By Nyesom Ezenwo Wike
Let me start by thanking the Royal Institute of International Affairs, otherwise known as Chatham House, for inviting me to speak on this prestigious platform. I bring you warm greetings from the Government and people of Rivers State, whose collective interests in development and other aspirations I humbly and gladly represent and stridently pursue.
I was asked to speak on the topic “defining developments in Rivers State and steps for sustainable implementation.” I found the topic quite interesting and therefore accepted it without modification. I believe it involves the democratic principle of accountability, which is extremely important to a highly enlightened audience in an international platform.
Having been in the public political space across all levels of governance in Nigeria for over 18 years and, by the special grace of God, having presided over the affairs of Rivers State for well over two years as Governor, I believe I should be comfortable in sharing my development strides, vision and efforts at advancing the sustainable progress of my State and people.
Nevertheless, time constraints can only allow me to limit the scope of my presentation to the two and half years I have been in office as Governor and the social, political and economic circumstances that had defined as well as driven our political mandate.
Furthermore, since this is an international platform it is appropriate to present some background facts about Rivers State before proceeding into the nitty-gritty of this paper and conclude by identifying the structural challenges impeding the accelerated development of the State.
Rivers State: Background facts
Created 50 years ago, Rivers State is one of the leading States in Nigeria and home to several indigenous communities with the garden city of Port Harcourt as its capital. The current projections put the population of the State at about 8 million, out of which over 60 per cent falls within the economically active age brackets of 15 and 45 years.
Rivers State occupies a strategic place nationally. It is the second largest economy in Nigeria, next only to Lagos State and famous for its vast reserves of crude oil, natural gas and other important natural resources.
Since 1956 when oil was first struck in commercial quantity in Nigeria, Rivers State has remained nationally competitive as a major hub of the hydrocarbon industry, producing over a third of the nation’s crude oil wealth and associated foreign exchange revenues. It is also the case that the significant contribution of Nigeria’s oil to world oil supply makes the State strategic in the world.
Besides oil and gas resources the State’s agricultural potential is huge, with about 40 per cent of its total landmass arable and suitable for commercial cultivation of cash crops, cassava, yam, plantain, rice, vegetables and oil palm.
Viewed from the business angle, the State generates considerable level of commercial activities as host to virtually all the major multinational oil companies and some of the biggest industrial plants in the country, including two petroleum refineries, an Oil and Gas free zone, a liquefied natural gas plant with six trains, a petrochemical plant, and two fertilizer plants. Importantly, with an international airport, two seaports and a network of roads, Rivers State is accessible to all parts of the country and the world by air, land and sea.
In relation to governance, it is noteworthy that modern democratic institutions, namely, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary exist in the State and function effectively as in matured democracies in the world. Moreover, the State is generally peaceful, stable and secure for business and social activities. Above all, the people are progressive, hardworking, warm and highly hospitable.
Rivers State: Finding the path to development
The word “development” may have several contextual meanings. However, for me, it simply connotes the need and the means by which people are sustainably empowered to enjoy an improved standard of living through economic growth and the provision of basic social amenities, including education, healthcare, food and nutrition, clean water, descent housing and a clean environment.
Undoubtedly, development is neither a chance occurrence nor a self-fulfilling prophecy. It must be planned, driven and executed by people or institutions with clear responsibility through sound policies and programmes that engender progress and inclusive enjoyment of the benefits of progress.
As a political entity, the Rivers State Government bears the primary and compelling legal responsibility to drive the development of the State, while all other agencies, including the Federal Government, the private sector, international development partners, donor agencies and civil society are required to play mostly supportive roles.
This being so, the policies and the steps towards the realization of these policies are what defines the development of the State. Of course, effective and sustainable implementation of good policies and programmes lead to development while bad policies or ineffective implementation of good policies would not lead to progress.
Prior to its formal creation, the entity now called Rivers State was a backward territory, completely neglected by the then Eastern regional government. In other words, tangible development started manifesting only when the State was created in 1967 out of the defunct Eastern region and the indigenous people became the masters of their political and economic destiny.
Since then, successive governments, especially those headed by indigenes of the State, have tried to advance the development of the State and its people as much as possible amidst the constraints of resources and other natural and man-made challenges.
Although the State is much better than when it started, the reality of what has been achieved is far less than the State’s potential in all indices of human and material development.
For instance, the State’s economy is still low and dependent, while poverty and unemployment across all ages are grossly high. Basic infrastructures such as roads, bridges, and jetties are inadequate to support the State’s development vision while access to education, healthcare, clean water, descent housing and energy is inadequate. Moreover, the State’s ecosystem is severely polluted by oil as a result of reckless and unsustainable oil exploitation activities by multinational oil companies.
