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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

How endless political crises deny Rivers of over N2trn public sector investments in 12 years

By Ignatius Chukwu

In twelve years, Rivers is said to have lost over N2trillion public sector investments as a result of endless political turmoil in the state.

Surface study reveals that the oil-rich state may have on the first charge lost public sector investments worth over N2 trillion. This is different from the cumulative effect of the raw figures that has been denied Rivers State, and the impact on GDP the projects would have made.

As Rivers State has returned to political crisis between top leaders, economists and investors who preferred anonymity told BusinessDay that another round of loss is in the offing.

The present fight is between the godfather, Nyesom Wike, who was governor for eight years and who handpicked Sim Fubara to succeed him despite opposition and accusations of disregard to democracy. The cause of the fight is under debate but it has taken the pattern of the same wars that set the state back from 2012 to 2015 between Wike and his predecessor and godfather, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.

The crisis destroys human lives (APC claims 100 of their members were killed in 2015), property, opportunities, and growth opportunities, the worst being investment opportunities.

Economic casualties and injuries

A glance at projects that were abandoned that would have boosted the economy and GDP of the state amounted to N1.911trillion plus some without ready amounts attached to them. These projects that have stalled include N250bn bond approved by the Rivers State House of Assembly in July 2010 to build some listed projects but before drawdown could take place, the crisis erupted in 2012. Whereas Lagos State took bond after bond, Rivers State had to resort to bridging loans from commercial banks which it must retire within same budget year.

Whereas bonds offer cheap interest rates and long gestation period to repay, commercial loans run at market interest rates of the time, and very difficult to develop long-term or turnkey projects.

The other is the N375bn (or $250m) World Bank water project that was to transform Port Harcourt into a modern city. Everything was said to be done but the office of the Minister of Finance that was to sign off for its drawdown was allegedly prevented from signing it under Goodluck Jonathan when Wike was very powerful.

When Wike became governor, it was learnt that all efforts to revive the loan proved abortive. Result: Port Harcourt remains a borehole city!

Another project was the plan to develop the state capital into a fast-moving transport system known as Monorail with about N250bn with over N20bn already spent by the state government and with most trunks of coaches said to already be at the Onne Port. The project was abandoned when Wike came to power.

Port Harcourt was approved to be a modern city by creating the Greater Port Harcourt City by expanding to eight local councils with massive facilities. The project was to consume N100bn per year for 10 years (N1 trillion) but in total, not up to N100bn was allotted to it and it suffered what looks like half-hearted status or what many call drain pipes to settle political backers.

There was a dream to create an agro-village in Etche LGA in partnership with LR of Israel, but the moment Amaechi left office, the project died a sudden death. It was to create a model where farmers were to be partners with lands as equity but get to global standards with the Israelis creating an integrated agric system.

The Rivers Songhai Farm Initiative (RSFI) which was 20 times the size of the original copy in Benin Republic had gulped over N3.6bn and was put for acquisition because it was becoming very viable. John Deer of California was said to have emerged preferred bidder. They were said to have planned to use Rivers as centre for their tractor manufacturing business to target West Africa, but they delayed sealing the deal waiting for the 2015 succession period to see how Rivers State would play. Songhai would have been a Songhai integrated farm centre for Africa as well as tractor and farm implementation automation centre, something Bobtrack is trying to do now.

Their caution seemed to prove wise when Rivers crashed into violent and polarity crises.

The same fear was said to have driven away German Government that had concluded technical partnership with the Rivers State government but delayed in signing to see how politics would pan out. They were to develop a technical base for Rivers State that would in about 10 years turn the state into a tech centre in Nigeria that would form the plank for industries and technological revolution. The dream, too, died.

There is a N45bn auto-destruct syringe project in Port Harcourt that was to service the West Africa market. Few years ago, vandals were freely removing the steel or long-span roofs without any fear.

Rivers State developed a concept of building world class colleges at N4bn each (construction and equipment alone) to be managed by international education experts at a fee of N800m per year. An oil company loved the concept and offered to build and donate. This made it four. It was a tourist wonder for site seers across the world that visited. The project was stalled the moment the governor that started it left and the foreign managers chased away. Today, one of them has been handed to the military to train their recruits.

The state planned a seafood revolution with fish farms around the state. There was discreet study going on then for Chinese to control the deep-sea section of the state to start a deep-sea fish project. They were to lay gigantic fish traps in the sea and house fishes and groom them in their natural waters. They would harvest and process them offshore in partnership with the Rivers State government. The dream died. Other onshore fish farms in places such as Buguma, Degema farms, among others, collapsed.

The one that seems to cause grief most is the fate of the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) which was created with inspiration of the international oil corporations (IOCs) that wanted a sustainable way to help the state with investments instead of cash. The plan was to create an agro-based agency that would operate with global standards and manage agro centres such as Songhai, cassava centre, etc.

The state was to major in two advantage-based products including cassava, oil palm for export. Liver Brothers saw a wild plant called ‘amuebule’ that has non-cholesterol seeds preferred in making margarine. The project has also died. Yet, the plan to develop a consistent base for human capital development for Nigeria from the Niger Delta through a foreign scholarship system was also yanked off with many students already in the in pains.

Many refused to return to Nigeria to struggle for spots in local universities as ordered by the new administration in PH, but chose to hustle abroad and pay their fees. They grew into a bitter generation, according to those close to their families.

The new administration then said it was a waste of resources but advisers urged the government to feel free to stop further entry into the scholarship ring but to allow those already abroad to complete their studies. This was never heeded.

