THE INAUGURATION ADDRESS OF HIS EXCELLENCY CHIEF (BARRISTER) NYESOM EZENWO WIKE, CON, THE EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF RIVERS STATE ON FRIDAY 29 MAY 2015 AT THE LIBERATION STADIUM PORT HARCOURT.
My beloved people of Rivers State
It is with great humility and gratitude to God Almighty, who makes all things well that I address you today. I feel so humbled, blessed and grateful to God, whose holy hands in my life and the trust you have in me, provided the opportunity for me to serve as your Governor for the next four years. Let me on behalf of the Deputy Governor, Her Excellency, Dr. Mrs. Ipalibo Harry Banigo express our deep appreciation to you all for bestowing this great honour and responsibility on us.
Rivers State has been rescued and reclaimed. It is a new day in our history, a new dawn to repair and restore our dear State to the path of sanity. I invite you all to the table of brotherhood for the new beginning. I reiterate my declaration that in the election there were no losers and winners. Rather, Rivers State was the winner and so we are all winners.
During the campaigns, we visited several communities in all the local government areas. We met with thousands of people including civil servants, teachers, students, doctors, lawyers, traders, market women, the business community, pensioners and the unemployed. We were shocked by the level of despair, anguish, frustration, pains and worries on the faces of all those we met.
We noticed that so many people were worried about the pervasive poverty in the land and the hardship they and their families were going through. So many parents were worried about the future of their children against the backdrop of failing public education and the lack of decent jobs for school leavers. People raised concerns about the continuous violence, crime and insecurity in our neighbourhoods. Above all, people were worried about the systemic failure of governance and lack of service delivery. The more the people expected their difficulties to be ameliorated, the more the government betrayed their trust and exacerbated their sufferings.
Friends, let us be frank to ourselves. Today, Rivers State is at the crossroads. The economy is in shambles and retrogressing by the day. Poverty is pervasive. The rate of unemployment remains a nightmare to our youths. Workers and pensioners salaries are months in arrears unpaid. The menaces of crimes continue to unsettle peace and security of lives, property and businesses. Infrastructure is seriously broken; healthcare and water services are abysmal, while public education continues to fall below desirable outcomes.
No doubt, Rivers State has just been relieved of the most decadent case of maladministration in our history – an administration that mindlessly borrowed and frittered public resources on wasteful projects, sold our valuable assets at underpriced rates to fronts and cronies and left the State financially crippled with a heavy debt burden.
For four years my predecessor ruled over us with the mindset of a dictator and promoted impunity to levels unimaginable. For as long as he presided, all his actions and inactions were prodded by obsessive lust for power actuated by a self-indulgent messianic gusto. That is why up to this moment he has refused to get reconciled to the reality of the new political order and the resounding rejection by Rivers people of everything he symbolizes.
In his desperation to sabotage our vision, he refused to consent to a smooth transition and mischievously left us to wallow in the dark. He prevented us from accessing even the most elementary ceremonial facilities in his custody. It was so bad that we had to travel to Ondo State to acquire the open police parade vehicle as well as buy our own machines for the escort riders. Having vowed without any just cause never to allow the manifestation of today’s glorious reality, he fruitlessly executed various sadistic schemes to scuttle our inauguration. In the last one week alone he sought in vain to procure spurious court orders from the Federal High Court in Owerre, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano to prevent today’s swearing-in ceremony and plunge the State into chaos and senseless political crisis. What a wanton display of ungodly hatred and impunity!
As you know, every democratic government rests on a tripod. Good governance principles always dictate the supremacy of the rule of law as well as the equality, autonomy and interdependence of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Never is any one arm of government permitted to dominate, castrate or undermine the dignity, powers and relevance of the other arms.
Unfortunately, these hallowed principles of democracy and good governance meant nothing to my predecessor in office who, despite being the direct beneficiary of the rule of law, became its greatest betrayer with imperious rascality. At the last count, no public institution, including the State’s House of Assembly, the State’s Judiciary, the Civil Service and the Traditional rulers was spared from the Governor’s crass abuse of powers.
