The Rivers State Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources is not particularly new, what is, perhaps, new is the quiet move by the Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi administration to re-focus its activities towards boosting indigenous participation in both the upstream and down stream sectors of the oil industry in Nigeria as well as the huge gas resources.
Without much fuss about it, the administration has been working assiduously towards ensuring that Rivers people join the league of major players in a sector said to be very critical to the eternal survival of the Nigerian nation and its economy.
How the government has gone about setting up institutions and legal frameworks necessary for the attainment of this goal in the past couple of months, was the major subject of discussion in a recent encounter between the young intelligent, energetic and ebullient Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Dr. Dawari George and our line editors, Desmond Osueke and Jemina Amachree.
Here are excerpts of the encounter:
Q: Lets have a peep into your background.
Answer: My name is Dawari George, I’m from Buguma in Asari Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State. I attended post primary school by sandwich. Everything about my academic career has been here in Port Harcourt in Rivers State, I obtained a Master’s degree in History and Diplomatic Studies from University of Port Harcourt. My Master’s and doctorate degrees are in Development Studies also from the Department of Political and Administrative Studies. While at the University of Port Harcourt. I was engaged in development N.G.O. activities, working at some time with the United States Agency for International Development.
I was the country representative for the World Bank Group for Employment and Empowerment Initiative. I have also been involved in youth work until I became the chairman of the National Youth Council of Nigeria and I was also politically active in one time or the other in my Local Government Area. I served as Press Secretary of my local government area, I was Special Assistant to Hon. Commissioner for Works until my present appointment I was also a member of the Rivers State Scholarship Board. I resigned on assumption of duty as Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources.
Q: Are you married?
Answer: Yes, I’m married, with a son.
Q: Hon. Commissioner Sir, let’s have a highlight of the functions and activities of your ministry.
Answer: Now basically, our function is to first and foremost represent the state government’s interest in the oil and gas sector. More precisely our ministry is involved in trying to on behalf of the state, coordinate all activities relating to oil and gas in the state and to promote the participation of indigenous people both at the upstream and the down stream sectors.
Very recently we have moved on to see how we can position our people to be active participants in the up stream sector and that has led to the inauguration of a board for the Treasure Energy Resources Limited, owned one hundred per cent by the state government’s oil and gas company. That company is being headed by Chief Chamberlain Oyibo. He is the board chairman, taking care of and managing the state equity in the oil and gas industry in the state. As you are aware, the state has five percent equity in Brass LNG and we also get from Bonny LNG but while that is on, the state is involved in the expansion of and rehabilitation of the gas infrastructure and the gas master plan. When you asked about the activities of my ministry, I thought I should come from the artificial and get to the real issue.
We have the gas master plan, they just finished work and submitted their report, the gas master plan basically is to see how we can use gas to run economic, industrial and domestic activities, that will involve moving gas to industrial complexes, moving gas to private homes and offices and all that. We are also trying to see how we can have a gas to diesel conversion. A gas to diesel conversion plant will be put in place so that we can begin to use the product to run vehicles. The truth is that with what is on ground now, we have gas resources that should last for the next 150 years. If there is any resources that the state has in abundance, it is gas. We felt that since we have comparative advantage in gas, we should use it for most of our industries. Most of our economic activities should be powered with gas especially for the fact that gas is cheaper, cleaner and more environmentally friendly. Again, gas has the capacity to generate revenue to sustain our state even far above what federation account can give to the state. So the state focus is to see how we can develop gas to provide jobs, revenue and to oil the wheel of economic activities in our state.
While we are doing that, the state is also into collaboration with foreign investors in the building of refineries, building of petrochemical plant, and building of bitumen plant. If you look at Indorama, that is now former Eleme Petrochemical Plant run by Indorama today, you will find out that it is far better than what it used to be when it was run principally by NNPC. We see the number of jobs it has created and the amount of revenue it generates. So, the state believes very strongly that we have comparative advantage to open more petrochemical planst, in our state and leverage the existence of such plant to provide job and to oil the economic wheel for the progress of the state.
