Last Thursday, the Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, paid a working visit to the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (publishers of The Tide) to officially launch a new campaign, “#OurStateOurResponsibility”, designed to rebrand and correct the negative narrative by the vocal minority about the state. In this interview with some members of the Editorial Board: Chairman, Goodluck Ukwe; Group News Editor, Nelson Chukwudi; Business Editor, Boye Salau; Group Sports Editor, Gabriel Nwanetanya; and Acting Op-Ed/Features Editor, Arnold Alalibo, last Friday, Nsirim elucidates on the motivation for the campaign, strategy, drivers, goals, stakeholder groups collaborating to achieve desired results, and much more. Head of Photographic Unit, Ibioye Diama, captured the scenes. Excerpts.
We are much aware of the series of branding and rebranding by successive administrations. We recall the last one that the former Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari did. It was all about branding and rebranding of the state. How far that one went, we can’t say. So, what is the difference between the new campaign and the one we had in the past?
I will just correct one impression. Rivers State is a brand. Rebranding and rebranding does not exist because you have a brand. What happens concerning the brand is that at every point in the history of the state, new strategies are brought in to promote the brand.
If you take the example of Coca Cola, every day, you see new adverts; it has not changed the brand ‘Coca Cola’. What we are doing now is a new strategy to promote the Rivers brand. And if you ask: what is the difference? I will tell you clearly that the difference will be in terms of the modus operandi of this campaign. We are starting with meeting with the various stakeholder groups as a way of buying into it; because the reason why some campaigns fail is that the major stakeholder groups that are supposed to be part of the campaign are not involved. That is, for example, the reason why we are starting with the media. The media are going to be the agenda setters. The media will be setting the agenda while we begin to engage other stakeholder groups.
It is a campaign that will run in phases. What we are doing now is a kind of advocacy. It is going to have so many levels. That is why this one is different. Before, what we saw is that may be something was launched, now, we are not doing a launching, but we are just saying we are trying to reposition the Rivers State brand and this is the plan, this is the catch phrase.
If you look at the catch phrase: “#OurStateOurResponsibility”, you will understand that this is really tailored to be people-centred. The catch phrase of this campaign alone shows that it is going to be people-centred. When people understand that they are part of a project, implementation wouldn’t be a problem.
Today (last Friday), the governor signed three bills into law. One of them is the prohibition of street trading and others. This campaign will also key into it because it is our state; it is our responsibility to keep the state clean, to be off the streets, to do what is right. You can see that it is a people centred campaign, and because it is people centred, I am very optimistic that it is going to succeed.
You alleged that there are minority vocal groups trying to de-market the state, using some media to paint the state black. What are you doing to reach out to those people and make them part of the campaign?
Everybody will be part of it (campaign). That is why it is going to be in phases. As we finish with the state media houses, we are going to the private media houses in the state. It is also going to take us out of the state to involve the media.
I am proud of the brand. The Rivers brand is one in a million. This is because we are blessed with the natural resources, we are blessed with the infrastructures and we are blessed with a welcoming state. I don’t know anywhere in the world where people are hospitable like the Rivers people. In this state, we are hospitable people. Whatever you talk about a Rivers man, there is a spirit in us that accepts visitors. While growing up, I used to see my mother entertaining visitors with food. If an artisan, wherever he comes from, comes to work for my mother in the village, she would pay him and insist that he eats her food. That is what we are.
Do you also consider the logistics involved in this campaign? Because for me, it is massive!
Yea, it is, but what we have going for us is that presently, His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Governor of Rivers State has carved a niche for himself in Governance. It is only a bad product that is usually hard to sell. We have a good brand in the governor himself. He has distinguished himself as a people’s leader. He has demonstrated in the last four years that he has the capacity to give the people of Rivers State good governance, and of course, the numerous local and international awards he has received attest to the fact that this man is really doing the business. We have the goodwill of the governor and we have the goodwill of this ministry. I believe there are many doors you can open in this country today with goodwill and that is in abundance.
Do you also consider the sustainability of this campaign, in case tomorrow you are moved from this ministry to another ministry?
Let me assure you that the various directorates in this ministry are properly positioned for this campaign, perchance I am posted out. Because of the philosophy of this ministry and because the directors in this ministry have already bought into this project, it will be difficult for any right thinking person to abandon it. This campaign just started three days ago, but I can tell you, a lot of people have already embraced it. But I can tell you that even on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Scannews, I was told today, the burse concerning this has been massive. It is only somebody who is insane, that will say a good product like this will not sell.
Gentlemen, I must say, this is a breath of fresh air in the state because it is like people have been looking for a rallying point where they can aggregate their views or opinions. But now, the Ministry of Information is providing that platform for the people to have a voice to tell their story.
Sir, the hashtag, ‘#OurStateOurResponsibility’, can you throw more light on that catch phrase?
Initially, I said that this is a people-centred campaign. If you live and do business here, this is your home; this is your state, and whatever happens here, whether for good or for ill, affects you. So, we all need to work together as people living and doing business here, to promote the interest of the state. Everybody living and doing business here is a stakeholder. I think that sums it: Everybody living and doing business here is a stakeholder, and we all need to realise that when things begin to move in the right direction, because you live and do business here, you will be a beneficiary. And people need to be told that. What is happening now is that some people are behaving like the proverbial monkey that saw trees falling in the forest and was laughing: ‘trees are falling oooh, hahaha’; until all the trees finished falling, then it realised that it was its house that was falling. So, we want to do that re-orientation for people to understand that when you hear anything negative about Rivers State, be concerned because it will affect you one way or the other. Do something to correct that negative impression by cascading the positive aspect of the state.
