Ipalibo Harry Banigo, Deputy Governor of Rivers State, talks about efforts being made by the state government towards meeting the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals 2030. She spoke to Godfrey Azubike, Bureau Chief of Verbatim Magazine in Port Harcourt. Excerpts:
Verbatim: Poverty alleviation is goal number one of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. How would you rate the efforts of Rivers State government in achieving the target of eradicating poverty by 2030?
Banigo: You know poverty alleviation is all about giving self esteem back to the people. About meeting their needs not their want, so that you can have dignity of life and living. So, it is always a multi dimensional approach, and the strategies tend to be mutually reinforcing. For instance, I mentioned about the River State Micro Finance Agency, RIMA. When the governor came on board, he reinvigorated it and provided soft loans that were given in 2016 to market women, small and medium scale enterprises to ensure that their businesses can grow. And of course in the area of the youths too, you find out that the youths have been involved through the Rivers State Road Maintenance Agency. They are being involved in the rural areas maintaining rural roads, and taking care of small civil works, plumbing etc. It has encouraged entrepreneurship, it has encouraged usefulness; people now see themselves as being able to contribute one way or the other.
And of course in the healthcare area, it has brought access to health care services. When we came on board, the primary health care workers had shut down all health care centres for over one year. So there were no services for health care for the poor man. When we came and met this situation, we had good understanding with the health workers and they came back to work. Health centres were reopened and they went on with health services. In the area of justice, the judiciary is the hope of the common man, and where this is denied, it makes his poverty worse. When the courts were jam-locked for almost two years, no courts were opened. It was difficult for people to access justice. But because of the governor’s proactive measure and feeling the pulse of the people, he had to bring back the courts to full functioning; and more importantly, allowing them total independence to function and administer justice to all in all fairness. Besides, he embarked on building of industrial courts so that people in Rivers State don’t have to travel far in their industrial matter with the court. Note that because there was no Industrial Court around here the people had to travel far to seek justice, thereby increasing poverty. The governor is also providing more court offices to ensure the free flow of dispensation of justice, without stagnation. Even family courts are going to be provided so that in these areas people would be able to obtain justice without spending too much money. All these are but part of reducing poverty.
Verbatim: How gender sensitive is the administration of Governor Wike in terms of appointments into political offices so far? What are the efforts of Rivers State government in ensuring gender equality?
Banigo: 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 placed 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 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. Even in the area of chairmanship of the boards, the chairmen of Local Governments, the government has done very well. And to stall the inequity in gender sensitization Rivers State Government has now launched the state action plan for implementation according to UN security Council resolution 1925 which is all about women involvement and participation in decision making: in their women’s right and protecting them from all forms of violence. This is the first time such an action plan is happening in Rivers State, involving different nongovernmental organisations, and different strata of the society to participate in it.
Verbatim: What is your assessment of the implementation of the SDGs in Rivers State by the administration of Governor Nyesom Wike?
Banigo: The Rivers State Government ably led by Barrister Ezenwo Nyesom Wike is doing much. You know that agenda 2030 which actually took off from January 2016 is all about providing tools for governments to be able to bring about development in their various constituencies. If you look at the Blue Print of the new Rivers Vision which is devolved from the new Rivers vision of the governor in 2015, you find that most of those tools is underpinning of the blue print and is all about bringing development in all the social strata of the state.
When the governor assumed office in 2015, he noticed that the new Rivers structure was totally broken down. Parts of the cities were completely out of reach. You couldn’t even get to Borokiri area, you couldn’t come out and Borokiri is significant because that’s where all the sea foods come from, where Etche is the food basket from where the farm produce come into the market. And of course you know that women are the ones that suffer most because it is the women who fish, and farm; so obviously, they couldn’t bring their produce to the markets and that was definitely not sustainable for development. But by 2016, the story has changed. There was a new story; there was a new vision on ground and taking place rapidly. So today, if you go to Chkocho side, the road there is a free pass road, as buses and other vehicles move freely carrying food products out and into markets without any hindrance or difficulties.
The roads now have lights, so that commerce in the night is in full force. Unlike before when everywhere was dark and people jumped into their houses once it is night. Now because the streets are lighted commerce can also flow. And of course other interventionist areas, water supply, healthcare, quality education and also in credit facilities through the River State Micro Finance Agency, RIMA. And so all these working together to see that we are fulfilling the role we have to ensure the 2030 agenda. We have only gone 20 months in the agenda and see how much we have achieved, so I think the administration of Governor Wike has done a giant stride so far.
Verbatim: How is Rivers State government pursuing critical goals of the SDGs, such as quality education and climate action?
Banigo: This administration is very interested in quality education for all, and we follow those three pillars of (1) – ensuring adequate funding. (2) – providing quality transformative education for all, and (3) – making sure we involve all the necessary parties; for instance in area of ensuring we get more funds. The government was able to provide counterpart funding to the UBEC, which the state has been planting for years. And that singular act has attracted a lot of funding into the educational sector; which is why we are able to do a lot of renovations across the LGAs in primary schools and junior sec schools. And of course the government believes that boarding schools should come back on stream; good and right proper boarding schools. So over the three senatorial districts the government has renovated three, in line with good suitable boarding system. We are also ensuring training and retraining of the teachers, as well as prompt payment of their salaries. Also, to ensure that everything relating to corruptive practices in the system is eliminated, we are now talking about measures against illegal schools. If a school is operating here and is not properly registered with the ministry of education, which is the supervisory authority, government has every right to send out inspectors and ensure that that school is operating according to the rules that can give quality transformative education to our children.
And if they are not doing that, they have to be corrected, and that is why they are not called bigger schools because they are not providing what is expected professionally to our children. We also introduced parental involvement in the education of our children. The parents must be taken on board. We even encourage mentors. I for one, I have started a mentoring programme for girls in secondary schools, because I am so interested in protecting the girl child. We also find out that some people may want to go the vocational way, and are working with some NGOs. Port-Harcourt is the centre and we are doing that to other vocational schools in other parts of Rivers States.