Wike absent as search for new economy begins at ‘Rivers Debate

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* All fingers point to security crisis as cause of economic decline

By Obinna Nwachukwu & Gladys Nweke

The search for a new economic model to rescue the economy of Rivers State seemed to have been launched at the ‘Rivers Debate’, a platform created by the business community in the state to interrogate those seeking to run the state on May 29, 2019. This was to help the business community understand who to vote for on Saturday.

The three candidates that managed to make it to the Aztech Arcrum where the debate held from 6pm to 8pm on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, seemed to tear in three definite directions. Whereas the Action Democratic Party (ADP)’s Victor Fingesi said convincing fleeing companies to return through a security architecture would do the trick, his Labour Party counterpart, Isaac Wonwu said diversification especially back to agriculture was better. Precious Elekima of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) however floated a radical departure, saying the solution is in creating a community based investment and management strategy.

Elekima said he build 92 industries in four years in the communities in the state an move N5Bn per year to each of the 23 local councils in the state to invest in industries that would depend on raw materials in each locality.

Pelted by each of three moderators (Segun Owolabi of Rhythm, Florence Keyamba of Social Democratic Network, SDN, and Kofi Bartel of Nigeria Info, backed for follow ups by Ignatius Chukwu of BusinessDay, all in Port Harcourt), each of the three contestants tried to be realistic as well as win the hearts and votes of the Rivers people.

Elekima said he would also move 35 per cent of the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the state to the communities plus 15 per cent to the local councils and retain 50 per cent at the state level. This was his formula for ending the protracted tax harmonization exercise that had lasted for 15 years without a document. His formula however seemed to worry analysts who knew that the state devotes about N130Bn for salaries and running the government (recurrent). If he gives N115Bn per year to LGAs, he would exhaust the about N300Bn that the state is guaranteed per year from both IGR and federal allocations per year.

Wornwu on his own said he would push for a rice and cassava revolution in addition to palm oil and other agro products to create a new economy. Fingessi said he first do a security summit to reduce tension in the state, thus attracting back the fleeing companies.

He said Rivers State has had high presence of multinationals and other companies but that insecurity was the issue. If resolved, he said, the economy would bounce back. All the others agreed that insecurity was fundamental but said they too would confront it.

The president of the main organizers of the ‘Rivers Debate’, the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), Ibifri Bobmanuel, said it was important to know how anyone seeking to govern the state would deal with the private sector.

He said the fist debate in 2015 led to a communiqué that was monitored all through after May 29, 2015, and that this time around, the body would roll out a communiqué and monitor whoever would win. He however admitted that the engagement document seemed well attended to in the areas of roads to the seaports, reopening the courts, reducing tax harassment, etc. he however said the ports have not been boosted by the federal government and that insecurity needed a serious attention.

The absence of Gov Nyesom Wike regarded as going almost unopposed seemed to douse the excitement of the audience at the debate. No explanation was given for his absence. Others such as APC Tonye Cole and Accord Party’s Dumo Lulu-Briggs were not present because the courts had ordered them de-listed.

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