For record purposes, what informed this advocacy, and why now?
What informed this advocacy is that we in the Ministry of Information and Communications feel concerned that our story as a state is not being heard. Our voice as a people is not being heard. A lot of good things are happening here, but the minority vocal voices are drowning the good things that are happening here. So, we said no, we need to change the narrative. Any sincere person living and doing business here knows that a lot has happened within the last four years. And we are thinking now, the governor is into his second term, we need more people on board the Ship of State, because despite the distractions of the first term, the man was focused to deliver the dividends of democracy to Rivers people. Now is the time, and fortunately, because the governor is a team player, on winning the election, he extended the Olive Branch to the opposition. A few appointments he has made within the last few months, people in the opposition are part of it. So, it is a project tailored to say ‘look, everybody should come on board; we all have a stake, let’s do it together’.
From our understanding, this advocacy is the brainchild of your ministry. What efforts are you making to reach out to other ministries to key in so as to achieve the set goal of rebranding the state?
That is why I said that this is in phases. In fact, informally, I have engaged all the permanent secretaries in the various ministries. Even today, I have posted some information on our WhatsApp platform, and people are reacting to it. The campaign is going to be in phases. The media was chosen first, like I mentioned earlier, to help us set the agenda. Every major stakeholder group will be part of this project in the final analysis.
You have talked of the de-marketing of the state by some disgruntled elements or minority group. Has the government been able to identify this minority group or detractors of the state?
I don’t understand what you mean by if government has identified the people de-marketing the state. You are in the media, and you know these people. It is not difficult for any person with genuine interest in the good of the state to identify them. You know them, and everyone here knows who they are. Rivers people know who they are!
The governor, after the March 9 election, offered the Olive Branch to those antagonists in the opposition to sheathe their sword and join him to build and move the state forward. Do you think between that time and now, those elements are still prosecuting their campaign to de-market the state? Or put differently, do you think this campaign still has something to achieve given that it is expected by now that those antagonists would have changed their strategies, and joined the governor to move the state forward?
Well, you are in the media. I just alluded to that fact. Of course, we all know that they are still de-marketing the state. No one needs to be told that the detractors of the state are still prosecuting their nefarious smear campaign against the state. You can read, see and hear it on all the media platforms: the newspapers, radios, televisions, and even the social media. They are still actively going on with their negative campaign as if it is still business as usual. That is why we are doing this! We need to tell them, and indeed, the outside world and, especially the business community and tourists that a lot of positive things are happening here, and that this state is hospitable, secure and safe for business.
When you have a project of this nature, you also need to localise it and make sure that the rural dwellers are carried along. And because we have a large illiterate population in the rural areas, you are supposed to have an inclusive strategy with special communication module or approach to reach them. How do you plan to sell this Rivers brand to the rural folks to secure their buy-in? Or you want to concentrate your campaign in the urban centres only?
Thank you very much. The various stakeholder groups are involved in this effort, and we can’t list them all here: the traditional institution, market women, artisans, transporters, farmers, fishermen, professionals in various fields, politicians, private and public sector workers, entrepreneurs, small and medium scale businessmen and women, investors, you name them – all stakeholders are important in this campaign, and all will be reached. In fact, we are going to collaborate with all people living and doing business in this state, including corporate bodies and non-governmental organisations to achieve our mandate of making “#OurStateOurResponsibility”.
I have said it before: We are going to engage all stakeholder groups up to the grassroots because of what we are trying to do for this state; we need everybody on board. I told them at Garden City Radio today, that I want posterity to judge us kindly. We cannot stand aloof. We have a heritage as a people. We have a heritage which is rich in culture and tradition. And we have core values as a people. We respect people, especially visitors. We are hospitable and accommodating. We are welcoming and friendly. We like to share whatever we have with others, especially visitors. We are peace-loving and tolerant. And we cannot afford to lose our heritage and values. So, all those stakeholder groups we have in mind are going to be reached with the message of “OurStateOurResponsibility”. They have to buy in, take ownership of it and ensure that they promote the message that our state is our responsibility. They must protect it. They must promote it anywhere they are. It is in phases, and everyone will be reached. And because all of you in the media will be part of it, you will see how the campaign will go, and the tremendous results we will get.
Whenever government comes up with something like this, people are always skeptical. What plans do you have to convince skeptics that this time around, it is for real?
If you followed our conversation, I said that it is only a bad product that is usually difficult to sell. But Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is a good product! One thing you cannot take away from this governor is that he keeps his promises. When he came on board, he promised Rivers people that for every promise he will make, he will fulfill. He also told them that every project of critical importance to their well-being and interest that was abandoned by the previous administrations, he will complete. He has kept faith with those promises. And that integrity and character of His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, is a major selling point for us in this campaign.
We are saying to people: we have a Brand in Governor Wike. In the past four years, whatever he said he will do, he has done. Come on board and join him. Yes, skeptics may still be lurking here and there, but every person living and doing business in the state can attest to the fact that he has kept his promises. He has won the confidence and trust of Rivers people. And they believe in him, because he has worked hard to protect and defend their interest at all levels. They know that the man who is saddled with the responsibility as the governor is not somebody who plays to the gallery. He is a man of his words. He walks the talk!
Are you envisaging any challenges in the course of prosecuting this task?
As an individual, I don’t envisage any challenges. Even so, for me, challenges are usually stepping stones. They are opportunities that enable you actualise your ambition. A vision that does not have challenges is not a realistic vision. But if you set your eyes at the goal, those challenges eventually turn out to be stepping stones to success. So, I don’t worry about challenges; I care more about the opportunities that those challenges throw up, and I work hard to take advantage of them to achieve my goals.