Our major focus now is to provide an energy policy. We believe that if we are able to come out with that document, it will give us opportunity and leverage in terms of legal backing for us to intervene directly in the oil and gas activities. For now, what we are doing is because we expect that all oil and gas business concerns, as part of their corporate social responsibilities should do something for the state. We think that if we back it up with a law, the state can participate actively in it through some of these organisations. So, while we are doing that on the energy policy, which of course will come out in the proposed energy summit, we also intend to send the bill to the State House of Assembly for legislation to back this policy and to back this document. We are coming up so that the future government and administrations and generations of Rivers people that will emerge will have a necessary legislative or legal framework to be able to pursue businesses and activities in the oil and gas sector
Q: Despite Nigeria’s gas reserve estimated at 180 trillion standard cubic feet most of which can be found in the N’Delta region and the presence of LNG plants, domestic gas price remains on an upward swing. How can this be reconciled?
Answer: It still boils down to what I have said earlier, but may be to expatiate with regard to what you have just asked. The energy policy would provide for all that but our short, medium and long term plans border on where we want to take the state to. How do the people of the state key into this? And how can the state also protect and encourage them to be able to leverage on the opportunity that abound for them to get what they should get from the resources in their states.
The second point is that the bill, will make it possible for all those who do oil and gas businesses in the state to also leave some amount of space as local content to get our people involved. We are talking not just on those who have the requisite trade but those who can be absorbed for them to get training on the job. We know that some companies now have things like that where they train people and then they absorb them after the training? We believe that these policies will provide for that and that is why we are in the process of having the bill and the policy. We are trying to engage all those who are involved in oil and gas businesses. We have also involved them in the committee that is fashioning out this policy, so that it is generally acceptable to everybody and everybody is able to work within the ambit of that policy and the bill. Now outside of that, the Treasure Energy Resources set up by the governor is also intended to bridge that gap. Now when you have a hundred percent state owned oil and gas company run by Rivers indigenes, employing Rivers indigenes and giving Rivers indigenes the opportunity to be involved actively in upstream and downstream activities in the oil industry. It opens up the sector for Rivers people to increase their capacities to have the opportunities to also get the requisite technical experience and know-how.
If you come down to the downstream sector for instance, you can count the number of Rivers people who are managing filling stations in Rivers State. You can count the number of Rivers people who own the trucks that lift products. You can count the number of Rivers indigenes who are independent marketers. We are saying that all these must change, but government must put in place the necessary framework to get Rivers people to be involved. It is not something you can do in one day, but you must start with the necessary framework and hope that our people will key into what government is doing for their own good.
Q: How soon are we expecting this policy?
Answer: Before the end of this year.
Q: Lets deviate a little, energy ministry where you preside and the power ministry, where can one draw the dividing line?
Answer: All of us are part of one state government. We have a common agenda. There is nothing we do in energy ministry that the man in power does not know. Overall, we know our activities, may be what we are saddled with is the nitty-gritty, the details of each assignment. We deal primarily with oil and gas, while power deals with electricity. But there is a point of convergence in area of what we used in generating power. We need gas to generate power. So, to that extent, there is a synergy, because the state government has an agreement with multinationals on the use of gas resources in Rivers State. The Ministry of Power cannot get the gas it requires without the collaboration of the Ministry of Energy.
Q. Hon. Commissioner, the Turn Around Maintenance for the nations four refineries, has not yielded desired result, what is the way forward?
Privatisation of the refineries, that is our position. That is what Rivers State Government believes. We believe that the refineries and oil and gas activities should not be run by government and that the government should only own equity in them. They should be run by private interests and we believe that these refineries are not doing well because government is still deeply involved in the operation. It’s not as if Rivers State government did not have the resources to build its own refinery, we are concerned about the sustainability when this administration leaves, the next administration comes and they don’t share exactly in the vision, then it dies. But if private individuals bring their money and put it down and invest in the business, they will necessarily protect their investment. So that is why even in the proposed refineries, we have up to five of them, so far at different stages of coming on stream. These are private foreign concerns. The foreign concerns will bring the resources, the technical expertise while we provide the enabling environment. They will operate it over time.
Like the 200,000 barrel refinery we have proposed for Rivers State, in the first two years they will employ nothing less than 4000 persons. You look at the multiplier effect if 4000 people having employment with just one refinery. If that refinery crumbles because government is not able to run it, 4000 persons and possibly 20,000 others will be thrown into the job market.
