For many months,
leading to the appointment of care taker committees for local government area by the Governor Nyesom Wike administration in Rivers State, Eleme was regularly in the news for the wrong reasons. Peace had eluded the people on account of inter-cult rivalry, resulting in senseless killings and wanton destruction of property.
Added to that was the measure of acrimony and bad blood which the leading political parties demonstrated in their quest to win the soul of Eleme. Rather than seek the people’s votes according to law and in a civilised manner, politicians resorted to thuggery, intimidation and often times molestation.
That scenario made meaningful development unthinkable as basic needs of the people, particularly access roads and youth empowerment suffered greatly.
Infact, a thick cloud of stagnation covered the once progressive and indeed peaceful Eleme, to such extents that made a meaningful change most inevitable.
Added to all these, was the dwindling resources of the local government council which could hardly pay workers salary not to talk of pursuing any meaningful development project. The council’s wage bill was also so over bloated, on account of questionable imprests fixed by principal local government officers for themselves, so much so that unless something drastic was done, Eleme would remain stagnant.
Such was the setting until three or so weeks ago, when a Lawyer/ Journalist, and editorial staff of The Tide Newspaper, Barr Philip Okparaji was named Chairman of the Care Taker Committee of the Eleme Council, for an initial period of three months. Addressing the rot within so short a period is indeed a herculean task, but the journalists in him, the culture of working ‘25’ hours a day, and the passion to succeed remain the young man’s weapons for imminent success.
After a series of meetings with the feuding cult groups and a clamp down on some recalcitrant few, relative peace has since been restored. Infact, within the past three weeks, there has not been any violent incident that threatened the peace of the area, for many months.
With that achieved, the Okparaji-led council has started the rehabilitation of access roads, particularly the market road at Alesa which has been in a state of total disrepair. Also, the youth empowerment and skills acquisition project is set to take-off.
A sound communicator, journalist, lawyer, trade-unionist and grassroot mobiliser, none is better suited to clear the mess in Eleme, than Philip Okparaji, such is the confidence his appointers have in him.
Born Philip Okparaji, September 15, 1971, in Aleto, Eleme, the youngman attended State School, Aleto and later Community Secondary School, Koro-Koro, before proceeding to the Federal School of Arts and Science, Aba, Abia State, where he obtained his First School Leaving and Senior School Certificates respectively.
Not done, Okparaji attended the University of Port Harcourt, where he obtained a B.Sc (Hons) Degree in Political / Administrative Studies before moving over to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, where he bagged LL.B (Hons) Bachelor of law degree. He also obtained Masters Degree in Public Administration (MPA) and Masters, International Relations from the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
He then proceeded to the Nigeria Law School, Kano Campus in 2006 and was thereafter called to the Bar as Barrister At-Law (BL) holder.
To be properly rooted in his chosen profession, Okparaji also obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism (PGD) from the International Instiute of Journalism, Abuja.
Today, Okparaji is a proud holder of a Masters Degree in International Law and Jurisprudence (LL.M) and was until his appointment as Care-taker Chairman, Deputy Editor of The Tide Newspaper incharge of Labour and Political Matters.
In all these thrills and travails, Okparaji also garnered the requisite working experience that prepared him for his current redemption mission. Apart from being a practising journalist and lawyer, the youngman is a trade unionist and labour leader.
In 1996, he was Research and Planning Officer, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Sokoto State, Principal Personnel Officer, NOA, Sokoto NYSC and between 1997-1999 was Programme Officer, Centre for Political and Environmental Education, Port Harcourt.
Between 1999 and 2000, Okparaji was pioneer Secretary, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Eleme LGA chapter, Senior Special Assistant, Media, Eleme Local Government Area, 2003 and between 2006 and 2007 served as Legal Adviser, Nigeria Labour Congress, Rivers State. He was also, Community Liason Assistant, United Nations Environment Programme (UNDOP/UNEP), Ogoni Environment, Project, Port Harcourt between 2010 and 2012.
Okparaji is a member of several professional bodies, notably the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA).
Armed with this rich resume and enviable pedigree of grassroot mobilisation, Okparaji did not have problem settling down for business, the business of restoring the once peaceful, progressive and united Eleme, for reasonable development.
A sound communicator, Okparaji with his first week in office succeeded in meeting with all stakeholders and with his experience in the National Orientation Agency (NOA), has been able to effect attitudinal change among the once feuding cult groups and convincing many to renounce cultism, violence and senseless killings.
Apart from having the political class on his side through persuasive engagement, Okparaji positively engaged labour within the council and successfully won the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), into his restoration crusade.
In a meeting with NULGE, last Friday, Okparaji solicited the support and cooperation of the workforce in efforts aimed at closing some conduit pipes constructed to drain scarce council resources. One step is the personnel audit, which kicks-off today. It is expected that every staff would present letter of first appointment, another on last promotion and a valid salary account.
At every change of government, there is often, the tendency of the exiting government to smuggle in new staff without due process. Such staff further shoot up the wage bill, thus making it virtually impossible for the new council administration to render quality service to the rural people, for which the LG administration was mooted, in the first place.
Another challenge, Okparaji is set to tackle this week is the review of imprest to all senior LG officers. With no specific law guiding extra emoluments for such officers, senior LG staff fix outrageous imprests for themselves.
According to Okparaji, some of such officers receive monthly imprests, far higher than the salary of directors in the public service. These are worked into the salary accounts of such officers, thus, making the council’s wage bill not merely unrealistic but unmanageable.
Naturally, every change comes with a price as many are slow to accept it. But Okparaji is optimistic that at the end of the review and indeed his restoration project, other succeeding council executives would be properly equipped to render quality service to the Eleme people.
Within the brief period provided, he said, efforts would be made to address the fluctuating fortunes of the Eleme people, ensure peace and unity and create the necessary environment for development.
To succeed in that direction, the youth, men and women must be positively engaged, through skills acquisition and empowerment programmes while also assisting small and middle enterprises to thrive and in turn contribute to the economy of the area.
Okparaji appreciates the country’s dwindling foreign resources on account of oil and gas price volatility, and the need for diversification.
He hopes to reach out to schools and all public institutions in the area, to establish farms for agricultural purposes. The council, will on its part, assist such institutions with basic needs to operate.
With such recourse to agriculture, Eleme should be able to feed itself and also sell to other LGAs. That would, infact, reduce the burden of the council in meeting the welfare needs of the people.
How is Okparaji going to achieve all this within the three months period? “With the kind of cooperation and support I enjoy from virtually all stakeholders, and their belief in the need to streamline things, no time will be considered too small to effect the necessary changes”, he assured.
This indeed is the burden of a Tide journalist thrown into the wild of politics.
Soye Wilson Jamabo