First, is on social media. You know that a campaign like this will work perfectly well and reach out to a wider audience, locally and internationally, if you have an active Social Media component. While designing this campaign, did you factor in the social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and an effective management system for them? Do you have official social media pages on these platforms specifically dedicated to drive this campaign?
Thank you very much. To allay your fears, I will say yes. We are already working with social media influencers in the state to escalate the advocacy. Some are doing something on Twitter, some on Facebook, and some on Instagram through their own verified accounts and handles. Even the Online Media are also posting some of the things we have done as part of the campaign to help us communicate the message through the Internet. But we have not created our own Pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. That will be done today, shortly after this session. It is important that we create our own official Social Media Pages and Handles for the purpose of escalating this campaign to reach as wide audiences as possible, and also help us sustain it for years to come.
For a campaign like this to succeed, it must have a good trigger and concept, strategy for driving it, set goals, timeline for all the deliverables, and beyond these, it must have a good budget for prosecuting it in order to achieve success, because studies have shown that no campaign succeeds without a robust budget. So, do you have a budget to drive this campaign going forward?
Well, our budget is the goodwill of stakeholders. Our budget is the rich and authentic Rivers Brand. Our budget is the integrity and character of this present administration.
The campaign is built on people. Does the campaign have any measure to identify Rivers people who are involved in one enterprise or the other to project or drive this cause?
Part of the strategy is to create and project Brand Ambassadors. It is part of the strategy. We are going to create brand ambassadors. Not just Rivers people but even visitors to the state and friends of the state. So, it is part of the strategy.
The state under the present administration has been able to host so many events in politics, sports, economy, etc. Will you say that the efforts of the governor have been appreciated?
You should answer that question: If a man gets recognitions locally and internationally saying ‘you are doing well in governance’, what other appreciation are you asking for? It’s clear, at a point, all the major tabloids in this country were falling over themselves to give him awards, because, really, what is on ground, the quantum of what have been pumped into developing this state is legendary. And this is a fact. I say this with a deep sense of responsibility because this is what is on ground. There are those who rule their states on television but when you get there, there’s nothing on ground; not this governor. If he tells you, ‘I will build Fruit Garden Market’, on the next day, the bulldozers move in. If he tells you that ‘I will rebuild Mile One Market’, the next day, the contractors are mobilised to site.
And he is one governor that has said that he will not award a project he would not complete. As he is awarding a project, he is matching it with resources.
In this campaign, is there a role for sports?
Of course, you know that His Excellency is a sports loving governor, and there is no way you will be talking about his achievements as a governor without considering his legacies sports development. That’s why he is the Power of Sports (POS) in Africa. So, yes, sports will be an integral part of the campaign. You see, there are little things that people don’t recognise. You were here when the inauguration match was played; you were there at the stadium, all the notable stars in this country were there. You know, people take this kind of things for granted, you just hear or see that people came, but you won’t go deeper to probe, to ask: why did these people come? It’s just not that the governor is a sports loving governor, he is a man that has won the hearts and goodwill of Nigerians across a broad spectrum. So, even professional footballers, serving and retired are always willing to identify with him. That’s why all the Kanus of this world were here to celebrate the inauguration. And for us, it’s notable because there is no governor before now in this state that had been able to bring all these stars under one umbrella.
After the March elections, the governor was quoted as saying that politics and election were over, and that it was time for governance, and he actually invited the opposition to work with him. In your own assessment as a stakeholder in this administration, how far has this message gone down with the opposition?
It’s an ongoing process. The governor, if you are close to him, you will know that he is a large-hearted person. He means what he says. There are people who speak from both sides of their mouth, but not Governor Nyesom Wike. So, he is engaging every stakeholder to come on board. He means it, that’s why I said earlier, in some of the appointments he has made so far, people from the opposition parties are there. It has never been like that before. Here, it used to be the winner takes it all. But he is demonstrating that sportsmanship because of the kind of leader he is. A people’s leader sees everybody, whether opposition or not as his people. He means it when he says elections are over, and it’s time for governance, and governance in the state is for all Rivers people.
Just recently, the governor also said there are people who are getting sleepless nights just to make sure they pull down the government … Cuts in…
That doesn’t change his position that he has offered the olive branch. It doesn’t change that position. If that position changes, he will say it. But knowing his character, he has not changed that position.
From the body language, it is like those people are not really willing to come up?
You are the one saying the body language. A lot is happening. If you are conversant with governance, you will see that there are so many people that are hanging around Government House that were not there.
Let me take you back to the brand name. Don’t you think that “MyStateMyResponsibility” should have personalised the brand better than “OurStateOurResponsibility”?
“Our” is better, because if you say, “My” state, non-indigenes will be excluded. They will now say it is for Rivers people. But “Our” is for everybody living and doing business here. It is well conceived.
The brand campaign touches on cleanliness and neatness, taking Port Harcourt back to the glory of Garden City it was known for. And given that the Assembly has just passed a bill concerning street trading, what measures are you taking to cushion the effects?
The truth of the matter is that people have a penchant for disobeying the law. You live in Port Harcourt. Go to Creek Road Market, the stalls are empty but people are on the streets. It is a statement of fact. Now, the governor was saying today that the excuse people still hold is that they want to survive. Are you aware that most of the people that litter the streets of Port Harcourt come from neighbouring states that do business here, and then, jump into the bus later on by six o’clock and go back? We can’t afford to have that kind of system. Let me assure Rivers people that the governor has the political will to implement it. That’s why a law has been passed, and assented to today.
