By Egufe Yafugborhi
Kingsley Weneda Wali, Convener of advocacy group, Unity House Foundation (UHF), in this interview, says Rivers can’t make progress when warehouses are becoming churches.
Insecurity is a key challenge in Rivers. What in your thinking is promoting violence in a state that is supposed to be flowing with milk and honey?
The insecurity we have in Rivers is a fall out of bad governance and the economic situation in which we have found ourselves as a people. I agree with Governor Wike that insecurity is not peculiar to Rivers, but what is disturbing is the perception by the people that they don’t see a definite or definitive government reaction the way they want to see it.
We won’t know whether it is politicians of the government in power or those of the opposition. It is agreed that politicians patronise these boys and, at the end of the day, they are discarded. Now, that thing (arms) they have, how did they acquire it, if you appreciate that the sophistication of their weaponry is not something you pick by the road side? One AK47 rifle, for example, goes for between N700, 000 and N800, 000.
These kids may not have the resources to acquire rifles on their own initially. And they sit back and watch how people who have benefitted from this kind of security disorder are now big stakeholders in the system. They are convinced at the end of the day that violence pays.
Recently Governor Wike acquired patrol vans, gunboats with communication gadgets to fight insecurity which must have cost the state a huge amount, but many say the marginal improvement in crime fighting is not commensurate with the huge investment. Why does Rivers insecurity defy seeming laudable interventions?
What about orientation, training the human resources available to effectively apply those equipments? It is one thing to buy vehicles, but I doubt if those to use these equipments were engaged in any form of requisite training. Let me not suggest that it is another way of providing something for the boys, like those who supply these equipments. I also don’t see any strategic effort in engaging the communities into owning these facilities and crime fighting. It is only when it gets to that point that we can say that what government is doing has direct relationship with solving the problem. Not too long ago, we had a government that installed a security outfit popularly known as C4i. That structure was dismantled by the current administration. Nobody has been able to tell Rivers people the reason we dismantled that facility and what we are going to do in replacement. Then, it was not just about buying guns. People were trained, infrastructures installed and it became impossible for you to enter Port Harcourt through some entry points where you had the C4i security teams with surveillance cams and security dogs and all that.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, UHF was so concerned about good governance and changing the narrative of election violence in Rivers. Are you satisfied with what happened at the end of the day?
UHF is a child of necessity. We thought one giant step to take forward was to try to get the people to begin to discuss politics as a vehicle for providing services to the people and not a vehicle to self-enrichment. One of the things we did that Rivers people tend to mistake and characterise Unity House as pro-APC was that we sat down, and said we needed to throw up somebody capable and that’s why we supported Tonye Cole.
With the benefit of time and the actions he took, before the unfortunate situation that arose in the APC, Cole throughout his campaigns never found it necessary to discuss individuals or attack government. All he was doing was “if I am elected governor, this is what I am going to do to address socioeconomic challenges, politics, security and all of that in the state”. To that extent, UHF was able to achieve what they set out to do. But Rome was not built in a day. We are just about a year old. If we were able to achieve what we did, with time, we will do more. That’s why in the last one year, we have tried to engage the public through lectures, debates and symposia, believing that the people will begin to see how others discuss politics. We had the anti-corruption symposium on June 12 and later a security lecture. We believe that, with time, the culture of decent conversation will take root rather than screaming at each other.
Assessing Wike’s leadership of Rivers
I hate it when people say the government is patronizing, or it is responsible for every situation. The governor of Rivers is a Rivers man. I don’t think anything would ever want to make him feel that the way he can govern the people is to build a structure that will kill the people. If you kill everybody who are you going to govern? We should try and engage the government more constructively. If Rivers is on fire, there is going to be a multiplier effect in surrounding states. It is important that we engage people from the surrounding states, within the region and obviously across the country. That is the message UHF is promoting. Let’s not always attack government or those in authority for the fun of it.
The media, journalists, the people, the business community, everybody should be talking in a way that encourages those in authority not to see it as an issue of we against them. When you box somebody to the point of ‘we against them’, you won’t have listening ear from that kind of person.
Alleged poor federal presence in Rivers
If I say I am not heartbroken by a couple of these issues, I will be lying. I experience the misfortune of having to drive to Eleme and it is still something I can’t rationalise; that what you naturally call the food-basket in the context of the chains of businesses in that area and what it means to our national economy, and seeing that more than 15km of that road is in bad state, I don’t understanding how it could be so. Again, that has to do with the lack of constructive engagement by those in authority.
Most time, when you are outside the state and talk about Port Harcourt, the kind of impression people get is if you just come out from the airport, you will be seized. And I don’t think opposition leaders are saying things in the right way to encourage those in authority to say, “look, I think you should do this”. It is that war of attrition that has affected the engagement with even the Federal Government. Take the Mkpolu Junction East West Road failure for instance, it is a shame that we are having that kind of situation. Meanwhile we have the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which I think that rather than criticize them, we should try to encourage them to do what they are supposed to do. NDDC is not an APC structure; it’s a Federal Government of Nigeria structure. The former governor when he was here did federal projects and the Federal Government was indebted to the state to the tune of over N100 billion. Someday they are going to pay. I think they have even started paying. So I think it’s a wrong approach to say it’s a federal road and so the state government won’t handle it.
You seem disinterested in running for elective or political office in spite of enormous pressure on you to do so. Why?
We all don’t have to hold public offices to be able to make impact. What you do as an individual is to encourage those with the stamina, hunger to hold public offices to make sure standards are met.
I don’t have the temperament for political office, even appointment. These things can actually distract you, depending on how you are wired. If I become a councillor, I am not the kind that will sit down and say ‘party said I should do this’. The party has provided me a platform to contest election and win. It is now my responsibility to defend the people who voted for me. And when you want to defend the people, there is a likelihood that you are going to offend the party.
The state of affairs that encourages happiness is what we all strive for, not necessarily to hold positions and begin to answer honourable when the system is totally dishonorable. I am a businessman. Unfortunately, in Rivers, insecurity has killed commerce. Go to Trans Amadi, most of the warehouses are now churches. No society can grow like that. Get into an aircraft leaving Port Harcourt; there is somebody or more leaving not to come back. I am not putting the blame entirely on the present administration.
President Buhari plans to remove 100 million Nigerians from poverty in 10 years. How realistic is this?
Buhari is someone I have come to accept as a well-meaning leader, but figures like taking 100million out of poverty, do you really know how many persons are on the streets? They might just be 5million or 500,000. Has anyone taken census of those on the street? What system do we have, is it birth or death registration, school enrolment or what is the basis for these claims?
If you don’t know how many you are, whatever planning you do is mere speculation. And all of these create room for fraud and embezzlement of our national assets. If for a community you budget for 100 people and just ten people actually live there, what is going to happen? Someone is going to pocket the budget for 90 persons. Until we get genuine figures, Buhari cannot tell me he’s going to take millions of people out of the streets because he doesn’t even know how many are out there.