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Special Interview

Ogoni Clean Up, On Course – HYPREP Coordinator

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Dr. Marvin Dekil, the Project Coordinator of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), is a renowned environmentalist and hails from Ogoniland in Rivers State.
In this exclusive interview with our Acting Production Editor, Donatus Ebi, Dekil offers an insight into the core mandate of HYPREP, particularly in respect of the clean up of Ogoniland, among other issues.
Excerpts.
What is HYPREP’s core mandate?
HYPREP has the mandate of the Federal Government of Nigeria to do two things. One is to remediate impacted sites across Ogoniland. Two is to restore the livelihood of the impacted communities. I am the Coordinator of the project. And we have since started. The project coordinations office started in Port Harcourt in March, April, this year. I was appointed in January. Since then, we have commenced massive sensitisation across the four Ogoni LGAs of Gokana, Khana, Tai and Eleme. We have also opened project demonstration sites across the four LGAs as well. The beginning of the project starts with emergency measures. So, we have also commenced the process for bringing potable water to the impacted communities. We did set up a committee that went to all the local governments and identified where all the water projects are and whether or not they are functioning. This we did in collaboration with the Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources, Shell, NDDC and Niger Delta Basin Development Authority. We have advertised for competent water consultants, engineers to come in so that they can do a quick assessment and costing for these facilities, with the hope of getting them back to life and providing water to the communities.
We take sensitisation seriously, because people need to take ownership of the project. They need to understand what we are doing. It is important to also add that the project is a highly scientific one, technical and scientific, the procedure, the process for doing remediation in the field is one that is going to take a lot of planning. It is also going to take time. And so, we have since commenced the process, the desk work, which is what is needed for us to hit the field. The process is ongoing.
Is HYPREP essentially about remediation of Ogoniland?
HYPREP is a project of the Federal Government, directed at addressing the oil-related issues in the entire country, with a particular reference to the Niger Delta. We have started with Ogoni, because an assessment has been done in Ogoniland by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which we are now implementing. It is the effort of the government to address the environmental issues in the country, especially in the Niger Delta. That is what HYPREP is all about. It is not essentially set up for remediation in Ogoniland.
What would you say are the achievements of HYPRET so far?
The first achievement is to talk to the people; let the people take ownership of the project, which is sensitisation, that is ongoing. We have been to communities in the four LGAs. We have been to Bodo. We have met with the Bodo Council of Chiefs. We have met with the King. We have met with the women leader there. We met the youth leader and they understand what HYPREP is about and they also understand what it is not about.It is not about sharing money.  It is not about compensation.
It is about addressing the environmental concerns of the people and giving them their livelihood. That is what it is about. We have consulted with the K-Dere Council of Chiefs and Elders. We met with the Paramount Ruler there. We met with the women. We met with the youth. And we have also been talking to the people of Kpor. We met with the Paramount Ruler. We met with the youth leader. We met with the Council of Chiefs. We met the women as well. That is in Gokana. We plan meeting more other communities in Gokana. We have been to Eleme Local Government Area.
We met with the King there and his Council of Chiefs. We met with the women as well as with the youth. We explained to them the commitment of the Federal Government to cleaning up impacted sites in Ogoni and across the Niger Delta region, starting with Ogoni, we are in now. We met with the Council of Chiefs and leaders in Ibubu and we also opened a demonstration site for companies which are willing to participate in that project.
These are companies that are doing this remediation or demonstration at no cost to government. So, we have appealed to the people to understand the need for them to support the companies. We have also started the process of looking at the water facilities in these communities as we do the sensitisation, so that we could do assessment, costing and restoration of the water.
Within this period, we have also had a stakeholder engagement with the Ogoni leadership from across the four LGAs, where we sat and discussed, and they explained their concerns and we explained measures taken by the government to address these concerns including the very important role of sensitisation in our engagement process.
What is the response of Ogoni people to the project?
The response has been immense. The Ogoni people have been very supportive. They are willing to support and they have provided their support. The leadership has given us its guarantee for peace and support throughout the duration of the project.
Has the Ogoni clean up started?
The process has started. The process starts with the desk work which we are doing now. It starts with the sensitisation so that the people know what the project is about. It starts with the implementation of the emergency measures, as contained in the UNEP Report, which has to do with the provision of potable water for the people.
So, the project has started. It is on course. You are seated here in our office. You have met with our people, staff deployed from the Federal Ministries.
They are all here. People from the Ministry of Justice. People from the Office of the Auditor-General and the Office of the Accountant-General. The entire support staff needed, they have been deployed from Abuja and they are right here in the office. And so, the technical team, we have put together. We have done some training of Ogoni scientists, to ensure that the communities participate fully in the remediation process. We have to provide training to the locals, people with Science Degrees,. People with the requisite background so that they can participate technically in the project.
Can you please give us an insight into the scale of the clean up project?
The scale of the project is in the public domain. If you look at the UNEP Report, you can identify all the sites. It also identifies the extent of contamination in each of the sites. The next thing we would do is to capture previous places that were not previously captured and also do a scoping, which would allow us know the current state of each of the sites before we design the remediation plan.
Are you assuring that the Ogonis would be better off at the end of the exercise?
The remediation is about restoring the environment. The impact of oil spill on Ogoni communities or on any impacted environment for that matter is obvious, because it affects the people’s agricultural, economic and social lives and all of that. So, if you could restore impacted sites, then, all of that would have been restored, and that means that the people will certainly have a better life. We are also appealing to those who are into illegal refining to please, stop this act. We have been engaging with this group and they have given us their support to stop the act. We are planning a workshop to sensitise them on the hazards of that illegal activity on their health as well as on the environment and the need for them to embrace new skills, which we are willing to offer.
And we have been talking to them so that we partner together and structure a training programme for them.
What are the challenges facing HYPREP?
The challenge we have is one of letting people understanding that this is a technical and scientific project that you wouldn’t expect result to be overnight. That it takes planning. So, you continue to engage the people and let them understand the need for a thorough, structured process aimed at delivering the project to the people. That again is what people need to understand. We are appealing for patience to enable us do a thorough job.
What is the next line of action from now?
The next line of action is already out there. We have advertised for specific services, environmental experts to help us with the scoping and mapping of sites not previously captured. We have advertised for health impact experts to help us with the health impact assessment that is needed to see if there is a relationship between the disease patterns and oil pollution in Ogoniland. We have also advertised for water engineers and consultants to help us proffer solutions to the water situations, as part of the implementation of the emergency measures of the project.
As the Coordinator of the project, what would you tell the Federal Government?
I would like us to commend the government for its commitment and the resources deployed to this project. It is something that requires not only the Federal Government. We should be talking to the oil companies. We should be talking to the Ogonis. We should be talking to the regulators. So, all the stakeholders involved, we need to get their assurances. We are appealing to everybody to bring in their resources, their skills and cooperation for the successful implementation of the project.
What is the role of RSG as the host government?
Well, in the previous project, I was fortunate to be part of the initial assessment carried out by UNEP. Rivers State Government played a huge role in that process. We are expecting same this time. So, we hope to engage more actively with the state government. We are appealing to the government to come forward and provide the kind of support it provided last time. We are, indeed, open to all our stakeholders, which Rivers State Government is one of them.
My message to the Ogoni people is that this project is for them. They should embrace it and lets get the maximum out of it.