Already, 450 persons have been profiled by the Nigeria Police that will serve as taskforce police and they are going to work in two shifts, from morning till night. It is the first time in the history of this state that that kind of strategy will be used. The governor is saying if you want to do business, for example, somebody wants to sell cars, you come to the road. He says if you want to sell cars acquire a land, partition it, fence it out and sell your cars there. The streets should not be places where people would just come and litter. And so many things also would be happening in the area of environmental sanitation.
The challenge we have in the State is that people have the habit of polluting their environment. I was sharing with a few people the other day and I said to them we all were here when ‘War Against Indiscipline’ was launched in this country. You can’t just go anywhere and urinate no matter how pressed. You would queue. That’s where the queue culture became very strong in this country. You can’t just after eating your banana or whatever you are in a moving vehicle, you throw it away. What was it that made it work? It was the political will.
This government has the political will and in the next few weeks the results will begin to show, because there will be mobile courts. People will be tried summarily. If it is option of fine, you pay. If you can’t pay the fine, you go to prison. By the time one or two people go to prison, you will not see anybody on the road. And that is the kind of language Nigerians understand. This is a very beautiful city. We didn’t have it like this before. Port Harcourt used to be called Garden City.
Now, people want to turn it to Aba, and we can’t afford to do that. We are lucky in this State. Mile One Market is there, Mile Three Market is there, Creek Road is there, Town Market is there. I hope we know that there is a Town Market? It is there. We have two mechanic villages in this state. A lot of people have forgotten that there is one at Mile Three, there is one at Elekahia. Now, we have motor parks; we have the Abali Motor Park, we have the one at Mile Three and we have some other designated motor parks even outside the city centre. Anybody who is going to run anything to do with that kind of business should go to the designated areas and it is in the interest of the people.
If you go and board vehicles at the designated motor parks, danger is averted because you will not fall into the hands of hoodlums. In those motor parks, every vehicle is registered with the unions. People fall into the hands of hoodlums because they enter into vehicles along the road, and government is saying beyond building infrastructure and also for protection of lives and properties, go to designated places so that your lives will be safe. Do you know how many people whose whereabouts cannot be accounted for? Before in this State, it was difficult for you to see somebody doing ‘Aba, Aba’ along the road. You would go to the park. So, that is it.
What time limit are you giving this campaign, and what will your expectations be in the end?
What we are expecting from this campaign is a total behaviour change in those living and doing business in Rivers State and then also that Rivers State is projected positively to the outside world.
How long will this campaign last?
It is going to last for a long time because the various strategies will be coming in bits as we will be going on. So, I can’t say now it will last for one day, two days, one year or three years because it is something that has to be sustained. My own vision is that even after this government, in the next four years, the next government that comes should be able to have a plan to continue to push this agenda because we have a heritage as a people.
Those Demarketing Rivers Should Stop Spreading Falsehood -Sophia
Only recently, the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications orgainsed an essay competition for students in the State as part of the second phase of the advocacy campaign of #Our StateOurResponsibility, aimed at changing the negative narrative about the State.
The first prize winner of the competition, Miss Oyibo Sophia Awajibenem, now the Ambassador of the programme and the face of the Information and Communications Ministry for three months, is truly passionate about advancing the frontiers of the campaign.
In this encounter with our General Manager, Ernest Chinwo and Group News Editor, Victor Tew, she dwells extensively on the imperatives of potraying the state in its true positive status, given the giant strides of the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and many more.
Could you please, tell us about yourself?
I am Oyibo Sophia Awajibenem from Ngo in Andoni Local Government Area. I am 18 years old. I am a public health student. I reside in Port Harcourt.
I school at Port Harcourt Joint Professional Training and Support International Institute.
I am the Ambassador of the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications. I am patriotic and ready to achieve more success.
I will like to further my education in order to become a Medical Doctor.
How do you intend to go about that in terms of resources and all that?
It is by being studious. By going out there to read and gain information, do my research and also being focused. The determination in me will keep me focused
Why did you participate in the essay competition orgainsed by the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications on the advocacy programme tagged. #OurStateOur Responsibility?.
I did it because I love the vision of #OurState OurResponsibility. I deemed it fit to participate to promote our State as an individual and also as a youth.
What really spurred you into partaking in the essay competition? Is it because of the pecuniary benefit attached to it or an altruistic concern to change the narrative of the State?
Firstly, I never saw the competition as a challenge. I just wanted to write the truth. I wanted to make known what I felt was what we as individuals, as the State should do.
I wanted to spread the love. It is not just about your personal benefit or your personal need. It should go around, it is collective.
What was the major attraction to you?
I don’t want to use the word major because I saw just the Ambassadorial duty. First to be the Ambassador of the ministry before I ever read down to see that there was a cash prize attached to it. I wasn’t concerned about the cash prize, I was concerned about being an Ambassador. I wanted to represent that and that was the goal.
When you submitted your essay and was shortlisted, how did you feel?
I felt overwhelmed, this is where the trust comes in. They should know who we are personally and believe in us, that it is actually from within. I had to go there, to do what I had to do because it was not something that was forged, it is the passion in letting people know. So I felt appreciated by that means.
OurStateOur Responsibility. How do you see it?
It is a vision. It is telling us that we have roles, obligations, duties to perform in the state. When we say #OurStateOur Responsibility, it includes everyone. We are the State, we are the government and that responsibility is what we have to render to the state.
Well, there was a statement credited to you in your essay. You did say that you remembered a piece by Erekosima.What did you think about that piece?
The piece by Boma Erekosima is a motivation. It is what inspired me to write, to participate in the essay writing. It actually spelt out my essay. That piece was a summary of what I wrote.
Can you recount it?
Love Rivers State or leave her alone, don’t pull us down, see what you can do for us, engage yourself in meaningful activities, no room for gossip and do something meaningful.
How does it relate to us, the youths of today, our politicians, those who are trying to pull the State down and those who don’t have the interest of the State?
When we say we should love the State, it means that we should love ourselves, everything about the State, we shouldn’t be into propaganda, we shouldn’t spread rumours, flasehood. We should appreciate the fact that our State is improving. We should see the progress, we shouldn’t just vandalise those things that have been provided for us. We should use them as resources. We shouldn’t be idle because an idle man is the devil’s workshop.
We should grab opportunities, work with them and make them a success.
We find our youth involved in anti-social activities. So, what is your message to youths of Rivers State?
There is no benefit in doing things that are irrelevant. We should put our vision where it will benefit everyone, it should not just be personal. Don’t do things that are illegal. Grab opportunities that will promote the nation, that way, we all can grow.
How do you think the youths can be detached from being used as political thugs and all that?
If they are given proper knowledge about the consequences of the things they indulge in, I feel that it will bring them to the consciousness that they are better off than being thugs. Proper orientation of being good in the society to be leaders of tomorrow. That way, they will see the bright side of it and focus on good visions in promoting theState.
If you are asked to draw up a sensitisation programme for youths, how would you go about it?
I will start with an orientation or a sensitisation programme because it does not just start like that. You make them understand, you bring them to their notice and do a follow up. When you tell somebody about something, as you let them be, you are not really convinced that you are passing the message to them. You have to follow them up, bring up situations and platforms that will ensure that they are actually rooted in being successful.
As the face of the state Ministry of Information and Communications programme: #Our State Our Responsibility, what would you like to do?
As an Ambassador, I am an advocate of something, an advocate of the vision, #OurState Our Responsibility. I am here to start a programme to enlighten the youths about the good opportunities that abound in the State and to make our leaders know that we are not lazy and we have talents and if only we are given the platform to showcase them, we will do better.
It is something that we as youths have to bring out the best in us.
OurStateOur Responsibility, how do you see it?
It is a vision. #OurStateOur Responsibility is a vision that is telling us that we have roles, obligations and duties to perform in the State and when we say #OurStateOur Responsibility, it is not just one person, it is everybody in the State.
Some politicians in a bid to score some cheap political points have been known to brand the State as unsafe for people to live in, unsafe for investments and all that, do you share in that view?
No, I don’t, because we are in this State. We go out and come in to our houses. We should be security conscious. For investors, people who go about their business activities, I feel that the trust should be there.
There should be a benefit of the doubt and as far as Rivers State is concerned, we are the people who will showcase the business. We should be exemplary.
So there is no room for falsehood or any kind of conviction that we are not safe. We are safe.
So what is your advice to those demarketing the State?
I will say that they should stop spreading falsehood. There is no gain in spreading lies. At least, they should come and see for themselves. And those investors also for you to invest in a place, you should have a background check on whoever you are going to invest with or who your investors are for you to know better. Not just by word of mouth but seeing it.
How do you see the Wike administration
He has really done well. The Rivers State of yesterday can not be compared to what we have now. Port Harcourt is beautiful and safe. Port Harcourt is filled with so many businesses, so many organisations are doing well, so there is prosperity.
What about human capital development, are you impressed?
I am, because it is improving. it is not like how it was before. we are doing well.
Rivers State is blessed.
As an Ambassador of the Ministry, what is your advice to the youths, politicians and leaders?
To the youths, I will say success is not determined by age grade or age limit, we need to grab opportunities. we do not have to wait for us to be told what we have to do. We recognise who we are. Because we are the leaders of tomorrow and it starts now.
We shouldn’t wait till that level where they throw accusations at us that we are not doing anything. We need to show that we are ready for the future.
To the politicians, I feel that education is the key; knowledge is power, they should actually support the youth and everyone in Rivers State and they shouldn’t do things that make youths to regret.
They should support that which is good, education , security and also when it comes to bringing up talents. I feel that there should be more investments.
To our leaders. they should keep up the good work, because we look up to them.
They should be exemplary, they should be disciplined.
There is this misconception that the youths of our State are only interested in what they can do for money to come immediately and are not conscious to the extent of working hard, believing that their efforts will yield dividend tomorrow. So they prefer what they can get now What is your reaction to that?
I feel that it is a practice. It is not our culture because we have to be hard working. we have to be professional, we have to know what we have to do to attain such position, is not by having it immediately, because that is theft, corruption and greed.
We have to work diligently to get what we want. So it is wrong for anybody to have any amount of money that is not from a genuine source.
I feel that all we need to do is to put our hands on deck to work for that which is right at all times.
One thing we have noticed in our State, especially the state capital is indiscriminate dumping of refuse. Are we saying that it is not part of our responsibility to keep our State clean?
It is our responsibility to keep our environment clean and safe because when our environment is dirty, it affects our health. so we should actually work at our health, our wellbeing and also we have agencies which are controlling that. If the agencies are working, it is our responsibility to support them in making the place clean, because we all are humans and it will be inhuman for some one to be working for the cleaniness of our environment then, we all make the place dirty.
It’s not right. So our responsibility is taking it up to ourselves as humans to make our environment clean.
You were Commissioner for Information for 30minutes, how do you feel about that?
It was amazing, it was a rare opportunity, and I feel that for anyone to sit there as a commissioner, then, there is a whole lot to do, it is not just by saying it but it is by showing it. Our Honourable Commissioner, I know is showing it because having sat there, I saw so many opportunities on that seat and this has actually motivated me to do more to sit there one day.
