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Special Interview

Due ProcessWorks In Rivers – Nlerum

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Dear esteemed readers, due to popular demand, we are repeating the interview with the Director-General of the Rivers State Bureau on Public Procurement, Mr Franklin Nlerum.

The trouble with governance in Nigeria, has been the inability or the reluctance of public officers to exhibit, even to some reasonable extent, a degree of openness and transparency in the conduct of public affairs especially when it concerns the general good of the citizenry.

This explains why many a Nigerian citizen still believe that nothing works and nothing will ever work in Nigeria nearly 50 years after its political independence from the British colonialists.

Yet, only seven months to Nigeria’s golden jubilee, there are a few Nigerian elite who still believe that out of the present seemingly hopeless situation a great and prosperous nation will emerge. One of such Nigerians is Barrister Franklin Nlerum who sits atop the Rivers State Bureau on Public Procurement (BoPP).

A seasoned lawyer and banker, Nlerum, who hails from Rumuokwurusi in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, in an intellectually-ravishing session with The Tide Editorial Board members in the weekly personality programme, The Roundtable, canvassed unreservedly, the need for the elite and others entrusted with the responsibility of providing public goods to strictly play by the rules.

He said until that is done, the dream of building a virile and meaningful political super- structure hinged on a sound economic sub-structure in Nigeria, nay, Rivers State would remain a mirage.

A man of capacious intellect and deft navigational capability, Nlerum with an intellectual profundity, explained the workings of the BoPP, insisting that the society would be better for it if public men, and indeed, every stake holder exhibits some level of probity and accountability in matters of pubic good and interest.

Excerpts:

What is the mandate of the Bureau?

The mandate of the Bureau is more like a preamble to the Rivers State public procurement law of 2006. It is an agency that supervises public procurement in the state and sets a standard within a legal framework, harmonising existing policies that essentially sum up what the Bureau does. The core of what the Bureau does also derives from section 14 of the law, which stresses the need to ensure value for money, competence and purpose in procurement. It is also to ensure efficiency in the economy and in the provision of goods and services. So essentially, the mandate is to ensure that every money spent by the state translates into benefit to the people of the state.

Being a new organisation, how has the Bureau been able to cope with its mandate under the current democratic experiment?

Well, like every organisation, when you are building you have different challenges. Challenges are also an opportunity because nothing is stopping you from building and competing. I usually tell most of my colleagues that we are privileged, privileged because, as  pioneers, we have the opportunity and benefit of leaving our footprints. The challenges will mean that we must have new way of doing things. The essence of what is being done now has been part of the system in the past. I think our basic challenge is actually the problem of chain management because we are transiting from a regime where people do things the way they deem fit to a regime where you are asked to do things according to a certain specified standard. It is natural for people to refuse it. However, this is a change that has come to stay. We just need to engage every stakeholder to ensure that the objectives are achieved.

Does the bureau really have the support of the state government?

Relatively yes, I think the Bureau of Public Procurement at the federal level is not enjoying  the kind of support we have in Rivers State.

Here, in Rivers State, between the Governor and the House committee that is over seeing the affairs of the Bureau, we have the support that gives us the responsibility to do what is right. The limitation is natural. When you are handling chain management, anybody who is conversant with chain management will realise that you need to first sell the products, to exercise the new order before you begin to ensure compliance. So, the necessary support from the highest quarters is available to the Bureau.

 It is believed that BoPP delays public procurement. How true?

Very interesting question. This claim is not peculiar to the Nigerian system. In February, I was in Ethiopia for a workshop on public procurement for Sub Sahara countries, and naturally everywhere, the claims and allegations were uniform, that the authority in Ghana or other places as the agency is called are responsible for the delay in public procurement. But it would be too simple to say no. Lets look at the crux of the bottleneck. Let me illustrate with the Ministry of Education. Government is providing uniforms for students, rather than apply, you wrote a letter saying, the government wants to provide uniforms for the students and that N272 million is required to provide the uniforms and that the Bureau should consent to it. Now, the Bureau is not Franklin Nlerum who is not even a board member. The Bureau is a legal entity and must operate within the framework of the law setting it up. And the law requires that if you must spend the money belonging to the state, there are certain steps you must take. As a general principle, every expenditure must proceed from what we call open competitive bidding. So, you need to advertise, alternatively there are exceptional situation the law recognises. If you do not do open bidding, open bidding will take at least six weeks for advert period. Such bidding is called direct procurement or single sourcing. Now the application or letter never refers to any means of requirement when it comes to us, we have to reply and ask them what they want and how they are going about it. When the letter goes back to the Ministry, a week or two must have been lost, and by the time it gets to the public domain, nobody is telling you that the law is not being followed.

