By Simeon Nwakaudu
The leadership of Rivers State always keys into opportunities to attract development to the state. On issues concerning development, politics is relegated and the interest of the Rivers State enthroned for the benefit of the people.
As the largest contributor to the nation’s oil wealth, Rivers State remains critical to the development and stability of the country. The relevance of the state's security efforts is situated in the fact that there are no damage to the petroleum infrastructure in the state; necessitating the seamless exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources in the state.
Furthermore, Governor Wike's exemplary successful Amnesty Programme has enhanced security in the state and created the right atmosphere for the consolidation of the nation’s economy. No other state boasts of this pro-Nigeria arrangement.
Therefore, the visit of the Acting President of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, to Rivers State between February 13 and February 14, 2017, presented a fresh opportunity for major Federal and State Stakeholders to advance the frontiers of development in Rivers State, build new alliances and place the interest of the people above all other considerations.
Governor Wike led leaders of Rivers State across political divide to the Port Harcourt International Airport to receive the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo. The airport reception was a display of the unity, focus and commitment of Rivers people to the development of the state and Nigeria.
For the elected government of Rivers State and the major stakeholders of the state, this opportunity was productively received, used and the interest of the state placed on the front burner of development.
With bipartisan airport formalities dispensed with, the business of governance took centre-stage. The true colour of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike as Nigeria's Governor of the Year 2016 became evident to the highest level of political leadership in Nigeria.
From the airport, the Acting President and Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike riding in the same car crisscrossed several road projects, completed and ongoing. Right opposite the airport roundabout, the Obiri-Ikwerre Road nearing completion presented a drive-by view, while the Sir Celestine Omehia road (former SARs Road) and the Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority Ultra-modern Headquarters provided the visiting Acting President with the requisite drive-by pleasure.
With the crowd of Rivers stakeholders, the acting president's entourage made a stop at the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park. The first of its kind in West Africa and Nigeria's emerging tourist destination.
The acting president was impressed as Governor Wike took him on a tour of the facility. He was particularly excited about the artificial lake and climbing tower that overlook the Garden City.
From the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park,
Osinbajo was guided through the expansion of the Rumuola stretch of the Aba Road into an eight super-highway, the revived traffic lights on the major streets of Port Harcourt through the reconstruction of several roads linking Aba Road which have eased traffic congestion in the Garden City.
When Osinbajo finally arrived the construction site of the State Ecumenical Centre, he saw for himself the wonders of technology as being laid out by construction giant, Julius Berger.
This project is key to the unity of Christian Denominations as Rivers State is a professed Christian State. It was a spectacle to behold for the Acting President and his entourage .
Inside the Government House, Port Harcourt, Osinbajo inspected the remodelled and restored Brick House, the former seat of power in Rivers State. He also inspected the newly constructed Government House, Port Harcourt Christian Chapel.
It was not only projects’ inspection exercise. The Acting President had the honour of flagging off the construction of the Doctors Quarters of the Braithwaite Specialist Memorial Hospital in Port Harcourt.
Whilst laying the foundation stone for the Doctors Quarters of BSMH, Osinbajo said that the doctors quarters would help in repositioning medicare in the state.
He said: "It is my special privilege to lay this foundation stone of this doctors quarters at the Braithwaite Specialist Memorial Hospital.
"It is very special because this is a special contribution to the creation of access to healthcare in the country. And especially the welfare of doctors who do the commendable work of ensuring the health of the people."
In his address, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, declared his commitment to the provision of quality facilities in hospitals across the state.
He said: "For me, my engagement with the people is premised on the provision of projects across the state. In Rivers State, it is projects, projects and projects. We shall not deviate."
Governor Wike said that the objective of the project was to restore the existing accommodation and expand it to accommodate more specialist doctors serving at the BMSH.
He noted that the quarters has 22 units of three bedroom flats with a community canteen and dedicated water facility.
Town Hall Meeting with Rivers stakeholders
This was the reason for the visit in the first place. Over 1500 delegates from the 23 local government areas of Rivers State gathered at the Government House, Port Harcourt, to exchange views with the acting president on how to resolve the challenges of oil exploration and exploitation, with a view to ensuring that oil bearing communities benefit from their God-given resources, while the nation’s economy is restored to health and optimal performance.
