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Special Interview

Attempting To  Steal The People’s Mandate Is A Serious Crime- Wike

 We decided  to  commence  our infrastructural  development  from the state capital because  that is where the first time visitor lands. When you get a bad impression about the state capital, this impression is likely  to  force you out of the state. If you see bad roads in the state capital,  you are likely to have negative  impression of the state. We took  a decision  to fix the roads and other infrastructural needs  of  Port Harcourt City.

In Nigeria,  there are states that are traditional to some political  parties.  Rivers State  is  one of such states. It belongs  to  the  PDP.  When you use force to attempt to collect it, you cause crisis. People  will resist.  When you want to steal the mandate  of the people,  it is more heinous  than other crimes. Stealing the mandate of  the  people is a serious crime and it is worse than armed robbery.

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Nigerians are now at
home with the superlative  performance of Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike in terms of infrastructural  development,  security  and human capital  development.  As a result,  several  associations are now hosting their national and international  events in Rivers State.  One of such groups is the Nigerian Guild of Editors.  The leadership of the Guild met with  the  governor  for a pre-national conference  breakfast meeting.
In this interactive session with the standing committee members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike talks about his projects, the rerun elections, foreign scholarships  and security  issues in the state.
Excerpts :
Why we are open to host national and international events..
Let me thank the Nigerian Guild of Editors for bringing  their Annual General Conference to Rivers State.  One important benefit of this conference  is that it will let the public  know  that Port Harcourt is safe , Rivers State is safe.  To let you  know  that several  international and national conferences  have taken place  here in the last one month.  In the course of the last one month, we have  had the AMAA here, we have also had the Magistrates Association of Nigeria National Conference.  We will be hosting  the Annual  Conference  of the Nigerian Bar Association , the Federal High Court Judges Legal Year, the Conference  of Chartered Arbitrators and the PDP National Convention.  That shows that all the rumours  you may be hearing  are not true. Apart from  that, these national conferences  will boost our economy.  We have  several  hotel  bookings,  local transport and feeding as well as other benefits  that will accrue to residents of the state. The state government  will also make revenue in terms of taxation.
The importance of the media. ..
When they say we have three arms of government,  I don’t agree. I believe  the the Media is the fourth arm of  government.  Why do I say so? Everybody  depends  on  the  information  from the  media. Information is key. Information  is  the raw material  for decision  making . It is  important that you  always publish information  that will  promote  democracy. Part of  the  reason the coup failed in Turkey was because  of  the  publicity from the  media.
The media  should  help this country  to let the world know what Nigeria  is facing.
For me as a governor,  this is an opportunity and not a right. When you have this privilege,  you use it for the benefit of the people.  We know what we passed through  to get to this point.
My struggles as a governor. ..
Nobody  has had the type of legal tussle  we have  had. Mine started before my inauguration.  Of course, attempts were made to make sure that I was not inaugurated.  To tell you  how bad it was, I was not allowed  to  use the police  ceremonial vehicle for my inauguration.  We had to borrow  from Ondo State. We thank God  that has passed but I have to give you  the background.
Thereafter, the legal  tussle  continued  until  January 27, 2016 when we were free to move forward.  If you  compare from June,  May 29 was on Friday  and work started on Monday. From that time to January  27, 2016, it was one problem or the other. From the Tribunal  to the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court .  When you have such problems, you hardly  can be focused.  But I thank  God  that we were focused and we did not  allow that to distract us.
Initial Challenges resolved. ..
When we came on board,  we inherited four  months salary  arrears and six months  pension  arrears.  We give God the glory that we have  been able to pay  all. The then Sharks of Port Harcourt, Dolphin and Rivers Angels were owed for eight months. We were able to clear that. And we said , with the economy,  it would  be  difficult  for  us to maintain  three  clubs. For Sharks and Dolphin , we had to merge them to form Rivers United. The club  is doing well  and it is contesting  for the league.
On foreign scholarships. ..
Some people  may say that there are children who are on overseas scholarships whom they claim the state has abandoned.  That is not true. We must tell ourselves  the simple  truth. Yes, before, the state under the previous administration  was getting  N20billion,  but now we get N3billion to N4billion  monthly. You have to prioritise and tell the people  the reality . I am not against  giving out scholarships when you have the resources. At the time we came, the state was owing  about N4billion on these foreign scholarships.  If you  pay the N4billion debt,  that is not the end. You have to pay for those at different  levels  of  study. Scholarship is good to encourage  our people.  But there are certain  courses you don’t send people abroad to study because our universities  offer  such programmes.  Why would I send students  abroad  to study English Language, Social Studies or Political Science?  But we are ready to offer scholarships to students  to study peculiar  courses in Medicine and Engineering.
We said look, it is not possible  for the state as it is now to fund scholarships in courses that are offered here in Nigeria. We agreed to pay off for those writing  their final  year  examinations  which amounted to N1.8 billion. Those of them studying English, Political Science  and  Accountancy,  we said that we will still give you scholarships,  but it will be in Nigerian universities.  We expect them to return  to  take this offer. To say that they would  remain  on the state’s account is not possible.  Some of them, their parents are rich and they are not from poor background.  Yes, there are few from poor background.  Some scholarships are for children  who are not from Rivers State.  In some instances,  they were political  scholarships.  As it is today, we don’t have the funds to continue  with such scholarships.
Infrastructural development. ..
We decided  to  commence  our infrastructural  development  from the state capital because  that is where the first time visitor lands. When you get a bad impression about the state capital, this impression is likely  to  force you out of the state. If you see bad roads in the state capital,  you are likely to have negative  impression of the state. We took  a decision  to fix the roads and other infrastructural needs  of  Port Harcourt City. They were really bad at the time we assumed office. We also resolved to use reputable  construction  companies  to carry out  the works. We engaged Julius Berger,  CCECC,  CGC, Setraco. In fact, the whole of the city has been handled by Julius Berger and CCECC. That is why  you see quality  roads with no potholes in the state capital. You can see within the Government House, Julius Berger is restoring the old Brick House, the former  administrative  office of the state. They are also building  a chapel  of  worship.
I had a policy that even though we did not start some of  the  roads, when we feel that they are relevant we will complete them. Why do you abandon relevant  projects  where public  funds have been  committed. When we took that decision,  some criticised us, saying  start your own. The problem  we have in this country  is leaders insisting  on starting  their own projects. All projects that had bearing with the needs of the people  have been  completed.  That is why  today, you will  hardly  find abandoned projects in the state. Look at the Law Faculty at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.  Since Okilo ,  nobody  wanted to complete  it. But we have completed  it and it is the best in the country, with electronic  and traditional  libraries and other state-of-the-art facilities. See our roads.  The whole of Diobu ,  the whole of Borikiri have had their roads reconstructed. If you are a Port Harcourt person,  you will  appreciate  the massive  development  that is taking place. For the past ten years, we have  never had Street lights. We made it a policy to fix Street lights on all the major streets in Port Harcourt.  Since you are in town, take off time in the night and drive through Ikwerre Road, Aba Road and other major streets to appreciate the transformation  taking place. This  has also enhanced security.
Security in the state
As regards to security, I have always maintained  that nobody  should politicise security.  Because when you begin to politicise  security, the society will be in trouble.  I think I am the only state governor  who has had more than four Commissioners of Police since I became governor.  Each time, they change  a Commissioner  of Police when an election is approaching.  When the election is over ,  they bring another one. That is how they changed the Director  of  the  DSS. This is not helping  anyone. When a Commissioner  of Police  is settling down to plan with  the  state government  on how to improve  security,  they transfer  him, bring another person  and the process starts all over. I ask myself what is the benefit of these frequent changes. There are people  who  believe  that  there should be crisis in this state. Who will it benefit if there is crisis?  When we had cases of kidnappings, instead of others to sit down with the state to resolve  the challenge,  they started making unreasonable  remarks. So I ran to God to pray. God now helped and the problem has been  transferred to  other states.  Now, we have  kidnapping  everywhere  in Nigeria.  In some  states,  they kidnap diplomats and traditional rulers .Kidnapping  is almost  gone here. It is  not  by my power , it is by God’s grace. When they said they will declare State of  Emergency here,  I said God save me and He saved me by pushing insecurity  to other states. Kidnapping  is  now a national  crime.
On pipeline vandalism
This is the only state that you have not seen oil pipeline  vandalism. I believe  in the unity of this country. I believe  that if the economy  collapses, the state will  collapse. We are doing everything  to make  sure we don’t have that kind of crisis here.  What the Federal Government  should  do is to give us support to consolidate our security  measures.
Rivers State is for PDP. ..
There are states that traditionally belong to a political party.  Even in the United States , you have states that are for Democrats and those that are for Republicans.  You also have swing states. In Nigeria,  there are states that are traditional to some political  parties.  Rivers State  is  one of such states. It belongs  to  the  PDP.  When you use force to attempt to collect it, you cause crisis. People  will resist.  When you want to steal the mandate  of the people,  it is more heinous  than other crimes. Stealing the mandate of  the  people is a serious crime and it is worse than armed robbery. The difference  is that while the ordinary  armed robber uses arms to steal money, this political  armed robbers use arms to steal votes. When you are armed to snatch ballot boxes, is it not armed robbery? It is even worse . If you  have in mind to commit election  robbery,  the people  will resist it.
