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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

Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke

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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.
Excerpts.
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.

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Special Interview

FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba

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We thank Mr. President for flagging off the clean-up of Ogoniland as recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The long delay in starting the Ogoni Clean-Up had sapped confidence locally and had caused the broader Niger Delta to doubt the intentions of Government. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to speed up this exercise, especially by following through the emergency steps outlined in the UNEP Report, which includes the provision of safe drinking water for a populace whose water has been declared unfit for human consumption by UNEP, years ago. We also urge the federal government to commission a Region-wide credible assessment of the impacts of crude oil pollution of the environment in the Niger Delta and undertake to enforce all environment protection laws.
We similarly urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to enforce the Zero Gas Flare deadline.
The devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The Maritime University Issue
The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is largely regarded, by persons from the Zone, as symbolic and deserving. Its closure and certain statements around it, have been viewed as insensitive and out rightly provocative. This, of course, is aside from the obvious potential benefits that the Institution offers to the technical and managerial capacity enhancements of, not just persons from the Zone, but all Nigerians. We, therefore, strongly urge the President to direct the take-off of the already approved Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State. The prompt take-off of this University will most certainly assure the people of the Niger Delta that President’s Administration is truly a sensitive, listening and inclusive Government. Also, we strongly urge that the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, to a university should be implemented.
Key Regional Critical Infrastructure
There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative Regional Infrastructure viz:
• We wish to thank President for ensuring that the first phase of the coastal railway project is provided for in the current 2016 budget. We urge the Federal Government to further ensure the full implementation of this project that is designed to run through all the states in the Niger Delta, up to Lagos.
• Complete the existing East-West Road.
• Work should resume on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road Project. We note that NLNG had already offered 50% funding for this Project.
• Implement the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State (Design already completed by NDDC).
• Implement the development of inland waterways and riverine infrastructure.
• Remove bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of the existing ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commence dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep sea-going vessels and expedite work on the dredging of the Calabar Port. The Deep Sea Port project in Bayelsa State also requires consideration.
• We urge the commencement of work on the Ibaka Deep Sea Port for which Feasibility has long been completed.
Details of other regional infrastructure projects will be presented in the course of the dialogue.
Security Surveillance and Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure
The incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the economy of our dear Country. Pipeline vandalism also damages the environment, health and economic activity of inhabitants of affected areas, as well as complicates environmental cleanup efforts.
It is therefore our view that an urgent review is done to pipeline surveillance contacts to give the responsibility to Communities rather than individuals in a manner that ties some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility for the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
The Headquarters of most Oil Companies are not located in the Niger Delta Region. As a result, the Region is denied all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the Region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
Power Supply
Despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta remain unconnected to the National Grid.
We, therefore, advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the Region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in improved stability. Because of existing infrastructure, this should be an area where the Government could deliver the swiftest and most noticeable change.
Economic Development and Empowerment
The Federal and State Governments need to signal their interest in sustained economic development in the region by:
i. Implementing the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant Project and similarly concluding Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny
ii. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta Region
iii. Creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the Region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources, where they are produced, to create industrialization and a robust economic base in the Region that would improve the living condition of the Citizens.
iv. Expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the Region, in particular, the Gas City, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu, in Warri South LGA of Delta State.
v. Harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied Industrial Clusters.
vi. Harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the Region to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, and away from restiveness.
vii. We urge the use of ICT as a tool for peace, job-creation and development. Appropriately deployed ICT can be the elixir to create much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the Region.
vii. Resolve the various issues leading to the non-operation of Delta Steel Company, Oku Iboku Paper Mill, Edo Textile Mill and ALSCON.
Inclusive Participation in Oil Industry and Ownership of Oil Blocs
The sense of alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land will continue until there are affirmative actions that guarantee the involvement of these communities in the ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of Oil and Gas Assets.
We similarly urge the institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework, across the entire enterprise chain of the Petroleum and Maritime sectors.
Restructuring and Funding of the NDDC
There is the urgent need to adequately restructure the NDDC to refocus it as a truly Interventionist Agency, that responds swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them. We also urge the full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
Since the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, even though it was meant to function in the mode of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, its funding has been abysmal. There is an absolute need, therefore, to adequately fund, and strengthen this Ministry to the purpose for which it was created.
The Bakassi Question
The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon continues to threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta Region. The unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement continues to create tension and plague the region. There is also the lack of a well-coordinated transparent blueprint for the development and resettlement of the displaced populations. The host communities face huge abuses and are unable to reestablish their respective means of livelihood. We, therefore, recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People.
Fiscal Federalism
The clamour for fiscal federalism has continued to be re-echoed by different sections of the country. The people of the Niger Delta region support this call and urge that the Federal Government should regard this matter expeditiously.
What message would you want to pass to the Federal Government for being insensitive to these issues five years after?
It is regrettable to say that the 16-point agenda has not been attended to thereby bringing about high rate of insecurity in the region.
For emphasis, after having several interface with these boys, they saw the reasons for dialogue than allowing the region go in flames as a result this brought about ceasefire in the region making everyone to be enjoying the relative peace being enjoyed today.
I want the Federal Government to know that when these boys see that there is blatant refusal in addressing their issues by the Federal Government, they are capable of making the region go into flames, adding that he appealed to the Federal Government, and other critical stakeholders responsible for the implementation of this 16-point agenda to be sincere to themselves and do the needful, adding that what the people in the Niger Delta region want is that all must be fair, just and equitable in what they do, so as to engendered peace and security to the Niger Delta region.