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Special Interview

Wike Is A Good Product -Nsirim

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On Thursday, January 9, 2020, the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, visited the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (RSNC), publishers of The Tide, as part of his tour of State- owned media houses. After addressing management and staff of the corporation, he granted an interview to members of The Tide Editorial Board. Our reporter, DENNIS NAKU, covered the session. Excerpts.
What new thing do Rivers people expect from you with your experience in the media; now that you are the Commissioner for Information and Communications?
First, I want to thank God Almighty who knows everything and who allows things to happen at his own time. I also want to thank His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, who has found me worthy to hold this position at this point in history.
This promotion is for all the journalists in Rivers State. I said that advisably because it is like somebody coming to your house to say, look I want to clean your house. I don’t want to bring a cleaner from outside. I know that somebody inside the house will do the cleaning better. So, for me, I’m going to be an effective bridge between the media and government. I am going to ensure that public communication in the state is given renewed vigour and attention. I am going to bring in new strategies for public communication which are going to be short, medium and long term. It is going to be a holistic strategic communication strategy that will be unfolding in the days to come. And those of you sitting around this table, one way or the other, will be part of that strategic plan that we are going to unfold. I said at the staff meeting that you cannot be doing something the same way all the time and expect a different result. So, we are going to build a strategic plan, also build a strategic partnership with major stakeholders who have something to do with the media in the propagation of government policies and programmes.
Over the years, we experienced that, despite what the media is trying to do, people still have the impression that Rivers State is insecure. Like the Port Harcourt International Trade Fair held recently by PHCCIMA; an official said the companies refused to come to Isaac Boro Park and that he had been trying to convince them. That’s why the chamber used the Obi Wali International Conference Centre?
You see, that is the negative perception that has been sold out there, and that is why those of us in the media need to join hands with the government to change that negative narrative. And that is why we evolved ‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ campaign. The truth of the matter is that the de-marketing that is ongoing is a deliberate strategy by those who understand the potentials of our state to deny us our God-given rights. They know that if Rivers State is de-marketed, there will be capital flight. Businesses will move away from here and so we don’t become that industrial hub that it is supposed to be. So, the insecurity that Rivers State people talk about in Rivers State is not different from what happens in Lagos, it is not different from what happens in Kaduna, it is not different from what happens in Kano, Abuja and the major city centres of this country. But those who understand the political economy of news have latched on these to ensure that they spread deliberate falsehood all the time about our state. You and I live and do business here. There are people who call you from outside the State and they will be wondering ‘how are you people managing in Port Harcourt?’ It is not true? They ask those questions and it’s like you know there are bullets that are flying all over. That is why all of us need to join hands to change that negative narrative. That there is a political economy to it that people are pursuing and they have involved some sections of the media to do that to the state. Which is why we all need to stand up to correct that negative perception.
Amnesty International issued a statement few hours ago specifically on Rivers State and said that there is rising cult related killings in the State. Having issued that statement, we all know that more than120 countries across the world would get copies of that statement and would publicise it across the world.
(Cuts in) That is the negative narrative you are talking about. And that also influences investors’ confidence in the state that they would say why do we need to come here because there is this narrative written across the world about the state?
That statement issued today (Thursday, January 9, 2020) says that 106 persons have been killed in Rivers State in the past 12months. And they listed specific incidents that resulted to those killings and also specifically mentioned the anti-cultism law passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly which was signed into law by the Governor in March last year. My question is, as a government, what is your response to those claims in the statement issued by Amnesty International?
Well, you should know that I can’t respond to that because I am not the State Commissioner of Police. I can’t respond to the statistics of Amnesty International. I am not the Commissioner of Police. I am not the Director, SSS. I can’t respond to that because I don’t have the facts.
I agree, but my problem here is that if the government does not say, for instance, the State is peaceful and everybody?…..
(Cuts in). You and I know, like I said earlier, that there is a deliberate ploy to de-market Rivers State. Two months ago, Stockgap Nigeria Limited opened its base at Rumuolumeni. Stockgap is a multi-million naira investment. They are producing domestic gas for the domestic market now. If you go to Rumuji, there is Greenfield Gas Company, a multi-million dollar investment. If you go to Trans-Amadi, Next Supermarket, the biggest in West Africa, is located here. Turkish Airline is flying Port Harcourt, Ethiopian Airline is flying Port Harcourt. Rivers State still remains the headquarters of the hydro-carbon industry. Oil and gas businesses are going on uninterrupted in this state and, till tomorrow, there are influx of people into Port Harcourt coming to look for what kind of business they would do. So, I won’t respond to Amnesty International until the relevant government agency responds to them. But the truth of the matter is that this place is safe for business. You just talked of the International Trade Fair that held here recently. There was Boli Street Festival that held here recently, Port Harcourt was locked down. You don’t hold such events in an unsafe environment.
‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ advocacy is your brainchild. How would you assess that campaign? Would you say the campaign achieved its motive?
I leave you to be the judge. But one thing I can say is that it has resonated so much with major stakeholder groups in this state. And if you look at the kind of narrative that was going on here before that campaign and what is happening now, you will see a kind of shift. People now understand that we have a shared prosperity to protect here and that whatever is happening, the people that are bringing those negative narratives are really designed to de-market the state. There is no stakeholder group that we have gone to that did not acknowledge the fact that there is a deliberate ploy by people to de-market Rivers State. And so, all and sundry are willing to join hands with His Excellency who has brought in a new vision development agenda to make Rivers State the destination of choice. You can see now that Rivers State has been turned to a construction site. So many things are happening, when a lot of governors can’t pay salaries, we have a governor who is embarking on three flyovers at the same time at the cost of N21billion and, of course, 70 per cent of that amount has been paid to the contractor. Not just any contractor, but Julius Berger. So we are into a new dawn and many of the stakeholders agree that His Excellency is the man for the moment and they are ready to support him.
It is said that a good product sells itself and we have in the Governor a person that is a wonderful product. As Commissioner for Information and Communications, how is this fact about the Governor going to change and influence your work ?
Well, you have almost answered the question. A good product does not need advertisement, and one thing I can confidently say about His Excellency is that he has a character. You know, on assumption of office four and half years ago, he told Rivers people clearly that he won’t make promises that he won’t fulfill. He won’t award contracts that would be abandoned. That for every contract he would award, he would make sure that the contract is completed. Again, with the numerous local and international awards that he has been getting, one is confident to say Wike is a good product.
In the recent past, Rivers State used to be a base of media activities. Then, The Tide was one of the few state-owned newspaper houses, still in existence in the country, while RSTV used to dominate the airwaves. So, I want to ask your vision or the plan to return these media houses to their leadership positions.
Yes, the message is simple. It is time for innovation and creativity. It is time to think outside the box. It is time for people to roll up their sleeves. We have the potentials. What has happened is that there has to be attitudinal change. I told you the story of a man that was given shoes to go and sell in a place where people don’t wear shoes and he came back and said that there is no market. Another man went to the place, sold out the shoes and asked for more. The difference between these two marketers is mindset. So, what we want to do, first of all, and I want everybody to note this; what we want to do first of all is to make everybody to wake up from slumber. Change this mentality of government work and understand that you have the potential to make a mark. When we have gotten every staff of these media houses get the right reorientation, then every other thing will follow.
Right now, we need that mental shift, we need it. And, of course, when people talk of those days, I like people to realize that, in the past, it used to be just Radio Rivers in the whole of the East. Now, in Port Harcourt, how many radio stations do you have? There is competition. In the past, Rivers State Television was alone here. Now you have other television stations competing. Like I was addressing the staff I was talking about strategy. If you want to survive in this market, you must evolve the right strategies. If you don’t evolve the right strategies, your business will suffer.
I am just wondering. We have known you. You have been with us as a colleague. Today, you are a Commissioner. What kind of person are we going to see different from the one we used to know, now that you are a politician?
I am not a politician. Of course, you know I am a core professional. And for those who have worked closely with me, I am a man of principles, I strive for excellence, I am very forthright. I don’t think those values are going to leave me. I cherish them so dearly. At RSTV, the other day, during a live interview programme, somebody was asking me, you are a pastor, you are now going to be government’s spokesman. He didn’t come out clearly, I said you want to ask me won’t there be conflict? And I said no there will be no conflict. In church, I am a purveyor of the good news. As Commissioner for Information, I will also be a purveyor of the good news about what is going on in Rivers State. So, there will be no conflict, so, don’t be afraid, I am still going to be Paulinus Nsirim.
At your inauguration, the Governor clearly told Commissioners ‘don’t get involved in political meetings. That is already generating discourse within the political circles. What is your perspective to that particular instruction?
