Last Thursday, the Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, paid a working visit to the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (publishers of The Tide) to officially launch a new campaign, “#OurStateOurResponsibility”, designed to rebrand and correct the negative narrative by the vocal minority about the state. In this interview with some members of the Editorial Board: Chairman, Goodluck Ukwe; Group News Editor, Nelson Chukwudi; Business Editor, Boye Salau; Group Sports Editor, Gabriel Nwanetanya; and Acting Op-Ed/Features Editor, Arnold Alalibo, last Friday, Nsirim elucidates on the motivation for the campaign, strategy, drivers, goals, stakeholder groups collaborating to achieve desired results, and much more. Head of Photographic Unit, Ibioye Diama, captured the scenes. Excerpts.
We are much aware of the series of branding and rebranding by successive administrations. We recall the last one that the former Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari did. It was all about branding and rebranding of the state. How far that one went, we can’t say. So, what is the difference between the new campaign and the one we had in the past?
I will just correct one impression. Rivers State is a brand. Rebranding and rebranding does not exist because you have a brand. What happens concerning the brand is that at every point in the history of the state, new strategies are brought in to promote the brand.
If you take the example of Coca Cola, every day, you see new adverts; it has not changed the brand ‘Coca Cola’. What we are doing now is a new strategy to promote the Rivers brand. And if you ask: what is the difference? I will tell you clearly that the difference will be in terms of the modus operandi of this campaign. We are starting with meeting with the various stakeholder groups as a way of buying into it; because the reason why some campaigns fail is that the major stakeholder groups that are supposed to be part of the campaign are not involved. That is, for example, the reason why we are starting with the media. The media are going to be the agenda setters. The media will be setting the agenda while we begin to engage other stakeholder groups.
It is a campaign that will run in phases. What we are doing now is a kind of advocacy. It is going to have so many levels. That is why this one is different. Before, what we saw is that may be something was launched, now, we are not doing a launching, but we are just saying we are trying to reposition the Rivers State brand and this is the plan, this is the catch phrase.
If you look at the catch phrase: “#OurStateOurResponsibility”, you will understand that this is really tailored to be people-centred. The catch phrase of this campaign alone shows that it is going to be people-centred. When people understand that they are part of a project, implementation wouldn’t be a problem.
Today (last Friday), the governor signed three bills into law. One of them is the prohibition of street trading and others. This campaign will also key into it because it is our state; it is our responsibility to keep the state clean, to be off the streets, to do what is right. You can see that it is a people centred campaign, and because it is people centred, I am very optimistic that it is going to succeed.
You alleged that there are minority vocal groups trying to de-market the state, using some media to paint the state black. What are you doing to reach out to those people and make them part of the campaign?
Everybody will be part of it (campaign). That is why it is going to be in phases. As we finish with the state media houses, we are going to the private media houses in the state. It is also going to take us out of the state to involve the media.
I am proud of the brand. The Rivers brand is one in a million. This is because we are blessed with the natural resources, we are blessed with the infrastructures and we are blessed with a welcoming state. I don’t know anywhere in the world where people are hospitable like the Rivers people. In this state, we are hospitable people. Whatever you talk about a Rivers man, there is a spirit in us that accepts visitors. While growing up, I used to see my mother entertaining visitors with food. If an artisan, wherever he comes from, comes to work for my mother in the village, she would pay him and insist that he eats her food. That is what we are.
Do you also consider the logistics involved in this campaign? Because for me, it is massive!
Yea, it is, but what we have going for us is that presently, His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Governor of Rivers State has carved a niche for himself in Governance. It is only a bad product that is usually hard to sell. We have a good brand in the governor himself. He has distinguished himself as a people’s leader. He has demonstrated in the last four years that he has the capacity to give the people of Rivers State good governance, and of course, the numerous local and international awards he has received attest to the fact that this man is really doing the business. We have the goodwill of the governor and we have the goodwill of this ministry. I believe there are many doors you can open in this country today with goodwill and that is in abundance.
Do you also consider the sustainability of this campaign, in case tomorrow you are moved from this ministry to another ministry?
Let me assure you that the various directorates in this ministry are properly positioned for this campaign, perchance I am posted out. Because of the philosophy of this ministry and because the directors in this ministry have already bought into this project, it will be difficult for any right thinking person to abandon it. This campaign just started three days ago, but I can tell you, a lot of people have already embraced it. But I can tell you that even on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Scannews, I was told today, the burse concerning this has been massive. It is only somebody who is insane, that will say a good product like this will not sell.
Gentlemen, I must say, this is a breath of fresh air in the state because it is like people have been looking for a rallying point where they can aggregate their views or opinions. But now, the Ministry of Information is providing that platform for the people to have a voice to tell their story.
Sir, the hashtag, ‘#OurStateOurResponsibility’, can you throw more light on that catch phrase?
Initially, I said that this is a people-centred campaign. If you live and do business here, this is your home; this is your state, and whatever happens here, whether for good or for ill, affects you. So, we all need to work together as people living and doing business here, to promote the interest of the state. Everybody living and doing business here is a stakeholder. I think that sums it: Everybody living and doing business here is a stakeholder, and we all need to realise that when things begin to move in the right direction, because you live and do business here, you will be a beneficiary. And people need to be told that. What is happening now is that some people are behaving like the proverbial monkey that saw trees falling in the forest and was laughing: ‘trees are falling oooh, hahaha’; until all the trees finished falling, then it realised that it was its house that was falling. So, we want to do that re-orientation for people to understand that when you hear anything negative about Rivers State, be concerned because it will affect you one way or the other. Do something to correct that negative impression by cascading the positive aspect of the state.
