Being a text of the State of the State Address and Mid-Term Progress Report delivered by His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON, Governor of Rivers State on Monday, May 29, 2017, at Obi Wali International Conference Centre, Port Harcourt. Excerpts.
It is a great honour and privi
lege for me to stand before you today to give the first state of the State address in the history of our State. Most fulfilling is the fact that this address is coming on the 50th year of our existence as a self-accounting State and the 2nd anniversary of our administration.
First of all, let me thank the Almighty God for His grace, and the good people of Rivers for the priceless opportunity. Growing up as a child in the dusty village of Rumueprikom, I never could have imagined that I would be at the helm of State affairs as the Governor of this great State at this historic point in time. For my family and me, this is a glorious opportunity we will forever cherish and be grateful.
Fifty years ago, General, Dr. Yakubu Gowon, GCFR, created Rivers State together with eleven other States. That singular act changed the course of history for Nigeria and for the people of Rivers State for the better.
It changed the cause of history for Nigeria by dismembering the regional enclaves of majority domination and reconfigured the country into twelve federating States with equal geo-political status and autonomy.
It changed the course of history for Rivers people by delivering freedom to us from those who literarily denied our existence and only related with us as captives.
And so to all fellow Rivers people, wherever you may be, I say congratulations on this important milestone of our history.
As the saying goes, to know the present, we must look into the past, and to know the future, we must look unto the past and the present.Therefore, even as we rejoice today we must pause for a moment to look into the past before projecting into the future.
Our past showed that our people were held in bondage, first by the colonial hegemony, and later by the Nigerian State to which we were annexed, allocated to and oppressively administered by the defunct Eastern Region without our consent.
While this false annexation lasted, our people were treated as second-class citizens, denied of our distinct cultural and linguistic identities and, even the right to development.
For years on end,our people endured untold hardship, suffering and discrimination and yearned for freedom – the freedom to directly and effectively administer our communities and ourselves.
Our quest for political autonomy through the creation of Rivers State at the point of Nigeria’s independence was rebuffed, scorned at and treated with utmost levity.
But our political leaders and founding fathers never relented. They mounted great resistance and stepped up the demand for the creation of Rivers State year in and year out.
The long-denied right to self-determination; the long hideous night of hopelessness ended and the project Rivers State eventually materialized on the 27th of May 1967 – a date that will forever remain sacrosanct in our history.
Our past therefore showed that Rivers State was not created and given to us on a silver platter.
It was created out of the struggles and sacrifice of our brave, visionary and resilient leaders who strenuously stayed in the course for freedom and self-determination within a united, peaceful and just Nigerian federation.
Yes, we finally got Rivers State created for us, but it was at a cost – a great cost, to the extent that hundreds of our people paid the ultimate price defending its existence and preventing it from being extirpated by the regional denomination .
Without any doubts, we owe our founding fathers and fallen compatriots eternal place in our hearts, and profound gratitude for their bravery, selflessness and vision for Rivers State.
They struggled and died for our sake and for the sake of generations yet unborn. Their efforts and sacrifice enabled us to leave Egypt for the Promised Land and never to return.
And so as we continue to savour the freedom we now take for granted, let us all stand and observe a minute silence in their honour.
May their beautiful, courageous and loving souls rest in perfect peace. Amen.
As inheritors of theglorious fruits of freedom, the least we owe them is to live by the ideals they stood for – the universal love they shared; the unity of purpose; and their hopes for a secure, united and prosperous State under God.
And so today, let us all agree to re-affirm, reconnect and recommit to the enduring vision of our founding fathers and the underlying covenant of freedom, self-determination and socio-economic development.
For, this was and is still the essence of Statehood; that is: engendering great hopes and expectations for a better future for our people if we wisely and properly harness and utilize our God-given resources to expand socio-economic opportunities for our people and develop our communities.
For 50 years, we have tried to fulfill these hopes and aspirations. Although we are not yet at the Promised Land but we have made tremendous progress in virtually all areas of human endeavour.
50 years ago, our population was in the hundreds. Now, we are over five million and still counting.
