He once had cause to describe himself as the “guinea pig” of Nigeria’s democratic experiment. For seven out of the 15 years of Nigeria’s unbroken democratic journey, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, a medical doctor and Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON, has been on the driver’s seat as the third executive governor of the Delta State. Though there was no popping of champagne in celebration of this landmark achievement, because of what he described as “the state of the nation” occasioned by security challenges posed by the atrocities of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, Uduaghan however believed that “we have good reasons to celebrate because our democracy is maturing and things are getting better”. Miffed by the seeming helplessness of leaders of the North-east to arrest the menace of Boko Haram, Uduaghan in this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Tony Manuaka, senior associate editor, Stella Sawyerr, associate editor, Tony Akaeze, senior assistant editor and Adewale Adelola, senior photo journalist, said from his experience during the Niger Delta militancy, “I feel very bad that some of us who are leaders and who are supposed to take responsibility, are passing the buck. We’ve all experienced one form of criminal activity or the other. As a governor, I was made to enter the creeks without security…to engage our youths at the time they had their challenges. We have leaders in those areas and we hear people saying we do not know them; we cannot engage them”. Against the backdrop of the unsavoury relationship between the federal government and the opposition party, the governor noted that “the symbol of democracy is political parties. If opposition embarks on destroying the government, they would have destroyed democracy and without democracy, there can be no political parties”. On his stewardship, Uduaghan, with a sense of accomplishment, said his Delta Beyond Oil initiative is fast becoming a national creed or economic road map such that “we now hear of Nigeria Beyond Oil”. He said the Delta Beyond Oil is beyond sloganeering but real, adding that “Delta State is most favoured in terms of foreign investments”. He said much more.
It’s historic that we are celebrating 15 years of unbroken democratic journey but there are no drums rolled out in merriment. Why?
Yes, ordinarily, we should be celebrating; we have good reasons to celebrate. Our democracy is maturing; things are getting better. But I decided that we are not going into an elaborate celebration of the Democracy Day because of the state of the nation. We have a lot of security challenges nation-wide. We have some persons in a certain part of the country who cannot sleep with their two eyes closed because of the menace of Boko Haram. Worse still, we have some of our young girls who are where they are not supposed to be. We have our daughters that are still in captivity and every effort is being done by Mr. President to get them out, and so, this is not a time of celebration. We now decided that starting from the Children’s Day (May 27), we must dedicate this period to serious prayers for the peace and security of Nigeria with a lot of emphasis on the release of the abducted Chibok girls and every other abducted person as we go through this crisis. The fact that we are not going into serious celebration is not because we do not deserve to celebrate. We’ve done a lot; God has seen us to this day but we believe that this is a time to also pray to Him for the safety of our young ones.
In the 15 years of democracy, you have done seven years. What do you have to say about your stewardship?
I will say it’s been a long journey, but it’s also been a very short one; and when I look back, in fact, a few people who were opposed to me in the beginning have also had cause to say to me that if they knew that the eight years will come so soon, they wouldn’t have gone into the kind of opposition that they went into when I was seeking this office. What do I mean? These eight years are not as long as we imagined it. So, if you must destroy because you believe that eight years are so long you cannot wait for another eight years, you are not just destroying yourself, you are destroying the whole system. So, talking about my stewardship, these seven years have been very challenging. We’ve tried in the area of peace and security, in the area of infrastructure and human capital development. Today, Nigeria is passing through a phase; majorly, Boko Haram menace. There are other criminal activities – kidnapping, armed robbery – but the major challenge we have today is that of Boko Haram. And for us to solve the problem of Boko Haram, we all have to be involved. Leaders have to take responsibility at the federal and the state level. Sometimes, I listen to some programmes, I feel very bad that some of us who are leaders who are supposed to take responsibility are passing the buck. We’ve all experienced one form of criminal activities or the other. As a governor, I was made to enter the creeks without security. Because I believe in engagement, I went to the creeks to engage our youths at the time they had their challenges. I was made to walk through a road in one of our communities in the riverine areas; on both sides of the road, there were youths lined up who were shooting left, right and centre and I had to pass through to go and do what I came for. This is because I believe that 2007, May 29 when I took over and I took the oath, I knew that it was like a suicide mission.