For four years our dear Rivers State was denied the electoral services of the State House of Assembly. For reasons of self-preservation the Assembly was sharply divided and the Governor’s lackeys exchanged their dignity for wraps of rotten porridge from Government House. They repudiated their responsibilities, put the Assembly complex under lock and key and preferred to operate from Government House under the influence and control of the godfather to the detriment of effective legislative duties and oversights.
For the same reasons of self-preservation, the outgone administration deliberately contrived a needless succession crisis in the State’s judiciary and instigated an irrational strike among the staff of the Judiciary to completely dislocate the judicial system. And as he had wished, our courts have remained closed to litigants, lawyers and the public with the attendant pains and inconveniences since June 2014 till this day.
Not done with his destructive agenda, the former Governor descended on our traditional institutions. He deliberately bastardized and desecrated our time-honoured traditional institutions by the wanton balkanization of a number of such stools as it suited his ego. This was especially so with our royal fathers who maintained the dignity, prestige and decorum demanded of their exalted thrones. Never in the history of our dear State had our traditional institutions been subjected to undue politicization and contemptuous treatment.
I commend you all on the pains you have had to bear and the inconveniences you have had to endure while the macabre dance lasted from a truly bitter ruler on an imaginary vengeance mission. But the good news is that it is over! It is indeed over. I salute the warriors of our struggle who made today possible. I alone, should not and cannot earn the credit. Never! It is our collective victory.
Congratulations again my dear people of Rivers State. Let the freedom bells ring! Let the people shout for joy. Let them leap and sing to God, who heard our cries and today impunity and tyranny have been put to rout. The vicissitudes of the old ignoble order have come to pass. Only the remnants remain. For our elders say: “The fire wood dies, but the ashes bear its memory”. We shall send the ashes to the dustbin of history. But, let me admonish like the philosophers would say: “eternal vigilance is the prize of liberty!’’ We must be on guard to ensure proper cleansing of the Augean Stable!
But this we promise. Never again, shall our people and our land be subjected to destruction and waste by those we mistook, perhaps, for builders. They failed us. They took away our mandate, pilfered our resources and, like the prodigal son, wasted them with strangers. Thank God and providence. With the resilience of our people we have recovered our land for the good of all.
As we reiterated at several fora during the campaigns, our blueprint is an agenda of hope. We pledged to offer a New Rives Vision based on a new thinking. Our goal is to make Rivers State a land of peace and prosperity with boundless opportunities and possibilities – a place where no one is left behind because of his or her station and everyone who works hard can achieve his or her life’s dreams. Please be assured that we are committed to actualizing our vision and mission already in the public domain.
Now that we have become victorious and have arrived at the home ward end of our beautiful water-side, it is time to work, to erect landmarks of progress and prosperity. Yes, it is time to deconstruct, reconstruct, rehabilitate and restore the damage inflicted on our common wealth.
Now is the time for us to rebuild. To rebuild our State; to rebuild our educational and health institutions; to rebuild our occupations and to rebuild our infrastructure. It is time to provide new opportunities to maximally touch the lives of our people. It is time to restore hope.
For us, the problems and challenges that any government is confronted will also define the kind of solutions advanced in their resolution. We appreciate that these are difficult times. But we are confident about the brightness of our future which begins today. The enormous natural and human resources, including oil and gas deposits, vast arable land, rich biodiversity and water resources, two sea ports, an international airport, two refineries, a petrochemical plant, a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) company, a fertilizer company, numerous oil and gas companies and activities, a dynamic population and vibrant labour force, remain solid development sign posts on which to hinge our march of progress.
Indeed, God has blessed us with all that a State can ever need to develop and prosper together as one people. The missing link however, especially in the last few years, arose from the absence of effective leadership to give purposeful direction, deploy resources optimally and galvanize the populace with the right policies to achieve our collective objectives and aspirations.
Therefore, a major significance of today’s historic event is the opportunity to break the spectre of misrule and win the battle for a better Rivers State. Accordingly, we call on every one of us, and in particular, our workforce in the civil and public service to get ready to work with patriotic spirit, commitment, devotion to duty and honesty to restore dignity to our state and our public institutions battered and demoralized. And as a government we humbly request and oblige you to hold us accountable for the following in the next four years:
We shall return power to the people as we conduct our common affairs with the fear of God and ensure that everyone is equal and accountable before the law. Our government will certainly be that of the people, for the people and by the people. Under our watch, the principle of separation of powers shall be operative. Equality and mutual respect for the constitutional status, powers and functions shall prevail among the three arms of government.
