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Special Interview

We’ve Created Opportunities For Partnership In RSSDA – Pepple

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After a lull of several weeks, The Tide weekly roundtable designed to bring to public glare, the activities of key government functionaries, captains of industries, opinion leaders and heads of institutions, got kicking once again.

Our guest, this time, is an ebullient management scientist, Mr Noble Pepple, who has been directing affairs at the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) as executive director in the last one year.

Pepple, in this interview, takes our readers down memory lane on the mandate of the agency. He also explains the challenges and the efforts of his administration to place Rivers State on the part of sustainable development. Here is the first part of his exciting revelations. Read on.

Who is Noble Pepple?

My name is Noble Pepple. I resumed as the Executive Director Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA), a little over a year ago. I was sent their on secondment from Shell. I have worked in Shell for about 20 to 21 years doing different jobs in the company. I am a Rivers man. I grew up in Port Harcourt, where I had my primary and secondary education and I attended the Rivers State University of Science and Technology where I studied Business Administration. I had my Post Graduate studies at the London School of Accountancy. During my time in Shell, I have handled a number of managerial works. I am married with children.  I feel great coming back to serve my people on my present capacity. I feel honoured that his Excellency the Governor of Rivers State invited me to do so.

You worked in Shell for quite some time and you now work as Executive Director RSSDA, what are the similarities and challenges in the jobs?

There is hardly a role in life that does not go with challenges.  When I came into the organisation last year, there were several challenges. Moving over from the private sector where one spent virtually all his adult life to the public sector was like moving from one way of life to another. It was quite challenging but I think a number of things helped me to overcome some of the challenges. The first was the total support of His Excellency.  The goals of the Agency were well specified. It made me feel at home that my success or failure was in my hands, because interference from Government will be minimal to allow me deliver on the mandate.

On the other hand, I met a couple of competent people at RSSDA, well trained, well educated and well traveled. Most of them had come from the private sector like me. So it was not too difficult bringing private sector experiences. That was how we tackled the challenges we had. We were determined to put our services above our limitations for the betterment of our people.

On the organisational side the challenges were obvious. We tried to review some issues such as the way the programmes were ran, and the impact they had on the people. There was a particular issue that confronted me on arrival, and that was the situation we had in India where many of our students were already aggrieved. They were not happy with the way they were treated in India, especially the condition they met in schools they were sent to study. There were lots of hitches.

We had internal challenges as well. Issues around how we operate, issues around transparency, issues around commitment and delivery. We decided to do a lot of things, and many of the things we did made us to overcome the challenges we met. Today many of the challenges have disappeared. We have an organisation that is running with very minimal risk. We were given specific goals to achieve and we are putting everything in place to achieve those goals.

Your predecessor came from Shell and you are also from Shell, the marriage seems to be between Shell and the Agency and one is tempted to ask; Why Shell?

Let me take us back. What has become RSSDA, began as a programme, The Rivers State Sustainable Development Programme. That programme actually started as a private sector initiative, especially within the oil and gas companies, spearheaded by Shell. The Gulf of Guinea energy security group that was set up at the federal  level brought together a number of private sector actors, especially the oil and gas companies. This was done in collaboration, with UK high commission, American embassy, French embassy, as well as NNPC, the federal Government and the nine governments of the Niger Delta States. The purpose of that group was to explore ways to promote sustainable development in the Niger Delta, and to use it as platform of ensuring security. It was in the course of that discussion that it became clear that an institution will be required at the State levels to enhance economic development.

Rivers State Government was one of the first to key into the idea. The government saw the vision, understood the vision and embraced it, then took a step forward to create this programme in the state. Shell was at the forefront of the thinking.