50 years ago, our children had little or no access to basic education. Now with at least one primary and secondary school in every community and over 90 per cent access, we are among the most literate States in the country at least one basic education school in every of our communities.
50 years ago, there was no single tertiary institution in Rivers State. Now we have eight tertiary institutions, six of which are owned by the State Government to enable the young ones to acquire advanced knowledge and enhance their productive capabilities.
50 years ago, our people commuted and communicated through perilous bush tracks. 50 years after, we now have thousands of kilometers of tarred roads and bridges across the State.
50 years ago, basic healthcare was inaccessible to most of our people and hundreds die of easily treatable ailments. Today, healthcare facilities are commonly available and accessible to our people, including rural areas.
Indeed, from an average life expectancy rate of less than 40 years, we have progressed to about 60 years due to the great improvements we have recorded in basic healthcare delivery.
50 years ago, Rivers State was just a number among the comity of States. Today, we have moved from obscurity and near insignificance to critical positions of strength, wealth, power and influence such that the Nigerian nation can no longer take us for granted.
However, it is true we have made some progress but it is also clear from the flip side of the story that the socio-economic promise of Statehood is far from being realized.
Our communities are largely backward and undeveloped. Poverty is endemic while inequality is widespread. Our youths are largely unskilled, unemployed, forlorn and uncertain about their future.
Not having meaningful things to do to help themselves, a number of our youths across our communities are increasing taking to cultism, drug abuse, criminality and violence.
Although access has improved, majority of our children are still not getting the best of healthcare, education and mentoring the need for a head start.
In deed, quality education, good healthcare and decent housing remain outside the reach of the poor majority.
It is five decades, yet our level of infrastructural development is still very low and inadequate to meet our development goals.
Our environment is daily being degraded and destroyed and we appear to be helpless in finding sustainable ways of exploiting available natural resources without compromising the interest of future generations.
Our economy is not diversified and largely dependent on allocations from the Federation Account, which, as you know, is grossly insufficient and delimiting our capacity for growth, job creation and revenue generation.
Ladies and gentlemen, we may be disappointed with our level of progress but we must not forget that gaining Statehood was only but a means to an end. The end comes only when we are able to deliver the good life to our people.
This is what the golden jubilee celebration compels – a historic responsibility on us to take practical steps to chart a new transformational path for our people within the next couple of decades.
In doing so, it is now meaningless to dwell on our past failures or lost opportunities. Instead, we should avoid repeating our mistakes, take every viable opportunity and embrace the future with faith and optimism that the promise and necessity of economic transformation is attainable within our life’s time.
Let us not forget that we can achieve whatever we set our eyes to accomplish provided we cherish our commonality and work together as a people bounded by a common faith, history and destiny. For therein lies our strength as a people.
Consequently, as we proceed towards the future, we consider it relevant to propose a set of policy priorities that we must adopt, and implement to move our State forward with all sense of responsibility.
n Cultivating Unity of Purpose
The popular saying: united we are strong; divided we fail may sound very simplistic but profoundly important. All over the world, experience has shown that unity is fundamental to the socio-economic transformation of any society.
Whether elected or appointed, those of us occupying serious positions of public trust, whether at the centre, at the State level or in the Local Government Councils, must realize that our people look up to us for quality leadership.
We must rise above partisan, filial or other narrow considerations and with one accord stand for, promote and defend the collective interest of our State and our people or be condemned by history.
After elections, comes governance. Much as the winners must be magnanimous in victory and run an open, transparent and inclusive government, to dissipate time, resources and energies in pulling down an elected government or officers is degenerative, divisive and as much a disservice to our collective progress.
We must find ways to forgive one another,open avenues of co-operation and join hands and together,defeat the smacks of poverty, inequality, and lack of meaningful progress preventing majority of our people from enjoying the good life that we all desire and aspire for.
For the task of rebuilding our State and making life more meaningful for our people is too important for any of us to entrap in the shambles of meaningless acrimony, partisanship or ethnocentric politics.
