Penultimate week, on the 19th of June, 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 them decode and make sense of the dizzying reality around them. These realities must be immutably factual, and the conclusions drawn must be in line with irrefutable premises built on clear logic and not sentiments or other emotional judgments.
But on this occasion the respected columnist, Mr Dele Momodu, arguably, may have been nudged or misled to unwittingly market half-truth, 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 outright falsehood to stand and flourish is the irreparable harm it does to society. In metaphoric terms, misinformation does arrest social development and alters popular aspiration of the people.
Therefore, it is only fair that as a significant stakeholder in the development and politics of Rivers State, I join the patriotic endeavour by well-meaning Rivers people to put the records straight. In doing so I concede that in our highly politicised environment, falsehood ignored is reframed as a Public Relations stunt, political hatchery and with time facts become debatable. This, unfortunately, is not time for politics. This is about development and fidelity with the high calling of accountability in public service.
For those who may be new to the politics of Rivers State, it suffices to provide background and context to properly situate the information under consideration in Mr Momodu’s “Pendulum” column from a critical analyses provided in this article to establish the truth and distinguish same from half-truth and outright falsehood. The following verifiable facts paint a realistic picture of the socio-economic situation of the State.
Rivers State in 2020 had 41.59% of its workforce as unemployed and ranked 8th in unemployment by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The State is number one on the poverty index among South-South States. The US Travel Advisory has consistently put Rivers State among the most security challenged States in the southern part of Nigeria from 2017 to 2020. The Nigeria Police records ranked Rivers State as the top crime infected State in the South-South geopolitical region 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 N270bn by 2020, is among top 3 indebted States despite an average internally generated revenue of N10 – 13bn monthly and an average of N15 – 18billion monthly from FAAC allocation plus 13% derivation accruals.
Another important fact to consider when measuring any financial expenditures on projects done by the Wike Administration is that it has received two heavy bulk payments of N78bn and N110bn respectively from the FGN as refund for work done by the predecessor Rt Hon C R Amaechi Administration and Paris club-related debt. These humongous funds add to receiving regular monthly federally allocated revenue and the IGR. The sheer size of these monies is staggering and 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 done by the Wike Administration without recourse to the provisions of the State Procurement Law orchestrate weeping for Rivers State.
Compare the above verifiable facts with the impression created by the column that started on a note of “bringing some good news in this season of anomie”, you will notice a sharp contrast in meaning and significance. Thus, the portrayal by 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.
The other contentious point is Mr Momodu positing he will do a “critical examination and evaluation of the work Gov Wike was doing in Rivers through his 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 who initiated, started, and sometimes completed them. We are witnesses already to how the splendid work done by Wike’s predecessor have been pushed aside by a well-rehearsed and intentioned attempt to give credit to whom it is not due. This dimension of dishonesty, 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 them in the milieu and context of history of these projects to let people know what part of the acclamation Wike deserves. Remembering that Government is a continuum, it is laudable to complete development projects started by 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 Wike has miraculously restored law and order. As I write, the State has had more curfew 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 7pm to 6am curfew in all LGAs. It has the unenviable record of the top 3 States in kidnapping and cult wars in Southern Nigeria. SBM Intelligence Report puts the State as the number one State in kidnapping and robbery. How are these indicators of a safe State? For sake of emphasis, residents of Rivers State now have no business being outside their homes after 8:30pm any day. Instead of the Government taking the war to the intruders or sources of security threats 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 Mr. Momodu did not or failed to see is Gov Wike has not put any genuine security policy in place to fight crime since he took office. Instead, he has been consistently fingered as patronising criminals on account of his politics.
Mr Momodu was told that after 41 years, Wike had begun implementing the multiple campuses envisaged for the Rivers State University. 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 built by Gov Amaechi into those University campuses. There is nothing wrong with this except that he should put it in proper context.
Another example is on his claims about the Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro Unity Road leading to my home LGA. The column claimed that Wike is constructing a road to Opobo. This claim is a dangerously fabricated story. The fact is that Gov Peter Odili conceptualised and awarded a 37.71km road with ten bridges crisscrossing 3 LGAs in the year 2005. Before his tenure wound up in May 2007, he accomplished 26% 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 to Opobo Town. The road redesign increased the length from 37.7km to 44.1km and bridges from 10 to 11 whilst expanding the bridges and retaining walls. By the time he left office in May 2015, the Amaechi Administration had completed 80% of the work. Again, for emphasis. The Amaechi Administration completed 9 of the 11 bridges on the road, with considerable work 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 6 years, the Wike led administration is yet to complete less than 20% of the work left 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 in the face of these realities is the height of self-deceit in an ignoble chase of personal aggrandisement. Wike and those doing so truly deserve nothing but pity.
The column further claimed that Wike constructed the Abonnema ring road. This claim is laughable and metaphorically calls “a butterfly a bird” with intent to dress her in borrowed robes. Wike awarded a less than 2.2km contract for a 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 same was awarded, executed and commissioned without Streetlights for a project in the heart of an ancient city. That Wike wholly abandoned the rural areas in every facet of development and has only managed to act in a manner to save his face after Rivers people were outraged by his nepotism in the concentration of his projects on 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 establishing local industries or creating an environment for such to thrive is what many perceive as his signature project in Agriculture: the Cassava Processing Plant in Oyigbo. Unfortunately, Gov 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 one of Amaechi’s imprimatur 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 needed equipment and installed them. The only part of the project left undone at the time Amaechi exited Government House was 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 new 38,000 capacity multi-facility Stadium the Administration built at Igwuruta. But Gov Wike, as a Real Madrid fan, abandoned the ongoing project and started a new Sports Academy within the precincts of 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 is six years of wasted opportunity.
Great as the idea of moving some Faculties at 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 Gov Wike neglected utterly, it is Education. Mr Momodu’s only credit to Gov Wike is the renovation of 6 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 at different stages of completion and initiated a brand new campus to cure the obvious congestion at the Rivers State University of Science & Technology (as it 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 Gov Wike’s main signature project is the replica of the Government House he 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; a critical mass of unemployed youths roaming the Streets and vulnerable to crime and criminality; hundreds of Rivers sons and daughters on State scholarship withdrawn from Universities overseas; 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 my Governor is doing very well – 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 soup that has gone sour can restore the taste.
– Peterside is the former DG of NIMASA