Worried by the ongoing scarcity of petroleum products across the country, resulting into long queues at filling stations our Abuja correspondent, Justus Awaji sought the views of the Hon. Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) on the development.
Mr Ajumogobia used the opportunity to shed light on plans by his ministry to sensitise the people on the domestic use of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) which he claims is produced in abundance in the Niger Delta, among other matters.
Long queues have returned to the filling stations again. What’s responsible for this latest queues and how is government tackling it?
The queues you saw recently were not across the country, although I did see some media reports suggesting they were across the country. They arose out of a financial dispute between some members of the Petroleum Tankers Drivers’ Association and MTEL; and this led to an embargo of fuel into Abuja. But I am happy to say we were able to intervene and the embargo was lifted.
The resurgence of queues in the last few days has been due to hoarding and corrupt tendencies where products have been loaded for distribution into Abuja but have been diverted and not been sold at filling stations in Abuja. We discovered that the tankers often only off load part of their contents while holding on to the rest of it with a view to profiteering. I think it is absolutely related to the marketer’s expectation of the removal of the subsidy and the deregulation of the market.
People are, in anticipation of that, beginning to do what they often do at this time of the year which is to hoard and to try to make inordinate profit.
Some filling stations are already selling fuel between N90.00 and N 100.00 per litre. What’s government’s reaction to this?
Well, I think this only highlights the point that I’ve tried to make consistently since I became Minister of State for Petroleum. Which is that as long as we have distortion in the market as a result of a regulated regime, where the product has a greater value outside filling stations, we are going to have this sort of thing. Of course, it’s illegal and I directed the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to shut down any station where this is prevalent.
And of course DPR is limited in its reach and capacity to deal with such irregularities; the limited number of operatives can not police the over 15,000 filling stations across the country. But any where that we find this happening, we will intervene. It however again highlights, what I said – the fact that people will pay for a product when they need it at a price they consider to be reasonable for themselves. That’s when you find some stations – as your question suggests – where people were buying it at N 80.00; some people were buying it at N 90.00; some people were buying at N 100.00. In a deregulated market such disparities would quickly disappear.
That is what a deregulated market does. It creates opportunities for wider chance and competition within the market place.
In view of the prevailing situation at filling stations, what’s the government doing this festive season to ensure that buyers don’t pay through their nose?
What we are doing is to ensure that there is adequate supply. By supply I mean the volume of products that is being imported and distributed across the country. Unfortunately, and I say unfortunately with all sincerity, the refineries are not functioning at the moment as a result of senseless vandalism. Sadly, this now applies to all our refineries.
So we are now 100% dependent on importation. What government is doing is to issue licenses to major marketers under pre-existing arrangement to supplement NNPC’s guarantee of adequate supply. NNPC is doing its own bit to ensure supply but we have to appeal to those who market the product not to exploit their fellow citizens by taking advantage of the fact of this festive season when demand typically goes up as a result of lots of people travelling. Because of the regulated nature of the market, only a few people have licenses to import so they control where their fuel goes and they can easily exploit the situation; government is doing its best to monitor and regulate. We will bring to book those who take advantage of their dominant position in the market place by terminating the privilege that a regulation policy confers on them.
But again, I think it highlights the stance of this government and our efforts to get Labour and all Stakeholders to partner with us in implementing the deregulation policy.
So we should expect a hitch-free Christmas, in terms of availability and buying of the products?
Yes, we are working to make it hitch free. We are doing everything we can. I think, this is the third Christmas that I would have in the saddle and I think Nigerians will testify that this will be the third Christmas that has been hitch-free from the perspective of fuel supply despite the myriad challenges. Last year, we didn’t have queues at filling stations, the Christmas the year before – 2007 – the same. We hope that this year will also be the same.
Kerosene scarcity and resultant hike in its price is adversely affecting the common people, especially in the local communities. Any reprieve in sight? When will this end in a nation that produces petroleum products?
The reason as I said is because the refineries are down so kerosene is suffering from the same malady as petrol: importation and exploitation but in short and medium term, what we hope to do is to roll out a plan for the use of LPG; this is one of my top priorities for 2010. We have a lot of LPG being produced in the country and there is no reason why people should be dependent on Kerosene and fire wood for cooking when we have gas in abundance. It’s a cheaper, cleaner fuel and we are in the process of rolling out plans to create bigger market for the use of LPG for our people.
In the meantime, we are trying to fix the crude lines to the refineries to ensure that we can continue to produce Kerosene at much lower price for the people of this country.
In spite of government’s repeated meetings with Labour and attempt to explain its position (to Labour) on the planned deregulation of the down stream petroleum sector, Labour is still not shifting ground. What will government do at this stage?
Well, I think Labour has shifted ground – from a position where they were completely against the removal of subsidy and the deregulation of the down stream.
The arguments we have recently been hearing from the NLC in particular now is that government should remove some of the distortions from the market place, by fixing the refineries, fixing our pipelines, fixing our jetties and loading arms, fixing our roads so that the public are not paying for some of these inefficiencies at exorbitant prices.