Q. If we go back a bit, how do you reconcile government emphasis on private sector participation with the TER being set up solely by the Rivers State government and which may be managed and run under civil service arrangement?
Yea, now it is different, Rivers State Government set up the Treasure Energy Resources but in the law, that is before the Assembly setting up Treasure Energy Resources Limited, it is totally a commercial venture. What the state government had only done as its own way of improving and building capacity of Rivers people, is to take the lead by initiating the action. All those on the board are professionals and they have been given the mandate, the only thing the state government owes that board is to give them the takeoff grant, to buy the initial things for them to be able to setup and then be able to invest in the leasing and purchase of marginal oil field which is just the first level of investment. Once they have gone into it, the agreement and the understanding is that, the state government will totally divest itself from their operations. Rivers indigenes will buy equity in that company and it will be run completely as a private concern.
The Rivers State Ministry of Energy and the Rivers State government will have no say, but everything that it owns will be purely owned by the indigenous Rivers people but without government interference.
In other words, what government is doing now by investing in the take-off is that government is doing it on behalf of Rivers people, who later will buy into the company and own it as their personal properties.
Q. Now the Former General Manager of the NNPC Mohammed Bakindo, said, sailing the nation’s refineries would amount to a policy summersault inconsistent with the tenets of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Do you feel strongly that the refineries should be sold even if means contravening the Act?
You see I don’t want to begrudge him of his opinion. Everybody is entitled to his opinion especially Barkindo is a technocrat in this area. There are some indices or reasons which he must have for him to hold the opinion he holds.
From my own perspective within the short period I have been here in the energy ministry, I will not agree with him, but perhaps he may have his own reasons. I read his comments in the paper. I took time to read his position and is inconsistent with the free market economy that we are trying to run in our country. Now if the refinery or the refining and distribution of petroleum product are still social services then I can understand why they should not be sold. It means that government can still one way or the other regulate the activities for the purpose of protecting the people, but if it is not a social service and is purely business and it should be subjected to the economy of demand and supply as we have in the telecommunication sector there is no reason why government should be involved. But if it is going to be run as a social service, which I think it should not be, because all these issues of deregulation, these issues of subsidy, the ordinary man on the street does not benefit from them. So, if it is a social service, social services all over the world, meet more of the needs of the ordinary people, the down trodden.
Subsidies and all that, do not translate into a better condition of life for the man on the street. It’s at the level of the elites. So if the elites keep talking about protecting the people and all we see even is that lately, the people suffer when you talk about kerosene that is the most essential thing. The poor man uses it, but it is not readily available, yet government is paying so much and spending so much on subsidy. Now if you look at how much the government is spending on subsidy and divide it by the number of Nigerians that we have, you will find out that if they give you your own cash, you will live a better life than what you are living. So something is wrong somewhere,there is a disconnect between the subsidy and the beneficiaries of that so called subsidy and the only way we can resolve this, is to open up and allow for competition and forget everything about regulating the market.
Deregulation for me is the solution, look at private tank farms all over Port Harcourt. Private tank farm are selling sometime a little above what the depot sells, yet they cannot meet the demand, so, what are we regulating it for? Whether you like it or not, the more the product, the more tendency for price fall.
Q. You recently criticised the N’Delta development master plan for lack of input from oil bearing communities. In other words, the planners did not adopt a bottom-to-top approach. Isn’t this another indication of poor political leadership that has been blamed for poor development of the region?
It’s not a Niger Delta problem. It’s a universal problem. Leadership is elitist in nature. Anywhere you go, even in the developed nations, there is a disconnect between the leadership and the followership, between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged. So, it’s not a Niger Delta challenge. We are only trying to domesticate a universal phenomenon by saying how does this universal thing affect us in the Niger Delta.