The stakeholders were drawn from all political divides, ethnic groups, youth groups, ex-agitators, professionals and agents of the Federal Government.
Some of the prominent persons at the stakeholders meeting were: Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Niger Delta, Pastor Usani Usani, Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, Nsima Ekere, former NBA President, Chief Onueze Okocha, former Minister Graham Douglas, Popular Niger Delta Activist, Madam Ankio Briggs, Chairman of the Rivers Council of Traditional Rulers, King Dandeson Douglas Jaja among other notable leaders. Also in attendance were all the members of the Rivers State House of Assembly elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress.
The engagements at the town hall meeting were frank and premised on the need to urgently develop the Niger Delta, especially Rivers State.
Rivers State Government has been able to maintain the peace through constructive engagements with the youths and oil bearing communities. Therefore, the challenge in the state has been that of the failure of agencies of the Federal Government to deliver on their responsibilities to the people of Rivers State.
All through the town hall meeting, the Rivers people decried the politicisation of governance by agents of the Federal Government. They condemned the tendency to promote politics whenever Rivers State features on the development radar.
Former NBA President and Spokesman of the Rivers Elders Council, Chief Onueze Okocha (SAN), called for synergy between the Federal Government and the Rivers State government for development to take place. He expressed dissatisfaction with the current situation where Federal agencies adopt unnecessary anti-Rivers posture to deliberately deny the people their due as the nation’s largest oil producing state.
Okocha said: "I conclude by stating that the peoples of Rivers State have enjoyed good governance from the present administration of the state, and that this can only be sustained in an atmosphere of peace, law and order. Peace, law and order, I dare say, can only be secured with the assistance and cooperation of agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is therefore my hope that the Federal Government will ensure that its concerned agencies are not found wanting in this regard."
Civil Rights Activist and Women Representative, Ankio Briggs said: "The pipelines in Rivers State are intact. They are intact not because they cannot be bursted, but because Governor Nyesom Wike and some other critical stakeholders have made it possible so far for it not to be touched. I want to appeal sir that this should not be taken for granted because it would be very difficult for us to continue to curtail the level of frustration and anger that is brewing and continues to brew in the Niger Delta based on the neglect and disregard that we suffer in the Niger Delta.
"Now, Rivers State people have made their decision in 2015. This is politics, some people will lose and some people will win. I want to suggest that we regroup and start planning for 2019 and allow the will of Rivers people to stand. It is not acceptable in Nigeria today that INEC will bring dirty looking ten thousand, hundred thousand pieces of naira, put in on a table and say that Governor Nyesom Wike gave it to them. Sir, we are a people that are diverse in the state and we love ourselves. We may have our disagreements, but we love Rivers State more, and therefore, this continued onslaught on Rivers State seemingly from Abuja is creating tension in this state that if the Federal Government is relying on a state like Rivers State for its resources, I would have thought sir that it will be in the interest of the federal government to ensure that this particular state and the whole region of the Niger Delta is indeed at peace.
"As women, we must express our serious concern on the removal of the security details of our governor. If our governor is exposed to the risk of having inadequate security, this poses not only a threat to our state, but to our economy and to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If this extreme danger continues, as mothers, we may have no other alternative, but to consider protecting our governor."
This line of thought was echoed by the Chairman of the Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers, King Dandeson Douglas Jaja.
He said: "The Council of Traditional Rulers last week decided in its 105th quarterly meeting to write Mr. President and the Inspector General of Police to protest over the withdrawal of our Governor’s security aides. He is the only Governor in Nigeria that has no police protection. Why is he singled out by government? We do not believe Mr. President is aware of this action by the Police High Command. In the interest of fairness, we appeal to Mr. President to order the police to restore the Governor’s security aides and recall six police patrol men attached to the governor. Governor Wike is our son. When any of our sons is in danger, as fathers, we get worried. We are worried, he may be set up for attack or assassination."
The Representative of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Alabo Graham Douglas, called on the Federal Government to diligently implement the 16 -Point agenda presented to it by the organisation during an elaborate meeting between the President and Niger Delta Stakeholders.
Mr. Richard Akinaka, the spokesman for the Niger Delta Ex-agitators, appealed to the Federal Government to implement broad based projects and programmes that will cater for the needs of the youths and have them integrated in the development process.