Well, you see, as a leader, he has a vision. And if the man who has the vision is saying this is how I want to run my administration, I don’t think that anybody should query him because he has something he wants to achieve.
After the election, His Excellency extended an olive branch to the opposition in the State. And it is suspected that this de-marketing of the state is mainly done by the opposition. So far, we don’t seem to be hearing from the opposition any longer. Is it that the olive branch worked and they have all agreed to work with the Governor?
It is for you in the media to say. But, you see, Rivers people need to thank God for His Excellency. He has demonstrated statesmanship and sportsmanship by extending that olive branch to those in the opposition. And from that perspective, you can say that the traditional thing is for the politician to say I have won election, then every other person doesn’t count. But as a statesman, he has repeatedly said elections are over, it is time for governance. I am the Governor of Rivers people, not the governor of a political party. And so, the policies and programmes that he is going to drive in the next three and half years will be for the benefit of Rivers people and we are seeing that already happening. We can just say to ourselves that this is the man for the moment.
What would you want us to see as your main policy thrust as Commissioner for Information?
My main policy thrust ? To drive public communication in a manner that will engender peace and development in Rivers State.
On a daily basis, Rivers people and residents of the state need assurances with respect to the three flyovers being constructed. The Governor when he initiated these projects said the completion date will be within 16 months. Is this time frame still sacrosanct?
The architect of the vision says 16 months and he has marched words with action. A project that is N21billion, 70 per cent already paid. That shows you that he means business and he is not somebody that does double speaking. He is a very forthright politician. That is why what he says he would do that is what he does. He doesn’t make promises he doesn’t keep. I like making this point; Governor Nyesom Wike did not jump into governance. He was prepared for the office of Governor. So, having served as two-time local government chairman, served as Chief of Staff, served as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he was prepared for governance. That is why before he took the oath of office, he had rolled out the NEW Rivers Vision blueprint which encompasses open governance, accountability, education, infrastructure development, agriculture, human capital development, empowerment and others. So, he has a blueprint that he is working with. And that blueprint, I can assure you, is a development tool. And as a development tool, every inch of that blueprint is going to be implemented to the letter.
For some time now, something has been bothering my mind on the relationship between Rivers State and the Federal Government. We, here in The Tide have written two editorials on this situation. It is public knowledge that Rivers State has not gained significant projects from the Federal Government since the President Muhammadu Buhari administration came on board in 2015. I remember last year, the Governor (Wike) cried out over this matter. Till date, the disposition of the Federal Government towards Rivers State has not changed. As I speak, we have some federal roads that are terribly bad like the Ogoni axis of the East-West Road, the Port Harcourt-Aba Road, to mention but a few. As a media manager of the state, what do you think informed this and what is the state government doing to change the federal government disposition towards Rivers State?
I will answer you straight away. You need to ask Buhari and the Federal Government.
I ask this question because this is a state that contributes significantly to the GDP of the country.
Ask Buhari and the Federal Government. It is something to ponder about.
You have been a practising journalist and one-time Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Rivers State. Over time, journalists have been crying for Governors to appoint one of their own as Commissioner for Information from within their ranks. I want you to tell us how and what you will be remembered for after your tenure as Commissioner for Information?
No. I have been asked this question severally and I said a dancer does not see his back. So, what I will be remembered for will be for you to judge after I have left the seat as Commissioner. You will write the history. When he came, this is what he did. So, the remembering will be for the public to judge.
Specifically on policy; policy designed to push Rivers State, particularly its future to the next level. Today (Thursday, January 9, 2020), the Commissioner for Education held a meeting with principals of private and public schools. At the core of the meeting is the issue of JAMB and UTME for SS3 students of Rivers origin.
(Cuts in) No, not Rivers origin.
Specifically, the statement says all students of Rivers origin in their schools that are going to write JAMB and UTME this year. My real interest in this is that I want to know maybe government might want to be doing that for the future, targeting some key indices for development. As Information Commissioner, can you give us a little detail about government’s policy towards preparing the students, particularly in secondary schools, for the future development of Rivers State?
That will be for the Commissioner for Education.
While I thank the Hon. Commissioner for granting us this time from his busy schedule. I want to end this session by asking: do you intend to continue with ‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ and at what pace? Do you want to increase the pace or slow down?
You know, right now, the status has changed. So, I won’t comment on that because, right now, the status is higher. So, I won’t comment on that until I discuss with my principal.

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Special Interview

‘I Support And Will Always Support One Nigeria’

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Dr Rosalyn Dressmand is a Sociologist, founder of African
Tide Union and President, Nigeria In Diaspora Organisation, NIDO, Germany. She is a well-bred and properly educated Nigerian. She proved that much when The Tide team of Arnold Alalibo, Deputy Features Editor, and Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi, Woman Editor, interviewed her where she spoke on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:

What’s the make-up of the NIDO Germany?

Nigerians in Diaspora Organization is a body of Nigerian citizens living abroad. It was founded in the year 2000 by the then administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo (retd). The whole idea was to replicate the diaspora movement that is made across Asian countries. For example, diaspora built India, China, and many other countries. So, former President Obasanjo felt that Nigerians abroad should come back home and develop Nigeria. NIDO is not very complex. We have Nigerians in diaspora worldwide, which encompasses all the diaspora organisations round the world. We are in over 189 countries which means we are doing better than embassies around the world. We have Nigerians in diaspora in different continents. For example, NIDO Europe, Asia, America, etc. We in Germany fall into NIDO Europe. Then in Europe, we are NIDO Germany, Switzerland, Austria, UK, etc. So, I am representing NIDO Germany.

You have talked about the contributions the diaspora has made such as building India, China, etc. What has NIDO Germany done for Nigeria?

We have done a lot; it is like people seem not to pay attention to the things we do. Now, singularly, we do a lot of remittances that nobody cares to know about. As you know our children have no proper insurance policies, we have no pension plans that cut across the common man. For example, part of my parents was a civil servant. After she died, we did not get any remuneration. So diaspora becomes insurances for their families. Apart from that, we do singular projects; education projects, gender specific projects. We also work very hard to advise Nigeria on policies.

Tell us what the projects are; and in executing them, do you synergize with government, agencies or you undertake them single-handedly?

It depends on the project. There are projects we carry out single-handedly and there are ones we need to synergize with other organizations. There are also projects we need to collaborate with government. But our first assignment as diaspora organization is to drive back investment, that is what they call foreign direct investment to Nigeria. That is our first assignment and we are doing that, but we cannot quite be successful if  government doesn’t collaborate with us. However, in 2013, we did a sensitization project for gender; “women in politics”. That project did not need us to partner with government but with organizations. So we partnered with different organizations in order to get women sensitized and make politics attractive to them, and through our intervention that period, we had many women getting interested in politics. The NIDO Germany has also done projects with hospitals where we gave them equipment. We gathered the equipment in Germany based on the hospitals’ demands. All the hospitals need to do is pay the cost of container shipment and collect their consignment. That is a notable humanitarian support. We have also done a project in Edo State where they forgot bunch of young people for some irrelevant political reasons. A bunch of us collected several humanitarian materials and delivered to them just to give them support. Right now, we are doing educational project. This educational project needs collaboration with government. How? We had in the past 6-3-3-4 education system. I am the first product of the 6-3-3-4 system. I can proudly tell you I can do almost everything we’ve done with hand. I can type, write shorthand. I learned them then. I can paint a house, comfortably put tiles on walls and floors, I can do virtually every skill you can think of. I can cook very well, make dress with sewing machine, but today it is not the case anymore. Today, nobody respects skills, nobody respects vocational learning and that part of it is dying off. So what we agreed in NIDO Germany as part of our policy is homeland development, and how do we go about this? We bring the needed education to Nigeria. We try to sensitize the ministry of education in every state so that they can properly log in so that we can have a proper 6-3-3-4 system back in the country and, of course, that is a humongous assignment. It takes a lot of our time and a lot of our money. First of all, convincing the German government to support us on that, secondly, convincing the state government to work in collaboration with us, is not an easy task. But in 2017, we had managed to log in with the government of Bayelsa State and we have set up a huge training centre there, where we are training in various skills young men and women of between 117 and 120 trainees in Yenagoa precisely. You may probably ask why Yenagoa? Yes, Yenagoa because they accepted us. I read in the book that they were looking for diaspora to come back home and support them in their restoration program. So we logged in there and we have been working with them. This project is a model project, it has not been done in any African country at all. And, of course, other states too that are willing to log in will be welcome to log in with us.

What exactly are these projects?

We are doing Smart Houses A-Z. Smart houses A-Z encompasses plumbing, mechanical, electrical, engineering, roofing, tiling, preparing of P.O.Ps, paints, painting, sewing and everything about skill. A smart house is a self-sufficient house that generates its own energy, water and recycles the  water and energy for re-use. It is environmental-friendly. You will not use a generator instead you will need to log in to use solar energy. That means you will need to produce enough solar energy that will run your house 24-hours and by so doing, you have already secured that house. The cost of security is very very expensive here in this country. We are doing a project called ‘QUATIA’. The project quatia is supposed to qualify young people in solar energy. Our environment is very polluted; one day oil will come to an end and the question is where do we go from there? And we have what I tag structural violence in this country. So the best way to go to create some little structures for the common man is to dig more into the research and development of solar energy and its components and use it here in this country. So we have started that training. Our first trainees are set to kick off with practical course which comprises building their first grid of 100 kilowatts of energy which will not be a joke. Today, Engr Clause Brand is flying with the boeing 737 to Port Harcourt with a lot of hardwares we will be needing to kick off the practical training of building our own solar grid in Yenagoa.

Do you teach people how to construct the smart house or you build it having certain beneficiaries in mind?

No, no, no! We will teach them, empower them, let them know how to do it. The idea here is that they will form cooperative and then through the cooperative, they will be able to build the smart house because a smart house needs more than just a builder. It needs skills in masonry, carpentry, plumbing, electricity, water management and more. So, all these things come together to form a smart house. So they will  form  a cooperative to be able to build smart houses for people. Smart houses sound luxurious, of course, it is luxurious; it sounds expensive, on the contrary. They will be building houses that will be both environmental and commoners-friendly.

You became the President of this body in June this year. How would you rate the past executive, vis-à-vis fulfilling their mandate?