Having sat there for at least 30minutes or so, will you go into politics?
Yes. For you to be a citizen, involving in politics is just what to get you to that level, it is not a bad thing.
What extent has your participation in this essay competition motivated you?
It actually gives me an opportunity to meet people, to see things, to have views, to hear about what the world is saying. So, I feel that encouragement is not by saying or being an Ambassador, it is being here in the State and doing more for the State. So, I feel motivated to bring that picture and few presentations of what the vision is, that is what I feel.
As an Ambassador for some weeks now, what has been your kind of schedule? Have you met some new persons, some new opportunities so far?
It has been excellent, but not easy, because this time around in my life, I try to schedule things and share some of my times there is time management and there is this hospitality you have to show to everyone because they want to know more about you. You give them the chance to express themselves, and that has actually made me to realise and have the knowledge about everything and because they throw questions you are not familiar with. That gives me the room to read more, that gives me the room for human resources management, to understand people, to actually know more about people, to understand their mood and where they are headed to, and to understand their different perspectives and to know what they indulge in.
Where do you see Rivers State tomorrow and in the future? .
We are already in the future because we are getting to the top; I see an extraordinary State; I see a beautiful State; I see a State that is without or should I say with less corruption, that is with more of development. That is where I see Rivers State.
Wike Has Made Rivers People Proud – Eke
His Majesty King (Dr) Leslie Nyebuchi Eke, Eze Gbakagbaka, Eze Oha Evo III of Evo Kingdom in Obio/Akpor Local government Area of Rivers State, is a First Class Traditional Ruler.
Trained as a Biological Scientist at Illinois State University, Bloomington Normal, United States of America, he holds a Masters Degree and Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) from Wycliffe University & ATS, California.
Suave, ebullient, accessible, humble, down-to-earth and cerebral, Eke is also the Secretary General of the Association of Niger Delta Monarchs (ANDMON) and the Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State Chapter of Traditional Rulers of Oil Minerals Producing Communities (TROMPCOM).
In this exclusive interview with our Production Editor, Donatus Ebi and cameraman, Egberi A. Sampson, Eke poignantly bares his mind on sundry issues affecting the State and the nation. He particularly eulogises the Executive Governor of the State, Chief Nyesom Wike for the giant development strides of his administration within the past six years and comes to the inevitable conclusion that he has surpassed the achievements of his predecessors, having performed beyond the expectation of Rivers people.
His Majesty, by virtue of all that you have seen in the State in the past six years, what are your comments on the achievements of Governor Nyesom Wike?
As it concerns us and the Governor, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is God-sent, a purposeful Governor, a vision-full Governor and a man that knows why he is Governor, why he did come to contest and contested as Governor. And this man, meticulously, seriously, honestly, has continued, day by day, month by month, to roll out projects that are impactful to the society, to Rivers people. Roads infrastructure, schools, hospitals, human capacity, I mean continuously. This man has turned the Garden City into a city of flyovers. And that is very meaningful. We very much appreciate such a person. And unfortunately, he can’t go for a third term. We wish he goes for a third term. He is going to give so much to the Rivers people.
He has made us so proud. He has distinguished himself among the Governors and governments in Nigeria. All the things he has done, other governments and even the Federal Government should learn from him.
A case in point is the Coronavirus pandemic. Our Governor took proactive actions in time and that is why Rivers State did not suffer much from the pandemic and they had to learn from him. He has impacted on the people commercially, economically and otherwise. Even our Christian lives have improved because he gave this State to God and declared it a Christian State. He built an Ecumenical Centre and God literally has come down to work with His people and has begun to give us a sense of direction, a sense of belonging. We appreciate so much from the man, who has unlike others, really worked even in the second term, working like it was the first term. And we are grateful to God for all his achievements. He is a true Ikwerre son. We appreciate him. We pray that he would find more to do even after he has left this stage of governance. We couldn’t have had it any other way.
Would you then say that Governor Wike has performed beyond expectation?
Very true. This Governor has done beyond expectation. Looking at precedents, looking at people before him, what he has done even per month, it is unequalled anytime, anywhere in the history of Rivers State. This Governor has done so much.
In spite of all that you have seen he has done, is it not surprising that there are still pockets of opposition in the State?
Well, it is unfortunate but we must have opposition. We must have people that agree and people that don’t agree. It is normal. We just want to encourage them to criticise constructively. They should engage in constructive criticisms. They should criticise him constructively. Not just opening your mouth for opening sake. This time around, it will be very difficult. You know, he has been accused of 3D projects. It is no longer 3D now, because you can come there and see it for yourself. You will see the flyovers. Who does three flyovers at the same time? Nobody. And he has told us that he has more, seven more to deliver to Rivers people and put us on the world map of very very improved humane settlements. We appreciate that.
You said it is unfortunate that the Governor won’t run for a third term, but there are people out there calling on him to run for the Presidency come 2023. What is your take on this?
At his point, I am not a politician. For him to run for a federal office, it is entirely his prerogative, it is at his discretion. It is left for him to decide. He has to watch the politicial terrain and decide what he wants. But one thing is sure. Anywhere this Governor, Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike finds himself, he would deliver on his promises, he would deliver on the NEED Assessment of the people. This man is in tune with development. He is in tune with the people. And I am not afraid. If tomorrow, he runs for the Presidency, it is Nigerians that will gain because he is going to work tirelessly. I don’t know where he gets his energy; he is going to work tirelessly and fearlessly and deliver on the things that matter to the people.