King Hope Dan Opusingi of Kula Kingdom who spoke on behalf of oil bearing communities, urged the Federal Government and International Oil Companies to work together to entrench development in all the communities.
He said that agitation of youths was fuelled by injustice and undue high-handedness of federal agencies. He also accused security agencies of being involved in bunkering activities that have ruined the environment of the Niger Delta.
Position of the Rivers State Government:
This was presented by Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike who said that a joint effort between the Federal Government and the Rivers State Government would speed up development in the state.
He said that his administration was willing to cooperate with the Federal Government to ensure that the people benefit from good governance and their rich natural resources.
His words: "We stand for the unity, progress and indivisibility of this nation and part of our mandate is to partner with the Federal Government to move the state and by extension, the nation forward.
"We have severally demonstrated this commitment from the very beginning of our administration with discernible actions. For instance, even without prompting from the Federal Government we mobilized some stakeholders to rehabilitate the East – West road, from Eleme junction to Onne junction, with about three billion naira. Today, that part of the road, which leads to the economic heartland of the nation, including the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone is in good shape because of our singular efforts.
"Also, that Rivers State is least affected by the spate of attacks on oil pipelines and other facilities by militants is not by accident but by the deliberate and direct involvement of the state government in ensuring that these vital national economic infrastructure are protected and insulated from such ferocious attacks by the hoodlums."
Acting president’s response
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo assured the people of Rivers State that practical steps would be taken by the administration to address the development challenges that confront the oil bearing communities of the state. He outlined the steps being taken to clean up Ogoniland negatively impacted by the activities of oil companies.
He said: "The federal government will begin a partnership with the oil producing states, local governments, oil companies, private sector, and civil society organizations for the rapid development of these communities. An oil communities intervention meeting is to work out what can be done in the short to medium term and the long term possibilities. There is no way that this new vision will be aborted because it does not depend for execution on the federal government alone. Every stakeholder has a part to play. Oil exploitation by itself cannot suffice to assure our people of decent jobs and a decent income.
"We must make our oil producing communities hubs for petro-chemical industries, small and large. We must make these communities hubs for refining and related activities. "
On the night of February 13, 2017, the government and people of Rivers State hosted the visiting Acting President to a State Dinner. This light-hearted atmosphere offered the Acting President the opportunity to publicly assess the administration of his host, Governor Wike. Most importantly, it was the first time the Acting President would be sleeping in any of the states where engagements for the future of the Niger Delta is taking place. This tacit endorsement of the peace and security in Rivers State must not be taken for granted.
the Acting President: "
"I think he deserves the title: 'Mr Projects'. He is indeed Mr Projects. As we came in today, we had to visit some project sites".
He noted that the visit to Rivers State was critical because of the position of the state in the country.
"Rivers State is very important to us. We take matters concerning the state seriously. We will cooperate with Rivers State to develop Nigeria.
"It is in the interest of our people and nation that we work together for the good of our people. We need to get together to chart the pathway of growth ", the Acting President said.
Once an event holds in Rivers State, those who live on political fueds struggle to distract attention from the real issues. Therefore, the desperate side attraction by Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and his sidekicks, Magnus Abe, and Dakuku Peterside was expected. Under false pretense, they misled Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to attend a meeting of APC members. As a mature politician, the Acting President advised the Minister of Transportation to accept his position in the state as an opposition leader. He reminded him that Lagos State was in opposition for 16 years, noting that barely two years in opposition should not demoralise Amaechi and his followers.
Already, the attempts have been made to distract Rivers State and deny its people development. This technique is not yielding results.
Also, the trick of allowing Rivers APC leaders to use security agencies to promote insecurity in the state has also failed. Therefore, the direct engagement between the Presidency and the government of Rivers State is the best option available.
For the government and people of Rivers State, it is Rivers first. All programmes and projects are geared towards improving the living standard of majority of the people. On this principle there is no compromise. On this principle, Governor Wike has refused to be distracted.
That is why the people of Rivers State overwhelmingly gave him their mandate. The immediate past Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, placed other interests above Rivers State. That is still the case with him.
Luckily, the Acting President and the Federal Government has received the message of the Rivers people. Here, development takes centre stage all the time. Here, the people cannot be intimidated. Here, the state government is working. Here, Rivers resources will remain dedicated to the development of Rivers State. Here, good governance is preferred to unwholesome politics. Hear, New Rivers is being developed.