Wike and the Building of a New Rivers State

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Simeon Nwakaudu

Prior to May 29 last year, Rivers State was in the news for the wrong reasons. The state was dragged into a dark era of crisis. Development was crippled by corruption and executive recklessness.

For two years, the courts were shut and access to justice was denied the people of Rivers State. The closure of the courts led to the total collapse of security and the rule of law in the state. Inhabitants of the state suffered untold hardship.

The executive recklessness did not end with the state judiciary. The state House of Assembly was also crippled. The Assembly was ruinously factionalised and the faction loyal to the then governor, Chibuike Amaechi, relocated to the dining hall of the Government House, Port Harcourt, from where they operated and rubberstamped virtually everything the governor presented to them.

The economy of the state was not spared. Civil servants were owed for four months and pensioners were owed for eight months. Athletes were also owed.
The poor performance and misapplication of resources by the immediate past administration in the state led to decayed infrastructure in all the 23 local government areas, high rate of unemployment, and general insecurity.

Faced with these developmental challenges and a bleak future, the leaders and people of Rivers State resolved to look inwards for a well prepared leader to rebuild the state and set it on the path of growth. For the first time in the history of the state, stakeholders from all parts of the state, irrespective of their ethnicity, approached a seasoned administrator, politician and lawyer, in the person of Nyesom Wike, to lead the state.

The stakeholders pooled their resources together and bought the expression of interest and nomination forms of the Peoples Democratic Party for Wike. That was the beginning of the road to the creation of a new Rivers State.
Armed with the endorsement of the key stakeholders of Rivers State, Wike returned to a rousing welcome after his meritorious service to the nation as Minister of State for Education. He embarked on the most extensive consultation in the political history of the state. He consulted social, political, traditional, economic, women and youth groups across the 23 local government areas of the state. The consultations paid off, as PDP delegates voted Wike as their candidate for the governorship election.

Wike assumed the reins of governance at a time when the morale of the people was at an all-time low. This was the premise upon which 1, 029,102 Rivers people, representing 87.77 per cent of the total votes cast on April 11, 2015, resolved that Wikeshould lead the state out of the doldrums of underdevelopment and enthrone the values of a New Rivers State. The victory of Wike led to wild jubilation across the state.
From the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, venue of the inauguration, Wike, accompanied by his wife, Justice Suzzette Eberechi Wike, and the deputy governor, flagged off the Operation Zero Potholes Programme, an iconic road rehabilitation scheme that has revived the Garden City.

One year into the journey, this has proved to be the most valuable decision made by the Rivers people, as the state has metamorphosed into a huge construction site where the virtues of good and accountable governance have been elevated as the pillars of government.
In the last one year, Wike has lived up to the expectations of the people, emerging as Nigeria’s best governor in terms of projects initiation and execution, staff welfare, empowerment of the less privileged, enhanced security architecture, sports, education, and employment generation. It has been a compelling love story between Wike and his constituents because the governor continues to deliver, despite dwindling resources.

Wike set up an outstanding team to help him deliver on the development goals spelt out in his New Rivers Development Blueprint. His heads of Statutory Boards and Commissions, Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries, Special Advisers, Local Government Caretaker Committees were appointed on merit and with the vision to revive the state.
One of the most outstanding areas of performance of Wike in the last one year is the area of developing new road infrastructure in the urban centres of the state for the purpose of jump-starting the collapsed economy he met upon the assumption of office on May 29 last year.

The Operation Zero Potholes programme launched by the governor to address the dilapidated road infrastructure in the state capital and its environs is handled by two construction giants, Julius Berger and CCECC.
He also started the completion of several roads abandoned by the immediate past administration. The governor’s urban renewal efforts have led to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of over 120 kilometres of roads in seven local government areas. They include Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre, Eleme, Etche, Oyigbo, and Akuku-Toru local government areas.
Residents of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local government areas are appreciative of Wike’s urban roads renewal programme in the last one year. Amaechi, who had lived at Okarki Street (Mile 1), Chigbu Street (Mile 3 Diobu), and Anozie in Diobu and also stayed at Oro-Igwe road in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area failed to construct the roads in these communities after serving as governor for eight years. Today, the roads in Diobu are wearing a new look with the economy properly refocused.

Some of the prominent roads are Abonnema/Obonnema Link Road/Bridge (commissioned), Eagle Island/Iloabuchi Road/Bridge (commissioned), Abuluoma-Woji Link Road/Bridge (commissioned), Oyigbo Market Road (commissioned), and Nkpogu-NLNG Road/Bridge (commissioned). Others are reconstruction of 33 kilometres of township roads under Operation Zero Potholes (handled by Julius Berger and CCECC), reconstruction of Igwuruta-Chokocho road, reconstruction of Eleme Junction to Onne Junction of the East-West Road, reconstruction of the Rumualogu/Alakahiah Road, and rehabilitation of the road under Mile 1 Bridge.

