THE Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has demonstrated strong political will towards implementing the SDGs by empowering the two key agencies set up by the state government to tackle the very foundation of the goals, namely, the eradication of hunger and the reduction of poverty.
The two agencies, the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) and Rivers Microfinance Agency (RIMA) have made a fundamental difference in the lives of the people of the state by vigorously tackling the empowerment of women and the youths.
Indeed, Governor Wike practically demonstrated his confidence in women as an important pivot in the implementation of the SDGs by appointing Mrs Toru Ofili, a diligent and hard working officer as his Special Adviser on SDGs.
When the governor swore in Ofili on December 8, 2015, he gave her a clear mandate to align Rivers State to the global effort to actualize the SDGs by 2030. She served diligently as Special Adviser on SDGs until August 2017 when there was a cabinet reshuffle by Governor Wike.
Transition from MDGs to SDGs
Before the inception of the Wike administration on May 29, 2015, the immediate past administration of Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had recorded some measure of success in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through the RSSDA and RIMA.
It is remarkable that RSSDA is a strategic initiative of the Rivers State Government set up by law in 2007 to refocus development efforts in the areas of poverty alleviation, grassroots development and youth empowerment in the state. One critical area of interest for the RSSDA is the development of sustainable agro-allied potential of Rivers State. In a bid to alleviate poverty in Rivers State through increased food production, RSSDA acquired 34 hectares of land in Bunu-Tai for the Songhai Farms which attracted a number of small scale businesses. It is an integrated world class farm and centre of excellence for enterprise training and transfer of skills to local farmers and research into agricultural techniques and varieties.
The other government agency for sustainable development which is RIMA had provided about 7,000 micro entrepreneurs with micro credits.
The administration also made efforts to actualize goal 2 of the MDGs which is to achieve Universal Primary Education for all children by 2015. The goal requires that children everywhere both boys and girls should be able to complete primary school. This was achieved to a large extent by the immediate past Amaechi administration. According to a report by Dr. Eze Wosu, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology in the University of Port Harcourt, published in 2014, the net enrolment ratio in Rivers State in primary education as recommended by UNESCO was well above 80 percent. In the report titled: Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Poverty Alleviation in Rivers State: A Sociological Perspective, Wosu said that the enrolment ratio of boys to girls was 1: 1, while the pupils to teachers' ratio was 1:35. He noted that the 140 model primary and secondary schools built in all the 23 Local Government Areas of Rivers State by government did not only bridge the gap between the boys to girls who enrolled in schools, but alleviated poverty in the councils. “It created employment at different cadres – cleaners, gardeners, office staff etc. More so, the employment of 13,000 teachers who were posted to various schools reduced poverty and unemployment and the target or ratio of teachers to pupils,” Wosu said.
Domesticating the SDGs in Rivers State
With the transition from MDGs to the SDGs, the present Rivers State government headed by Wike is making spirited efforts to actualise the global goals. The Governor is quite aware that Agenda 2030 is all about providing tools for governments to be able to bring about development to the grassroots. It is against this background that he made conscious efforts to domesticate the SDGs in the state by setting up an office on the Sustainable Development Goals. The action of Governor Wike was acknowledged by The United Nations SDG Action Campaign, an inter-agency initiative of the Secretary General of the world body with the sole mandate of promoting the SDGs and mobilising partnerships and multi-sectoral actions for their implementation and achievement. In a letter signed by its Regional Director, Sering Falu Nije, Regional Director, Africa UN SDG Action Campaign dated June 2, 2016; it commended the Rivers State government for its efforts at domesticating and implementing the SDGs at the sub-national level.
Partnering with EU on SDGs
The Rivers State Government is also partnering with the European Union (EU) to make the SDGs work in the state. Mrs Ofili, erstwhile Special Adviser to the Governor on SDGs had in July 2016 hosted the EU representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Pauline Torebell. Ofili noted that the SDGs office in the state was fully committed to the implementation of the global goals and solicited for support from the EU so as to reduce the level of poverty, promote healthcare and the girl-child education, which are key components of the SDGs.
Torebell, who is also the Head of Politics and Information Communication of the EU, had said she was in the state to, among other things; discuss how the EU would be of help the state in promoting the SDGs programmes.