Now when you gather people and you say you are holding a talk on Niger Delta and all those who are there are the elites, who have never been to Soku, they have not been to Kula, they have not been to Abissa, they have never been there all their lives, but they have been to most of the world capitals, they have been attending all the international conferences, driving all the big cars, living in houses that have water heater, how can such people sit at a place and discuss the problem of somebody in Soku? That is the point I’m making. But again I understand, how do you get the people in Abissa, Soku and Kula to participate and to what extent can they participate given the level of literacy and all that and the challenges of their own environment? How do you get them to be involved? That is the point. I did not have the time, I wanted to say, strategically, development is all about the aspirations of the people.
Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke
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.
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.
FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba
We thank Mr. President for flagging off the clean-up of Ogoniland as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The long delay in starting the Ogoni Clean-Up had sapped confidence locally and had caused the broader Niger Delta to doubt the intentions of Government. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to speed up this exercise, especially by following through the emergency steps outlined in the UNEP Report, which includes the provision of safe drinking water for a populace whose water has been declared unfit for human consumption by UNEP, years ago. We also urge the federal government to commission a Region-wide credible assessment of the impacts of crude oil pollution of the environment in the Niger Delta and undertake to enforce all environment protection laws.
We similarly urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to enforce the Zero Gas Flare deadline.
The devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The Maritime University Issue
The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is largely regarded, by persons from the Zone, as symbolic and deserving. Its closure and certain statements around it, have been viewed as insensitive and out rightly provocative. This, of course, is aside from the obvious potential benefits that the Institution offers to the technical and managerial capacity enhancements of, not just persons from the Zone, but all Nigerians. We, therefore, strongly urge the President to direct the take-off of the already approved Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State. The prompt take-off of this University will most certainly assure the people of the Niger Delta that President’s Administration is truly a sensitive, listening and inclusive Government. Also, we strongly urge that the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, to a university should be implemented.
Key Regional Critical Infrastructure
There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative Regional Infrastructure viz:
• We wish to thank President for ensuring that the first phase of the coastal railway project is provided for in the current 2016 budget. We urge the Federal Government to further ensure the full implementation of this project that is designed to run through all the states in the Niger Delta, up to Lagos.
• Complete the existing East-West Road.
• Work should resume on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road Project. We note that NLNG had already offered 50% funding for this Project.
• Implement the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State (Design already completed by NDDC).
• Implement the development of inland waterways and riverine infrastructure.
• Remove bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of the existing ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commence dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep sea-going vessels and expedite work on the dredging of the Calabar Port. The Deep Sea Port project in Bayelsa State also requires consideration.
• We urge the commencement of work on the Ibaka Deep Sea Port for which Feasibility has long been completed.
Details of other regional infrastructure projects will be presented in the course of the dialogue.
Security Surveillance and Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure
The incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the economy of our dear Country. Pipeline vandalism also damages the environment, health and economic activity of inhabitants of affected areas, as well as complicates environmental cleanup efforts.
It is therefore our view that an urgent review is done to pipeline surveillance contacts to give the responsibility to Communities rather than individuals in a manner that ties some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility for the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
The Headquarters of most Oil Companies are not located in the Niger Delta Region. As a result, the Region is denied all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the Region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
Despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta remain unconnected to the National Grid.
We, therefore, advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the Region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in improved stability. Because of existing infrastructure, this should be an area where the Government could deliver the swiftest and most noticeable change.
Economic Development and Empowerment
The Federal and State Governments need to signal their interest in sustained economic development in the region by:
i. Implementing the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant Project and similarly concluding Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny
ii. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta Region
iii. Creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the Region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources, where they are produced, to create industrialization and a robust economic base in the Region that would improve the living condition of the Citizens.
iv. Expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the Region, in particular, the Gas City, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu, in Warri South LGA of Delta State.
v. Harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied Industrial Clusters.
vi. Harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the Region to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, and away from restiveness.
vii. We urge the use of ICT as a tool for peace, job-creation and development. Appropriately deployed ICT can be the elixir to create much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the Region.
vii. Resolve the various issues leading to the non-operation of Delta Steel Company, Oku Iboku Paper Mill, Edo Textile Mill and ALSCON.
Inclusive Participation in Oil Industry and Ownership of Oil Blocs
The sense of alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land will continue until there are affirmative actions that guarantee the involvement of these communities in the ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of Oil and Gas Assets.
We similarly urge the institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework, across the entire enterprise chain of the Petroleum and Maritime sectors.
Restructuring and Funding of the NDDC
There is the urgent need to adequately restructure the NDDC to refocus it as a truly Interventionist Agency, that responds swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them. We also urge the full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
Since the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, even though it was meant to function in the mode of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, its funding has been abysmal. There is an absolute need, therefore, to adequately fund, and strengthen this Ministry to the purpose for which it was created.
The Bakassi Question
The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon continues to threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta Region. The unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement continues to create tension and plague the region. There is also the lack of a well-coordinated transparent blueprint for the development and resettlement of the displaced populations. The host communities face huge abuses and are unable to reestablish their respective means of livelihood. We, therefore, recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People.
The clamour for fiscal federalism has continued to be re-echoed by different sections of the country. The people of the Niger Delta region support this call and urge that the Federal Government should regard this matter expeditiously.
What message would you want to pass to the Federal Government for being insensitive to these issues five years after?
It is regrettable to say that the 16-point agenda has not been attended to thereby bringing about high rate of insecurity in the region.
For emphasis, after having several interface with these boys, they saw the reasons for dialogue than allowing the region go in flames as a result this brought about ceasefire in the region making everyone to be enjoying the relative peace being enjoyed today.
I want the Federal Government to know that when these boys see that there is blatant refusal in addressing their issues by the Federal Government, they are capable of making the region go into flames, adding that he appealed to the Federal Government, and other critical stakeholders responsible for the implementation of this 16-point agenda to be sincere to themselves and do the needful, adding that what the people in the Niger Delta region want is that all must be fair, just and equitable in what they do, so as to engendered peace and security to the Niger Delta region.
Rivers, Now Investment Destination Of Choice-Nsirim
Rivers State Government, under the leadership of His Excellency Nyesom Wike, is one administration that has experienced several attacks from the opposition party in the state. Ironically, the more the attacks, the more adorable the governor becomes going by his infrastructure developmental strides across the nooks and crannies of the State. In this interview, the State’s Commissioner for Information and Commu-nications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, speaks extensively about the Wike administration. Excerpts:
Prior to your assumption of office as the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, you initiated a project called “Our State, Our Responsibility.” What inspired that project and what were the issues you wanted to address with that initiative?
The truth is that Rivers State is blessed with human and material resources. It is also the headquarters of the hydrocarbon industry in Nigeria. We have two sea ports and an international airport. We have a welcoming culture and a rich cultural heritage. We have cuisine that is second to none in this country. But we have found out over the years that a lot of people are de-marketing the state, making investors to flee. So the campaign is designed to correct that perception and let people know that Rivers State is set for business and to make everyone living and doing business here in the state understand that we have a shared prosperity to protect. This means that if Rivers State economy is booming, everyone that lives and does business here will be a partaker of that boom. The campaign was aimed at injecting into the psyche of everyone even children yet unborn and those who will visit the state in a couple of years to understand that as long as you live in Rivers State, it belongs to you. Every resident must participate in ensuring that the state is positively projected at a level where it becomes the investors destination of choice, just like His Excellency, Nyesom Wike is building the right infrastructure now.
Is there any parameter by which the success of such projects is measured?
There are practical ways. Since that campaign, we found out that a lot of investments are coming in. For example, you have the biggest supermarket in West Africa and other markets in Port Harcourt. You have stock gap company here in Port Harcourt that deals with producing domestic gas. Prior to now, LNG would ship gas to Lagos and truck back to Port Harcourt. But right now in Port Harcourt, you have a company that produces domestic gas for the domestic market. Also, before the outbreak of COVID-19, Ethiopian and Turkish Airlines had begun flight operations to Port Harcourt. Businesses are booming in many parts of Port Harcourt industrial area. Those in Real Estate are also experiencing a boom because a lot of people are coming in to do business here and of course, the narrative is changing gradually.
God helped us with a visionary leader who has put in place a strategic security architecture which has checkmated all forms of insecurity that was holding sway in the past. Now, things are stable and the narrative has changed for the better. One can always find out with the National Bureau of Statistics that these things they say about the state with the highest Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). After Lagos, the next is Rivers State. You cannot generate the volume of IGR that we have if our state is insecure and the business climate is not thriving.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one thing that has changed the global environment. What lessons would you say that Rivers State government has learnt from this virus?