Secondly, there is the problem of budget implementation which is the

 

absence of procurement planning. If you want to spend money. You need to think through it. Even your personal money. What is the necessity for the

money? What is the necessity for the expenditure? How do you want to spend it? In the case of a state, within the broad frame of administration, the needs are known. Provision of primary health centres are known. So before the budget for the year, the Ministry or procurement entity should as provided by law, prepare a procurement plan. Upon the application from the House of Assembly, we will implement. However, these things are not done and somebody wakes up and say there is flooding problem. Flooding problem is not an organised problem, it is a problem that has been observed. It is either because that the urban planning rules are not respected or the environmental degradation leading to people dumping waste in the waterway. When you come under the flooding problems, you must show that every consideration for effectively dealing with the flooding problem has been taken into an account. You just do not come and say there is flooding problem along Iloabuchi and therefore we have to de-flood. You must show us that the de-flooding must solve the problem. So you find out that the delay is caused by the adhoc nature in which we undertake government business and the unwillingness on the part of a number of officials in the procurement entity to follow the rules.  May be, by the time we try it, we may actually get to the point of putting the Bureau on the spot. You are the one delaying. I think when we get the opportunity like this, we let the people of the state hear our own side of the story. They begin to know whether the delay is coming from the Bureau or from the procurement entities.

What will it profit us to keep their applications or delay them? Ultimately, what we are here to do is to serve the people of the state, so it is actually a partnership, but the issue is that there are people at different points with a value chain, everybody has different functions. It is necessary to appreciate what each person or agency is bringing to the table so that they will run a smooth course in a manner that at the end the intended objective is realised.

Is Due Process actually working in Rivers State?

  Well, I believe that the taste of the food is in the eating. We intend to engage the public and explain to them what we are doing and the role expected of them. Due process is working because there are transactions. Projects that are being undertaken now ordinarily have been there. Before the Bureau was set up, nobody questioned any contractor with respect to design and pricing.  no longer so. There is a project going on at Ken Saro Wiwa road. On the basis of the review of the design, further access road as a relief road from Aba road had been added. When that is completed, people using the road will begin to see the benefit. But if these things are without an agency that will look back and ask, Ok, this is what we want to do, what is the ultimate benefit? Or how does it solve the problem of traffic congestion? It would not be proper that you have done a beautiful road but yet, there are still traffic congestion. So, when you play that relief role, it is the function of understanding that the road you are constructing must be fit for a purpose and the fact that the drainage problem around there are things that should thoroughly be dealt with. In this way, the roads that are being constructed will be durable and will serve a purpose.

Secondly, when we do our price intelligence work, we save public money. If you go into savings and this savings translate to funds available for other projects  in the state, the state as a whole is better for it. It is entirely possible that some of the things that government is currently doing may not have been done if not for the existence of the Bureau. I will give you an example. The Special Assistant to the Governor on Millennium Development Goals costed the funding for 50 hospitals but because he (the S.A.) had elected to follow the steps outlined in the law, he was able to equip 66 hospitals. I think these are the kind of things people should know. That when you follow those steps outlined in the law, there are benefits that reach the people because by following the processes, we were able to extend the reach of the contract available.

Does BoPP really punish defaulters?

We would be reluctant to punish defaulters now.  But it is about time we started enforcing the law.  When you want to handle chain management, sanctions and punishment should not be  the central focus, if it becomes the central focus, you will get an atmosphere that may undermine its real intention.  The intention of the law is not about putting people in prison, but we will do that as it stands now.  That is the direction we will head to.  The intention of the law is to create a level of awareness that everybody begins to think towards the resources of the state as if it is personal resources.  After all, it belongs to all of us.  Government comes and goes.  Take for example, you want to construct a road, you have to consider the whole life of the road both in the time and execution. Should the road be constructed and  after six months or nine months, it fails?  Is that what the road should be? Why is the road failing? We need to get people to understand that doing there job thoroughly is actually a service to themselves.  When that fails or not being realised then, the punitive provision of the law comes in.

And when you find persistent reluctance, that is when there is a refusal, failure or inability to do what is right, the consequence follows naturally.  To  that extent, we are not forthcoming with saying that this number of procurement entity has violated or offended the law.

What other steps can you take without prosecuting offenders?

We have cancelled a number of transactions.  You may have heard that a rural electrification process was completed where as it was not completed.  Since it did not comply with the law we cancelled it and asked the contractors to recommence the process.

How much have your Bureau been able to save for the state?

