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Interview

Interview

Something Great Is Happening In Rivers

Dr. Sampson Parker, medical practitioner and former Rivers State Commissioner for Health in the Chibuike Amaechi administration in an exclusive interview with The Vortex Newspapers Editor-in Chief, Dr Alpheaus Paul-Worika, speaks on his foray into politics and other issues. Excerpt:

 You left medical practice, for politics, why ?

I enjoyed medical practice and I still remain a medical doctor before anything else including politics. I apply the principle of medicine in almost every decision I take. To me, medicine is about the human being and politics is also about the human being. To understand and provide basic needs for the people, you will have to understand the first principle of things and how best to tackle them. From primary health care, education, infrastructures, security, etc. there are principles on how best to tackle all of these issues.  Construction of roads, schools, flyovers, etc are all based on the health and welfare of the human being.

What are your thoughts on the pattern of works in Rivers State?

To me, something great is happening in Rivers State. It is only a person without a conscience that will see and not hail what is going on in the state. There is nobody that would not complain about the traffic in garrison, waterlines junction, or GRA junction. These are gridlocks points in the state. Some persons may question the projects. But going through Aba Road with the whole traffic gridlock, a three hours journey is now reduced to less than 30mins. The governor is doing something great.  Something that should have been done before now. There is no one governor or government that can do everything. You just focus on what you have to do and do it.

What is your view on completion of the Monorail Project?

I think it is about priorities.  Transportation is about taking a volume of people from one point to the other. If you consider the cost of the monorail and what many flyovers cost on an economy of scale, you will see that the construction of flyovers is more cost effective. Without condemning anybody’s project, the former governor saw the monorail, the present governor is seeing flyovers as a solution to the problem and he has taken that solution.

Why the switch from medicine to politics?

I have not switched from medicine to politics. I am still practicing medicine even in politics. The motivation to go into politics was medicine. I was practicing medicine but there was dissatisfaction because of priorities placed on different departments by governments of those times. In fact there was a need to go into government and make my input at the policy makers end so that practice could be better for my colleagues. The patients are the beneficiaries of the process, but the doctors are not happy when the patients are not taken care of. A good doctor would not sleep if he loses a patient. The issues we had in the health sector is because policy makers haven’t made healthcare a priority. So having me there, I knew I had to make my colleagues know that healthcare is a priority and to some extent, we achieved much to reduce maternal mortality and infant mortality.

Was it why there was proliferation of hospitals by your administration?

We tried to reach the people through healthcare. I was deliberate about giving the people quality healthcare and the people appreciated it. That was why it was not difficult for us to be re-elected in 2011. As a commissioner for health, I visited almost every community in Rivers state. Not just the health centres, I was taking healthcare talks and campaigns from community to community. During the Ebola outbreak, we were almost everywhere in Rivers State, sensitizing the people. I got to know how vast Rivers State is. In some communities there was no drinking water, I had to insist on the provision of portable water even without being the commissioner for water resources. I decided to use healthcare to drive politics That is where I bridged politics and healthcare.

Did you achieve your aim or were there things you’d have done differently?

I don’t know how to assess myself. That is left for the people. The target was the people. Did they access better healthcare in my administration? Did they feel government a little more through healthcare? Those are the things I look at. But to assess myself, I believe we did well but perhaps not to the extent I would have wished.  For instance, politics fought against politics and a lot of the projects did not get to the end point. Even a lot of the celebrated primary healthcare systems I started had not been completed and of course, we had not entered secondary healthcare. I thank Governor Wike who has finished some of the work on primary health centre and has gone ahead to do secondary healthcare and is even touching tertiary. Our time, we got into 60% of what we would have achieved in infrastructure. We were still struggling with power supply to the primary health centres and manpower. The plan was to have one doctor and 8 nurses at the primary health centres, but we did not achieve that.  At the secondary healthcare, we tried to set up zonal hospitals but it was difficult. Manpower is a big issue.  The only one we did was the Kelsey Harrison Hospital which we had outsourced to the private sector so we could do some form of PPP work with the private sector to push healthcare forward. The Braithwaite Memorial Hospital, we wanted to convert to a teaching hospital.  We started it but did not conclude it. Thank God Gov. Wike saw it as a veritable venture and has done well about it. I’d have cried if we lost the accreditation we got then. I am very happy with the work done now.