Concluded.

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Special Interview

Rivers, Now Investment Destination Of Choice-Nsirim

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Rivers State Government, under the leadership of His Excellency Nyesom Wike, is one administration that has experienced several attacks from the opposition party in the state. Ironically, the more the attacks, the more adorable the governor becomes going by his infrastructure developmental strides across the nooks and crannies of the State. In this interview, the State’s Commissioner for Information and Commu-nications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, speaks extensively about the Wike administration. Excerpts:
Prior to your assumption of office as the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, you initiated a project called “Our State, Our Responsibility.” What inspired that project and what were the issues you wanted to address with that initiative?
The truth is that Rivers State is blessed with human and material resources. It is also  the headquarters of the hydrocarbon industry in Nigeria. We have two sea ports and an international airport. We have a welcoming culture and a rich cultural heritage.  We have cuisine that is second to none in this country. But we have found out over the years that a lot of people are de-marketing the state, making investors to flee. So the campaign is designed to correct that perception and let people know that Rivers State is set for business and to make everyone living and doing business here in the state understand that we have a shared prosperity to protect. This means that if Rivers State economy is booming, everyone that lives and does business here will be a partaker of that boom. The campaign was aimed at injecting into the psyche of everyone even children yet unborn and those who will visit the state in a couple of years to understand that as long as you live in Rivers State, it belongs to you.   Every resident must participate in ensuring that the state is positively projected at a level where it becomes the investors destination of choice, just like His Excellency, Nyesom Wike is building the right infrastructure now.
Is there any parameter by which the success of such projects is measured?
There are practical ways. Since that campaign, we found out that a lot of investments are coming in. For example, you have the biggest supermarket in West Africa and other markets in Port Harcourt. You have stock gap company here in Port Harcourt that deals with producing domestic gas. Prior to now, LNG would ship gas to Lagos and truck back to Port Harcourt. But right now in Port Harcourt, you have a company that produces domestic gas for the domestic market. Also, before the outbreak of COVID-19, Ethiopian and Turkish Airlines had begun flight operations to Port Harcourt.  Businesses are booming in many parts of Port Harcourt industrial area. Those in Real Estate are also experiencing a boom because a lot of people are coming in to do business here and of course, the narrative is changing gradually.
God helped us with a visionary leader who has put in place a strategic security architecture which has checkmated all forms of insecurity that was holding sway in the past. Now, things are stable and the narrative has changed for the better.  One can always find out with the National Bureau of Statistics that these things they say about the state with the highest Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). After Lagos, the next  is Rivers State. You cannot generate the volume of IGR that we have if our state is insecure and the business climate is not thriving.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one thing that has changed the global environment. What lessons would you say that Rivers State government has learnt from this virus?
I like to underscore this point that before His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, came on board as governor, he initiated what he called the “NEW Rivers Vision” blue print which encapsulated everything that has to do with health.  A lot has been put in place. We have what we call the  Mother and Child Hospital now in Port Harcourt, we have five zonal Hospitals. The General Hospitals in the state have been reactivated and fully functional. The state now has a University Teaching Hospital; the former Braithwaite Memorial Hospital is now Rivers State University Teaching Hospital with the right infrastructure. We have a Medical School now in Rivers  State University; all these have happened before COVID.
So what has occurred is that, the onset of COVID has helped the state to build more on infrastructure and facilities and also ensured that the medical personnel have the requisite training and knowledge.
Are you saying that if there is a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, Rivers State has the right model to sustain its economy?
For COVID?
Yes!
