By WILLY EYA and HENRY AKUBUIRO
For Delta State governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, Nigeria has a bright future despite the challenges facing her at the moment. He also believes that President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is on course to transform the nation. But the medical doctor-turned politician says that the president needs the support of Nigerians to achieve results. In this interview, he speaks on a wide range of issues including his determination to transform Delta State. Excerpts…
How are you coping with governing a multi-tribal state like Delta?
Governing Delta State comes with a lot of challenges and it also has its own good side. But like you said, Delta is a multi-tribal state. They speak different languages and one ethnic group might not understand the other ethnic group. And because of our ethnic bias in this part of the world, we tend to relate everything first to our ethnic group than the general interests of the state. So, one first challenge is that people identify more with their ethnic group than with the general interests. And so because that happens, we are very concerned about the population of the ethnic groups. We have ones that are big and those that are small. In terms of infrastructural development, appointment, empowerment, people think more of the interest of their ethnic groups. But sometimes like I tell them, the issue of infrastructural development cut across ethnicity. Let us take the airport in Asaba for instance. The airport was not constructed for the sake of Asaba people alone or because of Delta North alone. Every person irrespective of the tribe he comes from in Delta has need for the Asaba airport. But it is a big challenge that people try to relate projects to their various ethnic groups. I guess that is the biggest challenge that we have.
Please, could you clear the air on the claims in some quarters that the Asaba airport is not very safe for flight operations because it was built against the wind?
I am not a technical person but there is no error in the establishment of the airport. In establishing airports all over the world, there are technical surveys before they are built. So, I can tell you that the Asaba airport was not built against any wind. So, that is not an issue at all.
Delta marked its 21st anniversary recently and looking back since the creation of the state, do you think it is the Delta of your dream?
The first thing is-was I the dreamer of Delta? I was not the person who dreamt about the creation of Delta. In fact, the time it was created, I was not really very active but we were quite happy when it was created. To many Nigerians, the creation of a state is associated with development of the geographical area. People clamour for states because they believe that if a particular state is created, there is more development in that part of the country. Now talking about Delta of my dream or our collective dream, I would say so far so good. We have gone far in terms of infrastructural development. There is no doubt that we have more now than we used to have under the then Bendel State. And even in terms of empowerment, we have not done badly. But what is actually the Delta of my dream now? My dream is to see a united state where even with the challenges of ethnicity, we see ourselves as one. I also dream for a state that would become the economic hub of Nigeria; a state that would have an economy that is so developed that they do not have to depend entirely on oil. That is why we titled our developmental strategy as Delta beyond oil which simply means using the oil money that is coming in now to develop other areas of the economy such as agriculture, culture, tourism and all that. So, ultimately, that is the state I am thinking about. I am thinking of a state where there would be a lot of economic activities.
Kidnapping is a major headache facing your administration. How far have you gone in tackling the ugly development and do you think you are winning the war against it?
The issue of kidnapping is reducing drastically. The truth is that at a time it became complicated as it involved high profile kidnapping and became more political. We had a situation where government officials or their relations were being targeted for kidnapping. That was purely political and it was meant to embarrass the government. However, we are also putting strategies in place to deal with the situation.
A major issue dominating the polity now is the constitution review. From your vantage position, what would be your recommendations in the constitution that would come after the ongoing exercise?
I want to thank the National Assembly for the processes they have initiated so far on the constitution review. There is no doubt that the constitution that we are operating now requires some amendment. But we must continue to appreciate those who put it together. Yes, we know how the constitution was put together hence, the challenges that we are meeting, but the National Assembly is gradually dealing with them. And there would continue to be challenges. Let me take the issue of the elections for instance. The constitution though allowed the tribunal cases to go on forever but the National Assembly has looked at it and said there must be a time frame and that is what they have done. So, now within a few months after election, you would know whether you would be in office or out of office. That is one good thing that has happened. Now to this current review, I think the National Assembly is looking at the various issues. For us as governors, there are some specific areas that we are looking at. One is the issue of the revenue sharing formula. We think that the federal government is taking too much and because of that they take on so many issues like primary education and health care and all that. Those are some of the areas that we think should be left for the states and the local governments. The federal government should shed some weight and give more things to the state and local government councils. So, if that has to be done, more revenue has to be given to the states and local governments. And two is the issue of security. The federal government right now has total control of security. We feel that the states should be allowed to have their state police and in that way, we feel that security would be better handled. Those are some key issues in the review that are coming up.
