On Tuesday, January 15, 2013, the governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, spoke to a group of journalists at the Government House, Asaba, after playing lawn tennis, his favourite sport, which terminated at exactly 9:16pm. During the interview, he fielded questions on a number of issues, ranging from his economic agenda, (‘Delta Beyond oil’), kidnapping in the state, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), crisis in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the trauma caused him by the abduction of the mother of Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, among others. CHRIS ANUCHA, who was at the parley reports.
How far have you gone with your administration’s “Delta Without Oil” initiative?
We started as “Delta Without Oil”, but it is now “Delta Beyond Oil.” It simply means economic agenda that will develop other areas of the economy, different from oil and gas, but using the current funds coming from oil and gas to develop the other areas of the economy, especially in the areas of agriculture, culture and tourism and solid minerals and other things. We are using that economic agenda because we believe that oil itself is a commodity that is very volatile, you are not sure of the price of oil at any particular time. It could be high today, it could be high tomorrow and it affects national and state economies.
Of course, it can also finish, that means, with time, we might not have the oil again, so, what happens after oil?
So, that’s why we as a state, brought out economic agenda to ensure that in the near future, with or without oil, we survive. That’s basically what we mean by, ‘‘Delta Beyond oil.” And I’m glad that all over now, in Nigeria, everybody is talking, “Nigeria beyond oil” Now, so far, I will say so good, because, strategically what we did was to put up three point agenda on, peace and security, infrastructural development and human capital development, with ultimate goal of job creation. And how are we setting out doing this? We’ve tried to achieve peace and security through engagement and of course, enforcement of law and order.
We are engaging those who are involved in peace and security issues. While engaging them, we must ensure that there is law and order, which we achieved through the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the Federal Government and our various law courts. In terms of agriculture, we have our emphasis on the value chain of agriculture, by being able to encourage our farmers at the local level to produce so much. First, to feed ourselves. It is very important that we are able to feed ourselves and then, we produce extra for economic gains.
A typical cassava farmer is able to produce enough during the year, to feed his family and will simply produce more that he can sell. When they are encouraged to produce so much and they do not have anything to do with the excess that they produce, then, they will be discouraged. When they produce so much, the price will drop. When we are talking of the value chain, we are talking of a situation, where the farmer produces cassava and there is a system that ensures that for the fact that he produces it, it is taken off and processed.
That is where the issue of processing comes in. We have a value chain from the farmer to the processing and packaging. We are encouraging the peasant farmers and large investors that will bring in cassava processing machines. I just used cassava as an example. One thing about agriculture is that it can employ massively and it can ensure that we do not go hungry. A society that is not hungry will be peaceful. If you are hungry, you are angry. If you are angry, you tend to be violent.
A society that people are able to feed themselves tend to be more peaceful, than when they are not able to feed themselves. We are placing emphasis on agriculture. In the area of infrastructure, we have two components: infrastructure that will attract businesses, big or small and in this area, we are talking of power, transportation, roads, airport, seaport, Information Communication Technology ICT and Industrial Parks. Also urbanization, which involves improving on the quality of lives of our people.
We also have the special infrastructure: education, our schools, water, public transportation, which we are deeply involved in, through tricycles, taxis and buses for our people. Also health infrastructure, comprising primary health care centres and hospitals, which are more of social infrastructure. The third aspect is the master-plan development, in which the structures and strategies recognise that the human being starts from the day of conception, until it becomes a baby and you must take care of the union.
We also put that into consideration and that is the basis for our free maternal health care, to ensure that every woman, who is pregnant has access to quality health care. So, that the woman will have the opportunity of giving birth to a quality child and the quality child is taken care of, health-wise, by the state for five years. We have our free Under-5 free health care services. After that, the child goes to school. We ensure that the child has the opportunity to attend school.
We have a free educational system, up to secondary school level. We also pay for West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO). By the time you finish secondary school, you have the opportunity of going to the university. We ease the burden through scholarship scheme. For those who are intelligent, we have another scholarship that we give, while in the university, even for Law students and those studying Aviation. By the time you finish your university and you make First Class, we will offer you automatic scholarship, involving N5 million every year, to study in any part of the world.
