AMAECHI AND PRINCEWILL: THE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP FOR REBRANDING RIVERS STATE TO ANOTHER LEVEL
Prof Dora Akunyili, the Nigerian Information Minister on assumption of office initiated the move to rebrand Nigeria . According to her the process of rebranding is a quest for a new national identity, which hitherto had been marred by the overall poor image, Nigeria has among the comity of nations. By so doing the major goal will be, to have the government ultimately chart a new course for its “New” people. As much as one commends Akunyili's doggedness for injecting sanity into moribund systems as evident by her stint as Director General, NAFDAC, the recent show of shame that characterised the Ekiti Elections and the blunt refusal of the Presidency to respect the sensibility of Nigerians by allowing the Uwais' Electoral Reforms to see the light of the day has rubbished and negated the efforts of the Minister to change the negative perception of Nigeria before the international community.
The obvious failure of the FG in following through in articulating rebranding reforms, is not the aim of this article, rather is only mentioned in order to highlight its glaring flaws in relation to the harmonious partnership between Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the PDP Governor of Rivers State and Prince Tonye TJT Princewill the Rivers State AC Leader. The evident partnership has served to change the perception of the political terrain and by so doing rebranded the act of governance in Rivers State . Rivers State by virtue of its Oil and Gas might, is essentially a major hub of the Nation's economy and a major player in the West African sub region.
In any rebranding exercise, one is expected to have an in depth knowledge of the product, the evolutionary stages of the product and its current state after the rebranding exercise. In this context therefore, if we are to examine the Gov Amaechi and Prince Tonye Princewill partnership as a study in rebranding Rivers State , then there is a need to highlight the state of Rivers State prior to their partnership.
I will attempt this exposition by critically examining the state of salient areas and how far the rebranding efforts of these two exceptional leaders have impacted on them. 1. Security. 2. Health. 3. Roads and Electricity. 4. PPP. 5. Governance and Transparency, 6. Tolerance of opposition in the State. 7. Urban Development and Renewal. 8. The Vision of the Governor and his Partner about Rivers State
Amaechi's administration inherited a volatile security situation in October 2007 due largely to an upsurge in crime that included cult activities, militancy, bank robberies, and piracy along waterways, gangland style abductions and hostage taking. The total breakdown in security structures at the time led to an enforced statewide curfew. The presence of heavily armed security forces coordinated by the Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Flush Out patrolling the streets became common fixtures. Statistically proven figures put no fewer than 30,000 youth fatalities resulting from hostilities in the Niger Delta since 2003 and about 130 kidnap victims. Media Reports on the state prior to Amaechi's administration, served to negate any likely hood of attracting prospective investment to the state thus threatening the development efforts of the administration as most multinational companies spanning the various industries operating in the state, were closing up shop because of militant activities.
By early 2008, the State Government with Amaechi at the helms, handed over thirty-eight ready-for-action patrol vehicles fitted with communication gadgets to the state police command. With the promise that one hundred additional vehicles will be donated within the year to make their job easier. A similar gesture has since been extended to the JTF and other security agencies in the state. The Amaechi administration also equipped the nine police commands in the region with brand new patrol vehicles and a host of sophisticated communication equipments. The RSG is committed to assisting the police in its fight against crime and achieving optimum law and order. The State set-up the Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), headed by renowned jurist, Justice Kayode Eso. Its terms of reference, included the unravelling of the immediate and remote causes of the situation of insecurity and social crisis in the state, which had left communities and individuals devastated and also suggesting preventive measures and solution. The Commission submitted its report and the white paper on its findings and recommendations gazetted by the government are awaiting implementation.
It also set up the Social Rehabilitation Committee (SRC), headed by one-time Director General of the State Security Service (SSS), Chief Albert Horsfall to engage hitherto cultists. Amaechi's stance on militancy and hard line approach on the effects of crime without being hard on the causes of crime has a worthy opponent in Prince Tonye Princewill who is openly vocal on his criticism of Amaechi in this regard. Funny enough, the other Governors of the Niger Delta Region have vindicated Prince Tonye Princewill's stand on security in the State by adopting a more liberal approach through dialogue in dealing with the issue of militancy as recorded during the region's last Economic Summit held at Calabar. Today, peace has not only been restored to the State, nightlife, cinema halls and social life has become mainstream in the State.
2. ROADS AND ELECTRICITY:
Apart from Port Harcourt and a few other towns, public utilities i.e. electricity was seen as a luxury in the State. The government supposedly inherited a project that ought to have given it a head start in its industrialization efforts. The Omoku, Trans Amadi and Eleme gas turbines where commissioned with an estimated generating capacity of about 150 megawatts of electricity. However, since commissioning they remain comatose and have been exposed as it where for what they really are, conduits for siphoning public funds by the past administration. Most Roads in the State could be better described as deplorable. Besides the capital Port Harcourt and a few other towns, road network was prevalently nonexistent. Flooding of major roads after a bout of rainfall became the order of the day, thus posing a threat to the health and sanitation of residents.
