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This Is Not Nigeria of Our Dream – Gov. Okowa

As a politician, Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, governor ofDelta State, has paid his dues to merit his present position. Before hiselection in 2015 as governor of the oil-rich state, Okowa, a medicaldoctor-turned-politician, had a four-year stint from May 29, 2011 as senatorrepresenting his Delta North senatorial district in the National Assembly. Hewas however, neither an accidental politician nor an opportunistic one who, outof sheer inordinate ambition, would climb the political ladder from the top atthe risk of either failing to achieve his goal, or going into oblivion soonafter the office. The Ika-born politician began his political journey from thelowest rung of the political ladder, and at the grassroots level as acouncillor and Secretary to the Ika Local Government council. Taking one stepat a time, he later served at various times as chairman of Ika North-east localgovernment council, and as commissioner for agriculture and natural resources,water resources development, and health in the administration of the thengovernor, James Onanefe Ibori. In June 2007, he became secretary to the stategovernment in the administration of his predecessor, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, afterwhich he proceeded to the National Assembly as senator. Surviving all odds andpolitical intrigues, Okowa emerged the flag-bearer of his party, the PeoplesDemocratic Party, PDP, December 8, 2014, and went ahead to win the April 2015governorship election. Today, Okowa is into his second term in office and hesays all the exposure, influence, and experiences he had garnered in his pastpositions “helped to build me for much better governance”. In this interviewwith the TELL team of Dejo Oyawale, chief operating officer, Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, and Tony Manuaka, deputy general editor,Okowa who was the mid-wife of the National Health Act, boasts that as at today,Delta State has over 500,000 enrolees on its NHIS, the highest in the country.Telling his success story in peace building and provision of infrastructure,the soft-spoken governor who turns 60 this July 8, said though oil productionhad increased in the state from October 2017 till date leading to increasedrevenue for the state, he believes “we can produce more oil if illegal oilbunkering taking place now is reduced to the barest minimum”. He also spokeabout the herdsmen/farmers conflict, local government economy and his developmentprogrammes.

You are in your second term in office and we know youcame into office with a five-point agenda with the acronym SMART. How far wereyou able to realize these goals in your first term?

 In the first instance, I want to score us high and the reason is because when we first came in, we met a very difficult situation because beyond what we met on ground, Nigeria was largely in a state where our economy was really, really very bad; and shortly afterward, we went into recession, so you understand that it wasn’t quite easy. You’ll recall at the initial time, up to as many as 34 states of the nation could not even pay salaries of which Delta State was one of them. I’ll give you an instance. When I came in, the first Monday, I was in the office, and I was given the financial situation; I knew that I had a big challenge in my hands because while I have a salary burden of N7.4 billion, I had a balance at the end of the month after they had deducted the monies that are being paid to the bank which was to be on a regular basis, of N5.2 billion. I had only N2.8 billion left, and I had a salary bill of N7.4b. So, projecting into the future, it was a situation that one could say was quite confusing what I ought to do. But by God’s grace, we were able to go through that, managed the situation, working with the public service, working with the labour unions, and we got ourselves through all that, and things started to improve two years after. So, going down the road and looking at what we have been able to achieve, that’s why I thought that we could score ourselves high.

Interms of jobs and wealth creation, which was the first on our agenda, a lot hasbeen done. We’ve been able to build confidence in our youths. There’s still alot to be done; a lot of youths are still unengaged, unemployed out there. Butthe fact that you are able to take out a lot of them, several thousands of themfrom the unemployment market, we’re beginning to see hope; and life is allabout hope. Once you are able to see hope, you find that you are able to striveto be a success story going forward. Through our wealth creation programmes, wehad to start up what we call a skills training entrepreneurship programme, andthe youths agriculture entrepreneurship programme through which we train a fewthousands of youths. And we also, through legislation, brought in the technicalvocation education board; it was within the first few weeks and months that webrought this in. And through our vocational system, we have trained severalthousands of our youths in various vocational centres.

Andwe have paid special attention to technical education. Yes, we have sixtechnical colleges in the state at the moment; the six of them were in very badstate. Because of our attention to technical education, we have actuallyrevamped the six technical colleges and gotten accreditation from the relevantboard for all our courses. In fact, when they came in, I met them in Kwale whenthey were actually going round the various colleges and they asked what themagic was, and I told them there was no magic. It was just that we felt thattechnical education was good for our people because when you are able to toolthe kids with skills along with their normal studies, it helps to improve theirfunctionality. And we’re hoping too that many of them would move into thepolytechnics and continue their entrepreneurial studies with an entrepreneurialmind; and they are likely going to come out a success story in the future. So,we’re doing that very reasonably and we think we’ve had a success story.

We have had a lot of programmes for our farmers, reaching out to them in their various farms, and providing them with support services. We’re also part of the anchor programme of the Federal government, working with them; and that has helped. Then we have paid particular attention to oil-palm development and aquaculture development; and in these two areas, we have had success stories both with the youths and with the more elderly farmers. It’s helped to impact the people because in whatever you do in governance, if there is no inclusiveness of the people, then you’re going wrong. The oil economy generally, is good. Yes, we’re an oil-rich state; but if you are not able to farm out development in such a way that it gets to impact on the lives of the ordinary Deltan, you will not have brought the impact of the oil economy to the people.

Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa Photo
Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa

How has your administration faired in efforts topromote peace across the state, because we see this as critical to development?

Yes,we’ve also talked about our peace-building, which is one of our agenda. We’redoing a lot because we came in at a time that there were a lot of crisesculminating in the very unfortunate incidence that we had first in January,2016; and then, in February, it was a big blow when the Forcados trunk line wasbreached totally and, for 16 months, we could not export crude oil through thatparticular major trunk line. And those were very difficult times. On almost adaily basis, one of our oil facilities was vandalized, and problems werecreated. So, our peace-building process has paid off because since June 2017till date, it’s been a very peaceful environment. Yes, occasionally, we’ve haddisagreements between communities and oil companies, but our structures that wehave put in place are able to intervene, and actually able to consolidate on thepeace that we have. We have actually paid a lot of attention to that, buildingup various structures. Very importantly, we have what we call the stakeholders’committee that is led by His Excellency, the deputy governor, who is also fromthe riverine area. They go out on advocacy as regularly as possible, to many ofthese communities, talking to traditional rulers, the youths, and the entirecommunity; that has paid off a lot. We are in the process of reconstitutingthis current government, but up till My 28, we had a special adviser in chargeof peace building and conflict resolution who had a team that he worked with.So, whenever we find that there is anything brewing anywhere from our securitycouncil meetings that are held regularly, and from reports from the office ofthe SDS, or commissioner of police, we send out our team and we found out thatthey had done so well in terms of resolving conflicts either between oilcompanies and communities, or between communities and other communities eitheron land issues or on all other issues. It’s a pro-active team that has workedso hard and we have had success stories in all that.

We have also engaged our traditional rulers; we have a traditional rulers’ council and constantly, they help us to intervene. But beyond that, we have a team of opinion leaders or what we call our peace-building council led by a very important personality, well-respected in this place, Professor Sam Oyovbaire. It’s a 42-man committee that meets once a month, and they are able to analyse the state, and when they think they need to offer advice, they offer advice. And if there is need to set up committees on their own without having to resort to me to reach out to certain communities, they do that. So, we build peace a lot across the state. Yes, it’s a process, and it’s on-going; and we will continue to build the confidence of our people.

Wealso promised our people reforms in health and education sectors. We’ve donequite a lot of reforms. I’ve talked about the education sector; our drivetowards entrepreneurship, our drive towards technical education, and linking upthe technical colleges with the polytechnics. We have also done quite a lot intrying to rebuild the order in the university and the polytechnic systems; so,it’s not just about the books and the books only. You need to train up the mindof the child. Both in our university and polytechnics now, they have theirentrepreneurial departments, and their entrepreneurial programmes that run andwe hope to build on it. Just about two weeks ago, I was at Ogwashi-UkuPolytechnic and I was amazed what I could see the students do by themselves.And I believe it is something that we need to continue to encourage.