It is thus clear from this narrative that Rivers State, like other States of the Niger Delta, is a development paradox: heavily endowed with human and natural resources, but grossly impoverished, neglected and under-developed.
Building a new Rivers State: Development options and steps to realization
My government came into office with a vision to restore and build a new and progressive Rivers State with socio-economic opportunities for everyone.
However, we took over office on the 29th May 2015 when Nigeria was sliding into a recession and the State’s revenue had declined considerably. The outgoing government spent more than it earned and drove the State into near bankruptcy with backlogs of unpaid salaries and contractual obligations.
As the economy declined, contractors demobilized from sites, businesses left, jobs were lost and the rate of poverty and unemployment increased. The majority of our people became impoverished, hopeless and unsure of their future by the hash economic situation and abysmal living conditions.
In this scenario, the first task before us was to define appropriate development options with clear and targeted deliverables to address the challenges we inherited and put the State on a sustainable path to development.
After a thorough appraisal of the state of the economy against the challenges that confronted us, we settled to focus our attention on four priority areas supported with viable steps for sustainable implementation, namely:
• restoration of good governance;
• bridging the huge infrastructure gap
• enhancing human capital development; and
• keeping the State safe and secure
(i) Restoration of good governance
Good governance is the key to all development, which was apparently lacking before we came in and responsible for the State’s under-development. Accordingly, we committed ourselves to good governance through institutional and structural reforms and efficient mobilization and utilization of resources to deliver quality services to the people. Since then, the seeds of that commitment have been bearing verifiable fruits.
For instance, the first thing we did in this respect was to restore and respect the separation of powers, independence and effectiveness of the three arms of government, which was not the case before we assumed office. Indeed, it may interest you to note that until we came into office, the State courts were deliberately closed down for about two years by the preceding government, while the State’s legislature also never functioned for the same length of period.
This was undemocratic and unacceptable; hence, we did not delay to restore constitutionalism in the State. To be sure, as we speak all the three arms of government are functioning and freely discharging their legal responsibilities to the State and its people. And to ensure this this is sustained for the good of the State, we have institutionalized and strengthened the financial, administrative and operational independence of all the three arms of government in the State.
Having restored the basic institutions of governance, we proceeded to tackle the poor fiscal and economic challenges undermining the State’s development, re-aligning budgets to definite priority areas, improving on tax collection and blocking revenue leakages.
In order to free funds for service delivery we tightened controls on financial management systems, reduced overheads bills, scaled down the cost of governance, cleaned the payroll, ensured transparency in the procurement process and created value for every money that is spent.
Here again, we took these drastic steps to enable us revive the ailing economy and mobilize resources to fund our development agenda on a sustainable basis. As a result our economy has not only stabilized, it is now growing and creating jobs, and unlike the dire economic situation facing most of the States in the country, we are well able to meet our financial obligations to civil servants, contractors and the public without resort to borrowing or bailout funds from the Federal Government.
Just two weeks go, BudgetIT, the nation’s foremost independent budgets monitoring organization, rated Rivers State as the most fiscally responsible State in the country affirming the outstanding fiscal and budgetary policies we have put in place to insulated the State from the vagaries of external economic shocks and drive development objectives.
(ii) Bridging the huge infrastructure gap
The provision of infrastructure is the catalyst to achieving our social and economic agenda of reducing investment costs, promoting internal and external investments, boosting productivity as well as creating jobs and other economic opportunities for our people.
In addition to the huge gap, we also inherited a mixed bag of dilapidated infrastructure stock. Virtually all the existing roads, bridges, jetties, sports facilities, hospitals, schools and court houses were broken in one form or the other and required either renovation, expansion or reconstruction. Besides, there was also the need to complete the numerous road projects abandoned by previous governments as well as to construct new ones if we must achieve our new and ambitious infrastructural master plan for the State.
Accordingly, we picked up this challenge as a matter of urgent priority by launching the “operation zero pothole programme” on our first day in office, which has successfully repaired and cleared most of our streets and roads of potholes.
Thereafter, we dedicated an unprecedented 65% of the State’s capital expenditure to the provision of infrastructure. As at today, we have committed over 170 billion naira to construct, upgrade and expand several roads, bridges and jetties and linking up communities and settlements across the entire State.
Apart from enhancing inter and intra-community connectivity and mobility, the roads have also enhanced the value of property, trade and investments in the State, as well as opened up some of our remotest communities for economic investments and accelerated development.
(iii) Human capital development
38. Human capital development, especially in education and healthcare, has also been in our circle of development priorities for the State. Although access to education and healthcare services was relatively available, there were serious problems with the state of infrastructure and quality before we assumed office.
Consequently, we increased public spending on education from 4.2% to about 10% on the average and deployed substantial resources for the renovation and equipping of over 180 basic education and secondary schools across the State to improve the quality of education at that level.