Yet others are reconstruction of the Rumuolumini-Iwofe road, rehabilitation of Obi Wali Road, reconstruction of Elioparanwo road, reconstruction of Oro-Igwe road.
As residents of the major urban centres celebrate Wike’s superlative road renewal scheme, those who stay in Diobu and Borikiri, two densely populated suburbs, are most grateful. Their roads were completely abandoned and they suffered untold hardship. Today, they are singing a new song.
Going forward, Wike has started the process of fulfilling some key pledges he made on road construction. The governor, in fulfilment of his pledge to the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, on the completion of the Obiri-Ikwerre Road to the airport, has flagged off the reconstruction of the road.
The governor has flagged off the dualisation of the Saakpenwa-Bori road in line with his campaign promise to the people of Ogoni.

In line with his commitment to the welfare of children in the state, Wike flagged off the construction of an ultramodern recreation centre near the Bori Camp axis on Aba Road, Port Harcourt.
His commitment to the revival of the Rivers economy led to the governor initiating the reconstruction of the federal government -owned Eleme Junction to Onne Junction of the East-West Road to boost movement to the Onne Seaport. This project was funded in conjunction with private stakeholders in the area. The governor also initiated the reconstruction of the federal government-owned NPA-Industry road to the Port Harcourt port to improve the economy of the area.

One of the highpoints of the road development scheme by Wike in the last one year is the revival of the Rivers State Road Rehabilitation Agency. Wike boosted the technical, financial and equipment capacity of the agency to engage in regular maintenance of roads across the state.
Some of the roads rehabilitated by the agency include Bodo Road, Woji Road, Evo Crescent, Birabi by Presidential Hotels Andrew Uchendu Crescent, and Abacha Link Road.
The governor has also commenced the revival of all dysfunctional street lights across Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt local government areas.

Wike inherited a state that was bedevilled by security challenges. The governor has adopted a comprehensive approach to address the problem. To enhance security in the course of the last one year, Wike’s administration donated 66 security vans fitted with communication gadgets to security agencies operating in the state. The governor also liaised with the 23 local government areas to donate another 46 vans fitted with communication gadgets to security agencies. He has enhanced statutory financial support and relevant logistics for security agencies, thereby strengthening the State Security Council.

Most importantly, the governor in concert with the House of Assembly strengthened the Rivers State Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Cultism law empowering the state to demolish houses from proceeds of crime and also confiscate resources earned through crime by criminals. To encourage security agents to make sacrifices for the people, Wike outlined incentives that are being doled out to those who suffer while fighting crime.
Wike has taken practical steps to ensure that the state enjoys relative peace for economic activities to thrive. One of such practical efforts was the stakeholders meeting held in Omoku to address security concerns in the Orashi region. The security initiatives of the governor and his committed funding of security programmes have been appreciated and commended by security chiefs.

Provision of potable water has received unprecedented attention under the leadership of Wike. He has taken bold steps and launched the state urban water sector reform, the Port Harcourt Water Supply Scheme, and the Sanitation Project. This project will create women entrepreneurs, youth employment as well as provide safe drinking water for the inhabitants of the state. Under the new Urban Sector Water Reforms, the state government will be supplying water to two million people in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local government areas after laying 400 kilometres of water-pipes in strategic locations.

Symbolic to his first year in office, Wike launched the potable water scheme in Akuku-Toru, commissioned the design and conceptualisation of water laboratories for the three senatorial districts, and is rehabilitating 10 old water schemes across the state. The administration has enhanced the expansion of water reticulation in Eleme and Okrika local government areas, with the construction of eight new water schemes already being executed for the people of the state.
To most Nigerians and the international community, Wike’s most outstanding achievement in the last one year is his restoration of the rule of law and the rebuilding of the judiciary. Upon being sworn-in as the governor of Rivers State, Wike announced the appointment of the Acting Chief Judge, Justice Daisy Okocha, and the Acting President, Christy Gabriel-Nwankwo. About one year down the road, Wike has further stabilised the state judiciary. Immediate past Chief Judge of the State, Justice Daisy Okocha (rtd), emerged as the first substantive Chief Judge of the State, while Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra, incumbent Chief Judge of the State, even while she was considered a non-indigene, succeeded her. Today, Justice Christy Gabriel-Nwankwo is also a substantive President, Court of Appeal.

