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Special Interview

‘We Want To Regulate Housing Development In Rivers’

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How would you want people to know you?

My names are Mr. Marshal Stanley Uwom. I am Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Housing Rivers State. I was born in 1965, and I attended several Schools. One of such is Okrika Grammar School., Okrika.

I did my Cambridge in O and A levels in England.

I came back and attended, then School of Basic Studies, Port Harcourt, I did my IJMB there, before I proceeded to the University of Ibadan initially to study Language Art, but I had to truncate it when I lost my father. I registered for law in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Nkpolu, and currently, I’m a Post Graduate student of external programme of the University of London. I have served government in several capacities. I was a Special Assistant to His Excellency, Dr Peter Odili, Special Assistant on General Duties in the year 2004, I became Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development under the Dr. Odili Administration, I had been a Commissioner for Agriculture under Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi and I came back as Commissioner for Housing and after the dissolution. I was now reinstated as Commissioner for Housing.

Are you married?

I am happily married with two kids. One girl and one boy.

What was growing up like, what was your position in your family?

First son, family of five children. We actually moved around Nigeria a lot. I was in Calabar before the war, I was in Uzuakoli with my grand mother. I came back, Warri was afterward and Lagos, before I found myself back in Port Harcourt.

My father used to be Controller of Customs in 1979 and I found myself in Okrika Grammar School.

He chose Okrika Grammar School because of the discipline.

How will you view Gov Amaechi’s Administration even as an insider?

I will say there is something unique about it. I speak now as a Riversman. Let me try to extricate myself from my position in government. It is dynamic, one that has a focus to achieve certain goals and objectives within the shortest possible time.

Revolutionary I must say, the way we find ourselves in government, and one that is bottom up, trying to see how to respond to the rural dwellers. You see, a government that is daring, government that invests substantially in projects that can be vividly seen not just in the state capital. It takes a lot of courage for you to say you want to build roads, primary schools and health centres all over the state simultaneously, it takes a lot of courage because the challenge of ensuring that they are completed on time is there.

Some others would prefer to concentrate on the urban areas because majority of the people reside there and so want people to see those projects. In the process, they neglect rural areas.

If I am to talk about the poor people, the poor people said money is not circulating at all.

Yes, money is not circulating in the sense that most people expect, the usual extravagance that is associated with political system in our part of the world, where monies are liberally released to cronies and political allies perhaps to that dimension. I won’t say the poor people. I must say, the generality of the public because you will notice now that you have a situation where Commissioners are not adding so much weight and those appendages of office, a lot of Commissioners cannot afford that, because we are frugal and so perhaps that is where people may say, oh the government is not throwing money around. This administration is not into wastage. Let me use that word, throwing money here and there, praise singers will be singing the praises of government to the roof tops even when that government is not performing and they will get some amount of money. That is not happening now because this government does not encourage praise singing. This government is tackling the challenges we have faced over the years, by laying the foundation for the future. His Excellency, Governor Amaechi, is injecting a lot tremendously in education, in infrastructure, but the fact that you see some parts of the country being more developed is because of a deliberate effort of visionary leaders. Let me be specific. The Western region now seems to have an advantage in terms of employment in all sectors.

In the bank industry, there is a preponderance of people from that region, in the oil sector you see a large majority of people from that area but we have been disadvantaged, I think we are trying to fill up the gap for the future and so perhaps the flow and direction of funding is not being appreciated, in the short term, but in the long term they will understand.

Let us come back to your Ministry now, how will you want to be remembered after now?

One fundamental challenge with government is sustainability, of ensuring continuity. What we did was perhaps, that may be the reason for which I am always brought back to the Ministry. It is the fact that, we believe that strengthening institutions, the Civil Service is a sector that has not been given the attention it deserves. I believe that, that’s my opinion and I am convinced about that, in-service training has been relegated to the back burners. For so long and we have a pool of professionals in the civil service that we are not utilising.  We work to ensure that there is proper synergy between the civil servants and political office holders to build structures of governance that are sustainable. I want to be remembered as one that created or released the building code which we are working on. We want to address the building code that will regulate housing development in Rivers State, so that, proper standards are maintained and the one that will ensure that, there is orderliness. And one that will permit also professionals from the building community, architects, the engineers and quantity surveyors to be integrated into what government is doing by making them more relevant.

Evolving a housing policy now may be a challenge. To get a housing policy, there must be a foundation and that’s what we are working on. We believe that there is need to build a housing data bank. It will not be one that will cover the entire state, may be one that is confined to 10 km radius. But if you work at the demographic trend, if you, look at the house style, you look at the issues of Land Use and household, that means government is going to the point that says look, we observed that may be in ten years from now we are going to have a certain amount of people and they will live within our city, how do you address the issue of housing need, and that is something that we believe from this year we should work on. We set up a committee last year on the low cost houses; we gave it that nomenclature but it’s not exactly confined to low cost housing. We have about five hundred housing units. How are they? These are housing units that will impact directly on civil servants as well as other Rivers people. We need to ascertain the proper allotees, because they have been occupied by criminals and hooligans. We need to bring to the fore the importance of completing the projects, like the Igbo-Etche estate, we have low cost houses built by the administration of Dr. Peter Odili, commenced and constructed. They are at various levels of completion. There are over 3,700 of such houses in all the 23 Local Government Areas of the state.

A committee is taking a compendium of the allotees, who are the contractors, how much have they been paid. It also extends to what you have at Sangana Street which we call Orojie housing estate, and Oromenike housing estate, the one you have on Wogu Street. We are not even ending there, Creek Road, Bonny Street, Aggrey Road estates as well, so I believe that the legacy I can leave behind is getting these issues sorted out so that the real owners of such houses can take possession, so that the state can recoup its expenses. We believe and we hope that before I leave, we can fast-track this.

To come up with that report we also set up an Eviction Committee. We have asked the Ministry of Urban Development to head it. Because they have the personalities in their system, Nigeria Police are also part of the Committee, the Ministry of Justice, the report of the Low Cost Committee and the Eviction Committee we will implement it. They are far reaching.

We want to ensure those genuine allotees will be given opportunities to occupy their houses. We want to ensure that those who have never received allocations from government will be given opportunity and it shouldn’t be something that will fall within the circle of politicians. I’m very emphatic about that, I don’t have one allocation and my relatives may not have the opportunities to have one. And how can we get the Rivers people who are not so financially buoyant and who may not compete with other ethnic groups to take advantage of the opportunities is a big challenge. We believe that the houses should be sold at their level of completion whatever stage they are. Now they were supposed to be sold at subsidized rates. Two bedroom apartment in various blocks with living room and other facilities, that is what we refer to as low cost houses in all local governments.

Now, the administration of Dr. Odili believed that it should be subsidised, at N1.5 million if a house is at 50 percent completion, we believed then it should go for N750,000. If it is at floor level, it should go for about N75,000, that way our people will be able to have access to them, then complete them, I’m trying to ensure that, civil servants are also given the opportunity on owner occupier basis. We are trying to see that whatever housing programme we want to embark on, even if it is through Public Private Partnership (PPP), Mortgage element, will be such that is of benefit to our people. Now we also set up a committee on Housing Authority. What has been happening to all our housing schemes. Why is it that, the play ground where our youths initially referred to as restive are now referred to as militants were all converted to other purposes. Why are our estates that are supposed to be neighbourhood that will foster proper interpersonal relations and also provides for recreational facilities, that will also help us reduce stress be turned to something else? What has been the mode of the deduction of the National Housing Scheme? Why are we not benefiting from the Federal Housing Authority scheme, why is it that our own is always different? These are the issues, it should not be considered as confrontational, but we believe that is important that we resolve the issues. I want to be able to resolve these issues as much as possible before I leave. We want to have a compendium of all the houses that Rivers State Government under my Ministry ever had, so that we can have a data bank. What is the state of affairs of those houses, who are the occupants? What is the status? This will also extend to finding out what is the funding. That committee is a very important committee. The Ministry of Justice is there, it is an inter-ministerial committee, and we also have the labour.

We have the chairman of NLC who, nominated somebody to represent the interest of the workers, because this programme is geared towards the benefit of those who have been putting in so much energy to move the state forward.

