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Special Interview

We’ve Impacted Positively On Port Harcourt – Dickens Worlu

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The “Greater Port Harcourt Cluster Development Board” is a community based non-governmental organisation formed from the progress of developing member communities in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas of Rivers State is the board marking one year of its existence under the current chairman, Hon. Dickens Worlu.

The Board is also trumpeting from the roof-top that in the last one year, Port Harcourt communities that constitute the cluster have recorded developmental strides that have taken the Garden City forward from where it used to be thus actualising the ‘Greater Port Harcourt’ dream.

The cluster which comprises of nine communities in Port Harcourt is different from the ‘Greater Port Harcourt Development Committee’, chaired by Mrs Aleruchi Cookey-Gam although both have basically the same vision, which is developing the state capital and impacting positively on the lives of the people therein.

Our Abuja Bureau Chief, Justus Awaji spoke with Hon. Worlu to unravel the level of achievements recorded during the period and the way forward for the ‘Greater Port Harcourt’ vision.

It’s one year since your inauguration as the Chairman of Greater Port Harcourt Cluster Development Board. How has it been so far pursuing your mandate of infrastructural development and touching the lives of your people of Port Harcourt, generally?

Yes, I became the chairman of Port Harcourt Cluster Development Board in September, 2008 and we are one year on. We came on board with the determination to serve and impact positively on the lives of the people and with commitment and support of members of my Board, we’ve been able to carry-out a lot of projects within the period. Since then, we’ve been able to impact positively on the lives of the communities.

The Communities that make up this Board are nine, cutting across Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Area.

The projects carried out so far bothers on infrastructural development, human capital development and economic empowerment.  We’ve also carried out skill acquisition and touched other areas like health insurance scheme too, during the period.

Can you name the projects executed during the period?

The projects executed during the period, in order of completion are as follows: For Orogbum Community, we embarked on the construction of a drainage system in Eastern Bye-Pass, which was a major issue in the community before that time.  As I speak, the 450m drainage system has been completed 100%

For Ojoije communities, we also undertook the construction of N350m drainage systems in the Chokwa area where they were having problem of flooding and N350m drainage for Rumuogba. 

For our micro-credit scheme, there are communities which have benefited and these include Woji 25 persons, Elekhahia 23 persons, and Oroije 18 persons.  All the beneficiaries were fully paid.  This is a revolving scheme; the institutions that are in contact with us ensured that payment was made to the communities and will ensure that payment is made subsequently.

Other projects include the N350m drainage system at Rumuogba Gotheg Avenue in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, which the Board has completed. At Rumuwoji, we undertook the renovation/upgrading of the Town Hall to meet modern day standard for such structures and for it to be self-sustaining in terms of rentals and other aspects of revenue generation to the community.

There is also borehole projects. Every year, the Board ensures three or more families/communities benefit from this.  In the last one year, we initiated and we completed three for three different compounds in Rumuwoji community.

Also at Rumuwoji, we had beneficiaries of our scholarship scheme. For secondary school, we gave 25 scholarships and 14 to those in the university.  Others are: Oroije 15; Oroabali 30 and Woji 20-29.  The amount for each of our recipients in the university is N70,000 and N30,000 for the ones in secondary schools per session.

The scheme is ongoing and we have fully paid one year and by December this year, the second year will also be paid for Rumuwoji while other communities like Woji, Oroije and Oroabali, we’ll be paying their third year this December.

In Oroabali community, we are constructing one-storey town hall which has reached 70% completion.  In Rumuodara, construction of one storey town hall has commenced and work has reached 75 percent level. Also, we are upgrading Mgbudukwu Town Hall from a model bungalow to a one-storey building; it’s 90% complete – fully roofed, remaining just 10% for completion.

There is also the ‘cluster wide project which are being centred at the board level and not directly being carried out by representatives of the member communities.

One of such is power supply. We’ve been able to assist communities in our cluster to benefit from improved power system. We’ve given out 500 KVA transformers to most communities.  We’ve concluded the installation of that of Orogbum, Elekahia and Rumuogba communities. We’ve also purchased three more transformers for Woji, Rumudara and Mgbundukwu. These ones have just been purchased and certified, about to be mounted so that they’ll energise.

So far so good.

The journey to your second year in office has commenced. How do you intend to impact on the lives of the nine communities that constitute the cluster, with particular emphasis on youths who are the light and future of any society?

We’re not relenting on our skill acquisition programme. We’ll continue with skill acquisition on computer, safety, hotel and catering.  And we have three communities to benefit from it. They are Rumuogba 19 persons; Elekahia 20 persons and Rumuwoji 14 persons.

Most of those projects listed and undertaken in our first year are also going to continue in the next year because some of them are revolving schemes, while some are economic empowerment scheme and other infrastructural scheme like skill acquisition.  Most of these projects are going to come up in our second year.

How do you manage information on the activities of the Greater Port Harcourt Cluster Development Board because not much is heard or read about your activities?

We have a website.  Yu can reach us on: www.gpcluster.org.  Besides, we’ll launch our magazine first week of December.  The magazine will enlighten people on how far our programmes are going and let our people know the extent of development that we’re bringing to the Greater Port Harcourt Development Committee chaired by Aleruchi Cookey-Gam, etc.

Details of the commissioning will be drawn up before the commissioning day.

 

Justus Awaji, Abuja

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Special Interview

‘Our One Year In Obio/Akpor Council Has Been Fulfilling’ 

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This is the concluding part of the interview carried last Friday, July 22, 2022.

