On the Road with Nyesom Wike

By 2019, four Ikwerre men would have ruled Rivers State for 20 unbroken years. The people of riverine Ogoni, Kalabari, Opobo and at least 40 other ethnic groups that make up the state have been grumbling. Apparently in a bid to assuage such feelings, Rotimi Amaechi, the immediate past governor, had chosen an Opobo man, Dakuku Peterside, for governor in 2015. But Amaechi had decamped from the PDP to the APC, and Peterside lost to the PDP candidate, Mr Nyesom Ezenwo Wike.

Before the 2015 general election, many speculated that the seeming quarrel between Amaechi and then minister Wike was orchestrated in order to keep the governorship seat for Ikwerre people. Not likely. Although both men recently pledged to stop the squabble in the interest of Rivers people, one or both parties are close to breaching the agreement. This was evident during the 12th All Nigeria Editors Conference (ANEC) hosted by the Rivers State government last week. Wike and his commissioners continued to judge the incumbent governor’s performance by comparing it with his predecessor’s.

We toured Port Harcourt with the governor. I can testify that Rivers State has witnessed improvements in security, agriculture, health, education and other areas. But Wike’s brightest-shining star is road rehabilitation in the state capital. While we were on the road with Wike and his commissioners, they constantly said the roads were “reconstructed”, not rehabilitated, because of their deplorable conditions.  More than 40 roads in Port Harcourt alone – some measuring about 7km, 2km or 12km – have received a facelift. Some had been “abandoned” by Amaechi even though the contract sums had been paid for in full. Roads like Ogbogoro, Ogbunabali, Kolokuma, Igwuruta and Rumuokparali were not passable. Streets like Gambia, Azikiwe and Ojoto had ponds and lakes on them before the new government tackled them. Craters were everywhere, residents testified.

The state government and the Nigerian Ports Authority were said to have signed a memorandum of understanding to rehabilitate a 1.2km road to the wharf around July 2015. When work commenced, the NPA reneged on the agreement because it was no longer “politically correct”, said Wike’s commissioner who pointed thinly veiled fingers at the ports’ supervising ministry. It did not matter that ministers got appointed in November and only a political novice would move against a project meant for his state.

Similarly, Wike and his commissioners bemoaned the monorail project of the Amaechi administration, which had been abandoned. What remained of the project were rail tracks on huge pillars over less than 2km distance. Yet it gulped well over N40billion, the governor stated. Each pillar was said to have cost N25million! What is more worrying, the monorail project was considered “useless”: even if it’s completed, nobody would use it because it’s sited near a non-residential area. “Amaechi was warned in advance. He was told that it would be unnecessary. But he went ahead with the contract because the APC was to hold its convention,” a commissioner said.

Amaechi, now minister of transportation, was not there to defend himself. When he was indicted by a state panel last year, however, he dismissed the report as a political witch-hunt. In recent times, he has criticised Wike for some political killings in the state.  But Wike challenges everyone who fears for their security in Rivers State to name one incident of pipeline bombing or terrorism in the state, though he admits that “no state is crime-free”. He is perhaps right.

Port Harcourt residents applaud Wike mainly for the roads he has rehabilitated or “reconstructed”. Even on the night many editors landed in Port Harcourt for the 12th ANEC, they were welcomed by street lights that were non-existent pre-Wike. “You can’t take it away from Wike as long as it concerns road matters. He has done better than his predecessors,” a resident, Emeka Umawan, told me. “What you see in PH now are things done by Wike and Amaechi. [Peter] Odili did next to nothing to develop Rivers State.”

Six years ago in Port Harcourt, we were taken round Port Harcourt by then governor Amaechi too. Then, he had good schools, roads and buildings to show. There was a magnificent power plant he claimed as his own, but Wike’s commissioners said it was built by Odili and later sold by Amaechi.

Like most other governors, Wike has concentrated attention on the state capital. Senators and House of Representatives members from the state who ought to draw his attention to other towns in the state are, unfortunately, lacking. Their election was cancelled last year. A rerun in March was also cancelled. Thus, Rivers State has been without representatives in the National Assembly for almost a third of the four-year tenure. The excuses INEC gave for not conducting the polls were not acceptable to Wike.

When federal lawmakers from Rivers State eventually get elected, they and transportation minister Amaechi may have more goodies for the state. Thanks to Amaechi, the NDDC and NIMASA are currently headed by Rivers people. Wike will be willing to work with them all.



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