But I also knew that the God who had sent me on that assignment will remove the suicide part of it. I may pass through pains, I may pass through tribulations but I knew that at the end, He’s going to give me victory. A lot of persons here were involved in trying to settle the problem. A lot of people entered the creeks. Even religious leaders had to enter the creeks to go and pray, to go and talk, to go and engage the youths. Why are we passing the buck? We have leaders in those areas and we hear people saying we do not know them; we cannot engage them. I want to appeal to every Nigerian especially for our brothers and sisters from that part of the country that we must be personally involved to end this crisis. It is not true that after so many years we do not know somebody who knows somebody who can identify these people. It is not possible; I don’t believe that because we cannot stay in Nigeria and allow some people to come and over-run Nigeria.
For us in Delta, we are not sleeping. We know there are threats. We have to support the Immigration Service and other security agencies to remove those who have illegally come into our state. They were almost overtaking this state. Right here in Okpanam Road, it was difficult for anybody to move without seeing them and we said no. Even as we were doing that, we also got opposition that we were removing some group of Nigerians from Delta. I said no, we are only removing those who have come to stay in this state illegally and are threats to the peace and security of this state. And we will continue to do that. Many of our farmers are afraid to go to their farms because of cattlemen; cattlemen who pursue our farmers from their farms, who carry AK 47 rifles to kill, to rape and harass our farmers. For us, that is not acceptable. We will not allow such cattlemen to remain in Delta. And that is why we have set up a committee headed by the commissioner of police to handle that issue. I want to assure every Deltan that wherever we have that challenge, we are ready to deal with it. Having said that, my appeal to our people in these trying times, is that we must be vigilant. As a landlord, who do you give your house to? As a community leader, who do you sell your land to for cattle-grazing? Because these cattlemen will tell you they bought the land or they have paid rent for the land and allowed to graze. So, our people must be on the watch-out; bombs are exploding every day. Security is everybody’s problem. As a government, we will do our bit, but the people must also do their bit.
How has democracy flourished or taken root in Delta State especially in respect of the relationship between the ruling party and the opposition parties in this state?
Let me say this, the relationship with other political parties called opposition has been cordial because they have been partners in our developmental efforts. People seem to have a wrong idea of what the role of an opposition should be in a democracy. The symbol of democracy is the political parties. But there is this misconception about what being in opposition is. It should not be about antagonising every policy or every action of the party in power. Unfortunately, this appears to be the case in some parts of the country especially at the national level, as if the ruling party has never done anything right. Some opposition leaders erroneously believe that being in opposition means opposing everything the party in power stands for, no. There must be constructive engagement because at the end of the day, we are all stakeholders in the development of our respective states or government at the centre. I must say that in Delta State, we have enjoyed some harmony with other political parties many of which have demonstrated political maturity in their relationship with the ruling party. I have a directorate in charge of inter-party affairs headed by a special adviser and he has been very proactive in carrying all the parties along in what we are doing and why we are doing them. They have also constructively engaged us, drawing our attention to what should be done, and making useful suggestions on how what we have done should have been done without trying to pull down anybody or the government.
You see, if the opposition embarks on destroying the government, they would have destroyed democracy and without democracy really, there can be no political parties. God forbid today, we don’t have a democratic government in any country, there would be no political parties and there would be no opposition. I want to appeal to those who say they are in opposition and you want to pull down the government either at the federal or state level, you should have a rethink because in pulling down the government, you are also pulling down yourselves. And in our own little way, we are assisting the political parties to effectively play the role of opposition by giving them grants. We are not buying them over but we are encouraging them to partner with us in our collective effort to develop Delta State because the state belongs to all of us. We are not buying over members of other political parties. The grant we give is to encourage them to partner with us in building Delta State. The state belongs to all of us and not just the PDP and I believe we all should be given a sense of belonging.
The entire country seems to have been bitten by the Delta Beyond Oil bug such that even the federal government is talking about Nigeria Beyond Oil. How did you come up with such initiative that is found worthy of emulation by other leaders?
I must confess that I am very excited that many of my colleagues and even the federal government have seen the merit in what we have been able to come up with and are tapping into it. The truth is that depending solely on oil revenue is akin to living for the present and a good leader should be able to think out of the box and project into the future. To me, there is nothing that has no terminal date except of course the grace of God. So, this oil that we have depended on for so long and still depending on, may one day dry up. We may wake up one day to the reality that it is no longer there or that the patronage is not as it used to be. So, Delta Beyond Oil was borne out of these imperatives. Secondly, it also had to do with my background or village experience as a young boy. I am never ashamed to say it over and over again that I grew up in the village and was involved in a lot of farming activities. Of course you know the typical village setting – no light, no pipe borne water and motorable roads and no healthcare facility. The only thing you can point to in terms of development or government presence was a school.
So, in that kind of environment, the two things that engaged people were going to the farm and going to school. While virtually everyone was engaged in farming, the young ones had to combine it with going to school. Going to school was no excuse for not going to the farm. We cultivated mainly cassava, yam and plantain. With these, our breakfast was sure. The women would roast the yam or plantain and we would eat them with palm oil. We also did not have any problem with lunch and dinner. Even though there was no pipe borne water, the river water was clean enough to drink such that one could pick a fish with your bare hand. Don’t forget that time, we engaged in subsistence farming; from what is harvested, we consumed and what was left sold in the market. There was no oil, there was no gas. With what was made from selling the produce, school fees were paid and other things taken care of. The import of this is that it was mainly an agrarian economy just as it was in most villages. Then came oil and its attendant challenges. Two things happened. One was massive pollution of the water in which we fished, the air and even the soil on which we farmed which greatly reduced our farming and fishing activities. In other words, the traditional occupation of the people was seriously affected. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, it gave a sense of what I call ‘quick and easy money’ to a lot of our youths. With destruction of the environment and inability to eke out a living out of farming, our youths found a new pastime in illegal bunkering activities in order to make easy money. So, when I came into office, it struck me that these resources would not be there forever. Even the fluctuation in prices of oil and gas has its negative effect on the economy as it makes budget implementation quite challenging. So, we sat down as a state, brainstormed and resolved that we must evolve an economic policy that would deal with this situation we are envisaging.
We then said okay, let us look at other areas of the economy where we can attract investments, especially in areas where we believe we have comparative advantage notably agriculture, culture and tourism. In this, you also require some precaution. That is how we started putting the building blocks until we arrived at the Delta Beyond Oil economic model. The original concept was Delta Without Oil but in the course of fine-tuning the programme, we settled for Delta Beyond Oil, which we believed makes more sense. So, ever since, we have been driving the process vigorously and I must say it’s an initiative that has come to stay with other leaders buying into it. We even now hear of Nigeria Beyond Oil. Ours is not just a slogan, ours is real; we are pursuing it vigorously and some of the fruits are beginning to be seen.
Yes, Delta Beyond Oil has proved to be a laudable economic model that has received wide acceptability. But the concern of many is the sustenance of this programme after your tenure. So, what is in place to guarantee its continuity?
I have never had any sleepless night over its sustenance. A good product will always sell itself no matter how any mischief-maker tries to discredit it. From my experience, there are three challenges any leader would face at whatever level of governance. One is that of peace and security, two, challenge of infrastructure, and three, is the challenge of human capital development. Even though you may have a thousand and one things you want to achieve during your tenure, all of them can be narrowed down to these three compartments. That was how I came up with the three-point agenda of this administration. So, what we have down is do proper planning so that whoever is taking over from me would already have a laid down plan to work with. That is to say the development plan is already there such that the state can run with it for the next 50 years. It is a long-term plan that would guarantee continuity. If you ask me, I don’t know anybody who would come in now and say I will not do Delta beyond Oil. If not that, what else would you be doing? Whatever programme you have must definitely fit into this economic model; except of course you are comfortable with the oil and gas alone. But that will not take you anywhere. Delta Beyond Oil is a programme that will ensure the future of Delta State; a programme that will ensure that our youths, our women and our men are employed. It’s a programme that will ensure unemployment is reduced and if unemployment is reduced, cases of criminality will reduce.
The Okpanam Road has been a problem particularly the drainage works which had been on for several years. What is happening there?