The college of Health Sciences was a key area to produce manpower for the primary health centres. It was suppose to be upgraded to a polytechnic level and also partner with some renowned health investors abroad so that we can raise manpower for our primary health centres.  The Karibi-Whyte Hospital which is a news point these days was not well managed. We should have done better in that area. The goal was to reduce medical tourism abroad by investing in our  ealthcare systems. But I cannot tell you I know why that project was stopped. The complications were many.

So Gov. Wike is continuing on the legacies of the past administration?

Gov. Wike and myself were in the trenches with a few others to make former Gov. Amaechi realize and bring to bear his governorship. There we saw ourselves as young men that can rely on one another to fight for a goal and establish it committedly. Beyond that, we had the natural attribute of politics and we saw him in that light. But I did not know that there are other aspects of him such as playing politics calmly and achieving goals.

All that he knows would be beneficial to the state are what he has put his hand in. The ones he has not attended to may be due to lack of funds. I believe the Karibi-Whyte Hospital has been attended to because it is a private project. I must say that by the time we left office, we were having financial crises. So I begin to wonder how he manages the funds to do these much projects.

Tell us about your stewardship.

As Commissioner for Health, I was not getting enough money to fund the primary healthcare centres. We made a law that in the first line charge from the JAC, 5% should go to the primary healthcare board. We could not get that out. We got just 3%. But today, I understand they receive the 5%. We declared free medical care, about two years before the end of our tenure, we weren’t able to pay. Kelsey Harrison hospital had to stop working because we owed about two billion naira for free medical care. There were no funds.  That is what we were made to understand. Now, a governor comes in and these things are happening. He is doing well. In the next 20 years, this singular Rivers State University medical school and teaching hospital would have attracted sufficient doctors to deliver healthcare to the people of Rivers State. Doctors were going to other states to be trained. Now, there will be no reason for a Rivers medical student to go outside to be trained.

What were your most memorable moments?

I was carried away with the primary healthcare I was building because it was probably the first time that a government looked at it. Before then, it was left for the Local Government Councils and they were not able to handle it. You will see what was called a primary health centre like a poultry. I thank God for the opportunity to have initiated the programmes we did with special assistance from the governor. Today, we are talking about COVID-19, but the Ebola virus crises posed a great challenge to us.  I must thank our staff, everyone joined hands to face Ebola in Rivers State. For that reason, we received award for effectively containing the spread of the virus.

Why are people scared of COVID-19 vaccination?

People are scared because of the wrong message passed by the media on the discovery and validation of vaccines for the coronavirus disease. No vaccine irrespective of where it was manufactured would be administered without validation in Nigeria.  All the fears are not necessary. Polio vaccination has been on for years. I will suggest we let the medical scientists handle the issues. It is time for the media to ask pertinent questions and not infiltrate our society with fake news. Vaccines enable the body to defend itself.  It takes a lot of effort to produce a vaccine and we cannot take down its relevance in this time of the pandemic.

Rivers State Government promoted syringe production. What happen?

Its politics fighting against politics. The project was inherited by our government from Dr. Peter Odili.  It was supposed to be big with the support of foreign partners. It was not actually a government project but an NGO, Pan African Health Foundation. Because of the relationship between former President Obasanjo and Dr. Odili, they decided to locate it in Rivers State. Gov. Odili gave grants and land to the foundation to start the production of syringes that should not be re-used. With donations from the Federal Government and several foreign partners, they were to build a 160 million syringe per annum factory. By the time we came on board, there were some structures but they had not started production.  Gov. Amaechi helped to complete and commission it. It was world-standard as certified by the WHO.  We had a challenge as the type of syringes produced were not competitive in the open market because syringes were selling for about N6 by the Chinese. But our cost of production was up to N10. We decided to expand the factory to produce more. So we had a project of 1 billion syringes per annum which could supply the whole country and persuade the federal government to inhibit the importation of syringes.

