Chief Tony Okocha, Chief of Staff, Government House,
Port Harcourt, an experienced and consummate politician, hails from Rumuigbo community in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Underneath his gentle mien and demeanour, runs a strand of doggedness and fearlessness, which often confound his most ardent critics and teeming admirers.
Highly cerebral, Chief Okocha is currently taking a shot at the House of Representatives to represent the Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview with our Deputy Production Editor, Donatus Ebi, he spoke on the ongoing Psychiatric Road project, his House of Representatives aspiration and other sundry issues.
Sir, for several years, the people of Rumuigbo, Rumuomoi and- Rumuorosi communities, along the popular Psychiatric Road in Port Harcourt have suffered over the deplorable state of the road. We also know that you have used your good offices, as Chief of Staff to facilitate the construction of the road which is ongoing. Are you satisfied with the way the construction work is going and the performance of the company handling it?
Well, we actually contracted the construction of that road to STEMCO Nigeria Limited. Of course, every government has a Budget for the year. All of a sudden, we started witnessing very poor monthly allocations that come to the State from the Centre. And it is actually affecting projects in the State and so many other things. As I speak, if not for the magnanimity of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and his style of governance, it would be difficult to actually pay salaries. I am sure you are aware that most States can’t pay salaries. My happiness is that most of the States are PDP-controlled States. They have not been able to pay salaries for the past six months. But because of his prudence and his style of administration, we have always managed, in fact, given priority to the payment of salaries. But then, other projects have had to suffer, because a situation where you were receiving as much as’ N25 billion or N24billion monthly from the Federation Account, and it suddenly dropped to Nil billion, and you have a Wage Bill of nine point something billion naira. So, I don’t know what else you can do with Nlbillion vis-a vis the development of the State in terms of provision of basic infrastructure and amenities.
So, what is happening on that road, as we speak, is a situation where we have had to take the construction in turns. We are now doing them in installments. We have done part of it from the College of Arts and Science down to the junction of the new road leading to Rumuola. And then, another 300 meters, because of the availability of funds was approved for construction. Then, the company thought that it was cheaper for them to commence from Ikwerre Road, down to where they would detect 300 meters as was provided for. But you can be rest assured that, that road would be completed in no distant time. The only problem I can say to you is the problem of funds. If we had funds, we would have taken the whole road at a stretch. But because of the dearth of funds, and other projects competing too, we try to prioritise projects, and see what government can do. Of course, government is a continuum. At least, by the grace of God, if the government of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is not able to complete the whole stretch of the road, we believe that when ihe new government comes, of course, we expect that Dr Dakuku Adol Petersidewill take to the stage. When he comes, it will be one of his priorities.
We also know that the problem of that road now is that if it ends where it has been designated to end because of the financial constraints you have mentioned, the people living around that area are bound to suffer from floods when the rains set in. Have you envisaged this problem, Sir? Yes, we are talking. Infact, even on Thursday this week, I was at the site to see the engineers handling the road. The communities there have actually led a delegation to us, requesting that the road continues. As I speak, it will be a thing of joy and I will be one of the happiest persons, if we are able to fix the whole of that road. I am putting pressure to bear on the government and the system., I am also putting pressure to bear on the contactors, and they have assured me that the moment there is a commitment from the government of Rivers State, they will be able to continue. Otherwise, you and I know the situation there. But again, if you also see the quality of job that the company is doing, the pipes they are laying on the two ears of the road, you will know that we are thinking of an underground drain that will disembark somewhere, and not an underground drain that will end at a particular spot. By the grace of God, we believe God that the road will be completed in record time.
Sir, you know that you have less than three months to go. But you can never shy away from the fact that that area is your area. And some persons are alleging that political sentiments are attached to the construction of that road. How true is this?
That can’t be correct. It can’t be true. There can’t be any political sentiments.
What is it for? I just mentioned to you that the contractors, for whatever consideration, may be for cost or whatever, they have felt that it is more convenient for them to commence from this side to where they are actually now.