On assumption of office, the Amaechi administration set up a Task Force on Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation and approved a working sum of N2b(Two Billion Naira) to the Committee he also commenced plans to construct an ultra modern drainage system to tackle the flooding menace experienced within Port Harcourt and its environs and to this effect, a South African firm, Henderson Geotechnical Engineering, was commissioned to handle this project.
In a bid to further tackle the challenges of the "one city syndrome" that has characterised the State since inception, the state government has embarked on an extensive programme of road construction, rehabilitation and repairs. About 185 roads are currently under construction in the rural and urban areas of the state. 105 have been completed, while others are still on going. The roads, when completed, would improve links between communities and the state capital with a view to making rural areas attractive for investors. Some of the road projects include the dualisation of Rumuokwuta- Choba East West road, dualisation of Slaughter/TransAmadi-Rumuobiakani, dualisation of Omerelu road and construction of Omofo-Agba Ndele road in Emuohua Local Council of the state. The state Commissioner for Works, Mr. Dakuku Peterside, has pointed out that the landmark project in the state government's infrastructural development plan is the anticipated 125 kilometre, six-lane Ring Road around the city. He says the project, which would gulp over $1 billion, would have two cable-staged bridges. In the area of electrification, about 376 Communities have been earmarked for electrification by the end of this year. Amaechi has said he will consolidate on the power programmes of his predecessor and has ordered for additional equipment and contracted expert vendors for the completion of the moribund turbines for effective power supply in the state. Additional feeder stations are being completed in places hitherto without power supply.
Prior to Amaechi's administration, the Health sector was in an appalling state, with our hospitals and clinics serving as mere consulting rooms lacking the necessary facility or drugs. However, only one functional secondary health institution exists currently, before the end of 2009, over three government secondary health institutions will be commissioned in the Port Harcourt city area. Currently an additional 154 modern hospitals are being constructed across the State. A 250-bed modern hospital is to replace the old Niger Delta hospital, while a new five-storey Dental hospital currently at advanced stage of construction is to replace the old Dental hospital. Other initiatives to revolutionise the health system in Rivers State are contained in the PPP column.
4. GOVERNANCE AND TRANSPARENCY:
It is common knowledge that governance prior to the advent of Gov Amaechi, was run as an inclusive and cult like administration. Being a member of the PDP did not guarantee a shot at any government appointment or contract. One had to go a step further by being an “insider”. Amaechi on assumption of office chose to shed the toga of his Political father and Mentor Peter Odili, by choosing to tread the part of promoting transparency in governance. During his maiden broadcast and in virtually all his speeches to date, he makes it clear that the era of wanton looting and spending of public treasury is a thing of the past. He went an extra mile to prove his intent, by assembling a stakeholder's forum last year, where he rendered a thorough financial account of his stewardship. In addition he inaugurated a 28 member Advisory Committee with Prof Nimi Briggs as Chairman, whose first assignment was the initiation and signing into law of the following revolutionary bills- (the Public Procurement Bill No. 4 of 2008, Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Agency Bill No. 3 of 2008, Sustainable Development Amendment Bill No. 1 of 2008, Rivers State Reserved Funds Bill No. 2 of 2008 and lastly Rivers State Appropriation Bill No. 5 of 2008|) which will all go a long way to lay the foundation of the recovery and rebuilding of Rivers State in line with the dream of the founding fathers of this great State. Amaechi charged the committee to criticize him on area of weakness. This he said will keep him on his toes. He even asked the House to probe him where and when necessary. This culture of transparency should be emulated. Amaechi has flagged it off, let all institutions of government—from the lowest to the highest tier follow suit.