For record purposes, what informed this advocacy, and why now?
What informed this advocacy is that we in the Ministry of Information and Communications feel concerned that our story as a state is not being heard. Our voice as a people is not being heard. A lot of good things are happening here, but the minority vocal voices are drowning the good things that are happening here. So, we said no, we need to change the narrative. Any sincere person living and doing business here knows that a lot has happened within the last four years. And we are thinking now, the governor is into his second term, we need more people on board the Ship of State, because despite the distractions of the first term, the man was focused to deliver the dividends of democracy to Rivers people. Now is the time, and fortunately, because the governor is a team player, on winning the election, he extended the Olive Branch to the opposition. A few appointments he has made within the last few months, people in the opposition are part of it. So, it is a project tailored to say ‘look, everybody should come on board; we all have a stake, let’s do it together’.
From our understanding, this advocacy is the brainchild of your ministry. What efforts are you making to reach out to other ministries to key in so as to achieve the set goal of rebranding the state?
That is why I said that this is in phases. In fact, informally, I have engaged all the permanent secretaries in the various ministries. Even today, I have posted some information on our WhatsApp platform, and people are reacting to it. The campaign is going to be in phases. The media was chosen first, like I mentioned earlier, to help us set the agenda. Every major stakeholder group will be part of this project in the final analysis.
You have talked of the de-marketing of the state by some disgruntled elements or minority group. Has the government been able to identify this minority group or detractors of the state?
I don’t understand what you mean by if government has identified the people de-marketing the state. You are in the media, and you know these people. It is not difficult for any person with genuine interest in the good of the state to identify them. You know them, and everyone here knows who they are. Rivers people know who they are!
The governor, after the March 9 election, offered the Olive Branch to those antagonists in the opposition to sheathe their sword and join him to build and move the state forward. Do you think between that time and now, those elements are still prosecuting their campaign to de-market the state? Or put differently, do you think this campaign still has something to achieve given that it is expected by now that those antagonists would have changed their strategies, and joined the governor to move the state forward?
Well, you are in the media. I just alluded to that fact. Of course, we all know that they are still de-marketing the state. No one needs to be told that the detractors of the state are still prosecuting their nefarious smear campaign against the state. You can read, see and hear it on all the media platforms: the newspapers, radios, televisions, and even the social media. They are still actively going on with their negative campaign as if it is still business as usual. That is why we are doing this! We need to tell them, and indeed, the outside world and, especially the business community and tourists that a lot of positive things are happening here, and that this state is hospitable, secure and safe for business.
When you have a project of this nature, you also need to localise it and make sure that the rural dwellers are carried along. And because we have a large illiterate population in the rural areas, you are supposed to have an inclusive strategy with special communication module or approach to reach them. How do you plan to sell this Rivers brand to the rural folks to secure their buy-in? Or you want to concentrate your campaign in the urban centres only?
Thank you very much. The various stakeholder groups are involved in this effort, and we can’t list them all here: the traditional institution, market women, artisans, transporters, farmers, fishermen, professionals in various fields, politicians, private and public sector workers, entrepreneurs, small and medium scale businessmen and women, investors, you name them – all stakeholders are important in this campaign, and all will be reached. In fact, we are going to collaborate with all people living and doing business in this state, including corporate bodies and non-governmental organisations to achieve our mandate of making “#OurStateOurResponsibility”.
I have said it before: We are going to engage all stakeholder groups up to the grassroots because of what we are trying to do for this state; we need everybody on board. I told them at Garden City Radio today, that I want posterity to judge us kindly. We cannot stand aloof. We have a heritage as a people. We have a heritage which is rich in culture and tradition. And we have core values as a people. We respect people, especially visitors. We are hospitable and accommodating. We are welcoming and friendly. We like to share whatever we have with others, especially visitors. We are peace-loving and tolerant. And we cannot afford to lose our heritage and values. So, all those stakeholder groups we have in mind are going to be reached with the message of “OurStateOurResponsibility”. They have to buy in, take ownership of it and ensure that they promote the message that our state is our responsibility. They must protect it. They must promote it anywhere they are. It is in phases, and everyone will be reached. And because all of you in the media will be part of it, you will see how the campaign will go, and the tremendous results we will get.
Whenever government comes up with something like this, people are always skeptical. What plans do you have to convince skeptics that this time around, it is for real?
If you followed our conversation, I said that it is only a bad product that is usually difficult to sell. But Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is a good product! One thing you cannot take away from this governor is that he keeps his promises. When he came on board, he promised Rivers people that for every promise he will make, he will fulfill. He also told them that every project of critical importance to their well-being and interest that was abandoned by the previous administrations, he will complete. He has kept faith with those promises. And that integrity and character of His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, is a major selling point for us in this campaign.
We are saying to people: we have a Brand in Governor Wike. In the past four years, whatever he said he will do, he has done. Come on board and join him. Yes, skeptics may still be lurking here and there, but every person living and doing business in the state can attest to the fact that he has kept his promises. He has won the confidence and trust of Rivers people. And they believe in him, because he has worked hard to protect and defend their interest at all levels. They know that the man who is saddled with the responsibility as the governor is not somebody who plays to the gallery. He is a man of his words. He walks the talk!
Are you envisaging any challenges in the course of prosecuting this task?
