Hon Ogbonna Nwuke is a Journalist and politician. He is the Publisher of the Port Harcourt Telegraph, a former Director of Press Affairs to Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor of Rivers State, one-time Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications as well as a former Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Rivers State. He was a member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Etche/Omuma Federal Constituency. Now, he is the Spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Rivers State Chapter. The Garden City News Newspaper went to town to interview the interviewer on issues bothering on APC, Rivers State, Nigeria and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
As the Publicity Secretary of APC in Rivers State. What is the position of Rivers APC in terms of the congresses to elect party executive at the ward, local and state levels. And the position of the contending factions in court?
Nwuke: The APC has in the last few months taken steps to resolve differences which have continued to militate against party cohesion in the State. To a large extent, people within the party are talking to one another. Our expectation is that this current mood in the party which is positive would bring about lasting peace. We believe peace is the foundation that we need to build on.
Matters relating to the holding of congress is the business of the National Secretariat. It is not in the hands of the State Chapter of the APC. The National Secretariat will at the appropriate time come up with a template. Everything to ensure that we hold congresses to fill vacancies from the wards up to local and State levels are being done.
You will recall that the NEC ordered all who are in court to withdraw their cases. The Governor Buni led Caretaker Committee which replaced the NWC is reaching out to all aggrieved parties across the country. Most of the matters in court are gradually fizzling out. I am aware that there is a matter at the Court of Appeal. That court has stayed the execution of the decision of the Port Harcourt High Court which usurped the duty of the National Secretariat in appointing Caretaker Committee members and hoisted Hon. Igo Aguma on the party as the Caretaker Chairman.
What is your take on the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic in Rivers State by Gov. Wike?
Nwuke: We need to thank corporate donors for establishing an isolation centre at the Liberation Stadium. We equally want to thank the people of Eleme living in the Diaspora for equipping the centre at Eleme which is being claimed by the Rivers State Government.
What this means is the Governor’s tactics for fighting the pandemic has really not been impressive. It has been rather tattered and uncoordinated.
Much as we concede the right of the Rivers State Government to roll out executive orders, we have hoped that Government would encourage the procurement of PPEs and ensure that more persons in the State are tested for the virus, particularly to avert the community spread of the pandemic.
We would have faired better, in my view, if there was appropriate coordination of efforts to fight the spread of the pandemic.
God has been kind to the State. Most of our people, at least on paper, are holding out against the pandemic. And we need to thank all those on the frontline who are risking their lives without adequate PPEs to save others. We owe doctors, nurses and other paramedics for their efforts in keeping us safe.
What is your view on the siting of three fly overs on the same road, PH – Aba road when there are other projects crying for attention?
Nwuke: This is the point that we have been making. We admit there is some sense in thinking of an urban renewal programme. Only persons who are living, who have food on their table, who have a future can be beneficiaries of an urban renewal scheme.
Our people have no work. Youthful persons who have since graduated are unemployed. They have no future and the government that should be thinking of their welfare is not doing so. Most companies which used to operate here have closed down.
Other states are diversifying into agriculture and encouraging SMEs to establish businesses of their own. In Akwa Ibom you have State inspired cottage industry that produces pencils and stuff like that. That State has set up Ibom Air with the Bombardier aircraft that Wike flies around the place.
Lagos does not produce rice, but it has lake rice which is selling like hot cake. All Lagos does is to buy rice from the North, mill it and bag it. They earn revenue and create jobs for Lagosians.
What do we have in Rivers State? All we do is throwing money around bribing judges, policemen, INEC staff and desperate politicians in order to undermine democratic institutions. Wike inherited fish ponds, where are day? He inherited banana farms. SONGHAI farm, where are they? He inherited the RSSDA which created jobs and other services. What has happened to it?
Every investment that was left for Wike has been killed. Instead the governor goes borrowing, goes to Bauchi to propose support for another government when our people are hungry.
Those overheard bridges could be built elsewhere, connecting the people in the hinterland to the State capital. A bridge linking Borokiri to Okrika for instance would add more value. So would a bridge connecting Rumuolumeni to Ogbakiri or somewhere in the Kalabari areas.
Our people want to get home. They have no roads. Somebody who is from the old Port Harcourt Local Government Area is busy developing present day Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor.
Rivers State has 23 LGAs and only two are receiving attention. Some persons who share the showcase mentality of the Governor would liken what is happening in Abuja to Port Harcourt. The difference is that States have absolute responsibility for developing their areas after they have collected their share.
In the past we talked about even and equitable distribution of amenities. Unfortunately, we have a government with the behavior of a child that is rascally. Can you imagine someone who claims to be serving you telling you ntoorrrr?
As Rivers people, we have entered one chance, yes one chance and it is not easy now that we have found ourselves in the clutches of a political vampire to break free.
Gov. Wike just allocated to judges, quarters he built for them on occupier owner basis and 150 million naira he gave to those of them who would not want the quarters. He also promised to build lodges for the Nigerian law school Yenegoa branch when employable Rivers youths are unemployed and pensioners have not been paid their pension and gratuity. What is your take on that?
Nwuke: My brother, you are asking me, who will I ask? We are talking about a State Government which is concentrating on judges. What has happened to workers and retirees? Are they not deserving of consideration?
What is our business in building hostels in Yenagoa when our own people are hungry and unkempt? Whom shall we ask? Who will listen to the cries of Rivers people?
If the truth most be told, the Governor of Rivers State appears to have his eyes on something. That something would become manifest as we approach 2023. I have no doubt about it in my mind. There is a saying which suggests “nothing goes for nothing.” I am getting old, old enough to understand these things, and I can see these things clearly. I can see that undermining democratic institutions is more important. I can also see that holding unto power, playing politics with everything, is more important to this administration.
What is your view on the recent hike in pump price for petrol by the Federal government and increase in electricity tariff by the DISCO managing electricity distribution in Nigeria?
Nwuke: The issue of the recent hike in petroleum products is a very touchy and controversial one. So, I can understand the uproar. I can understand those who say the timing isn’t right. When would the time be right? That is the question to ask.
Britain is now officially in recession. Italy has similarly disclosed that it is facing a recession.
The consequences of the economic melt down as a result of the global impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is real. It has devastated world economies to the extent that the future of mankind is under threat.
For a long time, we have been talking about complete deregulation. This means that we have to do away with subsidy. Maintaining subsidy payments have been costly. As things are, Nigeria may not be in a position to sustain the bourgeois lifestyle that Nigerians live. Oil prices have collapsed. We are developing massive infrastructure through borrowing. What can we do if we do not look inward?
So, if we believe we desperately want to save Nigeria, removing the shield which has blinded most Nigerians to social reality over time is the right thing to do. We talk in terms of consumption patterns and the cost this represents when it comes to our values. A few things are likely to change. But we are likely to do away with wastes and certain leakages if you like. We are spending so much in buying fuel from abroad, supporting the consumers of petroleum products. It doesn’t really add up.
In order to get the power establishment to run optimally, funds would be required to run the system. The Discos were benefiting from a feeding bottle syndrome, collecting scarce funds from the Federal Government despite the deregulation of the power sector. The target should be to get power on 24/7 basis, to create an environment which would support investments in that sector, enhance efficiency, create jobs, etc.
To beat cost, we don’t need to put on our appliances at the same time. Which would mean that we need to evolve smarter ways of relating to developments in our system.
It may be painful, but with time, we shall learn to live with it just as we are doing with the COVID. I would be glad to see a better argument, a better economic position on the way forward in terms of encouraging competition, stimulating growth and order forms of economic activity.
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