4. PRIVATE PUBLIC PARTICIPATION (PPP):
Prince Tonye Princewill the Rivers State AC Leader can be credited as the major driver behind the concept and strategy of this worthy initiative. This youngest member of the State Advisory/Economic Committee; Member of the erstwhile FG Niger Delta Committee and presently Chairman of the Sub Committee of FG Vision 2020 on the Niger Delta region, has succeeded in attracting to the State foreign Investment worth over 150 Billion Naira. Recently at a Lecture he delivered titled ''Public Private Participation as a panacea to Niger Delta” at the International Conference Centre, Abuja during the symposium in honour of the founding father of the struggle to emancipate the Niger Delta people, Major Issac Adaka Boro; he stated thus “I believe if other States in the region can emulate the examples of Rivers State in the area of PPP, the sky will be the ultimate of the Niger Delta region and the region will become the envy of other regions of Nigeria as that is the only panacea to resolving the lingering crisis in our region”. Today, through Prince Tonye Princewill's efforts at partnering with the Amaechi government; the private and public sectors are now ready to unite to move the State forward. The major fruit in this regard is the signing of the Memorandum Of Understanding between Clintoch Diagnostic and Pharmaceutical Inc, Canada and the State Government to build a 1000 bed space, mega, first class, fully equipped specialist hospital to be named after Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte. The hospital is expected to provide international standard health care facilities that will rival those of hospitals in Europe, America or any part of the globe. Medical Services will range from internal medicine, obstetrics, gynaecology, surgery and paediatrics and is expected to provide clinical capacity, managerial and quality control management and training. In addition, it would create massive employment opportunities in the state. Clinotech will be investing 60 million dollars in the first phase and $135 million in the second phase while Rivers State Government will be investing 40 million dollars.
Dividends of the PPP initiative are already being enjoyed in the state, with the commissioning by the State Government of the Rivers State Government Emergency Call Centre and by last April of the Silver Bird Cinema Theatre Port Harcourt, a joint venture between the state and the Silver Bird Entertainment Group. This Multi-Purpose Entertainment Park in Port Harcourt worth about N20 billion is expected to transform the area around the Isaac Boro Park and the Cultural Centre to a world class Multi-Purpose Entertainment Park and the State to a true modern Garden city. The project will have a shopping mall, Conference Centre, a 5-star hotel, an amusement park and a large parking space for 1,000 cars and also promote tourism in the State. This project apart from creating the first modern tourism centre in the State will create over one thousand jobs for our youths when completed.
Other worthy initiatives being pushed by Prince Tonye Princewill's partnership include a new mother and children's hospital to be commissioned by June 2010 for the State. Also in the pipeline is the construction of a 30,000 shops International Market with a Police Station, Clinic, Fire Service Station and a Bank facility and a high rise parking space at Akpajo near Eleme in Rivers State .
5. TOLERANCE OF OPPOSITION IN THE STATE:
The submission of the Eso Panel summarily exposed the state of the opposition in the State prior to the advent of Gov Amaechi; “there was also crime committed in ensuring the elimination of the opposition and this was never investigated; and where investigated by commissions of enquiry set up by the Government, white papers were never issued. Even where white papers were issued, the recommendations were never implemented. The politicians became mortal enemies inter – se there was the scheme of Carry go which was invented whereby the agreed formula of sharing power was not followed to the chagrin of the opposition.. The past administrations in Rivers State had a zero tolerance for Political Opposition as evident in the acts of violence against perceived political opponents. Today, a key member of Amaechi's administration is Prince Tonye Princewill who also doubles as his most worthy critic. This move though confusing to some, has been applauded in various quarters and described as a study in political reengineering and an emergence of the new breed politician. Governor Amaechi has the singular honour amongst his peers in Nigeria as being able to practically accommodate the opposition political parties in his cabinet with the appointment of the Legal Chief of Action Congress, Barrister Osimah Ginah as Commissioner in charge of Ministry of Urban Development and Chief Davies Ibiamu of RPN who contested with Amaechi in the gubernatorial election of last general election of 2007 as Commissioner of Special Duties.
Recently about 41 political parties joined forces with the Prince Tonye Princewill to strengthen opposition in the State. Chief Harry Alaye, State Chairman of Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP) and leader of the Coalition of Opposition Parties in Rivers State, who spoke on behalf of the other 18 State Chairmen of Political Parties that include, ALP, JP, APGA, NRP, NAP, NAC, CPP, ND, MMN, NUP, MDJ,APN, PRP, NEPP, DPA, HDP, ACPN and PSP, stated thus “...We have after series of stakeholders meetings reached a consensus to join forces with the Leader of Rivers State Action Congress (AC) and the undisputed Prince of Niger Delta Politics Prince Tonye Princewill, an alliance that we are certain will strengthen the opposition and ultimately move the State forward...”Chief Alaye's statement further justified the choice of Prince Tonye Princewill thus “..Factors in favour of the choice of the Prince as Opposition Consensus Leader include his political disposition, educational background and principally the sterling qualities of forthrightness and foresight. As a New Breed Politician, he has become the beacon of hope for most our people...Prince Tonye Princewill's antecedents; political sagacity and foresightedness demonstrate that we might just as well have found the 'Joshua' that has eluded us thus far in our collective search for a suitable Guide to the promise land.”
