Nyesom Wike, a lawyer and Governor of Rivers State first caught my fancy when he was a minister in Nigeria’s Ministry of Education. He was the one who always popped up at building sites of educational institutions, raving at contractors for doing a shoddy job. He was the voice that rebuked inert and lazy heads of schools and teachers for not showing good leadership and making themselves role models for their pupils and students. As a minister, Wike walked the talk as it were. He worked the mills. He showed uncommon abhorrence for indolence and never missed an opportunity to reprimand errant school heads. He was daring; he was audacious.
Wike was simply the ideal wonk for the nation’s morally-sagging and knowledge-challenged education sector at that time. And he was not all talking, he was a doer; full of action. It is not always that you get to see a Nigerian minister personally supervising projects under his ministry or getting directly involved in monitoring and evaluation of work ethics, commitment and general performance of personnel under his watch. Wike, the wonk, did all of this as minister. I developed a personal admiration for him simply on account of his passion and zeal to get things right in the education sector.
Today, as Governor of Rivers State, it is now obvious that the Wike who popped up on our television screens prodding teachers and heads of schools to make the most of their vocation and calling was not play-acting. He was just being himself: a man who wants the best for his country. Penultimate week, nearly 300 Nigerian editors, from the sober veteran class to the feisty army of young recruits into the fold, gathered in Port Harcourt for the 12th edition of the All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC), the flagship annual conference and festival of ideas organised by the Nigerian Guild of Editors. This year’s edition was special to me not so much because it held in the nation’s Garden City but because my colleagues found me worthy to chair the Planning Committee. It was so much a daunting task organizing a huge-budget conference in so short a time in a season of economic recession. But we pulled through.
End-point: it turned out to be one of the very best of the Guild’s conferences. But it served a much bigger purpose. It provided Nigerian editors an opportunity to evaluate the Governor; to unmask the real Wike. This is usually a major highpoint in the Guild’s conference: an opportunity to assess the host governor, feel the pulse of the masses and pass a verdict – damning or gracious – on the leadership of the host state. Editors just like any journalist are usually inquisitorial, exploratory and adventurous. Port Harcourt offered a fitting ambience for the editors to satiate their yen. A quick take-away from such adventurous indulgence was that all the fuss about insecurity in Rivers State was largely misplaced and an orchestrated campaign to malign both the people and the leadership of the state. Rivers State is safe and this is indexed by the ubiquitous contingent of foreigners and Nigerians from all tribes and tongues and much more by its very active night life. And you wonder why Nigeria’s electoral body, INEC, has continued to stall in conducting the outstanding parliamentary elections in the state. If INEC could conduct elections in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Kaduna State et al, it simply beggars logic why it cannot do same in Rivers State.
This year’s ANEC had as theme: “Economic Diversification – Agriculture as Option for a Prosperous Nigeria.” It is the first time that editors would focus majorly on agrobusiness; and it was deliberate. The nation’s economy is in stasis. Over-reliance on crude oil cash is no longer a fanciful indulgence. Its many negative spinoffs namely crashing value of the naira at the forex market, weakening export profile and job cuts in all sectors, means the nation must look elsewhere for salvation. Agriculture offers the most plausible and feasible option. And the organisers were smart to invite real farmers to speak at the conference. They were complemented by financiers of agriculture, this time the Bank of Agriculture, policy-makers and sundry stakeholders in the agriculture value chain.
Beyond that, the conference offered Nigerian editors a platform to explore the state and assess the man Wike. The assessment aside individual sorties in and about town by the visiting editors came in the way of a tour of projects undertaken by and those ongoing in the state. From total re-modelling of two major historical landmarks in the state: the old Brick House (old Government House) and the Civic Centre to massive construction of housing projects, healthcare facilities, education facilities, elevation of infrastructure for the judiciary to befitting standards, the ambitious erection of a world-class pleasure park to compliment the hospitality status and tourism drive of the Wike administration to provision of public transport facilities and road construction and rehabilitation, it was self-evident that Wike is on a mission to make a loud statement on good governance.
Without doubt, Governor Wike has set sight on creating a better and modern Rivers State to the admiration of editors attending the conference. By far, his greatest trophy is the quality and quantum of road projects he has elected to do. And quite unlike most Nigerian politicians, he has the presence of mind to acknowledge that some of the road projects were awarded by the previous government but were abandoned on account of inadequate or no funding at all. He has evidence to show the state of the roads when he inherited them. “I do not play politics with development; any project started by my predecessor which I consider to positively impact on my people, I have never failed to continue with it for as long as it is cost-effective and within the bounds of logic to continue with such project”, Wike explained to the editors. The tour also afforded editors especially those from upland states an opportunity to appreciate the pains people in the Niger Delta states go through just to build a road or a house. The treacherous terrain of the Niger Delta compels the Governor to spend more money than his counterparts from other states. A senior editor from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Sani Adamu, described his experience as an eye-opener after observing the multiple layers of piling over kilometres of swampy land and water just to build roads and bridges.
The tour of projects saw editors and the Governor trekking over several kilometres. It was a show of popularity as residents of the various communities and parts of the Port Harcourt metropolis visited trooped out to hail and catch a glimpse of the man they fondly called “Our Governor”. If democracy is about connecting with the people and lifting their status through development, Wike has etched his name on the boulders of history. He was welcomed everywhere as the man who connected the disconnected people through roads and bridges; as the leader who comforted the broken-hearted, the pensioners, the artisans, the civil servants and much more as the man who gave hope to the hopeless hoi-polloi.
The President of the Guild, Funke Egbemode, who exuded unusual energy in the long walks and waltz through mounds of debris at construction sites summed up the Wike narrative in one word after the tour: Impressive!
Indeed, Wike has impressed not just his people but the visiting editors most of whom admitted that their minds have been disabused. Now, if you still wonder why Wike never ceases to tell the world he will win elections conducted in the state, here is the reason: the people are behind him.
Ken Ugbechie is the Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors