Tuesday last week, the Supreme Court affirmed the victory of
, medical doctor, in the April 11, 205 governorship elections in the state. Speaking to journalists last Wednesday in what was his first interactive session with the press since assuming office, Okowa explains why his main challengers, Great Ogboru of the Labour Party, and O’tega Emerhor of the All Progressives Congress, APC, owe Deltans an apology. He also speaks on other issues like Biafra, rumoured conflict with his predecessor, Delta Airport and security in the state
Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, was there. Here are excerpts of the media chat.
During the thanksgiving service following your victory at the Supreme Court last Tuesday, you asked your challengers, Great Ogboru of the Labour Party and O’tega Emerhor of the All Progressives Congress to apologize to Deltans. Why did you say that?
Ahead of the April 11 election, we were busy campaigning everywhere; my two brothers were busy struggling in one senatorial district as to who controls the votes in that senatorial district without really campaigning. And they wanted to be governors of Delta State, not senators. I did speak at that time … that if they wanted to be senators, then they can start struggling for who would control the votes of the Urhobos. But they wanted to be governors over all Deltans and therefore it was not right for somebody who aspired to be governor to limit himself to an ethnic-struggle. So, we campaigned and we won convincingly. Even in Delta Central, we won more Urhobo votes and more local governments than any one of the other two because the people believe in us. Then they decided to go to court. … But thank God for the justice system and the rule of law has prevailed.
It’s only fair, realizing that Deltans trooped out en masse to make the right choice and that a popular choice was declared, for them to have taken us through this level of distraction; they set Delta State aback, obviously, whether or not you like it. There were distractions. … But for me, they are my brothers and I will continue to say so and it is my appeal that they partner with this government to continue to offer the best for Delta State. But it is necessary that when you have taken the people for a ride, that you should offer apologies to them.
What are you doing about the state of insecurity in Warri area because more often than not, you hear sporadic shootings?
The shootings are not only in Warri; the shootings have even been more in the Ekpan area and involving other parts of Uvwie local government. We are really mindful of it and we’ve spoken a lot concerning that at our security council meeting. We have our own strategies as a government and it will not be right for me to put that out in the press so I am not going to speak about it here for now because we would be setting ourselves aback. … But … what happened [at] the Shoprite is an unfortunate incident and I don’t think any of us could have prayed for that. Initially, I didn’t believe that people could really go to the extent to which they went because when I heard about it, I thought it was one of those things. But when I saw the footage, because the CCTV camera took everything, and everything that happened with all the persons involved. So, before the police took the action to decide to declare some people wanted, and people talk about victimization; it’s very unfortunate. By the time the matter actually goes to court, because they have been trying to avoid facing the law. They are now asking the court to stop the police from arresting them; but by the time those things are presented in court really, I’m sure there would be no place for them to run to because they were completely captured.
What are you doing about the security of traditional rulers in the state in view of recent development whereby they are being targeted by kidnappers?
I am meeting with our traditional rulers today (Wednesday last week) in response to what is happening, to discuss issues concerning security. We are worried about what is going on. Security is not only about security agencies and government, it’s about all of us. Obviously, there are certain actions we need to take, and a lot of sacrifices until we have all these things sorted out. But just to let us realize it’s not a thing of pride; the issue of kidnapping, unfortunately is not an issue restricted to Delta State. It’s an issue that is in many places. We are conducting investigations into the death of the royal father in Ubulu-Uku; it’s a very unfortunate incident and it is quite painful. But preliminary investigations show that the kidnappers actually were not from Delta State. All those who have been arrested are actually from the north. The second royal father, Odiologbo of Olomoro was kidnapped unfortunately and had been released since two days ago. We will continue to do our best, but the times are difficult.
Exactly how much has been expended on the Asaba Airport in view of the fact that a state in the Southwest is constructing its airport at a cost of about N11 billion while from what we hear, the Asaba airport has gulped about N20 billion and still not completed?
I don’t want to talk about the issues of the past but about the project we have on ground now. What we are doing at the moment is to get the runway totally reconstructed in such a manner that it can take all sizes of aircraft. I can only commit myself on what we have at the moment. That contract is a little over five billion. The contract was awarded before I came in; it was awarded in May. We have also tested the figures and we know that the NCAA actually gave the consultant who did costing to the Delta State government so, it’s within acceptable value. A total construction, sometimes, you may not just compare our airport and the size of the money with that of any other airport. That airport as it is, the runway was more than 60 metres wide; I’m not aware of too many runways that are up to 60 metres wide all over the country, and even all over the world. So, the initial construction was obviously an over-construction. In that process, we also lost some value because the construction of the runway was not properly done. But this current runway is being reconstructed in such a manner that it brings into a very functional state and a dependable state.
Also realise that the runway is a 3.4 km runway and unfortunately, the choice of the site of the airport I believe was initially wrong and that has made it more expensive because even to bring down the hills for clearer vision alone is costing the state government a lot of billions of naira. So, a different site could have been chosen all over. So, when trying to compare two levels of costs, why not holding brief for the previous administration, you must look at various factors. You must look at relativity factor. But what we are doing at the moment is only the runway, which also involves the fencing and a few minor works.
When you came in, you did raise the alarm over huge debt profile of over N600 billion inherited from the previous administration. Do you still stand by this figure?
