”Governor Wike has a compassionate spot for those who are physically vulnerable. He spends a great deal of time listening to their individual stories, when he meets them”
Dr. Austin Tam-George, the Commissioner for Information in Rivers State is a communication expert with varied experience in Nigeria and abroad. In this online interview he responds to questions on the pace and pattern of governance in Rivers State since the advent of the new administration.
What’s your reaction to the decision to again postpone the rerun elections into federal and state legislative houses?
We regret INEC’s decision to postpone the elections yet again. In our view, INEC should have proceeded with the elections exactly as planned. The idea that Rivers State is unsafe for elections to hold is a mythology created by the political opposition to avert a likely defeat at the polls.
We have a vibrant socio-economic life that goes on undisturbed here in Rivers State. As you know, the State remains the most important investment hub for oil and gas companies in the country.
We have a civil service bureaucracy with staff strength of over 47,000 workers. We have three Universities, two polytechnics, and thousands of other levels of schools. We have the courts, and many other state and federal institutions that work smoothly every single day in Rivers State.
In the past one year, Rivers State has been host to many international events and professional conferences that pass off without a single security breach. We hosted the 2016 Africa Movies Academy Awards, AMAA, in Port Harcourt, without a single security incident. The Nigerian Guild of Editors Conference was held recently in Port Harcourt. In their communiqué, the Guild acknowledges that Rivers State is safe and peaceful.
The Annual Nigeria Bar Association Conference holds in Port Harcourt, in August, with thousands of participants from all parts of Nigeria and the West African sub-region expected to attend.
The idea that local elections could not hold because of alleged insecurity of the State was an unconvincing excuse. But we will continue to cooperate with INEC towards free, fair and conclusive polls in the State. Wherever security incidents occur, the security agencies will rise to the challenge.
Perhaps, no public administrator in this political dispensation has given the police and the joint security forces as much financial and logistical support as much as Governor Nyesom Wike has done.
Why can we not have peaceful elections in Rivers State?
I believe that much of that feeling arises from a mischaracterisation of the political reality in Rivers State. Let me spell it out clearly: the reality is that Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is the Governor of Rivers State.
Everywhere in the world, politics might be a noisy and clamorous affair. But once the votes are counted after the elections, everyone should be able to accept the outcome. In the 2015 general election in Rivers State, Wike was declared as the winner by INEC. His victory was ultimately validated by the Supreme Court in a unanimous judgement.
Unfortunately, our friends in the All Progressives Congress, APC, seem unwilling to accept this fact. They seem to be philosophically opposed to the reality that they lost the election. I say this with infinite regret because a political party that can only accept victory but not defeat is as close as you could get to political fundamentalism.
And I think that this kind of absolutist politics poses an existential threatto democracy in the country
Senator Magnus Abe recently said on ChannelsTV that when it comes to PDP offenders, the police usually turn the other way and cited the case of his burnt campaign office alleging that the police are in the pocket of PDP in Rivers State?
I cannot comment on ongoing investigations by the police. Senator Abe’s claims are politically-motivated and prejudicial. Regarding the incident at his campaign office, it is the responsibility of the police to establish the facts, and bring the arsonists to justice. The police are in the pockets of the Rivers State PDP? How could that be? That is an unusual proposition. The police answer to the Inspector General of Police in Abuja, not to the Rivers State PDP.
The print media were recently awash with pictures of Governor Wike and former Governor Amaechi in handshake. Could that signify a return of peace in Rivers?
Peace pacts and handshakes by political leaders are good, because they have powerful symbolic value. But I think that the APC will have to develop the democratic temper to accept defeat. So it goes beyond standing before a cameraman in Abuja.
Governor Wike has taken concrete conciliatory steps to work with everyone, even those in the opposition. He has an office and a special adviser on inter-party relations. The Governor’s intention is to keep his ears and doors open for cooperation and collaboration. But the APC’s response has always been to slam the door shut. They seem to be unable to cooperate, even in the interest of the State. It’s an unacceptable behaviour in a democracy.
What exactly is your quarrel with recent police posting in Rivers State? It is like your Governor is not comfortable with the re-deployment?
As a principle, Governor Wike supports and works closely and respectfully with all security agencies. All he wants is for the security agencies to be insulated from partisan politics, so that they could focus on their jobs. That is his point. We only ask that they conduct their work professionally. This is the governor’s point. He will continue his unflinching support to the police and all security institutions in the State.
How is the government you serve as Commissioner for Information helping to reduce militancy in the region?
Governor Wike has denounced violence or any form of militancy, be it in the Niger Delta or in the North East where the people continue to live in dread of the merciless terrorism of Boko Haram, or anywhere in Nigeria. He has held series of strategic security meetings with other Governors and even the Presidency, in order to bring the scourge of violence to an end.
On the directive of the Governor, my Ministry is leading an intensive anti-cultism and anti-militancy media campaign in Rivers State.
Governor Wike often comes across as a tough and decisive leader. Does he have any soft sides to him that the public is yet to be aware of?
Governor Wike has a compassionate spot for those who are physically vulnerable. He spends a great deal of time listening to their individual stories, when he meets them. But he constantly encourages each of them to never succumb to self-pity or despondency. He sees ability in everyone, and supports those who strive for a better life, no matter their personal circumstances.
I think the governor also has a special fondness for children. I have seen him break from his security team during project inspections, just to hug and shake the hands of children across the road. The look on his face during those moments was always so magical and fatherly.
I suspect that the unspoken expectations in the eyes of those children give him the kinetic energy to work even harder to build a better society for all.
Regarding poned re-run elections in the state; how do you want Rivers people to conduct themselves between now and the time INEC would fix the elections?
As I said earlier, in Rivers State today the people have been fully sensitised to understand their electoral rights and to defend their votes. The people will accept only free and fair elections. The responsibility of INEC is to organise elections that are demonstrably free and fair. The government will continue to work with all stakeholders to keep the State secure and peaceful, before, during and after the elections.