Poorly maintained roads are known to cause most of the fatal auto accidents that occur in Nigeria. Issues such as potholes, clear zone issues, confusing signages, inadequate signage, sudden driver manouvres, and reckless driving have been identified as the major causes of more than 85 per cent of deaths on Nigerian roads yearly. Bad road conditions have also been blamed for many injuries and damages to cars. The Tide’s Correspondent, Susan Serekara-Nwikhana recently interviewed the Rivers State Commissioner for Works, Sir Austin Ben-Chioma, to gain insight into what the present government is doing differently to change this ugly narrative in the state.
Honourable Commissioner, looking at the near collapse of the Iloabuchi-Eagle Island Road constructed five years ago, how do you feel?
A report came alerting me of the near collapse of the bridge. So, I sent my engineers to check the level of damage and they saw it was bad. I went there myself to find out whether what they told me was what it was. It was true and the bridge is an old bridge. the bridge given its age and the condition the bridge is in, we found out that if they continue to use it, this bridge may fall and claim lives, which is one thing that we are guarding against; so we said ok let’s close it.
The governor has approved its repair; we are just waiting. It is a matter of time for the fund to be available to put that bridge to use again. As of now, that portion of the bridge is blocked because we wouldn’t want anybody to manage it and, before you know it, something bad happens. But we are optimistic that in a short while fund will be made available to carry out repairs soonest.
What do you think is responsible for the near collapse of the bridge barely five years after despite the huge sum of money put in for the repairs?
Yes, I wasn’t the commissioner then and the factor that played out there is not under my purview to have known why they took the decision they took, but the truth should be said. The bridge can be rehabilitated just as it was done at that time. Apparently, they thought the rehabilitation they did would last longer, but it did not because the biggest problem there is the embankment, the erosion. As we know, once embankment is exposed to river or water, erosion sets in.
What would be done about the bridge to bring a lasting positive impact to users?
We want to rehabilitate it now. We want to do a thorough work that will last for some time again; we are not building a brand-new bridge, but it is rehabilitation that we still want to do. It will be something better that will last longer.
It is generally observed that roads constructed by founding fathers of the state last longer than those constructed today by present leaders. What do you think is responsible for that?
Two things are responsible for why roads constructed by present leaders do not last long. One, the number of vehicles then and now is not the same as every road is designed with the anticipation that there is duration of length of years or life span for the road. If the road is used always by heavy vehicles carrying loads, then, the usage will determine the life span of that road. Those days, the cars we had in Nigeria and in Port Harcourt, the numbers are not the same compared to what we have today. As you can see, we have cars everywhere now and the same roads that the few cars that plied the road then, now, we have ten times the number of cars plying that same road, so you don’t expect it to last that long.
But the point is, yes, the usage is quite high now, higher than the way it was used in the past, but given what Julius Berger is doing for us now, the roads will last as it’s observed that Julius Berger roads last longer than those of other construction firms.
Based on your conclusion, are you implying that Julius Berger should be used for road construction instead of indigenous contractors?
One, I am not saying that but, I tell you, you can’t compare Julius Berger roads to those built by our indigenous contractors.
Two, Julius Berger has a good reputation in the whole of this country. As such, they are supposed to be given Number One position when it has to do with construction and if that is the case.
Number one is number one and they should know that Julius Berger is more expensive than other contractors because of the durability and quality of job they give you. You will pay for it. It is not free, that is what it is, but everybody that likes good job would want to give such job to Julius Berger if they have the fund because you will like the road and infrastructure to last for a very long time. So, if you have the fund you will want to give Julius Berger.
There are some other good indigenous contractors too, but not at the level of Julius Berger.
Is there any effort being made by your ministry to draw the attention of the Governor to the poor state of the Agip Roundabout by Abacha and NLNG Roads so that these roads could be repaired any time soon?
We have a project, and the project is from Education (Bus Stop). It is a 19.1-kilometer road from Education to the New Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium. LCC are the contractors handling that project. We are re-surfacing from there to Rukpokwu Roundabout. After this roundabout, we are now expanding three meters on both sides making it a total of six meters up to Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium. From that part to Igwuruta has been expanded with drainages before doing the final work.
For the NLNG Bridge, we know that we have small depression, the bridge is intact. There is nothing wrong with the bridge. The whole structure of the bridge is intact, but there is this material depression at the surface. This has led to our blocking that area and everything is being put in process for us to progress and start.