Implementing the SDGs through the new Rivers Vision
Rivers State prides itself as 'the treasure base of the nation' based on the fact that it is a leading oil producing state in Nigeria which serves as the host of most of the oil companies in the country. However, despite the fact that it is an oil-rich state, many indigenes of the state still live in extreme poverty. In order to change the dynamic and impact positively on the lives of the people, the Wike administration came up with a blueprint for the development of the state. The blueprint aptly titled the New Rivers Vision is a comprehensive development plan that guarantees improvement in the lives and well-being of the Rivers people through massive infrastructural development, sustainable human capacity, empowerment programmes, job creation as well as provision of social and health facilities. According to Wike, the New Rivers Vision has made it possible for the people of the state to feel the impact of good governance as it has enabled his administration implement projects and programmes aimed at empowering the people in line with the SDGs.
True to Wike's unwavering commitment to the implementation of the SDGs, he has walked his talk through strategic intervention agencies. Incidentally, one of such intervention agencies is RSSDA. The activities of RSSDA which is saddled with the responsibility of championing sustainable development in the state are aligned with the New Rivers Vision and the SDGs.
Mr. Lawrence Pepple, Executive Director and Chief Executive of RSSDA, said that as a sustainable development agency, its programmes are cross-cutting and ensure that the state is developed in a sustainable manner so as to alleviate poverty, develop the rural areas and empower the youths. The RSSDA had in the past two and half years been improving the human capital base of Rivers indigenes through target programmes such ICT training and overseas technical training programmes among others.
In October 2016, for example, the RSSDA organised a Leadership, Empowerment and Development (LEAD) Summit which was targeted at increasing the youth entrepreneurial base of the state. The agency used the summit to train over 300 youths across the state on leadership and entrepreneurship to make them self-reliant and employers of labour.
Pepple said that RSSDA is working in partnership with a number of private sector and international development actors to create opportunities that will improve human capacity and agricultural development. He added that already, RSSDA has received funding and support from the Department for International Development (DFID) through its Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) to conduct a state-wide labour market assessment of youth skills gap from a demand and supply stand-point. The outcome of this assessment will guide future planning of interventions around young people.
RSDDA also intends to partner with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) to deploy their Enterprise Development Learning Curriculum for Business Start-up and Expansion Management in the state. According to Pepple, UNIDO has approved two of RSSDA's facilities, namely, the Songhai Rivers Initiative (SRI) and Bunu-Tai Farm and Workmanship Technical Training Centre (WTTC), Bori as learning centres.
Alleviating poverty through RIMA
The Rivers State Micro Finance Agency (RIMA) is another key intervention agency which is helping the Wike administration to empower the people and alleviate poverty in the state. This is in line with the New Rivers Vision which is also targeted at bringing about “economic growth, wealth creation and prosperity by leveraging opportunities from small and medium enterprises.”
Since Wike assumed office, he has reinvigorated RIMA with the appointment of Mr. Austin Opara, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives as Chairman and Mr. Ipalibo Sogules, as the Managing Director.
The Wike administration took concrete steps to empower the less privileged as well as small and medium scale business owners across the 23 local government areas of the state on February 6, 2016 when it launched the N2 billion Rivers State Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) Development Fund in Port Harcourt. According to him, the programme, which is being funded through a facility from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has assisted small businesses to have access to capital so that they can develop faster. He said his administration has ensured that the conditions for issuing out the loans by RIMA are friendly enough for small and medium sized businesses to have access to funds.
Under the first phase of the loan scheme, Wike approved a list of 35,000 beneficiaries from the 23 local government areas. Government has extended the loan scheme to farmers for the purpose of the state's food security and the empowerment of a greater percentage of the people. The injection of the N2 billion into the businesses of the less-privileged in the state has kick-started abundant economic expansion. The multiplier effect is already being felt by the people in the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
RIMA under the leadership of Sogules has also disbursed business loans to the businesses at designated micro-finance banks in the state. To further facilitate the process of granting loans to MSMEs, RIMA was granted a license by the CBN to float a new microfinance bank known as the RIMA Growth Pathway Microfinance Bank.
Engaging the youths in SDGs implementation
As part of measures to alleviate poverty, the Rivers State Ministry of Youth Development in collaboration with the Rivers State SDGs Office organized a one-day workshop on “Youth Leading Sustainability” in Port Harcourt on August 10, 2016.
Mrs Toru Ofili, the then Special Adviser to the Rivers State Governor on SDGs stated that the youths are the hope for the future, stressing that her office was already “walking-her-talk” by setting up a technical team comprising of young people to ensure that the youths key into the implementation of the SDGs. She enjoined young people to proactively engage with the Rivers State Sustainable Development Goals Office to make the SDGs work.