With respect to tertiary education, we recalled over 100 academic staff that were unlawfully dismissed for participating in union activities and strengthened the legal framework for greater efficiency and productivity. In addition, we have also constructed, upgraded and rehabilitated several faculty buildings, lecture halls, workshops, staff offices as well as student hostels in all the tertiary institutions. These interventions have expanded access, improved quality and placed our tertiary institutions on the path to producing the skillful and innovative graduates that we need to drive the development of the State and the nation.
In the same vein, we drastically increased the State’s health budget from as low as 3% to over 8% in 2017 fiscal year. Here, our approach is not to build new health infrastructures. What we are doing therefore is to renovate, equip, staff and restore health services to our communities.
Accordingly, within the last two years of our administration, we have renovated 13 general hospitals in 13 local government areas of the State, established a teaching hospital for the State University to train medical personnel as well as restarted work on the construction of 3 regional health facilities and a mother and child hospital which were started but abandoned by the previous administration.
We recognize the importance of the private sector in the healthcare delivery system. Consequently, we have also supported private hospitals in the State with interest-free revolving loans to enable them to improve their facilities and deliver better services to the public.
(iv). Keeping Rivers State safe and secure
The provision of security is one of the justifying bases for any government because insecurity invariably affects progress and deforms peoples’ wellbeing.
When we came into office, insecurity was a big challenge to the State’s development. Among other woes, insecurity caused businesses to relocate, and new investors were unwilling to invest in the State – with attendant consequences on the State’s economy, job creation, poverty reduction and development.
Making Rivers State safe and secure was a compelling development option for our administration. To this end, there is nothing we have left undone on our part to support the national security agencies to ensure that Rivers State is peaceful, safe and secure for residents, investors and visitors alike.
We have spent considerable amount of State resources to provide patrol vehicles, communication equipment, logistics and even gunboats to enhance the operational efficiency of the security agencies to combat crime and secure the State. We have also sensitized community leaders and empowered them to work with the security agencies to secure their communities to attract developmental projects from the government and investors from the private sector.
Furthermore, we initiated and funded an amnesty programme which resulted in the repentance of over 22,000 cultists and the surrender of 911 arms, 7661 ammunitions and 147 explosives.
Although we sometimes find our security architecture being deliberately sabotaged by the police for political ends, Rivers State is now one of the most secure States in the country with low crime rates and effective justice administration.
In addition to effective mobilization of resources, we also adopted the following steps to ensure effective and sustainable implementation of our development agenda:
• ensuring almost daily supervision and monitoring of contractors for quality and delivery timelines;
• negotiated and ensuring appropriate pricing for projects and delivered projects at far cheaper rates than previously done;
• ensured that contractors are promptly paid when they achieved agreed milestones to avoid variations and abandonment of project sites as it used to be in the immediate past;
• committing resources only to projects we know we have the money and the political will to fund to logical conclusion;
• completely eliminating bogus and financially burdensome and unsustainable projects from our development menu; and
• increasing budgetary allocation to the basic areas of priority as well as strengthening the legal and institutional framework for ensuring appropriate costing, supervision and timely delivery and administration of projects.
Inherent impediments to the development of the State
Much as we try, the development of the State is limited by inherent challenges in the nature and practice of the nation’s federal system, some of which include:
(i) Limitations on the taxing powers of the State Government
Lack of access to adequate resources is an impediment to achieving the development objectives of the State. While the State Government bears responsibility to mobilize resources for development, the major sources of government revenues, including excise duty, import duty, mining rents and royalties, petroleum profits tax, and company income tax are domiciled within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Government.
With the taxing powers of the State Government limited to minor and low yielding revenue sources by the country’s obnoxious legal regime, the State cannot generate the kind of resources that it would need to match its drive for rapid and meaningful development. Therefore, the challenge is not about inability but legal incapacitation to mobilize available resources due to limitations on the taxing powers of the State. And as long as the status quo continues the rate of development will continue to record shortfalls between aspirations and reality.
(ii) Inequitable revenue allocation system
All over the world federal States are synonymous with federalization of functions and resources to the constituent States. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s federal system trumps this very basic principle with the over-concentration of powers and resources at the Centre to the economic and financial detriment of the States.
The fact cannot be disputed that States bear greater development burden than the Federal Government. However, under the flawed revenue allocation regime, the Federal Government alone retains 53% of national revenue and allocates only 22% to the entire 36 States of the federation.
Obviously, when 22% percent of national revenue is disaggregated among 36 States, what comes to each State is not more than 0.6 per cent on the average per annum, which by any stretch of imagination is incapable of funding serious developmental programmes for any State.