The Okpanam Road has been a challenge and like you mentioned, the challenge we even have now is the drainage. If you notice, where we started the drainage work is just before the state secretariat for the first phase. The second phase initially was to be done by the contractors who did the first phase. But because we have also awarded the road right now to Okpanam for dualisation, we thought it was better to give the drainage to the same contractors who are working on the road. Now, one of the most difficult things to do in Asaba is dealing with the drainage in this town. When you look at it, you think it’s easy but it is not because of the flood plains in the town. One of the most unfortunate things that happened to Asaba is the position of Delta Broadcasting Service, DBS. The location of DBS from our findings, that time there was no way technology of detecting flood plains so, it is right on a place that is supposed to be accumulating water, something like a valley.
The second place that is a major challenge in terms of flooding is our viewing centre. There, we acquired a building. In the process, we saw something like a pit. We said let us just fill it and put a viewing centre there unknown to us that that was the pit that had been receiving most of the flood water from that area. But we on our own decided to reclaim it without properly channeling the water. So, right now, to even deal with the flood of DBS Road, Maryam Babangida Road and the road opposite the police barracks, you think it’s just easy to channel it to the Okpanam drainage, no. if you do that, once it joins the Okpanam drainage, the water flows back. Consequently, what we are now doing is to channel all those drainages to a system that will go under DBS and come out on Summit Road (now Emmanuel Uduaghan Road). It will join that other part of the road going to Anwai and down to the river. It is a very tedious engineering process. I doubt if it is something I can complete in this next one year. But once we start, whoever is taking over will find a means of completing it because if you drain Okpanam itself; once rain falls in Okpanam, and it does not fall in Asaba, Asaba is flooded because all the rainwater from Okpanam flows to Asaba. That is why at times, Asaba would be sunny and yet flooded. It is quite a difficult terrain but we will do what we can.
Another challenge is the one from Jesus Saves area. We thought it was easy to drain Jesus Saves right down to Summit Road. But when we took a second look at the map, we decided that instead of doing that, we will be channeling it to a drain very close to Lion Building on Nnebisi Road; it will cross the road right down to River Niger. In a nutshell, these are the challenges we are facing in respect of drainage in Asaba.
The Ughelli-Asaba dualisation had been on for several years now. While a section has been completed, the other two are still dragging on. You had cause to revoke the contract of Section A, but the contractor is back there working. The question is, are you comfortable with the pace of work on the project?
The answer is no. it is true I pronounced the termination of that contract and people are wondering why the same contractor is still back there working. A process is going on in trying to deal with that contract. What happened is that after that pronouncement, the contractor requested for a meeting with us and there was an arrangement in which some other body will soon move to site and commence work on that project. The way government is you can stand and make a pronouncement but the process of actualising it still takes quite some time. But I want to assure you that a process is already ongoing to make the pace of that project much faster than what it is now.
In terms of foreign investments, what have been the achievements of this administration?
In terms of foreign investments in Nigeria today, I believe that Delta State has been most favoured. There is the $16 billion gas city project at Ogiddigben which also includes a fertilizer blending plant which have the potential of employing several thousands of Deltans, the ongoing Delta Leisure Park at Oleri, the Information Communication Technology, ICT Park in Asaba, among others. However, these are long-term projects. We also have our strategies we term the “low hanging fruits”. That is where our micro-credit comes in; our small and medium scale programmes also come in here for employing our people. They are all on course.
Rural integration is a major plank of your developmental efforts. How well have you fared in this area?
I make bold to say we have done well in this area and we are not relenting. I may not have been commissioning some of the rural roads we are building but those who went with me to Aboh recently were pleasantly surprised at what they saw. We have a lot of internal roads in various parts of the state. Our popular Umeh Road in Isoko South is a rural road. The Sapele-Abigborodo is a rural road. I come from Abigborodo and you were with me when I drove a car to my village for the first time ever. Before, I used to access it by boat. Even the Trans-Warri, that is the Ode-Itsekiri Road is a rural road. These are mega projects we are trying to complete to link these rural communities to the urban centres by road. We are also working on old roads done by my predecessors, which already have challenges.
Apart from the problem of Fulani herdsmen, how are you handling other security challenges in the state?