Mr. Chairman, there was recently an incident in Rumuogba where miscrants accosted workers at a property site claiming to be working for the council whereas their claim was not true. How do you handle the issue of touting in revenue generation in your local government?
Let me tell you the candid truth: my problem is not with the people that go about asking for such money. No! My problem is with those people like the property owner you just talked about. We have gone on air, we have announced severally on radio and TV: anything you want to pay that concerns the council; our offices are open from 8am to 5pm, which is when they close that gate, come to the council here, and make your payments and obtain original receipts from the council. Get your approvals and papers from us here. We do not exist in heaven, we are here at Rumuodomaya. Come and pay your tenement rate fees, operational permits and other taxes here.
The truth is that people deliberately fail to do the right things, believing that when those boys come knocking, they will just pay a little token, and they will give them adulterated documents claiming to be issued by us. And by paying them that money, you are encouraging them to do same to another person or come back tomorrow. We are aware of all these. They patronise the touts at the detriment of the council. That is what they do!
For instance, if you want to develop your property, you come to the council to pay the land rate and fencing permit levy. Outside of that, before you start your building, you bring your drawing here for approval. And most of our people do not do that. They don’t! Like I said, my problem is not with the boys who tout around, but the people that are giving them the leverage to continue to exist. Because if you come to the council, and you get the right papers, as a right-thinking Nigerian, you cannot get your papers and somebody will come and tell you to pay again for the same papers. You will not accept it because you know that you made your payment at the right source and place. All you need to do is to come back to the council, and complain, and your grievances will be resolved. If it is not what you are supposed to pay, when you go back, and the people come again, you arrest them with the police. Inform us, and we will come there and tell the police that we did not send these persons. And they will be prosecuted.
But what do we find here, we find people who will stay back, they won’t pay what they are supposed to pay, and then, when the boys come, if they fail to settle as per price, maybe, they will tell you the boys are coming to harass them. But in your conscience, you know you have not paid what you were lawfully meant to pay. That is what we see. And that is the problem we have! The council gates are open to all who have any legitimate business to transact with us. If we said this is the levy you are supposed to pay, first and foremost, if you get the remand notice, and you are too sure, get across to us at the council for clarification. We have designated bank accounts, go and pay what you are due, and come and obtain original receipts and your papers from us. Do they do that? The answer is no! Then, at the end of the day, when they are not able to pay the touts whatever they are asking for, it becomes an issue of complaint: they are coming to harass us. That is the problem we are facing.
Nobody wants to do the right thing, but they sit back and then, they make so much noise only in the guise of wanting to tarnish the image of the local government. That is what they do. Most of them don’t pay. It is only when the boys go to their sites, and seize their material, that is when you see them bring their drawings here for approval. That is when they come here to pay if they are not able to pay those people there. And for the ones that think they are smart, that is when they will give those boys money there, and they go. Then, when we set up our own monitoring teams to go and verify, they now say… they gave this much; meanwhile they did not come to the council to pay and obtain their original receipts and papers. You gave the money to who? When we ask them, they look for one story to tell. So, that is the problem we are having! If the people, out of their own volition know that this is their civic responsibility, and do those things expected of them to do, you can now come back and tell us that we are the richest local government, and we will tell you, yes, we are because we are seeing the money. But we are not!
Don’t you think that is one of the reasons why you are not because a large chunk of what is supposed to be coming to the local government council is not coming?
That is what we are saying. We are saying the same thing. You can’t just assume it to be so. Alright! It is like the misconception about budgeting. You hear that they have budgeted N50trillion. Is the money there? The money is not there! It is a mere projection. Most times, they will not even get up to half of that amount. Most times, they will spend above that amount. It happens because we are all human beings. That is how it is with what you are trying to assess now. So, that is what we are passing through. And the best way to it is to still appeal to those who are doing business in our local government to do the right thing.
Because the only option left for us now is to set up a task force team to go and verify whether you have paid or not, and get our money for us, if you have not paid. And you see those people who patronise the touts are the same people that shout the most. Before you know it, they have gone to social media; they have gone to conventional media, claiming that Obio/Akpor officials are harassing them and breaking into their shops or business premises. But we have given you enough time; we have announced in the media the timeline and deadline for you to pay. Early January to mid-February, we are on air all-through making announcements for people to come to the council and make their payments for the year. What else do you expect us to do? The moment we set up task forces now, they will start shouting to high heavens, they have come again; they are harassing us; they don’t want us to do our business. But you that was supposed to pay your obligations to the council; you have failed to do that, and you are blaming us for taking steps to recover our money. Because if you have come here to pay, we do not have any reason to set up any task forces that sometimes, are confrontational, to recover our money. And then, it becomes the issue of complaint. That is the problem we have!         And when you say, let me avoid these complaints, and not set up any task force, they still won’t come on their own to make the payment so that we can have money to work for our people. Or is it my personal money that I am going to use to work for the people? Is it my own money that I am going to use to pay for the Postgraduate grants? Or pay for the skills acquisition training for beneficiaries? Or for the projects we are doing? It is this money from levies, taxes, etc, that we are using to do them! And they make it look like if it comes, you put it in your pockets: it is not for personal aggrandisement! It is for the delivery of democracy dividends to the people. It is only those who do not have initiative that will not utilise the council’s money prudently to deliver quality services to the people. We are focused and resilient, and we know what to do to make our people, who elected us to serve them, happy.
But we are still reaching out to them. We will continue to appeal to business operators to come and do the needful for the good of all in the local government, because without that money, we cannot work. Let them stop patronising touts. They are the ones encouraging them. So, these are part of the major problems we experience in trying to harness our revenue for you to have the foundation to tell us we are the richest or we are the largest. There is no statistics to back that up! That is what it is.
Chairman Sir, you have said a lot concerning your achievements in the past one year. I know it requires a lot of money for you to carry out these development projects in the local government. So, what are you doing to shore up the revenue base of the council by way of diversification of the economy of the local government?
Well, how do we diversify? Unless you are talking of it from the point of view of investments! But like I said, as it stands now, our core investment is in the area of human capacity development. The law allows us to provide support for health; education; build markets; parks; property approval and building permits; and collection of tenement rates and derivable levies. That is all the diversification you can talk about. Except you are talking of venturing into agriculture! We don’t have that capacity.
What we do is to see to what extent we can add value to improve the lives of our people directly. That is what we see as our own diversification or what we can call investment; because we believe that by tomorrow, it will yield positive dividends. The multiplier effects arising therefrom can also count for us.
But out of that, we have the intention of building one or two new markets, or renovate one or two. We also plan to develop one or two more parks, because even if you do so, we have parks and markets already existing. You see those ones in those communities, even if you build more, they won’t allow you to come and collect the rent. By the time you want to press it, they will say you are confrontational. It is something when you come to experience it that you know better. If not, these are the little openings the law allows us to get involved in, in order to raise revenue for the council. Because we cannot on our own get involved in things the law does not permit us to do. What the law provides for us is: you establish markets; you establish parks; you collect daily tolls; and all of that. The diversification you are talking about now can only be in the area of investment. I think we are doing all we can outside our monthly allocation to boost our revenue and add to accelerate quality service delivery. It is what we have in our place here, that God has blessed us with, but the problem is how to harness it to enhance our revenue base because of the bottlenecks I have explained to you. That is what we are exploring.
We have our agents, and we are doing everything possible to tap all available options to increase our revenue base. I must also acknowledge that they are some companies and business operators in the local government that within the period given to them, the moment they receive our demand notice, they come to pay their due. But we still have some big companies that connive with these touts to evade payment of what is due the council.
Are you planning to digitise revenue collection in the council to check corruption and other sundry sharp practices?
Cuts in!
We are working towards that. But one thing you must understand is, even at that, like I know how many filling stations that are operating in Obio/Akpor. I know how many hotels. In fact, we have a record of how many companies that are operating in our area. But no matter how you look at it, it takes a willing mind to pay what he or she is statutorily obligated to pay to the government. Anyone not interested in paying will not want to pay voluntarily. Majority of the people always wants to be forced to do the right thing. We do not have difficulty collecting the money. The issue is: are they willing to pay? Because it is a willing mind that will do what you are saying, whether automated or not. I hope you understand me? Those that are paying will be the same ones that will pay whether you automate the process or not, because it is a voluntary thing. What they hear is that one that officials will come and lock up their shops or business premises or carry their goods or wares. That is the problem: lack of people’s willingness to discharge their obligations voluntarily. Even when you spread the annual payment over a period of time within the year, those not ready and willing to pay, won’t pay.
Interjection! Chairman, let me step in here. Let us leave that issue, enough has already been said about it.
Chairman, I know that this is not your problem, but a lot of motorists have been complaining about the bad gullies and craters near the entrance to your council’s gate on the Port Harcourt-Owerri Road. Why don’t you try to do something to rehabilitate those bad spots to ease free flow of traffic around this axis?
Oh! The one in front of the council secretariat? Somebody told me they talked about it on radio the other day. Well, two weeks after I assumed office, we tried to do something around that. But I have listened to some of the commentaries on radio. Some people actually feign ignorance on who has the responsibility to address that challenge.
You know that we have three tiers of government: The federal, state and local government. That responsibility falls squarely under the purview of the Federal Government, because it is a federal road. It is not even the duty of the state government to intervene, except it secures the go-ahead of the Federal Government.
If you are saying it as a suggestion, fine. We can consider it based on available resources to us. But it is not my responsibility as a council. It is not! We have a lot of competing needs that we are obligated to address as leaders at the local government level. Our people elected us to serve them, and we have to judiciously spend the scarce resources available to deliver for our people. It is not just something you wake up one day and throw yourself into. Do we have the money to do it? The answer is no!
And more so, they have given the contract to LCC, a construction company to handle. They are in the process of providing drainages on the road. It is a gradual process. They are doing the work! It is not as if vehicles are not passing the road. It is just that some people are just idle, and do not know what to say or do with their precious time. Some journalists just want people to listen to their stations, so they look for just anything to say to engage idle minds.
Chairman, every job has its own risks and exposures. This job, for the past one year, has also exposed you to certain risks that you may not have anticipated. A case in point was early this year when your task force team on illegal crude oil refineries was accosted at a point around Rumuolumeni, and there was a near combat situation between some armed personnel of a Federal Government security agency and your team. My instinct tells me that you were physically present while the fight was raging. How did you feel about your safety during that confrontation?
Well, let me start it this way. You know that one of the questions you asked was that my local government is the richest. That is part of the risk. You won’t understand.
Well, that is what leadership is about. You can’t come here and just think it is a bed of roses. There are attendant risks associated with the job. That situation on that fateful day is one of such risks. Even in the job you do as a journalist, there are risks you face on a daily basis. It is what comes with the job, and you should be ready to face it. We are here to solve problems; we are here to face challenges first and foremost. This place is not a party hall; it is not a place for luxury. You that made up your mind to become council chairman must have also made up your mind to frontally tackle whatever challenges may arise during the course of your tenure.
So, it is not the team I sent. I was physically present there, and I was the one they were attacking for leading a team to disrupt and dismantle their illegal business activities in my council area. It was the confrontation I had with men of Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) at Rumuolumeni. I was the one with the guy that had a gun; I was the person in the video that went viral on social media. It is what it is: it is governance! It is leadership! You must confront issues as there arise. Because: what is democracy? It is all about the people! What is governance? It is all about the people! The centrepiece of it is the people.
So, whatever it is that is affecting your people that you have sworn to govern, should be your personal challenge. We knew the effect of the soot pandemic everywhere in the state until the governor intervened and took the proactive step, and ordered the chairmen of the 23 local government councils to ensure that the operators and sponsors of illegal oil bunkering activities in the communities are identified and reported to appropriate authorities for investigation and prosecution while their sites should be closed permanently. He ordered the chairmen to join the fight because there is no way he can do it alone. After all, we relate more closely with the people at the grassroots. It borders on our people. The soot was affecting the health of our people.
So, for you to be a leader, no matter the level, you should be resilient; your mind should be made up to confront most of these challenges head-on. Some people have lost their lives in the course of defending their people. That is leadership! And if you are not ready to sacrifice for your people, then, you do not deserve to be a leader. So, that is the motivating factor that we have to keep pushing because it is in the interest of our people.
Chairman, you talked about what you were doing at Rumuekini: the Fish Farm. I will like to know: what is the state of that farm, today? Is it producing? Are we earning money from the farm already? Secondly, Obio/Akpor has a serious challenge of refuse disposal. We understand the challenges, especially when the issue of refuse disposal was handed over to you by the governor when Rivers State Waste Management Agency (RIWAMA) had problems. What is the situation now? And how are you coping with that to ensure that the local government is free of filth?
Well, we thank God that as it stands now, a task force has been set up by the governor to take over that responsibility. But while it lasted, it was a daunting experience. A big one at that! It was an intervention that we got involved directly. But experience has shownthat refuse collection and disposal is a serious business. Very serious business managed by very serious-minded people!
Of course, refuse is produced in seconds. And you know that it is human beings that produce waste. So, it follows that where you have high concentration of the population, the tendency is that you have more refuse produced by the seconds within that area. Like Obio/Akpor, if you talk about population concentration, it doubles that of Port Harcourt City. That is why we seem to have more waste than any other local government in the state.
It has always been the responsibility of RIWAMA. But through the directive of the governor, we intervened and did what we were able to do to help. The job has reverted to RIWAMA, and the task force is incharge now. We even attended a meeting at the invitation of the task force, yesterday, to ask us on what experience we have garnered and what suggestions we could make to help them do even better. We had very candid conversations around the issues, and we also made suggestions for seamless refuse collection and disposal in the capital city through a strategic synergy that works for the good of all in the communities.
Of course, the local government council must be involved; just as the communities must also be involved, because they are the ones generating the refuse. So, they should also be involved in all-round monitoring and supervision of evacuation at the receptacles and compaction at the dumpsites, because we have the manpower at this level. We know that most of the refuse contractors, if you don’t supervise and monitor them very closely, they won’t do their jobs diligently. So, we need to work with RIWAMA for them to succeed. All the same, we thank God that we were able to do that job, but it was very overwhelming, I must admit.
Now, back to the issue of the Rumuekini fish farm. Yes, as it is today, it is not functioning optimally. We are trying to work out modalities for its efficient and effective operation. But we said, if we finish securing the place first, to be sure, then, we can begin the next process. We want to set up an agro-based business there outside of the fish farm in partnership with interested investors. We are talking with some people already, and we believe that by the time we are done, we would have bequeathed a thriving agro-based business portfolio that will not only employ a lot of our people but also generate income for many families and the council as well.
If we are to continue with the facility, we may have to totally renovate and expand it. Our intention initially was to, because it is in units, just to add extra units, make them modern, and then, in each unit, raise like two or three women, give them money to run it as a business. They will manage it, sell and make returns to the council, no matter how little. We are working that out. Now that we have been able to secure the place, it will now give us that platform to work out something. My supervisor for agriculture is working out the modalities. We are talking with a team from Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and two or three other organisations to see how the place can be optimised for the good of the people of Obio/Akpor.
Going forward, what are we expecting from you in Obio/Akpor?
Yes, we have hit the ground running. Like I said, in the area of human capital development, we will continue with our post-graduate grants. We will also continue with our vocational skills acquisition programme. We will do another two sets. The PG programmes, we will do another two sets of 50 for PhD and 50 for Masters. So, at the end of our three-year tenure, we would have produced 150 PhD and 150 Masters degree holders.
We have other very important projects we want to embark upon. First among them is the Secondary School Block we promised to build for Woji community. We are thinking about one or two important link roads in the two constituencies of Obio and Akpor that make up the local government. If it is not something that can go round all the 17 wards, we do it constituency-by-constituency. If it can go beyond the constituency but not up to the ward level, we do it by clans, like what we did with the Charkin Academy admission. We could not carry the burden at the ward level by choosing 17 persons, as to one from each ward. So, what we did was use the nine clans as a basis for the selection of beneficiaries. In Evo, we have three clans – Oro-Evo, Oro-Esara, and Oro-Opotoma, that is in constituency one; in constituency two, we have three clans – Akpor, Apara, and Rumueme; then, the remaining, we gave to non-indigenes of Obio/Akpor. That was how we distributed the slots for the Charkin admission. So, we had a balance in the selection process.
All we can say is that Obio/Akpor people should expect more from us. And above all of these is the programme we want to start for our women petty traders. You know that we do not have farm lands anymore. Our women used to be very industrious and hardworking farmers, but with the lands gone to urbanisation, the only available space they have now, they display pepper, tomatoes, vegetables, and all those foodstuffs. So, we think we can encourage them by giving seed money to improve their trades; maybe, N10,000 to N20,000 revolving facility, so that we can reach as many women as possible in the communities. That way, we will help them boost their small businesses to support their families, and also help the council grow economically. So, that will be our focus too in no distant time.
The moment we are sure that it is workable, and will impact positively on the people, we will kick-start it, maybe, towards the end of the year, and nosedive into next year. We have already told them that it is not going to be business as usual. They have to be judicious and frugal in the management of whatever they are given, because it is not for free; they have to pay back the money. The structures have to be in place to make the scheme sustainable.
We also have a scheme for the youths. We will identify the ones that are ready to be engaged, and want to eke out a living for themselves, if they get any support. Then, with the scheme, we will support them to be useful to themselves and the society. That way, we would have strengthened the economies of our communities; and built a more resilient and peaceful society.
We are going to do all these because we have the interest of our people at heart. We promised to address their challenges when we come on board, and we have to keep our promise. We will not disappoint them.

