By ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, PORT HARCOURT
On May 29, 2015, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike, former Chairman of Obio/Akpor local government area of Rivers State, former Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt and former Minister of State for Education, was sworn-in as the sixth democratically elected Governor of Rivers State by the Chirf Judge of Bayelsa State, Hon. Justice Kate Abiri.
Wike, during his campaign promised to clear the backlog of salaries owed civil servants by the previous administration, fix the roads as well as construct new ones to ease the suffocating traffic grid lock that had become a worrisome feature in the state metropolis.
Therefore, it was not surprising that Governor Wike launched the Operation Zero Pot Holes in his maiden speech to the people of Rivers State, barely five minutes after he was sworn-in as governor, which to commence the filling of pot holes in Borokiri, Port Harcourt Township and Mile One, in the Diobu Area, of the capital city.
Speaking during an event to mark his one year in office, Wike declared that he has reconstructed 46 roads under his Operation Zero Pot Holes Scheme; completed the construction of 15 roads that were abandoned by the previous administration due to the inability of the previous government to pay the contractors; while 27 new road projects conceptualised by his administration were completed and commissioned as part of activities to mark his first one year in office.
The governor said, “We have stabilised the economy of Rivers State since we took the reins of leadership in the state. We achieved the stabilisation of the economy by injecting N151billion as salaries and payment of contractors. These funds helped us to build the economy that was badly damaged by the immediate past administration”.
He stated that his administration will not initiate any project that cannot be completed within the four year span of his first term in office. Governor Wike expressed optimism that the renewal of the Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas will attract investors to the state.
Some of the roads commissioned by Wike in commemoration of his First One Year in Office include the Rumueprikom-Rumuolumeni Road; Elioparanwo Road; Rumukunsi-Eneka-Igwuruta Road; New Road in Borokiri, now to be known as Dr. Abiye Sekibo Road; Industry Road that leads to the Nigerian Ports Authority; Njamanze-Abonnema Wharf Road that connects tank farms to Port Harcourt city, including the densely populated Diobu Area of Port Harcourt. Azikiwe Street; Bishop Okoye Street; Eliozu-Rumunduru-Elimgbu-Oroigbe Road; Rukpokwu-Eneka Road, Nelson Mandela (SARS) Road and Rumuagholu Road, among scores of other roads that were rehabilitated in GRA Phase 2, and other parts of the capital city.
The governor disclosed that the state government expended about N4.3billion to reconstruct 42 roads totaling 22.5 kilometres, at the densely populated Diobu area of Port Harcourt.
The complex issue of insecurity that has roiled the state for some time has also riveted the attention of the governor on the need to strengthen and expand the security network in the state. In his first hundred days as governor, Wike donated 64 operational vehicles fitted with sophisticated communication gadgets to the military and the Police.
While the military, including the Army, Navy and Air Force got 34 vehicles, the Police was given 30 vehicles for joint operational patrols. About two months to his first year in office, the state government, again, gave out another set of 30 operational vehicles to security agents to facilitate their crime prevention efforts in combating crime and criminality in the state.
Within his first year in office, Wike flagged off the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park; Prof. Tam David West Boulevard, the Abonnema-Obonoma brigde, the Christian Ecumenical Centre, Saakpenwa-Kono Road, Kpobie-Bodo Road, ultra-modern law centre for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), a new building for the Federal High Court and the rehabilitation and upgrading of the Alfred Diette-Spiff Civic Centre, Port Harcourt, amongst others.
Also, the governor fflagged-off the rehabilitation of no fewer than 12 general hospitals that cut across the three senatorial districts in the state, as well as the construction of regional hospitals in the three senatorial districts.
On the provision of water, the governor in 2016, commissioned two Water Booster Stations at Alesa and Agbochia communities with over 50 kilometres network for water reticulation across Eleme local government area of the state, with a pledge that more communities will benefit from the water programmes to be executed by his administration.
Recently, the Wike-led administration concluded the preliminary process for the Port Harcourt Water Supply and Sanitation Project- it is a joint venture between the Af¬rican Development Bank, the World Bank and the state government. The project will take care of water supply and sanitation in Port Harcourt City and Obio/Akpor local government areas.
