Mixed reactions have greeted the decision of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, to dole out N500million to Sokoto State to assist victims of the fire disaster that occurred in Sokoto Central Market.
While the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and some aides of the governor defended the gesture, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and an ex-agitator, Sobomoba Jackrich faulted the move describing it as selfish and politically motivated.
Jackrich, who is the Convener, Network for Defence of Democracy and Good Governance (NDDGG) Sobomabo Jackrich described the N500million donation as reckless, selfish and politically motivated.
Jackrich in a statement in Port Harcourt said they were worried about the way Wike was spending the state’s resources without addressing the real challenges facing Rivers.
He said while NDDGG sympathised with victims of the fire incident, the group was against Wike’s decision to embark on unaccounted obligations despite myriads of unaddressed needs of Rivers.
He said the governor by the gesture demonstrated that he was not bothered about the plight of pensioners, who were dying in the state because of non-payment of pensions and gratuities since 2015.
He said: “The NDDGG wish to sound it loud and clear that Sokoto is not a territory of Rivers warranting such unaccountable obligation. It is worrisome that this official menace is coming just a few days after Governor Wike announced that his government had received the over N78.9bn refunds approved by His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, being money owed the state from the construction of federal roads by past administrations of the state.
“The action of the governor clearly proves that he does not seem to have a protected future at stake or vision for our dear state. He is not bothered that the state ranks number one on the unemployment index having the highest unemployed population as published by the National Bureau of Statistics and other institutions.
“This is a state without any functional profit making enterprise or an industrial park. The question to ask is where is the governor deriving powers to make such arbitrary financial dissipations of our public funds that were not captured in any accessible budget if not for political trading purposes?”
“Most importantly, our state has been operating a secret budget system since 2015 even though the government denies this fact indefensibly without any evidence to the contrary. This lack of transparency and accountability has been chasing away development partners from Rivers state.
“We have been raising alarm on this issue but the government has kept an arrogant silence. In a recent report, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed was quoted as saying that Rivers State was among four states that got zero allocation from a World Bank grant of more than N123bn due to their inability to meet the 2019 eligibility criteria, which required states to publish online approved annual budgets and audited financial statements within a specific timeframe.
“We demand transparency on the utilisation of the N78.9bn refunds and further call on the state government to pay our retirees from the refunds as a way of not making our people die regretting why they used their entire life to serve their fatherland.
“NDDGG will be left with no other option than to mobilize Rivers people to embark on a mass action in the coming days including exploring all legal avenues to compel the Wike-led Rivers state government to account for all our monies if our governor fails to reorder his steps”.
Also, a former Publicity Secretary, APC, Rivers State, Chris Finebone, said Wike was playing Robin Hood with the commonwealth of Rivers people.
He said: “People believe that Governor Wike is trying very hard to buy the 2023 Presidential or Vice-Presidential ticket of the PDP with Rivers taxpayers’ money. This is the latest in the string of politically motivated donations the governor has been making across Nigeria.
“This unbridled profligacy flies in the face of the fact that Rivers pensioners are owed gratuities and pension, the state secretariat complex is in squalor because of lack of water and electricity, even some victims of market fire disasters in the state and the annual flooding that sweep through the Orashi region taking lives and livelihood are totally ignored by the governor.
“What is even more troubling is that history is not telling the governor anything. He is supposed to know from history that money alone doesn’t take any presidential aspirant very far in Nigeria. There are other equally (if not more) important factors that lead to success.
“Towards the twilight of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, many politicians including one from Rivers State were splashing money across Nigeria with a view to succeeding OBJ. Governor Wike can recall that money alone could not push these ambitions far before they got extinguished like candle flame in the wind.
“Two years ago, in the governor’s own party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was able to buy his way through to the party’s presidential ticket. That was the farthest money could take the Turaki Adamawa to. He was trounced at the 2019 presidential election by President Muhammadu Buhari.”