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Special Interview

‘I Want To Be Remembered For Laying RSUTH Foundation’

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The Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH), one of the newest in Nigeria, has come a long way since it came into being four years ago. The change from a comparatively obscure Braithwaithe Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH) in the country to its present status as a Teaching Hospital has not yet ceased to baffle close watchers. How did this happen? Who made it happen? What is it that has so turned things around in it that has made it the bride of genuine good health seekers within and outside the State? To respond to these and other nagging questions, The Tide’s Business Editor, Soibi Max-Alalibo, and Deputy News Editor, Sogbeba Dokubo, sought the answers from the Chief Medical Director, RSUTH, Dr. Friday E. Aaron, on whose shoulders the responsibility was placed. The interview turned out to be revealing as it was assuring.

Since 2018, when the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital was birthed from the then Braithwaithe Memorial Specialist Hospital, Rivers people, residents of the State, and those from other neighbouring states have never had it so good in terms of accessing medical care for which they hitherto had to travel very far.

Beyond easily accessing the right medical care, patients can now walk in, get necessary medical attention, and walk out with little or no stress as it was in the days of BMSH.

Staff, from the bottom to top, are more dedicated to their responsibilities due to high motivational standards, better equipment to work with, and incentives, which have given them more reason to put in their best in their jobs.

The result is that from being an institution that rendered only health care services, it now renders the same services at a more higher level, trains health care practitioners, and also carries out researches.

Photo Caption: 64 slice CT Scan, used for Radio-diagnostic imaging.

The person at the centre of this phenomenal change is the State Governor, His Excellency, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, who, as part of his NEW Vision, extended his midas touch to the hospital by appointing a technocrat in the fold of Dr Friday Aaron as the pioneer Chief Medical Director (CMD), who has turned out to be the engine room or the development of one of the foremost Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria.

As the CMD puts it: “I have not just been in charge, I’m the pioneer CMD of the hospital. So, that places on me a huge assignment of laying the foundation, and then building on it”.

This eventually became his driving force, which is “to be remembered as one that came, laid a foundation that people should build on, sustainably”.

In order to attain this quest, Dr. Aaron acknowledged what he called the “incontestable magnanimity” of the State Governor in according him the privilege of not just appointing him as the pioneer CMD, but also providing the wherewithal in terms of provision of manpower, equipment, and key Infrastructures required to turn the tide of the hospital around to what it is today, preparatory to what it will be years to come.

