In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, medical doctor, and immediate past governor of Delta State, speaks on his chances in the 2019 Delta South senatorial race on the platform of his new All Progressives Congress, APC, party, the challenges confronting the party in the state, why he believed the president would win re-election, as well as the feud between some governors and the national chairman of the ruling party. Apart from highlighting the agenda he would pursue in the Senate, Uduaghan also opened up as he had not done before, on intrigues that surrounded the down-grade of the Asaba International Airport in the twilight of his administration. It’s quite a revealing encounter
I have more people commending me for the airport from that Delta North, prominent sons, than the few persons that were playing politics. I have letters from the Asagba commending me for the airport and some of the things I did in Asaba. So, I am very happy and proud that I made it possible for Asaba to have an airport.
You are now in a new political environment, away from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. How has it been with your new political friends in your new party, the All Progressives Congress?
So far, so good. I have no regret at all. It’s a new territory with its new challenges; new opportunities and so new expectations. So, so far, so good.
Is it that you are not missing your old friends because I’ve read some of them saying you are just away temporarily, and you would soon be back?
Well, they were not part of my decision-making. I consulted a lot of them, they had their own opinion; I took the final decision and there is no going back on my decision.
You have thrown your hat in the ring for the Delta South senatorial race. So, how has the campaign been?
It’s going on well. No doubt there are challenges in APC Delta State, but leadership is about dealing with challenges. There were crises before I came in and I am doing my best to contribute to resolving the leadership crisis in the party. I am not new to crisis management, so I am deploying some of those things I acquired, the experience I acquired in government over the years, to deal with the crisis in APC Delta. I think we are getting somewhere.
The PDP seems so confident that the APC cannot really make an impact in the 2019 elections because according to the governor, the party has no structure on ground to win an election. How do you react to this?
In fact, the party has a lot of structures on ground. It’s just to be able to weave them together. Once the leadership crisis is over, which is almost over, within a few days, we’ll weave the membership part at the grassroot level together, and then you’ll go and ask them again.
How easy do you think it will be for you to dislodge the incumbent senator, James Manager who appears entrenched in the system?
I don’t know what you mean by to dislodge; I’m in to run a race and it’s a race I will win. If you use the word dislodge, if you use the word win, whatever, it’s a race I am there to win. We know ourselves.
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They say politics is a game of numbers and the Itsekiri is the smallest ethnic group in the senatorial district compared to the Ijaw. How do you think you can beat him?
If I can use that small nationality to win governorship, what stops me from using the same small ethnic nationality to win senate which is one third of the whole state?
When Great Ogboru was announced as the party’s governorship candidate, some people felt the APC had just shot itself in the foot by giving the ticket to Ogboru instead of maybe somebody from Delta North to complete the two terms of the zone. How did you settle for somebody from Delta Central when there is an unwritten zoning arrangement in the state?
It wasn’t considered on senatorial basis. The aspirants entered the race and he emerged the party’s candidate for the election, and that was it.
Is it to suggest that the zoning arrangement is exclusive to the PDP?
Yes, you must understand that it was PDP zoning formula. Yes, we came to an understanding that zoning is good, but some of the APC leaders are also saying that they were not part of the PDP arrangement. They say they want to even start their own rotation; that we would start it from whoever emerged in the primaries. Now that somebody has emerged, and it is an Urhobo candidate that is running, the next time, it would move to another senatorial district.
At the national level, the APC seems to be in disarray following the outcome of the primaries. A lot of people are aggrieved; various cases are in court, with exchange of words between some governors and the national chairman of the party. How do you see this development?
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Well, I don’t want to go into the details of what’s happening at the national, but I think it’s just a struggle for the control of the soul of the party. Should the party be left in the hands of the governors, or the party should be run by the National Working Committee? That is just what is going on. I was a governor, so I know and understand some of these issues. Governors want to say okay, they are the leaders of the party at the state level; and together, they also formed a bloc at the national level, a very formidable bloc for that matter because they provide most of the finances anyway to run the party. So, most times, they want the state chairman to, I don’t want to use the word bow; to defer to them in terms of decision-making. But I think the current chairman of APC does not believe in handing over the party to the governors.
I would be going [to the Senate] to ensure that laws are made that will improve the peace of our area, improve the security of the place, improve the environmental conditions of our place, and of course, of the empowerment of our people.
But some of these governors are accusing the national chairman of hypocrisy because he too allegedly did worse when he was governor, single-handedly choosing his successor.
