It is a fact of history that Rivers State was once one of the best-governed States in Nigeria. It is for that reason that Port Harcourt, the State capital, was known as the “Garden City”. The Alfred Diete-Spiff era can realistically be referred to as the glorious years of the State. While some intervening administrations between then and now can claim progress in some sectors in the State such as Education, Sports, Health, Transportation, Roads, and Electricity, the real and urgent question at this defining moment in the history of our State, however, is: What promise does Rivers State hold for its people today? My answer is one word: bleak. From 1999 when the current democratic dispensation commenced, two States were positioned for take-off, namely, Lagos State and Rivers State. These two States at the time were blessed with airports, seaports, refineries and thriving business communities. At present, however, while Lagos State is on auto pilot, having to a considerable extent harnessed the development opportunities on offer, Rivers State remains worryingly very far behind on all critical indicators of development. Yet, in the pre-1999 era, it was in Lagos that insecurity was highest, for instance, as that era witnessed some significant resort to self-help by the inhabitants of the State. While the tide has changed in Lagos State, with massive development being articulated and achieved, Rivers State, on the other hand, remains appallingly below its potential.
The grim statistics that bear incontrovertible testimonies to the State of affairs in Rivers State include that the State has, since 1999, recorded 1,418 political assassinations and cult-related murders; 98 companies have left the State leading to the Trans-Amadi Industrial Estate transforming from an industrial to a residential estate; as well as an unemployment level of 41.8% (with a combined unemployment and underemployment rate of 61.4% in Q3 2017). Furthermore, the misery index has become paralysing for most inhabitants of the State, while critical State institutions have broken down and the State is now significantly more politically polarised.
These are the depressing realities of our dear State. But should we despair and do nothing? My answer is an emphatic “No”. Following from this, therefore, my unwavering conviction is that it is our inalienable duty, at this defining moment in the history of our dear State, to ensure we effectively articulate and implement the proper policies, measures and initiatives that are collectively geared toward arresting the current governance deficit in the State in order to adequately prepare her for an effective take-off on a trajectory of sustainable and inclusive state of development.
While I agree that government is like a relay race marked by periodic exchange of batons, optimized by continuous flow and increase of speed as a new baton holder builds on the acceleration created by the preceding teammate, a major plank in my governance aspiration will be the consolidation of those good works of the past, even when we will commence some sectoral reforms in line with global best practices. Knowing that one chromosome binds our people, I shall set standards to actualise a road map that will put Rivers State on auto-drive. To do this, I shall avoid distraction from the opposition by leaving politics out of governance, while encouraging cohesion.
The strategic priorities of the government that I shall lead will be objectified in these general priorities:
- Ensuring complete value re-orientation through reversing the entitlement mentality of our youth, while inculcating in them the appreciation of the virtues of hard work.
- Achieving massive employment (including youth employment) generation and wealth creation
- Implementing creative and stimulative investment in tourism
- Boosting investment in agriculture, agricultural processing and light manufacturing.
- Supporting the emergence of a virile middle class that will have the capacity and capability to protect our democracy.
- Ensuring infrastructural renewal and revival.
- Investing in human capital development through focus on health, education and skills.
- Promoting security, law and order through appropriate and responsible bi-directional engagement of our youth.
- Strengthening our State institutions to ensure they are able to support the aspirations of all hardworking citizens of our State.
- Ensuring good governance and war against corruption through better fiscal management.
- Developing strategic partnership with the private sector in order to firm up the real sector of the State economy
- Promoting the improvement of linkages between the sectors and the rest of the economy of the State
- Reviewing of all extant State laws and local government bye-laws that pose constraint to private investment, and ensuring these are supportive of our inclusive-development agenda.
We only need, therefore, to come together, one with the other, and insist on purposeful, insightful leadership which I promise to offer.