Also in the industry generally, it is accepted that Shell is the leader in the area of sustainable development. To cut a long story short, the Rivers State government was impressed with the way that process evolved. The state Assembly gave its seal when it was presented for debate. So, it was an agency that was established by law. Shell continued to play a role because they were the first to partner with government to provide the technocrats needed for the development of the agency. That was why the first director was appointed from Shell. The intention was for the directorship to be tenured and at the end of each tenure, it is the prerogative of the governor to decide who to appoint next as director. It could be somebody from inside the organsiation, if it had matured enough to produce the kind of people that the governor believes could run the organisation. The governor can also choose someone else from anywhere. It could be Shell, or the oil and gas industry or anywhere. It is the governor’s prerogative to do so. I feel privileged and grateful that the governor chose me. Why me? I don’t know. But I have heard that there were issues raised over the need for an indigene to be at the head. That was one of the reasons that informed the governor’s decision.

But also, throughout my 21 or 22 years career, I have been involved more or less in sustainable development. I have also held managerial positions such as sustainable development manager in Shell. I have also done some academic training in related fields in my masters programme. I expect that some of those may have informed the governors decision. I was involved in the conceptualisation of the agency so I was a bit priviledged to know what the agency was to be about. I was involved in the conceptualization of the agency and is objectives. When I came, I found that the agency had made some progress in that direction. But I also saw that there was a wide gap that needed to be filled to get us more close to the direction we needed to be. What I needed to do was to go back to the foundation of the agency. The foundation of the agency was built around sustainability.

How do we ensure that we can help our people to have an improved lifestyle and good living condition, particularly those who were supposed to live under $1 per day, the so called poor? Sustainability was the main philosophy behind the agency.

The other issue was partnership. We needed to bring partnership as a vehicle to bring the funding into the state, to create an environment that the international community will be confident to come in with their own funds and expertise to help the people. I think this was the key ingredient missing when I arrived. So, I started by setting out a four-pillar programme anchored on internal transformation, we had to renew ourselves. We had to review critical areas that needed more attention.  Second pillar was to take another look at our programme portfolio. We needed to review our programmes and priorities, to identify key areas of concern and relative impact. I needed to ensure that our mandate is fulfilled. The third pillar for me was partnership. We had to consider our potential partners as we conceptualised our progammes, so that we don’t go round doing everything by ourselves. We do not have all the fund to do all the things we would like to do. We cannot have all the expertise as well. So partnership became a critical part of the way we operate.

The fourth pillar was market. Our position was simple. If you look at creating value and attaining sustainability for the people, it ends at the market place. If you don’t get the product to the market, then you don’t create value, and it is only by creating value that you keep people in sustainable live hood. So, if we are going to start a project, we ask ourselves, how does that project get to the market? What is the linkage between the point of production and the point of value creation? It has to be visible and clear before you can sell your product. So, those were the four cardinal things that has been my guiding philosophy since I came into the agency. We cannot be satisfied in everything, but I have to say I am happy with the progress we have made so far. Our initiatives have helped to open opportunities for partnership for us. A lot of organsiations come to us. Not just to be on contract, but to bring back to the people to improve their wellbeing.

What are some of the things you have achieved?

When I came into office, I found that the governor had a vision to recreate Songhai farm model which had been a major world acclaimed agricultural interventionist model. We sent some young men and women for training abroad on the project, but the actual work on ground has gone far. The modern facilities and infrastructure had been put in place and in March (next month), work will kick off on the Rivers State Songhai farm at Tai Local Government Area. In fact we are talking about the commissioning, we decided  from day one of the flagships, that we must deliver the Songhai project within the specific time we have given to ourselves. The second thing is the schorlarship programme. When we came in, we had this challenge in India. A hundred and seventy eight (178) of our beneficiaries were sent to India to study ICT and they were all sent to one school in India. We found out that it was not a very wise decision, in the sense that they were too many in one school and they got there a little bit late after the students had finished a session. So accommodation became tough. They were given temporary accommodation which wasn’t very good. When I got here, I was not happy, so I asked my general manager human capital development to go and assess things by himself. The report he came back with was very strong. We encouraged our young students there to stay on and complete the year; but the following year we were going to move them all out to other parts of India and put them in several schools. Some of the best schools in India, and that is exactly what we did. And today they are all settled in their various schools. During the holiday period they try to acclimatize with life and culture in India.

In addition, we tackled, headlong, the issue of administration of the scholarship programme. Before my time, we had implementers, the implementers are the ones who look after the students when they arrive in their various countries of learning. We have students in five countries, UK, Canada, Singapore, India, and the Ireland. We have implementers who represent us in those countries, and they are the people who receive money and pay to the students. The scholarship is full scale. It include, tuition, accommodation upkeep and everything. The implementers were like the middlemen between the agency and the students.

To address cases of improper treatment we asked the student to open accounts. We opened an account with First Bank and we then provided funds through the account for students all over the countries every month. We pay school fees directly to the school, but the fees for upkeep of the students now go to their direct accounts. The students are now able to manage their allowances for themselves. We still have implementers, but the implementers now just look after them, not after their monies. It has tremendously improved the scholarship programme. We also enhance our control measures. We, as a matter of policy, decided that if we want to operate a world class institution, we have to operate from a world class perspective. With the kind of challenges I met, it was obvious that we couldn’t internally change ourselves, so we needed help from outside, and that came, and we restructured the organization and sharpened our vision. We created core values and got everybody behind these values. We set up proper financial control. We re-shuffled the system in the sense that, I can be hear with you and everything is going on smoothly in the agency, with clear checks and balances in place. That has helped us also to meet our due process requirements. Because one of the things I considered when I came in was that we will be an agency that will comply with every aspect of due process requirement.

In terms of project delivery, we have done well. Part of our core values is passion for the poor. We always remind ourselves that you can’t do the work you are asked to do if you don’t have passion for the poor. So one of the things we did during Christmas as part of our staff party was to invite a hundred widows through the Ministry of Women Affairs and through an NGO that work with us to empower  widow. It wasn’t all about party. We provided them with equipment to enable them go home from that party and start a business of their own. It was a special way of touching the lives of the less priviledged.

Coming from the private to the public sector how have you been coping with bureaucratic bottlenecks and pressure from politicians?

When I came from the private sector, I knew I was going to meet challenges. There were some fears, but I must tell you that they were not as pronounced as I expected, especially in the areas of bureaucratic bottlenecks. One thing about the agency is that, yes it is a public sector, but it is also a private sector. It is a highbreed agency most of the people I met, were private sector people. So the private sector thinking is already in the agency. It wasn’t too difficult to get us to align. Once a direction was clear and people knew and articulated where we were going, it was not difficult at all to get good followership. So, I will say bureaucracy had not been a major challenge for the agency. Secondly, about interferences, I have been fortunate. I don’t feel the pressure. Even in private sector, people come making demands. One response could be to capitulate to the pressure, the other is to stand firm in what you are doing. If your operations and system is structured on principle, then you don’t have much difficulty addressing issues.

Let me give you an example about our scholarship scheme. I have presided over one scholarship programme since I came, and that was the one we did last year. We had 13,000 applications, and we were going to award altogether 300 scholarships from the thirteen thousand.  RSSDA on its own does not award 300, the quota that we award is 210, which I manage, this includes strictly the merit team. We also have the governor’s list. So the 13,000 applications was going to be brought down to 210 awards. Every single one of those 210 had to come from a very clear transparent process. The process that we audit and it is open to all to assess and challenge. I have appeared before the House Committee on this matter and I have been able to brief them on what we have done.

Now, why do we have the governors list? We have the governor’s list because the founders of the programme recognized that there will be a number of special cases, where people may not be able to go through the merit list and therefore can appeal to His Excellency for consideration. I don’t run the governor’s list. His Excellency runs that list. So any politicians who comes to me for an award without going through the merit list, that person is referred to the Governor. So they go to the Governor and if they are able to convince him that their case has merit then he would decide what to do. If he decides that the case has merit, he writes to me through the SSG, that is my authority to place the person on the award. And as I tell you this, I haven’t known any person who goes there for his own child, and His Excellency has approved. Because it is clear that this scheme was set up to help the children of the less priviledged get the same opportunity the children of the priviledged have access to. His Excellency only listens to cases of intervention for indigent but brilliant children.

