… it is only fair that as a significant stakeholder in the development and politics of Rivers State, I am joining the patriotic endeavours of well-meaning Rivers State people to put the record straight. In doing so, I concede that in our highly politicised environment, falsehood ignored later starts looking like the truth, and with time facts become debatable. This, unfortunately, is not time for politics.
Penultimate week, on June 19, a respected Nigerian columnist published information he gathered from field visits, agents and officials of the government of my home State, Rivers. Let me lay down the marker from the onset that several citizens and stakeholders in the State expressed concern over what they read, since it is in complete contrast with their individual and collective experiences. A respected columnist owes society the duty of helping the public decode and make sense of the dizzying reality around them. This reality must be immutably factual, and the conclusions drawn must be in line with irrefutable premises built on clear logic and not sentiments or other forms of emotional judgment.
But on this occasion, the respected columnist, Mr Dele Momodu, arguably, may have been nudged or misled to unwittingly market half-truths, cover-ups, outright lies and distorted facts. In the process, he may have awakened the injured pride of our people and reminded them of their endless frustration with bad governance. The danger of allowing misinformation or blatant falsehood to stand and flourish is the irreparable harm it does to society. In metaphoric terms, misinformation leads to the arrest of social development and alters the popular aspiration of the people.
Therefore, it is only fair that as a significant stakeholder in the development and politics of Rivers State, I am joining the patriotic endeavours of well-meaning Rivers State people to put the record straight. In doing so, I concede that in our highly politicised environment, falsehood ignored later starts looking like the truth, and with time facts become debatable. This, unfortunately, is not time for politics. This is about development and fidelity to the high calling of accountability in public service.
For those who may be new to the politics of Rivers State, it suffices to provide some background and context in order to properly situate the information under consideration in Mr Momodu’s “Pendulum” column, while critically engaging the analysis made in the said article, in order to establish the truth and distinguish it from half-truths and outright falsehood. The following verifiable facts paint a realistic picture of the socio-economic situation of the State.
In 2020, Rivers had a 41.59 per cent unemployment rate, ranking as the eighth State with such a high statistic, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The State is number one on the poverty index of South-South States. The U.S. Travel Advisory consistently placed Rivers among the most security challenged States in the southern part of Nigeria from 2017 to 2020. The Nigeria Police records ranked Rivers as the top crime infected State in the South-South geopolitical region, also from 2017 to 2020.
By admission of both the Central Bank of Nigeria and the NBS, Rivers State recorded no foreign direct investment (FDI) from 2017 to 2020. Rivers State, with a debt profile of N270 billion by 2020, is among the top three indebted States in the country, despite an average internally generated revenue of N10 to 13 billion monthly and an average of N15 to 18 billion monthly from the disbursements of the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), which also includes an additional 13 per cent derivation accrual.
Another important fact to consider when measuring any financial expenditure on projects carried out by the Wike administration, is that it has received two heavy bulk payments of N78 billion and N110 billion respectively from the Federal Government, as refund for work done by the predecessor Rt. Hon. C. R. Amaechi administration and the Paris Club related debt refund. When the refunds are added to the regular monthly federally allocated revenue and the IGR, the sheer size of these monies becomes staggering. Hence, the utilitarian value derived therefrom must be put in clear perspective, to make sense to those genuinely interested in the development of the State.
The amounts announced as expenditure, in comparison with the real value of the paltry legacy projects carried out by the Wike administration, which are even without recourse to the provisions of the State Procurement Law, makes many to only weep for Rivers State.
When the above verifiable facts are set against the impression created by the column, which started on a note of “bringing some good news in this season of anomie”, it is easy to notice a sharp contrast, which is of huge significance. Thus, the portrayal of the column that remarkable development indicators are emerging from Rivers State is not only misleading but an invitation to fantasy. One, therefore, wonders where the good news or economic management wizardry is emanating from.
This dimension of dishonesty involved, I dare say, is for purely political considerations only. It will be significant if my great brother, Dele Momodu, will critically examine and engage with Wike’s work and position this within the milieu and context of history of these projects, to let people know what part of the acclamation Wike actually deserves.