Do you agree with those who insist that the Boko Haram insurgency is a strategy by the North to recapture power in 2015?
The Boko Haram issue is quite complex and I think it has many faces. I do not know the motive behind it. My appeal is that the people involved should have the interest of Nigerians at heart and stop what they are doing. If anybody is interested in 2015, I do not think that the person has to be violent. One thing we should be aware of is that violence is not associated with democracy. You can express your grievances without being violent. If you have an ambition, you can still show that ambition without being violent. What you need to do is to go out there and convince people that you are the best man for the job. So, I do not know the motive behind Boko Haram.
How far have you gone with your administration’s Three Point agenda?
We are still on our Three Point agenda. They include peace and security, infrastructure and human capital development and the Three Point agenda are interwoven. The overall objective is job creation and empowerment. And for us to achieve job creation and human power development, we need to map out some strategies. The world over now, the biggest challenge is job creation. In Europe, a lot of sitting presidents are losing elections because people are jobless. So, how to create jobs is our target. When you create jobs, you reduce poverty.
When you came in 2007, there was so much violence in Asaba and Warri areas of your state. How have you been able to keep the peace in the state?
When we came in was the peak of the Niger Delta crisis. A lot of our youths then were still up in arms against what I would refer to as the Nigerian state. The oil companies were affected and businesses were being affected. But since then, we have moved using a process of engagement. This is in the sense that we created so many channels of communication with some of the youths who were involved in agitation in the Niger Delta. We made them to know that what they were doing was not right and that they should drop their arms. Fortunately at that time, we were also able to work with Mr President who established the Amnesty programme. The programme has been able to curb militancy in the Niger Delta. Since then, we have also tried to see how we can improve social amenities. And with the creation of the Delta State Oil Area Development Commission which uses 50 per cent derivation to deal specifically with the development of the oil communities, we are moving forward. I think that also helped to give the affected communities a sense of belonging. Then on law and order, we have been working with the police to achieve peace. We have been assisting the police in the areas of logistics, communication and others. We are also working with the Joint Task Force to ensure that there is peace and security in Delta.
With the opposition not resting on its oars in your state, what is the future of PDP in Delta ahead of 2015 general elections?
There is no opposition in Delta. The opposition you are talking about is PDP 1 and PDP 2. But I think we are putting our house in order. There is only one party in this state. If you see a person moving to another place, he is also a PDP member but because of one reason or the other, he is aggrieved.
What is the latest on the flood that ravaged most parts of the state?
The flood was really a big challenge. What we did was to bring the people affected to the camps. We had about 18 camps. So far, the water has started receding and many of the affected communities are becoming dry and good enough for habitation. But we still have two or three camps still left. I would say that the situation is getting better.
The governors appear to be too powerful in Nigeria. Do you think that for the over all interest of the nation that there is need to tinker with their powers in the ongoing constitution review?
When you talk of powers, the governors are the weakest group. In terms of power, the president understandably is the strongest and then the National Assembly. If we have the power that people assume we have, we would not be running to Abuja everyday. But we are more in Abuja than we are in our states. This is because we need to get to Abuja for one thing or the other. If we have that kind of power, why should we be running to Abuja for money that we are entitled to? The governors do not have power. In terms of security, we have no power and we are the chief security officers of our states in just name and we have to be friendly with our commissioners of police. If you do that, when you give directives, he tells you that he requires permission from his superior in Abuja. So, where is the power really? When people say the governors have powers, I want it to be properly defined. Today, we are in the Supreme Court because of our money from the excess crude. And these are issues that are constitutionally explicit.
What are the implications of the dualisation of the road from Ugheli to Asaba?
First, let me emphasize that that is a federal government road. The road started after our discussion with the Onitsha Market traders. At a meeting with them, I asked them why they were not importing their goods through Warri port but Lagos and it takes about two days for their goods to reach Onitsha? If they import through Warri, it would just take like two hours to reach Onitsha. The traders gave us so many reasons. One of them was the issue of road. They complained that the road was narrow. Initially, I approached the federal government but met a roadblock. But we decided to dualize the road to make it wider to make the movement between Warri and Onitsha faster. Hopefully, they would use Warri port more than they used to.
President Jonathan recently said it was too early for him to say whether he would run in 2015 or not. If you were in a position to advise him, would you subscribe to his seeking re-election?
