… Lack inclusiveness for widespread growth
- Ben Eguzozie, in Port Harcourt
The All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition party in oil-rich Rivers State, has questioned Governor Nyesom Wike’s aggressive infrastructural projects drive for failing to stem the tide of high unemployment and underdevelopment in the state, calling the projects out as being exclusive and not able to engender inclusiveness for real growth and state development.
The party described it as “absolutely disgusting” that since 2018 Rivers has topped all unemployment and underdevelopment ratings among sub-nationals in the country despite Wike’s much touted investments in building roads, bridges, markets, courts, houses in the state.
The party specifically alluded that Wike’s plethora of projects are largely exclusive, devoid of inclusive development that takes on the people’s economic welfare, via employment creation for the state’s over five million people made up of mainly youths. Like Nigeria, Rivers has over 80 percent of its people in the 15 to 45 years age brackets.
An APC chieftain in the Niger Delta region, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, in a statement sent to Business A.M. said, “responsible governance is all about identifying the chief needs of the people and putting up mechanisms in place to address them in pursuance of the most happiness of the greatest portion of the state’s population.” He blamed Governor Wike for engaging in “gormless governance approach” which has exacerbated scepticism and capital flight from the state.
Recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put Rivers in third position in unemployment survey of Nigeria’s sub-nationals. The state has 43.7 percent unemployment rate after Akwa Ibom with 66.9 percent. Overall, Rivers, with 1.7 million has the highest concentration of unemployed/ underemployed people of all the states in the country. In Q3 of 2018, data from the NBS put the state as having the second highest sub-national unemployment rate of 36.4 percent after Akwa Ibom’s 37.7 percent. This year, although the oil-rich state dropped a little to third position, however, its unemployment figure went up by 7.3 percent.
For Eze, it is evidently worrisome that “under Governor Wike, government cares very little about the welfare of the poor and the deprived whom he said currently account for over 70% of the state’s population.”
Over the years, Rivers has been enmeshed in youth restiveness and criminality, with militancy peaking between 2004 and 2010.
Since 2015, bitter political rivalry pitting incumbent Governor Wike and his immediate predecessor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has combined with inter-cult wars in parts of the state to constitute grave insecurity in the state, significantly hurting the $25 billion GDP economy. A recent survey by an economic analyst indicates that the Amaechi-Wike spiteful political contention has cost the state N355 billion in lost investments.
Till date, four electricity plants in the state worth $302 million (over N125 billion at current $/N exchange rate) built and privatized by former Amaechi were repealed by incumbent governor Wike, but disturbingly left in freeze mode – neither reselling nor re-privatizing them. Not a dime has come to the state from the all-important gas-powered electricity plants. Other investments abandoned: multi-billion-naira agric farms of fishery and banana developed under the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) and Songhai initiative were characteristically left unattended to until they have fizzled out.
Additionally, Rivers, Nigeria’s oil capital is home to multi-billion-dollar hydrocarbon installations, including the 210,000 bpd Port Harcourt refineries; $4.2 billion Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals plus two fertilizers firms – Indorama Fertilizer & Chemicals and Notore Chemicals with combined production capacities at 3.5 million metric tonnes per annum (mmtpa). It is housing the incoming $7 billion Train 7 Nigeria LNG project expected on stream in 2025. The state has the multi-billion-dollar Onne oil and gas free zone (OGFZA) with the Onne Port complex which recently received the Maersk Stadelhorn 10,000 capacity container vessel, by far the largest vessel to berth at any Nigerian port.
Given all these capacities, the state also grapples with mounting debts put at N235.78 billion after Lagos’ N1.043 trillion, according to a 2018 Economic Confidential’s annual high indebted states (AHIS). Against these, militancy, bitter political spat and cult-related wars have combined to set Rivers back 20 years,” the analyst told Business A.M.