Goingforward in technical education, we believe that six is not enough. So, I havemade a promise that in this second tenure, every local government, we have 25local governments; in those places where we do not have technical colleges,we’re going to establish one technical college per local government, and thatmeans we have 19 to undertake within the course of the four years that we have.And we are already putting up a programme for it, working with the variouslocal governments, where to site it. And that prepares their minds becauseafter the technical college, some of them may decide to go out there; they maynot want to continue with school. Those that want to continue in school, whichwe encourage, we intend to encourage more of them to move into the polytechnicswhere they can have further training and be able to stand for themselves asthey move forward.

Inthe health sector, beyond trying to do our best in primary health caredevelopment and secondary health care development; that is attending to ourhospitals, and primary health care centres, we have also started thecontributory health scheme. In fact, that was as early as February 2016 when Isigned a bill into law establishing Delta State Contributory Health Commission.This is part of what I did, fine, when I was in the Senate. Realizing that from2004 when the legislation on the national health insurance was brought intoplace, and up to the time that I left the Senate in 2015, we have had less than10 percent coverage in terms of health insurance in the country, and this isnot good enough for our people. I want us to reason; the Federal government hadfirst to convince its workers to come on board, but thereafter, all the states.It was supposed to have been a health insurance scheme that embraced all. Butall the states stepped out; I think two states started initially and steppedout of the programme. So, it was actually not reaching out to the populace;just a few of the organized private sector organizations took up healthinsurance. So, it was essentially limited to Federal Government staff and that oughtnot to be.

So,I felt that there was the need to have our own legislation here. We signed itinto law in 2016 February, but the commission itself became operational inJanuary 2017 because of trying to put logistics in place for the commission to work.And as at date, we are happy that we have over 500,000 enrolees, the highest inthe country thus far. One good thing; we were able to convince our staff in thepublic service to be part of the programme and they are happy. It took a lot ofadvocacy. Of course, there is room for us to improve. It’s a contributoryhealth insurance scheme, but the government also pays the premium of those wecall the vulnerable group. These are all children under five years of age, allpregnant women, because we want to reduce maternal mortality to the barestminimum. We’ve also started a pilot scheme for widows that don’t have anydirect help; we’ve just done 18 or 20; it’s still low. We are hoping to upscale– 20 per ward, and we have 270 wards; that is 5,400 persons that we startedwith in terms of health insurance policy.

So,it’s working. A lot of people like the okada riders (commercial motorcyclists)and keke riders, have enlisted in the programme. What we get them to do is thatthere is a contribution they pay; it’s supposed to be a sort of tax that theypay – it’s low – but we plough it back totally for their own health insurance,so we do not make any gain from it. Our interest is not in making gains; webelieve that every okada rider, because of risks involved, should actually havetheir health insurance and they are happy for it. So, that is working for us.We hope that we are able to upscale it. Our intention is to ensure that in thenext four years, we are able to cross the 30 percent mark; it’s a tough order,but I believe that it is doable; we are going to engage the traditionalinstitution and the rest. We are doing a launch of the programme very soon;we’ve not launched it before now because I do not just believe in rushingthings. We want to see how successful we are, going forward; what thechallenges are so that when you are doing the launch, and you’re communicatingwith the people, you actually know what you’re talking to them about.

Theother issue is that of agricultural reforms. We’re doing quite a lot. As I toldyou, we’ve introduced the youths in agriculture programme, the entrepreneurshipprogramme; otherwise, the average Delta youth is not ready to go intoagriculture at all. Everybody just thinks about the oil companies, and the oilcompanies don’t have much space for people. It’s a highly technical place thatjust engages a very few persons, so, we are beginning to re-encourage ourpeople. Most of them may not be going into crop agriculture, but they arefinding faith in something like aquaculture, poultry, piggery; and we aretrying to upscale it the best that we can while trying to direct the minds ofthe middle age and the elderly more into the oil palm development. And we hopethat our youths will begin to embrace it because for the future, oil palmobviously has a place. It was there for us before as a country, but because ofcrude oil, we killed the industry. Eventually, we are beginning to realise thatwe need to go back to that which we lost in the past. Malaysia, we know whatthey’ve done with their oil palm industry; now, we are beginning to import oilwhen we were actually the main exporters of oil palm products and the finishingproducts in the past. So, we hope to re-encourage our people to be able tobuild up that area.