As an individual, I don’t envisage any challenges. Even so, for me, challenges are usually stepping stones. They are opportunities that enable you actualise your ambition. A vision that does not have challenges is not a realistic vision. But if you set your eyes at the goal, those challenges eventually turn out to be stepping stones to success. So, I don’t worry about challenges; I care more about the opportunities that those challenges throw up, and I work hard to take advantage of them to achieve my goals.
First, is on social media. You know that a campaign like this will work perfectly well and reach out to a wider audience, locally and internationally, if you have an active Social Media component. While designing this campaign, did you factor in the social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and an effective management system for them? Do you have official social media pages on these platforms specifically dedicated to drive this campaign?
Thank you very much. To allay your fears, I will say yes. We are already working with social media influencers in the state to escalate the advocacy. Some are doing something on Twitter, some on Facebook, and some on Instagram through their own verified accounts and handles. Even the Online Media are also posting some of the things we have done as part of the campaign to help us communicate the message through the Internet. But we have not created our own Pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. That will be done today, shortly after this session. It is important that we create our own official Social Media Pages and Handles for the purpose of escalating this campaign to reach as wide audiences as possible, and also help us sustain it for years to come.
For a campaign like this to succeed, it must have a good trigger and concept, strategy for driving it, set goals, timeline for all the deliverables, and beyond these, it must have a good budget for prosecuting it in order to achieve success, because studies have shown that no campaign succeeds without a robust budget. So, do you have a budget to drive this campaign going forward?
Well, our budget is the goodwill of stakeholders. Our budget is the rich and authentic Rivers Brand. Our budget is the integrity and character of this present administration.
The campaign is built on people. Does the campaign have any measure to identify Rivers people who are involved in one enterprise or the other to project or drive this cause?
Part of the strategy is to create and project Brand Ambassadors. It is part of the strategy. We are going to create brand ambassadors. Not just Rivers people but even visitors to the state and friends of the state. So, it is part of the strategy.
The state under the present administration has been able to host so many events in politics, sports, economy, etc. Will you say that the efforts of the governor have been appreciated?
You should answer that question: If a man gets recognitions locally and internationally saying ‘you are doing well in governance’, what other appreciation are you asking for? It’s clear, at a point, all the major tabloids in this country were falling over themselves to give him awards, because, really, what is on ground, the quantum of what have been pumped into developing this state is legendary. And this is a fact. I say this with a deep sense of responsibility because this is what is on ground. There are those who rule their states on television but when you get there, there’s nothing on ground; not this governor. If he tells you, ‘I will build Fruit Garden Market’, on the next day, the bulldozers move in. If he tells you that ‘I will rebuild Mile One Market’, the next day, the contractors are mobilised to site.
And he is one governor that has said that he will not award a project he would not complete. As he is awarding a project, he is matching it with resources.
In this campaign, is there a role for sports?
Of course, you know that His Excellency is a sports loving governor, and there is no way you will be talking about his achievements as a governor without considering his legacies sports development. That’s why he is the Power of Sports (POS) in Africa. So, yes, sports will be an integral part of the campaign. You see, there are little things that people don’t recognise. You were here when the inauguration match was played; you were there at the stadium, all the notable stars in this country were there. You know, people take this kind of things for granted, you just hear or see that people came, but you won’t go deeper to probe, to ask: why did these people come? It’s just not that the governor is a sports loving governor, he is a man that has won the hearts and goodwill of Nigerians across a broad spectrum. So, even professional footballers, serving and retired are always willing to identify with him. That’s why all the Kanus of this world were here to celebrate the inauguration. And for us, it’s notable because there is no governor before now in this state that had been able to bring all these stars under one umbrella.
After the March elections, the governor was quoted as saying that politics and election were over, and that it was time for governance, and he actually invited the opposition to work with him. In your own assessment as a stakeholder in this administration, how far has this message gone down with the opposition?
It’s an ongoing process. The governor, if you are close to him, you will know that he is a large-hearted person. He means what he says. There are people who speak from both sides of their mouth, but not Governor Nyesom Wike. So, he is engaging every stakeholder to come on board. He means it, that’s why I said earlier, in some of the appointments he has made so far, people from the opposition parties are there. It has never been like that before. Here, it used to be the winner takes it all. But he is demonstrating that sportsmanship because of the kind of leader he is. A people’s leader sees everybody, whether opposition or not as his people. He means it when he says elections are over, and it’s time for governance, and governance in the state is for all Rivers people.
Just recently, the governor also said there are people who are getting sleepless nights just to make sure they pull down the government … Cuts in…
That doesn’t change his position that he has offered the olive branch. It doesn’t change that position. If that position changes, he will say it. But knowing his character, he has not changed that position.
From the body language, it is like those people are not really willing to come up?
You are the one saying the body language. A lot is happening. If you are conversant with governance, you will see that there are so many people that are hanging around Government House that were not there.
Let me take you back to the brand name. Don’t you think that “MyStateMyResponsibility” should have personalised the brand better than “OurStateOurResponsibility”?
“Our” is better, because if you say, “My” state, non-indigenes will be excluded. They will now say it is for Rivers people. But “Our” is for everybody living and doing business here. It is well conceived.
The brand campaign touches on cleanliness and neatness, taking Port Harcourt back to the glory of Garden City it was known for. And given that the Assembly has just passed a bill concerning street trading, what measures are you taking to cushion the effects?
