Governors, Just Look at Wike

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BY OKEY IKECHUKWU

A few days ago Governor Nwesom Wike of Rivers State directed all 23 Local Government Chairmen in his state to hire bulldozers and destroy the illegal refineries in their respective local government areas. Four days before the directive, he said to the LG bosses: “Now, every council Chairman must go and identify illegal refineries … and you’re given 48 hours to go and identify all illegal refineries sites, and those who are in charge of them.”… Our people are dying and we owe our people the responsibility to protect them, to save them from death.”

With that, Wike did something that every state governor should endeavour to emulate. That is if such governors are serious about genuine representation of the people by their elected leaders, as well as socially accountable leadership, effective service delivery and sustainable security. His directive to the 23 Local Government Chairmen in Rivers State puts responsibility for some aspects of environmental awareness and security squarely at the door step of those who are supposed to be closest to the people: and who should therefore know what is going on at any point in time.

The LG bosses will now be forced to wake up their largely idle Ward and Council Chairmen. We cannot continue to pretend that it is the business of the federal government in Abuja to address all local issues that a passing knowledge of one’s living environment should be able to deal with. The security situation in the North would since have changed dramatically if the governors had stopped their repeated lamentational media engagements to a conscious effort to actually earn the title “Mr. Governor”? For now, they blame everything on Buhari and the military, even as they parade the expended monthly budgets of many local government areas that have been without any form of government presence for years.

The beauty of Wike’s intervention does not lie in the mere fact of his having given an ultimatum to LG Chairmen, no. It lies, instead, in the fact that he is calling out politicians who are in office as servants of the people to do their work. Hebis saying that must not take a special, supposedly “crack team,” from Abuja to deal with every domestic problem. Is is also, metaphorically speaking, asking his fellow governors and their LG Chairmen to do their jobs. They are being told that they have a duty to identify criminality and propose ways of dealing with same, in their largely closely-knit communities where everyone knows what everyone else is doing. He is saying that it is not right that people should carry official titles/cars and have their names on the government payroll, without actually being on the job.

That is one major takeaway from Wike’s ultimatum to the LG Chairmen in his state. Another major takeaway is that he is doing what his fellow governors should do with their LG Chairmen. He is telling everyone that being a governor, or a local Government Chairmen is a job. There are role expectations in every job. LG Chairmen should know their people and their environment. They should remember that they are an indispensable chain in the machinery of public administration, national security and good governance.

But that is not all. Wike is also saying that his colleague governors and LG Chairmen should feel ashamed and embarrassed if the territory under their watch acquires a reputation for malfeasance. It does not mean he denies the challenges facing them and their various peoples. It is simply his way of saying: “Hey, enough of everyone pretending that we don’t know what’s going on here; and who is doing what. Either you become part of the solution, or I get you fired.”

In this regard, Governor Wike refused to take the more travelled road of setting up yet another Task Force on illegal refineries. That would have required him to provide equipment, procured at great cost. He would also have appointed a CEO and accompanying personnel. The Task Force would then liaise with other already existing platforms, in order to “move security forward.” A further delineation of duties and logistical issues would have ensued, along with frightening monthly overheads. It would also have meant setting up some kind of office, with clear chains of command and the full complement of personnel. The job of the Task Force would have been to “Root out all illegal refineries in Rivers State,” with the possible addition of “and sundry unpatriotic acts of sabotage and banditry.”

