My beloved People of Rivers State,
On behalf of the administration, which your mandate placed in charge of the affairs of our state, I extend to you our best wishes for a happy and fulfilling New Year. As the New Year ushers in new hopes and aspirations in our individual lives, so does it hold great promises for the great people of Rivers State. Judith and our children join us in wishing the people of Rivers State God’s blessings and protection in the New Year.
2014 is somewhat special in our collective aspiration for a better state and better life for our people. This is the year in which our administration will prepare its handover notes to the next administration. To this end, our challenge is clear-cut.
We will quicken the pace of governance. We will overhaul the apparatus of decision-making. We will focus on the completion of ongoing projects. In all this, we shall, as we have done these past 6 years, carry our people along. We shall keep you abreast of our progress, intimate you with our problems and share with you our concerns in the spirit of public accountability and people- oriented governance that has been our watchword. Above all, we will continue to guide our people along the path of progress and development and away from the politics of self-interest and greed, which in the past had left our state at the end of national development.
2014 is also a year of intense political activity. Politicians of all shades will prepare to fulfill one of the periodic requirements of democracy. There will be diverse appeals to our people to support different political camps. There will be promises. We appeal to our people to scrutinize these promises and those who will make them. Our history is full of politicians that loved only themselves and made promises that were mostly breached.
Re-affirming our vision
When the will of God and the wish of the people of the state entrusted us with the responsibility of leadership, we shared with you our vision for our beloved state. That vision remains one of a state that is developed and in which the people have access to quality education, affordable healthcare and good infrastructure. We shared our desire to lead an accountable, responsive and responsible administration in which the fear of God and the good of the people will guide the actions of government. We shared our vision to expand the corridors of opportunity for our teeming young population. We vowed to restore peace and order so that businesses can re-open and investors can come to our state to add value and create employment. It is this vision that has guided our actions in the service of our people. Over six years after, there is nothing in our experience that invalidates this vision.
We remain committed to our vision though we knew then as now that it implied a choice. We chose the good of the people over the selfish interest of a few politicians and elite. We chose openness over a cult approach to governance in which only the privileged know the activities of government. We chose to translate the resources of the state into development milestones that real people can see, touch and feel instead of lining a few pockets.
As we travel around the state, we are reassured that we chose wisely. We are reassured by the expressions on the faces of our ordinary people that we have reciprocated their support and mandate through the development projects and the initiatives we have embarked upon.
In the process of leading our people and bearing the burden of that leadership, a few people have asked us what satisfaction we derive from stretching ourselves to the limit. My answer is simple. It is the satisfaction of the people that drives me. It is also the genuine disproval of true patriots of the state that compels us to re-examine our strategies and correct genuine mistakes.
The things that bring job satisfaction may not be lofty, but they are rooted in the real lives of the people. We feel satisfied when we return to a community after 12 months to find an ultra modern primary school where there used to be only a ramshackle shed. We feel vindicated when we witness our people, receiving healthcare at a new health center in a location where a few years ago, healthcare was only a tale from far away places. Children of modest parents are studying with our scholarship at major universities in the world. Places that people dared not go to a few years back are now accessible because we have built new roads or expanded existing ones.
However, the work of developing our state is not yet done. Problems remain because the neglect we set out to redress did not happen overnight. We are dealing with decades of insensitive governance and irresponsible politics. What we think we have achieved is to point the way to new possibilities and an alternative approach to governance.
We want to use the opportunity of this New Year address to renew our commitment of the original vision that we enunciated at the beginning of this administration. Today, let us reassure our people that we are renewing the partnership between our administration and the people of the state for meaningful development.
Our recent political choices
As you are aware, recent political developments in and around the state have attracted deserved national attention. Ours is a young democracy. Therefore, when politicians take positions informed by principles that appear unusual, it becomes a test case for our emerging democratic culture. The recent developments in and around our state are not about me. They are about conflicting interpretations of the Rivers interest. You elected us into office to represent you. That sacred mandate means that we have to protect your interests at all times.
There is no personal quarrel between the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, an illustrious son of the Niger Delta and myself. But the Government of Rivers State, which we have been privileged to lead, has some misgivings against certain actions of the Federal government towards the people of Rivers State. As your elected leader, we will be failing in our duties to our people if we do not draw attention to such actions.