The truth of the matter is that people have a penchant for disobeying the law. You live in Port Harcourt. Go to Creek Road Market, the stalls are empty but people are on the streets. It is a statement of fact. Now, the governor was saying today that the excuse people still hold is that they want to survive. Are you aware that most of the people that litter the streets of Port Harcourt come from neighbouring states that do business here, and then, jump into the bus later on by six o’clock and go back? We can’t afford to have that kind of system. Let me assure Rivers people that the governor has the political will to implement it. That’s why a law has been passed, and assented to today.
Already, 450 persons have been profiled by the Nigeria Police that will serve as taskforce police and they are going to work in two shifts, from morning till night. It is the first time in the history of this state that that kind of strategy will be used. The governor is saying if you want to do business, for example, somebody wants to sell cars, you come to the road. He says if you want to sell cars acquire a land, partition it, fence it out and sell your cars there. The streets should not be places where people would just come and litter. And so many things also would be happening in the area of environmental sanitation.
The challenge we have in the State is that people have the habit of polluting their environment. I was sharing with a few people the other day and I said to them we all were here when ‘War Against Indiscipline’ was launched in this country. You can’t just go anywhere and urinate no matter how pressed. You would queue. That’s where the queue culture became very strong in this country. You can’t just after eating your banana or whatever you are in a moving vehicle, you throw it away. What was it that made it work? It was the political will.
This government has the political will and in the next few weeks the results will begin to show, because there will be mobile courts. People will be tried summarily. If it is option of fine, you pay. If you can’t pay the fine, you go to prison. By the time one or two people go to prison, you will not see anybody on the road. And that is the kind of language Nigerians understand. This is a very beautiful city. We didn’t have it like this before. Port Harcourt used to be called Garden City.
Now, people want to turn it to Aba, and we can’t afford to do that. We are lucky in this State. Mile One Market is there, Mile Three Market is there, Creek Road is there, Town Market is there. I hope we know that there is a Town Market? It is there. We have two mechanic villages in this state. A lot of people have forgotten that there is one at Mile Three, there is one at Elekahia. Now, we have motor parks; we have the Abali Motor Park, we have the one at Mile Three and we have some other designated motor parks even outside the city centre. Anybody who is going to run anything to do with that kind of business should go to the designated areas and it is in the interest of the people.
If you go and board vehicles at the designated motor parks, danger is averted because you will not fall into the hands of hoodlums. In those motor parks, every vehicle is registered with the unions. People fall into the hands of hoodlums because they enter into vehicles along the road, and government is saying beyond building infrastructure and also for protection of lives and properties, go to designated places so that your lives will be safe. Do you know how many people whose whereabouts cannot be accounted for? Before in this State, it was difficult for you to see somebody doing ‘Aba, Aba’ along the road. You would go to the park. So, that is it.
What time limit are you giving this campaign, and what will your expectations be in the end?
What we are expecting from this campaign is a total behaviour change in those living and doing business in Rivers State and then also that Rivers State is projected positively to the outside world.
How long will this campaign last?
It is going to last for a long time because the various strategies will be coming in bits as we will be going on. So, I can’t say now it will last for one day, two days, one year or three years because it is something that has to be sustained. My own vision is that even after this government, in the next four years, the next government that comes should be able to have a plan to continue to push this agenda because we have a heritage as a people.
Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke
His Majesty King (Dr) Leslie Nyebuchi Eke, Eze Gbakagbaka, Eze Oha Evo III of Evo Kingdom in Obio/Akpor Local government Area of Rivers State, is a First Class Traditional Ruler.
Trained as a Biological Scientist at Illinois State University, Bloomington Normal, United States of America, he holds a Masters Degree and Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) from Wycliffe University & ATS, California.
Suave, ebullient, accessible, humble, down-to-earth and cerebral, Eke is also the Secretary General of the Association of Niger Delta Monarchs (ANDMON) and the Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State Chapter of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities (TROMPCOM).
In this exclusive interview with our Production Editor, Donatus Ebi and cameraman, Egberi A. Sampson, Eke poignantly bares his mind on sundry issues affecting the State and the nation. He particularly eulogises the Executive Governor of the State, Chief Nyesom Wike for the giant development strides of his administration within the past six years and comes to the inevitable conclusion that he has surpassed the achievements of his predecessors, having performed beyond the expectation of Rivers people.
His Majesty, by virtue of all that you have seen in the State in the past six years, what are your comments on the achievements of Governor Nyesom Wike?
As it concerns us and the Governor, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is God-sent, a purposeful Governor, a vision-full Governor and a man that knows why he is Governor, why he did come to contest and contested as Governor. And this man, meticulously, seriously, honestly, has continued, day by day, month by month, to roll out projects that are impactful to the society, to Rivers people. Roads infrastructure, schools, hospitals, human capacity, I mean continuously. This man has turned the Garden City into a city of flyovers. And that is very meaningful. We very much appreciate such a person. And unfortunately, he can’t go for a third term. We wish he goes for a third term. He is going to give so much to the Rivers people.
He has made us so proud. He has distinguished himself among the Governors and governments in Nigeria. All the things he has done, other governments and even the Federal Government should learn from him.
A case in point is the Coronavirus pandemic. Our Governor took proactive actions in time and that is why Rivers State did not suffer much from the pandemic and they had to learn from him. He has impacted on the people commercially, economically and otherwise. Even our Christian lives have improved because he gave this State to God and declared it a Christian State. He built an Ecumenical Centre and God literally has come down to work with His people and has begun to give us a sense of direction, a sense of belonging. We appreciate so much from the man, who has unlike others, really worked even in the second term, working like it was the first term. And we are grateful to God for all his achievements. He is a true Ikwerre son. We appreciate him. We pray that he would find more to do even after he has left this stage of governance. We couldn’t have had it any other way.
