‘We Need A New Political Culture In Rivers’

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While many states in the country which came out from the April 11, 2015 gubernatorial and state Houses of Assembly elections have hit the ground running, Rivers State is yet to attain a smooth running of governmental affairs because of the ongoing legal tussles arising from the said elections. In this chat with our Chief Correspondent, Opaka Dokubo, the Rivers State Director of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Oliver Wolugbom bares his mind on the situation and offers some advice. Excerpts.
What is your reading of the political situation in Rivers State?
I am not too happy with what is happening in Rivers State. If you remember, we had our presidential election on March 28 this year, and after then, on April 11, we had the governorship election. If you check from 11th of April till today, Rivers State has not had peace. Before, during and after the election, we are still bickering while other states have settled down to governance. I did say before the election that everyone should comport themselves and put their acts together and go to the electorate, and that at the end of the day, one party will emerge and when that happens and other parties do not feel comfortable, there are avenues of ventilating their grievances through the tribunals and the law courts. And that is going on.  I think that is a good one instead of resorting to self help.
But what is painful to the National Orientation Agency is that while that is going on, there is always one media issue or the other that is distracting the people and even governance. Sometimes I ask myself, as Rivers people, when did we degenerate to this point? I believe that everyone has a right to ventilate their anger through the constitutional process. But I think that whoever is on the saddle now should be allowed to run his course as the constitutional process continue and whatever decision is reached at the end of the day, so be it.
On a daily basis, I am inundated with calls from the police and other security agencies, and people outside the state “director, National Orientation Agency. What is happening?” they think that we are fighting in the state and that is because of what is churned out to them through the media, that there is so much tension that we can hardly walk on the streets, all because of the political situation in the state.
My advice is that actors are to look at what is happening in other states, they are on the fast lane of development now. I know that development projects are going on in Rivers State but if you look at the tempo as compared to other states, we are far behind. We need to put our differences behind us, let the legal process go on and allow governance to continue. I think it is time for everybody to have peace.
How Is The Situation  Affecting The Masses
It is obvious that what is happening is affecting us on all fronts. Let me start with what has happened since after the election. If you look at the situation in the State, there was a period schools couldn’t even resume. Every day what you hear is “governor has not done this, governor has done this.” These are distractions.
Lagos State also went through the same legal process but Lagos State was functioning. Everyone concentrated their attention on the battle in the courts while day to day running of the state went on smoothly.
The situation here is affecting the state negatively. For instance, there are no caretaker committees now and there is no one manning the councils, apart from the civil servants and I am aware that many of the councils have not received their pay for one or two months because there is no one in charge. Even if you go to the ministries, because the commissioners are not there, many things are not happening.
Even our House of Assembly members are always in Abuja in pursuit of their cases and because there is no way they can be in Abuja and also be here at the same time, the day to day running of the affairs of the state is greatly hampered. Even when civil servants do what they ought to do, because of the absence of the policy makers to give the authorisations, things don’t get fully done and this is affecting the common people.
Advice For Government, the Opposition And The People
I think we need to understand that party is different from government. I keep educating our people on that. Yes, we know that those in government came to be on the platform of a party, but we must differentiate between party and government to the extent that once you come to power, you no longer talk as a party man. You now talk as government official.
If you compare the number of people that are registered as political party members, you will discover that they are very few when compared to the vast majority of people who don’t belong but form part of the electorate. The point is that once a government is formed, those in parties should go ahead and do what they are doing but our people will always look up to those they have brought into power to do those things they promised the people. So, I expect that, no matter what, they should be focused, let them not be distracted because they made promise before they came and it is that promise the people are expecting to be fulfilled.
If you look at what is happening in the state now, many people are saying that they are happy. Some people who are staying in Borokiri are saying that for a long time they had to put with the difficulty of driving into their place but today they find it much easier. The same thing is happening with those in Diobu. So these are some of the infrastructures the people expect and because this is what you promised to do and you are doing it. They are happy.
I think that those in the opposition have a right to challenge what they don’t like but in challenging it, I say do it with love. Criticism is good but not criticizing for the sake of it. In fact, the work of an opposition is to put the government in power on its toes.
Those in government should be focused and deliver on their promise both at the state and federal levels. At the moment, youths are already agitating that they should be paid the five thousand naira unemployment allowance they were promised by the government at the centre. I don’t believe this is politics because the promise was made. On the other hand, you came and promised a number of things you will do for Rivers people, you should focus on delivering on those promises.
The people want to see the benefit of those things that made them give you their mandate but if you derail, they will not be happy. Democracy is all about the people and that is why we at NOA discourage statement that personalise government performance. The resources deployed to execute the projects belong to the people and the government functionaries only execute what has been expressly approved by the people through the mandate given.
It is unfortunate that everything that happens in Rivers State now is given a political meaning.
Do We Need a New Political Re-orientation In Rivers State?
We need a new political culture in Rivers State.
I said it before the election that it was not proper to say that you had won the election even before the contest. And if you didn’t win, you now believe that there was something wrong and that is part of why we are having this problem.
You could see people who were following you, you could see crowd who were singing your song but you couldn’t tell where they stood, whether they would vote for you or not; you couldn’t even tell whether they had the pre-requisite to vote: whether they had their cards or they could even get to their polling units to vote. It is wrong to make projections from the crowds that turn up at campaign venues. You must allow the people to make their decision.
When we were in school, you could never tell. Whether you would win election or not until the manifesto night because it is your performance that day that will determine whether even the people who had been following you will vote for you or not. But these days politicians make projections by the crowd that follow them around.
I don’t want to stop anybody from following through with the legal process of seeking redress but if at the end of the day you’re not victorious, or if they do another election and you’re not victorious, wait and prepare for the next election. Look at the president himself, he kept trying until he succeeded, so why would you pull everything down because you did not succeed now?
People should be applauded for the good things they do and if there are anything they have not done so well, you can also point them out without being antagonistic about it. There is a way you point out things about somebody, the person will see it and understand. So, I think that there is something we need to change about our political culture in the state. The culture that if I don’t win, let nobody go is what is happening now because we have allowed people from other states to begin to determine what happens here. You can see people who have no business in Rivers State making statements and taking decisions over Rivers State matter. It is because of the way and manner we are playing the politics now. Why should people who are not part of Rivers State say this must happen or this must not append in Rivers State?  We, did we go and talk like that in their own issues? But it is happening because we have given them the chance.
We must remember that elections will come and go and somebody will be at the helm of affairs at a time and if for whatever reason you didn’t get, it means that at this particular time, the people said hold on.
The point I am making is that when people go into politics they should know that there is failure and there is success. So, if failure comes, accept it. You shouldn’t think that you must succeed.
The political culture now is that if it is not me or us, no other person. Thank God, most of the people contesting in Rivers State are young and that means they have time to come back in the future. That is the culture I advocate in Rivers State.
I want to thank God we are getting over this upland-riverine dichotomy issue. Unfortunately we now have “if it is not me or us, we must make things impossible.” It didn’t start now, it has been happening for the past eight to twelve years. Every group seems to believe that if we don’t get elected now, heavens will fall. It will not fall. The only thing is that you will be making the place uncomfortable for the people.