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Wike, a Governor Possessed By Spirit of Flyovers
RingTrue By Yemi Adebowale
He enjoys grandstanding and all the attention that comes with it. This man also does virtually everything to the extreme. That’s Nyesom Wike, the springy and tyrannical governor of Rivers State. Few weeks back, he gleefully announced that his government had decided to award contracts for two additional flyovers in Port Harcourt. When completed, it would be his administration’s 12th flyover in three years.
Wike celebrates his bizarre investment in flyovers, saying, “It has undeniably laid a solid foundation for sustainable growth of Rivers State.” He adds: “It will be record breaking in the history of this country that a state government is able to embark on 12 flyovers, not in eight years. You’ll remember these flyovers started in 2019, my second tenure. It is not that we started in 2015. For you to do 12 flyovers in four years, I don’t see who has broken that kind of record.”
A record? Certainly, a naughty one. It is so sad that this man called Wike equates development with massive construction of flyovers. So sad, he doesn’t understand the meaning of human capital development. While he is busy constructing his bogus and extremely expensive flyovers, thousands of youths of the state are roaming the streets unemployed. He is unperturbed about this crisis. Wike is not working to harness these human resources by motivating the creation of jobs. Instead, he is talking about building more flyovers. This governor seems to have forgotten that he promised to employ 10,000 teachers, to ease unemployment, during his campaigns in 2019. So, when is Wike engaging them? All his energy and resources are concentrated on building flyovers in Port Harcourt. Wike’s projects outside the Port Harcourt/Obio Akpor axis are insignificant.
While Wike is building flyovers in Port Harcourt, public hospitals, roads and public schools across the state continue to depreciate. What is going on in Rivers State is a misnomer. It’s a shame that 99.9 per cent of homes in this rich state have no access to something as basic as public water. I need to properly situate what constitutes growth. To attain development, projects must be inclusive and people-oriented. Government must touch the lives of the people directly with quality healthcare, housing, education, water supply and passable inner roads. Government must also provide opportunities, human capital development and social security. Unfortunately, Wike does not understand this and has decided to largely concentrate on splendor projects. This is why he is spending over N100 billion on flyovers.
In this same Rivers State, where flyovers will gulp about N100 billion, the state’s pensioners are struggling to survive due to huge unpaid annuities. In fact, payment of pension and gratuities stopped immediately Wike became governor. The pensioners said some of them had not received one kobo from the state government since 2015. That’s the situation in Wike’s Rivers State. It has been over seven years of pummeling hapless pensioners. This is man’s inhumanity to man. This garbage is happening in a state that has been spending billions of Naira on flyovers.
It is also depressing to note that Wike has also been erratic on payment of salaries and promotion arrears to civil servants. At a point, he ordered a junk biometric test, and deliberately created payment delays.
Last year, NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, had to lead a protest against Wike over unpaid annuities, saying, “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.” The NLC has been heckling Wike for non-promotion of eligible civil servants; non-payment of arrears of salaries; non-payment of pension arrears, gratuities and death benefits; non-implementation of pension incremental rates and non-implementation of annual salary increment.
“Workers in the state now go about in black mourning robes and the children of retirees now protest naked in public. Those are all ominous signs,” declared the NLC.
When Wike was running for the presidential ticket of the PDP, the Rivers State NLC Chairman, Mrs Beatrice Itubo was quick to alert Nigerians to the incongruity of this governor: “We have seen what is happening here in Rivers State. Pensioners have not been paid their gratuity since the inception of this administration. Workers have not been promoted since the inception of this administration. Charity they say begins at home. Let him (Wike) come home and pay retirees their gratuities, pay pension arrears, promote workers and then employ more workers. The system is empty. It is not just to run from here and then you want to go to Abuja. There in Abuja, will you kill all the workers in Nigeria?”
It’s heartwarming that a coalition of human rights bodies called Civil Rights Council (CRC) has decided to challenge Wike’s boloney in Rivers State. The CRC pushed out a statement recently advising the Rivers governor to invest in human capital development and other economic activities that would create jobs opportunities in the state, instead of constructing more flyovers in Port Harcourt.
The CRC said: “With an unemployment rate of over 43 per cent and a rising youth population, it is expected that Rivers State Government would invest in human capital, especially of its youth population, create an enabling environment for jobs and support MSMEs, rather than strangle them.