Would you then say that Governor Wike has performed beyond expectation?
Very true. This Governor has done beyond expectation. Looking at precedents, looking at people before him, what he has done even per month, it is unequalled anytime, anywhere in the history of Rivers State. This Governor has done so much.
In spite of all that you have seen he has done, is it not surprising that there are still pockets of opposition in the State?
Well, it is unfortunate but we must have opposition. We must have people that agree and people that don’t agree. It is normal. We just want to encourage them to criticise constructively. They should engage in constructive criticisms. They should criticise him constructively. Not just opening your mouth for opening sake. This time around, it will be very difficult. You know, he has been accused of 3D projects. It is no longer 3D now, because you can come there and see it for yourself. You will see the flyovers. Who does three flyovers at the same time? Nobody. And he has told us that he has more, seven more to deliver to Rivers people and put us on the world map of very very improved humane settlements. We appreciate that.
You said it is unfortunate that the Governor won’t run for a third term, but there are people out there calling on him to run for the Presidency come 2023. What is your take on this?
At his point, I am not a politician. For him to run for a federal office, it is entirely his prerogative, it is at his discretion. It is left for him to decide. He has to watch the politicial terrain and decide what he wants. But one thing is sure. Anywhere this Governor, Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike finds himself, he would deliver on his promises, he would deliver on the NEED Assessment of the people. This man is in tune with development. He is in tune with the people. And I am not afraid. If tomorrow, he runs for the Presidency, it is Nigerians that will gain because he is going to work tirelessly. I don’t know where he gets his energy; he is going to work tirelessly and fearlessly and deliver on the things that matter to the people.
As a royal father, which areas would you like to advise the Governor?
Well, first and foremost, he has to watch his back. He is a Governor that works by self-conviction. And so he cannot be deterred by anybody, by superiors’ stories, very bad advice; he is unaffected by those kinds of things because he is a man of conviction. When he decides on a project, he delivers, because he is in tune with the people. He is a grassroots politician; he feels the pulse of the people. And I am sure he knows what Nigerians want too and if he finds himself in that national stage, I have no doubt in my mind that he will win and provide dividends of democracy to our people.
We have been having some security challenges in the country and even in the State in recent times to the extent that Governor Wike had to impose curfew in the State. How would you react to this?
Well, the Governor has done well in the area of security. This Governor has done more than any government, to give state of the art equipments to security operatives in the State, both water and land. He has done so much and continues to do. So, the rest is left for these professionals to deliver. The Governor is not a policeman or a soldier. He has built a Guest House for the Army, giving them vehicles, and the police, you know it, giving them so much including other security organisations. The government has done so much for the security people and they are supposed to complement the huge expenditure of government on them.
The idea of having a curfew is also part of his own actions to mitigate these security lapses that are creating fears among our people. So, he is helping them. It is good for them. It is good for them to complement what he is doing, in terms of speaking to the people by his now and then broadcasts. It is to encourage them to know exactly what government is up to. It is for them to know what is happening. In this way, they are able to work with him, and stay distance and time with the Governor and not begin to feel that he is not doing enough. He is talking to them constantly. The security operatives should complement this government’s efforts and prove it right in its activities to secure lives and property. I support the government of Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. I support him wholeheartedly and he has done well. I score him high and give him excellent mark.
But some people are still complaining about the curfew, what do you have to tell them, both the residents of the State and Rivers people?
The curfew we should obey. The residents and people of Rivers State should obey the curfew. It is even in the Bible, that we should obey the laws of government. And so, if it is this one regulation that government has brought, we should obey. It is not for peace-loving rivers people but this is to catch the criminals. We too should complement government’s efforts by obeying the rules and regulations. Like when we had the lockdowns, don’t we see that we are enjoying health now? At that time too, people criticised the government and the Governor, but today, they have swallowed their words. They are enjoying health now. If the Governor had left Coronavirus to fester, then, it would have been terrible for our people. But today, we are walking around, the markets are open, and everywhere else, people are able to live their lives.
His Majesty, some Nigerians are today calling for the restructuring of the country and some too are calling for secession, from the foregoing, what do you think is the fate of Nigeria and what do we really need?
Obviously, to sustain the various geo-political zones of Nigeria, we do need restructuring within one Nigeria. And people that are resisting this, obviously, in time, will bow to the yearnings of the people. If you go back to the time when we had regions, we had relative peace. We are not saying we should go back to that but those kinds of things we were enjoying regionally, should begin to be apportioned within the States. Like for us in the South-South or the core Niger Delta, it is very important that we enjoy the proceeds of the God-given minerals that we have. We cannot have these minerals and people who are somewhere else, even beyond the shores of this country, are enjoying them. We can’t have that. No responsible government can do that. What God has given Nigeria is for Nigerians.
What do you have to say about the ongoing Constitution Review vis-à-vis the need for the traditional institution to be given roles in the Constitution?
The Constitution Review is welcome even if we are hearing that they are spending so much. Unwarranted expenditure is not good but the Constitution Review is good. And as it concerns the traditional institution, we need to spell out the functions of traditional rulers. With what we are doing, now, that I say it is illegal, as per it is not captured in the Constitution. But when it is captured in the Constitution, then, it serves as a support for us to do what we are supposed to be doing; and that is to complement government in the area of governance. So, that is very important. We should be captured in the Constitution. Traditional rulers are very important in nation building. They are very important in creating national identity. We are doing it now. There is this unofficial regulation, as it were, for Northern traditional rulers to come and visit their counterparts in the South and vice versa, both in the East and the West; that kind of friendship is ongoing. But it needs to be captured in the constitution. If it is captured in the constitution, it will be sustained and it will be done as a matter of duty.
FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba
We thank Mr. President for flagging off the clean-up of Ogoniland as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The long delay in starting the Ogoni Clean-Up had sapped confidence locally and had caused the broader Niger Delta to doubt the intentions of Government. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to speed up this exercise, especially by following through the emergency steps outlined in the UNEP Report, which includes the provision of safe drinking water for a populace whose water has been declared unfit for human consumption by UNEP, years ago. We also urge the federal government to commission a Region-wide credible assessment of the impacts of crude oil pollution of the environment in the Niger Delta and undertake to enforce all environment protection laws.
We similarly urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to enforce the Zero Gas Flare deadline.
The devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The Maritime University Issue
The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is largely regarded, by persons from the Zone, as symbolic and deserving. Its closure and certain statements around it, have been viewed as insensitive and out rightly provocative. This, of course, is aside from the obvious potential benefits that the Institution offers to the technical and managerial capacity enhancements of, not just persons from the Zone, but all Nigerians. We, therefore, strongly urge the President to direct the take-off of the already approved Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State. The prompt take-off of this University will most certainly assure the people of the Niger Delta that President’s Administration is truly a sensitive, listening and inclusive Government. Also, we strongly urge that the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, to a university should be implemented.
Key Regional Critical Infrastructure
There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative Regional Infrastructure viz:
• We wish to thank President for ensuring that the first phase of the coastal railway project is provided for in the current 2016 budget. We urge the Federal Government to further ensure the full implementation of this project that is designed to run through all the states in the Niger Delta, up to Lagos.
• Complete the existing East-West Road.
• Work should resume on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road Project. We note that NLNG had already offered 50% funding for this Project.
• Implement the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State (Design already completed by NDDC).
• Implement the development of inland waterways and riverine infrastructure.
• Remove bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of the existing ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commence dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep sea-going vessels and expedite work on the dredging of the Calabar Port. The Deep Sea Port project in Bayelsa State also requires consideration.
• We urge the commencement of work on the Ibaka Deep Sea Port for which Feasibility has long been completed.
Details of other regional infrastructure projects will be presented in the course of the dialogue.
Security Surveillance and Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure
The incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the economy of our dear Country. Pipeline vandalism also damages the environment, health and economic activity of inhabitants of affected areas, as well as complicates environmental cleanup efforts.
It is therefore our view that an urgent review is done to pipeline surveillance contacts to give the responsibility to Communities rather than individuals in a manner that ties some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility for the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
The Headquarters of most Oil Companies are not located in the Niger Delta Region. As a result, the Region is denied all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the Region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
Despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta remain unconnected to the National Grid.
We, therefore, advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the Region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in improved stability. Because of existing infrastructure, this should be an area where the Government could deliver the swiftest and most noticeable change.
Economic Development and Empowerment
The Federal and State Governments need to signal their interest in sustained economic development in the region by:
i. Implementing the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant Project and similarly concluding Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny
ii. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta Region
iii. Creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the Region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources, where they are produced, to create industrialization and a robust economic base in the Region that would improve the living condition of the Citizens.
iv. Expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the Region, in particular, the Gas City, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu, in Warri South LGA of Delta State.
v. Harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied Industrial Clusters.
vi. Harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the Region to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, and away from restiveness.
vii. We urge the use of ICT as a tool for peace, job-creation and development. Appropriately deployed ICT can be the elixir to create much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the Region.
vii. Resolve the various issues leading to the non-operation of Delta Steel Company, Oku Iboku Paper Mill, Edo Textile Mill and ALSCON.
Inclusive Participation in Oil Industry and Ownership of Oil Blocs
The sense of alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land will continue until there are affirmative actions that guarantee the involvement of these communities in the ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of Oil and Gas Assets.
We similarly urge the institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework, across the entire enterprise chain of the Petroleum and Maritime sectors.
Restructuring and Funding of the NDDC
There is the urgent need to adequately restructure the NDDC to refocus it as a truly Interventionist Agency, that responds swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them. We also urge the full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
Since the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, even though it was meant to function in the mode of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, its funding has been abysmal. There is an absolute need, therefore, to adequately fund, and strengthen this Ministry to the purpose for which it was created.
The Bakassi Question
The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon continues to threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta Region. The unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement continues to create tension and plague the region. There is also the lack of a well-coordinated transparent blueprint for the development and resettlement of the displaced populations. The host communities face huge abuses and are unable to reestablish their respective means of livelihood. We, therefore, recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People.
The clamour for fiscal federalism has continued to be re-echoed by different sections of the country. The people of the Niger Delta region support this call and urge that the Federal Government should regard this matter expeditiously.
What message would you want to pass to the Federal Government for being insensitive to these issues five years after?
It is regrettable to say that the 16-point agenda has not been attended to thereby bringing about high rate of insecurity in the region.
For emphasis, after having several interface with these boys, they saw the reasons for dialogue than allowing the region go in flames as a result this brought about ceasefire in the region making everyone to be enjoying the relative peace being enjoyed today.
I want the Federal Government to know that when these boys see that there is blatant refusal in addressing their issues by the Federal Government, they are capable of making the region go into flames, adding that he appealed to the Federal Government, and other critical stakeholders responsible for the implementation of this 16-point agenda to be sincere to themselves and do the needful, adding that what the people in the Niger Delta region want is that all must be fair, just and equitable in what they do, so as to engendered peace and security to the Niger Delta region.
