•Why I want to govern Delta
By Wilfred Eya
Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege has expressed confidence that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress(APC), Bola Ahmed-Tinubu shall win the forthcoming election. In this interactive session with some journalists in Warri, Omo-Agege who is the APC governorship candidate in the oil-rich state spoke on various issues including his ambition to succeed the state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa.
What is your assessment of the mood in the state ahead of the March 11, governorship election and what’s the level of acceptance of your campaign messages?
I will say that the general mood in Delta State is that of disappointment because the citizenry have been able to do a comparative analysis with sister states that are similarly situated in terms of receipts from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), 13 per cent Derivation and other payments that come by way of shortfalls and reimbursements like the President did recently. In all of these, the total sum that has accrued to Delta State in the last seven and half years is about N4.2 trillion. So, our people are angry because when they look around, they don’t see anything on ground that is commensurate with these returns.
When Delta was created, Asaba was meant to be the administrative capital, while Warri is to serve as economic hub of the state. Most of us grew up in this town but the Warri we grew up in is far better than the Warri we have today. The town is in total state of decay. If you go to our stadium, it is total rot. In fact, there is even an allegation that most of the equipment in that stadium was carted away by the Ifeanyi Okowa administration to refurbish the Stephen Keshi Stadium at Asaba.
All our roads are in a state of disrepair, and of course, most companies have fled Warri because of insecurity. Yes, insecurity is a national challenge, but in addition to insecurity, we also have a case of extortion by non-government actors, who also happen to be actors in government. They keep extorting money from the people under the cover of the state government.
When you have companies that are interested in doing business here but are being told that unless they pay XYZ amount of money, not into government coffers, but into accounts of some powerful individuals so to say, of course, you will expect such companies to look elsewhere where the environment is more conducive. Civil servants, who served the state in various capacities and have a clear knowledge that deductions were made from their salaries over the years, so that their pensions and gratuities would be paid as and when due by the time they retire, have not been paid anything in the last nine to 10 years.
Some of them have died; some are dying. And, why they are even so angry with the present administration in the state is that they are aware that so much money has come into the state. So, the question is: How much will it take to settle these pensions and gratuities? We are not a poor state, considering all of these receipts but the problem is that the money is being channeled elsewhere.
Some people believe that the money is being channeled to the funding of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential campaign as against the beneficial use of the people of Delta State. Besides the pensioners, we have students in the state-owned institutions, whose tuition and other fees have risen. When Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan left office, tuition and other fees paid by students of the state-owned university was about N45,000, but today, it has shot up to N275,000.
To make matters worse, Delta State in not paying the N30,000 National Minimum Wage, while most of the states in North, whose receipts are not up to a quarter of that of Delta are paying the minimum wage. And this same government that has been unable to pay the minimum wage to its workers is increasing the tuition fees of their wards. Where does it expect them to raise money from to pay the high tuition fees?
Of course, there is always the argument that the bad roads that we have here are the federal roads, and therefore, it is not the responsibility of the state government to fix them. But I was in Imo State not too long ago, where my friend, Governor Hope Uzodimma, constructed a major road and dualised it with street light. He invited the President to come and commission it, and I recall that the governor in his remarks said that the road is a federal road but it is the people of Imo State, who ply that road.
Because the Federal Government is overstretched and has its own challenges, you will agree with me that what most governors do is to use state resources to rehabilitate federal roads and seek reimbursement and the Muhammadu Buhari administration has never hesitated to approve these referrals. Even Governor Okowa has been able to pick up some referrals for roads ‘done’ by Governor Uduaghan.
So, there is a lot of bitterness everywhere as our people believe that they should not be suffering in the midst of plenty. It is not as if the resources are not there; we have the resources. So, it will be a different ball game if they are judiciously applied and not being frittered away. So, our message have resonated well among the people; they have been able to follow the case we are making because the Okowa administration has received so much but there is nothing on ground that is commensurate to what was received.
Against the background of the picture you painted; how has it been easy for the PDP to maintain grip on Delta State since 1999?
Before now, we’ve never really had a strong opposition but I have everything that it takes to challenge the PDP government in the state. So, this is the first time that PDP would be contesting election in the state. Yes, they have more resources because they control the treasury but we are not poor by any means. We have enough resources to give them a run for their money.