With the benefit of hindsight, where he is coming from, knowing some of the challenges and knowing him personally, I think he means well for Nigeria. He has a vision he is driving but it is a very difficult vision and there are big challenges. This is a president that as soon as he came into office, there was an escalation of violence in parts of the north by the Boko Haram. Today, the violence is still on. Boko Haram is a big challenge for anybody in government and that is very unfortunate. Now, we are talking about job creation. One of the things that can assist us in job creation is industrialization. But if you go outside the country today and you are talking to investors, the first thing they would talk about is on security. Before, it used to be Niger Delta but now, it is Boko Haram. See the international airlines! Before, they used to come and sleep over but now, virtually none of them sleeps over. It is as bad as that. So you have that level of challenges but the man is still moving on and determined to achieve results. In the area of power, a lot is being done, in the area of growth, a lot is being done, in aviation, agriculture, education and even in the oil industry. He is also doing a lot in fighting corruption. You see that in such a small space of time, he is tackling the challenges in those areas I have mentioned. But unfortunately, we have a country where people right now are very impatient, understandably so. We need to appeal to them that they should just give the man a chance. A lot is happening and the results of what are being done are beginning to materialize. What I know is that it is Jonathan’s programme and achievements that would speak for him in 2015. But I do not think that we should start drumming the issue of 2015 now. This is just 2012. People should allow those in office to concentrate on their work. We should wait till around 2014 before we start talking about election.
You are a medical doctor by profession, how did you join politics?
I was dragged into politics. I used to be an armchair critic but many Nigerians are like that in their work place. They argue on political issues which sometimes they do not even understand but everybody has an opinion. I was also like that. Where we were working, we were always talking about government and politics. But as for how I joined politics, I was actually dragged into it.
But while growing up, did you ever imagine that you would one day hold such a high office as governor of a state?
You know I am a village boy. I grew up in a village called Mosogar. Before I went to the medical school, my ambition really was to have a good medical practice but somehow I saw myself into politics.
But do you enjoy being in politics now?
Let me say this. The medical profession is about people and politics too is about people. But the difference is that the people you come across in the medical profession are more appreciative of you than those you come across in politics. For politics, what you see is fair weather contacts. Whatever you do, some may just appreciate it in your presence but when they go behind you, they say a different thing entirely. There is more satisfaction in medical practice than in politics. There is more pain in politics than in medical practice.
During the tenure of Chief James Ibori, a think-thank headed by Gamaliel Onosode came out with a blueprint of N18 billion to link the hinterland of Delta. What has happened?
Then it was about N18 billion but now, I think the estimate is about N300 billion. Just one of the bridges is about N75 billion. The problem is the funding of the linkage. But what we are doing is to use available funds to build the bridges we can. Right now, there are two we are constructing. This is apart from a road of 26 kilometers requiring 16 bridges. That is the kind of challenge that we have. So, the blueprint is there but a lot has changed since that time.
What caliber of politician is likely to succeed you by the time you leave office?
Whoever would succeed me is only known by God and I also pray for him. But it must be somebody who would not put aside what we are doing or what we have planned. We are talking about infrastructural development. There is no way a man would come in and say he would not want to develop infrastructure. We are also talking about peace and security. There is no way you would come in as governor of Delta and you say you would not do something about peace and security. You are talking about human capital development. There is no way a governor would not talk about developing the people. But the type of person who would succeed me is somebody I am praying that he would just continue from wherever I would stop. What we have planned for the state is not a four or eight year programme but a 50 year development plan.
What has happened to the power turbine plant at Oghara?
It is still on. The initial site we had was very close to the riverside. We had just brought a turbine through the water but there were so many issues with the communities that after two years, we had to relocate to Oghara which was not the initial site. And that was one of the challenges we had. So, where we are now, they a constructing a new turbine plant.
From your vantage position, what do you see of the future of Nigeria?
This nation has a great future. With all the natural and human resources that we have, Nigeria has the potentials to be one of the greatest nations in the world. Our future is bright but just for us to put our acts together. I think the greatest challenge we have is our attitude and the way we look at things.
When are we going to have internal democracy in your party, PDP?
Which of the parties do you have internal democracy? PDP is the ruling party at the national level but there are states where it is not controlling. Are you talking of internal democracy in those states where PDP is not ruling. The thing is not PDP or not. If you want to talk about doing things properly, I think it is PDP that things are done properly. That is the party where you get things near what it should be. There are usually struggle for power in PDP during primaries but there are other parties where people are just nominated to contest for elections or to be local governments. I think we should just be patient. Things are getting better. I know that when the party started in 1999, the way people got into positions was different compared to now when people struggle for positions. Let me take this state for instance. At the last senatorial elections, the primaries for two of the senatorial zones had to be done three times.