Thus, with little and not very viable opportunities for additional revenue generation, most of the States are cash strapped and almost incapable of meeting the rudimentary cost of governance, let alone, funding highly impacting development infrastructure and programmes. Rivers State, with its difficult terrain and extensive development needs equally suffers from the skewed national revenue allocation formula.
(iii) Systematic neglect of the State by the Federal Government
As an integral part of the country Rivers State is entitled to development support from the federal government through the direct provision of projects and programmes in the State. This is even more so considering the State’s enormous contributions to the national revenue bowl. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the Federal Government continues to neglect and marginalize the State in the provision of development projects.
For instance, the Federal Government has not undertaken any new development project in the State for the last two decades. Even the existing ones, such as the Port Harcourt international airport, the two seaports and the East – West highway have severely degenerated without attention for years. These are important economic projects that needed to function maximally to drive the socio-economic development of the State, yet the Federal Government continues to turn a blind eyes to them with impunity.
(iv) The centralization and politicization of security
As noted above, effective security is a primary pre-condition for development. Under our constitution, State Governors are named as the chief security officers of their State, and therefore expected to superintend over provision of security in our respective State.
The reality is however different. As an elected Governor and supposed chief security officer, I have no control whatsoever over the administration of security by the Commissioner of Police appointed by the Federal Government and posted to the State without my knowledge or input.
While serving, the Commissioners of Police are laws unto themselves. They are neither answerable nor obliged to take orders from the Governor. Above all, their loyalty is to the Federal Government through the Inspector-General of Police, who initiated their promotions, appointment and postings.
The alienation and helplessness of State Governors in the administration of security is such that Governors are fated to work with any Commissioner of Police that is deployed to the State irrespective of the officer’s character flaws, incompetence or the interests, political affiliations or motives that informed the deployment.
Worse still, when politics rather than duty becomes the abiding motives for the deployment of security personnel to any State as we have had in Rivers State for the last two and half years, then the provision of security will no longer be about ensuring sustainable safety of lives and property but about sabotaging the State’s security architecture to serve the partisan interest of those whose political spell they are obligated to act.
Thus, apart from being grossly incompatible to our federal, pluralistic and democratic governance framework, the current centralized police system is highly susceptible to politicization with serious implications for effectiveness.
In the circumstance, the best of best of intentions and supportive efforts of State Governors are not enough to guarantee adequate security services necessary for advancing the development of the State. This lack of effective legal capacity by Governors to guarantee effective security is a serious hindrance to development at the State levels. In my experience, extra efforts and financial expenses were needed before the State could attain the acceptable level of security today.
In the end, it is fair to say that Nigeria must come to terms with the inherent failures of a centralized police system and its negative effect on sustainable stability and development at the State levels. This requires the radical decentralization of the police system to accommodate State police.
As noted above, Rivers is a development paradox, rich in resources and contributes so much to national revenue, yet grossly under-developed. Although successive governments tried to move it forward, the eight years of the immediate past government were the most regrettable in the State’s history as there were no tangible achievements to justify the huge resources that accrued to the State during the period of unprecedented oil boom. In stead, so much public money was either siphoned into private pockets or wasted on bogus and unsustainable projects.
However, we have come to prove what a committed government can even in a short period to impact positively on the State’s sustainable development. With limited resources at our disposal, and at a time of great economic difficulty, we have been able to set new and enviable standards in good governance and service delivery.
In two and half years, we have recorded tangible results in the provision of infrastructure, education, healthcare, economic empowerment, justice delivery and security of lives, property ad investments.
But our efforts are not without formidable challenges ranging from structural constraints to accessing development resources to outright neglect and even sabotage from the Federal Government that has politicized development and compromised critical national institutions.
In all these, I want to assure you that our resolve is strong, our commitment to Rivers State and our people remain unchanged and unchangeable. We shall continue to do our best within the limits of available resources to deliver on our development priorities to the State on sustainable bases and enhance the wellbeing of our people.
The politicization and active involvement of key national institutions, such as the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Police in the rigging of the re-run elections in Rivers State was not only an affront to democracy, such acts constitute a serious invitation to chaos with destructive consequences of unknown dimensions.
Finally, those of you who follow the news and events know the current state of affairs in Nigeria. That the country is in serious political and economic decline is self-evident. That the country is presently caught up in a serious existential crisis is also self-evident.
There is need for the international community to save the country and its democracy from imminent collapse by putting sufficient pressures on the Federal Government to uphold the rule of law, guarantee the integrity of the electoral system and do socio-economic justice to all segments of the Nigerian society.
I thank you for the opportunity to address you and for listening. May God bless you all.
▪SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY NYESOM EZENWO WIKE CON, GSRRS, GOVERNOR OF RIVERS STATE, NIGERIA AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS (CHATHAM HOUSE) LONDON ON MONDAY 6TH NOVEMER 2017