The visit by the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu to Rivers State has raised concerns among residents and political class within and outside the state.
The president-elect spent two nights in Port Harcourt at the instance of Governor Nyesom Wike to commission two key projects completed by the state government.
The projects are the Rumuokuta flyover and the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Port Harcourt.
Being the first visit embarked upon by the president-elect after his victory at the presidential poll, the visit was viewed from different perspectives by political watchers in the state.
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While the two-day visit brought pains and losses to residents whose businesses were disrupted and equally subjected to several hours of trekking occasioned by chaotic traffic gridlock, Governor Wike used it as an opportunity to horse trade and chart a new vista on emerging political trends in the country.
Prior to the visit, Wike had declared Wednesday, May 3 a public holiday. This, according to him, was to enable the people of Rivers State to give the August visitor a rousing welcome.
Wike had in a state broadcast on the eve of the visit recalled that during Tinubu’s presidential campaign visit to Rivers State, he had indicated an intention to have him commission some strategic projects after the general elections.
He said a formal invitation was sent to the president-elect after the general elections, which Tinubu graciously accepted.
Wike further explained that the visit was Tinibu’s first official outing to any state since he emerged as the president-elect of Nigeria.
According to him, by this visit, Tinubu would join the long list of distinguished Nigerians the state had hosted to either flag off or commission landmark projects.
“For us, it is an honour to the government and people of Rivers State to host the president-elect on this historic visit. Consequently, I urge all Rivers citizens to come out en masse to receive our president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and display the traditional Rivers hospitality as he commissions these legacy projects to God’s glory and the advancement of our development.
“I hereby declare May 3, 2023, a public holiday to enable the people of Rivers State give our president-elect a rousing welcome.
“Furthermore, all shops and business premises along Rumuola to Rumuokwuta roads in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area shall remain closed from 8am to 3pm on May 3, 2023.
“I urge all labour unions and security agencies to comply with this closure order,” Wike said during his statewide broadcast.
Residents count losses
The public holiday declared by the governor, as well as shutting down of business premises owned by residents in all the routes leading to the project commissioning sites did not go down well with residents.
There were chaotic traffic gridlocks as a result of shutting down of major and strategic roads in the state, which subjected residents to several hours of long trekking.
Business owners who were directed to shut down their business premises between 8am and 3pm on Wednesday said they were taken unawares, just as they claimed to have lost several man-hours and many of their customers within the period.
Some of the residents said they spent several hours on the road before they could get to their destinations.
A business owner at Rumuokuta, Paul Eke said, “The public holiday and shutting down our business premises were uncalled for. We could as well have opened our businesses alongside the visit of the president-elect. Most of us were taken unawares. I had a proposal with a client I was supposed to meet in the morning of Wednesday in my office, but the person could not come. The business had a timeframe, so I lost it.
“I am not happy about that because nobody would have compensated me for the loss of the business opportunity.”
A restaurant operator along Rumuola/Rumuokuta flyover said foodstuff meant to prepare meals for his customers were wasted because the state government closed business premises.
He said, “We were not able to preserve what we bought to prepare our meals, so they got spoilt. And that cost us huge sums of money.”
Emeka Ajudoh also said, “It was a very terrifying experience on Wednesday. I trekked from Choba to Garrison, about six kilometers because all the routes leading to Rumuokuta and Rumuola were shut down.
“Many drivers withdrew their vehicles from the road because they did not want to be trapped on a chaotic traffic gridlock, so many of us had to trek several hours before we could get to our destinations.
“What is my business with the visit of Tinubu. What was the economic value of his visit to me? I think somebody is unnecessarily being overzealous,” he said.
APC, PDP react
While residents expressed anger over the visit, members of the political class in the state have divergent views.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, the party on which Tinubu rode to victory, said the visit was arranged by Governor Wike to undermine them and score a cheap political point.
The publicity secretary of the party in the state, Sam Sam Etetegwung, in a letter dated May 1, 2023 and addressed to Bola Tinubu, said they were not in support of the visit.
Etetegwung stated that the visit was arranged by Wike to undermine candidates of the party for both the National Assembly and the governorship, who are challenging the outcome at the election at the tribunal.
Part of the letter reads, “We write to protest to you regarding the information circulating in Port Harcourt of a purported visit to commission certain projects on May 3 and 4, 2023.
“We are of the understanding that the invitation is by Governor Wike. Sir, maybe some salient facts around the politics and optics of the visit have not been brought to your attention and it would be unwise for us as a political party that represents the APC in Rivers State since its inception in 2014 to stand by while our opponents carry out a plan designed to entrap and embarrass you and the party.
“The timing of this visit is mischievous and insensitive on the part of Wike to further weaken APC senatorial and House of Representatives candidates and those of the state assembly who really won their seats but had their victory so viciously and brutally snatched from them, including the governorship candidate.
“The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not win the election; and the visit is timed to further intimidate organic believers in the APC who have lost loved ones, followers, friends and families since 2015, 2019 and 2023.”
But a chieftain of the party, Mike Ike, said Governor Wike was a detribalised politician who has championed the course of southern presidency.
At the commissioning of the Rumuokuta flyover, Wike drew the attention of the federal government to the need to amend its procurement law in order to end incessant abandonment of projects.
The governor argued that the current procurement law only allowed for 15/30 per cent to be paid as mobilisation fee to a contractor.
Such meagre sum, he said, usually did not allow the contractor to make appreciable progress on the project before being caught up by inflation and high cost of materials, which eventually requires variation of the contract terms.
Governor Wike said that when he noticed a similar snag in the procurement law in Rivers State on assumption of duties, he interfaced with the Speaker of the state Assembly, who worked with other lawmakers to amend the existing law.
With the amended law, the governor Wike emphasized that his administration got the latitude to pay an upward of 70 per cent mobilisation fee to contractors handling various projects in the state.
He noted that such practice had led to the accomplishment recorded in the delivery of development projects in the state by his administration.
Wike said the flyover was one of the projects started in 2019 and delivered by his administration.
The governor said some of the flyovers were on federal roads; hence the state should be refunded by the federal government. He, therefore, requested the incoming administration of BolaTinubu to consider a possible refund to Rivers State, saying it would serve as motivation to other states.
While commissioning the flyover, the president-elect noted that his presence was another way of building bridges across the country.
Tinubu described Governor Wike as a dependable ally who promoted the unity of Nigeria, fairness and championed justice.
He noted that Wike stood his ground as a principled man and worked for the presidency to come to the South.
“In Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike I see a man of principle. He took a stand that the presidency must return to South and he had the courage to stand by his conviction, not minding whose ox was gored. He is indeed a man of great integrity. He did not chose to serve his own interest but the interest of the country, Tinubu said.”
He commended Wike for delivering quality projects to Rivers people to enhance development.
The president-elect, however, said the demand for a refund on the flyover bridges constructed on federal roads, though a worthy request, should not be borne with the mindset that the federal government is owing the state because the projects are within Rivers and used by the people. He said there was the need for Governor Wike to further discuss the issue with him and intensify his lobby to secure the refund.
Tinubu also commended the state governor-elect, Siminalayi Fubara, for his victory.
Some of the dignitaries present at the occasion included the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; governors of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde; Jigawa, Muhammadu Badaru Abubakar, Senator Hope Uzodinma of Imo, and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi.
Others were former governors of Rivers State, Peter Odili; Chief Abdulkareem Adebisi Bamidele Akande (Osun); James Ibori (Delta), Chief Ayo Fayose (Ekiti); Dr Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Chief Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa).