Delta State Information Commissioner, Chike Ogeah, a lawyer, gives kudos to the second civilian governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori for his efforts in “setting up a new state” and hailed Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s “massive vision” of Delta Beyond Oil Economic Strategy which he notes has achieved wonderful results
How has Delta State moved from one point to the other in the last 15 years of democracy?
Well, we give God the glory that we are where we are now because I must say that it hasn’t been without some challenges. In the first administration in the democratic dispensation, we had to contend with the problem of setting up a new state. I remember His Excellency, the governor, who was a commissioner then; they used to work from caravans. Here where I am talking with you now (Summit Road), I remember in my younger days, we used to call it the “evil forest” because the town stopped just after St. Patricks College. And there was no development. So basically, what I felt was that the administration of Governor James Ibori did its best in trying to set up a new state, with all the attendant problems, such as inter-ethnic rivalries and all that. If you remember at that time, a number of people in Delta State believed that the capital was wrongly chosen. There were all kinds of ethnic issues, especially from our brothers from the Urhobo stock. They felt that if anything, the capital should be located somewhere there, and in their heart, they didn’t even recognise Asaba as the state capital. That administration did everything it could to settle the people down, mend all those cracks, and of course, even in the area of development; they did their bit to structure the state. And then came 2007, when this administration came in.
Well, as you know, I didn’t join the administration until later. This governor, being part of the preceding administration, played a pivotal role as a commissioner, then as SSG. He was obviously an integral part of the government. He intended to complete the projects that that first government started on ascension of his office as governor, and while I think he was doing that, he was also working out what his own legacy will be to the Deltans and all that. I guess he was doing very well in the last administration when a court judgement came out from nowhere and removed him from office. Then we went through a period of elections, going back to what was called the re-run election. After that, we went through another tortuous period of litigations, going through the whole gamut of the court, up to the Supreme Court. That shows how bitter the elections were, but to his credit, I felt he now decided that this is the right time to work, and he bent down, and of course, based on his three-point agenda – infrastructure development; peace and security; and human capital development. He now proceded to what I can call, rabid industrialisation, and that is what has happened in Delta State.
To me, I will say that three-point agenda is his strategy for development. But he needed to have a tactic to actualise that. The tactic I guess is what he called Delta Beyond Oil, which I feel is just his own way of, after sharing his vision of how can we rid this state of its over-dependence on oil and hydro-carbons, knowing that these resources could finish at any time. Then there is the other issue, the fact that oil is being discovered everywhere. So many countries in Africa, then the Americans have discovered the shale oil, which is a cheaper form of oil, and we all know that what can hold down the value of any commodity is the scarcity of it. So, if all of a sudden, it is being found everywhere, it tells us that a day will come, and our oil would not be as valuable as it is. To that extent, I think that is a great vision, and we looked at about five, six thematic areas where we have natural comparative advantage, these are the areas where he felt we could do much better than oil as well.
So, the whole idea is that the money that accrues to the state from oil right now, we can use to start development in those areas, and it is wonderful that in the three years, we are beginning to see wonderful results with those things. The first one he did, he looked at the area of entertainment and tourism; whether you like it or not, look at all the young men and women in Nigeria, whether the Omawumis, the Gordons, the Ali Babas, the comedians, musicians, three out of every four entertainers are Deltans. We have a factory for them, and I think that would have informed part of why he got someone like Richard Mofe-Damijo, to come in here to develop those talents, knowing that that is his natural constituency. Because I guess if you go and do the GDP of Nollywood alone, I’m sure it will be greater that the whole of the African countries put together. So, we now decided that if we can develop our own Nollywood, like it’s being done elsewhere, you know Asaba is part of Nollywood, as this place is now the capital, all these movies you are seeing are shot in Asaba now. And there were also like I said, development of local talents and these people are beginning to see bright future. In our days, if I told my father I wanted to be a comedian or a singer, it is most likely he would have disowned me; but all these people are counting millions and billions to the bank every day. So, I think we’ve done very well in that.