Just like we are reluctant to carry out any punitive measures against defaulters, we have also chosen not to be advertising the savings.  But between the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, and Ministry of Finance, they know the savings and in our annual report which will be out at the end of this month, we will show it.  We have consistently said at every occasion we talk to the press that our focus is not on the savings.  The savings are just bye-products of doing what is right and what is expected of us.  By the law, if we continue to monitor, review, guide, vet and certify products, we will always have savings for the state and we are making them.

Between June and December 2009, projects certified in Rivers State have saved over N15 billion for the state.

And in the last three months, about N5 billion was saved.

How do you check excessive spending by the executive?

I am sure you are aware that Governor  was the former Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly. Ordinarily, that means that we should be cautious of not allowing the Executive to get out of line.

Certainly, we do not certify a project without an evidence of budget clearance.  And budget clearance cannot be a proposal; it must be budget that has been passed by the state House of Assembly.  So, budget clearance is a statutory requirement for the certification of projects.  We can say that no budget can be undertaken without going through the Bureau and without the approval of the House of Assembly. It is only approval of the House of Assembly that forms the basis of certification by the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning.  On the duplication of projects, unfortunately, that is one area we are having some challenges.  And  that is why between March 29 and April 1, 2009 the Bureau will be holding a workshop on public procurement planning on their part  the local government areas have been operating as if they exist in isolation with total disregard to the law and they undertake projects that cannot stand the test of time.

When a local government is doing a project they should show us specification why they should proceed even though we can not actually compel harmonisation of  projects.  But if, for instance, a local government would want to build a health centre, it must state why it wants to do so when the state government is building several health centres in all the local government areas.

 

Nigerian Worker And The Quest For A Living Wage

BUSINESS;

Zaninab Mohammed

 

Mrs Grace Dada, an Administrative Officer II, is on level 8 step 2 in one of the Federal Ministries in Abuja. Dada earns N36,000 monthly.

Though the 32-year-old mother of two had worked with her Ordinary National Diploma (OND) for some years, her current status is at par with that of a fresh university graduate newly coming into the federal civil service.

Dada’s husband, Joe, 36, has been out of job for six years since the newspaper where he was a reporter folded up. The wife is the breadwinner of this family that is living in a “one-room-self-contained” in Kubwa Village.

Kubwa, a satellite town of the FCT, is 35 kilometres away from Abuja city center and the ministries.  But it is also where the Dadas can afford a 10ft by 10ft room with a yearly rent of N150,000.

 It has its private conveniences – a tiny toilet/bathroom and a kitchen. It is a self-contained apartment!

“The rent alone takes about half of my salary. But, I am aware that I would be asked to cough out between N300,000 and N500,000 for the same apartment in Abuja city.

“If not for the ministry’s staff bus, I would have gone berserk because Abuja to and from Kubwa costs about N400″, Dada explains.

However, the worst of her worries is giving the children a good education.

“Everyday I pray that things would change for the better soon. At six and three, my sons are in primary one and kindergarten in a low-fee-paying school in Kubwa. The public schools are free but they lack standard and infrastructure.

“Already, I am owing a term’s fee on my children. My saving grace is that their school’s proprietor is my church member.

 ”I am afraid of how to give my boys good education later in life. My mother in-law is for more grandchildren. But I and my husband know it would be a stupid move as we are yet to adequately cater for ourselves and our two sons,” Dada says. 

The Dadas paint the picture of the average Nigerian government worker’s family. The lowest salary or minimum wage is N7,500  or 50 dollars a month. That is at the federal level; the state and local governments pay lower wages.

 Rice, which has become the staple food of Nigerians, costs between N9,000 and N12,000 a bag – more than the minimum wage. Hence, most workers do not just live from-hand-to-mouth but go borrowing.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) – the umbrella body for workers’ unions — is at the vanguard of the demand for a N52,000 (US$360) minimum wage for federal workers. The NLC says this will be minimum “living wage”.

Though low compared to salaries and wages worldwide, the N52,000 minimum living wage is expected to bring smile and dignity back to junior civil servants.

A living wage is considered an emolument on which it is possible for a wage earner or an individual and his or her family to live, at least according to minimum customary standards. It is also defined as a wage sufficient to provide minimal satisfactory living conditions.

In 2009, the organised labour held series of rallies to sensitise Nigerians on the ills inherent in government foot-dragging in approving a minimum living wage.

Abdulwahed Omar, President of the NLC said the demand for a new minimum wage became necessary given the current high cost of living.

Omar wondered why Nigeria, an oil-producing nation, should be paying one of the lowest wages in the world to workers in its civil service.

“This is true when taken against the absolute national currency as well as wages and salaries based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which adjusts the national currency for the differential cost of living of the relevant nations.