Wike took very fundamental steps to revive the state’s judiciary as one of the first states to implement financial autonomy for the judiciary and has commenced the construction of an ultramodern Law Centre for lawyers in the state. The governor donated six Coaster buses to the Five Nigerian Bar Association branches and FIDA. Over the last one year the administration has released over N700 million for capital projects to the judiciary, while the state government is constructing additional courtrooms for the State High Court and Customary Court of Appeal. The state government is also constricting additional courtrooms at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. The governor’s efforts are targeted towards enhancing access to justice for the people of the state.

In the course of his first year in office, Wike faced a lengthy battle to defend the mandate he holds in trust for the people of Rivers State. From the Rivers State Election Tribunal which sat in Abuja, through to the Court of Appeal, up to the Supreme Court, he displayed unequalled faith in the capacity of the judiciary to do justice according to the tenets of the Electoral Act and the Constitution. Though, the governor lost at the Election Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, he held thanksgiving services and met with stakeholders urging them to remain calm, as he had confidence in the Supreme Court. On January 27 this year, the governor’s faith in the judiciary paid off, as his election was upheld by the Supreme Court. This development led to unprecedented celebration across Rivers State. The governor himself was on the streets to celebrate with the people.
––Nwakaudu is Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor, Electronic Media.

Just like the judiciary, Wike upon assumption of the reins of governance restored the principle of separation of powers by duly proclaiming the Rivers State House of Assembly at its official premises. He provided the right leadership. The Rivers State House of Assembly has been financially autonomous, receiving its allocations on a first line charge basis.
In the course of the governor’s first year in office, housing has also received the required attention. The 50 units Iriebe Housing Estate for Middle Income Earners has been completed and commissioned. The Wike administration has also commenced the construction of the Phase 2 of Mile One Market under a public private partnership arrangement.

Sports development is one area that Wike used to place Rivers State on the global map. Rivers State hosted a series of international football matches that attracted global citizens to the state. The state hosted the National Under 23 Team Match against Congo, the Super Eagles Versus Angola Match and the Ivory Coast versus Sierra Leone Nations Cup Qualifier. The state has been playing host to all the CAF Champions League Matches involving Enyimba International Football Club.
In the course of the year under review, Wike merged the defunct Sharks FC and Dolphin FC to create a formidable Rivers United club. The governor also cleared the eight months’ salary arrears owed athletes and managements of the clubs by the immediate past administration.

For the very first time in several years, the less privileged in Rivers State are feeling the impact of a special empowerment programme introduced by Wike to over 35,000 artisans, barbers, traders, fishermen, farmers, hairdressers and other small scale business owners who benefitted from the N2billion Rivers State/CBN Micro, Small, and Medium Scale Enterprises Development Fund. This programme has helped to improve the economy of the state. The Rivers State Micro Finance Agency (RIMA) has built the capacity of the beneficiaries and disbursed the funds directly to them in a very transparent manner.

Education has received unprecedented attention under the leadership of Wike. For the first time since the establishment of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology over three decades ago, the university will be having a College of Medical Sciences. The governor laid the foundation stone for the college and proactively released funds for the commencement of construction works. The first set of students in the college will be admitted in the course of the next academic session. The governor has also commenced the completion of the abandoned structures at the Faculty of Management Sciences and Faculty of Environment buildings of RSUST.

The administration completed the Dr Nabo Graham Douglas Faculty of Law building which has facilities such as auditorium, electronic and traditional libraries, classrooms and moot courts. The governor reinstated RSUST lecturers illegally sacked and has released N700 million for the payment of their entitlements.
The Wike administration has also kick-started the process of rehabilitating 11 prominent secondary schools in the three senatorial districts of the state for the purpose of reintroducing boarding education with Government Girls Secondary School, Rumuokwuta, serving as a pilot.

To ensure that the children of the less privileged write their SSCE without being charged illegal fees by principals, the governor distributed science equipment for practicals to 247 public secondary schools and also transferred financial grants to them to buy relevant perishable consumables for that purpose.
Wike has revived the abandoned agricultural sector. In liaison with the Central Bank of Nigeria, he has delved into the promotion of commercial agriculture by providing cheap finances for the cultivation of oil palm produce and cassava.
The administration in February launched the school farm project to attract youths to farming for the purpose of food security and empowerment. More than 2,000 youth farmers have been registered for empowerment in the agricultural sector in the 23 local government areas of the state while plans have been concluded for the administration to extend credit to farmers and fishing folks.