First, we have expended huge resources in executing approved federal projects in the state such as the Port Harcourt Owerri Road without any refunds. Secondly, there is hardly any reasonable federal project ongoing in the state. Work on the Port Harcourt International Airport, a major gateway into the Eastern parts of the country, has been largely abandoned while airports whose rehabilitation was embarked on at the same time have since been commissioned. Thirdly, the federal government has embarked on a reduction of our natural resource endowments. A number of oil wells and gas fields located in the state have been carved out and ceded to neighbouring states while resources due from these have also been paid to those states. Fourthly, major industrial and strategic security projects that were originally slated for location in Rivers State have been moved to neighbouring states without even the courtesy of an explanation. Fifthly, there is evidence of discrimination against Rivers State indigenes in key federal appointments. Of all the councils and boards of federal universities and tertiary institutions recently announced, there is hardly any Rivers indigene considered fit to head any of them. Sixthly and most importantly, the federal government has actively encouraged the destabilization of the security of the state through tacit encouragement of the return of militants onto the streets of Port Harcourt and by encouraging the police to play a partisan role in the political affairs of the state.
Efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of our differences on these issues have not quite yielded results. None of these negative actions has been reversed despite repeated appeals and countless negotiations.
Our doors remain open to a negotiated settlement of these issues within the context of the constitutional relationship between Rivers State and the Federal Government.
This is the background to recent developments in the political history of the state. There is nothing in this catalogue of grievances that has anything to do with my interests as an individual. We have responded to these challenges by rising to the defense of Rivers State and its people. We took an oath of office to protect and defend the interests of the state and its peoples. We are convinced that we have taken no action to date that is not in strict compliance with this fundamental requirement of elective democracy. To have done otherwise would have been to place self above the people.
Movement to APC
We have not forgotten that we came to office on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In recognition of this, we remained in the forefront of the actions and activities of the party. We assumed the chairmanship of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, and related to that office as a PDP Governor. But the party did not reciprocate our commitment and devotion.
Instead the party has been used to undermine our state and erode the peace and order, which we have worked so hard to enthrone. You may recall that of all the PDP states, Rivers State gave President Jonathan’s ticket the largest single state bloc of votes in the 2011 elections. In a multiparty set up, when a political party fails to protect the interests of any section of its membership, it automatically loses the right to command the followership of that section. Those who feel irreparably injured reserve the right to freely switch their loyalty to alternative platforms. The right to change one’s political alignment and allegiance remains one of the fundamental liberties that democracy grants a free people. This is the underlying principle behind our movement to the more progressive APC. We believe that the APC offers a more robust platform for the realization of the dream of our people for quick even development. In the months ahead, we shall take the message of development under the banner of the APC to our people.
Completion of Projects
As our administration moves towards the completion phase of its work in the state, it is normal that citizens should be concerned about the completion of key projects that our administration embarked upon.
We want to use this opportunity to reassure our people that we remain committed to the completion of most of these projects. We have a comprehensive funding and execution schedule for each of our projects. Some delays in project implementation have been occasioned by shortfalls in expected receipts from the federation account. In some cases, delays have been caused by non-release of funds expended on approved federal projects in the state.
Commitment to responsible transition
As we go into 2014, we will not lose sight of the fact that it is also mostly an election year. In this regard, a good number of our patriotic citizens have voiced concern about the usual law and order challenges that have been associated with transition politics in our country and in these parts especially.
Our administration is committed to a painless transition of power from ourselves to whomever the people may choose to succeed us. In a democracy, it is not for us to choose our successors. That part is reserved for the people. However, as the custodians of the present political order, it is part of our responsibility to work with the people to ensure that the next administration is in a position to align itself with the wishes and aspirations of the Rivers people for quick development. We shall not fail in this duty of working with the people.
In the light of our understanding of the key role of our traditional institutions as custodians of our culture and heritage and by extension our collective aspirations we have found the need to recognise additional chieftaincy stools. These recognitions have been as a result of sustained requests over a period of time. In September we recognized five stools in the Opobo/Nkoro local government area. These were the stools of Chief Agbaye Fubara, Chief Wogo Dappa, Chief Toby, Chief Jack Tolofari and Chief Captain Uranta. More stools would be recognized in the Ogoni, Kalabari and other areas in the coming months.
We believe that we owe you a debt of service and a secured future. As we usher in this brand and beautiful New Year, we trust that working together we will achieve the Eldorado that we all desire that our state will become.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria
God bless Rivers State.
We wish you all a happy and prosperous new year.