As a royal father, which areas would you like to advise the Governor?
Well, first and foremost, he has to watch his back. He is a Governor that works by self-conviction. And so he cannot be deterred by anybody, by superiors’ stories, very bad advice; he is unaffected by those kinds of things because he is a man of conviction. When he decides on a project, he delivers, because he is in tune with the people. He is a grassroots politician; he feels the pulse of the people. And I am sure he knows what Nigerians want too and if he finds himself in that national stage, I have no doubt in my mind that he will win and provide dividends of democracy to our people.
We have been having some security challenges in the country and even in the State in recent times to the extent that Governor Wike had to impose curfew in the State. How would you react to this?
Well, the Governor has done well in the area of security. This Governor has done more than any government, to give state of the art equipments to security operatives in the State, both water and land. He has done so much and continues to do. So, the rest is left for these professionals to deliver. The Governor is not a policeman or a soldier. He has built a Guest House for the Army, giving them vehicles, and the police, you know it, giving them so much including other security organisations. The government has done so much for the security people and they are supposed to complement the huge expenditure of government on them.
The idea of having a curfew is also part of his own actions to mitigate these security lapses that are creating fears among our people. So, he is helping them. It is good for them. It is good for them to complement what he is doing, in terms of speaking to the people by his now and then broadcasts. It is to encourage them to know exactly what government is up to. It is for them to know what is happening. In this way, they are able to work with him, and stay distance and time with the Governor and not begin to feel that he is not doing enough. He is talking to them constantly. The security operatives should complement this government’s efforts and prove it right in its activities to secure lives and property. I support the government of Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. I support him wholeheartedly and he has done well. I score him high and give him excellent mark.
But some people are still complaining about the curfew, what do you have to tell them, both the residents of the State and Rivers people?
The curfew we should obey. The residents and people of Rivers State should obey the curfew. It is even in the Bible, that we should obey the laws of government. And so, if it is this one regulation that government has brought, we should obey. It is not for peace-loving rivers people but this is to catch the criminals. We too should complement government’s efforts by obeying the rules and regulations. Like when we had the lockdowns, don’t we see that we are enjoying health now? At that time too, people criticised the government and the Governor, but today, they have swallowed their words. They are enjoying health now. If the Governor had left Coronavirus to fester, then, it would have been terrible for our people. But today, we are walking around, the markets are open, and everywhere else, people are able to live their lives.
His Majesty, some Nigerians are today calling for the restructuring of the country and some too are calling for secession, from the foregoing, what do you think is the fate of Nigeria and what do we really need?
Obviously, to sustain the various geo-political zones of Nigeria, we do need restructuring within one Nigeria. And people that are resisting this, obviously, in time, will bow to the yearnings of the people. If you go back to the time when we had regions, we had relative peace. We are not saying we should go back to that but those kinds of things we were enjoying regionally, should begin to be apportioned within the States. Like for us in the South-South or the core Niger Delta, it is very important that we enjoy the proceeds of the God-given minerals that we have. We cannot have these minerals and people who are somewhere else, even beyond the shores of this country, are enjoying them. We can’t have that. No responsible government can do that. What God has given Nigeria is for Nigerians.
What do you have to say about the ongoing Constitution Review vis-à-vis the need for the traditional institution to be given roles in the Constitution?
The Constitution Review is welcome even if we are hearing that they are spending so much. Unwarranted expenditure is not good but the Constitution Review is good. And as it concerns the traditional institution, we need to spell out the functions of traditional rulers. With what we are doing, now, that I say it is illegal, as per it is not captured in the Constitution. But when it is captured in the Constitution, then, it serves as a support for us to do what we are supposed to be doing; and that is to complement government in the area of governance. So, that is very important. We should be captured in the Constitution. Traditional rulers are very important in nation building. They are very important in creating national identity. We are doing it now. There is this unofficial regulation, as it were, for Northern traditional rulers to come and visit their counterparts in the South and vice versa, both in the East and the West; that kind of friendship is ongoing. But it needs to be captured in the constitution. If it is captured in the constitution, it will be sustained and it will be done as a matter of duty.
FG, Insensitive To PANDEF’s Agenda – Ogoriba
We similarly urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to enforce the Zero Gas Flare deadline.
The devastating effects of coastal erosion and lack of effective shoreline protection for the coastal communities of the Niger Delta must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The Maritime University Issue
The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is largely regarded, by persons from the Zone, as symbolic and deserving. Its closure and certain statements around it, have been viewed as insensitive and out rightly provocative. This, of course, is aside from the obvious potential benefits that the Institution offers to the technical and managerial capacity enhancements of, not just persons from the Zone, but all Nigerians. We, therefore, strongly urge the President to direct the take-off of the already approved Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State. The prompt take-off of this University will most certainly assure the people of the Niger Delta that President’s Administration is truly a sensitive, listening and inclusive Government. Also, we strongly urge that the announced plans to upgrade the 30-year old Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, to a university should be implemented.
Key Regional Critical Infrastructure
There is the need for the Federal Government to fast-track interventions on some of the indicative Regional Infrastructure viz:
• We wish to thank President for ensuring that the first phase of the coastal railway project is provided for in the current 2016 budget. We urge the Federal Government to further ensure the full implementation of this project that is designed to run through all the states in the Niger Delta, up to Lagos.
• Complete the existing East-West Road.
• Work should resume on the abandoned Bodo-Bonny Road Project. We note that NLNG had already offered 50% funding for this Project.
• Implement the proposed East-West Coastal Road Project, which stretches 704 km in length along the Atlantic coastline, from Odukpani Junction in Cross River State, connecting over 1000 communities, to Ibeju on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos State (Design already completed by NDDC).