Yes, we have lived up to the mandate. I have been in the executive for sometime. I was the vice president of NIDO Germany two and half years ago. In 2016, I lost my president and I automatically became acting president. I sat in his position until I was elected the president. Yes, we have been fulfilling our mandate because every year we have a team we work with, we set milestones for ourselves of what we would want to achieve each year. We spell out how we intend to achieve development yearly. In the last two years, we have worked so much in building awareness; we have worked very hard in contributory, social assignments and this year, we have moved a step forward. We want to do direct home land development which involves, of course, addressing practical investors. We encourage them to come and invest in our country, and in our various states. We do not settle right now in Abuja or Lagos alone, we encourage members to go to the grassroots, for example, I am in Bayelsa State. This is the first time a project is going to a place somehow remote as Yenagoa, instead of Abuja or Lagos. So, we are fulfilled and are still working very hard to meet our target come the next two years.

We know how persons in diaspora have impacted on their countries politically many of whom have contributed to political developments in their nations. Some have even returned to be part of the political process. How has your own community in Germany contributed to political development here?

Thank you very much. You can see that for everthing I have described here, by and by there are political components in it. No, we do not sit there and wish that every thing be well  so  we can come back home occasionally and enjoy. No, we also actively contribute. When we talk about Nigerians in diaspora, it is a totality of a whole body. We meet on national, continental and international levels to discuss and decisions are reached and people are mandated to come along to write policy papers. Do not forget that we can only write policy papers, and suggest to the federal government. Again, it is one thing to write yet another thing to carry out the suggestion. Until now, we have managed in collaboration with all the diaspora bodies to gain the attention of the federal government. At the moment, we have a commission set up by the central government known as NIDCom headed by Hon. Abike Dabiri. She is doing quite great in that area. You know it is not only about enjoying the remittances sent by loved ones in diaspora, another thing is to protect the interest of these loved ones, so that they can bring the remittances more.  Abike is doing so well in this, so I can say that politically we are making impact.

The former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, was recently attacked by the IPOP group in Germany. What has been the reaction of NIDO Germany to the incident?

This is a hot topic. First of all, as the president of the Nigerians in diaspora Germany, I will do my best not to bring in ethnicity or any kind of discrimination here. As NIDO Germany, we have condemned what happened. But again, we must know that in every society, it doesn’t matter if it is Nigerian or European society, there are some persons that are out of the way, you don’t have control over them. On another point, without stepping on any person’s toes I condemn this hundred per cent as I said earlier in a press statement. However, I think that the former Deputy Senate President must have also over-reacted because in every country, democracy is real; only in Nigeria I wonder how real is democracy. If your subjects are not satisfied about anything and they want to discuss it with you, I wonder why you should run away. I have seen politicians in Germany that got stoned with tomatoes, bananas and things like that but they did not run away. They rather brought peace and order. These people love you, they voted for you, may be they have a ptoblem that you should look at. Let me move away from the issue of IPOB. For me, I support, and will always support one Nigeria, after all, my father gave his life for Nigeria. If  I don’t support one Nigeria that means I don’t value the life of my father. But there is always bound to be a disagreement in any set-up. The best possible way to approach that is to calm your subjects down and listen to their problem and not to run away from them. I can remember during Obama’s regime, when he was being interviewed somewhere, somebody picked up his shoe and stoned it at him. Did he run away? They sorted it out. So, without stepping on the toes of politicians in Nigeria, it will be nice to sort issues out when they start instead of making a huge national problem out of them.

But there is a difference between protest and assault.

Well, in the videos I have seen online there is nothing like assault.

What happened in Germany calls to mind a similar thing that occurred in Geneva when the Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, visited the country. There was a large protest against him. Don’t you foresee a situation where this trend will smear Africa’s image? Is there no better way to register our grievances against our leaders by the Diaspora?

I think we need to do more work in the area of acculturization. For example, some of the Nigerians in Germany are not even in the cultural system of Germany. They are neither here nor there. So, that kind of acculturization will support them so much. Another way that we could collectively solve this problem is by keeping promises. When politicians make promises during elections, they should at least keep half of them. The masses are suffering, we will not say we don’t see that, we all know that. We have energy, yet we don’t have electricity; we export our raw materials and buy same as finished products. We are a consumer country; we produce nothing. Over 49 percent of Nigerian youths are jobless. These problems are not pertinent to Nigeria alone, it is  pertinent to the whole of Africa. The migration wave towards Germany, I experienced it my self. I am sure nobody would like to live his home, if he is satisfied, to go out and die in the Sahara desert. The other day I saw a video of a young woman in deportation camp who said even if she was deported, she will still go back because she has no prospects here. Have you ever asked why are people carrying guns. Why are people so unsecured nowadays?. I talked about structural violence, I picked that word very carefully before I said it. When I traveled from Bayelsa to Port Harcourt, I counted 25 checkpoints; two redundant, 23 active. And you are practically assaulted every way on your travel. There is no human right in this country as well as some African countries. Look at Ghana, I remember the huge noise about Ghana must go out of Nigeria, I wonder if they will say Nigeria must go out of Ghana nowadays. This is because the development in Ghana is very striking. These are things, very little things, that blow up the minds of people that are not capable of handling things and then they see these politicians, they come around, instead of addressing what we have. If you invite some of them to come and discuss problems with you, they will not come. But invite them to come and celebrate with you, they will come. It is very disheartening.