You are having a third stint as the Commissioner for Housing and just as you said, a lot of people will be expecting there will be an estate here, there will be one there, people want to see these estates, but they won’t understand that there are things, you are doing to ensure proper implementation, how do you feel, how do you explain this to the public?

There are a lot of houses that can be made available in the pool, it is important that we look at the direction of government, not only at the state level, national level but even globally.

Governments globally have challenges with providing social houses, there is no society even the advanced one that has been able to cater for the housing needs of all the people. If you go to the United States for example, in New York, there are a lot of homeless people. They live on the streets. We thank God that ours is not as deplorable as that. Going by our culture, you can go back to the village, you have a relative you can attach to. However, we believe that with what we are doing, like I pointed out earlier, government may be informed of the need to build more estates.

As you know currently, the policy of this administration is the public private sector partnership. In housing, our challenge is the fact that most prospective investors want to recoup their investment as fast as possible. It is a sector that we believe, that eventually, government will have to have a total look at. We have a concept which we believe, we will develop. We believe that housing needs cannot be addressed entirely by government. Private sector element is required. But also we have three tiers of governments, we have the local councils, we have the state and we have the federal.

We are looking at the issue of having a better relationship with the national level. At the national level, you have the federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Urban Development, and Environment, all merged up. We want to see how the federal housing scheme will work properly here. Rivers State Government previously, the previous administration bought what we refer to as Eleme garden, big expanse of uncompleted houses of about 252 housing units, an appendage to that was 49 hectares.

Practically, the federal government is not investing in Rivers State, perhaps because we have not been so forceful, we are going to address the challenge and task the federal government to come and develop the 49 hectares, because they said it is not part of the original purchase and they said they also have to manage the facilities so we are trying to see at the federal level how they can invest more and how we can harness it.

At the state level, I know that this current administration will embark on what we refer to as the prototype housing estate for the low and medium level bracket. This is already provided for in the 2010 budget proposal we sent to the House of Assembly. In Diobu, we believe that we will embark on initially 700 housing units, one and three bedroom apartments, it will not be overpopulated, it’s just a prototype district for the housing renewal programme and it will also have eleven storey building with a ground floor. The issue of management, we have considered that. There will be a management training programme, Rivers indigenes will be trained to manage the estate, a three management arrangement with the prospective developers and that is going to be done by government directly.

Is that  a PPP arrangement?

We as a Ministry are not directly in the Rainbow-First Bank arrangement, but we believe the programme will be geared towards affordability. For me, that is my watch word. The Diobu estate for example, the maximum cost for a unit and referred to as high rise which we refer to as opulent, because it will be fully furnished like what you have at Eastern Bypass will not exceed ten million naira and we hope there will be a mortgage element.

When it comes to PPP, you know you have the Greater Port Harcourt, we only sit on the board. The Greater Port Harcourt intends to embark on housing programmes, which by virtue of my presence on the board, we hope will be affordable and within reach, and that’s where the mass housing concept comes in, using technology that will be affordable and most cost effective. We also hope that, the local governments will begin to see the need to invest in houses to check the challenges of rural-urban drift.

Hon. Commissioner, just a clarification on what you said about the prototype housing estate, when do you intend to complete it?

 The completion is a legacy. The fundamental thing for government is to give a direction. We are not in a dictatorship where a government believes that it is best suited to manage affairs. We can ensure that governance continues to flow. Don’t forget that this administration inherited many programmes from the immediate past Celestine Omehia’s government, there is a continuity. A programme of that nature may not be concluded by this administration. We do intend to commence this year, with what is provided for in our proposal. I believe that at the executive level, we have no problem. The other housing type are three storey building. Don’t forget there had been a lot of piling work to be done at that place, because of the soil type and the water table is very high. But we believed that a substantial amount will be made available and our target is that 50 percent of the project will be achieved within the tenure of this administration.

To be continued

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Special Interview

Those Demarketing Rivers Should Stop Spreading Falsehood -Sophia

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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.
Excerpts.
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.