By the grace of God, and as an initial step towards restoring its autonomy, I shall on Monday, June 1 2015, proclaim the opening of the 8th Session of the Rivers State House of Assembly in its proper location and venue to enable our elected legislators to perform their law-making and oversight functions. Under my watch, never will the Rivers State House of Assembly be subjected to sitting at Government House or any other improper venue in utter disregard of its autonomy.
Similarly, in furtherance to our pledge to restore the independence of our judiciary and enhance justice delivery in the State, we will guarantee full financial autonomy to the judiciary by ensuring that its funds are captured as first line charges in subsequent budgets of the State. We shall also prioritize the welfare of judicial officers, including enabling judges to retain their residential accommodation upon retirement for life.
We had severally condemned the prolonged absence of a State Chief Judge and closure of our courts and promised that these issues will not remain unresolved beyond a day after today. Therefore, in fulfillment of our promise to reopen our courts and restore normalcy to the State’s judiciary, I hereby, in exercise of my powers under section 271(4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, appoint the most senior High Court Judge in Rivers State Judiciary, the Honourable Justice Daisy Okocha as the Acting Chief Judge of Rivers State. Her Lordship will be sworn-in on Monday 1st June 2015, after which she will be required to immediately terminate the dark moments of our ignoble judicial history by reopening the courts for business. Under our watch, never again will the doors to justice be deliberately and punitively shut against the people of Rivers State.
In the same vein, I hereby, in exercise of the powers conferred upon me by section 281 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, appoint the Honourable Justice Christy Gabriel-Nwankwo, as the Acting President of the Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal following the indefinite suspension by the National Judicial Council (NJC) of the holder of that office. Justice Christy will also be sworn-in on Monday 1st June 2015.
Nigeria is a democracy and people are free to hold and express divergent views and opinions as well as to form trade unions for the purpose of collective bargaining without the fear or pain of any harm. As a government we shall not violate or tolerate the violation of the democratic and constitutional rights of Rivers State workers by any authority, be it public or private.
In consequence therefore and in exercise of the powers vested in me as Visitor, I hereby direct the management of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology to immediately recall and reinstate to their duty posts with all their rights and privileges restored, all the academic staff of the University, who were purportedly disengaged from service on account of their membership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and participating in a legitimate strike action called by the union.
Let us at this point specially congratulate our traditional rulers on the noble role they have played in promoting the dignity and sanctity of our sacred traditional institutions and for wisely guiding our people to maintain the peace throughout the campaigns. We specially appreciate those of you, our royal fathers, who remained calm, unruffled and fearless despite provocations and attempts to unjustifiably balkanize and diminish your domains. We assure you all that our government shall revisit the issues thrown up by the recent appalling amendments to the State’s Chieftaincy Laws and ensure that justice, prestige and respect is restored to our natural rulers.
As a government, we shall be workers’ friendly. We acknowledge the public and civil service as the engine rooms of development and our duty to enhance their wellbeing for greater productivity. Against this background, we shall give priority to prompt payment of workers’ salaries and other entitlements; clear the backlog of salary arrears unduly owed and ensure regular merit-based promotions. We are committed to restoring the pride of the civil and public service through value re-orientation, exposure to regular training and meaningful motivation for efficient and effective service delivery.
Our collective quest for a prosperous future depends on making Rivers State economically strong and self-reliant. To realize this basic objective, we shall develop and implement an economic development blueprint that leverages on our strengths to make Rivers State the industrial hub of Nigeria in oil and gas, agriculture, maritime and tourism businesses.
Additionally, we shall promote investment in partnership with private investors for the utilization of our large reserves of kaolin, silica-sand for the ceramic industry; explore opportunities in wood processing and energize participation in large scale commercial farming, agro-allied business ventures and the promotion of a green economy.
No doubt, Rivers State has the geographical advantage and resource endowments to attract serious investors in order to diversify the economy of the State. We will therefore deliberately create the enabling environment to attract local and foreign investors into Rivers State by tackling the challenges of multiple taxation, irregular power supply and insecurity.