Not again to conclude that that is the end of the road. I told you that they had led a delegation to me to find out what the situation was and I explained to them. The responsible ones, of course, understand that it is possible for such things to happen in government. But those who are critics, I won’t even call them critics, because there is nothing bad about being critical. If you are critical for good, to achieve something that is positive, it is okay. But there are some persons, whose stock in trade is to see how to pull everybody down; for them, it is a campaign item. APC is not able to do this, they have abandoned this road. Why do you want to support them? We thank God for the maturity of the people who live there.
We take time to explain to them. We are not foreclosing the possibility of completion of that road in record time.
Sir, your own election will come up on March 28, there are some voters who are still undecided right now. There are some others saying that because of what they heard concerning that road, they may not vote for you. What assurance are you giving these people and other members of your Constituency?
Well, my Constituency is the entire Obio/ Akpor Local Government Area. And the office, I am vying for is not an Executive Office. It is purely legislative. If my understanding of who a legislator is is anything to go by, he is not a man who gives or does contracts. What he does is to see how he can by persuasion and sound argument see how he can attract one developmental project or the other, by lobbying Ministries, Parastatals and all of that. But one thing that nobody can take away from me is the fact that I have a knack for development. And I derive pleasure in seeing people happy. I am not a sadist. I hate sadism, whatever form it takes. One reason why some of us felt we should throw our hats into the rings is the fact that we think that there is a disconnect between those we elect into office and us who elect them, particularly, those whom we sent to Abuja. And what do we mean by that? The moment we are able to put our hands on the ballot and complete elections, they completely disconnect with the people who voted for them. I don’t know why it happens and why that is the case. But for me and those who think the way I think, we feel that it is a vice we must change; it is something to correct. I have told my Obio/Akpor people that once I have the opportunity to represent them, one sure thing we need to do is to open a functional Constituency Office where you have your staffers seated. And then, people call come there to raise whatever concerns they have. At the end of the day, you will also find out that you are richer for it because they will be doing your researches for you. If you have a Constituency Office, and ensure that people come and send in their memorandum or memoranda, as it were, and let us know what it is, you will find out that they help you make your researches.
Yours is to put them in the proper forms that you need to put them and present them before the House as problems that confront your people. For instance, I use myself as a case in point. And I have told my colleagues, younger people, that some of you have potentials but you can’t harness your potentials because of certain environmental circumstances. It could be that because of the kind of country you have, where you have somebody who knows somebody, before you are able to strike a kind of goal somewhere. And if you don’t have the opportunity, you don’t. I use myself as an example. When we were younger, we used to play football very well. We did not know that football is lucrative. And there was nobody to prop us. Nobody to catapult us to the stage where we could play football for commercial purposes.
But by the grace of God now, we are able to see that those things are possible. We should be able to help the younger ones to realise their potentials. What do we do? If you open your flanks, and they are able to access you, you will begin to appreciate what their difficulties and problems are.
There is every indication that if you .scale through the hurdles of election, and get to the National Assembly, you would do things differently. This is because on your billboards and posters, there is this bold inscription, Fresh Dew. Can you please give us an insight into this?
Well, you know what fresh dew is. What that means is that we need to shower our people with a lot more attention. Like I said, this master-servant relationship must disappear. And they need to have a fresh and new lease of life. That is the whole thing about Fresh Dew. The dew in the morning, you know how fresh it is, and how refreshing it is to the body. So, we intend to remove this mask around somebody who is in government. Detach and remove the mask completely so that you will be able to appreciate the problems of our people. For instance, I don’t see myself as a big man, when ‘it has to do with identifying with my people. I sit down with them and we chat together. It is when you discuss with them, that you will be able to identify and appreciate their problems. If you don’t do so, too bad. In the society where we are, if you don’t provide jobs for the younger people, they will provide jobs for themselves; and by the time they provide jobs for themselves, you won’t sleep well. So, that is the situation where we find ourselves right now. So, everything about the Fresh Dew is completely a novelty.
We intend to inject some novelty, bring things that are new, in terms of interpersonal relationships, in terms of the knack for the development of our people. My drive is how much I am able to lobby the system to attract some developmental projects to my people. It is going to be to the glory of God and for the benefit of humanity.
Sir, there are some other important political positions you are eminently qualified to occupy. Why are you gunning for a House of Representatives seat?