There were other things like medical devices, drip giving sets, granular, a lot of things that can be done in the factory, encapsulation, generally integrated medical devices. It was suppose to be funded by ECA Germany. The cost of the project was about 300 million dollars. Rivers State was to put in about 10% of the project cost, the rest of the fund was to come from Germany. We needed a patronage guarantee by the federal government that they Federal Government) would buy the syringes. While we were processing the papers, the Rivers state government gave a bridge financing to continue the project. I think we spent about 20 billion naira. When it was time to get the money in, we needed that guarantee from the federal government. If that guarantee was signed by the president, the bridge financing of 20 billion would automatically go back to Rivers state government and at that time, the rift between Amaechi and Jonathan had started.

Amaechi’s move to the APC stalled the move to get the Federal Government guarantee. The same thing happened when the tables changed. With APC at the helm of affairs and the PDP in control of the state, we are where we are today. The state government can revisit the factory if funds are available because originally the plan was for funds to come in.  Don’t forget there was a partnership between the federal and state governments more like a collaboration, bringing in the Pan-African Health Foundation.

Have you really returned to politics?

Before embarking on a journey, you must first assess yourself. As a follower, you listen to your leader.  But even in your own home, your father tells you things. When you are of age, you ask him some questions and you follow because he is your father. We went to the APC, at that time the general idea was the PDP was bad.   But it was party politics and we followed. Some people stood firm saying they would not move to the APC. But at a time, we began to ask pertinent questions of what our expectations were. We got to realize that all along   what they wanted to do was to remove the party at the centre for their own interest. So I decided to come back home to the PDP and make amends with my people. Again, politics is about patronage. Seeing there is nothing productive from the APC-led government after 6 years, I have no reason to stay there. I rather come back, team up with my people and look at the next election. All my friends there know when I take a decision like this I have my peace of mind. As I have come here (PDP), I am at peace and well, let us see what the future has for us.

Do you regret the times wasted?

 I regret it in one way, but it is a learning experience. It was a time to see the other side. Now we have seen both sides and have known which is better. That explains why I rejoined the PDP. It is my family. Nobody persuaded me when I joined the party after its formation in 1998 as a young doctor. I was not a full time politician then. The only reason I left PDP was because my leader, Gov. Amaechi left and since we achieved a lot together, I decided to give it a try. But grudgingly I left, and happily I came back.

What is your projection for 2023?

A lot of things are happening now. With my experience, it is to go slow and observe what is going on. This is a transition phase both at the federal and state level, we must watch a lot of things. But first thing is support my old family, to work with them and to encourage them to be together.  We have lost a lot of grounds in the state.  If not the doggedness of Gov. Wike, we would have lost the state. But now is the time to hold hands, elbow to elbow so that we can do well. But it is too early for people to scramble for positions and display ambitions.

What is your advice for Gov. Wike?

He will go through a turbulent time this transition period.  But he should be calm. This is a time to focus only on God.  If he has been living 50% for God, he should increase it to 70%. He is going to have a lot of temptations. This is the time, transition hour. We have not had a peaceful transition from Amaechi. He needs to be careful so that he would get a peaceful transition.   

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Interview

Tourism Involves All Facets of Human Life

Steve Isokariari, Managing Director of Dial Travels Nig Ltd is a leading tourism practitioner in Nigeria. In an inclusive interview with The Vortex Newspapers, Isokariari who for several on World Tourism Day years headed the Nigeria travelling agencies Board of Trustees, spoke on how Rivers State can boost its internal revenue, create jobs for the populace and expand the economy through tourism .

Tell us about tourism generally. We don’t seem to understand this business of tourism. Are we doing tourism?