There is also infrastructure and urban renewal. Howhave you been able to pull this through and what are the challenges you havehad to scale?

Iguess that’s a place that we have scored very high in terms of roaddevelopment. People must have access, people must communicate; so,communication is not only by phone. When you have a free movement of both goodsand services, it helps to grow commerce; it helps to create the enablingenvironment for industries to thrive because in today’s Nigeria, it’s verydifficult for people to come out to invest in industries. But if you create theenabling atmosphere of having the peace, having the needed infrastructuredespite the challenges in terms of power, and the challenges in the financialsector where you are not able to get money to borrow at appropriate lendingrate, that can encourage industrialization. So, we believe that continuing todevelop our roads is very important. We are building roads not only in theupland areas; you know we have a lot of riverine areas. We are building roadsin our riverine areas and that is part of the reason we have peace because whenyou preach peace to the people, they want to see development; they want to besure they are not abandoned. If you have the opportunity of going somewherelike Burutu now, somebody who was in Burutu five years ago, going to Burututoday, he will not know it anymore because if there is any unpaved road,certainly they are just very short ones leading to private homes; otherwise,all the roads have been paved with concrete.  By the time I actually wentthere to commission the roads, the level of excitement I saw in the people, Iknew that yes, we’re going in the right direction. We are inviting the vicepresident; he’s coming on the 12th of July. He’s also going to commissiona very long stretch of road; it’s about 20.69 kilometres. Yes, built about 35,40 years ago by an oil company that abandoned it, it was as good as no road didexist. But today, we have reconstructed that 20.6 kilometres of road; it’s inOgulagha kingdom, to Otupo One, Otupo 2 through Sekebolor to Yokrih. These areplaces that produce oil and you have a flow station at the Yokrih end. So, theimpact of that is really a lot. When I visited to inspect the project, thetraditional ruler said one thing that ‘you are the first governor that has evercome. We see people fly over us, they go to Forcados; they are just interestedin the oil. But you came because of the interest of the people, not just in theoil.’ So, when that happens, you find that if the community is dissatisfiedwith the companies, for them to take any action, by the time you place just acall, it matters a lot because there is a communication between you and thepeople. So, that road that we have done is so impactful.

It’s not for the amount of money but for what the impact is; so, we felt that the vice president should come because, in the peace-building process, he was also part of it. When we had laid the foundation, we invited him to talk to the people although this time, it was in the Oporoza area, and that made some impact. So, we felt we needed to ask him to come to commission this road. Beyond that road, we are also going to commission the township roads we’ve built in Okerenkoko, a very major part of the Gbaramatu Kingdom. There won’t be enough time for him to commission the road in Oporoza where he actually held a meeting with the people. So, we are taking roads to them in these places. Yes, we may not have been able to build bridges to these places, but people still use the barges to take their vehicles to the villages and they are able to move within their villages. People have homes in the villages and those who are wealthy, leave cars in the villages. Then beyond all that, those who have motorcycles, keke [tricycle] , are able to use these roads freely. Even those who are trekking, they used to go through very muddy waters particularly during the rains, but now with these kinds of roads, they can move freely with their bicycles. Okerenkoko has been turned around; it’s no longer as it was – beautiful buildings – people are now beginning to see reasons to get back home.

In fact, through DESOPADEC, we built two entirely new towns – the Otunola, Oboro area in the Benin Rivers in Warri North. I went there before the election to commission the villages that were as good as non-existent before. It was a beautiful sight to behold and people were excited being the first governor also to be able to visit that area and to go deep into the communities. So, you see, this kind of things, by the time I do this assessment, we’ve done several roads, over 300 of them; as at the last count, we have started over 367 road projects. As at today, we’ve completed well over 180 of them. The roads, some are ongoing, and wherever I go, I see the excitement in the people. So, the success story of our five-point agenda is that we’ve done well; but that creates a greater challenge for us that we have to do better even in our second tenure. However, we are mindful of that challenge, and we are hopeful that we will be able to confront the challenge and be able to overcome it.

