No alternative to agriculture, says Wike, warns INEC on electoral fraud
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has said that agriculture provides the best option for Nigeria to reflate her sagging economy, create jobs, make wealth and chart a new and prosperous path which will not only guarantee food security but also put money in people’s pocket. He spoke as host governor at the on-going All NIgeria Editors’ Conference organised by the Nigerian Guild of Editors in Port Harcourt.
Wike assured the world that Rivers State is safe for investment and habitation, urging editors to explore the state and find out things by themselves. He also seized the opportunity to warn INEC of the danger of partisanship as an electoral umpire. He urged the electoral body to be dispassionate and professional anytime it is conducting any election especially in Rivers State.
His remarks inter alia:
Rivers State is not just a constituent of the Federal Republic; it is the nerve centre of the nation’s economy, and therefore host to the most critical economic infrastructure of the country. Therefore, the Federal Government has as much interest in the security and well -being of the State.
Since we came on board, we have worked as hard with stakeholders to ensure and consolidate peace and security in the State. As a result, Rivers State under our watch is relatively peaceful, secure and virtually free from the vicious destruction of the nation’s oil and gas infrastructure in the Niger Delta by some of the resurgent militants.
Please, do not get me wrong. I am not saying that Rivers State is free of crime, as no society is totally crime-free. However, while the sporadic episodes of armed robbery, hostage taking, cultism and related violence remain unacceptable; they are neither peculiar nor limited to this State. At any rate, we are on top of the security situation as the rate of crime is relatively lower that what Nigerians are experiencing in most other States of the Federation.
And so Rivers State is clearly safe and secure for business and pleasure except in the imaginations of those who are deploying scare tactics to intimidate everybody in their attempts to salvage what is left of their degraded political relevance.
As the Governor of the State, I feel highly saddened when those who should have joined forces with us to develop the State are the very ones contriving at every little chance to sabotage our mandate and frustrate our efforts to fix the State they so badly mismanaged when they had the opportunity.
Today, we are pleased to host the 12th National Conference of the Nigeria Guilds of Editors. The focus of your theme suggests that you are here to consider the imperatives of diversifying Nigeria’s economy for socio-economic prosperity through agriculture.
I commended the organizers for choosing this topic because every Nigerian stands that Nigeria’s future is bleak for as long as it remains a mono-product economy. I agree with those who hold the view that Nigeria’s economy is already diversified. What is not diversified is the country’s export revenue base from oil to agriculture, which presently accounts for less than 4 per cent of Nigeria’s total exports earnings and other viable sectors like manufacturing, solid minerals and tourism,.
Again, every Nigerian seems to know the problems with the low development of agriculture, which exists mostly at subsistence levels. Thus, the challenge is that of attracting critical investments into large-scale commercial agriculture to create employment, grow the economy, provide food security and increase export revenue. Successive governments at all levels are conscious of this fact and have developed various schemes to encourage the development of Agriculture in Nigeria.
I concede that despite the positive steps and media hype not much has been achieved in this regard. So, this conference offers another opportunity for delegates from a critical sector of our society to hear from the experts who have been invited to speak on the topic.
Let me therefore reserve my comments for another day since I am not one of the experts, and instead, use the opportunity to share with you some of the things we have done since we got the mandate and privilege to serve Rivers State.
When we took over on May 29 2015, Rivers State was literarily in a state of chaos and stricken by development predicaments. In other to address the challenges we trimmed our budget, reviewed contract process to find savings, shrank programmes, where we had to, cut down on overheads, made strategic investments in infrastructure, and looked for creative ways to do more with less.
On the 30th of May 2016 we presented our One Year Progress Report to mark our one-year in office. Since copies of this report are with you, I will mention only a few of our accomplishments within the one-year threshold.
Before we took office, civil servants, pensioners and other category of workers were owed salaries for upwards of three and eight months. Today, we have not only cleared the backlog, we are among the very few states not owing workers salaries and wages.
Before we came in, roads in the State were in their worst states of disrepair. Today, we have restored most of the streets in the State capital and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas. In addition, we started 27 new roads and completed 15 strategic roads and bridges abandoned by the previous administration.
As I speak work is ongoing on several strategic projects, including the dualization of the 16km Sakpenwa – Bori – Kono road, which straddles three local government areas; the East/West – Airport (Prof. Tam David West) Boulevard; the Igwuruta – Etche road; the Rivers State Ecumenical Centre, and the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park.
In education we reinstated over 100 lecturers, completed the abandoned Faculty of Law complex, and created a faculty of medical sciences at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. We have also started the phased rehabilitation of secondary schools with a view to reintroducing the boarding system.
As we move into our second year in office, we are keeping a sustained focus on these key initiatives: improve and expanding educational opportunities, tackle the health sector, build more roads across the State, and boost economic development through agriculture and youth entrepreneurial development schemes.
I would like to leave you with some thoughts about the values we share – thoughts about our democracy, good governance and public accountability. As the watchdog and guardians of the public interest, no other profession can give us the opportunity to know the truth about our country, about our leaders, about the state of our democracy, about ourselves, and about governments than journalists. Your profession enables and empowers you to prod and probe; to speak truth to power, to expose injustice, to speak on behalf of the voiceless and to hold leaders accountable.
Thus, the statement is true that if you all commit yourselves to the highest standards of your profession, you can be the most powerful force for deepening Nigeria’s democracy, for human rights, for justice, for shaping public policy, for fighting corruption, for free, fair and credible elections, and for efficient service delivery.
After nearly 17 years in public office and having constantly been at the receiving end of journalistic scrutiny, my judgment is that most of you are doing very well by practicing your profession with the public good at the foreground.
However, it is also true that some of you deliberately betray your public service responsibilities by becoming more interested in scoops, sleazes, sensationalism and frivolities for the purpose of selling papers or boosting circulation.
Thomas Paine once said, “the greatest tyrannies are always perpetrated in the name of the noblest causes.” I need not also remind you that: “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
The 8th National Assembly is well into the second year of its 4-year tenure without any Rivers State representative in the Senate, and only a fraction in the House of Representatives. Yet, the press is maintaining conspiratorial silence over the continuing repression and deliberate denial of the State’s constitutional right to full and effective representation at the National Assembly. The question is: can Rivers State legitimately be bound by legislation or resolutions from the 8th National Assembly passed without our representation and input?
They say there are security challenges in the State but even in the height of the vicious violence by the Boko Haram insurgency, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) supposedly conducted elections in Bornu and other infested States. The excuse of insecurity is therefore a farcical political contraption. Again, if we may ask INEC and its collaborators: who is fooling who?
In these politically terrifying times, we urge everyone of you to be objective in your coverage and reportage of events and stand with the people of Rivers State in our quest for free and fair re-run elections, instead of serving as proxies for those elements and tendencies that are bent on holding us captives and depriving us of our freedoms and liberties.
Also at the conference, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said that Agriculture has the key to salvaging Nigeria from its current economic hardship.
The Minister said that the President Buhari’s-led government had enough political will and the technical know-how that would change the fortune of the Nigerian economy.
“The government has a clear-cut agenda; it also has the will to drive a system that will lead to economic prosperity for the country,’’ he said.
According to him, the choice of the theme for the editors’ conference was well thought out, and shows that the media are indeed an agenda setter.
Mohammed expressed the hope that the conference would produce ideas that would form part of the government’s programme on agriculture.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that more than 300 editors are attending the conference with the theme: “Economic Diversification, Agriculture as option for a prosperous Nigeria.’’