 Yes. The world is doing tourism. But tourism in Nigeria, No. We do not do tourism in this country. If we are really doing tourism in Nigeria, every citizen in the North of the country will be surviving in dollars. We have many tourism natural destinations in the North, but we are not utilizing them and we are wasting opportunities to earn money in foreign currency.

Tourism generally is not a Nigerian affair. Maybe because we have crude oil. But there are other countries with abundance of crude oil who still promote tourism. Tourism can bring things that you never expect in terms of growth to the economy and creating opportunities for wealth and generally creating happiness in the lives of the citizens.

A man can come here on holidays and see where he can invest. Tourism is life. Because it affects and relates to every aspects of our everyday living. We were in Japan few years ago, and we saw that some communities in Japan don’t eat what everybody else eat. And the average man in that community is between 80 and 100 years. A 50 years old man  is considered very young. Their Chief is 150 years. And they still look strong. How we eat, what we eat is tourism.

We (tourism practitioners) are working on a project to unite Africa through tourism. There is so much knowledge we can get from tourism. For example, we travelled to Egypt and discovered there is only one river in the whole of Egypt called the River Nile. Egypt is also described as a “Land of No Rain.” They have very ancient mosques.  One has to pay 20-50 dollars to have a view of historical sites. We also have ancient mosques in Nigeria, in Kano, Sokoto and the likes but attention is not given to them so our ancient mosques don’t generate income.

We visit Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and other African Countries because they are safe and secure for visitors. The same cannot be seen of Nigeria especially in the North as Boko Haram kills scores of people and they are coming down to other states. People love to visit places with assurance of safety; where they can enjoy themselves and go back to their country when they like. They won’t come to unsafe or insecure places.

How can Rivers State benefit from Tourism?

If Rivers State is to truly benefit from the enormous potentials in tourism, the industry should be handed over to the private sector. The problems that has militated against tourism development in Rivers State has been overwhelmingly that of lack of political will. There is also lack of seriousness, professionalism, in fact, lack of vision and patriotism.

Tourism is acclaimed all over the world as the fastest growing industry. The potentials of tourism in Rivers State are much bigger than that of crude oil when harnessed. To benefit from tourism, we have to start creating the right environment, bring in professionals and put the right structures in place.

What is Rivers State losing from the tourism sector?

Rivers State is losing so much because we have not been able to build our systems to encourage tourism. We are losing treasures that should give us good fortunes in return. When tourists visit, they invest in their host economy, create wealth for the local populace and generally improve their host community as they do their business. They also pay tax to the government and thereby generate income for the state government and reduce social tension that leads to crime.

Compare tourism in Nigeria and South Africa.

There is no basis for comparison between Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria is way behind South Africa in tourism. South Africa makes between $50 to $100 billion annually from tourism. Tourism is a highly competitive industry. It is done by creative presentation, packaging and persuasions. South Africa placed a ban on the importation of vehicles. This forced multi-national companies to begin the production of cars that are made in South Africa. With this, more persons have access to cheap cars that are made in South Africa.

The reality is that most of the authorities who are charged with our tourism matters have no real ideas or deep knowledge and patriotic intentions to develop the  tourism industry. Until we change this narrative, we will keep missing out on the goals and broad prospects of tourism.

Thoughts on the financial benefits of Tourism?

If we are willing to develop our natural potentials, we can make more money from tourism in Rivers State. There are several tourists sites in Rivers State that are begging for attention. We must develop a tourism masterplan to ensure sustainable tourism development in Rivers State. We must remember that ideas are the root seeds of development and no matter the quantum of natural resources, attractions, endowment and potentials that a people may be blessed with, without the right ideas, nothing good would ever accrue to them from such endowments and resources.