In growing and managing our economy we will focus on poverty reduction through job creation and expanding business opportunities for our people. We intend to achieve this in part, by encouraging Rivers people to participate in both the upstream and downstream sectors of the Oil and Gas industry and also, through a strategic engagement drive, ensure that our people benefit from the local content policy of the oil, gas and maritime industries.
Certainly, agriculture, being the bedrock of human civilization, will receive priority attention to guarantee food security, stimulate agro allied businesses and create jobs for our people. Rivers State is endowed with arable land, aquatic and marine environments, a rich Atlantic Sea Board for fisheries development. In addition, we shall reform land administration and fast track the issuance of certificates of occupancy to enhance land acquisition for agriculture and other commercial and social ventures.
Rivers State is a haven for tourism. Our numerous river courses, forest reserves, rich biodiversity and beautiful beaches are beckoning on us for full scale development attention. Consequently, our tourism policy thrust is to provide a clear plan for the development of tourism, especially eco-tourism in Rivers State in partnership with the private sector.
This administration envisages a State that should be the knowledge-base of the nation. To this end, we will give serious attention to the provision of quality education to all at all levels by improving budgetary allocation to the education sector. We shall also effectively implement the Universal Basic Education Scheme and demand total devotion and accountability from our teachers through effective monitoring and supervision. The era of throwing money at public education without the desired results is over. We intend to reintroduce a functional boarding system in public secondary schools and increase funding for research and innovation in our tertiary institutions. We will also fund a competitive local and foreign scholarship scheme for brilliant students of Rivers origin to enhance manpower development in critical areas of local and national needs.
On healthcare delivery, we are determined to ensure that our people have access to affordable and quality healthcare. To achieve this objective, we will adequately rehabilitate, equip and staff all existing General Hospitals and health centers across the State. As a permanent solution to the challenge of inadequate manpower, especially medical doctors, in the health sector, we shall establish and ensure the immediate take-off of a Medical School in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
As your Governor, I will ensure that we build the infrastructure, including first-class all season roads, bridges, canals, jetties and other mass transit infrastructure that the State needs to drive socio-economic development. Specifically, we intend, subject to available funds, prioritize the completion of all on-going roads projects; construct the trans-Kalabari costal road network, dualize the Ahoada-Omoku road; Sakpenwa-Bori road; and Oyigbo-Afam road, among others. We shall also tackle the challenges of urban renewal, road congestion and traffic gridlock in Port-Harcourt City, Obio/Akpor and other major population centers in Rivers State.
Our administration will ensure that the fruits of development get to every path of the State, including the rural areas by implementing an integrated action plan that takes the entire State into consideration. Already, we have concluded plans to reticulate pipe-born water to Abonnema, Gokana and Khana communities within our first 100 days in office. Furthermore, as a deliberate policy of promoting the growth of more cities in the State, we shall modernize development infrastructure at Ahoada, Bori and Degema towns to facilitate their gradual transition to new cities in Rivers State.
We will seek to enhance our prosperity through power supply and energy security. Until steady power supply is taken for granted, our development efforts will be in jeopardy and so we will strive to achieve power and energy security for Rivers State in partnership with the private sector and the Federal Government as well as ensure the completion of ongoing electrification projects. As an initial step towards tackling the challenge of irregular power supply before making fresh investments, we will conduct a forensic audit to find out the reasons behind the failure of the State to reap maximally from the huge investments already committed to the power sector by the immediate past administration. We will also review all issues relating to the secret privatization and or sale of the government investments in power and other related projects without due process.
Our women are our wealth. The new vision means empowering women through concrete and direct initiatives to enable them build strong family values and play key roles in the development of the State. More importantly, we will work to reduce the rate of maternal mortality in our society, promote gender equality and discourage all forms of discrimination against women as deliberate policies of our administration.
We believe that our youths represent our strength and our future. Our goal is to develop the youth to realize their full potentials as future leaders who constitute the critical mass of our human capital asset base. We will create opportunities for the youth to acquire needs-based vocational training and lifelong skills that will enable them gainfully fit into the society. Our Government will partner with the private sector to expose our young ones to the numerous opportunities provided by Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the oil and gas industry and entrepreneurship development.