I think that is the departure – a shift from the traditional emotive position of a typical “No” to deregulation posture. We are working with them to make our point that the money that we realise from the removal of the subsidy will be used to do these things urgently. It seems to me that rather than paying subsidy to a small group of people who are clearly exploiting the situation, it’s more prudent to use those resources immediately to address the challenges in the down stream. Now, should we achieve perfection before we make progress? I think, not! We should make progress in order to attain perfection. I look forward to engaging the NLC in this new debate.
How will government tackle Labour in the course of a nationwide strike because already Labour has threatened to ground the nation if government goes ahead to implement its policy on deregulation, with its resultant hike in the prices of petroleum products?
We are still in this important dialogue with Labour. That conversation has not stopped. There has been a shift in the stance, the usual hard-lined stance of Labour. They now appreciate the down side – if you like – of a regulated down stream. And they are now saying, what will government do to mitigate the difficulties that will arise from the immediate price hike that will follow deregulation? That is where our conversation with Labour is now so I don’t foresee that we will have an adversarial confrontation with Labour. Dialogue works.
Concerned Nigerians who spoke with this correspondent on the nagging issue agree with government that deregulation is good for the nation but advises that government should first put certain things in place like getting refineries work again. Will government heed this advice?
That is the point I made earlier that people have argued that refineries should be fixed first. Beyond fixing the refineries, as I said before, it’s also about the capacity of NNPC to run the refineries. They have retrenched a lot of people over the years that the refineries have not been working. Therefore, I think it’s a little more than just fixing the refineries; it’s also about the manpower to run the refineries in a sustainable way. Its about giving the refineries managers the authority and resources to run these facilities.
Recently, I said when I gave one of the interviews to one of the newspapers (TIDE) that the repairs on the line feeding Kaduna refinery was almost completed. I came back (to the country from official engagement abroad) last week to hear that 46 new rupture powers have been discovered on the line! This was just in the last two weeks so this is a continuing challenge and of course, all these things have security implications.
And as long as we cannot get crude across to the refineries, we are going to have challenges with refined products. So in the short term, we should of course continue to try and put the refineries in order and ensure delivery of feed stock. We have also engaged the security agencies to police the pipelines. That’s all we can do to ensure the refineries actually work and to get them to work at maximum capacity to reduce the burden of importation.
The burden of importation remains because even working at full capacity, our power refineries can only produce enough to meet under 50% of our daily consumption.
Your views on Kaduna refinery alluded to are contained in your last interview with THE TIDE?
That’s right! I stand by those views.
As far as government is concerned, when exactly will deregulation take off?
You can see already that there are queues (at some filling stations), on account of speculation as to when deregulation will take off. If I announce that deregulation will be implemented from a particular date, the queues will get longer immediately because people will take advantage of the situation. We are in a dialogue with all stakeholders to try and get a reasonable level of consensus but there will always be groups, even within Labour that will continue to disagree with government policy in this regard.
There are unreasonable hard line groups that say, ‘crude oil’ belongs to us all and therefore petrol should be given free by government. They cite examples of Libya and other countries. There are some hard liners like that but the leadership of Labour is very knowledgeable and understands the issues, sometimes even better than I do.
And I think the leadership of Labour movement is very well informed as far as the benefits of deregulation are concerned. Their argument is that they have repeatedly witnessed past governments make promises and not keeping their promises. So it’s a matter of trust. What we are trying to build is trust. Once we have their trust – let’s work together in this or that direction – I think the issue of strike and confrontation will be a thing of the past.
But we have gone even further: I say to them (Labour) ‘you don’t have to trust us (government) let’s set targets; lets work out modalities and targets’ – what are we going to do with these funds that are otherwise used to subscribe fuel. We can appropriate funds for specific things that we collectively agree that should be done as part of the measures to mitigate the difficulties that may arise from the initial escalation of price and we can monitor it so they can now challenge us to perform. The strike remains a viable tool to draw attention to our failures that affect their members.
Labour can continue to play that role of a watch dog to protect workers, and to ensure we do what we say we’ll do. We agree that “things are not well”. That’s why government is anxious to implement policies that will make things better in the shortest time.
What exactly do the masses stand to benefit from deregulation because many out there are still confused about this policy of government since there are conflicting opinions on it?
For a start, jobs! A more robust market, a huge market that is to be created as a result of deregulation of the down stream. Today we export jobs. Refineries abroad are operating with our crude oil!
Today, no new refineries are being built because the investor cannot see how he can recover his investment in the market place where the government fixes the price of the product. The subsidy arrangement where government pays the difference between what they are compelled to sell at, and what their cost of production and margin is, favours importation. Even then, it takes time, sometimes six months before importers get paid. No serious investor will source the money that is required to build refining capacity in this setting. So if we deregulate there will be substantial new investment in the down stream, which will create new jobs and other economic opportunities for our people.
