Rivers: It’s still bitter-sweet 16 months after change of guard
DEPUTY EDITOR, DAPO FALADE X-rays the intrigues that have characterised politics in Rivers State. He also looks at governance under Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his efforts at changing the negative image of the state through the hosting of events, amidst war between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), 16 months after assumption of office.
Rivers has remained in the public glare as a controversial state, swimming in one crisis or the other emanating from the utterances and actions of its political gladiators. For its current political número uno, Chief Nyesom Wike, the road to the throne as the third elected governor of Rivers State in the current democratic dispensation was littered with stones, thorns and bristles.
Right from the moment Wike signified his intention to contest for the number political seat in the state, it was a three-legged battle with enemies from within his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as some governorship aspirants from the riverine area of the state initially gathered to form a stumbling block to the realisation of his ambition; as well as from his former boss who became his greatest political foe, former Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the main opposition party in the state, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, the resilient spirit in the man who had come to be known as a consummate and dogged fighter did not give up; he surmounted all known obstacles, won the April 2015 governor election and eventually became the next occupant of the Rivers State Government House after the expiration of the two-term tenure of Amaechi who later became the Minister of Transportation.
The war did not end at election field as his main traducers, APC and its governorship candidate in the election, Dr Dakuku Peterside, challenged Wike’s electoral victory at the tribunal. After months of judicial rigmarole which started from the election petitions tribunal, Wike however had the last laugh as the apex court in the land, the Supreme Court, last January, eventually declared him the winner of the disputed election. The rest, as the popular saying goes, is now history but the actions and activities of the governor remain the object of sharp and often destructive criticism from the APC leadership in the state.
Undaunted, Wike took a plunge into the task ahead and came up with an aggressive and ambitious project formulation and execution as the thrust of his programmes and policies to govern the state. Immediately after his assumption of office, the governor hit the ground running, executing many projects across the state. Within the first seven months of his administration, he busied himself with some infrastructural projects, including road rehabilitation, reconstruction and construction of new ones. He was also involved in the rehabilitation of public school buildings and ensured the completion of the Faculty of Law Building at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, among several others.
Also within that period, Wike made concerted efforts to boost and strengthen security in the state. He bought for the police and other security agencies in the state 64 security vans, equipped with high class communication gadgets to track down criminals. He also initiated a compensation scheme to boost the morale of security agents and also reduce crime rate in the state by paying the sum of N5 million to the family of each security agent who die in active service, while residents who supply credible information that will lead to the arrest of kidnappers, armed robbers and cultists will get N1 million.
In the last 16 months, Wike has arguably engaged in a profound construction and reconstruction of infrastructure ever witnessed in the country. This is better appreciated when the condition he met Rivers State in May, 2015 is taken into consideration. From unpaid salaries for months to several abandoned projects down, which he inherited, the governor can be said to had given life to all segments of the state.
The noticeable and moderate achievements of Wike within the short period notwithstanding, his critics remained unperturbed as he was described as a superficial governor who is only out to hoodwink the people of the state with is ‘fake’ projects. To this set of people, the governor is rather out to create more problems for the people, even as they accused him of not been original or innovative in his project conceptualisation and execution. According to them, Wike is only wasting the tax-payers’ money, haphazardly completing most projects initiated and partly executed by his immediate predecessor.
Undoubtedly, the utterances and spate of criticisms, accusations and counter-accusations emanating from the two political divides, rather than dousing tension among the people and residents, are unfortunately fanning the ember of crisis and stoking up the seemingly unending violence rocking the state known as the “Treasure Base of the Nation”. Indeed, reports emanating from the state on daily basis are scary and quite capable chasing away potential investors, thus negating every effort to make the state investment-friendly.
Quite not unaware of the ugly trend, Governor Wike had heaped the blame on those who he described as scaremonger who were out to make things unbearable for his administration and, by extension, the people of the state. He particularly found culpable the main opposition political party, APC, which he alleged found willing allies in the media who he said were busy portraying the state in a bad light by over-hyping and over-reporting the violent crisis rocking the state.