Winning the UN SDG Award
In recognition of the progress Rivers State has so far made in the implementation of the SDGs, Governor Wike was on October 30, 2017 conferred with the United Nations Sustainable Goals (SDGs) “Global Human Settlements Outstanding Contribution Award” at the UN Headquarters in New York. The award was organised by Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Awards (SCAHSA) with the support of the United Nations Environment. Mr. Lu Haifeng, Secretary of Global Forum on Human Development Settlements and Main Representative to the United Nations said the award was conferred on Wike in recognition of his contributions to sustainable cities and investments in urban renewal programmes, housing and projects which have improved the living conditions of less privileged persons.
Wike was commended for constructing the Iriebe Medium Housing Estate, the Rivers Quarters at the NNS Pathfinder, the Junior Staff Quarters of the Department of State Service (DSS) and facilitating improved investment in housing by private investors.
Enhancing quality education
The Wike administration signalled its dedication towards enhancing quality education by listing the three pillars for the revitalization of the sector. The three pillars are: firstly, ensuring adequate funding, secondly, providing quality transformative education for all, and thirdly, making sure it involves all the necessary parties. Dr. (Mrs) Ipalibo Harry Banigo, Deputy Governor of the state said that in terms of funding, the government was able to provide counterpart funding for Universal Basic Education (UBEC) and that singular act has attracted a lot of funding into the educational sector. This has enabled the state government to do a lot of renovations across the Local Government Areas in primary and junior secondary schools.
Mrs Banigo added: “We are also ensuring the training and retraining of the teachers, as well as prompt payment of their salaries. To ensure that everything relating to corruptive practices in the system is eliminated, we are now taking measures to eliminate illegal schools. If a school is operating in the state and is not properly registered with the Ministry of Education, the supervisory authority, government has every right to send out inspectors and ensure that that school is operating according to the rules that it can give quality transformative education to our children.”
Mrs Banigo, believes through the provision of quality education and the impact of various interventionist agencies in the areas of infrastructural development and poverty alleviation, the Wike administration has made giant strides in the implementation of SDGs.
Governor Wike's administration has proved to be gender-sensitive. Right from the inception of his administration, he made it clear that he will ensure that the necessary mechanisms are put in place to eliminate gender discrimination and promote equality and human dignity to all men and women. “Our women are our wealth. The new vision means empowering women through concrete and direct initiatives to enable them build strong family values and play key roles in the development of the state. More importantly, we will work to reduce the rate of maternal mortality in our society, promote gender equality and discourage all forms of discrimination against women as deliberate policies of our administration,” Wike said in his inaugural address on May 29, 2015.
Since then, the governor has been making efforts to ensure gender equality in terms of appointments of women into key positions. He has so far given women strategic responsibilities in recognition for their roles in the development process. Even before, his election, Wike chose a woman, Mrs Banigo as his Deputy. Banigo told SDGs Monitor that by choosing a woman as his Deputy, Wike has demonstrated clearly that he is gender-sensitive. “As a matter of fact, the governor having a female as his deputy has already scored 50% in gender equality. By working with a female Deputy, a thing that has not happened in this state before goes a long way to stress what premium the governor places in giving women a chance to thrive. He is also the first governor in the state to appoint a female as a Chief Judge of the state. Equally too, he is the first governor in the state to appoint a female as the President of the State Customary Court of Appeal. All these women have not disappointed, as they are showing capability in their work. They are showing prowess, showing integrity and even one-third of our Permanent Secretaries are females: and so for the affirmative action, the Rivers State government has already gone beyond what is required,” Banigo said. She added that based on the strategic positions entrusted to women in Rivers State, they have become “co-drivers' in the Wike-led administration.”
During celebration of 2016 International Women's Day with the theme: “Planet 50-50 for 2030, Step It Up For Gender Equality”, Wike reassured women in the state of his administration's commitment to the advancement of their rights for the development of the state. He noted that women are strategically placed in his administration to help in translating the tenets of the New Rivers Development Blueprint into reality. “As a government we will continue to do our very best to enhance and protect the advancement of women in the state, it is not just appointing women into key positions, it is about empowering them to do what they are supposed to do in order to move our society forward,” he said.