For this year the application had been on since three weeks ago and will end on Friday (February 18, 2011). Forms are never sold. If you have one form, you can photocopy it into hundred. Applications are also done online. We send forms to the 23 local government head quarters. If special interest people come to us, we also make the opportunities open to them. We have a criteria we set for people to be considered in a year. We go through a thorough, screening. Last year when we had 13,000 we screened it down to 9000 which were invited to come and write the exams. Of the 9000, 7,000, showed up. So we tested all 7000 candidates and it was from that 7,000, that the 210 of last year were selected. We had to ensure that there is balance and equity across the state. The first 20 performance irrespective of where you come from get automatic award. The next 184 are given on the basis of 8 award per LGA. Consideration is also given to the physically challenged, and they received the remaining 6 positions on the list.

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Special Interview

Those Demarketing Rivers Should Stop Spreading Falsehood -Sophia

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Only recently, the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications orgainsed an essay competition for students in the State as part of the second phase of the advocacy campaign of #Our StateOurResponsibility, aimed at changing the negative narrative about the State.
The first prize winner of the competition, Miss Oyibo Sophia Awajibenem, now the Ambassador of the programme and the face of the Information and Communications Ministry for three months, is truly passionate about advancing the frontiers of the campaign.
In this encounter with our General Manager, Ernest Chinwo and Group News Editor, Victor Tew, she dwells extensively on the imperatives of potraying the state in its true positive status, given the giant strides of the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and many more.
Excerpts.
Could you please, tell us about yourself?
I am Oyibo Sophia Awajibenem from Ngo in Andoni Local Government Area. I am 18 years old. I am a public health student. I reside in Port Harcourt.
I school at Port Harcourt Joint Professional Training and Support International Institute.
I am the Ambassador of the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications. I am patriotic and ready to achieve more success.
I will like to further my education in order to become a Medical Doctor.
How do you intend to go about that in terms of resources and all that?
It is by being studious. By going out there to read and gain information, do my research and also being focused. The determination in me will keep me focused
Why did you participate in the essay competition orgainsed by the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications on the advocacy programme tagged. #OurStateOur Responsibility?.
I did it because I love the vision of #OurState OurResponsibility. I deemed it fit to participate to promote our State as an individual and also as a youth.
What really spurred you into partaking in the essay competition? Is it because of the pecuniary benefit attached to it or an altruistic concern to change the narrative of the State?
Firstly, I never saw the competition as a challenge. I just wanted to write the truth. I wanted to make known what I felt was what we as individuals, as the State should do.
I wanted to spread the love. It is not just about your personal benefit or your personal need. It should go around, it is collective.
What was the major attraction to you?
I don’t want to use the word major because I saw just the Ambassadorial duty. First to be the Ambassador of the ministry before I ever read down to see that there was a cash prize attached to it. I wasn’t concerned about the cash prize, I was concerned about being an Ambassador. I wanted to represent that and that was the goal.
When you submitted your essay and was shortlisted, how did you feel?
I felt overwhelmed, this is where the trust comes in. They should know who we are personally and believe in us, that it is actually from within. I had to go there, to do what I had to do because it was not something that was forged, it is the passion in letting people know. So I felt appreciated by that means.

OurStateOur Responsibility. How do you see it?