In the first eight years after the return of democracy, Lagos with Bola Ahmed Tinubu was in fierce opposition to the centre, whereas Rivers (PH) was a darling to Obasanjo. This made Lagos to struggle, sometimes without allocation to their local councils. On the other hand, Peter Odili of Rivers State was always going abroad ostensibly for investment drives. Most offers came to Rivers State first to pick. Odili appeared like the deputy president, especially with Atiku Abubakar (the real vice president) at war with Obasanjo.

Thus, by 2010, Rivers State ranked equal with Lagos in terms of annual budgets. N429bn each. Today, by 2024, Lagos is 300 percent higher than Rivers State. The economic ventures they built with bonds have matured to propel its IGR and GDP to high heavens, now fifth largest economy in Africa beating countries.

Lagos in 2024 has an annual budget of N2.23trillion while Rivers is struggling with N800bn that may not even be fully implemented due to a fresh burst of political crisis.

This steady economic boost has pushed Lagos per capita to $6,100 while Rivers remains at $2,772, meaning that a Rivers man is operating at less than half the lifestyle of a Lagosian. In gross terms, Lagos has grown from N12 trillion GDP in 2010 to N84 trillion, whereas Rivers is still at N19 trillion.

On a physical note, mega projects that fled Rivers such as the Dangote Refinery went to Lekki in Lagos, carrying many artisanal companies that service them. Lagos continues to develop an economy that attracts most of Africa and makes workers in the oil industry in PH to prefer to buy up homes in Lagos and keep their families.

A study showed that 80 percent of families that can afford to spend an average of N800,000 per month prefer to locate their families in Lagos leaving 20 percent in Port Harcourt. The families boost super markets, schools, clothes, transportation, among others. All these have added up to boost the GDP of Lagos while Rivers happily bleeds through cultism, robbery, political thuggery, and destructive politics.

Most important Rivers personalities have continued to grieve over the development, thus seeking a way out.

The economic casualties and costs of the endless political crisis in Rivers State is an interesting area to look at. The focus is how this scenario affects governance. Infrastructure is highly affected because of the posture of the Rivers State House of Assembly (RSHA) and the delays in looking at laws. The Commissioner of Finance is expected to be frustrating the process.

It is the masses, not governor, that suffers. He is eager to move fast in infrastructure. So, they are frustrating jobs.

This fight is about one man, not anything else. It’s not about the people. Most big names are not ready to speak. They are leaving it to small people. Imagine if infrastructure was going fast as the governor had wanted.

This governor is allowing SMEs to do things these days instead of in the past when only big guys were doing all the supplies. Business people know these things but may not talk.

Chris Finebone, a media practitioner, public commentator, politician and traditional ruler.

No critical evaluation is required to see the economic casualties due to the political crisis in Rivers State. Investors, local and foreign, will likely exercise due caution in going ahead with any new significant investments and projects at this time. Meetings between partners and government officials will either be postponed or outrightly cancelled due to distraction of government officials. Intending business investors and partners are likely to look at other states that have all that Rivers State has and are peaceful. It’ll take little or nothing extra to move to, say, Akwa Ibom or Bayelsa States for example.

Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface – Executive Director, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria), convener of the National Conference on Organised Crime in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea (NACOCINAG)

The economic casualties began since 2012 when Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as then governor had issue with the Goodluck Jonathan-led FG. It grew more when then Minister, Nyesom Wike, came in threatening to ensure he collected the political structure of the state when the sitting governor, Amaechi, defected from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC).

The state witnessed some stability all the time Wike ruled as governor but it has started again now that Wike is back as Minister.

It has started again between godfather (Wike), who felt he singlehandedly installed the godson (Fubara), due to many alleged disagreements in their deal. This has led to discontinuity of economic activities.

Economically speaking, Amaechi started fish farms in Andoni, Degema, Buguma, etc. He also started the banana farm, Songhai farm, syringe factory, and re-started the Risonpalm, etc. When Wike came in, due to their disagreements, Wike “destroyed” all these ventures due to the differences between them. The economic casualty has been enormous. Wike did not continue the monorail project and the pillars stand today like a monument in the city. Several economic foundations or ventures built by Amaechi died because political crisis.

Wike governed without disruption but he has picked a fight with his godson. Now, it has started disruptions afresh.

Gov Sim Fubara started to revive these economic ventures and we hear it angered Wike and fighting started.

Now, the economy has become the greatest casualty. It is the economic projects in the state that have suffered most.

The people should demand that government should be allowed to work without disruption. Let the lawmakers and commissioners allow peace to reign. Let the governor face the people that elected him into office. Let Wike and Gov Fubara sit down and talk their differences over.

Let the governor go ahead and revive the abandoned economic ventures such as the Andoni fish farm, Songhai Farms, etc. Let all parties sheath their swords and allow the governor to work.

Since Fubara has shown interest to revive some of the abandoned ventures, let he be supported to revive them and start new ones to generate revenue. Let parties sheath their swords.

Political crisis in Rivers State have never ended. They grow into other things till everything is lost, and nobody is winner. It shows an absence of any moderating influence or institution that everybody defers to. It also shows an absence of public interest in the quarrels but self, analysts have said. The presidency and the centre would rather watch carefully to pick sides that would favour them, not what favours the people of Rivers State. So, it has been fight to the finish from the late Alagbo Graham Dougles vs Odili; Marshall Harry vs Odili; Odili vs Amaechi; Amaechi vs Wike; and now Wike vs Fubara.

Credit: Business Day

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