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Special Interview

‘We Have Laid Solid Foundation For Sustainable Water Delivery’

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This is the concluding part of this explosive The Tide Roundtable encounter with Rivers State Commissioner for Water Resources and Rural Development, Ms Patricia Simon-Hart, published last Friday. Excerpts.

Anybody who visits your website would

discover that your mission statement incorporates water and rural development, but we hardly hear or see anything your ministry is doing on rural development. Why it is so?

Well, for now, we are concentrating on water policy. Yes, the ministry has a mandate for water and rural development but the policy we have worked on is on water. If you say I should talk about rural development and environmental policies, I cannot do that now; because that is the next thing we are aiming at concentrating on. Nevertheless, the critical area we are concentrating on is water supply because it is critical. Already, the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) is assisting in that area.

No one who goes to your website would understand the situation as you explained because it looks as if you are not doing anything in that area. Why?

That information on the website was put there by the Ministry of Information and Communications. However, we are working on our own website, and when it is ready, the public would be able to access detailed and correct information about us. For now, the mission or vision statement you see on the website are the ones on water only.

The present administration seems to have jettisoned the Otamiri River Project, which we learnt would have gone a long way in providing water to a large chunk of the state. What is happening to that project?

I do not know where you got the information from because that is a Federal Government project and directly handled by them. Initially, they wanted to have a surface water scheme. The truth is that the scheme is a very small one because it cannot feed Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor. It can probably feed Oyigbo, considering the population there. However, the scheme has been abandoned and the new Federal Ministry of Water Resources is looking at all abandoned projects with a view to reviving some and completing others. Of course, you know that this largely depends on the funds available. Even at the federal level, the ministry has a very low budget. Therefore, for Otamiri, yes, we agree there is a project there but it is not a Rivers State Government project. It is a Federal Government project. I think that it is a priority for them now. When the funds come in, I am sure they would complete it.

You earlier mentioned the issue of Port Harcourt Master Plan. Can you give us an insight of what that project is all about?

You know we are working for Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor. We have a mega station at Rumuola, and we are not going to abandon anything there. We are going to upgrade it, and make sure it is more efficient. We are also going to revive the other out-stations in Diobu, Moscow Road, Eagle Island, Elelenwo and Rumukwurushi. These stations would be upgraded to optimize water provision in the city precincts. Even those that had been abandoned at Woji, Abuloma and Borokiri, would also be revived. We would have some new stations as we reticulate the entire urban area, and make sure people get clean water.

Does that cover the Greater Port Harcourt City Project?

Greater Port Harcourt City is bigger than Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor areas. What I am trying to explain is that these schemes would assist in feeding the new areas. Nevertheless, we have our boundaries and specifications, though that does not mean that we are not working together with the Greater Port Harcourt Authority. We synergize, and our design team liaises with them, especially on how to marry the two systems for effective water delivery. We are not designing in isolation. We are designing in such a way that we keep our minds open on how we can connect better.

From what you have explained so far, it seems your concentration is specifically on the city. Why is it so?

It is our desire to spread across the state, but as I earlier noted, the bulk of the challenge is in the city. The governor would love to do it but you have to understand that we have limited resources. For water, we have many abandoned projects, and that is why we are emphasizing on water, which to us, is the centre of our policy direction. Our interest is to make sure that water provision is sustainable. We cannot invest hundreds of millions of Naira that would be abandoned at the long run because the local government councils do not care neither do the communities at the grassroots.

Currently, what are you working on at the local areas?

Of course, we are doing a lot. We have WASH, and we have a structure at the local levels. We set up these structures to work with the local government councils. There was a time we invited the local government chairmen to interact with us on what our vision was. That is why we have Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) officers at the various local government areas. We also have a WASH Department set up last year in the ministry. These are institutional frameworks we believe can drive the system at the local level. They are currently on ground, and they are the ones that would give us feedback. We believe that all these would drive what we have put in place, and at the long run, create sustainability. Many water projects today at the local areas are abandoned because the vision was at variance with what the people really need.

Last year, the state recorded lots of cholera outbreak in some of the local areas, and the government rushed in to check the menace. How is your ministry trying to check this malaise in the long run?

Sensitization for us is key. Already, we have the Rural Water and Sanitation Agency (RUWATSA) whose role is to sensitize the local communities on what to do with their water, especially in the coastal communities where cholera outbreak is higher. Therefore, government is aware of the challenges, and is certainly doing all within its powers to ensure that quality water delivery is made to our coastal communities.

To what extent do your operations affect agriculture and industry in the state?

