How I empower members of my constituency – Barikor
PETER AGBA KALU
Tuesday, May 08 , 2012

Dr. Innocent Barikor

Honourable Dr. Innocent Barikor represents Gokana in the Rivers State House of Assembly and the Chairman, House Committee on Youths Employment. Recently he set up an ICT programme that was meant to inform his constituency and bring them up to date with the goings in the ICT world. The programme, was launched by Senator Magnus Abe, turned out to be a big eye opener for most of the constituents, who couldn’t differentiate a PC monitor from a TV.

After one year in office, what have you been able to do for your people?
First, I want to thank my people for the opportunity they have given me to serve them. It’s an opportunity they could have given to any other person. And quite a number of times we also have to thank God for this because I’m not the most intelligent or so.

So far we are a course. And I think the first strategic step one has taken is that of setting up an ICT programme to be predicated on my own perception and vision of what I think the place would look like in a few years to come. And one of the things that I have decided in doing is the fact that when I came into office I told myself that I was going to provide information to my people.
I was going to inform them on the programmes of government, I was going to give them information or what is happening. This is because I believe that there are three main challenges that face people in Nigeria. One of them is lack of access to information.

The second is lack of access to market and the last is lack of access to capital. Although capital appears to be the strongest of the three but information is also critical, particularly for the rural people who very often do not even have access to the kind of capital the way we define it.
So I actually have promised them that I will bring information for them, especially in the area of information technology. I was going to bring information directly to their threshold so that they know what is going on. I have identified their critical area of need which is employment and I started doing this as soon as I got into office. I send them text messages.

I have not less than 6,000 phone lines in my SMS platform for my constituency and I send them text messages on job opportunities that are available. I have gone further in the fact that they need more access. When I send them these text messages I refer them to the sources of these jobs. And because I already know they may not be satisfied that I’ve gone ahead to do my own research.

So when I get these job opportunities I list them out in my website. And from my website you can link up to the sources of job opportunities. However, my discovery is that my people are not adequately positioned in terms of capacity in ICT without to access information. This has been a problem.
We also have a challenge at hand which is that some of them do not really understand what the text messages are all about; for example I’ll tell you the story of a man whom I sent a text message and I said “See www this”. And the man, after about a period of three, four text messages like that, told me that “this man called www” doesn’t want me to get the job”. That he looked for him and could not find him (laughter).

(Laughter) Where did they look for him?
His was not the only case. I have about two of such ignorant cases and so I felt there was need for something to be done. It means that the money invested will not have any impact. So there was the need for us to begin to look at the way the ICT thing was being run.

The idea of an ICT workshop was not that it would achieve the ICT immediate needs of every person. But I have taken it because of the critical need, particularly in terms of not only job assessment but also in terms of our young people who are in school to be able to look for university JAMB, etc. you know the entrance exam is done online and, of course you realize that just recently NECO is beginning to say that very soon they would introduce NECO online.

Where will my people do such things?
That’s really my concern. And too, I thought that if not for anything, if it’s the only thing that I achieve in these four years to carry out a campaign that will sensitize parents, students, teachers, etc on the need for them to be ICT complaint, I think I have achieved something.

I started it October. This workshop is a foundation-laying ceremony for a long-term campaign that is directed at institutionalizing and repositioning the political, economic and social behavioural patterns of our people that will lead to the emergence of a knowledge-based economy. Particularly beginning with the emergence of an ICT-based economy.
Our direction is to have the competence of ICT persons. It looks gigantic, unimaginable – but I’m convinced that we will get there. And the journey must start now or never. My target and just like you will also look at my vision, you will be able to know where I’m going to. So this is my number one priority. When you go to the university they say your major and minor. This one is major.

The other ones are minor issues. You will do other things, you look at health; you look at this and you look at that whichever way you will see that ICT is our number one mission. So this is what we have for our people. We want to drive every person, arising from this workshop; we have been able to administer the next step. Both the participants and the practitioners, we have all agreed that the next step is a matching campaign.