Yes, he had his way, that is true. Let the governors have their own way if they can. You see, what I am saying is that there is nobody who does not want to choose his successor, whatever position you are occupying; there is nobody. For several reasons, you want the person taking over from you, for you to know the person and understand the person. First, basically, there are a lot of projects and programmes you put in place as a governor; and as you are leaving, you don’t want somebody to come and shut them down. So, you want somebody who would continue with those programmes and projects. So, there is no governor who does not make attempt to get somebody that he really trusts to take over from him or her.
Yes, talking about projects and legacies, what comes to mind is the Asaba Airport which recorded its first international flight recently. That was supposed to have happened while you were still in office. How did you feel when you got the news that the airport was downgraded few days to your exit?
No, no, no; let me say this. What they are celebrating as first international flight, what plane was used? A Boeing – 737 – which had been coming in. By the time I was leaving, we had had over 130,000 passengers pass through that airport; some coming with Boeing 737, and smaller planes. There is no president, past presidents, current president alive today, and very prominent Nigerians that has not passed through that airport and did not have good testimonies about that airport. The airport ran smoothly for three years; there was no issue. Then we started having challenges with the run-way, which we started to look at. And it’s not new. Enugu Airport was resurfaced last year; they are already having challenges with the run-way. Go and check Enugu records; the last visit of governors of the Southeast to Mr. President was to complain about the run-way in Enugu airport. And this was a runway that was rehabilitated, first before we left, then done again when I had left office. The same company which they recommended to us that should do the Asaba Airport, rehabilitated Enugu airport in the last six years twice and still has problems. Abuja airport has problems – runway. Runway problem is not something new, just that they turned this one into politics.
First, it was announced by the ministry; the ministry had no business announcing it. It’s the business of the FCAA. Some people lobbied the ministry to down-grade it so that I can panic and pump in money and finish it quickly. The same people at that time just felt upset that I had started the Osubi Airport runway construction; I had paid some deposit to the company, and their own was that the deposit I had paid for the Osubi airport runway, why would I not use it to complete the Asaba Airport. So, there was a regional power-play and blackmail. I am going to mention names in the future, especially for the Osubi Airport. Because we were given a temporary approval by the ministry to commence construction while lobbying for the permanent approval by the FCAA; so, we did not just go there any how. The minister came; he went to the place. They gave us temporary go-ahead to do it. Of course, ministers were changed. A new minister came in – Chidoka – he was supposed to be my friend; he’s still my friend till today. But when he became minister, he was a little bit hostile. So, I was looking for him; I couldn’t locate him until we were having one rally. I said look, Honourable minister, I have been trying to reach you. Can we meet over the airports in Delta? He said fine.
I went to his office; I was in his office for over four hours discussing the two airports and he said Osubi must stop work. I said why? That we can’t have two airports together like that. For two years, I tried to take over the Osubi airport so that I could increase the length of the runway. You know it was built by Shell, and it was being run by Shell. Shell dribbled us for two years; it was eventually they opened-up to me that they would never give it out because it would affect their operations. I said all these two years, why not say it? So, when they eventually agreed to give it to us that we could do what we had in mind to do, but that we should not touch the short runway, I said okay, available land space, give it to us so that we would do a longer runway; airports don’t have only one runway. Some have three, four. Shell said no. So, that meant we cannot even have land. It got to a point when I said okay, I was going to revoke the land; carry your airport away; I will revoke the land. It was then they agreed to cede part of that available land space to us. Then, we acquired more from the communities to get enough land to be able to construct the second runway. So, we started the second one.
We had cleared, we had excavated, we sand-filled and work was going on when Chidoka said no, we cannot continue; that there are two airports. I told him no; I appealed to him, but we continued with our construction. He now sent people to come and stop the contractors. Of course, because they were contractors also doing federal jobs, they were afraid to continue in order not to be black-listed. So, that is what happened to Osubi Airport hoping that they would force me to go to Asaba airport. But I told them that Asaba airport wasn’t abandoned; we were just having challenges with who the consultant would be. FCAA succeeded in forcing a consultant on us. The consultant that eventually did the job was not our consultant; it was nominated by the FCAA officials and they also wanted to force a contractor on us and we said no, that we had our own contractor, let him continue. Fortunately, the contractor that they wanted to force on us was the same contractor that handled the Enugu airport which again failed, so you can’t say he was so good a contractor. So, we had all those challenges. That is part story of the Asaba Airport; the full story will come out.