If you are very current, you will find out that this was one state that had a robust palliative committee; we had a food purchasing committee, that was designed in such a way that they bought off all that the farmers and fishermen produced, thus empowering them. You will also know that this State was in the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, which the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), affirmed when he visited Port Harcourt. So, Rivers State is fully equipped.   We have a functional Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) which is located in the State Ministry of Health, working in conjunction with strategic international partners.
We have a technical working group properly equipped and trained. It’s been in place before COVID because prior to this time, we used to have the outbreak of Lasser Fever and other such diseases. So, the EOC of the state has been fully functional.  In fact, the Emergency Operation Centre will avail you the opportunity to see the kind of coordination from the field at a glance. Like even COVID now, at a glance, you will see at various places where they are collecting samples, what the statistics have been within the last one week and so on.
Still on COVID, most Nigerians were disappointed by states who claimed that they distributed palliatives, but during the EndSARS protest, many warehouses stocked with undistributed palliatives were discovered. How did Rivers State handle its palliatives distribution that you did not record any ugly incident?
Rivers State has become a model for good governance. When the issue of palliatives was booming, we did not play to the gallery. His Excellency ensured that the palliative committee that was set up consisted of representatives of all the interest groups you can think of. We had all the Armed Forces, Police, Civil Defence Corps, Civil Society groups, Clergy, Women Groups, Youth Groups and the Media. It is a model that I am so proud of. I was the Secretary of that Palliative Committee. The Central Committee was overseeing what was happening at the Local Government and Ward levels. At the Ward level, a mini committee was also set up that had  Traditional Rulers, the Civil Society reps, Clergy, Women group and Youth leaders.
So, when the palliatives moved from the Local Government to the Ward level; for example, in my own Ward, the Chairman of the Ward distribution committee was a Clergyman who is not even an indigene of Rivers State but because he is the Vicar in an Anglican Church there, he coordinated the distribution. These palliatives got to the real beneficiaries and we did it twice.   We did the first round, second round and the people were satisfied that this government meant well and what the governor promised was also given. So we did not have any issue of anybody breaking any warehouse looking for any palliatives. Even people who were trying to induce some propaganda and instigate people to say something was hidden, were ignored.
You were once the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Rivers State and now you hold the position of Information Commissioner, as a Pastor, how do you balance your calling and working in a political environment?
A lot of people ask this question. When you have an understanding that any office you hold, you hold that office in trust for God and for man, then, your attitude and style would be different?
As a Pastor, what do I do? I have the flock to cater for, teach them the Word of God, and take care of them. As a Commissioner for Information, what is my responsibility? To disseminate information about the policies and programmes of the government to the people and I have that understanding that public interest is paramount in the discharge of this assignment. So, there is really no challenge for me, because having risen from the rank to the position I occupy today, I understand the intricacies of governance and the meaning of leadership. I have the requisite training and experience.
To say balance, I do not even have a challenge with balance because I understand that the position I hold is in trust for God and for man.
Do you attend Church regularly and still do your job?
Yes, I still pastor my Church; even though there is no way I can do 100 per cent now but my assistant pastor covers for me when I am not available.
That must be a very challenging?
Yes, the next question you should ask me now is what are the challenges? But for me, several years ago, I understood that the Chinese word for crisis is opportunity. Now, when you have opportunity or if anything presents itself as a challenge, it is an opportunity for you to excel. For me, I do not see challenges when I am doing things, I do not see obstacles when I am doing things. I see them as part of the routine on my daily schedules.
There have been calls from some quarters for government to regulate the social media.  What is your opinion on this and how do you think the government both state and federal can harness the opportunities in social media to strike a balance between the negative and positive?
That is a thorny issue.  I think that we need to have adequate stakeholders’ engagement in this direction. The stakeholders’ groups that are involved need to come together, to look at the issues and then work out the best way forward. No doubt, a lot of people are abusing the use of the social media. We, who are in government, are the worst hit.  You know, anybody can write anything, say anything, do photo-shop and put on the Internet. The regulation here is key, but before implementation, the various stakeholders need to be engaged for us to have a kind of balance on what should be done. Also, before implementation, adequate preparation and orientation of the citizenry would also be very relevant.
As a journalist trained to balance stories and promote objectivity, with your current position, do you still maintain your standard and not dance to the tune of the government to water down the truth from what it should be?
A few weeks ago, I hosted journalists in Rivers State here. In journalism, facts are sacred, comments free. A fact is a fact; there is nothing you can take away from something that is a fact. You see, people have that erroneous impression that if you are a Commissioner for Information, you will be padding things and covering things – No! Facts are facts, and I am lucky to have a principal who is forthright. With His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, you know where he is standing on any issue.  He does not play to the gallery and he is also a principal that I would always like to work with because he is not one of those who carry out governance and development on television.
There are governors who use 3D images to deceive the public. But for us in Rivers State, the facts are there. If we tell you we are constructing Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, you go there and you will see it. If we say the Rebisi Flyover has been done, you go there and you will see it. If we say, Mother and Child Hospital, Real Madrid Academy; we say Abonnema Ring Road, Zonal Hospitals, you will see them. If we say we are rehabilitating schools, we give you 1, 2, 3, schools, if you go there, you will see them with your eyes. So, what’s there to hide?
The Opposition in the state are criticizing His Excellency that his infrastructural developments are basically in Port Harcourt; what happens to other areas of the state?
The truth of the matter is that people will always have something to say. I can tell you, apart from the flyovers that are being built in Port Harcourt, (of course, which you know; I said that His Excellency is building infrastructure for tomorrow), if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the state, a lot is happening. There is a road we call Sakpenwa-Bori Road – it is about 16 kilometers, it is completed and commissioned. His Excellency has even extended it further now to about thirty something kilometers; it is not in Port Harcourt. There is Abonnema Ring Road; that Ring Road is on water. There is Andoni/Opobo Unity Road. We went to Opobo few days ago; everybody including Opobo people drove to Opobo by Road for the first time in the history of that ancient town of 150 years. We went recently to also celebrate with them on their 150 years anniversary; it is not in Port Harcourt. Do you understand?
There is a big Cassava processing company at Afam in Oyigbo Local Government Area.  There are several zonal hospitals that are scattered in Bori, Degema, Ahoada and Omoku, they are not in Port Harcourt. There is Elele/Omoku Road, it is not in Port Harcourt. Several of such projects are all over the state. But you see, if you go to all the Local Government Areas of the State, you will see several schools that have been rehabilitated. There are sand-fillings that are going on in the local governments. In riverine communities of the state, because those places are Islands. You do sand-filling first to create places they can build on. Those areas are not in Port Harcourt.
But armchair critics will always have something to say about Nyesom Wike. The Guild of Editors came here and I took them on a tour, they were shouting. If you go to that Andoni – Opobo Unity Road, what is being sunk in there is not up to what is being used to build anything in Port Harcourt, because it is on water. So, a lot is going on in the local government areas. There is no local government in Rivers State that is not receiving the impact of Governor Wike’s administration.
During and after the EndSARS protest, the governor compensated all the families of the security agencies that lost their lives during the protest; but the Rivers citizens who were killed did not get any compensation. What happened?
I may not comment on that.
Why is the governor described as a lion?
Who is describing him as a lion?
He is described in the media as a lion?
People are entitled to their perception. One thing you cannot take away from His Excellency, Nyesom Wike, is that he is fearless, courageous and forthright. These are the qualities of great men. That is why I am so proud to be associated with him. He is not a lily-livered man.

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