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Special Interview

Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke

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His Majesty King (Dr) Leslie Nyebuchi Eke, Eze Gbakagbaka, Eze Oha Evo III of Evo Kingdom in Obio/Akpor Local government Area of Rivers State, is a First Class Traditional Ruler.
Trained as a Biological Scientist at Illinois State University, Bloomington Normal, United States of America, he holds a Masters Degree and Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) from Wycliffe University & ATS, California.
Suave, ebullient, accessible, humble, down-to-earth and cerebral, Eke is also the Secretary General of the Association of Niger Delta Monarchs (ANDMON) and the Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State Chapter of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities (TROMPCOM).
In this exclusive interview with our Production Editor, Donatus Ebi and cameraman, Egberi A. Sampson, Eke poignantly bares his mind on sundry issues affecting the State and the nation. He particularly eulogises the Executive Governor of the State, Chief Nyesom Wike for the giant development strides of his administration within the past six years and comes to the inevitable conclusion that he has surpassed the achievements of his predecessors, having performed beyond the expectation of Rivers people.
Excerpts.
His Majesty, by virtue of all that you have seen in the State in the past six years, what are your comments on the achievements of Governor Nyesom Wike?
As it concerns us and the Governor, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is God-sent, a purposeful Governor, a vision-full Governor and a man that knows why he is Governor, why he did come to contest and contested as Governor. And this man, meticulously, seriously, honestly, has continued, day by day, month by month, to roll out projects that are impactful to the society, to Rivers people. Roads infrastructure, schools, hospitals, human capacity, I mean continuously. This man has turned the Garden City into a city of flyovers. And that is very meaningful. We very much appreciate such a person. And unfortunately, he can’t go for a third term. We wish he goes for a third term. He is going to give so much to the Rivers people.
He has made us so proud. He has distinguished himself among the Governors and governments in Nigeria. All the things he has done, other governments and even the Federal Government should learn from him.
A case in point is the Coronavirus pandemic. Our Governor took proactive actions in time and that is why Rivers State did not suffer much from the pandemic and they had to learn from him. He has impacted on the people commercially, economically and otherwise. Even our Christian lives have improved because he gave this State to God and declared it a Christian State. He built an Ecumenical Centre and God literally has come down to work with His people and has begun to give us a sense of direction, a sense of belonging. We appreciate so much from the man, who has unlike others, really worked even in the second term, working like it was the first term. And we are grateful to God for all his achievements. He is a true Ikwerre son. We appreciate him. We pray that he would find more to do even after he has left this stage of governance. We couldn’t have had it any other way.
Would you then say that Governor Wike has performed beyond expectation?
Very true. This Governor has done beyond expectation. Looking at precedents, looking at people before him, what he has done even per month, it is unequalled anytime, anywhere in the history of Rivers State. This Governor has done so much.
In spite of all that you have seen he has done, is it not surprising that there are still pockets of opposition in the State?
Well, it is unfortunate but we must have opposition. We must have people that agree and people that don’t agree. It is normal. We just want to encourage them to criticise constructively. They should engage in constructive criticisms. They should criticise him constructively. Not just opening your mouth for opening sake. This time around, it will be very difficult. You know, he has been accused of 3D projects. It is no longer 3D now, because you can come there and see it for yourself. You will see the flyovers. Who does three flyovers at the same time? Nobody. And he has told us that he has more, seven more to deliver to Rivers people and put us on the world map of very very improved humane settlements. We appreciate that.
You said it is unfortunate that the Governor won’t run for a third term, but there are people out there calling on him to run for the Presidency come 2023. What is your take on this?
At his point, I am not a politician. For him to run for a federal office, it is entirely his prerogative, it is at his discretion. It is left for him to decide. He has to watch the politicial terrain and decide what he wants. But one thing is sure. Anywhere this Governor, Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike finds himself, he would deliver on his promises, he would deliver on the NEED Assessment of the people. This man is in tune with development. He is in tune with the people. And I am not afraid. If tomorrow, he runs for the Presidency, it is Nigerians that will gain because he is going to work tirelessly. I don’t know where he gets his energy; he is going to work tirelessly and fearlessly and deliver on the things that matter to the people.
As a royal father, which areas would you like to advise the Governor?
Well, first and foremost, he has to watch his back. He is a Governor that works by self-conviction. And so he cannot be deterred by anybody, by superiors’ stories, very bad advice; he is unaffected by those kinds of things because he is a man of conviction. When he decides on a project, he delivers, because he is in tune with the people. He is a grassroots politician; he feels the pulse of the people. And I am sure he knows what Nigerians want too and if he finds himself in that national stage, I have no doubt in my mind that he will win and provide dividends of democracy to our people.
We have been having some security challenges in the country and even in the State in recent times to the extent that Governor Wike had to impose curfew in the State. How would you react to this?
Well, the Governor has done well in the area of security. This Governor has done more than any government, to give state of the art equipments to security operatives in the State, both water and land. He has done so much and continues to do. So, the rest is left for these professionals to deliver. The Governor is not a policeman or a soldier. He has built a Guest House for the Army, giving them vehicles, and the police, you know it, giving them so much including other security organisations. The government has done so much for the security people and they are supposed to complement the huge expenditure of government on them.
The idea of having a curfew is also part of his own actions to mitigate these security lapses that are creating fears among our people. So, he is helping them. It is good for them. It is good for them to complement what he is doing, in terms of speaking to the people by his now and then broadcasts. It is to encourage them to know exactly what government is up to. It is for them to know what is happening. In this way, they are able to work with him, and stay distance and time with the Governor and not begin to feel that he is not doing enough. He is talking to them constantly. The security operatives should complement this government’s efforts and prove it right in its activities to secure lives and property. I support the government of Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. I support him wholeheartedly and he has done well. I score him high and give him excellent mark.
But some people are still complaining about the curfew, what do you have to tell them, both the residents of the State and Rivers people?
The curfew we should obey. The residents and people of Rivers State should obey the curfew. It is even in the Bible, that we should obey the laws of government. And so, if it is this one regulation that government has brought, we should obey. It is not for peace-loving rivers people but this is to catch the criminals. We too should complement government’s efforts by obeying the rules and regulations. Like when we had the lockdowns, don’t we see that we are enjoying health now? At that time too, people criticised the government and the Governor, but today, they have swallowed their words. They are enjoying health now. If the Governor had left Coronavirus to fester, then, it would have been terrible for our people. But today, we are walking around, the markets are open, and everywhere else, people are able to live their lives.
His Majesty, some Nigerians are today calling for the restructuring of the country and some too are calling for secession, from the foregoing, what do you think is the fate of Nigeria and what do we really need?
Obviously, to sustain the various geo-political zones of Nigeria, we do need restructuring within one Nigeria. And people that are resisting this, obviously, in time, will bow to the yearnings of the people. If you go back to the time when we had regions, we had relative peace. We are not saying we should go back to that but those kinds of things we were enjoying regionally, should begin to be apportioned within the States. Like for us in the South-South or the core Niger Delta, it is very important that we enjoy the proceeds of the God-given minerals that we have. We cannot have these minerals and people who are somewhere else, even beyond the shores of this country, are enjoying them. We can’t have that. No responsible government can do that. What God has given Nigeria is for Nigerians.
What do you have to say about the ongoing Constitution Review vis-à-vis the need for the traditional institution to be given roles in the Constitution?
The Constitution Review is welcome even if we are hearing that they are spending so much. Unwarranted expenditure is not good but the Constitution Review is good. And as it concerns the traditional institution, we need to spell out the functions of traditional rulers. With what we are doing, now, that I say it is illegal, as per it is not captured in the Constitution. But when it is captured in the Constitution, then, it serves as a support for us to do what we are supposed to be doing; and that is to complement government in the area of governance. So, that is very important. We should be captured in the Constitution. Traditional rulers are very important in nation building. They are very important in creating national identity. We are doing it now. There is this unofficial regulation, as it were, for Northern traditional rulers to come and visit their counterparts in the South and vice versa, both in the East and the West; that kind of friendship is ongoing. But it needs to be captured in the constitution. If it is captured in the constitution, it will be sustained and it will be done as a matter of duty.

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Special Interview

FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba

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

Concluded.

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