It is a vision. It is telling us that we have roles, obligations, duties to perform in the state. When we say #OurStateOur Responsibility, it includes everyone. We are the State, we are the government and that responsibility is what we have to render to the state.
Well, there was a statement credited to you in your essay. You did say that you remembered a piece by Erekosima.What did you think about that piece?
The piece by Boma Erekosima is a motivation. It is what inspired me to write, to participate in the essay writing. It actually spelt out my essay. That piece was a summary of what I wrote.
Can you recount it?
Love Rivers State or leave her alone, don’t pull us down, see what you can do for us, engage yourself in meaningful activities, no room for gossip and do something meaningful.
How does it relate to us, the youths of today, our politicians, those who are trying to pull the State down and those who don’t have the interest of the State?
When we say we should love the State, it means that we should love ourselves, everything about the State, we shouldn’t be into propaganda, we shouldn’t spread rumours, flasehood. We should appreciate the fact that our State is improving. We should see the progress, we shouldn’t just vandalise those things that have been provided for us. We should use them as resources. We shouldn’t be idle because an idle man is the devil’s workshop.
We should grab opportunities, work with them and make them a success.
We find our youth involved in anti-social activities. So, what is your message to youths of Rivers State?
There is no benefit in doing things that are irrelevant. We should put our vision where it will benefit everyone, it should not just be personal. Don’t do things that are illegal. Grab opportunities that will promote the nation, that way, we all can grow.
How do you think the youths can be detached from being used as political thugs and all that?
If they are given proper knowledge about the consequences of the things they indulge in, I feel that it will bring them to the consciousness that they are better off than being thugs. Proper orientation of being good in the society to be leaders of tomorrow. That way, they will see the bright side of it and focus on good visions in promoting theState.
If you are asked to draw up a sensitisation programme for youths, how would you go about it?
I will start with an orientation or a sensitisation programme because it does not just start like that. You make them understand, you bring them to their notice and do a follow up. When you tell somebody about something, as you let them be, you are not really convinced that you are passing the message to them. You have to follow them up, bring up situations and platforms that will ensure that they are actually rooted in being successful.
As the face of the state Ministry of Information and Communications programme: #Our State Our Responsibility, what would you like to do?
As an Ambassador, I am an advocate of something, an advocate of the vision, #OurState Our Responsibility. I am here to start a programme to enlighten the youths about the good opportunities that abound in the State and to make our leaders know that we are not lazy and we have talents and if only we are given the platform to showcase them, we will do better.
It is something that we as youths have to bring out the best in us.

OurStateOur Responsibility, how do you see it?