Besides, our new vision acknowledges the importance of sports and recreation to the socio-economic mobility of youths both within and outside the country. The global economy today has sports, recreation and tourism as the key pillars of development. For instance, football, basketball, boxing, athletics, generate huge revenue and resources for active participants. These activities are youth based and they would attract the attention of our government to systematically promote them.
On environmental protection, our mission is to create a responsible management strategy for the sustainable benefit of the present and succeeding generations. For us, environmental protection is a task that must be pursued with greater intensity, direction and clarity of vision because the environment as our common heritage and the foundation of our existence. In consequence, we will ensure that all relevant legislations and policies on the environment are enforced as well as ensure efficient and sustainable management of wastes through the collaborative efforts of stakeholders.
We will further enter into strategic partnership with the Federal Government, the oil companies and communities to clean-up polluted communities and adversely impacted sites throughout the State as well as ensure the protection of vulnerable shorelines through land reclamation and embankment and, afforestation through massive tree planting.
Let me also assure you that we will not abandon our responsibility to protect the weak and lend a helping hand to the needy. To this end, our administration will provide social safety nets for senior citizens, the elderly and vulnerable persons to enable them live in comfort and happiness. We will reform the pension scheme to ensure prompt payment of retirees, as well as provide free medical services for the aged and children with appropriate age brackets and improve living conditions in old peoples’ homes, orphanages, and motherless babies’ homes in collaboration with faith based and voluntary organizations.
Fundamentally, during the campaigns, we also promised to secure our State. No government is worth any value if it cannot guarantee the security of lives and property. I assure you that never for a moment will our administration be a captive of politics, when it comes to public security. We have the political will to fight, defeat crimes and criminality in Rivers State. There will be effective coordination, collaboration and synergy with the Federal Government, the law enforcement agencies and our community leaders in the prosecution of the war against cultism, kidnapping and armed robbery. We urge our people to fully co-operate with us in this direction.
My fellow citizens of Rivers State, we told you when we were seeking your mandate, that our promises are our bond. Once again, our promise to you is that, we shall work tirelessly to actualize these goals, objectives and targets. But as human beings, we are not perfect and cannot lay claim to having all the answers to the problems and challenges confronting us as a State and as a people. This is why we shall need your wisdom, prayers and support in diverse ways because working together we can do and achieve much more. We shall also call on you to make necessary sacrifices so that collectively, we can make Rivers State the place that we can all be proud of with confidence in the great possibilities ahead.
At this point, let me also assure our people that our government, and indeed Rivers State, will not be on a war path with the Federal Government. We will cooperate and meaningfully engage the Federal Government to develop the Port-Harcourt International Airport to accommodate additional International routes and flight frequencies. We also commit to working with the Federal Government to complete the Bodo – Bonny and other federal roads, as well as ensure the optimal utilization of the seaports in Port-Harcourt and Onne for greater commercial and economic progress. We assure you that Rivers State will not only continue to serve as the Treasure Base of the Nation, but we will also ensure her beautiful people, will be equal partakers of the resources of the land.
I cannot savour this day without conveying my personal appreciation and profound gratitude to His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, and his lovely wife and former First Lady of Nigeria, Her Excellency Dame Dr. Patience Faka Goodluck Jonathan for the priceless love, tremendous support and wonderful affection you extended to me and my family in the course of this venture. The former first family has remained a strong pillar to me in many ways and I cannot thank you enough. I pray to God to specially bless you for me now and always. I wish to reaffirm my unflinching loyalty as well as assure our amiable political leader that if I have the opportunity again, I will firmly stand by you.
Finally, it is with an eternal sense of love that I express my profound gratitude to my beloved wife of inestimable value, Justice Suzette, our lovely children Jordan, Joaquin and Jazmyne for graciously standing by me all through this difficult and strenuous struggle.
The work begins now! As a sign of our commitment to hit the ground running on our march to meaningful progress, please join me and the Deputy Governor, Her Excellency Dr. Mrs. Ipalibo Harry Banigo as we proceed from here to the UTC junction and two other sites to flag-off the operation zero potholes in Rivers State project. We wish to assure you that hope has returned and Rivers State shall once again be the pride of our nation.
Thank you all for coming. Thank you all for your attention and May God continually bless our land.