Fortunately, we are blessed with good water resources, so we do not have problem when it comes to water. There is enough water for agriculture in the state. Therefore, we do not need dams and forms of artificial irrigation. For the industries, we have water provision facilities in Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout, and we are delivering water to that area.

You have introduced a new data collection office. What is it meant to achieve?

Yes, we did. You know that without a reliable data collection system, you cannot take meaningful policy decisions. Indeed, we collect data on water supply to know areas that are working and those areas that are not working. We have also uploaded the new design, the pipes network for anyone to view. The essence is to give a total picture of the water supply landscape in the state. Remember, we also have borehole issues and other issues relating to water provision. The data centre is to assist us in making proper and effective decisions through adequate information.

Does that have to do with meeting international standards?

Whatever we are doing currently is actually based on international standards and best practices. You have the minimum standards even locally for your water to be acceptable. So, yes, we are doing that.

How much has your ministry expended in this area, and how much do you intend to spend in the near future?

For now, I do not have the figures.

Earlier, you talked about the various agencies you have set up to monitor water quality and sanitation. What are their scopes, and what have they been able to achieve?

When funds are released, they do their jobs effectively. We are working on sanitation, and there is a committee established to look into those areas. So, we can improve on the sanitation practices in the local areas in order to reduce the malaise of water-borne diseases.

What are the challenges you are facing in achieving your mandate at the local areas?

I do not think we have any major challenges. For me, the only area I think we would have challenges is in the area of funding. As I explained earlier, the provision of urban infrastructure is capital intensive. You need to understand that we cannot get it right in one day. Most of the water infrastructures we have today have been there for 20 years. You cannot solve the water problems we have in one day, one year or even in four years, actually. You have to have a long- term plan. However, the challenge I can say we have now is funding. We know what we want to do but the funds are not there. To get that kind of funding, we may have to put the whole fiscal year’s budget into it. You have to understand that there are so many priorities for government. Education, health, power are all-important. Without power, most especially, we cannot run our pumping stations efficiently. So, at the end of the day, what is more important is how to schedule our development strategies and plans.

You said the major challenge is funding, but last year, government spent about N24 billion on water. How true is that?

I do not understand. During which time?

Last year, during one of the accountability forums?

May be, they have planned to put that much into the sector but that is not based on what we have as at now. If I may understand the point, that figure is from the report of the committee. They estimated that to overhaul the existing water infrastructure, it would take that much. It was not based on the realities on ground. Nevertheless, we have carried out the actual studies, and we have the real figures.

How much is it?

(Laughs) I cannot tell you that now. I have to tell my boss first!

Why have you delayed it to this day?

We are waiting for the proper documentation. You know they just finished the design just last two weeks. Therefore, I need to sit down with the governor and discuss the whole report in details before making it public. The whole thing covers Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor. So, get ready in the next month or so – by God’s grace, when we win the elections, you will all know about it.

Just recently, there were indications that your ministry was working on a new special tariff for water. Can you tell us what the details are?

Yes, water is a social amenity. However, people should pay for it, and that is in line with international best practices. You pay for power, so what stops you from paying for water? Imagine how much you expend daily or monthly paying for your telephone bills. Government cannot do everything. At least, it gives you free education, and free healthcare. On our own, there are certain things we have to do. However, infrastructure development in water is enormous, and government is taking all that responsibility. So, we should be able to assist in our own small way.

Very soon, you will be two years in office. What are the things you can beat your chest and say you have achieved?

I have been digging the foundation to hold the structure that would stand the test of time. If you do not have a firm foundation, the building will collapse. As I said earlier, policy formulation is the thing you cannot see physically on the streets. I have been working hard on it. We are also working on the laws, and you would see the institutional reforms. You have to understand that we had enormous wastes in the sector. For now, we do not have such wastes again. You can now see that we have a solid policy on ground. We should have stronger institutions at the end of the day, including a proper design nobody can argue on. You can go to any international organization for funding and get support from what we have now. We have done a very comprehensive feasibility study that can enable our state to tap from any offshore funding. We have consultants that have worked out the proper rating structure. That means we would not have haphazard water rate based on what is obtained anywhere in the world. Based on the economic realities on ground, we have worked out what people can actually pay. All these are the things you need to put in place.

Can you tell us how long these lofty programmes would take before they begin to manifest, especially the urban water scheme?

If government were able to release major bulk of the funding, then soonest, you would begin to see it. Maybe, in the next two years. However, you know that that is difficult. They cannot give us all the money in one swoop.