But the state chapter of the PDP in a statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Tambari Gbara, expressed surprise that Wike’s patriotism had been politicized in some quarters without considering the substance of his gesture.
Quoting multiple verses from the Holy Bible, Gbara argued that the act of giving to the needy remained a virtue sanctioned by the Almighty God, saying Wike’s gesture epitomised Rivers as a Christian state.
“However, this is not the first time Governor Nyesom Wike is extending his benevolence to his colleagues, more so, he is not the only Governor who has donated to the Sokoto Government, nor is he the first to toe this line of action, yet they were never greeted by such criticism as we have today.
“On January 19, the Governor of Kebbi State equally donated the sum of 30million naira to the Sokoto State Government, for the rebuilding of the same market. Does it mean that the people of Kebbi will be asking for the head of their Governor for assisting his colleague going through a traumatizing period, as we are experiencing in Rivers State?
“This has shown that governor Wike is not the only one that has donated to assist in that incident and many more donations may be on the way to help the people of Sokoto State,” he said.
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Gbara recalled that on February 7, 2018, Wike also donated the sum of 200million naira to the people and government of Benue State to carter for the over 500,000 IDPs caused by herdsmen’s attacks.
He also remembered that the National Chairman of the PDP and former Governor of Bauchi State Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu on October 24, 2014, visited the Mile one Market in Rivers State that was gutted by fire in 2013 and donated the sum of N250million for the reconstruction of the market and rehabilitation of the traders.
He said: “This means that Rivers State has equally benefited from others. Moreover, the value of that amount of money that was given to us as at that time is twice the value of what Governor Wike donated to Sokoto State.
“In 2010, the immediate past Governor of Rivers State and Minister of Transportation Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi through the Bill Clinton /Bush Foundation equally donated the sum of 1 million dollars an equivalent of N500 million naira today, to the people of Haiti, a South American country that suffered an earthquake.
“Records also have it that, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, as governor of Rivers State, also donated the sum of N74million naira to the widows of the sectarian crisis in Jos Plateau State.
“That same year, the former Governor of Lagos State now Minister of Works, Babajide Raji Fashola also raised 1 million dollars for the people of Haiti. The former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, who serves as the current Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator, Godswill Akpabio, donated the sum of 50million naira for the treatment of victims of the bombing of St. Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger state, and also sent Engineers of Akwa Ibom state government to rebuild the church.
“Senator Akpabio also built a 280 bedroom hostel for the Federal Polytechnic, Kazaure, Jigawa state, and built a luxury Apartment for students of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Abuja. He is not from any of these States, yet he rendered such a level of assistance to them”.
The Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulnus Nsirim, while addressing the issue in a statement described outbursts, particularly coming from members of APC, as “very poor and sad reflection of who we are as Rivers people and our proud national image and recognition as ‘our brothers keeper’.”
He said: “As Rivers People, we have our challenges but that doesn’t mean we have lost our sense of humanity and this is what Governor Wike epitomises with great equanimity and humility.
“It is, therefore, with an even greater sense of deep sadness and disappointment that we read how some people described the gesture as evidence of financial recklessness”.
The Commissioner noted that the government had noticed in recent times, the vehemence with which the APC apologists expressed their bitterness and selfishness each time the Wike administration extended a hand of friendship and support to a sister state.
He said: “This is not who we are as Rivers people. The Rivers man is kind, benevolent, cosmopolitan, generous and accommodating,” he said.
“One would have expected some of these critics who had served in Government before, to be at the forefront of preaching and promoting national brotherhood and unity.
“They ought to know better about how government operates, instead of this unfortunate display of petulance, deliberate ignorance, hate mongering and a kindergarten attempt to align with misguided public opinion borne out of spontaneous envy and uncharacteristic resentfulness. This is a sad and imported mindset and not the Rivers spirit at all”.
Nsirim recounted that Wike was moved by compassion to make the donation to help the state government rebuild the market and rehabilitate victims of the incident, after he saw the massive destruction of over 60 per cent of the 16000 shops, with the loss of goods worth billions of naira.