Nyesom Wike and His Five Flyovers

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Ring True with Yemi Adebowale, Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; Tel: 08054699539 (text only)

Ring true

Phone number 08054699539
Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

Bill Gates’ submission on factors capable of motivating development, at a special expanded National Economic Council meeting on investing in people in Abuja (2018), remains indelible in my memory. The philanthropist and founder of Microsoft Corporation dwelt extensively on issues that can motivate development in third world countries like ours.

His comments were penetrating. Gates submitted: “The most important choice Nigerian leaders can make is to maximise the country’s greatest resource, which is the people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive. If you invest in their health, education, and opportunities – the human capital we are talking about today – then they will lay the foundation for sustained prosperity. If you don’t, however, then it is very important to recognise that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow.”

Gates tried to redirect this country to the path of sustainable progress by urging our governments to spend more on human capital development instead of splendor projects. For Gates, the present economic templates in Nigeria lack the ability to address the unique needs of Nigerians. This applies to governments at all levels in this country. Gates believes Nigeria has the ability to attain upper middle-income status like Brazil, China and Mexico, but achieving this status depends on the choice Nigerian leaders make.

I had to properly situate what constitutes growth with the Gates epistle, to elucidate the misnomer going on in Rivers State. Gates’ words are words of wisdom. To attain development, projects must be inclusive and people-oriented. Government must touch the lives of the masses of the people directly with quality healthcare, education, water supply and passable inner roads. Unfortunately, governments in this part of the world do not listen to such words of wisdom. This is the scenario playing out in Wike’s Rivers State. This governor has largely concentrated on splendor projects. This is why he is spending over N53 billion on flyovers. Wike is building very expensive flyovers and multi-lane city roads while public hospitals and schools are in tatters. The citizens lack access to things as basic as public water supply and drivable inner streets, while billions are sunk into these flyovers. How many homes have access to public water supply in the whole of Rivers State? Perhaps, less than one per cent. Please, visit some public hospitals in Rivers State and you will weep for this state. Communities in Tai, Ogu/Bolo, Oyigbo and many other local government areas are gasping for breath.

Call him Governor Port Harcourt and you would be right. Wike spends a huge chunk of the state’s resources on the Port Harcourt /Obio Akpor axis. This is why roads in other parts of Rivers State have been ignored. When will he start constructing the road to Okehi in Etche Local Government that leads to Okpala in Imo State? When will Wike start constructing the road from Woji town,connecting Aleto-Alesa up to Port Harcourt Refinery junction? When will he start dualising the Igwurita-Etche Road down to the state’s boundary with Imo State at Igbodo? When will he start the construction of Tran-Kalabari Road? When will he dualise the Elele-Omoku Road? These are pertinent questions waiting for answers from Wike.

My dear Wike, I have a long list of dilapidated public schools across the state begging for attention. Please, renovate these three swiftly: Okrika Grammar School, Okrika LGA; Government Comprehensive Secondary School Nkoro, Opobo Nkoro LGA and Community Secondary School, Kalibiama, Opobo Nkoro LGA.

Some institutions are dead and begging for revival like Joinkrama Grammar School, Ahoada West LGA; Kalabari Girls High School, Buguma, Asari Toru LGA and the Sports Institute of Rivers State (former Sea School) in Isaka, Okrika LGA. Just do something in these places listed.

I wonder why the rest of the state is just looking at Wike. Well, five contentious flyover contracts have been awarded at Wike’s favoured axis and over N50 billion will go into them. These are the Port Harcourt GRA Junction flyover (N15.8 billion), Rumuogba flyover, Okoro-nu-Odoflyover, Rebisi flyover (the three will cost N21 billion) andRumuola flyover, all at different levels of completion. Wike is celebrating but honestly, in the real sense of it, these do not constitute developmental strides. I am concerned about the opportunity cost. As lovely as the flyovers are, the opportunity cost is huge.

Wike can’t be building stupendous flyovers, multi-lane roads in Port Harcourt while the masses of the people in Rivers lack access to things as basic as public water supply, quality healthcare and drivable inner streets. Lovers of this state must be persistently blunt with Wike and demand for people-oriented projects. The oppressed masses of Rivers State must insist that Wike should do the needful.

In this same Rivers State, where flyovers will gulp over N50 billion, the state’s pensioners are struggling to survive due to huge unpaid annuities. Four weeks ago, they appealed to this governor to pay their four years arrears and gratuities to help them change their “pitiable living conditions”. Nothing has changed since then. The pensioners, in a statement by their spokesman, Lucky Ati, said some of them had not received one kobo from the state government since 2015. “We have written several letters to Governor Nyesom Wike to no avail,” said the pensioners.