We’re going to match across in the constituency. We would do a day of matching; students would be involved. Teachers would be involved, parents/teachers associations would be involved; ICT practitioners would be involved. We would do a match around the place to sensitize the people of the need to ensure that they are ICT – compliant. In this wise, parents should go beyond buying pen and notebooks for their children. They should begin to add computers – those who can afford.

You know, this campaign should not be left in our hands only. There are parents who can afford but because they too are ignorant they do not know that these are instruments of the 21st century. We need to let them realize that while they’re buying notebooks and pens, they need to buy computers as well.

And indeed to let them know that even with the computers we should also talk about looking up to the internet – giving the students more guidelines and opportunities on the subjects taught at school. We’re making them to realize that the illiterates of yesterday were those who could not read and write but the illiterates of today may be able to read and write but are not ICT-compliant. So there’s the need to be competent on ICT.

You may not have a Ph.D but very fine, you can read and write but if you’re not ICT-compliant you’re dysfunctional in this 21st Century. So we must make them realize that this is the direction that the present children must go in order for them to become builders. Because the constituency cannot exist outside the global tracking of global relationships. So this is the process and some of the things we have started working on.

They may appear intangible because they affect the minds of the people. They’re not structures that are seen. We’re determined to succeed so that some day people can sit in River State and say, well if you want to promote your position in ICT go to Gokana. That’s where we’re driving to.

At the moment, we have strong ICT centres at the local governments that are very effectively managed and easily accessible to the constituents there for everybody to use. Even some multinational organizations have been going there and they’re comfortable. So having gotten such infrastructure on ground, I mean, it doesn’t make sense that we should begin to sidetrack our people. So this is the major achievement so far.

Governor Amaechi paints the picture of a radical though on a positive side. But being some one who once he is convinced about an issue it becomes difficult to change his mind, how do you people work with him?
Is it not difficult for member of the River State House of Assembly to work with such a man with executive power?
If you understand our governor, he’s not a difficult person. He’s somebody you need to understand. And what you need to understand him on is that in the first instance, he’s somebody that palliates what is right. He permeates what is right and so if you’re somebody who is on the wrong side then you will always be in conflict with him.

But as far as I’m concerned the first thing to understand about Governor Amaechi is the fact that he goes for what is right and if you’re on that same template with him then you don’t have any problem.
For me and for the Assembly we don’t have any problem with him because we appreciate his commitment to the development of the state. We appreciate his concern to ensure that things are left behind we are going to share in that process. We are going to share the glory with him, it’s not just him. So we don’t have any problems working with him.
So there is balance but there’s no longer checks.

There’s what?
Balance, but there’s no longer check?
It’s not a matter of checks. The system has checks. For example the House of Assembly has ways and means by which it carries out its checks, you understand. That does not mean that if the Governor raises an issue and we as members; we may not necessarily go out.

We meet with the Governor on a monthly basis. So if we have an issue why can’t we sort it out? Must we go to the public before we can sort out issues?
He makes it a point of duty to meet with the Assembly every month where we discuss issues; where we raise our own sensitive issues that concern the development process and issues and be resolved. So it is not only when we go to the assembly and starts making noise that you see government. Government is not supposed to be just that of confrontation. Government understands and that’s the kind of government that is being run in River State. We discuss.

Is there any mechanism that the House has put in place to enable the seventh assembly improve on bills passed into law by the state assembly? I mean bills that are of direct benefit to the ordinary man in the street that you represent?
We have bills, they’re documented. We have the employment and protection of River State indigenes levels 1 – 6. those at levels  1-6 are supposed to be indigenes that are given first opportunities in terms of appointment.
These are those that affect our people and we also have the bill on the law of protection of Female Genital mutilation. All these are laws that were passed that affect the lives of our people. There are several others – in fact, there’s a compendium of laws that have been passed.

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