Nigeria at the moment has global image crises. As members of the Nigerian community in Germany, how do you manage the image of this country over there?

On my own little shoulder, it is a very huge problem. When I became fully imbibed in the culture of Germany, my lord mayor suggested that I become a German. I said I would want to think about it. I gave thought to a lot of things. Of course, it is not a bad idea picking a German green card. On the other hand, if all Nigerians give up their Nigerian passport and become Germans who will be Nigerian? I changed my mind and I said no, I don’t want to be a German. I am a Nigerian, it won’t change anything. So, I told my lord mayor, I am sorry, I will not be a German, I am a Nigerian. But that does not free me from my responsibilities in Germany. It is only because I am patriotic and I want to remain a Nigerian. Not quite long, my son approached me and said mummy why are you a Nigerian and not a German? And I replied that it  is so because I want to be a Nigerian. Before I realized it, my son had completed every legality to become a Nigerian. My second son logged in and my daughter followed suit so we are all Nigerians. It is a difficult thing. Now I keep a Nigerian passport, the good thing is that I can move around. I can wake up in the morning, pick up my passport and go home for any reason at all. Another good thing is that the Nigerian Embassy in Germany works very closely with diaspora. You will not have problem any where that they will not come to your aid. I lost my passport and that is the only means of identification I have. I don’t go around any where in this world without it. I am a very proud Nigerian. Charity, they say, begins at home. If you are not proud of yourself, you cannot attract people’s respect and attention. As a Nigerian, I do my best to live a legal life. Apart from petty traffic offences like over-speeding, I think I am as clean as a baby’s pooh. However, it will interest you to know that most of the people claimed to be Nigerians are not truly Nigerians.  In 2007, there was an article in New York Times; “Every second man with a  brief case is a Nigerian”. Of course, it is not true, but it was a catchy article that actually got the attention it wanted.  The image of Nigeria is bad. In Germany, our ambassador has started a new project; a cultural project, where he is trying to show the people that we have different cultures. I  will call it an image booster for Nigeria. Apart from the traditional work we Nigerians are doing there to portray a good image of Nigeria, you hear only the bad things that happen to Nigerians or Nigerians are doing. It is very difficult to read about the numerous good things Nigerians are doing abroad. In Germany, if you ask two institutions who Rosalyn Dressman is, they will tell you and also tell you where to find me. But in this country, nobody knows me. Nobody cares to know what I do even though everything I do and live for is for homeland development. African Tide, our first mission, is to support Africans in Germany, and we are a very successful organization in Germany. Who knows about the African Tide here in Nigeria? Nobody. So, that is the point. People enjoy carrying bad news, so the best we can do is to keep pushing and replicating the good name of Nigeria. The other day I read about Nigeria making it very high academically in UK. Which local newspaper carried that? But as soon as there is a bad news, it will filter through all the local newspapers. I will suggest that we as Nigerians move a little away from negativity and put on the coat of positivity so that we don’t see ourselves in such bad light.

Don’t you think that it is the responsibility of those living over there to disseminate such positive information emanating from there?

It is a collective responsibility. We are doing that. It is the responsibility of the civil society as well as the government. So when will the government start calling us to discuss our problems as diasporas? Government is mostly interested in the remittances we do, but they are not interested in helping us continue to do that remittances. That is where I will call on the government to open their doors a bit wider to accommodate us diaspora.

In the course of responding to the last question, you talked about culture, as well as how your children became Nigerians one after the other. Have you been able to Nigerianize them properly?

Yes, in our upbringing most of our parents failed to teach us our language. You go to any home that claims they are super home, they don’t speak language they only speak English which was a wrong step towards a right direction. First of all, I made that same mistake. My two sons speak a bit of Ogba language. Nigeria is a very diverse country; there is no Nigerian culture, it is difficult. Even though we are strong in our diversity, there is no Nigerian culture. There is only culture of where you come from, for instance, Ikwerre, Ogoni, Ijaw cultures, etc. As you drive through every 50 to 100 kilometers, you have new settlements, new understanding,  new language and culture, how do you imbibe all these? It becomes difficult. There government has to think of some policies that will culturally bring us all together. For example, the former Deputy Senate President was invited to a new yam festival. This is cultural move, a good move though in the right direction that ended not so tasteful. Through that kind of gathering, our children learn about our various cultures. It is a good move in the right direction. I will encourage this kind of move because this is exactly what I do with my family. Right now, my children can cook all manner of Nigerian food. It is lots of work; it takes us lots of discipline to do that.

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Special Interview

‘NIOB Has Been Vocal On Building, Construction’