Under the project, water schemes will be constructed across Port Harcourt City and Obio/Akpor local government areas, backed with massive reticulation infrastructure in the city. Ram¬bol Environ of Denmark, the project management consul¬tant, has been in Port Harcourt since 2016 reviewing the project design, engaging stakeholders, embarking on approved study tours and training critical tech¬nical personnel to drive the project.
In the education sector, the Wike-led administration, had apart from completing and commissioning the Law Faculty building of the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, rehabilitated schools in the three senatorial districts of the state.
The governor once stated that his administration will continue to subsidise education, pointing out that the people should be prepared to pay maintenance fees to assist the state government in the management of educational institutions.
He said, “I did not promise free education because I know that it does not work. I only assured that we will provide quality education for the people. There is no free education anywhere in the country. All those claiming free education are playing politics.”
Since his second year in office anniversary will coincide with the golden jubilee celebration of the creation of Rivers State, Wike had apart from setting on course the development process for the next 50 years through the launching of the 50-year strategic economic and social development plan for the state, taken practical steps to flag off the execution of iconic golden jubi¬lee projects.
Speaking at an event recently, the governor said, “On our part, the state government is set to execute a number of landmark projects throughout the year to commemorate the Golden Ju¬bilee, advance the promise of economic independence and im¬prove access to public services as we set forth on the new pathways to create an unimaginable future of peace, unity and prosperity for our state.”
Some of the projects flagged-off so far include, the dredging/sand filling and reclamation of Abalama in Asari-Toru local government area as well as the dredging/sand filling and reclamation of Bakana in Degema local government area. The projects in Abalama and Bakana towns span 38 hectares.
Also to be flagged off by the governor is the construction of internal roads in Elele Town in Ikwerre local government area of the state and the Oyigbo-Mbano Camp Road in Oyigbo local government area of the state.
All through the month of May, the state government will commission several key projects spread across the three senatorial districts of the state, which include, Kpobie-Bodo Road, the Christian Ecumenical Centre, the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park and the Federal High Court building.
In the area of payment of salaries of civil servants and retirees, Wike, upon assumption of office clear backlog of arrears that covered about 15 months, that was owed by the previous administration and has been up to date in salary payment.
However, on May 1, 2017 Workers Day, some retirees of the state civil service, who left service from 2012 to 2015, staged a peaceful protest over the non-payment of their retirement benefits.
The protesters carried placards with inscriptions such as “We have been scheduled for payment since April 2016, but abandoned”, “We have exhausted our patience”, “Wailing Rivers State retirees demand the payment of their benefits”, “We cannot celebrate Golden Jubilee with empty stomach”, amongst others.
Speaking during a town hall meeting to commemorate his first year in office, Wike said, “When I met with the president, I told him that we will tackle cultism and insecurity in four local government areas. They are Abua/Odua; Ahoada East; Ahoada West and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government areas”.
In line with the promise he made to President Muhammadu Buhari, the governor set up a Amnesty Committee, that moved round the 23 local government areas of the state, recovering arms and ammunition from reprentant cultists and militants.
As at the time the Amnesty Committee, which comprises of the Army, Navy, Airforce, Police and the Department of State Services (DSS), a total of 22, 430 cultists accepted amnesty and surrendered 911 assorted arms with 7661 assorted ammunitions and 147 explosives has made the state relatively peaceful.
Speaking while receiving the report of the committee at Government House, Port Harcourt, Wike said, “But to show that Government is serious, I hereby disband all vigilante committees in the various communities. I direct the security agencies to make sure that we don’t have such committees except they profile their members to prove that they don’t belong to any cult groups.
“Initially, people felt it was a political game. I thank God almighty that we have proved our critics wrong that we are serious to ensure the security of lives and property in the state. We cannot say that we can totally eliminate crime, but that you and I can sleep very well today, unlike in the past when cultists and kidnappers had a field day.
“For those we have given the opportunity, but they refused to embrace amnesty, I direct the security agencies to go after them. The time for amnesty is over and we are going to take the war to them.
“Since we have given you the opportunity and you have refused to surrender, you have become enemies of the state and the state will fight to the last to make sure that criminality is reduced to the barest minimum, so that investors will continue to have confidence to invest their funds in this state.”