The other contentious point relates to Mr Momodu’s take, as he posits to do a critical examination and evaluation of the work Governor Wike is doing in Rivers through pictorial lenses (rephrased). These lenses, granted, may capture beautiful images of projects executed in Rivers State, but what it will not do is to tell the true stories of those who initiated and sometimes completed them. We are witnesses already to how the splendid work done by Wike’s predecessor has been pushed aside, in a well-rehearsed and deliberate attempt to give credit to whom it is not due.
This dimension of dishonesty involved, I dare say, is for purely political considerations only. It will be significant if my great brother, Dele Momodu, will critically examine and engage with Wike’s work and position this within the milieu and context of history of these projects, to let people know what part of the acclamation Wike actually deserves. Remembering that government is a continuum, it is laudable to complete development projects started by one’s predecessors. However, it is immoral not to acknowledge this or give honour to whom it is due. For instance, you cannot claim to have built a house, when you only painted an existing one, as we saw in the case of the Mother and Child Hospital in Port Harcourt. That is fraud in simple terms.
Also, the column claimed that Wike has miraculously restored law and order in FRivers. As I write, the State has had more curfews imposed on her citizens and those in transit, than in any other State in the southern part of Nigeria. The State is currently under daily siege from a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in all the local government areas. It has the unenviable record of being among the top three States in terms of kidnapping and cult wars in Southern Nigeria. SBM Intelligence Report puts Rivers as the number one State in the country on the level of kidnapping and robbery. How are these indicators of a safe State?
For the sake of emphasis, residents of Rivers State now have no business being outside their homes after 8:30 p.m. on any day. Instead of the government taking the war to the intruders or sources of security threats, in order to curtail them, citizens and residents are being forced and denied their constitutionally guaranteed liberty and freedom of movement. This situation sounds absurd, given the secure nature of Rivers State just a decade ago. The fact that Mr Momodu did not see or failed to see is that Governor Wike has not put any genuine security policy in place to fight crime since he took office. Instead, he has been consistently fingered as a patron of criminals, on account of his politics.
Mr Momodu was told that after 41 years, Wike had begun implementing the programme of having multiple campuses of the Rivers State University, as envisaged earlier. However, Wike did not tell his guest that he merely converted the world-class model secondary schools and the Sports College of Excellence at Abara, Etche, which were built by his predecessor, Governor Amaechi, into these University campuses. There is nothing wrong with this, except that he needs to put the narrative in proper context.
Another example pertains to the claim about the Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro Unity Road, leading to my home local government area. The column declared that Wike is constructing a road to Opobo. This claim is a dangerously fabricated story. The fact is that Governor Peter Odili conceptualised and awarded a 37.71-kilometre road with ten bridges crisscrossing three local government areas in 2005. Before his tenure wound up in May 2007, he accomplished 26 per cent of the scope of work, with two major bridges completed, stopping at Iwoama-Asarama. Governor Amaechi’s administration took it from there, significantly changed the scope and added a spur to Nkoro, Kalaibiama, and also Opobo Town.
The road redesign increased the length from 37.7 kilometres to 44.1 kilometres, and the bridges from 10 to 11, whilst equally expanding the bridges and retaining walls. By the time he left office in May 2015, the Amaechi administration had completed 80 per cent of the work. Again, for emphasis, the Amaechi administration completed nine of the 11 bridges on the road, with considerable work also done on the remaining two bridges. I can say with boldness that as a governorship candidate in 2015, I drove by road to campaign in Kalaibiama-Opobo and most parts of Andoni.
From May 2015 till June 2021, a cumulative period of six years, the Wike-led administration is yet to complete the less than 20 per cent of work remaining on both the Ikuru and Opobo axis of the Unity Road. These are incontrovertible facts. For Wike to attempt to claim credit for this road is the height of self-deceit in an ignoble chase of personal aggrandisement. Wike and those doing so truly deserve nothing but pity.