Yes, after the problem of militancy, we still have flashes of security challenges here and there; new security challenges like piracy, kidnapping, oil theft, and of course armed robbery. We have faced those challenges very squarely using our security agencies such that as at today, things are better than they used to be. You know that a lot of criminals may be running from other states where they are being pursued but we are also pursuing them from here. So, we are working with our neighbouring states to ensure that we clear this axis of criminality. As you must have noticed, last year was more peaceful than the previous year. This is because we doubled our efforts as we pursued the criminals to their strongholds. We were able to take control and we were able to arrest some of the notorious criminals. Some died in the process, some are undergoing trials and some have relocated. I can simply say in Delta State a lot more kidnappers have been prosecuted than in any other state in Nigeria. All our security agents have been on their toes and they are walking round the clock to ensure we totally wipe out kidnappers. Same with armed robbery, same with crude oil theft, same with piracy; if 2013 was hot for criminals, this year 2014 had been much hotter for them. I must also mention that we have been dealing with inter-communal clashes, which have reduced to the barest minimum, wherever they existed.
In another one year, the tenure of this administration will be over. What do we expect from you as you wind down?
In terms of infrastructure development, human capital development, I must say that we are finishing strong. We have a lot of projects that are ongoing. We intend to complete most of them before we leave office. Some may not be completed; and just we completed the ones left behind by previous administration, we expect that incoming administration will complete those ones. But as I said, we will try and complete most of our projects. Like I told you during my first press conference in the beginning of the year, this year, travelling by government officials will be minimal. We have to be up and doing, monitor our contractors, we have to put them on their toes and we have to ensure that they complete all our projects. We have begun our winding down; winding down to 2015 and we want to finish very, very strong. We are in the last leg of our race and like I did promise; and I have told God, with God solidly behind me and the administration, we have promised we will finish very strong and we are finishing very strong. We shall start very few projects this year while the major ones we will try and complete. I must admit that we still have a lot of deficit in the social infrastructure, especially schools, water and the health sector. We’ve done a lot in these areas but there are still a lot more to be done. We still have a lot of schools we need to rehabilitate; many are currently ongoing. The same goes for hospitals; and we still have a lot of communities we are still trying to give water. By the grace of God, we shall complete most of them by this year. In other areas of infrastructure especially the ones designed to attract investors, we have doubled our efforts in completing all these projects. Asaba Airport is on; the Osubi Airport, work is also on. Of course, my major focus is the Asaba-Ughelli dualisation, Ugbenu-Koko Road, Effurun-Eku Road; these are roads with a lot of work. A lot of our bridges are also being fast-tracked, while a lot of our township roads are receiving good attention. Some of our star projects like the BRT will soon come on stream. In respect of this, we are trying to tie some lose ends and as soon as that is done, it will take off. In the area of the environment, we have been doing a lot to give our cities a facelift. Warri axis and Asaba for instance, are wearing a new look with demolition of illegal structures. We are all out to clean up our cities and that is why since the beginning of this year, we have taken our environmental sanitation very seriously. We have brought in a lot of manpower in the sweeping of our streets, clearing of our wastes. We are building recycling waste equipment in Asaba and Warri areas. Let me emphasise that we must pay attention to environmental cleanliness because that is the way to reduce health challenges.
You just talked about in-coming administration. What should Deltans expect as to who takes over from you?
Yes, talking about 2015, I don’t know who takes over from me; only God knows. My major interest is to see that there is a level playing field such that the polity will not be unnecessarily heated up. So, my appeal to the gladiators is that we are not against any ambition; what one is against is overheating the system as a result of personal ambition. This state has remained peaceful politically and we intend to ensure that it remains peaceful. My responsibility as governor is to guide the 2015 process to a logical conclusion in a very peaceful manner. You also know that the chairman of the Delta State Electoral Commission has also announced a date for local government election. I intend to make it a peaceful, free and fair election. So, in the same vein, my appeal to those who are interested, those who are sponsoring various interest groups is to ensure that the process is also peaceful for us to have a credible election. We shall also guide the process to a very peaceful end such that no life would be lost, no property is lost; people, on the day of election go to vote for candidates of their choice without being intimidated, molested or threatened. I assure everybody that we have a chairman who is very experienced in election matters and he will bring that experience to bear in this crucial assignment. He is also a man of integrity and he will not betray the confidence reposed in him.
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