First and foremost, it is that I have the knack to serve and to represent my people.
And in ObiojAkpor Local Government Area where we come from, in my own nature, I don’t like very hot food, particularly, when it does not belong to me.
Here, we have our own political arrangement. In ObiojAkpor, we have two Constituencies; Constituency One and Constituency Two. Constituency One is made up of eight Wards, Ward 1 to Ward 8. They are predominantly in Evo Kingdom. That is what we call them. Then, we also have Ward 9 to Ward 17, shared between Apara, Akpor and Rumueme. We have two offices that we rotate.
The office of the Chairman of Council and the House of Representatives. These are offices that have ObiojAkpor spread. We have also two House of Assembly Constituencies; Constituency One and Constituency Two. But the two offices that have Obio/Akpor spread are office of the Chairman of Council and House of Representatives. What we usually do is that if one goes to Constituency One, the other one automatically comes to Constituency Two. But for 16 donkey years, nobody from Constituency One has tasted the office of the Chairman of Council, elected or appointed. Until Six months ago that we put our legs down, and pleaded with His Excellency the Governor, by telling him what is happening in the local government. That was how Dr. Lawrence Chuku was appointed the Chairman of Caretaker Committee. It has always been somebody from Constituency Two and that was the machination of Chief E.N. Wike. Of course, the issue of zoning in our local government, he is the one who destroyed it just the same thing he is trying to do at the State level. He is the one that destroyed it.
So, it has been Constituency Two, Constituency Two. And the people of Constituency One have been crashing. Of course, you know that this House of Representatives thing, because of the way a lot of people used to do it, it is like a one man show. It is like we have just found a job for Mr. A and the person has no other business with those who elected him. Of Course, it is a trend we want to change because there is life after today. I live my life for today and tomorrow, as far as I am concerned. I don’t live my life for today only. So, when we came to our party, APC, we felt that justice ought to be done and be seen to have been done.
We, therefore, felt that Constituency One should produce the Chairman of Council while Constituency Two should produce the House of Representatives.
That was how it came to our zone. Even when it came to our zone, we have three Kingdoms; Apara, Akpor and Rumueme. So, When it was zoned to Constituency Two, the people of the ‘Constituency sat down and looked at what was on the table and decided that the House of Representatives position should be zoned to Apara people while the House of Assembly position should be zoned to Akpor people. They also decided that the Deputy Chairmanship position should be zoned to Rumueme. You can see that there is harmony. It is not a thing that anybody can criss-cross. So, when it came to Apara people, Apara has eight large communities and the people sat down and decided that it should come to Rumuigbo and the lot fell on me.
Sir, right now, you people are still campaigning. What are you telling the voters out there?
Well, I want to tell voters that in strict compliance to APC ideological underpinning, Change, we don’t have a country. We have long lost a country called Nigeria. We don’t have a country. When we were studying at the university \eve\, we got to a point where we identified the 10 indices of a failed State and Nigeria today displays about eight of these indices. And the worst of it is when you see warlords begin to have territorial control of an area and they say they are in charge. I am sure you know what I mean. When the likes of people that call themselves militants tell you that you cannot enter here, where they call their territory. And they do these things officially. I recall that at some point we wanted to go to campaign at the Ogoni axis and we were told that one militant was there and boasted that we won’t enter there. One advice that we got was that we should settle him. In other words, they know that he exists and that he was in illegal possession of fireworks and fire arms. For them, he is a hero. Now, do we really have a country? The whole essence of government, if we look at Political Science or the formation of civil society, it is about protection of lives and property. The other thing that follows is the provision of basic infrastructure. Are the lives of Nigerians safe? What it means is that for the past 16years PDP has been in power, one problem they have inherited from military administrations is the issue of power outage. Whilst countries like Ghana celebrates 365 days of constant power supply, Nigeria cannot celebrate two hours. Yet, we are the Giant of Africa. Yet, we have very rich mineral resources. We are seen to be very large. Do we still have a country? We don’t have a country. What I want to tell our people is that one thing that is permanent is change. You have tried this, it is not working, why don’t you try this and see how it goes. And when a contradiction gets to a rupture stage, we are told that it will explode. We can also give an elementary and kitchen example. It is like salt.