Toeing the same line; Dr M.B. Dagogo Jack, gubernatorial Candidate of Fresh Democratic Party in the 2007 gubernatorial election in Rivers State and Vice Chairman of CNPP in Rivers State who read the statement for the 15 Political Parties under the auspices of Organised Opposition Political Parties (OOPP) in Rivers State that joined the train stated, “Prince Tonye Princewill is today our Leader as he stands out as a unique study and rallying point in positive and constructive political opposition in the Nigerian political system. He further stated, “We are taking this step under the premise that Rivers State belongs to us all, regardless of our differences in political opinions, ideology or school. Another proven point is that Prince Tonye Princewill the Rivers State AC Leader and the Prince of Niger Delta politics has by his antecedents and sagacity proved that he is the undisputable Leader of the opposition in Rivers State and this fact is not in contention. This assumption is based on his various contributions and for influencing both foreign and local investments to the State and most importantly has by his constructive opposition and inputs strengthened the opposition in the State which has ultimately has enhanced good governance in Rivers State ”.
6. URBAN RENWAL:
Restoring Port Harcourt to its garden city origins has been a major headache for the Amaechi government. A major hub for the Nation's Oil and Gas economy, Rivers State as the treasure base of the nation has over the years attracted an influx of people, with majority of them opting to settle in Port Harcourt city. As a result urban utilities and facilities were overstretched, and with the attendant rise in population came the need for an expansive infrastructural development plan. Inconsistent government policies had resulted in the establishment of illegal motor parks, markets and residential buildings in all nooks and crannies of the state capital, a situation that defaced the environment and transformed the once beautiful city into a "garbage" city. Most relaxation spots in the Port Harcourt Township area, which used to be a hideout for fun-seekers during weekends, had been converted into makeshift markets, while facilities to guarantee a healthy living were wasting away. Against this background, the government embarked on a comprehensive urban renewal drive jointly carried out by the Rivers State Environmental Sanitation and the State Ministry of Urban Development. As a result, illegal structures in most parts of the state capital were demolished whilst others earmarked will soon meet with the same fate. At a recent luncheon organised as part of the burial obsequies of the of late Senator Melford Okilo, first civilian Governor of the old Rivers State, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan took the opportunity to commend the state government's urban renewal drive thus;”The fact remains that Rivers State has become the cynosure of the world due its Urban Renewal agenda and demolition exercise. If the tempo is sustained, in ten years time, Rivers State will become a reference point in how a modern city should be. H.C.Osima, one of the exports by Rivers State AC to the Amaechi's administration has established himself as a force within that administration haven corned for himself a series of awards in acknowledgement of the good job he is doing on behalf of the State”.
7. THE VISION OF THE GOVERNOR AND HIS PARTNER ABOUT RIVERS STATE :
The Governor's vision is better captured in his Government vision. “Our mission is to serve our people with humility and render transparent and accountable stewardship anchored on integrity and good governance. We shall use our God given resources to improve the quality of life of our people and future generations, and empower our people in a peaceful just and harmonious society under God” The Secretary to the State Government, Hon. Magnus Abe, commenting on the Mission Statement stated 'The Mission statement of the government embodies all that the administration has set out to achieve, and all the government appointees must imbibe the vision contained in the statement and avoid procrastination in the implementation of policies of government'. Prince Tonye Princewill's vision is captured in his reaction to the Leaders of the Opposition political parties after adopting him as their consensus leader. “The fact remains that neither I nor Amaechi can fight the battle to move the State forward alone. So the need for every one of us coming together to assist Gov Amaechi at this moment need not be overemphasised. To me, Rivers State comes first before any other consideration including that of my party, AC. Our State and our people have suffered enough and without unity amongst the political class, any hope for a new dawn will remain a pipe dream. I urge all the other remaining political parties to emulate this great Forum and come on board so that together we can rebuild our State and make it the type of State we all desire.”
CONCLUSION: “I am a true Rivers State man and proudly so. I believe that Rivers State money should be judiciously used for the benefit of all who reside and do business in Rivers State . As Speaker, adequate provision was made for the development of the state. It is my intention, God willing, that during my tenure as governor, sustainable foundation will be laid for the development of this state and the improvement and welfare of the citizens. This is my solemn pledge to my people”.
Following the just concluded South-South Economic Summit in Calabar, Gov. Amaechi stated thus “I am challenged by the outcome of the South-South Economic Summit as I intend to revamp ailing state-owned companies. My Government would soon embark on massive replanting of more Oil Palm trees, and Rubber plants to revamp the industries and I hereby announce the abolition of discriminatory schools fees for South-South students studying in any Rivers State institutions. The time to plan the development of the region is now, especially as relatively more money is coming to the zone, and it should be utilized to develop the people and the area for better future”. On May 1st, Governor announced the cancellation of casual work force system in the State directing that Rivers State should apply and feel those vacancies as “I will ensure that Rivers State money be used to better the lots of our people”. If all these are not remarkable steps to rebrand governance in a State then I need o be educated on what rebranding is all about.
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt , Rivers State .