Sir, in talking about security, you did not address amajor security challenge facing the state which is the menace ofkiller-herdsmen. How serious is it, and what have you been doing to addressthat problem?

Thatis a very major problem all over the country as at today, and it is unfortunatebecause I know that we used to have the Fulani herdsmen in the past, but then,we had them in much lower numbers and they lived with the communities; thecommunities understood them. But in the last few years, it’s been somethingvery, very different. We are beginning to see them coming in very huge numbers,and this time, they don’t even relate with the communities; most of them areactually in our bushes and forests and you do not even know who they are andwhere they are coming from. What you begin to find is that they cause a lot ofdestructions of our farms, and that has become a major problem. And moreworrying now is the fact that other criminal elements amongst them have startedengaging themselves in abduction of people; that is what is popularly calledkidnapping, and it’s become a major, major problem. We are working well withthe commissioner of police to see the much that we can do. On our part, we aregiving assistance to the commissioner of police. We had one special assistantwho is of the northern extraction, Sego Fulani, one Muktar and another one whospeaks fluent Hausa but is from here – one Chief Cassidy. That one was a seniorspecial assistant; their work was just mainly to find ways to relate with thesepeople and to relate with the communities and they’ve done a lot in the lastthree years during the course of their appointments.

Ibelieve that it’s a problem that is still on very strong. Our people are nothappy about what they’ve seen because there is a lot of economic loss beyondthe fact that the criminal elements are also abducting our people as frequentlyas possible, most times from the roads. And now, they have moved on to houseconstruction sites where they target people; and they target the man who isbuilding the house. They come in to pick them whenever they come to site to seethe work being done; it’s been very frustrating. We are working hard on ourown, and I think there is a call all over the country that there is the needfor the presidency to find further solutions.

Ibelieve that we need to, as a nation, make stronger statement concerning thisto the security agencies so that they are emboldened to be able to carry outtheir duties. But it’s a tough thing because many of them are living in thebush; deep down in the forests. The truth is that these attacks are gettingmore and more frequent in our country, and I hope that we are able to take thematter more seriously before it consumes us as a nation. We are not sayingpeople do not have the right of movement, but nobody has the right to come intosomebody’s place without the knowledge of the people; without a relationshipwith the people; you just take over the place and then they don’t evendifferentiate economic crops from the ordinary grass in the bush. It’s a veryunfair situation more so when we are asking people to go back to the farms. Buta lot of people are scared to even walk up to their farms because both men andwomen, some have been killed in this state on their farms over disagreementswith some of these herdsmen. But we are working hard; it’s an issue thatactually comes regularly. Usually, as the rains come, the impact becomes lower;but once it’s dry season, it’s really a major, major problem. It’s a nationalquestion that has to be answered; it’s not something any state can selectitself out of.

What really is the way out of this problem?

Youcan see a lot of people are beginning to call for state police because theybelieve that the number of policemen that comes in from our federal policenetwork is not enough to be able to police the place. I also think there is aneed to begin to look into ways of having some level of control at our borders.I don’t want to believe that all of them that are coming in are Nigerians;obviously not. So, it appears that we have had a lot of people moving into ourcountry from outside Nigeria. Likelihood is that such persons don’t have realstakes in this nation and therefore, whatever atrocities they commit, becausethey are very mobile, they just move forward. And when they have made all themonies and all the gains that they need to make, they return to their country.So, we need to do a lot in terms of policing our borders, in terms of beingable to embolden the police, and other security agencies to do their work.

We’ve seen the massive work you have done in allsectors across the state and one cannot but wonder how you have been able tofund these projects in a situation many states are crying about lack of fundseven to pay salaries not to talk of embarking on projects of this magnitude?   