We have the coordinated programmes. We are preparing for an industrial revolution in Delta State. The ultimate is job creation. In Europe, many governments have fallen because of lack of jobs. The issue in Obama’s election was job creation. Today, nationally, the issue is also about job creation. The industries will help to create jobs, but these are long time issues. We have the microcredit scheme for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises.
These are quick wins we could employ. We want an economy that is not totally dependent on oil. We do not mind the oil, as long as it lasts. When it is not there, we should be able to survive. We also have comparative advantage as a state, in the areas of culture and tourism. We have a lot of cultural sites. We have Delta Tourism Park that we are developing. One other tourist area is medical tourism. The average Nigerian that goes to India, goes with at least one person. Most times, two people. When they get to India, those two people will stay in a place, either in a hotel or a guest house. They are spending money.
They will go to the market. They will buy souvenirs when they are coming. I am not talking of the patients, but people that follow them. It is a lot of boost to any economy. As a state too, that is why we are developing our health sector, to be up to standard. So that people will also be coming from other places for their treatment. In our teaching hospital in Oghara, we are doing some surgeries that are not done in any other hospital in Nigeria. We will soon be doing kidney transplant, so that our people do not have to go outside Nigeria for treatment.
Culture and tourism are very key areas.
Security is key to development and your state, like others, has been facing challenges, especially, in the area of kidnapping. And some persons have advocated death penalty for kidnappers, What’s your take on this?
As a person, I do not believe in death penalty for kidnappers. The crime has never been solved by death penalty. First, death penalty leads to more desperation. Secondly, notable people have been unnecessarily killed and the evidence brought to the court, sometimes, is not accurate and innocent people are sentenced to death. Thirdly, we have the right to life. The public execution in Nigeria did not stop armed robbery. Kidnapping is a big challenge to us. It has become easier criminal activity than armed robbery. It is a bit of migration from armed robbery to kidnapping. There is no dividing line between the two. For me, a kidnapper is an armed robber. Instead of stealing money, he is stealing human beings and forcing people to negotiate. It is another form of armed robbery. We are dealing with kidnapping, first by strengthening our security agencies.
Secondly, we are ensuring that our intelligence network is greatly improved upon. We are using various bodies for that. We are using vigilantes, traditional rulers, religious leaders and some of our youths. Intelligence is very key. The little complexity in Delta state kidnapping, apart from the economic reason, it is more of political issue. At a time, the focus was on government appointees and their relatives, persons that are close to the governor. So far, we are making progress. The little sore point we had was the kidnap of the mother of the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, about two months ago.
Since then, it has been more on the quiet side. What has actually assisted us in tackling kidnapping is the ban on the use of commercial motorcycles (popularly called okadas) in our major cities. Commercial motorcycles are major tools the kidnappers were using. Once we succeeded in banning motorcycles in some of our major cities, those cities have been quiet. We are moving to other areas, where we still have pockets of kidnapping. Even the Boko Haram suicide bombers have been using motorcycles.
How was your experience like, during the kidnap of the mother of Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?
The truth is that every human being is important. Every human being kidnapped is a big challenge. Of course, there are still some human beings that give more challenges, if anything happens to them. While her own was more challenging, first, she is from the royalty. The queen of a community. The wife of a prominent traditional ruler in Delta state.
It is not just about the minister, but about the fact that the kidnappers went inside the palace to take a queen. It was very challenging. Even managing the community was also challenging. The mother of the coordinating minister of the national economy, who has been having running battle with oil cartel. I did not know that woman (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) was well known worldwide. That incident made me to know she is an international figure, than we imagined. In Nigeria, we have somebody that we underestimate her international status. I do hope that one day; we will take advantage of the international status. Her mother’s kidnap was challenging and a big dent on us as a state and also as Nigerians.
When will the power plant, embarked upon by your administration be ready?
From the port in Port Harcourt, we have brought by road, the turbines to where we are building the power plant. The turbines are not more than six kilometres to the site. We still have the challenge of moving them to the site. By the end of this year, the power plant will be ready. We still have the challenge of transmission. The Federal Government is still totally in charge of transmission of power. Our hope is that when we start generating power, the people of Delta state should be the beneficiaries, rather than just take it to the national grid.
