Because I Am Involved: The Rssda Story and the Plight of the Returning Students (Reply to Rivers Amachree)

I realised early, as I grew into adulthood in Rivers State that the average Rivers man was a proud man. This is even worse with those of us from the Ijaw extraction, we were bold and fearless in calling a spade a spade; we called the bluff of the wealthiest of men asking them to get to hell with whatever gift they bore and allow us the freedom to express ourselves without undue influence -that was the pride of the true Rivers man.

Today, what I see is frightening, as the same fearless people are cowed into lies and deceit just for personal gains. They line their pockets up with peanuts from political overlords and double speak without an iota of shame. They are ready to defend skewed and unpopular vendetta-ridden policies out of bias. It is very sad and shameful that the Rivers man has suddenly lost his voice in this NEW Rivers State, swallowing hook, line and sinker, the balderdash of a drowning macabre dancer.

I was employed into the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) barely eight months after Mr. Noble Egbert Pepple became the Executive Director of the Agency in October 2010. I served in the Agency in the capacity of Technical Assistant to the Executive Director/CEO and Manager, Government Relations. By virtue of my position as Technical Assistant to the ED/CEO I was also a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) – the highest decision making management team of the Agency.

It is a fact that as at the time Mr. Pepple got on board RSSDA, there were legacy issues he inherited from his predecessor such as:

1. Absence of a well-defined organisational structure.

2. Undue influence of politicians in the Scholarship Award process.

3. Absence of the Agency’s Board as stipulated by law.

4. Properly defined key performance indicators for project implementation.

5. Students sent to Indian Universities the Federal Ministry of Education in Nigeria had not verified their accreditation status.

6. Use of consultants to drive scholarship process

Amidst these challenges, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, did not shut-down the Agency, neither did he abandon the vision of RSSDA which in the first instance was not his vision, but that of his predecessor, Dr Peter Otunnuya Odili (RSSDA started as Rivers State Sustainable Development Project, RSSDP – a project under then Governor Peter Odili, with Odein Ajubogobia as its first Executive Director). Instead, he appointed a new Executive Director/CEO, in the person of Mr. Noble Egbert Pepple in the first quarter of 2010 to replace Mr. Bolaji Ogunseye and charged him with the responsibility of fixing the problems.

This well thought-out strategy by Governor Amaechi yielded the following results:

1. Mr. Noble E. Pepple with the help of Accenture, started out by setting out a clear and well defined Organisational Structure for the Agency.

2. Mr. Pepple, to ensure transparency of the process and adhering to global best practices introduced a policy that banned children and wards of members of staff of the Agency from applying for the Scholarships. He also put an end to the seemingly undue influence of politicians over the scholarship program by approaching Governor Amaechi in the company of the Agency’s Chairman Sir Precious Omuku, requesting the Governor to officially set aside 30% of the scholarship for the political class to which Governor Wike was also a beneficiary. This was referred to as the Protocol List which I coordinated by virtue of my position as the Government Relations Manager of RSSDA. In other words, if you feel you are influential in Rivers State, go to the Governor and if he agrees to include you in his 30% that is fine. Otherwise, your child or ward will be subjected to competing for the remaining 70% with others via a transparent test/interview process driven by Cinfores and some University professors respectively. RSSDA has always made this process including the official 30% public in several press interviews.

3. The RSSDA Board is a very complex one. As a matter of fact it is the most complex Board of all the parastatals in Rivers State. However, after over3 years of hard work both from the office of Governor Amaechi and the then State House of Assembly, the Board was finally set-up and inaugurated, with the captains of different industries on-board in 2014. Our expectations were very high as all the board members came with several years of experience and anticipated value addition. Regrettably, hardly had the members settled in to work before Governor Wike dissolved the Board with a wave of the hand. Over three years high level consultation and interfacing just wasted because of an obvious lack of the sense of continuity.

4. Mr. Noble Pepple redefined the Agency’s project implementation strategy with the following key performance indicators: Partnership, Sustainability, a well-defined Social Component to be borne by RSSDA just to accommodate the poor and finally, Market Access. That was the model on which subsequent projects like the Songhai Farm, the Alanblankia Project, and the DADTCO Rivers Cassava Initiative were built on; giving them a stand-alone status to stand the test of time.

5. The issue of the students in India was resolved as Mr. Noble Pepple commissioned me to drive the process which required me to engage with the then Minister for Education and her Minister of State for Education and current Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike. After six months of moving back and forth, the Federal Ministry of Education eventually confirmed the accreditation status of all the Universities our students were attending in India, and the students were allowed to proceed to NYSC.

6. Mr. Noble E. Pepple discontinued the use of consultants to drive the scholarship process as he considered it an unnecessary burden on the Agency. As at the 1st quarter of 2011 barely one year in office, Mr. Pepple had commenced the disengagement of consultants, making room for internalized driving of the Scholarship process and direct engagement with the students abroad.

It is therefore an outright act of wickedness for someone to accuse Amaechi of using consultants to drive the scholarship process when in the first instance most of what the writer of this article dished out as defence for Mr. Wike’s poorly thought out strategy – returning Rivers students on a Government Scholarship are legacy issues that the same Amaechi’s administration had long addressed and resolved. Besides, the financials dished out by this writer is another bundle of lies, as RSSDA never spent anything near N60m per student on a first degree program.

The truth of the matter which is also very glaring to all eyes in Rivers State is that Amaechi sustained the scholarship program and several other programs he initiated while in office. He even paid RSSDA staff salaries up to May 2015 when he left office. Wike has not paid RSSDA staff salary for even one month since he came on board, as a matter of fact, I received up to my May salary before I stepped out of that office on 27th May 2015 and I am very much aware that since then, workers of the Agency have not been paid. Wike is only attacking RSSDA and punishing innocent Rivers State students because he is under the assumption that RSSDA was sympathetic to APC during the last elections.

Is it not laughable that a man who borrows one billion naira per day is not able to spend N500m every month to sort out Rivers Students abroad? Is it not also laughable that a Commissioner for Agriculture is handling scholarship matters? Is it not ridiculous that the only Agency in Rivers State that releases its annual report to the public is now being smeared with litany of accusations? It is only small heads who won’t understand that Wike did not destroy RSSDA the day he told the workers to go home, he actually destroyed it barely one week after he was sworn in when he went on air to tell the world that the RSSDA scholarship was a sham. Like I mentioned earlier, the Agency’s policy trust was centred on driving projects through partnership, which was why its Board was set-up with key players in the multinational sector, having made that statement, the wrong signal was sent to those multinationals and even if he had not dissolved the Board, they would have pulled themselves out.

I wish to state for the avoidance of doubt, that Amaechi has not paid me to do this write-up, I am a man of integrity and I am comfortable to a very large extent. As a British and Nigerian lawyer I will always have garri on my table, so although I am a member of the APC I am beyond petty party politicking and cannot be paid by anyone to do dirty works. All I have written here is to the best of my knowledge the truth of the matter and I can’t stand not saying it especially because I was involved.

Clinton Dan-Jumbo Esq

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