 State State Government recently approved the fund to revived the Port Harcourt Zoo

Tourism does not exist, because we have not allowed it to work for us. Tourism is beyond zoological garden and parks. If tourism is developed, we won’t be talking of unemployment because the tourism industry can provide many jobs for youths and even increase our internal revenue through taxes. It is saddening to see that despite the large tourism potentials in our state and country, we are yet to take advantage of them and benefit from them. Until those in authority open their hearts, minds and hands to accommodate creative and committed tourism practitioners, and join hands with them to sincerely develop the industry, we cannot make any progress in tourism.

At different times in the past, we have encouraged businessmen to visit Rivers State and invest. Many of our tourist associates across Africa, Americas and Europe have honoured our invitation and embarked on business trips to the state and all it required for them to put money is commitment by government. But they left frustrated as they could not even have the opportunity to see those in authority.

On the World Tourism Day celebration, I will be in Bayelsa where I have been invited to deliver a keynote speech on the development and value of tourism. Naturally I should be in my state  to celebrate the day.

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Interview

We’ll Raise A United Church For Christ- Bishop Atuboyedia

Rt. Rev. Enoch Atuboyedia in an exclusive interview with The Vortex publisher, Alpheaus Paul-Worika speaks on his mission and vision for the Diocese of Okrika. 

How will you describe your election as Bishop?

I believe that what God has ordained, is what comes to pass in the lives of individuals. Concerning the Bishopric of Okrika, there were many interest, but at the end what God fore-ordained came to pass on the 2nd of July, when the Bishops of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion met to elect a successor-Bishop for the Diocese of Okrika. I won’t say the electoral process was all rosy. But God intervened and I emerged as the only candidate for election. When the nominations were made; after my nomination there was no other nomination, even people who had candidates dropped their nominations and at the end, I was the only nominated candidate and was voted for by the entire House of Bishops, and was confirmed by the Primate of All Nigeria on the 10th day of August, 2020.

Were you looking forward to being a Bishop when you joined the priesthood?

 As an individual, I will say No. But by Divine providence, I will say yes. Because in 1993, when God started talking clearly concerning me being a priest, He gave a revelation that said I will become a priest and I will rise in the ranks of the priesthood; and I will get to the top and at the top, he has an assignment for me. By that revelation I will say yes. But as an individual, becoming a Bishop was out of it.

What is your mission in the ministry?

My mission in the ministry is to see that souls are won for the kingdom and people under the bondage and chains of the enemy are set free. That is why my passion in ministry is in prayers, deliverance and healing. I want to see men liberated from sin and the bondage of the enemy.

Tell us about the Anglican Communion and the Ministry of Deliverance, Healing?

If you read our 16, 62 Book of Common prayer, all those things are stated; prayer and fasting, vigils etc. are stated. As an individual, I have never been a member of the Scripture Union to say I learnt what I do from the Scripture Union. Neither have I been a member of the NIFES or Students Christian Movement to say I have my charismatic background from them. Everything I have today is from the Anglican Communion. By God’s grace, I started a deliverance ministry within the Diocese of Okrika since November 2005, which has not stopped functioning. That is the popular Christ the King Ministry in the Diocese of Okrika.

What is your vision for the Diocese?

My vision for the Holy See of Okrika is to first consolidate on the gains of my predecessor. Secondly, by the grace of God, to conquer new grounds.  Thirdly, to raise a united church that will speak with a strong voice in the Okrika nation, so much that the land will listen and obey the voice of the church. 

What kind of leadership should we expect from the Bishop?

I belong to the people, and my leadership style has been that of servant-leadership. And even at this elevated position, I will still uphold that. I will also ensure it is an all-inclusive leadership.

There seem to be so much excitement on your enthronement?

I believe the excitement is based on the fact that over the years, God has used us to touch the lives of many, Anglicans and non-Anglicans. I must confess, this is one election that even non-Anglicans are celebrating. Non-Anglicans seem to celebrate it even more. It was not just Anglicans that expected the enthronement, the entire Okrika Nation expects the enthronement with excitement.

What can you say about your predecessor?