Actually,we had a very difficult first two years, but then, I was very hopeful thatthings would change because we prayed about it. Beyond that, we also had set upstructures that we have the peace. So, even in those first two years, of coursewe also needed to maintain our companies to ensure that they did not move outof the state, or probably fold up and throw many more people into theunemployment market. We got some of them working and we were paying them on agradual basis and, to some extent, they began to have confidence in us. So,when they start a road contract, in many instances I didn’t need to give a mobilization;but we were able to structure out a payment system in which we pay graduallyand, within time, the contractors built up this confidence and were now readyto partner with the government. So, that has worked for us. We have had to do,in some cases, a contractor financing in which we begin to pay after about 18months, some after about two years; and with that, we have found that we are atpeace. But we keep on structuring in such a way that we don’t take much morethan we can chew at any point in time. And with the development that peoplestarted seeing and peace efforts, it gave room for improved resources. FromJune 2017, we didn’t have any more problems with oil production. So, by October2017, we had a much more improved resource allocation because of the oilproduction, which had actually gone up much higher than we were having in thefirst two years.

So,things have improved in terms of resources, from October 2017 and we’ve madethis known to our people. Yes, can it improve the more? The answer is yes, wecan produce a lot more if the illegal oil bunkering taking place now is reducedto the barest minimum and we are doing the best we can working with thesecurity agencies. So, we’ve been able to pay some of our debts; we still havesome, but it’s not such that it burdens us so much because we are able to doour planning. We have had a wonderful economic team too, and we’ve workedtogether to be able to do our projections in terms of resource allocation.We’re breathing well; we are not under very difficult situations as at today.Beyond us, we were also able to help the local government councils pay offtheir own backlog of salaries. So, when they talk about states taking councils’money, in our state, on a regular basis, we have been bailing out the localgovernment councils. Now that they are talking about financial autonomy for thelocal government councils, in fact, our own local government councils are nowscared because without the assistance of the state, they cannot pay.

Intwo blocs, there were times I had to release N2.6 billion to assist thecouncils; that was in 2016. And in 2018, I had to release N5 billion at a timeto help pay the backlog. So, to pay backlog of salaries, we had to release atotal of N8.26 billion. But beyond that, on a monthly basis, we spend on theaverage of about N300 million monthly to support those councils that areactually under lots of pressure to be able to pay their salaries. But we’llcontinue to do that. If we are not able to get the local government councilsworking, it also impacts negatively on the state.

You have achieved so much in just four years and thatis quite amazing. How would you say your stay in the Senate prepared you forthe job you are doing now?

 It added a lot of plus to mebecause I have been a very lucky person and thanks to God for the grace thatHe’s given me. Outside my schooling and working in the hospital, when Ibranched off into politics, I’ve had the opportunity of working at the localgovernment council level. That in itself, gave me some good background. Andthen coming into the state, I was commissioner several times, and thensecretary to the state government before moving into the Senate. It gave me alot of exposure. I just talked to you about the contributory health scheme. Allthat I have tried to do as at today in the health sector is more out of what Ifound out in the Senate, or what I learnt in the Senate. You would also realizetoo that the National Health Act was actually mid-wifed to success by me. Beforeme, they tried it twice and it failed. But when I came in, on the backgroundthat I had in the state, and also being a medical doctor, I was able to findout why it did not work and to lead the team into success.

AndI believe that all that influence, and then the exposure that one had there,meeting with a lot of colleagues, people who had been governors before; allmanner of people, playing the national politics, it helped to build me for amuch better governance. Beyond that too, it built a greater confidence in methat yes, it is possible to have a success story in the state.

Flooding is a major problem in the state such thatsome deaths have been recorded. For example, a few weeks ago, two siblings wereswept away by flood. What are you doing to address this problem?