Are you comfortable with the controversy surrounding the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which is before the National Assembly?
The development is very unfortunate. Because of the crude oil exploratory activities, there has been a lot of environmental damage in the Niger Delta.
As a young boy growing up in the village, I used to go to the farm, our produce from the farm, very healthy produce, and I used to boil Banga (palm fruit soup) on fire, while it is boiling, I would go to the river and catch fish with the hand, to cook the soup. Even going to the river, one would see clean and clear water, with the sand at the bottom of the water to be seen. Dipping hand into the water and removing the white sharp sand would be used to brush the teeth. I experienced it. I was not told.
As a result of oil activities, today, we do not have such things. We have polluted air, soil that will not be able to grow anything, because it is polluted. The water is also polluted, with the fishes dead. People should be sympathetic with what is happening in the Niger Delta, because of the environmental damage. They can no longer farm or fish, as a result of pollution and environmental degradation.
The ten per cent to the host communities, as stated in the PIB is not too much. I would have preferred 50 per cent, to address the developmental challenge. There are communities all over the world that have such funds, which sometimes are put in trust, that are managed locally or internationally. If the crude oil is in other parts of this country, the debate will not be on. Other people should show understanding.
What of if the PIB does not scale through legislative approval?
I do not want to think about that. I am just praying it goes through. The war in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), what is the way forward? There is no war in PDP. I say that with all sense of responsibility. As a governor of a PDP state, as the leader of the party in my state, that also makes me a leader of the party at the national level. As a member of the National Executive Council (NEC). I want to say this, with all emphasis and all seriousness, with a true conscience.
There had been no time the governors had come together, either publicly or privately, to discuss the issue of fighting the chairman of the party (Alhaji Bamanga Tukur). We contributed very significantly to making him the chairman of the party. Yes, there are challenges in the party and these are challenges that are encountered in a big party like the PDP. There had been no time the governors decided to move against the national chairman of PDP. Alhaji Tukur is an elder statesman. We have a lot of respect for him.
The war in PDP is imagined, rather than real. Whatever is being put in the media is being done by certain persons in Abuja. There are Abuja politicians. They are not doing much, in terms of being engaged. They just cook up things and push to the members of the public. There is really no war in the PDP.
There is the belief that PDP governors are on the side of Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako, on the decision of the party to suspend the state executive, with the governors building solidarity in support of Nyako, when in actual fact, the PDP national leadership was trying to ensure sanity in Adamawa state. How do you react to this?
Let me put it correctly. The National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP reinstated Adamawa executive in its communiqué. NWC sacked the executive, but after looking at some other factors again, it reinstated the executive. What the PDP governors did was to say we were in support of the reinstatement of the executive by the NWC. There was a statement by the NWC to the effect. When we met the last time, we saw the statement and we said fine, the NWC had reinstated the executive and we were in support of the reinstatement of the Kugama-led executive. Why we supported the NWC, which did the right thing by reinstating the Kugama-led executive in Adamawa state, is that there are procedures for installing the executive of the party at every level, from the ward to the national. There are also procedures for removing the executive, from the ward to the national level. It has nothing to do with Nyako as a person.
It is just a procedure. If the procedure is correct, we will support the procedure, which we have done. Some people want to see the PDP fighting itself. There is no fight or tension in the PDP. We have been in the PDP for so many years and we know what can happen. What is on the ground now is not near what had happened in the past in the PDP. Elections are still about two and a half years away.
So, why will there be tension?
There is no tension at all. It is when elections are coming that you talk about tension. How can the Boko Haram challenge be tackled? Boko Haram is unfortunate. Mr. President is on top of the management of Boko Haram.
Why is your administration not keen on the bribe money, involving a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, and ex-Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori?
We are in court. Where do you stand on State Police and power generation, transmission and distribution, as the nation’s Constitution is being amended? I am a strong advocate of state police.
Power generation, transmission and distribution are still being controlled by the Federal Government, through the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Some states are generating power, but there are challenges in the areas of transmission and distribution. My position on Constitution review is that of true federalism. True federalism is key. It allows you to control power, security, your resources and a lot of things.