In the statement by the aviation ministry announcing the down-grade, they said they had raised several issues which the government failed to resolve. What were the constraints that you had that made you not to attend to the issues raised before you left office?
Most of the issues raised were handled. First, they started with fire-fighters; that the fire-fighters we put there were not for airports. We had to order for other ones to specification. Then they raised the issue of the hill; of course, the hill is well-known. That because of the hills, they would not allow big planes to come in. So, we had to give the contract concerning the hills to three different companies so that they can bring the hills down as quickly as possible. Of course, because of the cost, that started another controversy. They raised the issue of perimeter-fencing which we had done about 70 percent of; but before you wake up, Onitsha people had come to cut them, and they take them to go and sell. So, we had to increase security around the place. Then the issue of FA lighting so that planes can land at night; we installed FA lighting twice and they would come from across the Niger to steal them away. It was the issue of the run-way that we were discussing. At the time they closed the airport, the memo had gone through Exco, the contract had been awarded for the resurfacing of the run-way. They were just waiting for mobilization. So, that statement wasn’t correct. The issues they raised, we tackled. And that airport is the most comprehensive airport in Nigeria. I challenge anybody; let us go and debate it. It was just purely regional and ethnic politics that they were doing with the airport. And for me, I am so happy because the point is, I have more people commending me for the airport from that Delta North, prominent sons, than the few persons that were playing politics. I have letters from the Asagba commending me for the airport and some of the things I did in Asaba. So, I am very happy and proud that I made it possible for Asaba to have an airport.
Now you are in the race to represent Delta South in the Senate, what are you going there to achieve?
Well, you know we had a lot of challenges in Delta South which are not different from challenges in the Niger Delta. There were no geographical boundaries – whether crisis, poverty or whatever. So, we had challenges of peace and security, of infrastructure, and of course, human capital development; of empowerment and all that. And you know these were my three cardinal agenda when I was in government. To try and execute some of them was difficult because there were no laws regulating certain things and you know without laws, people just use their initiatives to do things. And once there is no law, as a governor, you come, you do your own and leave; the next governor will come, cancel all that you have done, and starts something else because there are no laws governing certain things. I just felt that well, yes, we achieved a lot in Delta South, and by extension, in Niger Delta from [James] Ibori’s era to my era. We achieved a lot in peace and security, we achieved a lot in infrastructure, directly, and through DESOPADEC; and of course, we achieved a lot in human capital development. A lot of scholarships were given, we assisted a lot of pregnant women to have their babies; through our micro-credit scheme, we empowered a lot of people. We tried to reduce transportation cost with buses and boats. Indeed, we did a lot in terms of those three. But to move forward, a lot more must be done to achieve the level of peace that we require in the Niger Delta, to bring investors. One of the areas in which we tried was to attract investors. But each time you go and discuss with them, they tell you that place is still very unsafe.
So, we need to do some things that will make people know that the place is safer than they thought so that they can bring their investments. With investments, a lot of jobs will be created, and a lot of empowerment will take place. So, when we look at these, what are these laws that need to be made? What have the Niger Delta people been clamouring for, and by extension the Delta South people? They have been clamouring for more funds for the region, more funds coming to the communities. A lot of oil is coming out, but they are not seeing the funds. There is a model in NAFCON, Port Harcourt in which the community is part-owner of the company, that one wants to look at. If since Shell and Chevron came to Nigeria, the communities had had some share-holdings, even if it’s five percent, the money that will be coming out of it at the end of the month when profit is declared, five percent of Shell profit is a lot of money. If it’s accumulated, put somewhere and managed by international fund managers, so, it’s only the interest that is used for the community, by now, the people will have a lot of money in savings; a lot of development would have come in, even infrastructure. And of course, they would have enough money to send their children to school; that is scholarship schemes. They would construct roads and bridges because they are now having a lot more money than ever. That’s one of the things I want to pursue – a law for community participation in company ownership.
I believe strongly that Buhari will win. He still commands a cult-like followership in the North. Nigerians even believe in him more now. Since over the last three and a half years, they now know who made them poor by corruptly enriching themselves with their money; and they believe it’s only Buhari that can deal with those people.