Weare doing a lot in terms of controlling storm water. But the way the waterscome today, so many places are being flooded. I’m sure you can see that formost of you who live in Lagos, it’s even getting worse; and even overseas. Buttruly, we have taken a bold step in Asaba. Unfortunately, Asaba has been builtup; it’s good for us as a state that it’s been built up. But in being built up,it was built up in such a manner that nobody thought about the effect on theplace because the floodwater control was not put in the process of planning.Now, we are beginning to see the effect. All the waters as far as Okpanam,everything comes into Asaba; so, Asaba is like a valley. And when we realizedthe impact, we needed to take the bull by the horn. We did a study; it took ustime to do that study. We involved the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Asabachapter, with a consultant; and after that study, we were told that there wereeight drainage channels that we must do within the Asaba and Okpanam metropolisto be able to take out this storm water into rivers.

Andwe had to take the first three, very huge cost. If you see the drains, at somepoints, some of the drains were about three metres, that is, about 10 feet by10 feet; it’s really so huge that a vehicle can even drive through it. Evenwith the recent rains, you find that actually, we thank God we went to thatlevel because these channels almost got really filled up; but there was a freeflow. We took the first three channels going through DBS Road; the reason whywe still have some challenges along there is that we have not opened it all.We’re hoping that in the next one week, Setraco Company would have been able tocomplete the discharge channel. Until you complete the discharge channel, youcannot open it all, otherwise the entire work would be destroyed, and manybuildings will go.

The one being done by CCEC, which is Ralp Uwuechwue’s company, has already been opened up into the Anwai River. The one done through the Agric Road has been completed. We are already doing one to reconnect the DLA Road to that point. Because the rains are coming, they had to stop the work, otherwise, some buildings will go. We don’t want to destroy people’s buildings unnecessarily. I have just approved two more now – one in the Okpanam area, and one in the Asaba General Hospital area. We are taking it in phases, and I believe that by the time we would have completed the eight, and that will be done by God’s grace during the course of this tenure, we will be able to address the stormwater control project in Asaba. And we are also going to do a similar thing in Warri; the consultants have done the preliminary studies and we are waiting for the final drawings; and we hope too that between now and September, during the course of the rain, we would have been able to get the final drawings. And in the next dry season, we hope to start the drainage issues in the Warri area.

Where we had this recent incident you talked about in the Agbor area is unfortunate. I need to appeal to parents that when the rains start in the heavy way they start, they should please keep their children at home because the rain cannot be falling heavily and you want to have children walk on the streets. I want to suspect that they may have stepped into the large drainage channels and if you watch the kind of stormwater drainage in the Agbor area, some are already done, and there are some other areas that we have not touched. But once you step into a drainage channel at a time it’s moving, of course the child would end up in the river. It’s a very unfortunate thing. We also lost a 12-year-old child in Asaba here and that one actually stepped straight into the drainage channel. And with the flow of water, there is just nothing you can do. So, parents should be more cautious and ask their children to stay indoors. Even when it’s raining heavily, we expect that vehicular movement should, at least within that period, be restricted because in the Agbor area, if not for the drains that we have done in the past, a lot of vehicles that move along that road, in the course of rains, had been moved into the river because the thing comes with the kind of torrent you don’t expect. So, it’s unfortunate that happened and I sympathise with the parents. In Asaba, yes, when it’s raining heavily, we can see flood. But within 30 minutes, one hour, you actually find the whole thing drained out. 

Twenty years of democracy, how well have we done as anation?

Well,looking at today, and looking at before 1999, definitely we’ve done a lotbetter than where we were before 1999 during the military era. Where we arenow, there’s a huge difference. But have we really gotten to where we ought tobe? The answer is no; we can do much better than we are doing today. But whetherthere’s been some progress, there’s been a lot of progress because the kind ofthings you hear us talk about here now in Delta, if it was during thenon-democratic era – the military era, you’ll not get all these things donebecause there is nobody they are accountable to. Now, there is a legislature,there is a house of assembly. Beyond that, the people will hold youaccountable; if you don’t do well, at the elections, they’ll wait for you. Buteven beyond all that, people are able to speak to their own, they talk to theirown. You are not doing this right, we can do this. In the military regime, youhave nobody to talk to.