I like to underscore this point that before His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, came on board as governor, he initiated what he called the “NEW Rivers Vision” blue print which encapsulated everything that has to do with health. A lot has been put in place. We have what we call the Mother and Child Hospital now in Port Harcourt, we have five zonal Hospitals. The General Hospitals in the state have been reactivated and fully functional. The state now has a University Teaching Hospital; the former Braithwaite Memorial Hospital is now Rivers State University Teaching Hospital with the right infrastructure. We have a Medical School now in Rivers State University; all these have happened before COVID.
So what has occurred is that, the onset of COVID has helped the state to build more on infrastructure and facilities and also ensured that the medical personnel have the requisite training and knowledge.
Are you saying that if there is a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, Rivers State has the right model to sustain its economy?
If you are very current, you will find out that this was one state that had a robust palliative committee; we had a food purchasing committee, that was designed in such a way that they bought off all that the farmers and fishermen produced, thus empowering them. You will also know that this State was in the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, which the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), affirmed when he visited Port Harcourt. So, Rivers State is fully equipped. We have a functional Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) which is located in the State Ministry of Health, working in conjunction with strategic international partners.
We have a technical working group properly equipped and trained. It’s been in place before COVID because prior to this time, we used to have the outbreak of Lasser Fever and other such diseases. So, the EOC of the state has been fully functional. In fact, the Emergency Operation Centre will avail you the opportunity to see the kind of coordination from the field at a glance. Like even COVID now, at a glance, you will see at various places where they are collecting samples, what the statistics have been within the last one week and so on.
Still on COVID, most Nigerians were disappointed by states who claimed that they distributed palliatives, but during the EndSARS protest, many warehouses stocked with undistributed palliatives were discovered. How did Rivers State handle its palliatives distribution that you did not record any ugly incident?
Rivers State has become a model for good governance. When the issue of palliatives was booming, we did not play to the gallery. His Excellency ensured that the palliative committee that was set up consisted of representatives of all the interest groups you can think of. We had all the Armed Forces, Police, Civil Defence Corps, Civil Society groups, Clergy, Women Groups, Youth Groups and the Media. It is a model that I am so proud of. I was the Secretary of that Palliative Committee. The Central Committee was overseeing what was happening at the Local Government and Ward levels. At the Ward level, a mini committee was also set up that had Traditional Rulers, the Civil Society reps, Clergy, Women group and Youth leaders.
So, when the palliatives moved from the Local Government to the Ward level; for example, in my own Ward, the Chairman of the Ward distribution committee was a Clergyman who is not even an indigene of Rivers State but because he is the Vicar in an Anglican Church there, he coordinated the distribution. These palliatives got to the real beneficiaries and we did it twice. We did the first round, second round and the people were satisfied that this government meant well and what the governor promised was also given. So we did not have any issue of anybody breaking any warehouse looking for any palliatives. Even people who were trying to induce some propaganda and instigate people to say something was hidden, were ignored.
You were once the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Rivers State and now you hold the position of Information Commissioner, as a Pastor, how do you balance your calling and working in a political environment?
A lot of people ask this question. When you have an understanding that any office you hold, you hold that office in trust for God and for man, then, your attitude and style would be different?
As a Pastor, what do I do? I have the flock to cater for, teach them the Word of God, and take care of them. As a Commissioner for Information, what is my responsibility? To disseminate information about the policies and programmes of the government to the people and I have that understanding that public interest is paramount in the discharge of this assignment. So, there is really no challenge for me, because having risen from the rank to the position I occupy today, I understand the intricacies of governance and the meaning of leadership. I have the requisite training and experience.
To say balance, I do not even have a challenge with balance because I understand that the position I hold is in trust for God and for man.
Do you attend Church regularly and still do your job?
Yes, I still pastor my Church; even though there is no way I can do 100 per cent now but my assistant pastor covers for me when I am not available.
That must be a very challenging?
Yes, the next question you should ask me now is what are the challenges? But for me, several years ago, I understood that the Chinese word for crisis is opportunity. Now, when you have opportunity or if anything presents itself as a challenge, it is an opportunity for you to excel. For me, I do not see challenges when I am doing things, I do not see obstacles when I am doing things. I see them as part of the routine on my daily schedules.
There have been calls from some quarters for government to regulate the social media. What is your opinion on this and how do you think the government both state and federal can harness the opportunities in social media to strike a balance between the negative and positive?
That is a thorny issue. I think that we need to have adequate stakeholders’ engagement in this direction. The stakeholders’ groups that are involved need to come together, to look at the issues and then work out the best way forward. No doubt, a lot of people are abusing the use of the social media. We, who are in government, are the worst hit. You know, anybody can write anything, say anything, do photo-shop and put on the Internet. The regulation here is key, but before implementation, the various stakeholders need to be engaged for us to have a kind of balance on what should be done. Also, before implementation, adequate preparation and orientation of the citizenry would also be very relevant.
As a journalist trained to balance stories and promote objectivity, with your current position, do you still maintain your standard and not dance to the tune of the government to water down the truth from what it should be?
A few weeks ago, I hosted journalists in Rivers State here. In journalism, facts are sacred, comments free. A fact is a fact; there is nothing you can take away from something that is a fact. You see, people have that erroneous impression that if you are a Commissioner for Information, you will be padding things and covering things – No! Facts are facts, and I am lucky to have a principal who is forthright. With His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, you know where he is standing on any issue. He does not play to the gallery and he is also a principal that I would always like to work with because he is not one of those who carry out governance and development on television.
There are governors who use 3D images to deceive the public. But for us in Rivers State, the facts are there. If we tell you we are constructing Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, you go there and you will see it. If we say the Rebisi Flyover has been done, you go there and you will see it. If we say, Mother and Child Hospital, Real Madrid Academy; we say Abonnema Ring Road, Zonal Hospitals, you will see them. If we say we are rehabilitating schools, we give you 1, 2, 3, schools, if you go there, you will see them with your eyes. So, what’s there to hide?
The Opposition in the state are criticizing His Excellency that his infrastructural developments are basically in Port Harcourt; what happens to other areas of the state?
The truth of the matter is that people will always have something to say. I can tell you, apart from the flyovers that are being built in Port Harcourt, (of course, which you know; I said that His Excellency is building infrastructure for tomorrow), if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the state, a lot is happening. There is a road we call Sakpenwa-Bori Road – it is about 16 kilometers, it is completed and commissioned. His Excellency has even extended it further now to about thirty something kilometers; it is not in Port Harcourt. There is Abonnema Ring Road; that Ring Road is on water. There is Andoni/Opobo Unity Road. We went to Opobo few days ago; everybody including Opobo people drove to Opobo by Road for the first time in the history of that ancient town of 150 years. We went recently to also celebrate with them on their 150 years anniversary; it is not in Port Harcourt. Do you understand?
There is a big Cassava processing company at Afam in Oyigbo Local Government Area. There are several zonal hospitals that are scattered in Bori, Degema, Ahoada and Omoku, they are not in Port Harcourt. There is Elele/Omoku Road, it is not in Port Harcourt. Several of such projects are all over the state. But you see, if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the State, you will see several schools that have been rehabilitated. There are sand-fillings that are going on in the local governments. In riverine communities of the state, because those places are Islands. You do sand-filling first to create places they can build on. Those areas are not in Port Harcourt.
But armchair critics will always have something to say about Nyesom Wike. The Guild of Editors came here and I took them on a tour, they were shouting. If you go to that Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, what is being sunk in there is not up to what is being used to build anything in Port Harcourt, because it is on water. So, a lot is going on in the local government areas. There is no local government in Rivers State that is not receiving the impact of Governor Wike’s administration.
During and after the EndSARS protest, the governor compensated all the families of the security agencies that lost their lives during the protest; but the Rivers citizens who were killed did not get any compensation. What happened?
I may not comment on that.
Why is the governor described as a lion?
Who is describing him as a lion?
He is described in the media as a lion?
People are entitled to their perception. One thing you cannot take away from His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, is that he is fearless, courageous and forthright. These are the qualities of great men. That is why I am so proud to be associated with him. He is not a lily-livered man.
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