AFTER the 2015 elections, discerning political observers knew that the newly elected governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, would face a turbulent time in office particularly with the victory of the then opposition party, the All Progressives Congress , APC, at the centre.
And the reason was obvious. Rivers, one of the country’s highest oil producing states, was and still remains strategic and the APC wanted it at all cost. Even when it fell in the column of the vanquished Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the new ruling party was not about to give up.
The stakes were too high but the PDP had a formidable candidate in the person of Nyesom Wike, a bright lawyer and administrator, who holds degrees in political and administrative studies as well as law and a two-time elected chairman of the highly strategic Obio/Akpor local government.
As local government chairman, Wike was elected by his peers to serve as deputy president of the influential Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, in 2004 and later president.
When Rotimi Amaechi was elected governor in 2007, Wike came on board as the Chief of Staff, Government House, and was later appointed Director-General of Amaechi’s re-election campaign organisation and in 2011, he became Minister of State for Education, and Supervising Minister of Education on September 12, 2013.
Yet, despite this very rich political resume, many saw the battle for the soul of Rivers State as the Biblical war of Goliath and David where Amaechi who controlled the state’s purse was the Goliath while Wike, the underdog, was the David. It is, therefore, a measure of the trust the people reposed in him that the David in the battle trumped the Goliath.
Twenty-one months after, Rivers people have every reason to congratulate themselves and feel proud that they made the right choice. Despite all the distractions, Wike has brought smiles to the people’s faces.
He is leaving indelible marks in the areas of infrastructure development, security, agriculture and rural development, among others as he turns the entire state into a huge construction site, radically transforming hitherto impassible roads in Port Harcourt and other cities, most especially those critical to its socio-economic development.
For instance, those who knew the Industry Road before May 29, 2015, would marvel at what it is now. But most spectacular is the road leading to Eagles Island, a project abandoned by successive governments, which has become a tourist delight. On assumption of office, Wike launched what he called “Operation Zero Potholes” to alleviate the sufferings of the people and expressed his commitment to rehabilitating, completing and constructing new roads in order to open up the state to new frontiers.
And so far, Wike has spent well over N150 billion on construction of new roads, rehabilitation and reconstruction of old ones, bridges and jetties and renovation of schools, hospitals and other rural projects. Today, more than 80 roads, including the Rumuagholu Road, Rumuosi-Ozuoba Road, Bishop Okoye Road, Alakahia-Rumualogu Road, Odili Road, Egbelu-Ogbogoro Road, Wimpy-Iwofe Road, Eneka Road, among others, have either been rehabilitated, reconstructed or constructed, while work is ongoing on the construction of about 35 new ones.
An important point to note here is the governor’s penchant for de-politicising these projects unlike in the recent past when communities that disagreed with the powers-that-be even on principle were denied government patronage. The projects are spread across the three senatorial districts of the state. Not only that, the governor has also refrained from sacrificing the quality of the jobs on the altar of political patronage by ensuring that the designing, construction and supervision of all the roads are handled by reputable professionals and construction companies.
In the area of security, Wike has also brought to bear courage, determination and ingenuity, to the extent that he set up an amnesty programme, wherein armed militants and cult members were urged to surrender their arms. He has also supported security agencies with funds, vehicles and equipment, in a bid to secure the state. In fact, he was the first governor in this dispensation to give 100 security vehicles to the police on assumption of office.
The result has been phenomenal. Rivers State which some people hitherto labelled the “crime capital” of Nigeria has become, literally, the country’s “conference centre.”
1n 2016 alone, due to the renewed confidence in the state’s security status, pre-eminent organisations such as the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, the Nigerian Institute of Architects, NIA, Rotary International, among others, held their annual conferences in the state. Today, Rivers remains one of the few states that are not owing civil servants and pensioners. And what continues to confound many is the fact that these phenomenal achievements are being recorded when the country is facing its worst economic crisis with the money accruing to the states from the Federation Account drastically diminished.
But as the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the men are separated from the boys. In the midst of the damning economic crisis, Wike has proved his mettle by being a good manager of men and resources. While states are sitting on their palms looking up to the federal government for help, Wike only looked inwards for help. Again, the result is outstanding. In less than one year in office, he doubled the state’s monthly Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, from N4 billion to N9 billion.
And like the famed gold fish that has no hiding place, his achievements have not only called him out but left colleague governors in awe. Last year, chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, Abdulaziz Yari, the APC governor of Zamfara State, commended Wike for transforming Rivers despite the economic crisis. “It is quite commendable that Wike has managed to come up with some programmes for the betterment of Rivers people. This is in spite of the fact that we are having a serious economic crisis in our hands, which we are trying to manage,” Yari said during a visit to Government House, Port Harcourt.
Before Yari, the NGE, which held its 2016 All Nigerian Editors Conference, ANEC, in Port Harcourt, had echoed the same sentiment.
In their communiqué at the end of the conference in August, the NGE stated unequivocally that, “Based on careful observation of the state of affairs in Rivers State, the Guild commended the government and people of the state for the level of security and infrastructural development as well as for the steps being taken to promote agriculture in the state.”
When the Senate Minority Leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, visited Port Harcourt, he was also awed. “I am here to commend Governor Wike for his giant strides across the state. He is a shining light of infrastructural development. I urge him to keep developing Rivers State. He has defiled economic downturn to improve the living condition of his people,” Akpabio said.
But Wike is not like the proverbial prophet who has no honour at home. Even his people appreciate his contributions to the socio-economic development of the state.
As Wike gets ready to celebrate two years in office and the significant achievements so far, there is no sign of slowing down and Rivers people like it and paying him back in kind. Little wonder that despite the militarization of the rerun polls in the state late last year, the good people of Rivers State rewarded their governor and his party handsomely.
Impressed by the remarkable developments across the state, the Rivers Elders Consultative Council, recently through a statement signed by its Executive Secretary, Chief Granville Abiye Georgewill, described him as “a leader with an uncommon vision and determination to make a difference in leadership and restore the confidence of Rivers people in government.”
The former Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Austin Opara, a son of the soil (to borrow a local parlance) was not left out when he marveled at the governor’s exceptional ability to use very lean resources to achieve so much, a gift he insists makes him stand out among his colleagues.
And while Nigerians who recognize good governance wherever they see one are ululating, media organisations are falling over themselves to give honour to whom it is due.
Mr. Ogbonna Onuoha, a lawyer, wrote from Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.