Let me therefore appeal to all of us, particularly, the political opposition, to acknowledge that this is the time to forgive and forget, purge ourselves of the hatred, the bitterness and the unhelpful discord in our hearts and join forces to rebuild our State for the common good.
We wish to reiterate that with unity of purpose and efforts, our strength will increase ad there is no obstacle we cannot overcome; no interest of ours we cannot advance and no goals we set for ourselves that we cannot achieve.
n Building a Strong and Diversified Economy
Building a resilient economy and making it work for everyone remains one of our biggest challenges as a State. For 50 years, we have been running a dependent economy with over 70 per cent of total earnings from federal allocations.
Although our economy is presently rated as next to Lagos State in terms of size, the reality is quite uninspiring in terms of its actual worth.
For the past five years, average annual income has not exceeded the 100 billion thresholds. This, in a dollar denominated, import-dependent economy, cannot make any significant impact in driving economic growth and improving the living standards of our people.
Thus, apart from the recurring issues of mismanagement, the abysmally low level of our economy is partly responsible for our underdevelopment.
History teaches us that those who fail to learn from experience end up repeating the same mistakes and enduring its consequences.
The recession in the national economy and its weakening impact on ours for the past two years has, once again, exposed the stupidity of depending on a single revenue regime to drive and sustain our developmental goals for the State.
The time therefore for us to end the legacy of economic dependency is now and not tomorrow. We must strive to find our ways to enduring economic freedom if we must secure and deliver better standards of living for the present and future generations.
This being so, we can no longer continue to deny or delay the necessity of transforming our economy through, diversification, sustainable growth, industrialization and expansion of our internal revenues modules.
As a government, our commitment to the journey to economic renaissance remains unflinching. Our goal is to make the economy stronger and competitive and things taken shape already as a direct result of our pragmatic approaches to economic revival.
For instance, our economic performance in the last two years has been phenomenal. We have significantly reduced our exposure to debts, reprioritized development policies, blocked expenditure leakages, including payroll frauds and ensured prudent management of public resources.
Apart from clearing the backlog we inherited, we have ensured regular payment of salaries to civil servants and pensioners and fund contractual projects as well. This has contributed in no small measure not only to stabilize the State’s economy but also insulated us from the vagaries of external shocks.
Also, our unprecedented investments in the development of infrastructure are invigorating growth in the service sectors, leading to an emerging economic boom, especially in tourism and hospitality businesses.
We have further eliminated existing distortions in the tax system and created enabling environment for businesses to thrive by improving the ease of doing business in the State.
As moribund businesses are gradually re-opening shops, we are equally attracting new local and foreign investments, jus as plans are underway to establish an industrial park to stimulate local manufacturing and industrialization.
We are also supporting the growth of indigenous entrepreneurs through contracts as well as encouraging small and micro-enterprises with financial support to revitalize local economies.
It is clear from emerging indices that the state of our economy is improving and it can only get better in the days, months and years ahead until we are able to deliver economic security to our State on sustainable basis.
n Provision of Infrastructure
We cannot over-emphasize the importance of infrastructure to rapid economic development. While we have recorded some significant achievements in this regard in the last 50 years, the provision of infrastructure remains one of the most glaring deficits in Rivers State.
Besides, there is also a wide gap between urban and rural areas in the distribution of existing infrastructure. Worse still, is the concentration of over 70% of existing infrastructure in the State’s capital and its environs.
Most of the coastal towns and villages, including Bonny and Opobo are yet to be connected by road to the upland areas. Similarly, most rural communities in the upland areas are also not connected to the urban areas.
Thus, a pressing need to close the State’s deficit in infrastructure to open up the entire State, especially the backward areas for accelerated socio-economic transformation clearly existed before we took over the mantle.
However, from inception, our administration has taken up this challenge by prioritizing the provision of infrastructure across the State. In the last two years, we have invested over 145 billion naira to construct roads, bridges, pedestrian walkways and underground drainage systems.
As we speak, several road construction works are either underway or completed in Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor, Abua/Odual, Ahoada East, Ahoada West, Akuku-Toru, Degema, Etche, Andoni, Opobo/Nkoro, Ikwerre, Emohua, Khana, Gokana, Okrika, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, Oyigbo, and Tai Local Government Areas of the State.