“One thing that’s outstanding is the overall change in the hospital, the overall repositioning of the hospital that was just mainly rendering health care services, to a Teaching Hospital with capacity to manage very complex cases.

“And that change is obvious for us to see in terms of infrastructure, change in mindset of staff, quality of services, in terms of overall patient experience “, he said.

On assumption of duty in 2018, the first thing he did to set things in motion was to develop a Mission, Vision, and Core Values for the hospital, and also ensure that staff adhere strictly to achieving them as spelt out in their various responsibilities.

“In all our meetings we remind ourselves of these core values and take one of them and remind ourselves of how to go about it”, he explained.

To encourage staff in being at their best in their jobs, various awards have been instituted for outstanding staff in various departments, “and this has changed their mindset for better and quality service delivery”.

The result is that four years down the lane, RSUTH has not only recorded tremendous achievements in areas that fall within its mandate, but has also kept on improving in all key three areas that comprise the mandate: rendering medical services; training of medical personnel; and carrying out researches. These three are what the CMD called the “Trypod Mandate” of a Teaching Hospital.

In service delivery, RSUTH now renders services beyond Rivers State up to the South-South and South East States.

“After we became a Teaching Hospital, we now render services up to the South-South and South East because of the level of equipment we have “, he stated.

Dr Aaron, an orthopedic surgeon, said the result of the upgrade to a Teaching Hospital, among others, is that the environment has turned into a beehive of activities: from the gate through all the various departments, every staff is usually on their toes, and does so with a mindset of responsibility to serve, and in all happiness to do so.

“When you talk about services, you see that anytime you walk into the hospital, you see how busy it is, because of the level of services we render”, he said.

Beyond attending efficiently to all who come to the hospital to seek treatment or service, by ensuring that they get to the right place to get the required attention, the hospital has also improved in clinical care services, where diagnostics stands out tops.

As the CMD captures it, “we have the best radio diagnostic equipment East of the Niger “.

Such diagnostic equipment include: Magnetic Resonance Imagine (MRI) 1.5 Tesla Machine, for general body imaging; Computer Tomography (CT); Mammography Machine, used for breast imaging; Fluoroscopy Machine, for dynamic imaging studies; and Plain Radiography Machine, which is used for static imaging.

These and other essential machines for a Teaching Hospital that are not commonly available in most tertiary health care institutions in the country has turned RSUTH into a Mecca of sort, attracting people from outside the State, most especially from the South-South and South East.

Such States include Enugu, Umuahia, Owerri, and Bayelsa. People Troup into the hospital for one form of diagnostic investigation or the other on a daily basis.

Following the upgrade also, there have been non-stop and all round power supply from 2018 up to March 2022, when it had to be rationed to departments that necessarily require it all through the day, such as the radiology department where equipment has to be on 24/7.

RSUTH also has Dialysis Machine, which has the capacity for Renal Transplant, popularly known as kidney transplant.

Currently, personnels have been trained, and more are still undergoing trainings on how to operate and use the machine.

What this means is that in no time, kidney transplant and other related diseases, for which patients are flown abroad, can be done and treated in RSUTH. Ultimately, this will attract more patronage from far and near.

In training, RSUTH, by its status as a Teaching Hospital, is a training ground for both the Rivers State University, and private owned Pamo Universiy of Medical Sciences.

“It is because we have a functioning Teaching Hospital that the regulatory body approved RSUTH as a training ground.

“The Collage of Medical Sciences accredited RSUTH to train doctors. They come from time-to-time, for every level to check what is on ground. For training, we have supported at the undergraduate level, student nurses from RSU are also being trained here”, he stated.

RSUTH, Dr Aaron continued, “serves Rivers people primarily, and also Pamo Universiy of Medical Sciences who are one year ahead in terms of students. They come for their orientation, medical experience, and have also received accreditation because of their relationship with us.

The implication of this is that RSUTH has not only been carrying out clinical trainings, but also provide manpower for both the public and private sectors, and most of these students are of Rivers origin.

The hospital trains doctors, nurses, cardiographers, medical laboratory scientists, etc. from the public and private sectors.

In order to fulfill its mandate on research, RSUTH is registered with relevant national bodies and is licensed on health ethics and bio-ethics.

“This has helped us because more of our lecturers and staff write to the ethics committee, receive approval and do researches”.

This, the CMD said, has given RSUTH global visibility.

“Now, you can just Google researches and publications done here. You’ll see quite a lot of our publications. We have data, unexplored data, because we have been working for sometime.

“That’s why we started by upgrading our records because it was an issue in the past. Now that we have electronic records, it is easy to get data”.

Though these and many other successes have been recorded in the first four years of RSUTH, Dr. Aaron said the feat was achieved amidst challenges.

He, therefore, called for partnership with well-meaning individuals and organisations to partner the hospital in order to serve the public more, saying hat Government alone “cannot do it all”.

So far, the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) seem to have taken the lead in this wise by building the Infectious & Disease Unit of the hospital, which is under construction.

“The Governor has done a lot. The story of this hospital has changed for good. Patients should utilize the hospital and also be friendly, show loyalty, commitment in the hospital, by using the facility in such a way that they see it as belonging to them, which is taking ownership, in order to sustain it”, he said.

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Special Interview

Our One Year In Obio/Akpor Council Has Been Fulfilling  –Ariolu 

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Being a special interview with Obio/Akpor Local Government Council Chairman, Barrister George Ariolu, on June 22, 2022, at the council premises at Rumuodomaya to mark one year in office of his administration. The Team was led by General Manager, Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, Chief Ernest Chinwo; with Acting Chairman, Editorial Board and Supervising Editor of The Tide Group, Nelson Chukwudi; Acting Editor, The Tide (Daily), Reward Akwu; and Reporter, John Bibor. Prince Dele Obinna took all the photographs. Excerpts: 

We thank you for your commitment to delivery of dividends of democracy, and we believe that you have done so much. What are your visions and the challenges you have had in your first year in office?

So far, so good by God’s special grace. We think we have done well. We actually came in on June 17, 2021. So, we clocked one year in office exactly last Friday. But we have lined up a number of activities over a period of time to mark the one year anniversary.
For us, we made electioneering promises to our people, and we have been working along that line to fulfill them. When we came in, outside what we promised the people, we came into the office, did an inspection round the council’s premises to familiarise ourselves and take stock of what was available for us to deliver on our campaign promises. It was an eye opener for us!
The first thing we discovered, outside the decrepit nature of the premises, was the fact that we didn’t have alternative source of power supply. We did not. And the discovery showed us that because of that circumstance, the workers’ zeal to do their job was almost below zero. Any time you come here whether in the morning or afternoon, you just see the workers loiter about because the offices were not comfortable, because of lack of electricity. And you know what it takes, including your own agency, government agencies and ministries; you know what it takes to pay electric bills, even when power supply is not regular. So, we promised the workers that we are going to provide an alternative source of power supply to address that challenge to their morale. And two – three weeks thereafter, we procured a brand new 500KVA Generator, and we installed it. In fact, as I speak, that is what we are using to power the entire council premises and buildings.
So, right now, we have a near 24hour power supply, and the council’s activities are no longer hampered by lack of electricity. Workers are now regular to work; workers are now regular in the offices because the air conditioners and fans are working, and the office environment is conducive and friendly. Now, they put in their best, and their zeal to work has appreciated tremendously.
We also undertook an all-round renovation of the secretariat, because as they say, cleanliness is next to Godliness. What we discovered is that the environment is not what it is supposed to be, sanitary wise. It also has an effect on the human psychology whether we like it or not.    The environment plays a role in the psyche of those who are working and visitors coming in. When they hear that this is the headquarters of the great Obio/Akpor Local Government they have been hearing, and then, when they come around, they see an environment that is not welcoming.
We took a massive renovation of the fence. First and foremost, we started with hall. We have a hall here in the secretariat building: the ceilings and fans were falling off. Everywhere was looking untidy. So, I told them that this kind of place is not good enough for a local government like ours. So, within that same period, we took a total turnaround of the hall to international standard. We can even organise or host any international conference or seminar there. Today, we have a state-of-the-art event hall befitting of the great Obio/Akpor Local Government Council within this building housing the chairman’s office with reinforced roof as part of the facelift you are seeing now. It is there for anybody or organisation to inspect and hire.
We also discovered that the office spaces that we have are not enough for the staff, considering the fact that virtually all the Federal Government agencies have their various offices in Obio/Akpor Local Government Council headquarters. We have the DSS, NSCDC, NYSC, FRSC, Immigration, Peace Corps, and NIMC, name them. They are all located here. They have invariably taken over the office spaces our conventional staff would have been allocated to. So, I promised them that we are going to build more office spaces for them so that our workers can have enough offices to perform their legitimate work, and deliver optimum services to the council. Because the environment you work also influences your performance on the job and your level of productivity.
So, that also informed us to begin the building of two units of 30-room office blocks. We started it four months and some weeks now. Right now, we are at the roofing stages. Outside of that, we also met one of the structures that were used for councillors as legislative offices. It was not befitting at all for members of Obio/Akpor Legislative Assembly, especially because there were structural defects that were very visible and needed to be corrected. So, we decided to turn the building around. In the next two months, the buildings will be ready for commissioning and use.        Also, when we came in, we discovered that any time it rains, no matter the lightness or heaviness of the rain, the entire council secretariat’s environment is flooded. So, we also considered it as a very big embarrassment that didn’t have to continue. So, we called out experts to take a look at it, and tell us what we can do to stop the persistent flooding of the premises of the council. They did their study, and made their recommendations. We studied it, and at the end of the day, we were able to get a contractor that has started work.
If you go to the front of our gate now, the main entrance is blocked because of the construction work. We have expanded and constructed a new drainage from the gate down to the canal by the market. We didn’t have that before, and that was the reason for the flooding within the premises. We are expanding the drainages on both sides of our fence so that it can contain the volume of water from the flood coming in.
The aim is to take the flood water out of our premises, and make the storm water flow through the expanded drainages to the canal. So, we have done that. The job is almost 70 pecent completed. Even at the level it is today, we have noticed that once it rains, the flood immediately flows out freely to the canal. Right now, on the average, even though we have not finished, we are already experiencing the benefits of what we have done. If not for that, as you came in now, with the rain that has been falling since last night, it would have been difficult for you to access this building.
Also, we have a farm at Rumuekini: Obio/Akpor Fish Farm. It is about 51 – 52 plots of land, acquired by the administration of the former Chairman, Prince Timothy Nsirim. Since that acquisition, the place was kept that way. It was not fenced. So, we thought it would be penny wise, pound foolish to leave the place that way, especially now that the activities of land grabbers are causing serious concern everywhere. So, we have fenced it. We have fenced the entire place. Just the finishing touches are now ongoing.
Then, at Rumuolumeni, a jetty was put in place by the last administration but they didn’t have a waiting house. So, we decided to provide a waiting house for users of the facility. The construction of the waiting house is about 80 pecent completed. When I went on a working visit to the place, I also discovered that we needed to reinforce the surrounding of the river bank. We needed to do some reinforcement. So, we have asked the contractor to put that in place, and let us know what it cost. We have done that, and I think they are still on it. That is as it has to do with structures and physical projects.
We have also been able to do some other projects. Within the period we are talking about, we have been able to give out six transformers to communities that made request. When the first community requested, and we gave them, others started sending their requests to us as well. We still have more requests. As the requests come, we process them; and as the funds are made available to us, we will also make the transformers available to the communities on first come, first serve basis.
But above all of these is our concern and focus on the area of human capacity development. That came to mind within our 100 days in office. And aside of that, we have taken what I refer to as comparative analysis of what people have done before; putting down structures and its benefits vis-à-vis the investment on the human person. And we have discovered that most of the structures and projects like markets, if you quantify the amount used building them, you look at the utilisation of such markets now, assessing it in terms of return on investment, and it is almost zero. If you look at the hundreds of millions of Naira put in building them, the return on investment is almost zero.
So, we are now saying that we have to redirect our focus. And the other motivating aspect of it, though it was a little setback, was what we experienced when they called or the employment of PhD holders at the Rivers State University. We discovered that we could not meet up the quota allocated to us. Although the number was not much! For us, it was a major setback.
So, we came back, analysed it, and we thought it wise that it was an area worth investing in. So, it was based on that we approved grants for PhD students and Masters degree students. Initially, we wanted to take below the number we eventually took. But when we saw the number of people applying, we now said, no, let us see the extent we can go with the funds available to us. So, we were able to do 50 PhD and 50 Masters degree students. As I speak with you now, we have paid, in full, the grant money for the two sets we are sponsoring. We have done that!
And initially too, we had at the back of our mind because we have a three-year tenure, that it was going to be a one-off thing. We will just do it, and take it for the entire three years. But by the time we got into it, we noticed that it was an area yearning for attention. So, we took it as a policy we must pursue with seriousness. Oh yeah, I did explain to you that this is the first time any local government council in Nigeria is embarking on this kind of programme as an investment. So, we are taking it as a policy programme. Every year, in our three-year tenure, we will be graduating 50 persons each for the PhD and Masters degree batches.
So, this discovery has now given us the impetus to say, let us give it a try. We will not end at that set now. We have taken it as policy programme. Every year in our three-year tenure, we will give out grants to new set of beneficiaries. So, we are done with the first set for the first year, believing that by August, or latest the beginning of September, we will initiate the second set. Because our focus is that when we finish our three years tenure, we will be able to produce 150 PhD holders and a 150 Masters degree holders. And also with the belief that in the next 12 to 13 years, if they push up academically, we would have had a good number of professors, specialists and consultants, especially in the main areas, which will be a plus to the local government area. And then, the multiplier effect of this is unquantifiable. So that in the next few years, as other local government areas in the state are boasting that they have 10 to 15 professors and specialists in key areas, Obio/Akpor will also be competing, even more favourably with the little we are able to produce.
Then, in the area of skills acquisition, we have trained over 200 youths. We have trained them in key job areas. Some of them have come back to tell us that they have got good paying jobs. We trained them in the area of scaffolding, forklift, and excavator and crane operations. We trained them at Bishop Marine. So, they have been fully trained. We have discharged them to the society. Some of them are doing well for themselves and their families.
Then, we also discovered that our people are not there; in fact, we can’t find them in the maritime sector. We can’t find them. So, that is what motivated us to reach out to Charkin Maritime Academy to see to what extent we can partner with them to train our people to be specialists in the maritime sector. So, we have sent nine students there to train to become seafarers. The training is highly capital intensive. To train a student there for a two-year programme is about N4.9million. We have about nine of our wards there. They just left my office a few minutes ago. They came to felicitate with me on my One Year In Office.