Rivers, Now Investment Destination Of Choice-Nsirim
Rivers State Government, under the leadership of His Excellency Nyesom Wike, is one administration that has experienced several attacks from the opposition party in the state. Ironically, the more the attacks, the more adorable the governor becomes going by his infrastructure developmental strides across the nooks and crannies of the State. In this interview, the State’s Commissioner for Information and Commu-nications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, speaks extensively about the Wike administration. Excerpts:
Prior to your assumption of office as the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, you initiated a project called “Our State, Our Responsibility.” What inspired that project and what were the issues you wanted to address with that initiative?
The truth is that Rivers State is blessed with human and material resources. It is also the headquarters of the hydrocarbon industry in Nigeria. We have two sea ports and an international airport. We have a welcoming culture and a rich cultural heritage. We have cuisine that is second to none in this country. But we have found out over the years that a lot of people are de-marketing the state, making investors to flee. So the campaign is designed to correct that perception and let people know that Rivers State is set for business and to make everyone living and doing business here in the state understand that we have a shared prosperity to protect. This means that if Rivers State economy is booming, everyone that lives and does business here will be a partaker of that boom. The campaign was aimed at injecting into the psyche of everyone even children yet unborn and those who will visit the state in a couple of years to understand that as long as you live in Rivers State, it belongs to you. Every resident must participate in ensuring that the state is positively projected at a level where it becomes the investors destination of choice, just like His Excellency, Nyesom Wike is building the right infrastructure now.
Is there any parameter by which the success of such projects is measured?
There are practical ways. Since that campaign, we found out that a lot of investments are coming in. For example, you have the biggest supermarket in West Africa and other markets in Port Harcourt. You have stock gap company here in Port Harcourt that deals with producing domestic gas. Prior to now, LNG would ship gas to Lagos and truck back to Port Harcourt. But right now in Port Harcourt, you have a company that produces domestic gas for the domestic market. Also, before the outbreak of COVID-19, Ethiopian and Turkish Airlines had begun flight operations to Port Harcourt. Businesses are booming in many parts of Port Harcourt industrial area. Those in Real Estate are also experiencing a boom because a lot of people are coming in to do business here and of course, the narrative is changing gradually.
God helped us with a visionary leader who has put in place a strategic security architecture which has checkmated all forms of insecurity that was holding sway in the past. Now, things are stable and the narrative has changed for the better. One can always find out with the National Bureau of Statistics that these things they say about the state with the highest Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). After Lagos, the next is Rivers State. You cannot generate the volume of IGR that we have if our state is insecure and the business climate is not thriving.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one thing that has changed the global environment. What lessons would you say that Rivers State government has learnt from this virus?
I like to underscore this point that before His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, came on board as governor, he initiated what he called the “NEW Rivers Vision” blue print which encapsulated everything that has to do with health. A lot has been put in place. We have what we call the Mother and Child Hospital now in Port Harcourt, we have five zonal Hospitals. The General Hospitals in the state have been reactivated and fully functional. The state now has a University Teaching Hospital; the former Braithwaite Memorial Hospital is now Rivers State University Teaching Hospital with the right infrastructure. We have a Medical School now in Rivers State University; all these have happened before COVID.
So what has occurred is that, the onset of COVID has helped the state to build more on infrastructure and facilities and also ensured that the medical personnel have the requisite training and knowledge.
Are you saying that if there is a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, Rivers State has the right model to sustain its economy?
If you are very current, you will find out that this was one state that had a robust palliative committee; we had a food purchasing committee, that was designed in such a way that they bought off all that the farmers and fishermen produced, thus empowering them. You will also know that this State was in the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, which the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), affirmed when he visited Port Harcourt. So, Rivers State is fully equipped. We have a functional Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) which is located in the State Ministry of Health, working in conjunction with strategic international partners.
We have a technical working group properly equipped and trained. It’s been in place before COVID because prior to this time, we used to have the outbreak of Lasser Fever and other such diseases. So, the EOC of the state has been fully functional. In fact, the Emergency Operation Centre will avail you the opportunity to see the kind of coordination from the field at a glance. Like even COVID now, at a glance, you will see at various places where they are collecting samples, what the statistics have been within the last one week and so on.
Still on COVID, most Nigerians were disappointed by states who claimed that they distributed palliatives, but during the EndSARS protest, many warehouses stocked with undistributed palliatives were discovered. How did Rivers State handle its palliatives distribution that you did not record any ugly incident?
Rivers State has become a model for good governance. When the issue of palliatives was booming, we did not play to the gallery. His Excellency ensured that the palliative committee that was set up consisted of representatives of all the interest groups you can think of. We had all the Armed Forces, Police, Civil Defence Corps, Civil Society groups, Clergy, Women Groups, Youth Groups and the Media. It is a model that I am so proud of. I was the Secretary of that Palliative Committee. The Central Committee was overseeing what was happening at the Local Government and Ward levels. At the Ward level, a mini committee was also set up that had Traditional Rulers, the Civil Society reps, Clergy, Women group and Youth leaders.
So, when the palliatives moved from the Local Government to the Ward level; for example, in my own Ward, the Chairman of the Ward distribution committee was a Clergyman who is not even an indigene of Rivers State but because he is the Vicar in an Anglican Church there, he coordinated the distribution. These palliatives got to the real beneficiaries and we did it twice. We did the first round, second round and the people were satisfied that this government meant well and what the governor promised was also given. So we did not have any issue of anybody breaking any warehouse looking for any palliatives. Even people who were trying to induce some propaganda and instigate people to say something was hidden, were ignored.