On another hand, I will say that I was in the PDP years back and I know the tricks they play on others and they cannot play them on me. They know that I am determined. If I set my mind on something, you really have to beat me at it. And with the calibre of the candidate they’ve thrown at me, I think it is a blessing from God.
There are claims of borrowings by the state government. What is your take on that, and are there projects to justify these loans?
We are tired of these borrowings. Today, it is N150 billion; the next day it is N50 billion; another day it is N100 billion. In fact, we are tired but because we have a rubber stamp House of Assembly and a speaker, who is willing do the governor’s bidding at all times, they’ve been getting away with that. And what have we done to checkmate this? We did some orchestration in the court although we knew that we would be asked to prove the issue of locus and the damages it would cause us if the state takes such loans.
Yes, I agree that we lost in court, but on the recent one they wanted to take, we issued a caveat because we couldn’t take it anymore. But of course there was an issue, whether as the Senate Deputy President and APC governorship candidate, I have the legal authority to issue a caveat. The argument goes both ways but one must not forget the real essence of the caveat. We are putting the banks on notice. Even if I am not running for office, as a major stakeholder in this state, I am saying that no bank should advance a loan of N40 billion to an administration that would be leaving in less than four months.
What are they going to do with that? The last time that we checked, they have received about N405 billion in loans and it is not as if these loans are tied to specific projects. We know that it is a conduit to channel these funds to the presidential campaign of the PDP and we’ve been able to arouse the consciousness of our people. I am confident the bank they are dealing with knows the implications of going ahead to release such money.
Some people would be wondering why you are leaving your comfort zone because it would have been easier for you to return to the Senate than the governorship. What gives you the confidence that you will win the election?
This is Delta State and there is this misconception out there that it is a PDP state. But it is not really a PDP state as such. Like I said, the reason PDP has been getting away with the co-called victories in previous governorship elections is that it has not really been confronted by a coordinated and powerful opposition. They have never faced Omo-Agege in a governorship election; they will face me now as a member of not just a party but a national party.
It may also interest you to know that I’ve beaten them twice here in Delta Central in senatorial elections. I beat them in 2015 but they stole the mandate. However, I was able to recover it through the court. In 2019, I shut them down and I made sure that they were the ones who went to court. So, I know how to beat them, and like I said, I’ve beaten them twice and there is no reason I can’t beat them a third time.
The people are ready for me because there is so much resentment against the PDP-led government in the state and whatever it represents. Even the political arithmetic we are dealing with right now is not even a tight one. We believe that if the election holds today, we will win everywhere in Delta State.
What would you do differently if you become the next governor of Delta State?
I am not the first senator from the state although you will make the argument that I am the first Deputy Senate President from the state. But I am the first senator from the state, who has touched everyone and every community in my senatorial district. In the past, senators celebrated and commissioned between three to five projects but I can’t even count the projects I’ve done. I set out to light-up the entire communities in the senatorial district and you can verify that.
To further boost power supply, we’ve provided transformers everywhere. In addition to that, even though not our obligation, we are reconstructing and renovating schools and building new classroom blocks. We are also doing drainages, shore protection and providing portable water. In fact, I have more projects in Delta Central than the governor does. Of course, there is the Federal Polytechnic Orogun, which I attracted to my senatorial district and was funded in one budget circle. Every infrastructure required in that institution is ready and it is ready for take-off.
I have also attracted the Defence Space School and that was during my first term. I also fought for the passage of the bill for the creation of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun. Like you know, before that, there was no legal framework to back up the university and what that means is that a government can wake up one day and say you can’t have both the Petroleum Training Institute and Federal University of Petroleum Resources in one town.
So, my people have seen what I’ve done as a senator and they are saying: ‘If he could do all these as a senator, he will do more if given the opportunity to serve as a governor.’ I will tell you that if I am to commission the projects I’ve done, it will take more than 300 days to do that and that would mean going to every community. I resolved to serve my people as a senator and I will tell you that I’ve done that very well and my people are happy with me. That is why I am being received everywhere I take my campaign to in the three senatorial districts of the state.
Again, by the zoning arrangement, Delta Central is going to produce the next governor, which explains why all the parties picked their candidates from the senatorial district. That will naturally entail the votes of Delta Central being split and thereby creating room for the other zones to make the final call. But with what is on ground, no votes would be split in Delta Central. If elections were to hold today, I don’t see how we can get anything less than 85 per cent.