For the first time in our history, rural and semi-urban areas are receiving fair attention in the provision of roads and bridges thereby breaking down the barriers of isolation and neglect hitherto associated with rural areas.
We are also improving the quality of education by enabling our educational system to produce the graduates of the 21st century with innovative skills and knowledge to drive our development.
As we speak, we are renovating a number of schools across the three senatorial districts, including Nyemoni Grammar School, Birabi Memorial Grammar School and Government Girls Secondary School, Rumuokwuta with which to pilot the re-introduction of boarding school system in public schools.
Besides the regular payment of staff salaries, we have also supported our tertiary institutions to improve their educational infrastructure and deliver quality education to their students.
In the Rivers State University we have completed the construction of three abandoned faculty buildings: the Faculty of Law, the Faculty of Management Sciences and the Faculty of Science and Technical Education. We have also started construction work on the Faculty of Medical Sciences building.
We have extended similar support to the Port Harcourt and the Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa Polytechnics to build staff offices, lecture halls, laboratories, workshops and students’ hostels.
The health sector is not left out in our quest to realize the aspirations of our founding fathers. As earlier observed, while the public health sector is seriously under-performing, commercialization and the desire for profits by private healthcare providers have shut out the majority of our people from accessing quality healthcare.
As a government, we are equally tackling this problem with the seriousness it deserves to ensure regular availability of healthcare services across the State.
We have taken measures as appropriate to strengthen the public healthcare systems to deliver quality services to ordinary people. At present, 13 General Hospitals in thirteen different Local Government Areas, including Ahoada East, Ahoada West, Akuku Toru, Andoni, Asari Toru, Eleme, Emohua, Gokana, Ikwerre, Obio/Akpor, Opobo/Nkoro, Omuma, Okrika and Port Harcourt are undergoing comprehensive reconstruction, furnishing and retooling, with most of them already completed, awaiting furnish and commissioning.
We are also completing the regional hospitals started by the immediate past administration located in Etche and Degema Local Government Areas, as well as the Mother and Child Hospital in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area to serve as regional referral centres for secondary and tertiary healthcare.
In addition, we have released over $4 million USD to equip and maintain the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital to international standards and enabled it to serve as the teaching hospital to the Rivers State University Medical School pending the construction of the proposed University Teaching Hospital.
We have extended our infrastructural revolution also to the recreation sub-sector by building the most modern and, arguably, the best pleasure park in the African continent, which is intended to boost tourism in the State. With this facility, residents and visitors now have a good, secure and fine place to go and relax and have fun and get refreshed.
The judiciary is also receiving the best of attention from our government. Recall that the State’s judiciary was kept under lock and key for over a year before we assumed office.
We have since reopened the courts, stabilized and strengthened the entire judicial system with the appointment of substantive Chief Judge, the President of the State’s Customary Court of Appeal and three new judges.
We have rehabilitated the existing court buildings and judges quarters, including the Port Harcourt High Court complex and its counterpart of the Customary Court of Appeal in Rumuogba, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area.
We are also constructing new courthouses, offices and chambers for the State High Court, the National Industrial Court, as well as completed and handed over the Federal High Court complex to the Federal Government.
We have also established a multi-door court centre, lifted the morale of our judges and magistrates with new cars, and built an ultra modern secretariat for the Port Harcourt branch of the Nigerian Bar Association.
With these and other proposed investments, we are sure that Rivers State will soon become a regional judicial hub in the country.
We have also made visible investments to support and strengthen the security agencies to fight crime and ensure the safety of lives and property throughout the State. in ensuring that our people are safe and secure in their homes, offices and neighbourhoods.
Our administration’s amnesty programme has been quite successful. Over 22,430 cultists accepted the amnesty and surrendered over 911 assorted arms, 7661 assorted ammunition and 147 explosives.
The recovered arms have since been shredded and the explosives destroyed, while the programme’s success has resulted in reducing the menace of cultism and associated bloodletting among youths in some of our communities.