Every new refinery will have its own impact in the community that it will serve in terms of services that it will provide in and around that environment. That’s the truth. And many other businesses will be established to serve workers in the refinery e.g. food vendors, artisans, suppliers etc. I think that the most important thing about deregulation (of the down stream) is that it will create wealth; it will create new opportunities for job creation in the economy; it will create opportunities for new businesses; it will create opportunities for people to exploit their creative talents
I think that is what people cannot see at this point in time. People just imagine that if we deregulate there will be higher price (of petroleum products). They don’t see that at the end of the day, what we all pray for: that is, that there should be more money in our pockets (will be realised). So even if there is higher price, we can afford that higher price. That’s the truth about it.
Government has announced a 10% Equity share to oil producing communities. Government policies are often encumbered by implementation, how do we intend ensuring that the 10% actually gets to the communities, and not hijacked or abused by some powerful individuals or group?
I think what Mr. President announced is a policy that is designed to give a direct stake holding to the oil producing communities in the oil producing sector. That has been at the heart of the conflict in the Niger Delta; simply put these are communities that are oil–bearing; the oil is extracted from our community lands and the revenue that is derived thereof is used to develop other places. The area where the oil comes from has suffered as usual, neglect. If we give a direct ownership stake in the companies exploiting these resources, then benefits will accrue to those who come from those communities.
I think that’s the thrust of the idea of the 10% (Equity). The modalities, of course, are a lot more complicated, in terms of defining who the communities are. What defines a community? What shape will the grassroot organisations that will hold this Equity take? How do you ensure that revenue accruing from this arrangement is fairly and equitably distributed or purposefully utilized. How do we cater for those yet unborn? Who will the trustees be? The communities will have to select those who will manage these trusts and so on.
These are the modalities that a committee has been setup to investigate and to advice on. I think the concept is good; The concept is what the President (Umaru Musa Yar’adua) is passionate about in ensuring that those of us who come from the region have a direct stake in oil business in the region.
What parameter will the government use in disbursing the 10% Equity share? What of communities that don’t produce oil but have pipelines run through their lands and creeks and have also had their own share of hazards arising from pipelines explosion, will they benefit?
A lot of work needs to be done both at the Federal, State, Local government and community levels; the traditional rulers and youth leaders too must be involved. We need to determine those parameters; for example – there are some communities that host flow stations; there are others that don’t have anything other than a pipeline running through them, there are some communities that don’t have a pipeline running through them, what they have is a right of way and you can’t get to the oil facilities without passing through their communities. So if they say nobody can pass through their community, this would be a potiential source of conflict. If not defined properly and reasonably it could be self defeating.
How do we treat these various categories? Those are some of the issues that make it complicated. The issues have to be addressed in conjunction and collaboration with the host communities themselves through their representatives.
The issue of Equity as in shareholding is a legal one – it’s a legal concept that basically defines having a share of a business. Now a share of a business means you share both in the plus and in the minus so if the business is doing well, you get dividends; if the business is not so doing well, as badly you don’t get dividends and if the business need more money to expand then the Shareholders, the Equity holders must contribute in equal proportion to the business – for you to expand the business.
That’s the part of equity that a lot of people don’t appreciate; when they do, the host communities themselves may feel: ‘we don’t want to be part of the minus, we want to be part of the plus’ – in which case that would no longer be equity or shareholding. That’s why I say once the process has been discussed and people (have been) educated and enlightened on what government is proposing, they’ll have there own input.
Certainly for me, and I come from the region, I’m not sure that I’ll be necessarily happy with a situation where I may not derive any income even though I own equity. I prefer a situation where I’m guaranteed a certain income or revenue as a result of the activities that’s taking place in my area.
The President sets up a committee to look at the modalities and see what is the best way to deal with the issue of host community stake holding in the revenue stream from oil business. That’s how I see it as a member of host community myself.
What should Nigerians expect from your Ministry in the remaining week(s)?
We’ll try and make sure that there are no queues at the filling stations that people became used to several years ago; that resulted in people having a very bleak Christmas because instead of spending time with your family, you are spending time queuing at the filling station.
We are doing everything in time to ensure that there is adequate supply of fuel. We are also doing what we can to ensure that people sell the product until such time as the market is deregulated at the price that government has indicated and with the hope that we in meantime will build the necessary stakeholder consensus on deregulation
In the circumstance, what’s your Christmas message to the people – marketers and consumers of the product?
I think the message of Christmas is good will to each other. And that means we should not exploit each other, especially the marketers. My message is peace and goodwill to all my compatriots.
What kind of budget are you proposing for next year, bearing in mind the leading role your ministry plays in moving the economy to greater heights?
The budget next year (2010) is to try and consolidate on the gains of this year (2009) and some of the things we talked about – monitoring the crude output, ensuring that we get products across the country at a reasonable price – building the infrastructure that is required to do that; working on ending gas flaring, we are determined to ensure that there is no flaring at the end of the first term of this administration. We have already reduced it considerably.
To do that, we have to build significant infrastructure to be able to take the gas from its source to where it is going to be utilized. I intend to role out a robust LPG utilization plan. So the budget – the critical parts of the budget are to deal with the issues of regulating the industry and building the infrastructure that is necessary to realize the aspirations and electoral processes of government.
House of Representative’s committee on petroleum resources on a recent tour of oil installations in the South West berated the Federal Government for what it calls ‘insincerity’ in making the refineries work and calls for privatization of the refineries. What’s your reaction? What’s government’s position on privatization/commercialization of refineries?
Under the reform of the oil and gas industry, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will be reconstituted as limited liability company – private company own by the government, but a limited liability; now required to think and act like any other limited liability companies in responsibility to its shareholders. In that scenario, NNPC will have to make some very important decisions with regard to its business units, which include the refineries at the moment, as to how to ensure that they are running effectively. Privatization will be one of the mechanisms that they may engage in, in terms of having the right to sell off a business, if they feel they cannot run it profitably and they will make more gain by doing so.
So I don’t want to pre-empt what the NNPC Management in that reform context will do. I personally believe that government is best left to creating policies and implementing policies – providing an enabling environment for business to thrive. NNPC hitherto has been like a government parastatal – in the way that government is effectively running the refineries and I think, that is partly why things have not worsened; where NNPC is required to ensure that it carries out its operations for profit we will see a difference and of course, that’s without prejudice to the management deciding that they should sell off parts or all of their refining capacity.
Finally, you are a member of Federal Executive Council (FEC). Chairman of FEC and the Nation’s President, Umaru Musa Yar’adua has been out of the country to Saudi Arabia on medical ground for some weeks now, Nigerians have variously expressed concern over his health condition and long absence. In particular, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has recently called on the President to write the National Assembly on the appointment of Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan as ‘Acting President’, especially since his doctors are not definite as to when he will return to the country. How would you react to this?
I think unfortunately, politicians, especially politicians from the opposition are playing politics with the health of the President. The President is the president of all Nigerians, including the opposition politicians. He is indeed in many respect an embodiment of the nation and all should join hands to pray for his speedy recovery and return to Nigeria. I have faith that that will happen soon.
I don’t personally believe all the statements credited the NBA President. I know him very well and he is a very responsible and mature leader. I must say I am very disappointed by some of the statements made and credited by some prominent NBA members. But I think the calls made by these NBA members are out of place, irresponsible and should be seen as such. I think a responsible organization like NBA should pro-actively explain the legal imperatives and processes to the public rather than joining opposition politicians to play politics with the issue.
Under our constitution, the President may in his discretion assign to the Vice President or any Minister responsibility for any business of the government. When the president is away he is presumed by law to have done so. That’s why I and all my cabinet colleagues are working on anything under this delegated authority requiring higher approval. We refer to the Vice President or FEC in the usual way under the same delegated authority. There is no crisis. It’s all politics. No vacuum. But it’s irresponsible politics.
This is not the first time that the President has been out of the country on health ground. The government continues to function effectively and there is therefore no reason for one to be concerned in the way that some of the statements made in the media mischievously suggest.
Those Demarketing Rivers Should Stop Spreading Falsehood -Sophia
Only recently, the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications orgainsed an essay competition for students in the State as part of the second phase of the advocacy campaign of #Our StateOurResponsibility, aimed at changing the negative narrative about the State.
The first prize winner of the competition, Miss Oyibo Sophia Awajibenem, now the Ambassador of the programme and the face of the Information and Communications Ministry for three months, is truly passionate about advancing the frontiers of the campaign.
In this encounter with our General Manager, Ernest Chinwo and Group News Editor, Victor Tew, she dwells extensively on the imperatives of potraying the state in its true positive status, given the giant strides of the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and many more.
Could you please, tell us about yourself?
I am Oyibo Sophia Awajibenem from Ngo in Andoni Local Government Area. I am 18 years old. I am a public health student. I reside in Port Harcourt.
I school at Port Harcourt Joint Professional Training and Support International Institute.
I am the Ambassador of the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications. I am patriotic and ready to achieve more success.
I will like to further my education in order to become a Medical Doctor.
How do you intend to go about that in terms of resources and all that?
It is by being studious. By going out there to read and gain information, do my research and also being focused. The determination in me will keep me focused
Why did you participate in the essay competition orgainsed by the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications on the advocacy programme tagged. #OurStateOur Responsibility?.
I did it because I love the vision of #OurState OurResponsibility. I deemed it fit to participate to promote our State as an individual and also as a youth.
What really spurred you into partaking in the essay competition? Is it because of the pecuniary benefit attached to it or an altruistic concern to change the narrative of the State?
Firstly, I never saw the competition as a challenge. I just wanted to write the truth. I wanted to make known what I felt was what we as individuals, as the State should do.
I wanted to spread the love. It is not just about your personal benefit or your personal need. It should go around, it is collective.
What was the major attraction to you?
I don’t want to use the word major because I saw just the Ambassadorial duty. First to be the Ambassador of the ministry before I ever read down to see that there was a cash prize attached to it. I wasn’t concerned about the cash prize, I was concerned about being an Ambassador. I wanted to represent that and that was the goal.
When you submitted your essay and was shortlisted, how did you feel?
I felt overwhelmed, this is where the trust comes in. They should know who we are personally and believe in us, that it is actually from within. I had to go there, to do what I had to do because it was not something that was forged, it is the passion in letting people know. So I felt appreciated by that means.
OurStateOur Responsibility. How do you see it?
It is a vision. It is telling us that we have roles, obligations, duties to perform in the state. When we say #OurStateOur Responsibility, it includes everyone. We are the State, we are the government and that responsibility is what we have to render to the state.
Well, there was a statement credited to you in your essay. You did say that you remembered a piece by Erekosima.What did you think about that piece?
The piece by Boma Erekosima is a motivation. It is what inspired me to write, to participate in the essay writing. It actually spelt out my essay. That piece was a summary of what I wrote.
Can you recount it?
Love Rivers State or leave her alone, don’t pull us down, see what you can do for us, engage yourself in meaningful activities, no room for gossip and do something meaningful.
How does it relate to us, the youths of today, our politicians, those who are trying to pull the State down and those who don’t have the interest of the State?
When we say we should love the State, it means that we should love ourselves, everything about the State, we shouldn’t be into propaganda, we shouldn’t spread rumours, flasehood. We should appreciate the fact that our State is improving. We should see the progress, we shouldn’t just vandalise those things that have been provided for us. We should use them as resources. We shouldn’t be idle because an idle man is the devil’s workshop.
We should grab opportunities, work with them and make them a success.
We find our youth involved in anti-social activities. So, what is your message to youths of Rivers State?
There is no benefit in doing things that are irrelevant. We should put our vision where it will benefit everyone, it should not just be personal. Don’t do things that are illegal. Grab opportunities that will promote the nation, that way, we all can grow.
How do you think the youths can be detached from being used as political thugs and all that?
If they are given proper knowledge about the consequences of the things they indulge in, I feel that it will bring them to the consciousness that they are better off than being thugs. Proper orientation of being good in the society to be leaders of tomorrow. That way, they will see the bright side of it and focus on good visions in promoting theState.
If you are asked to draw up a sensitisation programme for youths, how would you go about it?
I will start with an orientation or a sensitisation programme because it does not just start like that. You make them understand, you bring them to their notice and do a follow up. When you tell somebody about something, as you let them be, you are not really convinced that you are passing the message to them. You have to follow them up, bring up situations and platforms that will ensure that they are actually rooted in being successful.
As the face of the state Ministry of Information and Communications programme: #Our State Our Responsibility, what would you like to do?
As an Ambassador, I am an advocate of something, an advocate of the vision, #OurState Our Responsibility. I am here to start a programme to enlighten the youths about the good opportunities that abound in the State and to make our leaders know that we are not lazy and we have talents and if only we are given the platform to showcase them, we will do better.
It is something that we as youths have to bring out the best in us.
OurStateOur Responsibility, how do you see it?
It is a vision. #OurStateOur Responsibility is a vision that is telling us that we have roles, obligations and duties to perform in the State and when we say #OurStateOur Responsibility, it is not just one person, it is everybody in the State.
Some politicians in a bid to score some cheap political points have been known to brand the State as unsafe for people to live in, unsafe for investments and all that, do you share in that view?
No, I don’t, because we are in this State. We go out and come in to our houses. We should be security conscious. For investors, people who go about their business activities, I feel that the trust should be there.
There should be a benefit of the doubt and as far as Rivers State is concerned, we are the people who will showcase the business. We should be exemplary.
So there is no room for falsehood or any kind of conviction that we are not safe. We are safe.
So what is your advice to those demarketing the State?
I will say that they should stop spreading falsehood. There is no gain in spreading lies. At least, they should come and see for themselves. And those investors also for you to invest in a place, you should have a background check on whoever you are going to invest with or who your investors are for you to know better. Not just by word of mouth but seeing it.
How do you see the Wike administration
He has really done well. The Rivers State of yesterday can not be compared to what we have now. Port Harcourt is beautiful and safe. Port Harcourt is filled with so many businesses, so many organisations are doing well, so there is prosperity.
What about human capital development, are you impressed?
I am, because it is improving. it is not like how it was before. we are doing well.
Rivers State is blessed.
As an Ambassador of the Ministry, what is your advice to the youths, politicians and leaders?
To the youths, I will say success is not determined by age grade or age limit, we need to grab opportunities. we do not have to wait for us to be told what we have to do. We recognise who we are. Because we are the leaders of tomorrow and it starts now.
We shouldn’t wait till that level where they throw accusations at us that we are not doing anything. We need to show that we are ready for the future.
To the politicians, I feel that education is the key; knowledge is power, they should actually support the youth and everyone in Rivers State and they shouldn’t do things that make youths to regret.
They should support that which is good, education , security and also when it comes to bringing up talents. I feel that there should be more investments.
To our leaders. they should keep up the good work, because we look up to them.
They should be exemplary, they should be disciplined.
There is this misconception that the youths of our State are only interested in what they can do for money to come immediately and are not conscious to the extent of working hard, believing that their efforts will yield dividend tomorrow. So they prefer what they can get now What is your reaction to that?
I feel that it is a practice. It is not our culture because we have to be hard working. we have to be professional, we have to know what we have to do to attain such position, is not by having it immediately, because that is theft, corruption and greed.
We have to work diligently to get what we want. So it is wrong for anybody to have any amount of money that is not from a genuine source.
I feel that all we need to do is to put our hands on deck to work for that which is right at all times.
One thing we have noticed in our State, especially the state capital is indiscriminate dumping of refuse. Are we saying that it is not part of our responsibility to keep our State clean?
It is our responsibility to keep our environment clean and safe because when our environment is dirty, it affects our health. so we should actually work at our health, our wellbeing and also we have agencies which are controlling that. If the agencies are working, it is our responsibility to support them in making the place clean, because we all are humans and it will be inhuman for some one to be working for the cleaniness of our environment then, we all make the place dirty.
It’s not right. So our responsibility is taking it up to ourselves as humans to make our environment clean.
You were Commissioner for Information for 30minutes, how do you feel about that?
It was amazing, it was a rare opportunity, and I feel that for anyone to sit there as a commissioner, then, there is a whole lot to do, it is not just by saying it but it is by showing it. Our Honourable Commissioner, I know is showing it because having sat there, I saw so many opportunities on that seat and this has actually motivated me to do more to sit there one day.
Having sat there for at least 30minutes or so, will you go into politics?
Yes. For you to be a citizen, involving in politics is just what to get you to that level, it is not a bad thing.
What extent has your participation in this essay competition motivated you?
It actually gives me an opportunity to meet people, to see things, to have views, to hear about what the world is saying. So, I feel that encouragement is not by saying or being an Ambassador, it is being here in the State and doing more for the State. So, I feel motivated to bring that picture and few presentations of what the vision is, that is what I feel.
As an Ambassador for some weeks now, what has been your kind of schedule? Have you met some new persons, some new opportunities so far?
It has been excellent, but not easy, because this time around in my life, I try to schedule things and share some of my times there is time management and there is this hospitality you have to show to everyone because they want to know more about you. You give them the chance to express themselves, and that has actually made me to realise and have the knowledge about everything and because they throw questions you are not familiar with. That gives me the room to read more, that gives me the room for human resources management, to understand people, to actually know more about people, to understand their mood and where they are headed to, and to understand their different perspectives and to know what they indulge in.
Where do you see Rivers State tomorrow and in the future? .
We are already in the future because we are getting to the top; I see an extraordinary State; I see a beautiful State; I see a State that is without or should I say with less corruption, that is with more of development. That is where I see Rivers State.
Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke
His Majesty King (Dr) Leslie Nyebuchi Eke, Eze Gbakagbaka, Eze Oha Evo III of Evo Kingdom in Obio/Akpor Local government Area of Rivers State, is a First Class Traditional Ruler.
Trained as a Biological Scientist at Illinois State University, Bloomington Normal, United States of America, he holds a Masters Degree and Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) from Wycliffe University & ATS, California.
Suave, ebullient, accessible, humble, down-to-earth and cerebral, Eke is also the Secretary General of the Association of Niger Delta Monarchs (ANDMON) and the Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State Chapter of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities (TROMPCOM).
In this exclusive interview with our Production Editor, Donatus Ebi and cameraman, Egberi A. Sampson, Eke poignantly bares his mind on sundry issues affecting the State and the nation. He particularly eulogises the Executive Governor of the State, Chief Nyesom Wike for the giant development strides of his administration within the past six years and comes to the inevitable conclusion that he has surpassed the achievements of his predecessors, having performed beyond the expectation of Rivers people.
His Majesty, by virtue of all that you have seen in the State in the past six years, what are your comments on the achievements of Governor Nyesom Wike?
As it concerns us and the Governor, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is God-sent, a purposeful Governor, a vision-full Governor and a man that knows why he is Governor, why he did come to contest and contested as Governor. And this man, meticulously, seriously, honestly, has continued, day by day, month by month, to roll out projects that are impactful to the society, to Rivers people. Roads infrastructure, schools, hospitals, human capacity, I mean continuously. This man has turned the Garden City into a city of flyovers. And that is very meaningful. We very much appreciate such a person. And unfortunately, he can’t go for a third term. We wish he goes for a third term. He is going to give so much to the Rivers people.
He has made us so proud. He has distinguished himself among the Governors and governments in Nigeria. All the things he has done, other governments and even the Federal Government should learn from him.
A case in point is the Coronavirus pandemic. Our Governor took proactive actions in time and that is why Rivers State did not suffer much from the pandemic and they had to learn from him. He has impacted on the people commercially, economically and otherwise. Even our Christian lives have improved because he gave this State to God and declared it a Christian State. He built an Ecumenical Centre and God literally has come down to work with His people and has begun to give us a sense of direction, a sense of belonging. We appreciate so much from the man, who has unlike others, really worked even in the second term, working like it was the first term. And we are grateful to God for all his achievements. He is a true Ikwerre son. We appreciate him. We pray that he would find more to do even after he has left this stage of governance. We couldn’t have had it any other way.
Would you then say that Governor Wike has performed beyond expectation?
Very true. This Governor has done beyond expectation. Looking at precedents, looking at people before him, what he has done even per month, it is unequalled anytime, anywhere in the history of Rivers State. This Governor has done so much.
In spite of all that you have seen he has done, is it not surprising that there are still pockets of opposition in the State?
Well, it is unfortunate but we must have opposition. We must have people that agree and people that don’t agree. It is normal. We just want to encourage them to criticise constructively. They should engage in constructive criticisms. They should criticise him constructively. Not just opening your mouth for opening sake. This time around, it will be very difficult. You know, he has been accused of 3D projects. It is no longer 3D now, because you can come there and see it for yourself. You will see the flyovers. Who does three flyovers at the same time? Nobody. And he has told us that he has more, seven more to deliver to Rivers people and put us on the world map of very very improved humane settlements. We appreciate that.
You said it is unfortunate that the Governor won’t run for a third term, but there are people out there calling on him to run for the Presidency come 2023. What is your take on this?
At his point, I am not a politician. For him to run for a federal office, it is entirely his prerogative, it is at his discretion. It is left for him to decide. He has to watch the politicial terrain and decide what he wants. But one thing is sure. Anywhere this Governor, Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike finds himself, he would deliver on his promises, he would deliver on the NEED Assessment of the people. This man is in tune with development. He is in tune with the people. And I am not afraid. If tomorrow, he runs for the Presidency, it is Nigerians that will gain because he is going to work tirelessly. I don’t know where he gets his energy; he is going to work tirelessly and fearlessly and deliver on the things that matter to the people.
As a royal father, which areas would you like to advise the Governor?
Well, first and foremost, he has to watch his back. He is a Governor that works by self-conviction. And so he cannot be deterred by anybody, by superiors’ stories, very bad advice; he is unaffected by those kinds of things because he is a man of conviction. When he decides on a project, he delivers, because he is in tune with the people. He is a grassroots politician; he feels the pulse of the people. And I am sure he knows what Nigerians want too and if he finds himself in that national stage, I have no doubt in my mind that he will win and provide dividends of democracy to our people.
We have been having some security challenges in the country and even in the State in recent times to the extent that Governor Wike had to impose curfew in the State. How would you react to this?
Well, the Governor has done well in the area of security. This Governor has done more than any government, to give state of the art equipments to security operatives in the State, both water and land. He has done so much and continues to do. So, the rest is left for these professionals to deliver. The Governor is not a policeman or a soldier. He has built a Guest House for the Army, giving them vehicles, and the police, you know it, giving them so much including other security organisations. The government has done so much for the security people and they are supposed to complement the huge expenditure of government on them.
The idea of having a curfew is also part of his own actions to mitigate these security lapses that are creating fears among our people. So, he is helping them. It is good for them. It is good for them to complement what he is doing, in terms of speaking to the people by his now and then broadcasts. It is to encourage them to know exactly what government is up to. It is for them to know what is happening. In this way, they are able to work with him, and stay distance and time with the Governor and not begin to feel that he is not doing enough. He is talking to them constantly. The security operatives should complement this government’s efforts and prove it right in its activities to secure lives and property. I support the government of Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. I support him wholeheartedly and he has done well. I score him high and give him excellent mark.
But some people are still complaining about the curfew, what do you have to tell them, both the residents of the State and Rivers people?
The curfew we should obey. The residents and people of Rivers State should obey the curfew. It is even in the Bible, that we should obey the laws of government. And so, if it is this one regulation that government has brought, we should obey. It is not for peace-loving rivers people but this is to catch the criminals. We too should complement government’s efforts by obeying the rules and regulations. Like when we had the lockdowns, don’t we see that we are enjoying health now? At that time too, people criticised the government and the Governor, but today, they have swallowed their words. They are enjoying health now. If the Governor had left Coronavirus to fester, then, it would have been terrible for our people. But today, we are walking around, the markets are open, and everywhere else, people are able to live their lives.
His Majesty, some Nigerians are today calling for the restructuring of the country and some too are calling for secession, from the foregoing, what do you think is the fate of Nigeria and what do we really need?
Obviously, to sustain the various geo-political zones of Nigeria, we do need restructuring within one Nigeria. And people that are resisting this, obviously, in time, will bow to the yearnings of the people. If you go back to the time when we had regions, we had relative peace. We are not saying we should go back to that but those kinds of things we were enjoying regionally, should begin to be apportioned within the States. Like for us in the South-South or the core Niger Delta, it is very important that we enjoy the proceeds of the God-given minerals that we have. We cannot have these minerals and people who are somewhere else, even beyond the shores of this country, are enjoying them. We can’t have that. No responsible government can do that. What God has given Nigeria is for Nigerians.
What do you have to say about the ongoing Constitution Review vis-à-vis the need for the traditional institution to be given roles in the Constitution?
The Constitution Review is welcome even if we are hearing that they are spending so much. Unwarranted expenditure is not good but the Constitution Review is good. And as it concerns the traditional institution, we need to spell out the functions of traditional rulers. With what we are doing, now, that I say it is illegal, as per it is not captured in the Constitution. But when it is captured in the Constitution, then, it serves as a support for us to do what we are supposed to be doing; and that is to complement government in the area of governance. So, that is very important. We should be captured in the Constitution. Traditional rulers are very important in nation building. They are very important in creating national identity. We are doing it now. There is this unofficial regulation, as it were, for Northern traditional rulers to come and visit their counterparts in the South and vice versa, both in the East and the West; that kind of friendship is ongoing. But it needs to be captured in the constitution. If it is captured in the constitution, it will be sustained and it will be done as a matter of duty.
FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba
We similarly urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to enforce the Zero Gas Flare deadline.
The devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The Maritime University Issue
The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is largely regarded, by persons from the Zone, as symbolic and deserving. Its closure and certain statements around it, have been viewed as insensitive and out rightly provocative. This, of course, is aside from the obvious potential benefits that the Institution offers to the technical and managerial capacity enhancements of, not just persons from the Zone, but all Nigerians. We, therefore, strongly urge the President to direct the take-off of the already approved Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State. The prompt take-off of this University will most certainly assure the people of the Niger Delta that President’s Administration is truly a sensitive, listening and inclusive Government. Also, we strongly urge that the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, to a university should be implemented.
Key Regional Critical Infrastructure
There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative Regional Infrastructure viz:
• We wish to thank President for ensuring that the first phase of the coastal railway project is provided for in the current 2016 budget. We urge the Federal Government to further ensure the full implementation of this project that is designed to run through all the states in the Niger Delta, up to Lagos.
• Complete the existing East-West Road.
• Work should resume on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road Project. We note that NLNG had already offered 50% funding for this Project.
• Implement the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State (Design already completed by NDDC).
• Implement the development of inland waterways and riverine infrastructure.
• Remove bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of the existing ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commence dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep sea-going vessels and expedite work on the dredging of the Calabar Port. The Deep Sea Port project in Bayelsa State also requires consideration.
• We urge the commencement of work on the Ibaka Deep Sea Port for which Feasibility has long been completed.
Details of other regional infrastructure projects will be presented in the course of the dialogue.
Security Surveillance and Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure
The incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the economy of our dear Country. Pipeline vandalism also damages the environment, health and economic activity of inhabitants of affected areas, as well as complicates environmental cleanup efforts.
It is therefore our view that an urgent review is done to pipeline surveillance contacts to give the responsibility to Communities rather than individuals in a manner that ties some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility for the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
The Headquarters of most Oil Companies are not located in the Niger Delta Region. As a result, the Region is denied all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the Region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
Despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta remain unconnected to the National Grid.
We, therefore, advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the Region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in improved stability. Because of existing infrastructure, this should be an area where the Government could deliver the swiftest and most noticeable change.
Economic Development and Empowerment
The Federal and State Governments need to signal their interest in sustained economic development in the region by:
i. Implementing the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant Project and similarly concluding Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny
ii. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta Region
iii. Creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the Region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources, where they are produced, to create industrialization and a robust economic base in the Region that would improve the living condition of the Citizens.
iv. Expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the Region, in particular, the Gas City, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu, in Warri South LGA of Delta State.
v. Harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied Industrial Clusters.
vi. Harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the Region to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, and away from restiveness.
vii. We urge the use of ICT as a tool for peace, job-creation and development. Appropriately deployed ICT can be the elixir to create much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the Region.
vii. Resolve the various issues leading to the non-operation of Delta Steel Company, Oku Iboku Paper Mill, Edo Textile Mill and ALSCON.
Inclusive Participation in Oil Industry and Ownership of Oil Blocs
The sense of alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land will continue until there are affirmative actions that guarantee the involvement of these communities in the ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of Oil and Gas Assets.
We similarly urge the institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework, across the entire enterprise chain of the Petroleum and Maritime sectors.
Restructuring and Funding of the NDDC
There is the urgent need to adequately restructure the NDDC to refocus it as a truly Interventionist Agency, that responds swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them. We also urge the full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
Since the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, even though it was meant to function in the mode of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, its funding has been abysmal. There is an absolute need, therefore, to adequately fund, and strengthen this Ministry to the purpose for which it was created.
The Bakassi Question
The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon continues to threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta Region. The unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement continues to create tension and plague the region. There is also the lack of a well-coordinated transparent blueprint for the development and resettlement of the displaced populations. The host communities face huge abuses and are unable to reestablish their respective means of livelihood. We, therefore, recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People.
The clamour for fiscal federalism has continued to be re-echoed by different sections of the country. The people of the Niger Delta region support this call and urge that the Federal Government should regard this matter expeditiously.
What message would you want to pass to the Federal Government for being insensitive to these issues five years after?
It is regrettable to say that the 16-point agenda has not been attended to thereby bringing about high rate of insecurity in the region.
For emphasis, after having several interface with these boys, they saw the reasons for dialogue than allowing the region go in flames as a result this brought about ceasefire in the region making everyone to be enjoying the relative peace being enjoyed today.
I want the Federal Government to know that when these boys see that there is blatant refusal in addressing their issues by the Federal Government, they are capable of making the region go into flames, adding that he appealed to the Federal Government, and other critical stakeholders responsible for the implementation of this 16-point agenda to be sincere to themselves and do the needful, adding that what the people in the Niger Delta region want is that all must be fair, just and equitable in what they do, so as to engendered peace and security to the Niger Delta region.
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