In acknowledging one area that my governor is executing very well – the enthronement of a pernicious propaganda that has turned underdevelopment to development and attempts to change men to women – the people of Rivers State know that they have been terribly impoverished in the past six years. No amount of propaganda, not even leveraging on the reputation of Bob Dee, can garnish a bad case.
The column further claimed that Wike constructed the Abonnema ring road. This is laughable and metaphorically calls “a butterfly a bird”, with the intent to dress it in borrowed robes. Wike awarded the contract of a less than 2.2-kilometre bypass in Abonnema, to connect the bridgehead landing from Degema, on the opposite side of the Sombreiro River, to the Abonnema Cemetery on the Abonnema-Obonoma Road. That is not a ring road by any civil engineering or construction description, and yet the bypass was built and commissioned without streetlights, which is unfortunate for a project in the heart of an ancient city.
That Wike wholly abandoned the rural areas in every facet of development and only managed to act in a face-saving manner, after Rivers people were outraged by his nepotism in the concentration of projects in Obio/Akpor, is an understatement. His claim to constructing some roads and flyovers in the city of Port Harcourt does not help howsoever, as an excuse for this anomaly.
The only attempt by Wike to create employment through the establishment of local industries or by creating an environment for such to thrive, is what many perceive as his signature project in agriculture, considered evdent in the Cassava Processing Plant in Oyigbo. Yet, during his tenure, Governor Amaechi initiated multiple agro-industry projects, including the Rivers Songhai farms, fish farms, agro-industrial villages, rice farms, amongst others.
Disfigured by Wike’s brand of propaganda, many have forgotten that the Oyigbo Cassava Processing Plant is actually one of Amaechi’s imprimaturs in agriculture. How? The administration, in partnership with DADTCO (a Dutch firm) and Shell (SPDC), set up the cassava processing plant with a definite blueprint. The administration brought in all the needed equipment and installed them. The only part of the project left undone at the time Amaechi exited Government House was in connecting it to a source of power. Perhaps connecting an already completed project by his predecessor to a power source is the “real signature” agricultural project of the Wike administration in six years.
In sports, Wike’s predecessor initiated a sports academy in Abara, Etche, to compliment the then new 38,000 capacity multi-facility stadium the Amaechi administration built in Igwuruta. But Governor Wike, as a Real Madrid fan, abandoned the project, which was ongoing, and started a new Sports Academy within the precincts of the Yakubu Gowon Stadium at Elekahia. Unfortunately, Wike has not done anything novel in sports development to harvest the multiple talents that abound in the State. It has been six years of wasted opportunities.
Great as the idea of moving some Faculties of the premiere State University out of Nkpolu-Oroworukwo to occupy the world-class model secondary schools built by Amaechi sounds, if there is one area Governor Wike has neglected utterly, it is education. Mr Momodu’s only credit to Governor Wike is the renovation of six schools in six years. When you juxtapose this with the fact that the government before Wike’s constructed 400 new primary schools, 21 model secondary schools, which were at different stages of completion when it left office, and initiated a brand new campus to cure the obvious congestion at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (as it earlier was), it becomes a case of staging a light versus darkness contest. Clearly, Mr Momodu’s tour guide, who traded on half-truths, was very uncharitable to the people of Rivers State.
In conclusion, I am aware that Governor Wike’s main signature project is the replica of the Government House that he has built for himself in his village. He can only boast of the poverty he has visited on the people, with thousands of pensioners owed their gratuities since 2015; and a critical mass of unemployed youths roaming the streets and vulnerable to crime and criminality. Also, the hundreds of Rivers sons and daughters on State scholarship withdrawn from universities abroad; the destruction of primary health care and the basic education system.
If in the 21st century, the hallmark of progress for a resource rich state like Rivers is the beautification of the two major roads in Port Harcourt with multiple flyovers, then our future and that of our children is bleak. In acknowledging one area that my governor is executing very well – the enthronement of a pernicious propaganda that has turned underdevelopment to development and attempts to change men to women – the people of Rivers State know that they have been terribly impoverished in the past six years. No amount of propaganda, not even leveraging on the reputation of Bob Dee, can garnish a bad case. No amount of seasoning of a soup that has gone sour can restore its taste.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.
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