In Delta South, we also have a strong presence. I am told that I am the first candidate to enter into the riverine areas. I went to the creeks and I will tell you that people in those areas are just existing and not really living because of lack of basic infrastructure. These are people, from whose land, oil is extracted and which means that they contribute a lot to the revenue coming to the state. The question is: How much does it take given what we have received to put something that will take care of the basic needs of the people in those areas that produce this wealth?
Not long ago, our governor established three universities in one day, putting one in his village and another in Asaba. He converted the polytechnic in Ozoro to a university; a mere name change. Now, the Ijaws and Itsekiri’s, who produce bulk of the wealth of the state, got none. Even my own district got none even though one can say that we have the Delta State University.
So, I am surprised that even the speaker of the state Assembly and governorship candidate of the PDP, who is from Delta Central couldn’t make a case for his district, when his local government is the most backward in the state. There is no bank, no tertiary institution and the people are saying: ‘You want to become governor but you can’t even confront Okowa for him to at least site one of the universities in your area.’
If I can persuade the President to be able to attract a federal polytechnic for the people of Delta Central, why can’t the speaker, who wants to be governor, do the same with Governor Okowa because representation in the parliament is like a rat race and everyone fights for his or her people?
So, to directly answer your question on what I will do differently as governor, I intend to be equitable, just and fair to everyone. I take it that Delta is our common patrimony, so no ethnic nationality should be shortchanged to the detriment of others. I intend, for instance, given my experience, to introduce a bill as soon as I come on board to amend the University of Delta Act, so that we will establish a campus of Delta State University in Koko to address the educational needs of the Itsekiri ethnic nationality.
We also intend to set up another campus of the university in Bomadi to address the educational concerns of the Ijaw people. It will be one university, with one vice chancellor but with different provosts, running the different specialised campuses. That will bring equity and put a stop to agitations because some of our people feel that they are being treated like second class citizens even when they are the ones that generate the wealth of the country and by extension, the state.
Talking about Warri, we are going to embark on massive urban renewal as well as clean up the town. We knew how it was when we were growing up, so we are going to come up with an integrated transport system that will do away with most of the tricycles (Keke) that you see on the roads. Warri has become the Keke capital of Nigeria and we are not happy about that.
I am not saying that we are going to ban Keke out rightly but we are going to clean up the city and people have to make choices. With the kind of transportation system we are going to put in place, the people may end up making a call for residents not to make do with Keke but to rather go with what we are going to bring on board.
In the area of heath care; anyone who is familiar with Delta State, will tell you that when Governor James Ibori set up the Teaching Hospital at Oghara, the idea at that time was to make it the best in West Africa and for a time, it was so. But we have a culture that refuses to see government as a continuum. If it was not started by you, you will shut it down. We are going to bring an end to that and ensure that the place is what it is supposed to be unlike what the current governor did by shutting it down and setting up the Mother and Child Specialist Hospital in his village.
I want to make this clear; everywhere I go, I tell our people that a lot has gone into the governor’s enclave. We are not quarreling about that because they are also Deltans and are entitled to good things of life. But all we are saying is that those good things of life should be extended to other parts of the state because we want to be like them.
On the issue of unemployment, which is the biggest issue in the state, the question is: Why do we have unemployment here? While one can attribute it to insecurity, which made the companies to run away, there is also the issue of extortion, which I raised earlier. By virtue of my position as Deputy Senate President, I know the kind of investment that is required in the security sector. I also know that some states have made huge investments in that regard.
I won’t mention the states because that is classified information but they are reaping the requisite benefit of such investment. It may be a lot of money but it is a matter of priority. So, I will rather invest let’s say between N6 and N7 billion to address the security challenges we have, so that a majority of the companies that left will come back because they will create jobs for our people.
I will also say that I have spoken severally with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who I believe, is going to be the next president. In the cause of our interactions, I made a case for the revamping of the Warri, Koko and Sapele ports. We know what the challenge of the Warri Port is; it is the dredging of the Escravos bar. It will cost a lot of money but it is a battle we have been fighting over the years. He has given us his commitment because he is also a stakeholder in the state. As you know, his wife is from Delta.
We are also talking to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on how to bury the pipelines hovering on top of the river deep onshore. Once that is done, we will start receiving large vessels in the Warri Port and that will create jobs for our youths. On road infrastructure, I intend to emulate my friend, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State by bringing Julius Berger to Delta and insist on local content, when it comes to employment. So, I will fix the federal roads and seek reimbursement from the Federal Government.