Need for economic revival stirs REIF’s governorship debate in Rivers

...As absence of Wike’s choice raises concerns

Hunger for urgent economic revival of the Rivers economy took the centre stage Sunday evening at the governorship debate organised by the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF).

The absence of Governor Nyesom Wike’s preferred candidate, Sim Fubara of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), attracted serious concern.

REIF is a body of investors (local and foreign) and business gurus who seek enabling environment for businesses to thrive, its president, Ibifiri Bobmanuel has continued to say.

All the three candidates that made it to the podium (APCs Tonye Cole, LP’s Beatrice Itubo, and SDP’s Magnus Abe), spoke enthusiastically about the urgent need to revive the Rivers’ economy.

They each hinged answers to all other questions posed to them (be it security, education, and peace) to getting the Rivers economy back on stream. They talked about days back when youths easily got jobs at industrial layouts.

The debate, which was aired live on several television and radio channels, devoted the biggest part (Section A) to Economy. The panel led by Segun Owolabi of Super FM in Port Harcourt pelted all three candidates on job creation, poverty reduction, agriculture, and abandoned projects.

Unemployment seemed to attract the biggest attention as the panel read out scary figures by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which showed that Rivers State is second on youth unemployment (1.4m) with a staggering poverty rate of over 4.4m persons or 62.4 percent out of over seven million people.

In this, APC’s Cole remarked that coming out of poverty is harder than getting into it, and said his first step would be to stop more persons from going into poverty.

He promised to create a poverty payment scheme for the poorest category and more importantly to assist 100,000 persons per local council of the 23 local councils in the state out of poverty.

He also talked about creating an alternative economy and to explore the blue economy to take youths out of crime.

Labour Party’s Itubo said she would launch a needs assessment drive to know the most urgent needs of the people and the abandoned projects to revive, and to pay all pension arrears and promote workers.

She said she would work with business groups such as the National Associations of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) to create a new economy for the state.

She also talked about creating a manpower incubation centre and vocational centres to boost human capital. To raise funds, she said she would plug leakages and wastes including frivolous donations.

Abe of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) talked of need to re-industrialise the state. He said he would separate government business from private business so government people would be different from government contractors.

Abe talked about the return of open bidding system and that banks would be made to create credit to small businesses as new industrial estates would spring up.

He said he would tackle security to attract back fleeing businesses and install a functional civil service that would deliver efficient services to the people and thus attract businesses.

Read also: Why investors organize Rivers guber debate series since 2015 – Bobmanuel

He talked about paying policemen posted to the state and train them as was done before and pay teachers more to galvanise the education sector.

Most Rivers people who craved to encounter Fubara of the PDP may have been disappointed as the candidate backed by Gov Wike failed to show up without any excuse. In all the PDP rallies, it has been Wike that talks while Fubara just greets the people, observers said. They felt the debate would bring him out his master’s shadows so he could show the stuff he is made of. This did not happen.

In his welcome remarks, the Debate chairman, Bobmanuel, said the effort to make businesses have a say in democracy started in 2015 and gave birth to the Rivers Debate group. He said the aim is to set agenda for any incoming governor and his team.

The REIF president said the group cared much about how to galvanize potentials to reality and pointed at internally generated revenue (taxes) and communal clashes as major issues.

The participants were made to sign a peace accord which he said the winner is usually made to comply with.

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