It is a vision. #OurStateOur Responsibility is a vision that is telling us that we have roles, obligations and duties to perform in the State and when we say #OurStateOur Responsibility, it is not just one person, it is everybody in the State.
Some politicians in a bid to score some cheap political points have been known to brand the State as unsafe for people to live in, unsafe for investments and all that, do you share in that view?
No, I don’t, because we are in this State. We go out and come in to our houses. We should be security conscious. For investors, people who go about their business activities, I feel that the trust should be there.
There should be a benefit of the doubt and as far as Rivers State is concerned, we are the people who will showcase the business. We should be exemplary.
So there is no room for falsehood or any kind of conviction that we are not safe. We are safe.
So what is your advice to those demarketing the State?
I will say that they should stop spreading falsehood. There is no gain in spreading lies. At least, they should come and see for themselves. And those investors also for you to invest in a place, you should have a background check on whoever you are going to invest with or who your investors are for you to know better. Not just by word of mouth but seeing it.
How do you see the Wike administration
He has really done well. The Rivers State of yesterday can not be compared to what we have now. Port Harcourt is beautiful and safe. Port Harcourt is filled with so many businesses, so many organisations are doing well, so there is prosperity.
What about human capital development, are you impressed?
I am, because it is improving. it is not like how it was before. we are doing well.
Rivers State is blessed.
As an Ambassador of the Ministry, what is your advice to the youths, politicians and leaders?
To the youths, I will say success is not determined by age grade or age limit, we need to grab opportunities. we do not have to wait for us to be told what we have to do. We recognise who we are. Because we are the leaders of tomorrow and it starts now.
We shouldn’t wait till that level where they throw accusations at us that we are not doing anything. We need to show that we are ready for the future.
To the politicians, I feel that education is the key; knowledge is power, they should actually support the youth and everyone in Rivers State and they shouldn’t do things that make youths to regret.
They should support that which is good, education , security and also when it comes to bringing up talents. I feel that there should be more investments.
To our leaders. they should keep up the good work, because we look up to them.
They should be exemplary, they should be disciplined.
There is this misconception that the youths of our State are only interested in what they can do for money to come immediately and are not conscious to the extent of working hard, believing that their efforts will yield dividend tomorrow. So they prefer what they can get now What is your reaction to that?
I feel that it is a practice. It is not our culture because we have to be hard working. we have to be professional, we have to know what we have to do to attain such position, is not by having it immediately, because that is theft, corruption and greed.
We have to work diligently to get what we want. So it is wrong for anybody to have any amount of money that is not from a genuine source.
I feel that all we need to do is to put our hands on deck to work for that which is right at all times.
One thing we have noticed in our State, especially the state capital is indiscriminate dumping of refuse. Are we saying that it is not part of our responsibility to keep our State clean?
It is our responsibility to keep our environment clean and safe because when our environment is dirty, it affects our health. so we should actually work at our health, our wellbeing and also we have agencies which are controlling that. If the agencies are working, it is our responsibility to support them in making the place clean, because we all are humans and it will be inhuman for some one to be working for the cleaniness of our environment then, we all make the place dirty.
It’s not right. So our responsibility is taking it up to ourselves as humans to make our environment clean.
You were Commissioner for Information for 30minutes, how do you feel about that?
It was amazing, it was a rare opportunity, and I feel that for anyone to sit there as a commissioner, then, there is a whole lot to do, it is not just by saying it but it is by showing it. Our Honourable Commissioner, I know is showing it because having sat there, I saw so many opportunities on that seat and this has actually motivated me to do more to sit there one day.
Having sat there for at least 30minutes or so, will you go into politics?
Yes. For you to be a citizen, involving in politics is just what to get you to that level, it is not a bad thing.
What extent has your participation in this essay competition motivated you?
It actually gives me an opportunity to meet people, to see things, to have views, to hear about what the world is saying. So, I feel that encouragement is not by saying or being an Ambassador, it is being here in the State and doing more for the State. So, I feel motivated to bring that picture and few presentations of what the vision is, that is what I feel.
As an Ambassador for some weeks now, what has been your kind of schedule? Have you met some new persons, some new opportunities so far?
It has been excellent, but not easy, because this time around in my life, I try to schedule things and share some of my times there is time management and there is this hospitality you have to show to everyone because they want to know more about you. You give them the chance to express themselves, and that has actually made me to realise and have the knowledge about everything and because they throw questions you are not familiar with. That gives me the room to read more, that gives me the room for human resources management, to understand people, to actually know more about people, to understand their mood and where they are headed to, and to understand their different perspectives and to know what they indulge in.
Where do you see Rivers State tomorrow and in the future? .
We are already in the future because we are getting to the top; I see an extraordinary State; I see a beautiful State; I see a State that is without or should I say with less corruption, that is with more of development. That is where I see Rivers State.