“We consider the resources invested in them (flyovers) too massive and concentrated in a small location of the state in the face of rising poverty and poor standard of living of Rivers people. There are also capital budget provisions in the health and education sectors without funding, hence a perpetual recurring of these projects in the yearly budget provision of the state.”
It is pertinent to refresh Wike’s memory with a submission by Bill Gates, during a visit to Nigeria in 2018, on how to motivate development in this country. The Microsoft boss declared: “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.
Wike can’t be building stupendous flyovers, multi-lane roads in Port Harcourt while the masses of the people in Rivers lack access to basic things of life. Citizens of this state must be persistently blunt with ‘governor Port Harcourt” and demand for people-oriented projects. The oppressed masses of Rivers State must insist that Wike should do the needful.
Besides, if flyovers can end traffic jam, then, Lagos State, dotted with dozens of flyovers will be free from traffic jam. The reverse is the case in Lagos. Wike can’t claim to be unaware of this. His flyovers can’t end the traffic jam in Port Harcourt. This governor is not even thinking about how to complete the Port Harcourt monorail project started by his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, for which billions of Naira was committed.
Enough of ASUU’s Garbage
Last Tuesday, the National Executive Council of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) announced a four-week extension of the ongoing strike in public universities. It declared: “Following extensive deliberations and taking cognisance of government’s past failures to abide by its own timelines in addressing issues raised in the 2020 FGN/ ASUU Memorandum of Action (MoA), NEC resolved that the strike be rolled over for four weeks to give Government more time to satisfactorily resolve all the outstanding issues.”
That was the bad news from ASUU. For me, whatever the university lecturers are fighting for (no matter how good) resulting in this current six-month old strike, it amounts to nonsense, if the interest of students is not paramount. It should ultimately be about the students. This is what these teachers have failed to recognise. They are permanently on strike, leaving the students they are engaged to teach in tatters and quandary. A four-year course is turned into six years by these unending strikes. Some students will never return after the strike. So, persisting with this current strike is unjustifiable.
Yes, protesting against the federal government’s refusal to fulfill its agreements with the union since 2009 is fair. Yes, the demand for revitalization funds for public universities, promotion arrears, improved salaries and earned academic allowances is just. But the demand can continue without these endless strikes. ASUU members are earning salaries to teach students, So, they must teach. I am not sorry to say that ASUU members care less about the disruption of the future of our youths through the interruption of their academic life because most of them don’t have their children in these public universities.
Then, there is this demand for the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution by the government for payment of university lecturers. ASUU must look for another tool for this selfish part of their agitations. These guys want to dictate to their employers how to pay them. I don’t know where that is done anywhere in the world. They are telling the government to throw away its platform and pay them with another platform. Their colleagues in the private universities must be shocked.
ASUU members are also demanding for withheld salaries during previous strikes. Haba! The no-work no-pay labour law is very clear as contained in Section 43 of trade Dispute Act. These university teachers are experienced enough to know that strikes come with implications.
Now, to the way forward. University autonomy must happen for all this endless drivel called “ASUU strike” to end. Public universities must exercise independent control over their day-to-day operations. Administratively, they should constitute their governing councils. Federal and state governments must hands off these public universities so that they can be managed as non-profit businesses. They should no longer be funded from budgets. This is the meaning of autonomy. With this, the governing councils will be able to act clearly as defined i.e. the ultimate power. The governing councils will appoint the vice chancellors and other management staff. The employers of the academic and non-academic staff will be the governing councils and they will remunerate according to their abilities.
With autonomy, the universities will also charge fees that will enable them cover expenses and a little bit more for further development. This will end their funding crisis. Government can then provide scholarships and student loans. Autonomy also means public universities will be able to attract reasonable endowments. Donors are more comfortable with universities enjoying autonomy. There will be no bureaucratic bottlenecks. Endowments provide important financial stability for universities in sound climes.
Autonomy implies operative freedom. It implies academic and managerial freedom which should result in higher quality of education and academic excellence. I’m happy that ASUU is not against autonomy for universities. So, the federal and state governments must do the needful. This is the only way forward for our public universities and all other public higher institutions of learning.