The administration also reintroduced Input Distribution to boost Food Production in the state. The Wike administration is currently rehabilitating the fish farms in Ubima, Buguma and Andoni, while it contained the spread of avian influenza in Ikwerre, Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt local government areas in November last year.
In the transport sector, there is the modernisation of marine transport in the state. The governor has commenced the process of reviving jetties across the state. Already, work has started at the jetty in Okrika, while the Bille Jetty and Bonny (Nembe-Waterside) are being redesigned for work to commence. The goal of the governor is to make marine transport safe and secure across the state.

Also, a database of buses/taxis in the state capital is in the process of being developed while new motor parks have been established in Port Harcourt to promote the security of lives and property.
The health sector has received the required attention. Wike has through deliberate funding and strategic investment improved the capacity of health personnel to tackle infectious diseases and health challenges facing the people.
The Representative of the World Health Organisation in Nigeria, Dr Rui Gama Vas, brought to the fore the outstanding achievements of Wike in the health sector during his visit to the governor on April 27. He declared that the robust response of the state government through its personnel and facilities stopped the spread of the deadly Lassa fever in the state. The Wike administration has started preliminary works towards the rehabilitation and revival of zonal hospitals and primary health centres in the state. Partnerships with relevant international organisations have been initiated for the treatment of infectious diseases. To further boost the morale of doctors, Wike has flagged off the construction of the doctors’ quarters at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital gutted by fire.
The state civil service has been reformed with Ministries, Departments and Agencies receiving monthly overheads previously denied them.

During the campaigns, Wike promised to restore Port Harcourt City to its famous status as the Garden City of Nigeria. One year into his first term in office, the governor has implemented programmes and projects aimed at actualising that goal. The Wike administration has in line with the New Vision Development Blueprint embarked on aggressive physical planning by designing a low density residential layout near Golf Estate at Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout wherein 150 plots have been mapped out. This new residential layout billed for development will further beautify the city.
To stop illegal structures in the urban centres of the state, the Wike administration merged the offices for the approval of building plans into a one-stop-shop location at the State Secretariat. This has also increased revenue for the state. To ensure that the people support the urban renewal programme of the administration, a public enlightenment campaign, “Operation Garden City Restoration 2016,” was launched for Port Harcourt and neighbouring communities.

Women have been duly elevated as co-state builders with a vital role in the New Rivers State by Wike. The state Ministry of Women Affairs is designed to carry women along in the process of development. The state judiciary has been stabilised since June last year by women. First, it was Justice Daisy Okocha (rtd ) as Acting Chief Judge alongside Justice Christy Gabriel-Nwankwo as Acting President of the Customary Court of Appeal. Justice Okocha later became substantive Chief Judge before she retired. She was seamlessly succeeded by Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra who is now a substantive Chief Judge of the State. Justice Christy Gabriel-Nwankwo has also been sworn-in as the first substantive President Customary Court of Appeal. Aside the judiciary, women are playing key roles in the State Executive Council as commissioners, special advisers, permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals and government agencies.

Though, the governor’s wife, Justice Suzzette Eberechi Wike, has been working as a High Court Judge, she has continued to play her role as a mother of the state, providing succour to the less privileged in the state.
The last one year has set the tone for the redefining and revival of Rivers State. The building of a new Rivers State, where all inhabitants of the state will be proud of has started in earnest. No section of the state has been left behind, as Wike is involved in pro-people governance steeped in consultation and respect for the contributions of all stakeholders.

As a result of the governor’s performance, the Rivers people have rewarded him with undiluted loyalty. They trooped out on March 19, during the rerun elections to declare their appreciation to a man who has kept his vow that a new Rivers State is the right of the people. Their support has created an enabling environment for the governor to recreate the landscape of the state and make it the envy of other states.
As a lover of children, Wike will construct an ultra-modern Recreation Park for Children. The programme will be centrally located along Aba road near Bori Camp military barracks.

In his first year in office, Wike has ultimately defined performance in governance with his focused leadership, compassionate interventions in the welfare of the less privileged , stoic defence of the Rivers mandate, prudent application of resources and strategic implementation of projects and programmes that have uplifted the state.
Wike’s second year in office would be extraordinary. This is because the governor will not be confronted with a yearlong electoral litigation and majority of the rerun elections have been settled by the good people of Rivers State. The governor will focus all his attention on development programmes and projects. If Wike emerged Nigeria’s best governor in the first one year of this dispensation, despite the distraction from the failed opposition and lack of financial resources, you can only imagine what he will achieve going forward. As the people say, Rivers State is new.
– Nwakaudu is Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor, Electronic Media.