And I am not limiting it to the Niger Delta. I am saying that in the whole country, once an industry comes to a community, the community should have some percentage participation. I am sure that if we have been doing that, Nigeria would be a different country today. Then two, security of properties of our oil companies and others. A lot of money is being spent on security, and I think it’s too much because there are a lot of different stakeholders spending their money on security. Government is spending, the companies are spending, the sub-contractors are spending – all sorts of people have separate security outfits. But we can collapse them into one, and that security outfit will be community-based; that is, a security architecture that is community-based which will be more effective. Somehow, the community would have a sense of ownership and protection of those facilities if they are given the security job. In fact, they will be making money from it; and because they make money from it, they have a sense of protection. And if they protect it, the company will drill more oil, make more money, which will also flow to the community. The third part is the environmental issues. You know, when crude is stolen, the first transport system is what you call the Cotonou boats, they are these big wooden boats; they just load the crude inside. And those are the boats that the security agencies usually seize first. Sometimes, you can have them seizing up to 50, 100 boats with the crude. They don’t know what to do with the product, so, what they do is either they burn it, or just pour it into the river. That is why you have these environmental damages. When I was in office, I tried to tell them why don’t you give it back to those that are lifting oil? They said there is no law backing it. I said okay, let us put a law to ensure that they are properly disposed of, and the environment is not damaged. Fourthly, there are a lot of illegal refineries in our area. And what are these refineries? It’s just basic chemistry; they put crude in drums, heat the drums; of course, there is a pipe connected from the drum to a collecting point – simple distillation, by getting fuel. The grade of the fuel is another thing, but people are using it. But I believe that if professional people look at the technology of this refinery and try to tinker with it, first, it can make the environment safer; it can give us better products that are environmentally –friendly, and it will empower our young people. So, we will put that law in place to see how we can change the technology of those illegal refineries. I am happy that some universities are already doing that; I hear the PTI is doing that.
At a time, the federal government was talking about establishing modular refineries. What has happened to that?
Modular refineries are very expensive. I believe they are trying to establish some. Two things about modular refineries; one, they are very technological; so, the number of people to employ is very small. And another thing is that it’s very expensive to buy them, so it doesn’t really solve much of the problems of empowerment. So, those are the four things I want to focus on, though there are more others. But the basic thing is that I would be going there to ensure that laws are made that will improve the peace of our area, improve the security of the place, improve the environmental conditions of our place, and of course, of the empowerment of our people.
Talking about empowerment, recently, youths in the area have been protesting farming out the security of facilities to outsiders. They mentioned in particular Ocean Marines. How do you see this development?
Exactly, that’s the point I’m trying to make. Many of the people in charge of security now are not from the communities. The companies are formed by people outside the Niger Delta; they are not Niger Delta people. So, what I’m saying is that instead of bringing outsiders, let the communities float their own companies that would be used for security surveillance. What is so technical about security surveillance that the communities cannot do? It’s the communities that do the work. Some people bring the company, sign the papers and collect the money and pay peanuts to members of the community. But that should change. Communities should get the contracts and do the job.
The president seems to have lost a lot of the goodwill that heralded him into office in 2015. Do you think he stands a chance of coming back?
Oh, the chances are very bright. If you have been listening to the campaigns and the negatives against him, they are more of silly things. Oh, he’s a cloned person, he’s Jubril from Sudan. And I said ‘face issues’. And what are the issues? The man has improved on a lot of the infrastructures that were on ground. Some projects he would have cancelled, he’s completing them. The Niger Bridge has gone faster than what it should be; power has improved from 4,000 megawatts that he met it to 7,000, and the capability of transmission has also improved from about 2,000 to 5,000 megawatts. The distribution from 3,000 to 7,000 megawatts. And before the election, both the generation, the transmission, and distribution will well be above 7,000 megawatts which has never happened in this country. Now, we have our railway lines, airports, being completed. In terms of agriculture, we are exporting a lot of things. Security, which they try to use, the man has done a lot in Niger Delta. Of course, it was 2016 that the issue of Niger Delta avengers came in, and he managed it. The vice-president went around all the Niger Delta States which has never happened that anybody at that level has ever done – talking to the stakeholders, talking to the militants, making promises here and there. The only person that came close to that was President Jonathan when he was vice-president, and he came only to Delta. So, I believe strongly that Buhari will win. He still commands a cult-like followership in the North. Nigerians even believe in him more now. Since over the last three and a half years, they now know who made them poor by corruptly enriching themselves with their money; and they believe it’s only Buhari that can deal with those people.
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