The moment salt loses its taste, it will no longer be qualified for anything. It cannot be sand to mould blocks. It can be nothing. It is only for it to be thrown away for children to trample on. That is what it is that the PDP has suffered.
The President came here and told us in the South-South that Rotimi Amaechi has challenged him. What was the challenge? That he had just realised that for six years, he was unable to do anything for the South-South, and that they should allow him for another four years. But we are saying that he should first and foremost be asking for the forgiveness of the people first. Let him ask for forgiveness before asking us to vote for him. Somebody who couldn’t do a thing for six years, he would now be able to do what he couldn’t do for six years. What is the guarantee? So, we have the message to give to the people and the people are buying into our philosophies. That is why the other political parties, knowing that they have no message, they resort to violence.
They resort to intimidation and all kinds of threats. Those are their stock in trade. But we are battle ready. They are trying to test the waters. Jega will go, Jega will not go. Why are they asking Jega to go? Because the man is hell bent on doing what is right. So, we are in a mess. Look at how much is the Naira. Yesterday, it was N225 to a Dollar. I don’t know how much it is today. Look at our Foreign Reserves, it is seriously depleted. There is inflation. Very soon, they will declare proper austerity measures. We don’t have a country.
The incident that happened in Okrika is still fresh in our memories. Sir, can you please use this opportunity to tell us what actually happened?
I was on ground in Okrika. You will be surprised to hear that I lost my shoes. I lost my pair of shoes. You could imagine the stupidity of a country. I followed the arguments on television and some people have attempted to water down what happened by saying that it was a problem between APC and APC. Whether it was APC internal problem or not, it is still part of the failings of the State, because it is the responsibility of the State to provide security. So, whether it is internal crisis, which of course, is far-fetched, it is not even to be contemplated. Whether it was internal fracas of the party that led to that, it still accounts for the fact that there is no security in the country. But the truth of the matter is that we had attempted a rally there before. The President’s wife ordered the destruction of the venue.
Before we got there, at about 3am, they had destroyed everything. The next other time, they said we are sorry, they could not provide security. Then.ithev suddenly told us that they were ready to provide security. Security men led us into the place. No sooner we had sat down to address our people than people started shooting sporadically, from different directions. Gunshots were raining in just like rain inside a venue filled with people. At least, you are aware that there were casualties. At least, somebody died. And I joined the governorship candidate of the APC to visit the family of the dead policeman. What we saw that day, you will weep, no matter how hard you are because we met a helpless young girl, the man’s wife. And we saw two small children. They said one was seven, the other one was five or something. They don’t even know what happened. You begin to lmagine.what happens to the future of these children.
Their father would have told them, “bve bye, when I come back” and the man didn’t return. The other one, they finished his legs, that one must be amputated.
The other one, they finished his private part, he was still a police officer. So, what is it? The whole thing about politics is, allow the man to go and say his nonsense, it is for the people to buy or refuse to buy his nonsense. Politics is about come and espouse, tell the people the policies and programmes that you will pursue if elected, as contained in your manifesto. By persuasion, convince them, they will follow you. It is not by the use of force, intimidation, violence. They had had the opportunity of going round there. Even if they want to go 10 times, they have the liberty to go. So, why are you disturbing other people? That is the country that we are. As we speak, nobody has been arrested, But just that somebody alleges that you tore a poster of a PDP member, you are arrested and it is no longer a bailable offence. I have a case here, my Ward 16 Chairman was arrested and detained for 16 donkey days for alleged destruction of poster. I say alleged, not that he was caught. He had gone to the police station to report to the DPO that he went to APC office and saw that everything there had been destroyed. He went to make an entry. They said no, there was a petition against him already. They abandoned the one that he came to make, and then, detained him for 16 days. And I got involved and was talking with the CP, until the issue was that they needed to go and beg the man whose poster was torn. It was not that they saw him. They alleged that he was the one that sent people. So, that one is no longer a bailable offence. But the people who have killed and are killing, nothing has happened to them. In ONELGA, not less than 25 of our men have been killed. So many of our people have been maimed and wounded. Not even one person is under arrest or under investigation, not even one person.
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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