• Implement the development of inland waterways and riverine infrastructure.
• Remove bottlenecks militating against the full activation and utilization of the existing ports in the Niger Delta, including Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, commence dredging of the Escravos bar-mouth which will open up Burutu, Koko, Sapele, Warri and Gelegele Ports to deep sea-going vessels and expedite work on the dredging of the Calabar Port. The Deep Sea Port project in Bayelsa State also requires consideration.
• We urge the commencement of work on the Ibaka Deep Sea Port for which Feasibility has long been completed.
Details of other regional infrastructure projects will be presented in the course of the dialogue.
Security Surveillance and Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure
The incessant breaching and vandalization of pipelines, and oil theft, have taken direct tolls on oil production and supplies, with corresponding adverse effects on the economy of our dear Country. Pipeline vandalism also damages the environment, health and economic activity of inhabitants of affected areas, as well as complicates environmental cleanup efforts.
It is therefore our view that an urgent review is done to pipeline surveillance contacts to give the responsibility to Communities rather than individuals in a manner that ties some benefits to their responsibility. Communities would then see their responsibility for the pipelines as protection of what belongs to them.
Relocation of Administrative and Operational Headquarters of IOCs
The Headquarters of most Oil Companies are not located in the Niger Delta Region. As a result, the Region is denied all the developmental and associated benefits that would have accrued to the Region from their presence. It has therefore become imperative for the IOCs to relocate to their areas of operation. This move would create a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities.
Despite being the core of power generation in the Country, most Communities in the Niger Delta remain unconnected to the National Grid.
We, therefore, advocate a power plan that strongly ties power supply in the Region to gas supplies, thereby giving all sides a stake in improved stability. Because of existing infrastructure, this should be an area where the Government could deliver the swiftest and most noticeable change.
Economic Development and Empowerment
The Federal and State Governments need to signal their interest in sustained economic development in the region by:
i. Implementing the Brass LNG and Fertilizer Plant Project and similarly concluding Train 7 of the NLNG in Bonny
ii. Reviewing, updating and aggressively driving the National Gas Master Plan to integrate the economic interests and industrialization aspirations of the Niger Delta Region
iii. Creating a Niger Delta Energy Industrial Corridor that would process some portions of the Region’s vast hydrocarbon natural resources, where they are produced, to create industrialization and a robust economic base in the Region that would improve the living condition of the Citizens.
iv. Expediting work on the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the Region, in particular, the Gas City, Ogidigben and Deep Sea Port, Gbaramatu, in Warri South LGA of Delta State.
v. Harnessing the huge rain-fed agricultural potentials of the area through the development of farm estates, fishery development projects and Agro-Allied Industrial Clusters.
vi. Harnessing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the youths in the Region to keep them gainfully employed in legitimate businesses, and away from restiveness.
vii. We urge the use of ICT as a tool for peace, job-creation and development. Appropriately deployed ICT can be the elixir to create much-needed jobs, promote entrepreneurship and create wealth in the Region.
vii. Resolve the various issues leading to the non-operation of Delta Steel Company, Oku Iboku Paper Mill, Edo Textile Mill and ALSCON.
Inclusive Participation in Oil Industry and Ownership of Oil Blocs
The sense of alienation of Niger Delta indigenes from the resources of their land will continue until there are affirmative actions that guarantee the involvement of these communities in the ownership and participation in the Oil and Gas Industry. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to enunciate policies and actions that will address the lack of participation as well as imbalance in the ownership of Oil and Gas Assets.
We similarly urge the institution of Host Community Content within the Nigerian Content framework, across the entire enterprise chain of the Petroleum and Maritime sectors.
Restructuring and Funding of the NDDC
There is the urgent need to adequately restructure the NDDC to refocus it as a truly Interventionist Agency, that responds swiftly to the yearnings of the grassroots of the Niger Delta. Communities must be able to have a say in what projects come to them. We also urge the full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act.
Strengthening the Niger Delta Ministry
Since the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, even though it was meant to function in the mode of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, its funding has been abysmal. There is an absolute need, therefore, to adequately fund, and strengthen this Ministry to the purpose for which it was created.
The Bakassi Question
The fall out of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon continues to threaten the security of the southernmost part of the Niger Delta Region. The unresolved issues arising from the Green Tree Agreement continues to create tension and plague the region. There is also the lack of a well-coordinated transparent blueprint for the development and resettlement of the displaced populations. The host communities face huge abuses and are unable to reestablish their respective means of livelihood. We, therefore, recommend a comprehensive resettlement plan including development for the host communities and displaced populations to reduce the risk of making them into a Stateless People.
The clamour for fiscal federalism has continued to be re-echoed by different sections of the country. The people of the Niger Delta region support this call and urge that the Federal Government should regard this matter expeditiously.
What message would you want to pass to the Federal Government for being insensitive to these issues five years after?
It is regrettable to say that the 16-point agenda has not been attended to thereby bringing about high rate of insecurity in the region.
For emphasis, after having several interface with these boys, they saw the reasons for dialogue than allowing the region go in flames as a result this brought about ceasefire in the region making everyone to be enjoying the relative peace being enjoyed today.
I want the Federal Government to know that when these boys see that there is blatant refusal in addressing their issues by the Federal Government, they are capable of making the region go into flames, adding that he appealed to the Federal Government, and other critical stakeholders responsible for the implementation of this 16-point agenda to be sincere to themselves and do the needful, adding that what the people in the Niger Delta region want is that all must be fair, just and equitable in what they do, so as to engendered peace and security to the Niger Delta region.
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