Apparently seeking to change the perception of the people about the negative stories coming out of the state, the governor had also embarked upon an equally aggressive diplomatic shuttles and image-making activities, hosting series of conferences and events which are of national and international importance. Within the last one year, the present administration had been drawing, through such events, hundreds of opinion-molders to see for themselves what are the true situation of things in the state.
Among such events was the Olympic Games Football Qualifier, which was played and won by the Nigerian Under-23 National Team at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt, last year. This year, the state hosted the African Movie and Academy Awards and also played host to the first botched PDP National Convention, held in May.
Also within last month alone, the state hosted five major conferences, including the Annual General Meeting of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria; the 12th Annual Conference of the Nigerian Guilds of Editors; another botched PDP National Convention; the 56th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association and; lately, the 41st Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria. Expectedly, sometime in this month, the state would play host about 1,500 national and international delegates from the West African region and the African Union of Architects expected to attend this year’s edition of the West African Architecture Festival.
Indeed, the annual conference of the NGE served out its purposes and intentions of the governor. Gathered at the conference were veterans and serving editors and other top echelon of the media profession. Maximising their presence to the fullest, the governor took them on a tour of the various projects executed by his administration. These included the total re-modelling of two major historical landmarks in the state: the old Brick House (old Government House), the Diette Spiff Civic Centre, housing projects, healthcare facilities, education facilities, elevation of judiciary infrastructure, world-class pleasure park to enhance the hospitality and tourism drive and several road construction and rehabilitation.
The verdicts of the visiting editors can only be summed up thus, their perception of the governor, his person, his administration and the state had changed positively; that he had performed excellently and that “it was self-evident that Wike is on a mission to make a loud statement on good governance”.
While the NGE president simply, Funke Egbemode described the Wike narrative after the tour as “Impressive”, Ken Ugbechie, the NGE publicity secretary, in his piece, “Wike in the eyes of Editors”, wrote, “He was daring; he was audacious…Today, as Governor of Rivers State, it is now obvious that the Wike who popped up on our television screens prodding teachers and heads of schools to make the most of their vocation and calling was not play-acting. He was just being himself: a man who wants the best for his country…
“It (the NGE conference) served a much bigger purpose. It provided Nigerian editors an opportunity to evaluate the governor; to unmask the real Wike. This is usually a major highpoint in the Guild’s conference: an opportunity to assess the host governor, feel the pulse of the masses and pass a verdict-damning or gracious-on the leadership of the host state. Editors, just like any journalist are usually inquisitorial, exploratory and adventurous. Port Harcourt offered a fitting ambience for the editors to satiate their yen.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the NBA 56th Annual General Conference, Governor Wike revealed the obvious reason why Rivers State is playing host to many events, even at this austere times as he said, “…Besides and most importantly too, these conferences are illuminating indicators of the peace and tranquility that Rivers State enjoys since the inception of our administration. Therefore, I wish to reiterate that Rivers State, under our watch is more than happy to host as many events of such substance because the benefits far outweigh the challenges and efforts…
The new NBA president, Abubakar Mahmoud SAN, was also not left out as said the lawyers who attended the conference were impressed by the performance of Wike who he commended for executing projects that seek to promote legal practice, including the Law Centre, Law Faculty at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and the Federal High Court. He also urged the governor to ensure the completion of all ongoing projects to the benefit of the people of the state.
In the same vein, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN and his counterpart from the Republic of Rwanda, Mr Busingye Johnston, were full of praises for Wike who they commended for embarking on meaningful development projects in the state and for his outstanding contributions to the development of the bar in Nigeria.
However, the Rivers APC leadership and its chieftains were not in any way impressed by the series of events and conferences Wike has been hosting in the state and the attendant commendations and encomiums showered on the governor. For the opposition party, the activities of the governor were a smokescreen, a mere cover up for the alleged criminal activities being perpetrated by his administration in the state in last 16 months.
However, both the state government and PDP fired back, denying any complicity in the killing of a human rights activist, Ken Atsuwete and admonishing the state APC leadership to stop politicising and trivialising serious issues like murder.
The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Dr Austin Tam-George, said, “We condemn the killing and urge the police to get to the root of it to unravel those behind it, adding, “APC should not politicise criminality. They should allow the police to determine the circumstances of the death of Ken Aswuete. It is irresponsible of APC to trivialise a serious issue as this.”