Why is it so? (General Laughter)

That means they have to stop the litany of road construction works. We need to consider other areas as well. For now, however, we are laying pipes in Gokana, but there is a road they are constructing. We have to wait for them to finish the road construction before we begin laying the pipes. These are the realities, and most importantly, you have to understand that infrastructure development cannot be done in isolation.

We are yet to get your explanation. Why it is taking time for you to implement these?

What I have told you is that primarily, we will present the design to His Excellency, and he would take decisions based on his own priorities and the funds he has available. Even Cross River and Lagos states are still working on their water projects.

Even before you came on board, there was water in some parts of Port Harcourt, and suddenly, that disappeared. In your own conviction, do you not think it is taking a long time before the people would have potable water?

I am surprised that you seem not to get all these explanations, and I wonder what the common average person would get from you. We have decayed infrastructure all these while. Not up to 10 per cent of the pipes were usuable, and we have stations that have not been upgraded for the past 30 years. The whole thing boils down to poor funding and maintenance. For example, Moscow Road Station is flowing water, and yet about 60 per cent of that water is being lost to leakages underground. Besides, these leakages underground can equally pose threats to foundation of buildings on top of it.

You seem not to understand my question. What I am asking is that with these decayed infrastructure and other factors, do you think it is justified that after all these years and our level of development, we are still talking about water provision?

Well, I cannot speak for previous administrations (laughs). For the current administration, we are determined on providing sustainable water supply in Rivers State. We are determined to do it; otherwise, we would not spend much on the design as we have done. Let us focus on what the current administration is trying to do to deliver water to the people of Rivers State.

Just before we wrap it up, we know your ministry has spent so much money in revitalizing stations at Rumuola and Moscow Road. Can you give us an idea of how much has been spent so far?

I do not have the figures off hand. I cannot give that right now and but I know that we have not spent very much. Earlier before now, we found hiccups in the Rumuola Station because we could not flow the water. We discovered that most of the pipes along Old Aba Road have been damaged, and the same we found at Ikwerre Road due to construction works going on in those areas. Nevertheless, we can fix all the 11 pumps running but if you cannot upgrade the network, you would have much wastage.

However, if you pressurize the pipes to meet up demand, you would discover leakages everywhere. Therefore, it is not something we can fix overnight. For example, we tried it on Old Aba Road by pumping more – along that axis – and the roads started washing away. We got an alarm the other day from the Diobu area that a building was being endangered because of water pipes under its foundation. We have discovered that many of our water pipes were being endangered because of haphazard building construction in different parts of the city. So, there are a lot challenges in the sector, which is why we believe that the re-design is the easiest way to go. Otherwise, if you continue flowing water as it is today, some buildings will collapse and roads would wash away. So, most of the time, we have to shut down production because road construction is on going. We believe that the people also need to understand that when urban renewal is on course, there would be some hiccups, and major sacrifices have to be made for the future.

From what you have so far explained and done, do you have the requisite manpower and tools to meet future challenges?

Yes, we do. We have qualified personnel and sound staff. However, you never stop learning. We are still trying to fortify the ones we have, and we are seriously working on capacity building with the European Union, and other organizations to put things in place. In a recent assessment of some Niger Delta states’ water policy, we came tops. This shows that we are really ready to move the water sector to the next level.

So much have been talked about the water sector and other policies. However, people would like to know who you are, and what you do outside government duties?

(Laughs) Yes, I am from Bonny Local Government Area in Rivers State. I grew up and schooled here – primary, secondary and university. I went to Lagos, where I did my National Youth Service at the Federal Ministry of Health; in the Primary Health Care Section, where I did statistics planning for them. I have a degree in Computer and Mathematics. On my completion of youth service, I worked in a computer firm, and rose from a programme analyst to a branch manager. I came back to set up an In-Laks Computer branch. I left In-Laks, and joined a mobile telecommunications company – specifically Mobile Telecom Services. I worked with them as a regional manager in the late 90s, and then, later set up my own company between 1997-1998. I moved from information technology into the oil sector, and later owned one of the indigenous oil technology servicing companies. That was what I was doing before I was called up to serve my state.

What about sports/recreation?

Yes. I used to be very sporting. In secondary school, I played ball in my alma mater – Federal Government Girls Secondary School, Abuloma, and I also played for Rivers State – I played volleyball. I also played volleyball for my university. I also used to play squash, and now, I play golf. But I have not played for sometime now because of my busy schedule. I am a very private person. I have two children, and I am happy to spend time with my family, quietly. I am also very religious person, and I like spending time with my God.

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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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