
·To provide a forum for meeting and discussing matters of mutual interest to professional Builders in Nigeria and to preserve and further the interest of those within.
· To promote and stimulate the improvement of the technical and general knowledge of persons engaged or training to engaged in the Building profession.
·To make available information on matters affecting the Building Profession in Nigeria and abroad.
· To promote an understanding of the Building profession among members of the public and to confer with all professionals and other bodies within the construction industry and to act as the sole authority in the Federation of Nigeria with regards to all matter affecting the profession.
·To act as body which the Government or other official or unofficial authorities or organization(s) in Nigeria can seek advice, assistance or the expression of views on any subjects of concern or interest, to the Building profession in Nigeria.
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