In her address at the event, the then Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs Ukel Oyaghiri, said over the years, women have not attained the expected level of development as their male counterparts, due to unequal treatment meted on the girl-child. She said her ministry organized the 2016 International Women's Day in a grand style with the hope of touching the lives of the girl-child, women, and children with special needs through the support of Governor Wike, who is gender-friendly and who has ensured the inclusion of more women in his administration, so as to accelerate the 2030 agenda. She said the Rivers State Ministry of Women Affairs would work hard to close the gender disparity between the men and women and to ensure that by 2030, the ratio between men to women will be 50-50.
She urged families, especially the men and traditional rulers who still hold onto the obnoxious practices such discrimination against women to give equal training to their girl-children as their male counterparts.
Decent work and economic growth
To promote inclusive and sustainable employment and decent work for all, the Rivers State government has been creating job opportunities for its people. For instance, in August 2017, the state government partnered with the World Bank to create 5,500 jobs for the youths in Rivers State under its State Employment and Expenditure for Results (SEEFOR).
Team Leader of World Bank-assisted SEEFOR, Mr. Ismaila Ceesay said that a new financial system was being worked out that would enhance the capacity of Rivers State to access more funds from the World Bank.
In his response, Wike lauded the World Bank for the creation of 5,500 jobs in the state and the commencement of the process for the creation of additional 5,000 jobs for the youths. While commending the World Bank for its support, Wike directed the immediate release of N35million for the state to access the $3million grant from the World Bank for the further execution of the Fadama Project.
The governor solicited the partnership of World Bank in the comprehensive conduct of the biometric verification of civil servants, which will reduce the wage bill of the state.
Governor Wike has maintained cordial relations with the workers' unions. The governor endeared himself with the workers when he cleared the backlog of four months' salary of civil servants and six months of pension arrears on assumption of office. It is on record that Rivers State is one of the few states in Nigeria which have consistently paid workers' salaries as and when due.
Climate Action in Rivers
As a leading oil producing state in Nigeria, the effects of environmental degradation in form of oil pollution, global warming, and climate change are very much pronounced in Rivers.
Indeed, since the 1950s, virtually all parts of Rivers State, particularly Ogoni, have been suffering from environmental degradation occasioned by the activities of oil companies operating in the state. The people of Ogoni have for decades contended with environmental degradation that has adversely affected their health, drinking water, farming, hunting and fishing, which are vital aspects of their lives and identity.
Following decades of widespread environmental pollution and degradation arising from poorly regulated oil and gas exploration in the country, the Rivers State government has embraced the Climate Action as a way of mitigating the effects of the hazards of oil exploration.
In June, 2017, when Wike played host to Mr. Edward Kallon, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nigeria, Governor Wike declared that his administration places premium on the implementation of the SDGs, including SDG-13, which is Climate Action. He also appealed to the United Nations to prevail on the Federal Government to implement the clean-up of Ogoniland, flagged-off in June 2016, regretting that nothing had been done on the clean-up programme.
Earlier on June 5, 2016 during the commemoration of World Environment Day 2016, Mrs Ofili, the then Special Adviser to the Governor on SDGs pledged the commitment of the Rivers State government towards raising awareness on environmental issues and how the actions of human beings are affecting the environment. Mrs Ofili enjoined Rivers people to ensure that they make the SDGs work in the state, particularly SDG-13.
Promoting peace, justice and strong institutions
The Rivers State government is leaving to chance in its bid to promote peace, justice and strong institutions.
Wike assumed office in 2015 at a time the state of insecurity in Rivers State was high. Incidents of militancy, kidnapping, murder, arson, cultism and robbery were very much pronounced. To restore peace and ensure that justice prevails in the state so that strong institutions could thrive, Wike adopted various strategies. One of such measures was the diligent implementation of the state's amnesty programme for ex-militants.
To ensure that the judiciary continues to play its role through speedy dispensation of justice, Wike, who is also a lawyer re-opened the courts that had been shut for about one year and also resolved the crisis over the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge of the State and the president of the Customary Court of Appeal.
In addition, the state government has been working with the police and other relevant security agencies to maintain law and order. The state government has equally taken measures to improve human rights and decongest the prisons.
Certainly, the Rivers State government has laid a solid foundation for the implementation of the SDGs. Mrs Banigo, Deputy Governor of Rivers State is optimistic that through the various sustainable development initiatives of the Wike administration, the state would attain the SDGs by 2030. “We are all working together to ensure that Rivers State achieves the 2030 agenda,” she said.