That was what happened  during  the  March 19 rerun elections. They came to rig us, so that they will have the number  in the Assembly  to impeach me. You know they cancelled over 90percent of the Assembly seats and everything  for the National Assembly.  So they came to rig the elections.  I told them to have a rethink  because  it would not be easy  to do that in Rivers State.
Unnecessary deployment of armed forces for the rerun elections. ..
I have never seen the kind of security I saw during the March  rerun elections .  Even if Obama  comes, there would not be that kind of security.  I thought  even  the President  has never  had that kind of security.  It was unbelievable.  I make a state broadcast as an incumbent  state governor,  some other person  would go and make a broadcast.  The Federal Government behaved as if nothing  was happening.  I knew it would  be difficult because  when you  push a people to the wall, they react. We resisted them. The same people who said there was no election,  are now the persons at the Tribunal  saying  that they won. When they claimed  there was no elections,  now they are saying they should  declare them winners. I have never seen such a thing in my  life. People claimed in Press Conferences  that there were no elections, but today they are saying they won.
Rivers State is peaceful. ..
They say Rivers State is not  peaceful  and I say that Rivers State is very peaceful.  Since there were no elections,  have you  been  hearing  of killings?  That tells you  that the reports of insecurity were only sponsored  for political  gains. When they come now  to say we should make peace, I agreed because  I am a peace maker. Even though  it was a set up because  nobody  told me  that  I  was invited  for a peace meeting.  I was invited to go and see the DG of the DSS without  knowing  that something was going on.  If you look at the pictures,  I was alone. I didn’t go with anybody thinking that I was going to see the DG. Reaching there I saw the other people.  I am not against  peace, but what I am discovering  now,  calls for vigilance.  Nigeria  is too big for you to think that you will plan and nobody  will know. Nobody  will take me by surprise.  You told me to make peace and I  am making peace. But what I am seeing now shows that there is a game going on. As I speak  to you,  they have transferred  all key senior policemen and they are bringing  people they think  will do their bidding. The one that is shocking is the police officer who caused serious  crisis during the March 19 rerun elections. He was queried and transferred out of Rivers State,  now they have brought him back. The same security  people  who said we should make peace are doing a different thing. Tomorrow,  you will  say there is no peace in Rivers State.  Do we need to deceive ourselves?  Rivers State is a critical state as far as Nigeria  is concerned. You can’t take our mandate by force. As I speak  with you, there is nothing I can’t  do for Rivers State. I can lay down my life for the state. If you  like , bring American marines,  the worst that will happen  is that they will kill all of us. If that is the sacrifice, so be it. I don’t when we agree on something,  you start doing a different  thing,  it is not  the best.
My information to INEC :
I wrote to INEC to use its  staff for the rerun  elections.  Leave these university  people. Why? You don’t know where their loyalty  will be. I schooled at the University of Port Harcourt,   so I know all the  lecturers. I know who is a supporter of PDP and I know who is a supporter of APC.  Rivers  State  is  the only  state  holding  elections,  so go and  take all your staff ,  bring them here, let them conduct free and fair  elections.  Because  they appointed  the Vice Chancellor of the university, they made him compile names of their loyalists as returning officers,  took same to INEC  and  INEC  approved. There was no problem.  But the problem  started when they saw the results  from the field. When they  noticed that the APC  was not winning,  they ran away. There was nobody  to collate the  results. Then, the elections became  inconclusive.  I just can’t  understand.  Even if it is your father’s  younger brother,  bring him. Results will come from the field and he must collate the results.  When results come from the field, you won’t see the returning  officer, he has  taken off and they say it is inconclusive. And they   reschedule.   Failing Propaganda. ..
They intensified  propaganda that once you  land in Rivers State, kidnappers will abduct you at the airport.  But you have  been here for days and you have experienced  the security.  Lies are easy to sell,  but they don’t last. They have a terminal  period. When the terminal  period comes the truth takes over.  This Port Harcourt you have come to will expose you to the truth. I will  give  INEC  all the  support  to conduct  free and fair elections.  This is only one state. What happens  in 2019 when they conduct  elections  for the whole country. I have told my people  to be prepared.  If you  are sleeping,  don’t sleep again. This peace we are making,  I suspect  they want to come without us knowing.  Let’s be prepared.  I don’t trust these people.  INEC can announce  election date any day.  They did it in Abuja.  When they fixed elections  on a working  day. Nobody is travelling.
PDP  will continue to win in Rivers State. . .
Do the elections  200 times, it will be the same results. They are only postponing  the day of reckoning. They are trying  to  cover the political  inadequacies  of one man. They say they don’t want him to be embarrassed.  But there is no embarrassment. It is the voice of the people that matters. Elections  are the prerogative  of the people.  It has nothing  to  do  with  the  political  image  of  anyone.

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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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Special Interview

Rivers, Now Investment Destination Of Choice-Nsirim

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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?
For COVID?
Yes!
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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Special Interview

Rivers Roads’ll Stand Test Of Time -Commissioner

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Poorly maintained roads are known to cause most of the fatal auto accidents that occur in Nigeria. Issues such as potholes, clear zone issues, confusing signages, inadequate signage, sudden driver manouvres, and reckless driving have been identified as the major causes of more than 85 per cent of deaths on Nigerian roads yearly. Bad road conditions have also been blamed for many injuries and damages to cars. The Tide’s Correspondent, Susan Serekara-Nwikhana recently interviewed the Rivers State Commissioner for Works, Sir Austin Ben-Chioma, to gain insight into what the present government is doing differently to change this ugly narrative in the state.
Excerpts:.
Honourable Commissioner, looking at the near collapse of the Iloabuchi-Eagle Island Road constructed five years ago, how do you feel?
A report came alerting me of the near collapse of the bridge. So, I sent my engineers to check the level of damage and they saw it was bad. I went there myself to find out whether what they told me was what it was. It was true and the bridge is an old bridge. the bridge given its age and the condition the bridge is in, we found out that if they continue to use it, this bridge may fall and claim lives, which is one thing that we are guarding against; so we said ok let’s close it.
The governor has approved its repair; we are just waiting. It is a matter of time for the fund to be available to put that bridge to use again. As of now, that portion of the bridge is blocked because we wouldn’t want anybody to manage it and, before you know it, something bad happens. But we are optimistic that in a short while fund will be made available to carry out repairs soonest.
What do you think is responsible for the near collapse of the bridge barely five years after despite the huge sum of money put in for the repairs?
Yes, I wasn’t the commissioner then and the factor that played out there is not under my purview to have known why they took the decision they took, but the truth should be said. The bridge can be rehabilitated just as it was done at that time. Apparently, they thought the rehabilitation they did would last longer, but it did not because the biggest problem there is the embankment, the erosion. As we know, once embankment is exposed to river or water, erosion sets in.
What would be done about the bridge to bring a lasting positive impact to users?
We want to rehabilitate it now. We want to do a thorough work that will last for some time again; we are not building a brand-new bridge, but it is rehabilitation that we still want to do. It will be something better that will last longer.
It is generally observed that roads constructed by founding fathers of the state last longer than those constructed today by present leaders. What do you think is responsible for that?
Two things are responsible for why roads constructed by present leaders do not last long. One, the number of vehicles then and now is not the same as every road is designed with the anticipation that there is duration of length of years or life span for the road. If the road is used always by heavy vehicles carrying loads, then, the usage will determine the life span of that road. Those days, the cars we had in Nigeria and in Port Harcourt, the numbers are not the same compared to what we have today. As you can see, we have cars everywhere now and the same roads that the few cars that plied the road then, now, we have ten times the number of cars plying that same road, so you don’t expect it to last that long.
But the point is, yes, the usage is quite high now, higher than the way it was used in the past, but given what Julius Berger is doing for us now, the roads will last as it’s observed that Julius Berger roads last longer than those of other construction firms.
Based on your conclusion, are you implying that Julius Berger should be used for road construction instead of indigenous contractors?
One, I am not saying that but, I tell you, you can’t compare Julius Berger roads to those built by our indigenous contractors.
Two, Julius Berger has a good reputation in the whole of this country. As such, they are supposed to be given Number One position when it has to do with construction and if that is the case.
Number one is number one and they should know that Julius Berger is more expensive than other contractors because of the durability and quality of job they give you. You will pay for it. It is not free, that is what it is, but everybody that likes good job would want to give such job to Julius Berger if they have the fund because you will like the road and infrastructure to last for a very long time. So, if you have the fund you will want to give Julius Berger.
There are some other good indigenous contractors too, but not at the level of Julius Berger.
Is there any effort being made by your ministry to draw the attention of the Governor to the poor state of the Agip Roundabout by Abacha and NLNG Roads so that these roads could be repaired any time soon?
We have a project, and the project is from Education (Bus Stop). It is a 19.1-kilometer road from Education to the New Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium. LCC are the contractors handling that project. We are re-surfacing from there to Rukpokwu Roundabout. After this roundabout, we are now expanding three meters on both sides making it a total of six meters up to Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium. From that part to Igwuruta has been expanded with drainages before doing the final work.
For the NLNG Bridge, we know that we have small depression, the bridge is intact. There is nothing wrong with the bridge. The whole structure of the bridge is intact, but there is this material depression at the surface. This has led to our blocking that area and everything is being put in process for us to progress and start.
What is your take on the Agip-Mgbuoshimini Road awarded to a contractor almost three years ago by His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Wike; the central market in which marketers were displaced?
We will visit the area as soon as the demolition exercise is over to ascertain the true position of things.

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