We are also investing in the provision of water, marine transport facilities and streetlights. So far water projects have been executed in Eleme and Okrika Local Government Areas. Similarly, we have expanded and built the Okrika ATC jetty and presently constructing the Bonny/Bile/Nembe Waterside jetty. We further reactivated street lights in all major roads in the State to improve the aesthetic beauty of the city as well as enhance security.
These and other achievements of our administration are not ends in themselves; but indicative of our commitment to making the desired difference in the State and in lives of our people even in the face of dwindling resources at our disposal.
The Quest for Fiscal Federalism
The linkage between fiscal federalism and economic development has since been established. So much has been said and written about the unjust concentration of resources at the centre as against the component States.
A federal system that expropriates our God-giving resources, denies us the right to adequate share of what is taken from us and then leaves us to grapple with the ecological problems is unfair and anti-development.
Our ecosystem is fragile; our geographical terrain is very difficult. It costs three times more to build a kilometer of road in our terrain. Yet, this is not a consideration for the sharing of the national cake from the federation account.
With the persistent neglect of the State by the Federal Government in the location of federal projects getting to a disturbing extent, we are wondering whether Rivers State is still part of this country. The painful irony is that substantial part of the trillions of Naira the Federal Government spends on projects in other parts of the country come from Rivers State.
As I speak, all the core economic assets of the Federal Government located in the State, such as the Port Harcourt International Airport, the Port Harcourt Sea Port, Onne Ports and Free Trade Zone as well as the East – West road are either deliberately abandoned, under-utilized or in their worst state of disrepair.
These are core assets, which services are strategic to the socio-economic advancement of our State and the nation. Yet, it matters nothing to the Federal Government because the victims are Rivers people.
At this point permit me to reiterate the fact that we deserve as of right to have more of our God-given oil resources to drive development in our State at our own pace and not to be constrained or held down by a skewed revenue allocation system that pays little premium to derivation and ecological factors.
While we reaffirm our loyalty to the nation and commitment to its indivisibility, we know that every unjust system contains the internal contradictions that will eventually destroy it unless it corrects itself before it is too late.
We therefore reiterate the overwhelming demand of our people for fiscal federalism and the allocation of more resources to the States and Local Governments.
Our Youths, Our Future
As we celebrate the golden jubilee we must also not forget that the future of this State belongs to our children, our youth. Together, they form the life anchors on which to support and hold our future growth and development. We therefore cannot and must not fail them.
As a Government, we very much appreciate your concerns, your frustrations and your grievances, particularly the lack of gainful employment and adequate opportunities to realize your potential, earn meaningful income and live a responsible family life.
But, let us be frank with you. It’s high time our youths took responsibility for your decisions and actions. No matter how legitimate your cause may be, violence, chaos, cultism, drug abuse, and criminality will rather hurt than benefit you. For it is better to make good use of the opportunities afforded you by the government and your parents to educate yourselves, acquire relevant skills and empower yourselves.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we set our eyes for the next 50 years, we are proud to report that the state of our State is sound, strong, safe and progressing.
As we start the journey for the next 50 years, let our focus not depart from the mission to expand and diversify our economy and improve the wellbeing of our people and bring us closer to realizing the creation covenant of remaking Rivers State as the most beautiful, united and prosperous State in our country.
Let me thank all our predecessors in office, especially our first military Governor, King Alfred Papapreye Diete Spiff, and his cabinet for laying the foundation on which successive Governors have built on and advanced this State to where it is today.
Thanks also to the individual and collective contributions of ordinary people, our caring and hardworking women, the wise counsel of our elders and the tenacity of our restive youths.
Finally, we wish to assure all of us of our unflinching commitment to the vision of a truly united and progressive Rivers State where every person has the opportunity to live up to their dreams and potential.
I thank you all. God bless you; and may God bless Rivers State.
Being a text of the State of the State Address and Mid-Term Progress Report delivered by His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON, Governor of Rivers State on Monday, May 29, 2017, at Obi Wali International Conference Centre, Port Harcourt. Excerpts.