 “It was in recognition of how bad the situation was that led the NLC to demand for wage increase during the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, which culminated in the signing of an agreement aimed at providing a living wage within three years’’.

  Omar, however, argued that the consequences of the abdication of the agreed approach to the implementation of the phased wage increases had been sharply depressed wages and salaries.

According to him, since the 15 per cent increase within the framework of wages and salary consolidation, a number of developments have further depressed the actual take-home pay of workers.

“Inflation has intensified in the last one year, with the cost of living index in the urban sector increasing by over 14 per cent.

“The disproportionate increase (20.9 per cent) in the cost of food means that the erosion in the real wages and salaries of workers is alarmingly severe.

“The process of monetising and consolidating in-kind, benefits which were hitherto not taxed has resulted in an escalation of the tax paid by workers. This has further depressed the real take-home pay of workers’’, Omar added.

Labour is further spurred to ask for increased wages because public appointees and political office holders earn even much better than the living wage in comparison.

Labour said it was surprisingly that political office holders have been able to increase their own wages and allowances by over 800 in recent times while those of civil servants were being further eroded by a higher tax regime.

A document on Remuneration Packages for Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders in Nigeria, said theirs was “a function of changes in the basic fundamentals of the Nigerian economy, external reserves, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), growth rate, rate of inflation and the need for a living wage”.

Labour argued that apart from the erosion in the real take-home pay of workers, the relativity in the economy was quite skewed against the working class.

“A comparison of workers’ pay to that of political office holders within the same public sector does not suggest that there is a rationale or principle guarding salary and wages in Nigeria.

“While workers’ salaries increased by only 15 percent between 2006 and 2007, those of political office holders increased by over 800 percent’’, labour said.

Workers in the public service recently threatened to commence  an indefinite nation-wide strike over what they termed as poor remuneration and the refusal of the Federal Government to accede to their request for salary increase.

These workers emerge from eight unions in the public service, under the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC).

Chairman of the JNPSNC, Olakunle Olaitan, opined that currently, there was a serious problem of disparity in salaries and wages payable for work of substantial equal value within the public service.

Olaitan said the last increment in the salary of certain political, public and judicial public office holders affected only the permanent secretaries and left other categories of workers from the directorate cadre downwards with their previous meager salary.

He disclosed that currently “while a permanent secretary receives N1.34 million per month, a director — next to him in rank — receives N145, 150 per month”.

According to him, this has affected morale and goes against the consolidated salary structure based on the existing relativity in the public service. 

He further explained that based on the public /civil service system and the consolidated salary structure, a director should earn 50.86 per cent of a permanent secretary’s salary.

In its bid to assuage workers’ frayed nerves, the Federal Government has inaugurated a tripartite committee on a new national minimum wage. It is being chaired by a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria,  Alfa Belgore.

At the inauguration of the committee, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Secretary to the Government of the Federation implored it to address the needs of the Nigerian worker for a decent life.

“This committee has been inaugurated in the context of profound changes in the global economy, of which we are important as a national economy.

“This has made it necessary to consider the demand by organised labour with great care”, Ahmed said.

Also, the immediate past Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, said the inauguration of the committee was to kick-off the Federal Government effort at ensuring that Nigerians earn appropriate income.

Kayode said the committee was expected to review the current remuneration of workers and come up with suggestions to the government, taking into consideration the prevailing economic realities within the global space. 

“The committee will be saddled with the responsibilities of looking at all the facts that concern salary issue in Nigeria and make suggestions to government on what should be acceptable.

“This suggestion would have to look at the prevailing economic circumstances in the world today because there is what is called ability to pay for sustainability sake”, he said.

However, seven months after the inauguration of the committee, workers are complaining that it was foot dragging on taking a decision on a new minimum wage.

Mr Solomon Onaghinon, General Secretary of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), said the committee should treat the issue as a matter of urgency.

In the same vein, the President, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM), Dr. Oladimeji Alo, argued that minimum wage in the developed world was always anchored on the inflation index and reviewed automatically, perhaps, once in two years.

“You don’t wait for several years until it becomes an issue; that is what we call employer’s advocacy in the private sector.

“The Human Resources Manager is supposed to advise management not to wait until the wage structure becomes outdated, until people stop coming to work, before reviewing the salaries.

“Government needs to be proactive, that is what is lacking in the public sector. Government waits so long until the minimum wage becomes relevant, before taking action.

“We as an institute, are fully in support of a review in the minimum wage to take account of the major decline in the purchasing power of the old minimum wage”, Alo said.

The current tension in the labour sector will be doused by a quick and favourable recommendation to government on the minimum wage and other civil servants’ take-home pay.

 

Mohammed writes with NAN

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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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