Yes, four years of unpaid pension and gratuities. That’s the situation in Wike’s Rivers State. It has been four years of pummeling hapless pensioners. This is man’s inhumanity to man. This garbage must not be happening in a state that has been spending billions of Naira on flyovers. Governor Port Harcourt should show some respect to these senior citizens.

“This wicked act has become the living nightmare of senior citizens who are being punished for serving the state. These pensioners are dying in droves as a result of neglect,” remarked NLC President, Ayuba Wabba. He adds that Wike owes some workers up to seven months’ salaries.

It is also depressing to note that Wike has not paid promotion arrears to civil servants since 2015. February and March 2016 salaries of teachers in Rivers State have not been paid due to one garbage biometric test this governor ordered. Health workers in Rivers State are still waiting for their October 2017 salary that Wike withheld due to their participation in the national strike by the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU).

Equally sad is the fact that thousands of youths in Rivers State are roaming the streets unemployed. Many have become touts due to joblessness. Wike should be working to harness these resources by motivating the creation of jobs instead of building flyovers. Human capacity development is vital. This governor seems to have forgotten that he promised to employ 10,000 teachers during his campaigns in 2019. So, when is Wike engaging them? All his talks now are about building flyovers. He is even talking about building 10 of such before his tenure ends in his beloved Port Harcourt/Obio Akpor axis.

If flyovers can end traffic jams, then, Lagos State dotted with dozens of flyovers will be free from traffic jams. But the reverse is the case in Lagos. Wike can’t claim to be unaware of this. His flyovers will only ease traffic jam in Port Harcourt but cannot end it. He is not even thinking about how to complete the Port Harcourt mono rail project started by his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, for which billions of Naira has been committed.

Building new cities in Rivers State looks more like the most pragmatic way to reduce the pressure on Port Harcourt. This governor should be using Rivers State’s huge funds to decongest Port Harcourt by improving infrastructure in places like Ahoada, Bonny, Etche, Ogoni and Degema, to create new cities. Governor Port Harcourt must be forced to spread development in this state. In the last five years, Wike’s projects outside the Port Harcourt/Obio Akpor axis are insignificant. Development of new cities will extend development to other parts of the state. Forces of good must join hands to stop Wike’s obsession with flyovers in the interest of the state.

Metering Should Precede Power Tariff Increase

Putting electricity meters in homes, offices and factories is a big deal in Nigeria because the power distribution companies (Discos) are enjoying the loot from estimated billings. They are unwilling to meter all consumers so that the exploitation can continue. I have always insisted that no electricity tariff increase should be approved for Discos until all consumers are metered. This is the only way supply would improve in Nigeria. By so doing, there will be no free money for Discos. They will have to provide the service to make money.

If all consumers are metered, Discos will desperately look for power from anywhere in order to earn their pay. The truth is that all consumers in this country can be metered within six months by a single Chinese firm if they want it to happen. When Discos signed the purchase agreement in 2014, the pact was for them to meter all consumers within a year. But Discos want to continue exploiting majority of the people with estimated billings. So, they tactically make it impossible for total metering to happen.

Discos have an ally in top politicians and the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that approved an increase in electricity tariff for them across the country, effective last Tuesday, without first metering all consumers. No forward-looking government will approve this without the universal metering of consumers.

Unfortunately, the government at the centre that regulates electricity has compromised. This government is more on the side of the Discos than the consumers. Our NERC is simply dancing in this direction. What a country! Electricity tariffs, through the Multi-Year Tariff Order, had been increased a number of times without improvement in services.

The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba was apt when he said each hike in electricity tariff in Nigeria “is trailed by huge leap in the hours of darkness, de-metering of more Nigerians, exponential rise in incidences of estimated billings, and increased burden on citizens for the procurement of equipment and facilities for public electricity supply amidst other devious methods by DISCOs to cheat, exploit and despoil poor Nigerians.”

Another confusing dispatch from NERC states that consumers not enjoying quality supply will not be affected by the new tariff until January next year. It said: “Following consultations and directions on tariff policy, the commission hereby approves a deferment of the applicable tariffs for customers in service bands D and E (that is customers with a service commitment of less than an average of 12 hours supply per day over a period of one month) for the period September 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021. Discos would only be allowed to charge those customers the new tariffs upon investments that improve the quality of service experience, thus migrating customers to higher service bands or another order of the commission.”

Our NERC is apparently unreasonable and muddled withtheir conclusion that the new tariff will be based on the hours of electricity available to customers. How will that work? Do they have the capacity to monitor this? Are they saying some areas will perpetually get low supply? The Discos that I know will never bring down tariff when supply fails.

The fastest way to ensure stable electricity supply in Nigeria is to ensure all consumers are metered. Then, once power is not supplied, there will be no money to be paid to Discos. Once there is no free money, Discos will sit up. This is the way forward.