You were once the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Rivers State and now you hold the position of Information Commissioner, as a Pastor, how do you balance your calling and working in a political environment?
A lot of people ask this question. When you have an understanding that any office you hold, you hold that office in trust for God and for man, then, your attitude and style would be different?
As a Pastor, what do I do? I have the flock to cater for, teach them the Word of God, and take care of them. As a Commissioner for Information, what is my responsibility? To disseminate information about the policies and programmes of the government to the people and I have that understanding that public interest is paramount in the discharge of this assignment. So, there is really no challenge for me, because having risen from the rank to the position I occupy today, I understand the intricacies of governance and the meaning of leadership. I have the requisite training and experience.
To say balance, I do not even have a challenge with balance because I understand that the position I hold is in trust for God and for man.
Do you attend Church regularly and still do your job?
Yes, I still pastor my Church; even though there is no way I can do 100 per cent now but my assistant pastor covers for me when I am not available.
That must be a very challenging?
Yes, the next question you should ask me now is what are the challenges? But for me, several years ago, I understood that the Chinese word for crisis is opportunity. Now, when you have opportunity or if anything presents itself as a challenge, it is an opportunity for you to excel. For me, I do not see challenges when I am doing things, I do not see obstacles when I am doing things. I see them as part of the routine on my daily schedules.
There have been calls from some quarters for government to regulate the social media. What is your opinion on this and how do you think the government both state and federal can harness the opportunities in social media to strike a balance between the negative and positive?
That is a thorny issue. I think that we need to have adequate stakeholders’ engagement in this direction. The stakeholders’ groups that are involved need to come together, to look at the issues and then work out the best way forward. No doubt, a lot of people are abusing the use of the social media. We, who are in government, are the worst hit. You know, anybody can write anything, say anything, do photo-shop and put on the Internet. The regulation here is key, but before implementation, the various stakeholders need to be engaged for us to have a kind of balance on what should be done. Also, before implementation, adequate preparation and orientation of the citizenry would also be very relevant.
As a journalist trained to balance stories and promote objectivity, with your current position, do you still maintain your standard and not dance to the tune of the government to water down the truth from what it should be?
A few weeks ago, I hosted journalists in Rivers State here. In journalism, facts are sacred, comments free. A fact is a fact; there is nothing you can take away from something that is a fact. You see, people have that erroneous impression that if you are a Commissioner for Information, you will be padding things and covering things – No! Facts are facts, and I am lucky to have a principal who is forthright. With His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, you know where he is standing on any issue. He does not play to the gallery and he is also a principal that I would always like to work with because he is not one of those who carry out governance and development on television.
There are governors who use 3D images to deceive the public. But for us in Rivers State, the facts are there. If we tell you we are constructing Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, you go there and you will see it. If we say the Rebisi Flyover has been done, you go there and you will see it. If we say, Mother and Child Hospital, Real Madrid Academy; we say Abonnema Ring Road, Zonal Hospitals, you will see them. If we say we are rehabilitating schools, we give you 1, 2, 3, schools, if you go there, you will see them with your eyes. So, what’s there to hide?
The Opposition in the state are criticizing His Excellency that his infrastructural developments are basically in Port Harcourt; what happens to other areas of the state?
The truth of the matter is that people will always have something to say. I can tell you, apart from the flyovers that are being built in Port Harcourt, (of course, which you know; I said that His Excellency is building infrastructure for tomorrow), if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the state, a lot is happening. There is a road we call Sakpenwa-Bori Road – it is about 16 kilometers, it is completed and commissioned. His Excellency has even extended it further now to about thirty something kilometers; it is not in Port Harcourt. There is Abonnema Ring Road; that Ring Road is on water. There is Andoni/Opobo Unity Road. We went to Opobo few days ago; everybody including Opobo people drove to Opobo by Road for the first time in the history of that ancient town of 150 years. We went recently to also celebrate with them on their 150 years anniversary; it is not in Port Harcourt. Do you understand?
There is a big Cassava processing company at Afam in Oyigbo Local Government Area. There are several zonal hospitals that are scattered in Bori, Degema, Ahoada and Omoku, they are not in Port Harcourt. There is Elele/Omoku Road, it is not in Port Harcourt. Several of such projects are all over the state. But you see, if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the State, you will see several schools that have been rehabilitated. There are sand-fillings that are going on in the local governments. In riverine communities of the state, because those places are Islands. You do sand-filling first to create places they can build on. Those areas are not in Port Harcourt.
But armchair critics will always have something to say about Nyesom Wike. The Guild of Editors came here and I took them on a tour, they were shouting. If you go to that Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, what is being sunk in there is not up to what is being used to build anything in Port Harcourt, because it is on water. So, a lot is going on in the local government areas. There is no local government in Rivers State that is not receiving the impact of Governor Wike’s administration.
During and after the EndSARS protest, the governor compensated all the families of the security agencies that lost their lives during the protest; but the Rivers citizens who were killed did not get any compensation. What happened?
I may not comment on that.
Why is the governor described as a lion?
Who is describing him as a lion?
He is described in the media as a lion?
People are entitled to their perception. One thing you cannot take away from His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, is that he is fearless, courageous and forthright. These are the qualities of great men. That is why I am so proud to be associated with him. He is not a lily-livered man.
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