I talked about the debt exposure when I went to the House of Assembly. This is in two windows – fiscal debt exposure which is in term of quantum of cash that was supposed to have been left; and debts that were also there as a result of contractual agreements already entered into by the state. And that actually is still the situation. We have had to restructure the fiscal debt which was over a hundred billion. I think about 600 billion of fiscal debt but unfortunately, we have not been able to have any success yet. We restructured the money borrowed on bond – the N50 billion bond that was floated – and we are still in the process of having to pay very high monthly rates for the bond. We still pay in the neighbourhood of about N1, 98 000,000 every month to service that bond and that will continue to year 2018. But the other one has been restructured. But even with the restructuring, we have to pay about N919 million monthly and that will go on for several, several years. It’s restructured over 20 years.
So, at the moment, with other issues, we still pay over two billion monthly to service existing debts and that is a lot of challenge at this point in time that revenues are dwindling.
The impression is that all is not well between you and your predecessor in office. It was learnt that some people had been going to London to seek the intervention of Chief James Ibori to reconcile the both of you?
Reconciliation between Okowa and [Emmanuel] Uduaghan? This is very funny. In the first instance, I don’t have any problem with former Governor Uduaghan. He’s my friend; he had been my friend. We’ve been in this state together, and you people know, since 1998 before we came into government. We have been friends and we will remain friends. We may have had our differences before the primary election. After the primary, you saw us work together for the elections and we have remained so. He calls me regularly; I also call him regularly. He offers me advice that he can and even yesterday (February 3, 2016), we talked. So, there is no question of difference between us to warrant anybody going to London to our former Governor Ibori to reconcile us. You see, these are some of the very terrible rumours that are being peddled all around and that is why I always like to appeal that there is the need to cross-check whatever is going on. There was no real issue between the both of us, none. When he came, it was for him to offer advice. At least he visited me twice in the government house here. His wife has also visited me twice. So, we have had no issues not to talk about somebody setting out to reconcile us. That is the real truth. We are brothers.
The decision of the Federal Government to scrap the Maritime University, Gbaramatu, in Delta State is causing discontent in the Niger Delta region. How is your government intervening in this development?
I believe that all Deltans were excited when the issue of the Maritime University came up towards the tail end of the past administration. I believe that Nigeria needs even more than one Maritime University so it will not be right to scrap the only one that we have at the moment because we need a lot of this in Nigeria so that we are able to train our people in various aspects of the maritime economy. There is no doubt about that. What are we doing? I guess the Gbaramatu community is already talking with us. I received a delegation; I am expecting a letter from them which I hope to deliver to Mr. President so that the state and the community can actually seek audience with the President concerning this. There was a challenge before the whole thing came up at the tail end of the past administration. Some acquisition of buildings had been made in that arena and I don’t know if all the totality of the story had been told the president because I know that a governing council had been instituted and they are supposed to move forward.
The only thing we need to know is to be sure whether the school is fully established by law because I don’t think it will be right after all the expenditure made by the federal government to stop such an institution. It would be a huge loss for the federal government and it will also obviously be a major set-back. But this will continue to come up in our discussion with the presidency.
Agitators for a sovereign state of Biafra have often carried their protests to Delta State. What is your take on this agitation? Secondly, the Anioma, that is the Ibo-speaking peoples of Delta State are considered not to be true Ibos. How do you react to this?
Biafra agitation, I have criticized this. Aniomaland, as it is said, from here, was part of Bendel State. We were part of the Midwest State; we have not been part of the Southeast, so, obviously, we cannot be said to be part of them. We may speak a similar language but we are not part of the Southeast; we were part of the Midwest, we were part of Bendel State, we are now part of Delta State, we are now Delta State and we are Deltans.
As a former senator, now a governor saddled with managing the dwindling resources of the state, how do you feel that senators are planning to purchase sports utility vehicles to the tune of over N43 billion?
I believe that this is more about the press. I don’t believe, and the senate president has also confirmed so; that N43 billion was put there in the budget for vehicles is not true. It is not true. I do know that because of oversight functions. Once in four years, vehicles are actually advanced to members because you don’t expect them to start flogging their private vehicles all the time. But if you do the calculation of these vehicles, one per senator and even one per each House of Reps member, it will not even go anywhere near this and the senate president has even mentioned that. Even the total allocation of monies to the National Assembly as a whole, I am aware has dropped from the N150 billion that it used to be to N115 billion in this budget; so, I don’t think that that could have been possible when there is a drastic reduction in the money to the National Assembly. And that money includes a lot of things; it’s also a government of its own, we should understand. It is not just about the 360 members of the House of Representatives and 109 senators; you have staff complements. If the House of Assembly here with just 29 members could have its own House of Assembly Service Commission, and everything is there, what about a National Assembly with a huge number of people – 469 elected persons with the complimentary staff and with the staff of the commission; there are a lot of expenditures that goes on there. But if you look at the totality of the budget – N115 billion out of a six trillion budget, it is obviously less than two percent of the entire budget. So, it’s good that we try to have all these information. Sometimes, when the press holds unto something, they hold onto it very strongly. But they don’t even want to cross-check from the appropriation bill. From the information I have, this issue of N43 billion for cars is not true; that amount is not in the budget.