We have nine of them. Out of the nine, there is a female. And they are doing very well in their academic career. So, they will become seafarers and cadet officers tomorrow, their further training will match what the industry needs.  And with what arrangement we have with Charkin Academy, if they finish, and they do well, they will have international employment from some of the best in the maritime industry. And we are told that the least will earn about $3,000 per month. So, again, we are giving them all the necessary support to take care of themselves and their families. We are giving them a stipend of N10,000 monthly to support them defray whatever expenses they may incur. We believe that when they graduate and get good international jobs, they will add to the quality manpower profile of the state, and also contribute to the development of Obio/Akpor. We have done all that. We believe that it will go a long way in developing and contributing to the upscaling of the quality and capacity of the human capital base of the local government. We have also identified some other areas we will embark on after now.
Then, worthy of note is the fact that we are that Obio/Akpor is a metropolitan local government area. We don’t just have the indigenous people here alone. We also have strangers who live and do business here, and also contribute to the overall development of the local government. So, in our programmes, policies and projects, we also carry the stranger element along. Like in that our PhD and Masters grants, we also have non-indigenes as beneficiaries. Non-indigenes from the local government, we are talking about people from other local governments of the state, as well as non-indigenes from the state. They also benefitted in our vocational skills acquisition programmes. So, we always carry the people along in that respect.
In the area of relationship with our workers, we can say categorically that we have very cordial relationship with our workers. We have very good relationship with the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE). We pay them their salaries, as at when due. We have not reneged on that since we came into office. We are not owing salaries! In fact, last year’s December was the very first time in a very long while that they received what they call ‘Christmas bonus’. Yes! Because an incident happened: when I gave the approval and they started receiving their alerts; we had a meeting outside. I was just driving into the premises around 12noon for the meeting. As I just parked and stepped down, I saw most of the workers running towards my car from different directions. I thought something was wrong. In fact, I was wondering if it was a mob action. But as they got close, they started singing and dancing; some started praying for me while some were pouring praises and showering encomiums on me for making their Christmas and New Year celebrations grand. They said that that was the first time they got that kind of motivation in recent memory.
So, we have that cordial relationship with our works. In fact, there is no way we can succeed without them putting in their best. Because our success is dependent on their ability to put in their best in the work they do… So, that is what it is!
We also know that we have used other means to motivate the workers. Like the last award ceremony we held to recognise hardwork and productivity among the workers. I remember that about 13 workers were appreciated during the award ceremony in our council. That is the little we have done to appreciate them. And we will keep doing more to reward hardworking staff as a way to improve their efficiency and productivity.
Mr Chairman, your local government is said to be about the largest and richest in the country. Beyond that, it is also seen as part of, in fact, takes more than half of the capital city of Port Harcourt. And to cap that, we also have the governor of the state, who was a former council chairman here, now in charge of the state. That brings a lot of, I don’t know whether to say a lot of burden or blessing. Maybe, you need to tell us whether it is a burden or a blessing. Has there been that synergy between the state government and the council that your administration leveraged on, at least, to advance the development of the local government and its people?
A: Well, let me start by putting one fact straight; the statement you made that Obio/Akpor is the richest: That is not correct! I don’t know where you got you figures from. But from available figures before us, it is not correct. Both from monthly federal allocation and internally generated revenue, we are not the richest. I have heard that claim a number of times. Since l came in here, I have been asking them: what statistics did those making the claims get their figures from? What authority are they quoting? I don’t know where they got that statistics from. Because for us in Obio/Akpor, having been privileged to see the figures from all angles, we are not even close to those getting the highest revenue.
If you say we are the largest in the state, yes, we are. If you say we are the most populated, yes, we are. And if you ask me, yes, we are the heartbeat of the capital of Rivers State as it stands today.
When you want to assess who is rich and who is not rich, you take it from the allocation we get monthly from the federation accounts allocation. And when you look at that, we don’t get the highest allocation. If you say, it is based on the concentration of people or organisations doing business in Obio/Akpor, it is relative. Yes, it is relative because you count the number of people doing business in Obio/Akpor, you will assess what you think they ought to pay, but the pertinent question is: do they pay their due obligations to the council? Do they pay their statutory taxes, rates and permits as at when due? The issue is: do we harness that money due us as a council? So, is not enough saying it! That is the problem we have always had with people coming to interact with us, because they will say, ah! You are the richest.
We always have people coming into Obio/Akpor, and telling us that we are rich, but for us to even go and collect tax from those people owing the council is even a problem. It is a very big problem. It is not as if, at the end of the month, money will just drop into our account. People who are owing tax, including businesses, don’t always want to pay. And you and I know that as Nigerians, people find it difficult to pay their taxes. That is the pertinent truth. We have to tell ourselves the truth; because it is only the truth that can set us free.
You go out there, those who are doing business will prefer to patronise touts; who they will just pay some little money and collect our adulterated or forged documents, and they will claim they have paid their taxes. Some others will drag and argue, and will refuse to pay the due tax or rate until we take them to the revenue court. In fact, as we speak, we have over 300 cases in revenue court at the council right now. Indeed, we have business operators in court for refusing to oblige to their civic responsibilities of paying the taxes due their businesses to the council. So, it is not enough for people to just sit out there, and then, assume that Obio/Akpor is the richest. How? Well, we believe it. We are working hard to improve our revenue profile.
Even in the area of residential tenement rate levy, you still see people, even highly educated and supposedly rich people not wanting to pay. Instead, they prefer to pay little token to touts who pose as council officials. You build your house, you rent it to tenants, and collect rents from them, yet, you refuse to pay the council what is due it by law. When we go to them to collect our tenement rate levy, they will refuse to pay. Then, these are the same people who will go out there, and begin to say, Obio/Akpor is rich.     To that extent, it is not very true. If you want to assess it based on the population and businesses, yes, we are one of the richest based on that assessment. But in terms of revenue inflow, we are not. Even the monthly allocation, we are not the highest in the state.
So, that takes me to the second aspect of the question on synergy with the state government. Yes! It has never happened to us this good in the political history of Rivers State and since the creation of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area. The benefit we are getting from the state government is unquantifiable. Not to go too far, do you know how many flyovers that have been put in place to beautify Obio/Akpor, the flyovers alone; not to talk about roads?
The rigorous urban development programmes of the state government, we are key beneficiaries. You know that we own over three quarters of the Government Reservation Areas (Phases 2 and 3) you are hearing about. Yes! It is in Obio/Akpor. So, the urban renewal programme of the state government, we are major beneficiaries. It has never happened this good to us as a local government. And also, when our son is there, what do you expect? So, it is an advantage to us. We are very happy about the development projects the state government is executing in our local government. And just like you said, we are an integral part of the capital city of the state. So, that is what it is! It is a robust relationship with the state government, and we pray it continues like that.
But does that pose any challenge to you, like you need to meet certain level of performance, so that you do not draw the angst of the state governor being somebody who had served here as chairman for two tenures, and somebody who is now in-charge of the entire state?
No! No! It is more of a motivation than the issue of a drag, if I may put it that way. It is more of a motivation because it depends on the individual who is the chairman of the council, who has seen what the state governor is doing, and would want to replicate it in the local government or otherwise. But any right thinking person who is the chairman of Obio/Akpor should look at what the governor is doing at the state, and should be motivated and driven to even do more to complement whatever he is doing for our local government. So, for us, that is our motivating factor. Because he can’t be doing all that he is doing in the state, and then, we come over here, and we fall below expectations, no. That is even our driving force. And that is why we are moving the way we are moving.
If the fund were to be available, we will do more for the interest of our people. Because he is a governor that has the interest of his people at heart! If he does not have the interest of his people at heart, he will not go to the extent he has gone. Because the political circumstance is such that the moment you finish your first tenure, and you did projects, you use it to make people vote for you for a second tenure, then, you go to sleep after assuming office for the second tenure. But up till this moment as we speak, projects are still ongoing in the twilight of the end of his second tenure. Projects are still ongoing! So, it takes a man that has love for his people to do what the governor is doing. And we are also learning from him positively. Like I said, for what we have done so far, that is the basis of our motivation.
Obio/Akpor over the years has gotten a reputation, albeit to the negative side. This is more or less the centre of thuggery and touting. We have various task forces harassing people here and there, and taking the laws into their hands. What have you done so far to change that perception and correct any where that there may have been lapses?
Well, like you should be aware, you are a media person, so, you should be aware. The second week we came, we heard that there is this particular task force that they said has something to do with the council, that was in the business of arresting motorists, seizing their vehicles, and making them pay outrageous sums of money as fines. They said one was directly opposite the Special Area Police near the council secretariat. I went there myself. I remember that day; it was raining heavily the way it is raining today. We went there, and we busted them.
One thing people don’t understand, and that is what I have taken my time to narrate, especially in this area is the perception people already have. Anything about…, even to the point now that if you stand at bus stop, and these hoodlums pick your pocket, they will say it is Obio/Akpor. It is as bad as that! You understand, because of the wrong impression people already have about the area. And in that respect, the media houses have not done us any good, especially the radio stations. They organised programmes, especially these talk shows, and people just call in and talk without facts, creating the impression that that is the true situation. Even the hosts of the programmes talk without facts.
And I ask them: what has happened to Investigative Journalism? You have information, and you go there to find out whether this is the true facts about the information. Because as media people, you don’t just entertain, you also enlighten and educate the public. As they hear you say it, they expect what you tell them to be the gospel truth, and nothing but the truth, so that they can use it to form their own opinion on the issue. Those people are not from Obio/Akpor. Even as at the time we busted them, and called everybody that had their vehicles in their custody to come and carry them, we arrested the touts. When we arrested them, they turned out to be a task force set up by somebody in the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). They made confessional statements, and stated that they were not working for Obio/Akpor Council. Even after that, the radio stations were still saying that the task force was set up by the Obio/Akpor Council. One of them located not far from here said they had something to do with the council, which is a fallacy. You just see people that had their minds made up to tarnish the image of the council.
I busted another one here at Eligbolo by East-West Road. They were also arrested. And anytime I am driving and I see them on the road, I pursue them, and catch them. My security men also catch some and take them to the police station for proper investigation and prosecution.
That is why the other day, somebody told somebody by the side that he came to make delivery from Warri in Delta State, and he was surprised that he drove his truck from Choba to a company at the Obio/Akpor axis of Trans Amadi without winding up his truck’s door glasses or being harassed along the way. Which means that this issue of you are driving and touts are harassing you on the road in Obio/Akpor has reduced to the barest minimum!
We do not have any of such task forces! We do not! And that is why we advise the public, anywhere you see those touts parading themselves as task force members operating in Obio/Akpor, call us immediately or report them to the nearest police station. I don’t send anybody, I go there myself to arrest them. I don’t send people.
About a month or two ago, we heard that there was this set of hoodlums by Rumuokwuta to Mgbuoba Junction that operate and harass people anyhow. They were discussing it on a radio station, and one of my friends called me. So, I led a team to lay siege on the touts, and we apprehended them. And if you go there now, you won’t see any of those miscreants terrorising unsuspecting residents and motorists. But anywhere such things happen, and we get information on their operation, we immediately swing into action, and apprehend them. I explained to some journalists that came the other day what we have done by taking the lead to check touting in Obio/Akpor, and they acknowledged that our efforts were paying off.
I have a friend who has a business around Rumuodara axis of the East-West Road. I was in his office sometime last week, and his driver and motor boy came back. My friend asked the driver ‘what happened, I hope you have delivered the goods to the customer?’, and his driver said ‘no, that Obio/Akpor people caught him’. And my friend called my attention to the driver’s claim. And I asked him, ‘Obio/Akpor boys?, at where?’ And guess what the driver’s response was: He said they caught them at Patani; Patani in Delta State. Laughs! Yes, you may think it is funny, but that is how notorious the name, ‘Obio/Akpor boys’ has become. He came and told his ‘Oga’ that Obio/Akpor boys caught him! Yes! That is how bad it has become. They catch somebody at Enugu or Aba, and the next name the driver remembers is ‘Obio/Akpor boys caught me’. Anywhere they catch people for traffic violation, the next thing you hear is ‘Obio/Akpor boys impounded my vehicle’. So, since we came in, we have taken very proactive measures to stop all of that.
Apart from the task force that the governor instructed us to set up to make sure that articulated trucks and heavy duty vehicles obstructing driveways and major roads are removed to make way for free flow of vehicular movement in the capital city, we do not have any other task force. And as you can see, we have free flow of traffic in most strategic areas that use to experience heavy traffic gridlock in the city. Most of the articulated and heavy duty trucks are no longer blocking major access roads within the metropolis. Some of the areas that we identified, like around International Breweries at the Oginigba axis of Trans Amadi Industrial Layout, and Iriebe by the former Toll Gate on the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway, have been addressed. You hardly can find those heavy duty trucks blocking major roads anymore. Before now, you will just see them park anyhow and block vehicular movement. At least, we have brought sanity to our roads in Obio/Akpor. That is why we are pleading with the media people, anywhere you see such untoward parking on major roads within the local government, let us know; we will not hesitate to arrest the situation. We are here to serve the people of Obio/Akpor! We are pleading with the media people, when they hear or see violations of the law, or you see some people operating on the roads, always confirm who they are and on whose authority they are on the road before going to the press or on air to report, so that you don’t misinform the their shops or business premises. But we have given you enough time; we have announced in the media the timeline and deadline for you to pay. Early January to mid-February, we are on air all-through making announcements for people to come to the council and make your payments for the year. What else do you expect us to do? The moment we set up task forces now, they will start shouting to high heavens, they have come again; they are harassing us; they don’t want us to do our business. But you that was supposed to pay your obligations to the council; you have failed to do that, and you are blaming us for taking steps to recover our money. Because if you have come here to pay, we do not have any reason to set up any task forces that sometimes, are confrontational, to recover our money. And then, it becomes the issue of complaint. That is the problem we have!
And when you say, let me avoid these complaints, and not set up any task force, they still won’t come on their own to make the payment so that we can have money to work for our people. Or is it my personal money that I am going to use to work for the people? Is it my own money that I am going to use to pay for the Postgraduate grants? Or pay for the skills acquisition training for beneficiaries? Or for the projects we are doing? It is this money from levies, taxes, etc, that we are using to do them! And they make it look like if it comes, you put it in your pockets: it is not for personal aggrandisement! It is for the delivery of democracy dividends to the people. It is only those who do not have initiative that will not utilise the council’s money prudently to deliver quality services to the people. We are focused and resilient, and we know what to do to make our people, who elected us to serve them, happy.
But we are still reaching out to them. We will continue to appeal to business operators to come and do the needful for the good of all in the local government, because without that money, we cannot work. Let them stop patronising touts. They are the ones encouraging them. So, these are part of the major problems we experience in trying to harness our revenue for you to have the foundation to tell us we are the richest or we are the largest. There is no statistics to back that up! That is what it is.
Q: Chairman Sir, you have said a lot concerning your achievements in the past one year. I know it requires a lot of money for you to carry out these developmental projects in the local government. So, what are you doing to shore up the revenue base of the council by way of diversification of the economy of the local government?
A: Well, how do we diversify? Unless you are talking of it from the point of view of investments! But like I said, as it stands now, our core investment is in the area of human capacity development. The law allows us to provide support for health; education; build markets; parks; property approval and building permits; and collection of tenement rates and derivable levies. That is all the diversification you can talk about. Except you are talking of venturing into agriculture! We don’t have that capacity.
What we do is to see to what extent we can add value to improve the lives of our people directly. That is what we see as our own diversification or what can call investment; because we believe that by tomorrow, it will yield positive dividends. The multiplier effects arising therefrom can also count for us.
But out of that, we have the intention of building one or two new markets, or renovate one or two. We also plan to develop one or two more parks, because even if you do so, we have parks and markets already existing. You see those ones in those communities, even if you build more, they won’t allow you to come and collect the rent. By the time you want to press it, they will say you are confrontational. It is something when you come to experience it that you know better. If not, these are the little openings the law allows us to get involved in, in order to raise revenue for the council. Because we cannot on our own get involved in things the law does not permit us to do. What the law provide for us is: you establish markets; you establish parks; you collect daily tolls; and all of that. The diversification you are talking about now can only be in the area of investment. I think we are doing all we can outside our monthly allocation to boost our revenue and add to accelerate quality service delivery. It is what we have in our place here, that God has blessed us with, but the problem is how to harness it to enhance our revenue base because of the bottlenecks I have explained to you. That is what we are exploring.
We have our agents, and we are doing everything possible to tap all available options to increase our revenue base. I must also acknowledge that they are some companies and business operators in the local government that within the period given to them, the moment they receive our demand notice, they come to pay their due. But we still have some big companies that connive with these touts to evade payment of what is due the council.
Q: There are two issues I want to raise. One is a suggestion on what you may explore to raise your council’s revenue base. That suggestion is based on my understanding that you do not need to continue to do business as usual. I think you may need to digitise your revenue collection process by producing a website and database that captures, if not all, but at least, a significant number of those qualified within your revenue net, so that they do not need to physically come to your council to pay you your due. They can actually stay at the confine of their offices and shops, log in and pay for their operational permits, and others, and still get automated acknowledgement receipts and approvals necessary. This way, you eliminate the stress associated with manual collection of revenue, which is susceptible to corruption, fraud and touting. It also helps you do near-accurate revenue projections in terms of budgeting.
Cuts in!
A: We are working towards that. But one thing you must understand is, even at that, like I know how many filling stations that are operating in Obio/Akpor. I know how many hotels. In fact, we have a record of how many companies that are operating in our area. But no matter how you look at it, it takes a willing mind to pay what he or she is statutorily obligated to pay to the government. Anyone not interested in paying will not want to pay voluntarily. Majority of the people always wants to be forced to do the right thing. We do not have difficulty collecting the money. The issue is: are they willing to pay? Because it is a willing mind that will do what you are saying, whether automated or not. I hope you understand me? Those that are paying will be the same ones that will pay whether you automate the process or not, because it is a voluntary thing. What they hear is that one that officials will come and lock up their shops or business premises or carry their goods or wares. That is the problem: lack of people’s willingness to discharge their obligations voluntarily. Even when you spread the annual payment over a period of time within the year, those not ready and willing to pay, won’t pay.

Interjection! Chairman, let me step in here. Let us leave that issue, enough has already been said about it.

Q: Chairman, I know that this is not your problem, but a lot of motorists have been complaining about the bad gullies and craters near the entrance to your council’s gate on the Port Harcourt-Owerre Road. Why don’t you try to do something to rehabilitate those bad spots to ease free flow of traffic around this axis?
A: Oh! The one in front of the council secretariat? Somebody told me they talked about it on radio the other day. Well, two weeks after I assumed office, we tried to do something around that. But I have listened to some of the commentaries on radio. Some people actually feign ignorance on who has the responsibility to address that challenge.
You know that we have three tiers of government: The federal, state and local government. That responsibility falls squarely under the purview of the Federal Government, because it is a federal road. It is not even the duty of the state government to intervene, except it secures the go-ahead of the Federal Government.
If you are saying it as a suggestion, fine. We can consider it based on available resources to us. But it is not my responsibility as a council. It is not! We have a lot of competing needs that we are obligated to address as leaders at the local government level. Our people elected us to serve them, and we have to judiciously spend the scarce resources available to deliver for our people. It is not just something you wake up one day and throw yourself into. Do we have the money to do it? The answer is no!
And more so, they have given the contract to LCC, a construction company to handle. They are in the process of providing drainages on the road. It is a gradual process. They are doing the work! It is not as if vehicles are not passing the road. It is just that some people are just idle, and do not know what to say or do with their precious time. Some journalists just want people to listen to their stations, so they look for just anything to say to engage idle minds.
Q: Chairman, every job has its own risks and exposures. This job, for the past one year, has also exposed you to certain risks that you may not have anticipated. A case in point was early this year when your task force team on illegal crude oil refineries was accosted at a point around Rumuolumeni, and there was a near combat situation between some armed personnel of a Federal Government security agency and your team. My instinct tells me that you were physically present while the fight was raging. How did you feel about your safety during that confrontation?
A: Well, let me start it this way. You know that one of the questions you asked was that my local government is the richest. That is part of the risk. You won’t understand.
Well, that is what leadership is about. You can’t come here and just think it is a bed of roses. There are attendant risks associated with the job. That situation on that faithful day is one of such risks. Even in the job you do as a journalist, there are risks you face on a daily basis. It is what comes with the job, and you should be ready to face it. We are here to solve problems; we are here to face challenges first and foremost. This place is not a party hall; it is not a place for luxury. You that made up your mind to become council chairman must have also made up your mind to frontally tackle whatever challenges may arise during the course of your tenure.
So, it is not the team I sent. I was physically present there, and I was the one they were attacking for leading a team to disrupt and dismantle their illegal business activities in my council area. It was the confrontation I had with men of Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) at Rumuolumeni. I was the one with the guy that had a gun; I was the person in the video that went viral on social media. It is what it is: it is governance! It is leadership! You must confront issues as there arise. Because: what is democracy? It is all about the people! What is governance? It is all about the people! The centrepiece of it is the people.
So, whatever it is that is affecting your people that you have sworn to govern, should be your personal challenge. We knew the effect of the soot pandemic everywhere in the state until the governor intervened and took the proactive step, and ordered the chairmen of the 23 local government councils to ensure that the operators and sponsors of illegal oil bunkering activities in the communities are identified and reported to appropriate authorities for investigation and prosecution while their sites should be closed permanently. He ordered the chairmen to join the fight because there is no way he can do it alone. After all, we relate more closely with the people at the grassroots. It bothers on our people. The soot was affecting the health of our people.
So, for you to be a leader, no matter the level, you should be resilient; your mind should be made up to confront most of these challenges head-on. Some people have lost their lives in the course of defending their people. That is leadership! And if you are not ready to sacrifice for your people, then, you do not deserve to be a leader. So, that is the motivating factor that we have to keep pushing because it is in the interest of our people.
Q: Chairman, you talked about what you were doing at Rumuekini: the fish arm. I will like to know: what is the state of that farm, today? Is it producing? Are we earning money from the farm already? Secondly, Obio/Akpor has a serious challenge of refuse disposal. We understand the challenges, especially when the issue of refuse disposal was handed over to you by the governor when Rivers State Waste Management Agency (RIWAMA) had problems. What is the situation now? And how are you coping with that to ensure that the local government is free of filth?
A: Well, we thank God that as it stands now, a task force has been set up by the governor to take over that responsibility. But while it lasted, it was a daunting experience. A big one at that! It was an intervention that we got involved directly. But experience has that refuse collection and disposal is a serious business. Very serious business managed by very serious-minded people!
Of course, refuse is produced in seconds. And you know that it is human beings that produce waste. So, it follows that where you have high concentration of the population, the tendency is that you have more refuse produced by the seconds within that area. Like Obio/Akpor, if you talk about population concentration, it doubles that of Port Harcourt City. That is why we seem to have more waste than any other local government in the state.
It has always been the responsibility of RIWAMA. But through the directive of the governor, we intervened and did what we were able to do to help. The job has reverted to RIWAMA, and the task force is in-charge now. We even attended a meeting at the invitation of the task force, yesterday, to ask us on what experience we have garnered and what suggestions we could make to help them do even better. We had very candid conversations around the issues, and we also made suggestions for seamless refuse collection and disposal in the capital city through a strategic synergy that works for the good of all in the communities.
Of course, the local government council must be involved; just as the communities must also be involved, because they are the ones generating the refuse. So, they should also be involved in all-round monitoring and supervision of evacuation at the receptacles and compaction at the dumpsites, because we have the manpower at this level. We know that most of the refuse contractors, if you don’t supervise and monitor them very closely, they won’t do their jobs diligently. So, we need to work with RIWAMA for them to succeed. All the same, we thank God that we were able to do that job, but it was very overwhelming, I must admit.
Now, back to the issue of the Rumuekini fish farm. Yes, as it is today, it is not functioning optimally. We are trying to work out modalities for its efficient and effective operation. But we said, if we finish securing the place first, to be sure, then, we can begin the next process. We want to set up an agro-based business there outside of the fish farm in partnership with interested investors. We are talking with some people already, and we believe that by the time we are one, we would have bequeathed a thriving agro-based business portfolio that will not only employ a lot of our people but also generate income for many families and the council as well.
If we are to continue with the facility, we may have to totally renovate and expand it. Our intention initially was to, because it is in units, just to add extra units, make them modern, and then, in each unit, raise like two or three women, give them money to run it as a business. They will manage it, sell and make returns to the council, no matter how little. We are working that out. Now that we have been able to secure the place, it will now give us that platform to work out something. My supervisor for agriculture is working out the modalities. We are talking with a team from Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and two or three other organisations to see how the place can be optimised for the good of the people of Obio/Akpor.
Q: Going forward, what are we expecting from you in Obio/Akpor?
A: Yes, we have hit the ground running. Like I said, in the area of human capital development, we will continue with our Post-Graduate grants. We will also continue with our vocational skills acquisition programme. We will do another two sets. The PG Programmes, we will do another two sets of 50 for PhD and 50 for Masters. So, at the end of our three-year tenure, we would have produced 150 PhD and 150 Masters degree holders.
We have other very important projects we want to embark upon. First among them is the Secondary School Block we promised to build for Woji community. We are thinking about one or two important link roads in the two constituencies of Obio and Akpor that make up the local government. If it is not something that can go round all the 17 wards, we do it constituency-by-constituency. If it can go beyond the constituency by not up to the ward level, we do it by clans, like what we did with the Charkin Academy admission. We could not carry the burden at the ward level by choosing 17 persons, as to one from each ward. So, what we did was use the nine clans as a basis for the selection of beneficiaries. In Evo, we have three clans – Oro-Evo, Oro-Esara, and Oro-Opotoma, that is in constituency one; in constituency two, we have three clans – Akpor, Apara, and Rumueme; then, the remaining, we gave to non-indigenes of Obio/Akpor. That was how we distributed the slots for the Charkin admission. So, we had a balance in the selection process.
All we can say is that Obio/Akpor people should expect more from us. And above all of these is the programme we want to start for our women petty traders. You know that we do not have farm lands anymore. Our women used to be very industrious and hardworking farmers, but with the lands gone to urbanisation, the only available space they have now, they display pepper, tomatoes, vegetables, and all those foodstuffs. So, we think we can encourage them by giving seed money to improve their trades; maybe, N10,000 to N20,000 revolving facility, so that we can reach as many women as possible in the communities. That way, we will help them boost their small businesses to support their families, and also help the council grow economically. So, that will be our focus too in no distant time.
The moment we are sure that it is workable, and will impact positively on the people, we will kick-start it, maybe, towards the end of the year, and nosedive into next year. We have already told them that it is not going to be business as usual. They have to be judicious and frugal in the management of whatever they are given, because it is not for free; they have to pay back the money. The structures have to be in place to make the scheme sustainable.
We also have a scheme for the youths. We will identify the ones that are ready to be engaged, and want to eke out a living for themselves, if they get any support. Then, with the scheme, we will support them to be useful to themselves and the society. That way, we would have strengthened the economies of our communities; and built a more resilient and peaceful society.
We are going to do all these because we have the interest of our people at heart. We promised to address their challenges when we come on board, and we have to keep our promise. We will not disappoint them.

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