My predecessor Bishop Abere T.R. is humility personified. He is a father, not just a leader. He accommodates and carries everyone along. Talking about him will take me time. He is an inspiration of what a pastoral ministry is and what is should be. He is someone that can be counted on at any time.

As a clergy, I was privileged to directly work under him for over 6 years. as Archdeacon of the Cathedral. At any given time, he was there as a father. I strongly believe the shoe he left behind is a big one. I don’t think I can fit into that shoe, but by God’s grace, I will do my best.

What is your advice to Youths?

They should remain focused and be directed. Once you know your God-given purpose on earth, it won’t be a struggle to have a direction. All that you need to do is to identify and pursue that purpose and remain focused no matter the distractions that come your way. And with the grace of God, you will get there.

Youths should learn to take responsibility. Many a times we shy away from things because we are not ready to take responsibilities. Apart from being a Sunday School teacher at the age of 15; at the age of 28, I was already a vicar in the Anglican Church. I was chairing the PCC meetings, directing the affairs of the church, even when some members of the PCC were as old as my father, and some even older than him. If Diete-Spiff became Governor of Rivers State at the age of 25, and ruled creditably, one can still perform better under God. Youths should rise to the challenge of taking responsibilities and moving the Nation forward.

On the Journey so far?

I was made a deacon in St. Peter’s Church, Okrika, now St. Peter’s Cathedral on the 20th of July 1997. Our priesthood ordination was moved forward because of the Lambert  conference in 1998. So priesthood came up on 29th of November, 1998 here in Bethel Church. I became a church worker as a student in the Bible School in 1995. In 1995, All-Saints Anglican Church, Okochiri was established and I became the first worker of that parish and I nurtured that station. I left that station after my ordination in 1997. After 10 years, in 2007, I went back to become the first Vicar of the Church. Where I actually started the Church work as a non-priest, was where I also started as priest.

What we have as All Saint Church building today was drawn under my administration. The first bag of cement was bought by me. The foundation, roofing, virtually everything about that Church building before I left for the Cathedral was initiated by me.

What would you say to your congregation?

In as much as everyone is happy that from Bethel Church, I have emerged as the new Bishop of Okrika, they are sad that they have to part with me. For the past 20 months, God has used us to impact on the spiritual needs of the people through numerous revival programs we have carried out from last year to this day.

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Interview

Journalists Must Multi-Task To Survive The New Age –Owolabi

With the mass media striving to sustain its core values of truth, accuracy, fairness and balance in the face of the onslaught by social media and other challenges that have affected the practice of journalism, the General Manager of Silverbird’s Rhythm 93.7, Port Harcourt, Pastor Segun Owolabi spoke with The Vortex Manasseh Paul-Worika

You are a pastor and also a journalist, how do you manage both responsibilities?

It’s grace. Personally, I’ve thought about this and how I’ve been able to manage this perfectly. I’m a Christian who’s a broadcaster, so when it comes to scale of priority, I am a Christian broadcaster, not a broadcaster who’s a Christian.

What can you say about governance in Rivers State?

I think Rivers State has come of age. I think people are being more conscious of the character of who becomes the governor of Rivers State. In the past, people look at your family tree, social and political class, but now, people don’t consider that again. People are looking at the pedigree; what are you made up of, what can you do for the society. I also think we are beginning to see a drift from politics to who this person is. Rivers State is generally known as a PDP state, but I foresee a change whereby a candidate is not chosen to be the governor because he belongs to the largest party. People are going to scrutinize the CV of who is going to be the governor.

Is the media living up to its expectation of holding government accountable to the state and country?

I think the media is beginning to assume that responsibility. I am not saying we have totally arrived compared to others states in the country who have been at it for a longer time.  I think in Rivers State, we are beginning to assume that responsibility. For the first time, we are seeing media houses taking a bold step to criticize government’s policies. In the past, it was not all like that; you see the media trying to submit to the government for fear. But right now, we are seeing journalists writing about the policies and even voicing their views on what they think is not right. I think the space is beginning to open because we have citizens’ journalism and participation in broadcasting now and that has even opened up the actions, working and the inactions of those in authority and has allowed for more criticisms and talks about government policies. But we need to take into context that criticism needs not be negative and that is what we need to get right. Criticism can be positive as well but whichever way it is, it should advance the course of society and help make the society a better place.