And of course, the critical area of Agriculture; Delta is 40 per cent riverine. That means that with that kind of mixture of where we can grow aquaculture – fish, shrimps, you name it, everything that lives in the water, and then all the other major crops like cassava, rice, maize, sorghum, all these things. Of course, we should wean ourselves from the kind of subsistence farming we’ve been doing, and go into fully mechanised farming. And that is what we are doing in the area of Agriculture. I know we have two major departments in government, I think the ministry of commerce and industry, and, of course what Mrs Anthonia Ashiedu is doing in poverty alleviation, which is grooming a lot of farmers, both with credit.
Again, going back to the three-point agenda, look at the infrastructure development agenda. All the infrastructures have economic benefit. That is why if you look at the Asaba-Ughelli dualisation, that road is the road that connects Asaba, which is the political headquarters, and luckily five minutes away from the biggest market in the sub-Saharan Africa – Onitsha, as well as a massive commercial town like Nnewi, which is just another 20 minutes away. Now you find out that a lot of traders use to lose their lives through road accident trying to get to Lagos to clear their goods and all that. Now, we naturally have two major seaports, one in Koko and one in Warri. It is just that once again, we have this problem of what are the functions of the state government vis-a-vis the federal government, because the major challenge we are having with the ports now is the dredging of these ports so that deep ocean-going vessels can come in.
Again, this 156-kilometre Asaba-Ughelli highway is a federal government road, but we didn’t think about that because of the kind of advantage it will accrue to us commercially on both sides. We decided to embark on that ambitious project, but it is not 100 per cent done yet. We have challenges in one of the sections, but the work is going on. So like I said, when one needs to connect Asaba and Warri, where the oil companies are, and its environs, the road will come in handy. And then, to be able to get these traders from the East as well to be able to get their goods from the ports, we believe if we can do that, then we don’t have to be going to Lagos and you know what that would do to our economy. And then, there is our International Airport, which I can say is one of the best, because I remember when we started the project, the government had to take a lot of flank. No sooner have we finished that airport, than the then minister for aviation came and saw it, and then said this airport is one of the best architectural designs we are looking forward to. Again, around the airport, government has parcels of land where we are going to start agriculture project. The idea is to take most of these fruits like pineapples, oranges, while they are still fresh – take them abroad, because that airport, in another year or so, will go international. It is just being built in stages like airports are done anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, just that activity in aviation, you see how the trickle-down effect has affected all other aspects of the economy in Asaba and its environs.
Then of course we have attracted businesses; people are building. Like they say, Asaba is the fastest growing state capital city. There was no magic to that, other than the fact that we have opened up the place to business. Then another area the governor keeps saying no matter the kind of infrastructure you deliver to your people – the best roads, schools, the best hospitals – but if the people are poor and impoverished, you still haven’t done anything, and that is why we have the well-renowned award-winning Delta Micro-Credit Programme. This programme is basically an empowerment programme for the very poor section of the economy. The people that will be out there mugging you and I because they don’t have a choice, or the people out there begging on the streets, are the main target. And we felt that Deltans are very proud people; they want to fish, and not to be given fish. So, what is happening is that a new class of people, even the physically challenged, people that could not walk, but have one talent or another, or one skill or the other, are being empowered, and they are now employing people. Many of these products of theirs are finding their way to international market.
What are your own personal experiences of the benefits of democracy since you came into government as Commissioner for Information?
Well, you know democracy is a good thing because if nothing else, it holds leaders accountable and it gives a guarantee that there must be a turnover in leadership. What I have seen is that sometimes, especially in the lives of a state, that timeframe might not be enough to achieve all these lofty projects, particularly my governor. If he has a problem, it is that he is a big dreamer. His vision is massive, and that was why for a long time, we had all these criticism. People could not even understand his vision in the first place, they could not comprehend; they felt it was just too big. But now, it is all becoming clearer because now, when you look at it from the area of environment, he was one of the people who started shouting about climate change when Nigerians did not even know the effect at that time. But now the story is different.
His (the governor) vision is massive, and that was why for a long time, we had all these criticism. People could not even understand his vision in the first place, they could not comprehend; they felt it was just too big. But now, it is all becoming clearer