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Special Interview

Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke

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

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Special Interview

FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba

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We thank Mr. President for flagging off the clean-up of Ogoniland as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The long delay in starting the Ogoni Clean-Up had sapped confidence locally and had caused the broader Niger Delta to doubt the intentions of Government. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to speed up this exercise, especially by following through the emergency steps outlined in the UNEP Report, which includes the provision of safe drinking water for a populace whose water has been declared unfit for human consumption by UNEP, years ago. We also urge the federal government to commission a Region-wide credible assessment of the impacts of crude oil pollution of the environment in the Niger Delta and undertake to enforce all environment protection laws.
We similarly urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to enforce the Zero Gas Flare deadline.
The devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The Maritime University Issue
The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is largely regarded, by persons from the Zone, as symbolic and deserving. Its closure and certain statements around it, have been viewed as insensitive and out rightly provocative. This, of course, is aside from the obvious potential benefits that the Institution offers to the technical and managerial capacity enhancements of, not just persons from the Zone, but all Nigerians. We, therefore, strongly urge the President to direct the take-off of the already approved Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State. The prompt take-off of this University will most certainly assure the people of the Niger Delta that President’s Administration is truly a sensitive, listening and inclusive Government. Also, we strongly urge that the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, to a university should be implemented.
Key Regional Critical Infrastructure
There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative Regional Infrastructure viz:
• We wish to thank President for ensuring that the first phase of the coastal railway project is provided for in the current 2016 budget. We urge the Federal Government to further ensure the full implementation of this project that is designed to run through all the states in the Niger Delta, up to Lagos.
• Complete the existing East-West Road.
• Work should resume on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road Project. We note that NLNG had already offered 50% funding for this Project.
• Implement the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State (Design already completed by NDDC).
• Implement the development of inland waterways and riverine infrastructure.
• Remove bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of the existing ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commence dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep sea-going vessels and expedite work on the dredging of the Calabar Port. The Deep Sea Port project in Bayelsa State also requires consideration.
• We urge the commencement of work on the Ibaka Deep Sea Port for which Feasibility has long been completed.
Details of other regional infrastructure projects will be presented in the course of the dialogue.
Security Surveillance and Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure
The incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the economy of our dear Country. Pipeline vandalism also damages the environment, health and economic activity of inhabitants of affected areas, as well as complicates environmental cleanup efforts.
It is therefore our view that an urgent review is done to pipeline surveillance contacts to give the responsibility to Communities rather than individuals in a manner that ties some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility for the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
The Headquarters of most Oil Companies are not located in the Niger Delta Region. As a result, the Region is denied all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the Region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
Power Supply
Despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta remain unconnected to the National Grid.
We, therefore, advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the Region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in improved stability. Because of existing infrastructure, this should be an area where the Government could deliver the swiftest and most noticeable change.
Economic Development and Empowerment
The Federal and State Governments need to signal their interest in sustained economic development in the region by:
i. Implementing the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant Project and similarly concluding Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny
ii. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta Region
iii. Creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the Region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources, where they are produced, to create industrialization and a robust economic base in the Region that would improve the living condition of the Citizens.
iv. Expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the Region, in particular, the Gas City, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu, in Warri South LGA of Delta State.
v. Harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied Industrial Clusters.
vi. Harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the Region to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, and away from restiveness.
vii. We urge the use of ICT as a tool for peace, job-creation and development. Appropriately deployed ICT can be the elixir to create much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the Region.
vii. Resolve the various issues leading to the non-operation of Delta Steel Company, Oku Iboku Paper Mill, Edo Textile Mill and ALSCON.
Inclusive Participation in Oil Industry and Ownership of Oil Blocs
The sense of alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land will continue until there are affirmative actions that guarantee the involvement of these communities in the ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of Oil and Gas Assets.
We similarly urge the institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework, across the entire enterprise chain of the Petroleum and Maritime sectors.
Restructuring and Funding of the NDDC
There is the urgent need to adequately restructure the NDDC to refocus it as a truly Interventionist Agency, that responds swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them. We also urge the full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
Since the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, even though it was meant to function in the mode of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, its funding has been abysmal. There is an absolute need, therefore, to adequately fund, and strengthen this Ministry to the purpose for which it was created.
The Bakassi Question
The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon continues to threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta Region. The unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement continues to create tension and plague the region. There is also the lack of a well-coordinated transparent blueprint for the development and resettlement of the displaced populations. The host communities face huge abuses and are unable to reestablish their respective means of livelihood. We, therefore, recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People.
Fiscal Federalism
The clamour for fiscal federalism has continued to be re-echoed by different sections of the country. The people of the Niger Delta region support this call and urge that the Federal Government should regard this matter expeditiously.
What message would you want to pass to the Federal Government for being insensitive to these issues five years after?
It is regrettable to say that the 16-point agenda has not been attended to thereby bringing about high rate of insecurity in the region.
For emphasis, after having several interface with these boys, they saw the reasons for dialogue than allowing the region go in flames as a result this brought about ceasefire in the region making everyone to be enjoying the relative peace being enjoyed today.
I want the Federal Government to know that when these boys see that there is blatant refusal in addressing their issues by the Federal Government, they are capable of making the region go into flames, adding that he appealed to the Federal Government, and other critical stakeholders responsible for the implementation of this 16-point agenda to be sincere to themselves and do the needful, adding that what the people in the Niger Delta region want is that all must be fair, just and equitable in what they do, so as to engendered peace and security to the Niger Delta region.

Concluded.

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