What is your take on the Agip-Mgbuoshimini Road awarded to a contractor almost three years ago by His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Wike; the central market in which marketers were displaced?
We will visit the area as soon as the demolition exercise is over to ascertain the true position of things.
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.
Wike Is A Good Product -Nsirim
On Thursday, January 9, 2020, the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, visited the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (RSNC), publishers of The Tide, as part of his tour of State- owned media houses. After addressing management and staff of the corporation, he granted an interview to members of The Tide Editorial Board. Our reporter, DENNIS NAKU, covered the session. Excerpts.
What new thing do Rivers people expect from you with your experience in the media; now that you are the Commissioner for Information and Communications?
First, I want to thank God Almighty who knows everything and who allows things to happen at his own time. I also want to thank His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, who has found me worthy to hold this position at this point in history.
This promotion is for all the journalists in Rivers State. I said that advisably because it is like somebody coming to your house to say, look I want to clean your house. I don’t want to bring a cleaner from outside. I know that somebody inside the house will do the cleaning better. So, for me, I’m going to be an effective bridge between the media and government. I am going to ensure that public communication in the state is given renewed vigour and attention. I am going to bring in new strategies for public communication which are going to be short, medium and long term. It is going to be a holistic strategic communication strategy that will be unfolding in the days to come. And those of you sitting around this table, one way or the other, will be part of that strategic plan that we are going to unfold. I said at the staff meeting that you cannot be doing something the same way all the time and expect a different result. So, we are going to build a strategic plan, also build a strategic partnership with major stakeholders who have something to do with the media in the propagation of government policies and programmes.
Over the years, we experienced that, despite what the media is trying to do, people still have the impression that Rivers State is insecure. Like the Port Harcourt International Trade Fair held recently by PHCCIMA; an official said the companies refused to come to Isaac Boro Park and that he had been trying to convince them. That’s why the chamber used the Obi Wali International Conference Centre?
You see, that is the negative perception that has been sold out there, and that is why those of us in the media need to join hands with the government to change that negative narrative. And that is why we evolved ‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ campaign. The truth of the matter is that the de-marketing that is ongoing is a deliberate strategy by those who understand the potentials of our state to deny us our God-given rights. They know that if Rivers State is de-marketed, there will be capital flight. Businesses will move away from here and so we don’t become that industrial hub that it is supposed to be. So, the insecurity that Rivers State people talk about in Rivers State is not different from what happens in Lagos, it is not different from what happens in Kaduna, it is not different from what happens in Kano, Abuja and the major city centres of this country. But those who understand the political economy of news have latched on these to ensure that they spread deliberate falsehood all the time about our state. You and I live and do business here. There are people who call you from outside the State and they will be wondering ‘how are you people managing in Port Harcourt?’ It is not true? They ask those questions and it’s like you know there are bullets that are flying all over. That is why all of us need to join hands to change that negative narrative. That there is a political economy to it that people are pursuing and they have involved some sections of the media to do that to the state. Which is why we all need to stand up to correct that negative perception.
Amnesty International issued a statement few hours ago specifically on Rivers State and said that there is rising cult related killings in the State. Having issued that statement, we all know that more than120 countries across the world would get copies of that statement and would publicise it across the world.
(Cuts in) That is the negative narrative you are talking about. And that also influences investors’ confidence in the state that they would say why do we need to come here because there is this narrative written across the world about the state?
That statement issued today (Thursday, January 9, 2020) says that 106 persons have been killed in Rivers State in the past 12months. And they listed specific incidents that resulted to those killings and also specifically mentioned the anti-cultism law passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly which was signed into law by the Governor in March last year. My question is, as a government, what is your response to those claims in the statement issued by Amnesty International?
Well, you should know that I can’t respond to that because I am not the State Commissioner of Police. I can’t respond to the statistics of Amnesty International. I am not the Commissioner of Police. I am not the Director, SSS. I can’t respond to that because I don’t have the facts.
I agree, but my problem here is that if the government does not say, for instance, the State is peaceful and everybody?…..
(Cuts in). You and I know, like I said earlier, that there is a deliberate ploy to de-market Rivers State. Two months ago, Stockgap Nigeria Limited opened its base at Rumuolumeni. Stockgap is a multi-million naira investment. They are producing domestic gas for the domestic market now. If you go to Rumuji, there is Greenfield Gas Company, a multi-million dollar investment. If you go to Trans-Amadi, Next Supermarket, the biggest in West Africa, is located here. Turkish Airline is flying Port Harcourt, Ethiopian Airline is flying Port Harcourt. Rivers State still remains the headquarters of the hydro-carbon industry. Oil and gas businesses are going on uninterrupted in this state and, till tomorrow, there are influx of people into Port Harcourt coming to look for what kind of business they would do. So, I won’t respond to Amnesty International until the relevant government agency responds to them. But the truth of the matter is that this place is safe for business. You just talked of the International Trade Fair that held here recently. There was Boli Street Festival that held here recently, Port Harcourt was locked down. You don’t hold such events in an unsafe environment.
‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ advocacy is your brainchild. How would you assess that campaign? Would you say the campaign achieved its motive?
I leave you to be the judge. But one thing I can say is that it has resonated so much with major stakeholder groups in this state. And if you look at the kind of narrative that was going on here before that campaign and what is happening now, you will see a kind of shift. People now understand that we have a shared prosperity to protect here and that whatever is happening, the people that are bringing those negative narratives are really designed to de-market the state. There is no stakeholder group that we have gone to that did not acknowledge the fact that there is a deliberate ploy by people to de-market Rivers State. And so, all and sundry are willing to join hands with His Excellency who has brought in a new vision development agenda to make Rivers State the destination of choice. You can see now that Rivers State has been turned to a construction site. So many things are happening, when a lot of governors can’t pay salaries, we have a governor who is embarking on three flyovers at the same time at the cost of N21billion and, of course, 70 per cent of that amount has been paid to the contractor. Not just any contractor, but Julius Berger. So we are into a new dawn and many of the stakeholders agree that His Excellency is the man for the moment and they are ready to support him.
It is said that a good product sells itself and we have in the Governor a person that is a wonderful product. As Commissioner for Information and Communications, how is this fact about the Governor going to change and influence your work ?
Well, you have almost answered the question. A good product does not need advertisement, and one thing I can confidently say about His Excellency is that he has a character. You know, on assumption of office four and half years ago, he told Rivers people clearly that he won’t make promises that he won’t fulfill. He won’t award contracts that would be abandoned. That for every contract he would award, he would make sure that the contract is completed. Again, with the numerous local and international awards that he has been getting, one is confident to say Wike is a good product.
In the recent past, Rivers State used to be a base of media activities. Then, The Tide was one of the few state-owned newspaper houses, still in existence in the country, while RSTV used to dominate the airwaves. So, I want to ask your vision or the plan to return these media houses to their leadership positions.
Yes, the message is simple. It is time for innovation and creativity. It is time to think outside the box. It is time for people to roll up their sleeves. We have the potentials. What has happened is that there has to be attitudinal change. I told you the story of a man that was given shoes to go and sell in a place where people don’t wear shoes and he came back and said that there is no market. Another man went to the place, sold out the shoes and asked for more. The difference between these two marketers is mindset. So, what we want to do, first of all, and I want everybody to note this; what we want to do first of all is to make everybody to wake up from slumber. Change this mentality of government work and understand that you have the potential to make a mark. When we have gotten every staff of these media houses get the right reorientation, then every other thing will follow.
Right now, we need that mental shift, we need it. And, of course, when people talk of those days, I like people to realize that, in the past, it used to be just Radio Rivers in the whole of the East. Now, in Port Harcourt, how many radio stations do you have? There is competition. In the past, Rivers State Television was alone here. Now you have other television stations competing. Like I was addressing the staff I was talking about strategy. If you want to survive in this market, you must evolve the right strategies. If you don’t evolve the right strategies, your business will suffer.
I am just wondering. We have known you. You have been with us as a colleague. Today, you are a Commissioner. What kind of person are we going to see different from the one we used to know, now that you are a politician?
I am not a politician. Of course, you know I am a core professional. And for those who have worked closely with me, I am a man of principles, I strive for excellence, I am very forthright. I don’t think those values are going to leave me. I cherish them so dearly. At RSTV, the other day, during a live interview programme, somebody was asking me, you are a pastor, you are now going to be government’s spokesman. He didn’t come out clearly, I said you want to ask me won’t there be conflict? And I said no there will be no conflict. In church, I am a purveyor of the good news. As Commissioner for Information, I will also be a purveyor of the good news about what is going on in Rivers State. So, there will be no conflict, so, don’t be afraid, I am still going to be Paulinus Nsirim.
At your inauguration, the Governor clearly told Commissioners ‘don’t get involved in political meetings. That is already generating discourse within the political circles. What is your perspective to that particular instruction?
Well, you see, as a leader, he has a vision. And if the man who has the vision is saying this is how I want to run my administration, I don’t think that anybody should query him because he has something he wants to achieve.
After the election, His Excellency extended an olive branch to the opposition in the State. And it is suspected that this de-marketing of the state is mainly done by the opposition. So far, we don’t seem to be hearing from the opposition any longer. Is it that the olive branch worked and they have all agreed to work with the Governor?
It is for you in the media to say. But, you see, Rivers people need to thank God for His Excellency. He has demonstrated statesmanship and sportsmanship by extending that olive branch to those in the opposition. And from that perspective, you can say that the traditional thing is for the politician to say I have won election, then every other person doesn’t count. But as a statesman, he has repeatedly said elections are over, it is time for governance. I am the Governor of Rivers people, not the governor of a political party. And so, the policies and programmes that he is going to drive in the next three and half years will be for the benefit of Rivers people and we are seeing that already happening. We can just say to ourselves that this is the man for the moment.
What would you want us to see as your main policy thrust as Commissioner for Information?
My main policy thrust ? To drive public communication in a manner that will engender peace and development in Rivers State.
On a daily basis, Rivers people and residents of the state need assurances with respect to the three flyovers being constructed. The Governor when he initiated these projects said the completion date will be within 16 months. Is this time frame still sacrosanct?
The architect of the vision says 16 months and he has marched words with action. A project that is N21billion, 70 per cent already paid. That shows you that he means business and he is not somebody that does double speaking. He is a very forthright politician. That is why what he says he would do that is what he does. He doesn’t make promises he doesn’t keep. I like making this point; Governor Nyesom Wike did not jump into governance. He was prepared for the office of Governor. So, having served as two-time local government chairman, served as Chief of Staff, served as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he was prepared for governance. That is why before he took the oath of office, he had rolled out the NEW Rivers Vision blueprint which encompasses open governance, accountability, education, infrastructure development, agriculture, human capital development, empowerment and others. So, he has a blueprint that he is working with. And that blueprint, I can assure you, is a development tool. And as a development tool, every inch of that blueprint is going to be implemented to the letter.
For some time now, something has been bothering my mind on the relationship between Rivers State and the Federal Government. We, here in The Tide have written two editorials on this situation. It is public knowledge that Rivers State has not gained significant projects from the Federal Government since the President Muhammadu Buhari administration came on board in 2015. I remember last year, the Governor (Wike) cried out over this matter. Till date, the disposition of the Federal Government towards Rivers State has not changed. As I speak, we have some federal roads that are terribly bad like the Ogoni axis of the East-West Road, the Port Harcourt-Aba Road, to mention but a few. As a media manager of the state, what do you think informed this and what is the state government doing to change the federal government disposition towards Rivers State?
I will answer you straight away. You need to ask Buhari and the Federal Government.
I ask this question because this is a state that contributes significantly to the GDP of the country.
Ask Buhari and the Federal Government. It is something to ponder about.
You have been a practising journalist and one-time Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Rivers State. Over time, journalists have been crying for Governors to appoint one of their own as Commissioner for Information from within their ranks. I want you to tell us how and what you will be remembered for after your tenure as Commissioner for Information?
No. I have been asked this question severally and I said a dancer does not see his back. So, what I will be remembered for will be for you to judge after I have left the seat as Commissioner. You will write the history. When he came, this is what he did. So, the remembering will be for the public to judge.
Specifically on policy; policy designed to push Rivers State, particularly its future to the next level. Today (Thursday, January 9, 2020), the Commissioner for Education held a meeting with principals of private and public schools. At the core of the meeting is the issue of JAMB and UTME for SS3 students of Rivers origin.
(Cuts in) No, not Rivers origin.
Specifically, the statement says all students of Rivers origin in their schools that are going to write JAMB and UTME this year. My real interest in this is that I want to know maybe government might want to be doing that for the future, targeting some key indices for development. As Information Commissioner, can you give us a little detail about government’s policy towards preparing the students, particularly in secondary schools, for the future development of Rivers State?
That will be for the Commissioner for Education.
While I thank the Hon. Commissioner for granting us this time from his busy schedule. I want to end this session by asking: do you intend to continue with ‘Our State, Our Responsibility’ and at what pace? Do you want to increase the pace or slow down?
You know, right now, the status has changed. So, I won’t comment on that because, right now, the status is higher. So, I won’t comment on that until I discuss with my principal.
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