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The Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) is the professional body for builders and those who are about to be engaged in the building profession.
The institute has its origin in a similar body called the “Builders which was formed in 1834 by a number of prominent Builder in London. The Builder’ Society later became the Institute of Building in the United Kingdom which later became the Chartered Institute of Building in 1980 and now the Institute for the Management of Construction.
Nigeria became the firs overseas centre of the Institute of Building in 1967. the Nigerian centre of the institute of Building became autonomous on November 5, 1970 and from then acquired the name “The Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB).
The institute holds its 49th 2019 Builders National Convention and Annual General Meeting in Port Harcourt today and will end on August 9, 2019.
The convention is expected to draw participants from across the nation. The State Chairman of the institute and the Local Organising Committee ( LOC), Builder Akinola Bammieke spoke with The Tide correspondent, Ike Wigodo on the forthcoming convention and its importance in town planing in Rivers State among many other issues. Excerpts
Sir, you are the state Chairman of NIOB in Rivers State and also the LOC Chairman of this year’s National Convention of the institute holding in Rivers State. What is the purpose and reason for hosting it in the State?
The purpose is to educate the public on the roles of builders in the building industry, create awareness on same and emphasise the need for safety in all our operations. The decision to host the conference was made two years ago and the reason is that NIOB wants a paradigm shift in the building industry planning, approval and execution processes in the State. Driving into Rivers State gives you the impression that we need more planned environment. The problems we are facing in the industry are man-made. However, we must confess that the government is trying its best but more needs to be done.
What is the theme of this year’s National Convention?
We have tagged this year’s convention as health, safety, environment and professionalism for sustainable development in the construction industry.
Sir, NIOB has been silent over building construction and lack of town planning in Rivers State. What measure should be taken towards that?
NIOB has not been silent. The institute has been vocal on the subject of building and construction. Definitely, there is a ministry in charge of planning which is the Ministry of Urban Development. However, the ministry is not properly structured and staffed. The ministry should be split into two; the planning is Physical Planning Department) and the construction department ( Building Control Department).
The Control Department must be headed by a registered builder while the planning department must have registered builders too. The regulator of the building profession is the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria. No one is permitted to engage in building practices without meeting the requirements of the law pursuant to “ Builders Registration Act Cap.B13LFN 2004 ( formerly known as Decree No 45 of 1989). Section 19 (1) of the Builders ( Registration, etc.) Act states thus: 19(1) Any person, not being a registered builder who (a) for or in expectation of reward, practise or holds himself out to practise as such; or (b) without reasonable excuse, takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is authorised by law to practise as a registered builder, commits an offence punishable under this Act.
What should Nigerians expect before and after the programme?
Expect intensive media campaign and public awareness programmes on the role builders in the building industry. I believe you must have seen our billboards all over the places and heard our jingles on radio stations. After the convention, expect more intensive engagement with all stakeholders in the building industry.
The Ministry of Urban Development and Physical Planning in Rivers State, have they been able to meet the expectations as required by law?.
The answer is capital NO. It is not enough to approve building plans, most important thing is to monitor the approval made to ensure it is what has been approved. This will also help to check collapse of buildings across the nation.
How far has government been able to implement and comply with the Building it meets what has been approved Code.
On implementation, more needs to be done. Specifically, we want enforcement of the Builders Registration Act.
Please, give a general view of your take about NIOB, government and the public?
Generally, builders are specialists. The building profession is a specialisation. Just like some professions are going into specialisation right from the first degree in higher institutions. Building as a course of study was among the very first. The world is changing and specialization is what would deliver the cutting edge. Government needs to enforce the laws and the public need to obey it.
What is your message to the people?
The NIOB uses this medium to invite the public to the conference. We are privileged to host the institute in the state. The business environment in the state is very rewarding one. Major construction activities dot the landscape. The government has equally invested in infrastructure development across the state. We encourage you to take advantage of the beautiful tourist attractions on offer in our state such as the Tourist Beach,Isaac Boro Park, Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt Zoo, Port Harcourt Mall ( SPAR) to name a few.
“It is noteworthy that this singular achievement of the Nigeria Centre acted as a catalyst for the establishment of other autonomous overseas centres of the Institute of Building (U.K) in Australia, Canada, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya, to name a few.
In 1974, the NIOB began the struggle for official recognition in form of statutory Registration Council for Professional Builders. Through the relentless effort of NIOB, the Federal Military Government signed into law the Builder’ (Registration etc) Decree No 45 of 1989 (then ACT CAP 40) to establish the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON) on December 15th 1989 and the Council was officially inaugurated on 24th April, 1990.
The Law gave statutory backing to “Building” as a distinct profession in Nigeria as obtainable in the U.K., Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Australia, etc. the Law also recognizes The Nigerian Institute of Building as the only professional body for those engaged or about to be engaged in the building profession. Since the statutory backing of Building as a profession in Nigeria by Builder’s (Registration etc) Decree 45 of 1989 (now B.13 LFN, 2004). The Institute has done a lot for the development of the profession, its members, the government and the Nigerian public. .
Some of the Institute’s objectives as set out in constitution of the Institute include the following:
· To promote the Science and Practice of Building Technology, Building Maintenance, Building Surveying, Building Production/Construction Management and Project Management including all research and publication of the results for public benefit.
·To establish and maintain a high standard of competence and conduct of those engaged or about to be engaged in the said Science and practice of Building and the education and research connected therewith.
·To provide a forum for meeting and discussing matters of mutual interest to professional Builders in Nigeria and to preserve and further the interest of those within.
· To promote and stimulate the improvement of the technical and general knowledge of persons engaged or training to engaged in the Building profession.
·To make available information on matters affecting the Building Profession in Nigeria and abroad.
· To promote an understanding of the Building profession among members of the public and to confer with all professionals and other bodies within the construction industry and to act as the sole authority in the Federation of Nigeria with regards to all matter affecting the profession.
·To act as body which the Government or other official or unofficial authorities or organization(s) in Nigeria can seek advice, assistance or the expression of views on any subjects of concern or interest, to the Building profession in Nigeria.

 

Ike Wigodo

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