Butcan we do much better? I think we can; there is a lot of planning that has tobe done. But truly, in planning, I have found a major fault in all our planningprocesses in this nation. As long as we continue to plan without planning ourpopulation, we are planning to fail. And I hope that the press and our leaderswill try to be truthful enough and bold enough to speak to the people thatthere is the need to control the population growth in this country. We cannotshy away from the truth because as long as we shy away from the truth, wedeceive the people. If your population is growing at a rate and your economy isgrowing at a much lower rate, over the years, you continue to inflict pains onthe people because the economy will not be able to take care of theover-bloated population. Some people are going to think, oh, in 2050, Nigeriawill probably be the fourth most populated nation in the world. Being thefourth most populated nation, what kind of persons, human beings, are we goingto have at that time? People who do not have access to school; they don’t alsohave access to employment, they do not have access to good health, then we willactually be a nation in which there would be continued crisis. That ought notto be the Nigeria of our dream.

TheNigeria of our dream is where everyone that is put to birth in this countryshould be assured of a life that is reasonable, a life in which they will haveaccess to develop properly; a life in which they will have access to education,access to good health and access to be able to strive to excel. These, we canonly promote, if we begin at this moment to plan our population. We must talkabout it; people don’t want to talk about it. We must talk about it if we mustgrow. And any planning done without planning the population of this nation is aplan to fail from the beginning.

On Monday July 8, you will be clocking 60. We saycongratulations for joining the prestigious Diamond club. And as a politician,you have been able to build an enviable reputation for yourself. How were youable to do this in a society where most politicians are seen as people not tobe trusted because of promises made but hardly delivered?

I want to give thanks to God that in another few days, I will turn 60. When I look back, I have all reasons to give glory to God. When I look at the fact that I lost my mother when she was 43 years of age, and today I am 60, I have all reasons to give glory to God. Whatever I have been able to achieve had been the grace of God, and I like to learn, it’s been a lot of learning process and I try to learn from every single individual. You must be able to find a way to manage all sectors of human beings and to show respect to all, and the only way to do this is to have godly principles. When you are driven by godly principles, you find that you are able to love all; you are able to respect all, you are able to stay being a normal person, not being proud. In the course of my life, I’ve had challenges too; it’s not all been rosy, but somehow, I’ve been blessed.

Atevery point in time, I have always ended up a success story. When I left theuniversity at a very young age, I thank God I did well; I never thought I couldbe a politician. It was one of the least things that came to my mind. But assoon as I left the university, my mom died in an accident when I was doing myyouth service. So, it was a turning point in my life. And I thank God for thelife of my elder sister who was able to step into her shoes. I thank God thatthrough that, I was dragged into local politics; I did not wish it. Some groupof youths just identified me where I was working then; they said you must comeand join us. I resisted, but eventually, I prayed about it and I joined. So,that is how I found myself at the local level, moving up to where I am today.

Butlooking back in all these, it’s not about me; it’s about God’s grace. It’sabout the fact that God has given me a direction and I continue to hear Hisvoice. And every day, I find that the more I relate to Him, the more successesI have. So, everything I have done, I look at it in such a manner is this rightin the sight of God, and it has helped me to go on. Since I came intogovernment, except I’m out of the state, we start our morning in the chapel –30 minutes devotion; it does not take too long. Some people will say why is heconverting the time of governance into going to the chapel? Many of my colleaguesdon’t get to the office until 10 or 12. But because I need to go to the chapelat eight o’clock, I’ll be there. Once I leave there at 8.30, I’m in the office;and I work like a normal civil servant from then till much later in the day.That has helped me to keep focused on what I do.

How are you going to celebrate your birthday?

I told my CPS I don’t want to be loud on this 60. But am I going to celebrate it? Yes. Where am I going to celebrate it? I’m going to the chapel to pray. And after the chapel, I have actually a luncheon, but this time, it’s going to be with the physically challenged and mentally challenged. Yes, we have to invite some other people so that they also can learn that there is a need to be with the lowly at some point in time. That truly is my celebration and thanksgiving to God. There is a lot more to be done but the grace of God is all-sufficient for what you do.

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