It was because everybody wanted transparency. In fact, Delta North had to be recorded live on the television and everybody was watching the proceedings for election. There was nothing like somebody being elected unopposed for any position. I think with time we would get there. Things are getting better. If you look at the recent elections held in Edo and Ondo and the turnout, you would have noticed that things are really getting better in the country.
Were you born with a silver spoon?
I was born with a diamond spoon. When people talk about silver spoon I do not know but I was born into a humble family that I am very happy with. If I am to come to this world again, I would like to be from my family. In my family, we were comfortable but by the time I was born, my father was a recruit in the police and my mother was working in a hospital. We were not big people but my grandmother took me up early to the village called Mosogar and by the time she took me over, there was no road to the place, neither was there light nor water. The only thing that was there was a primary school. We were basically farmers and I combined going to farm early in the morning with going to school. But I enjoyed it and I did not feel that there was lack of all those amenities.
Like other children, did you play truancy at any point?
Yes. We all played truancy as children.
The drainage system in Asaba has been going on for two years now. When are we expecting the completion of the project?
It is a comprehensive drainage and unfortunately, rainy seasons are longer than dry seasons. Because of heavy rains, there is usually disruption of work most of the time. Now, we have entered dry season and we pray that the work would be faster. But even then, this is a first phase of the drainage even though drainage in Asaba is a very big challenge.
By the time you leave office, what would you like to be remembered for?
Again, it depends on who is remembering me. Let me tell you why. When I came into office, to get into Asaba by air, you had to fly first to Benin or Enugu or Owerri and drive to Asaba. Now, people are flying directly. So, the person that uses air transportation to Asaba, anytime he comes down in Asaba, such a person may remember me and say it was this governor that did it. And then there is a woman that once she got pregnant, she used to go to quack doctors to deliver but now, with the free-maternal healthcare, she gets to the hospital and she does not have to pay anything. She would remember me that this was the man who made it possible for my child to be delivered in the hospital. So, my approach to that kind of question is that people have different reasons for remembering me. The way any of our programmes touch you is the way you would remember me. My happiest moments as governor is when I meet people and they give testimony of what I have done and how it has touched their lives. I went somewhere trying to inspect a road project and a woman was trying to get in touch with me and of course the security aides would like to stop her but I said let her come. She was rushing to me with a child. When she got to me, she knelt down and was rolling on the floor. What happened? As far back as when I was commissioner of health in Delta, her child had a heart problem and somebody had brought them to me. The child needed surgery and we had to take it up. The state government following my recommendation sponsored the child for surgery. The heart problem was corrected and the child has now picked up and living a healthy and normal life. So the woman saw me and said if not for me, the child could have died. Those kinds of sentiments are what I really cherish.
Is it likely that Delta North would produce the next governor of the state?
Why not? Anybody can be governor once you have the minimum age and qualification. Let me say this-because I am governor of Delta State today, anybody in this state can be governor of the state. Why I am I saying that? I come from Itsekhiri, one of the smallest ethnic groups in Delta. By the time I even came into office, the Itsekhiri had just had some crisis with the Ijaw tribe. Even with all those problems, I was still able to become the governor of the state.
Some of your critics say that part of the problems confronting Delta is that you as the governor are not doing enough to fight corruption. What is your take on that?
I like people being specific. We try to generalize, speculate and make accusations without any basis. Sometimes, what we assume is that corruption may not actually be corruption. We are putting a lot of things and processes in place to fight corruption and create transparency in government. People should not just sit down and say there is so much corruption in Delta. That is not true.
On Delta Export processing zone, what time frame are you looking at?
First is what is the concept of those areas. They are actually industrial zones or clusters. We designate an area to ensure that we have basic infrastructure that would support industries. And what are the basic infrastructures? You are talking of power, transportation including roads, seaports, ICT, sewage, water all in one area. This is so that if you are an industrialist or manufacturer and you are attracted to the zone, you do not need to be struggling to provide power. Everything is there and what you need to do is to pay for these services. That is what an industrial park is and of course when you apply to the federal government, they make it an export-free zone. That encourages investors. That is the idea of the Warri Industrial park. How far have we gone? We are still on the job but I think the one that is almost ready to go is the Warri Industrial business park. We are paying compensation and trying to provide the basic infrastructures. In the next few weeks, we would advertise for contractors to bid for the various infrastructures to be provided in the place. Let me say this too that industrial zones take quite some time to develop.