By Tekina Princewill
It is not only properties or persons that can be stolen. And not all thieves are pickpockets or armed robbers. Intangibles such as values, ideas, peace, morality, and decency can become stolen items, as they have been in Rivers for a long time, especially since the return of democracy.
Time was when Port Harcourt was the city of glamour and fun; a city of true hospitality where nigh life was part of the menu, served in the tranquil ambience of the streets. Then, kidnapping was fable and life got its due respect. It was safe to traverse all neighbourhoods of the state at whatever time and day.
But then the politicians came, and poisoned the water. In the struggle for power and influence, the politicians bred militias and set them loose. Then we started hearing about cult clashes, violent invasion of communities and killings allegedly by cultists. It was only a matter of time before the state became a sprawling abattoir where innocent blood flowed endlessly.
Rivers was still a theatre of warfare when Nyesom Wike took office as governor on May 29, 2015. Wike, who had served as a local government chairman and worked closely with the people, must have seen and learnt about their frustrations. He must have seen how cultism and violence had disrupted the day-to-day living of the people.
For sure, many thought Governor Wike was himself part of the problem, especially at the beginning of his administration. His political fight with Rotimi Amaechi, his predecessor, had heightened tension in the state and many, especially outsiders, had blamed Wike for either sponsoring the violence or provoking them. It was hard to think otherwise as most of those being killed turned out to be members of Amaechi’s All Progressive Party.
It was this atmosphere of tension and security that led the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to have an inconclusive National and State Assembly elections in the state. It was the same reason cited by the Public Affairs Department of INEC three weeks ago for the electoral umpire’s refusal to conduct a re-run of the elections nearly two years after.
Although INEC’s voltre face on the Rivers Re-Run has clearly suggested there were other reasons for its refusal to conduct the re-run earlier, it was important to provide a peaceful atmosphere for the election so that it would not become inconclusive again.
Governor Wike has showed his commitment to the progress of River State by the projects being executed by his administration. Last Monday, the Amnesty Committee set up by the governor did the unthinkable when it got cult groups in the state to surrender and embrace government’s amnesty. The committee had given enough time for all cult groups in the state to surrender their arms to the state.
That ultimatum expired last Monday. The large cache of arms surrendered to the government must have shocked many Nigerians who watched the event on television. Not only were they in numbers, but they are among some of the most sophisticated caches ever recovered by any state government in Nigeria. It only goes to confirm how Rivers had been turned into a war front by unscrupulous politicians especially in the past eight years.
But it was reassuring that the Wike administration was going after the cultists who had made the state unsafe and ungovernable. His threat to go after those who failed to embrace amnesty will calm nerves and reclaim the state from criminals who had stolen the peace and the values of the city. Those who know the governor intimately say he loves Port Harcourt more than any city in the world. Reclaiming it from miscreants and vagabonds is an elegant way of showing that love.
The governor knows the futility of planning for development in an atmosphere of chaos. This must be why he is pursuing the reclamation of the state together with people-oriented projects. The police and the joint security forces have received tremendous moral and financial support from the Wike administration. It is all in a desire to make the state safe.
It is a testimony to Wike’s administrative acumen and his love for Rivers that despite dwindling resources, he has embarked on some ambitious projects to put the state back on its feet. He is revitalising the state through the provision of critical infrastructure such as roads and bridges to connect communities. Rivers is an investment hub for oil and gas businesses in the country, and it has been a thing of shame that successive governments had starved the state of critical infrastructure.
Anyone familiar with Rivers state will easily attest to the fact that many roads in the state and Port Harcourt were impassable before Wike came into office. But within a year in office, most of these roads that were near-impassable have been completed. Wike’s pace is incredible, and the governor seemed propelled by what some have referred to as an “activist’s anger” to get things done. Over 300 kilometres of road across the state have been completed in one of the most challenging terrains for construction.
This would not be possible if the governor was not desirous of returning the state to functionality. One is left with a sense of awe when watching the governor inspecting projects in some very unfriendly terrains given his unbridled passion for the job. He brings this reminder of the days of Babatunde Fashola as the governor of Lagos. Wike, like Fashola then, has no time for political frivolities. And when he makes political interventions, he does not do so for some base political capital rather to emphasize the point on service.
The governor is implementing a massive urban renewal plan, and the construction of roads and bridges form the centrepiece of this plan. Even street lights and road traffic lights are being restored on all major roads. This has given Port Harcourt a more functional and livable outlook.
Governor Wike has also launched a water reform scheme which when completed will provide water to about 2.5 million people in its first phase.
In education, the administration has completed the long-abandoned Law Faculty of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. The faculty now has some of the best facilities in the country. There is a massive physical re-construction and revamping of public schools across the State, and the boarding system is being re-introduced in the secondary schools.
Like him or hate him, only the politically correct will say the state is not working under Wike but will always tend to find a speck to hold onto just to make the administration look bad. The party instead, has been defending itself against allegations that it is working with INEC to rig the forth-coming national assembly re-run elections.
There can be no other explanation for the relative peace Rivers State enjoys now than the fact that the people seem to be at peace with the Wike administration. Government is not only working, but it is seen to be working for them. While many states are unable to pay their workers, not to talk of execute capital projects, the Wike administration is taking all in its stride.
Wike inherited four months of unpaid salaries for civil servants, six months of unpaid pensions, eight months of salary arrears for other categories of staff, including teachers, and 11 months of unpaid salaries for staff of the state football clubs. But when he took over, he paid all the arrears and has ensured no state worker goes without his wages. The state has a bureaucracy with over 47,000 civil servants who all smile to their banks at the end of every month.
Like the people of Enugu will say: Ebeano! Rivers is the place to be now.
– Princewill wrote in from Port Harcourt