Meanwhile this very task, for which the state would have followed the largely ineffective approach of the Federal Government and other State Governments, would then have gulped hundreds of millions of Naira, which can be deployed to better purposes. Well, Wike has refused deceive Rivers’ people into believing that Committees and Stakeholder meetings should be set up to deal with what is actually the business of regular law enforcement agencies and known public office holders.
Had Wike set up a Task Force, it would not have occurred to anyone, especially the LG Chairmen, to ask why and whether a Task Force was necessary in the first place. The LG Chairmen would all most probably have attended the flag-off ceremonies and celebrated same as yet another wonderful initiative, and major achievement, of the Wike Administration. One of the LG Chairmen would then probably even have stood up on the occasion to thank and praise the governor for the initiative, on behalf of his colleagues. But Wike can be understood, by his actions, to be saying: “Enough tomfoolery around here in the name of serving the people of Rivers State.”
He is taking the people back to the roots of all the governance issues bedeviling the nation today. He is taking them back to the foundational underpinnings of responsible leadership. It is back to the backbone of effective service delivery for LG Chairmen all over the country, most of whom have been coasting for the last 20 years of democracy. Yes, there is the outstanding matter of autonomy and frequent dissolution of local government governance machinery, but that is beside the point at issue here.

It is instructive that Wike gave the first order when he met with the council chairmen and heads of the Army, Air Force, the Navy, the Police, the Department of State Service (DSS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) in the state. At that event, he challenged the Chairmen to prove that they were not complicit in the illegal businesses, especially bunkering and illegal refining of petroleum products. He pointed out how this had become a major threat to the environment and the health of citizens. He also drew attention to its negative impact on the national economy, as well as the earning of Rivers State when compared with some other oil-producing states in the region.

The governor also tendered a mouthwatering incentive of two million naira per refinery identified and reported to the authorities. This is very likely to introduce an interesting variable in the equation. What do you expect if all it would take for any LG Chairman to earn two million Naira per refinery in his area is to send in the names and locations? We are likely to end up with an absolute pestilence of revelations. Some will even cheerfully, yes cheerfully and “dutifully,” report on illegal refineries outside their respective jurisdictions. The problem that would arise from both the fact of reporting and also of reporting “sans frontiers” is that one or two LG Chairman may not be alive to enjoy the reward. Yes, the news of who brought what, and who received what, will always get out.

Wike deserves commendation for insisting that a responsible government cannot fold its hands and do nothing to protect residents of Rivers State from the death forced upon them by illegal oil-related activities. By taking the Local Government Chairmen to task, he is forcing them to prove that they are not complicit in the revenue-draining and health-endangering activities that are worsening the environmental challenges facing Rivers State and the entire Niger Delta Region.
Is Wike’s frustration and reaction understandable? The answer is “yes.” Beyond the question of revenue is the fact that, according to him, some security personnel and agencies are aiding and abetting criminality in the oil sector, “by providing cover for the operators of the illegal refineries in the State.” Based on this allegation, he openly urged the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Eboka Friday, to “redeploy a particular Divisional Police Officer (DPO) accused of operating an illegal refinery in the area.” This is what Wike was reported to have said publicly to the Commissioner: “It’s unfortunate for this country how security people will be involved in illegal bunkering. I can’t believe it.”

We join Governor Wike in saying, as he did during his first meeting at which he called for a roll call of illegal refineries: “Mr. CP, I thank you for transferring the DPO in Rumuji, who owns a refinery.” We also join the governor in saying “…the man must leave this state. I can’t be governor here and a security man owns an illegal refinery. No, it is not possible…the man has to go. Take him to wherever they allow bunkering.” To the head of the Rivers State command of the NSCDC, this is what Wike said concerning personnel in charge of vandalisation of pipelines in the state, whose performance was most probably found to be unsatisfactory: “Transfer the man, and tell him to leave. He is a complete saboteur. I mean, how can security men be the one involved in this. What kind of country are we?”

We agree with Wike’s expression of dissatisfaction with the actions of the supposed DPO, or anyone else for that matter. But we need much more than redeployment, advise or warnings as penalty for possibly proven cases of economic sabotage. Since he asked the CP to “…immediately arrest Chief W. J. Wocha, Fubara Ohaka and chief Promise Ezekwe accused of operating illegal refineries deep inside the forest of Ibaa community in Emohua Local Government Area,” he should also review his position of the other cases.

Notwithstanding, the governor got it right in his directive to the LG Chairmen. Other governors should please pay attention. Leadership is for service delivery. Let the example of the bold and ebullient Wike e the raised bar others should aspire to.