Is Rhythm 93.7 influenced by commercial pressures?

It is quite difficult particularly when you look at private and public broadcasting. I am a news man, and I tell people money does not make news, news is news. No matter how much you pay for news it is not the money that makes the program, it is the news in it. In as much as we know in private broadcasting we are there to make money, it is also important to note that people are consuming what we broadcast and once the people come to lose trust in you, you lose the people and the money. You must be able to draw the line and know which to give priority. Because at the end of the day, you exist for the people and this is the same market you want to reach. So if the people consider your market not accurate and trust worthy, there is a problem.

There are close to 20 radio stations in Rivers State. Is there a glut?

The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is responsible for the issuance of license. As a broadcaster, when you look at Lagos, the next place you want to talk about is Port Harcourt, in terms of volumes of adverts from agencies. But I think the NBC has not done a very good job. When you look at Lagos, there is a huge decentralization of commercialization and industrialization, but when you come to Rivers State, you talk about development being visible in Port Harcourt alone. So you find a situation where over 20 Radio stations are situated in Port Harcourt, non in Etche or Okrika. I think the NBC needs to take another look at how to spread it because Radio stations add to development. I think one of the things NBC needs to do is to ensure that professionals are issued licenses, not people whose interest is just to make money. There are many things we can do with a radio when it is handled by a professional. Radio, because of its transient and immediate nature addresses the need of the people faster than television or newspaper.

NBC needs to ask these questions; who are we giving this license? Where are they situated; and for what purpose?

Overseas, we have weather radio stations whose job is to tell you the weather, do the analysis of the weather, and tell you how to move each day. There is crime radio, etc; but here licenses are issued without asking the question, “What do you want to do”? There is so much we can do.

In what ways has Rhythm 93.7 contributed to Rivers sustainable development?

When we came to Rivers State, our focus was entertainment and we started with the slogan, “More music, less talk”. But we came to realize that the people need information and then we needed to change that entertainment bias to begin to meet the need of the people as such we needed to introduce some programs; Viewpoint, Talk of the town, etc because we understand the yearning of the people for news and news-related programs. If you listen to our news at 7am, we have a slogan, “Peace is priceless, terror is senseless, let us give peace a chance” and that has been on for a long time because we realized the peculiarity of Rivers State. We believe that in an atmosphere of peace, development thrives, so we need to reach the psyche of the people that peace is all that is needed. We have come up with different programs and slogans to help the state make progress.

If tuned into your station, what is the listener expected to get?

When you listen to Rhythm 93.7, we deliberately tailor our news to ensure that 70 percent of our news content is Rivers. Our priority and responsibility is Rivers. We understand that if the city thrives, we will thrive. And if the people are well informed, it will make our work easier. We are the first station that started 100 percent Port Harcourt. A music program that focus on talents from Port Harcourt.

How has your station encouraged citizen journalism?    

One of the ways we have encouraged that is by developing situations like the Eye-witness report, which gives opportunity to people to report happenings around them. But again, not all reports are published until they are verified. We give out our telephone and Whatsapp lines to ensure that people participate. And during elections, we are the only radio station in Rivers State that gives you a blow by blow account of elections in Rivers State. We have encouraged a lot of people to participate and they have had the trust in us that when they send reports to us and they are verified, they will be published.

What do you make of the invasion by Social media?

The advent of social media is not a death sentence for the traditional media. Social media has actually come to enhance the traditional media. Practitioners of the traditional media must understand that it is only a disruption and take advantage of the disruption or they will sink. Journalists should begin to think about personal blogs, podcasts, smart phones, etc. The presence of social media has not come to kill traditional media, but traditional journalists must ride on the crest of the social media. We are the ones trained, we understand news and what it is. As trained professionals, we give better analyses of news and how it is presented. I think journalists should take advantage of social media and not box themselves into a small corner.

What is the issue with training for staff?

Thank God for the internet which has helped us to train and retrain ourselves. Most courses are free online. In Rhythm, we have our own training times when senior journalists train junior journalists. We have classes for the younger journalists and even senior journalists update themselves. But the internet does it all. There are free sites that offer quality lessons. A man that wants to grow will always find a way to grow himself. Any journalist that wants to improve himself will find a way to improve himself.

How is your station a part of the #OurstateOurResponsiblity campaign by the Rivers State Ministry of Information?

I quite agree with the campaign and I think it is a very good policy. We owe it to our state. If we de-market our state then we will suffer for it. Even in the US, there are issues you don’t report. I am not saying tell a lie, but I am saying report so as not put the state down. If all I do every day is report violence and killings in Port Harcourt, that shows I don’t have an idea of how to report my story. There is a better way of reporting the story than making it appear terrifying. If you look at the security index report, Lagos State has more crime committed than Rivers State. But how come a lot of people don’t express the fear of going to Lagos but express fear coming to Port Harcourt it’s because we have not done our jobs very well as journalists in Rivers State. I am not saying don’t do your job as journalists, but there is a better way to go about it. Saying the truth but also being productive. I also think coming up with this slogan is not enough, government needs to deliberately train people on how to support the campaign. For some journalists, it is not because they want to report the bad news, it is because they don’t know how to report news and they need to be trained. Journalism is a developmental project.

How can you assess the Port Harcourt Press?

Port Harcourt press has come of age but I think Port Harcourt press is not cashing-in on what is has. When you look at the NUJ in Lagos, they recognize the veterans; there is a place for them. We don’t have a place for veterans here. Where is the place for people who have left an indelible mark in the profession? When you don’t have people to mentor young people, they tend to misbehave. But when they have mentors who they see as role models, they conform. Today in Rivers State, Journalists go for press conferences and chase brown envelopes. This has made the press lose its relevance. NUJ should have an archive of journalists in Port Harcourt who have done very well. Let people see them. Even Alhaji Lateef Jakande was recently honored in Lagos. It encourages the young journalists to do well.

What can you say about the local print industry?

I think there is need for sanitation in that sector, because anybody can just put up anything today and call it a newspaper and that is not suppose to be so. It is good to educate people but the motive for coming up with a newspaper is another thing. Even some prints considered local tabloids in Lagos are coming to take over Port Harcourt and our people are patronizing them more than the ones that tell our own story. That is perhaps because the people don’t have trust in us.

Journalists are treated as scapegoats by government and security agencies. What is your view?

This is a perception and I think we need to change this perception. No one will change this perception for us but journalists themselves. We should go above the begging mentality and know that we are professionals and members of the fourth estate of the realm. Everything starts with mentality. When the mentality is wrong, everything is wrong.

How do you contend with different perspectives in your newsroom and on the airwaves?

In the Newsroom we have the beat system which is working and we try to bring in some young people to handle some very key areas of reporting. Because we understand that our station is listened to by more young people, we want to begin to write the way the young people love. In that regards, we are training a lot of young people to assume that role. And we also have more of females in our newsroom because to me, ladies are more analytic in their writings.

How would you assess the press in the next 10 years?

I see many radio stations closing down, many newspapers winding up and many TV stations shutting down. There is going to be massive technology disruption, massive disruption from the social media. I see a situation where radio stations will start employing less because we have artificial intelligence coming up. I see a situation whereby a journalist who thinks all he’ll do is go to the field and come back to report may not fit in again. A journalist must be able to multitask. A broadcaster should be a reporter, a presenter, an editor, a content creator. In the next 10 years I see where a reporter comes back from the field, edit the story, present the story and produce it himself. We need to be up and doing.

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