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Published On: Fri, Nov 13th, 2015

Okowa’s Prospect of a Delta Beyond Oil

Delta State logo
By Obodo Ejiro
LAGOS NOVEMBER 13TH (URHOBOTODAY)-“We still love James Ibori. He did a lot to help our people,” my father, a clergy man said to me, as he pointed to roads within the Warri metropolis constructed by the former Delta State governor, now incarcerated for fraud.
“As for Emmanuel Uduaghan, we are not so impressed. People all over Delta, from Agbor to Ugborikoko, are complaining. We don’t know where he is taking us,” he added.
But that was before Mr. Uduaghan came up with the famous slogan “Delta Beyond Oil” and impressed with some infrastructure at the close of his second term in office.
The slogan may be the real legacy of Mr. Uduaghan’s government partly because it came at a time when certain elements, up north, were busing themselves with laying claim to the oil of the Niger-Delta.
For once, a governor in the oil rich Niger-Delta was looking away from oil, a resource that has engendered poverty in a region which was once known for robust aquaculture, palm oil production, rubber plantations and fertile wet lands.
In the last years, of Mr. Uduaghan’s reign, some advancement was made at making Delta less oil dependent. Infrastructure, good governance and security were seen by his government as perquisite. Steps were taken to deepen their availability. The
state raised Internally Generated Revenues from N26.09 billion in 2010 to N45.57 billion in 2012. (Though, some of the taxes were collected from companies operating in the oil and gas sector.)
Ifeanyi Okowa’s government has the rare opportunity to deepen the achievements made so far.
Any step at making Delta less oil dependent should begin with specific, measurable goals. And because you can only set goals when you know where you are vis-à-vis where you want to be, the state needs a vibrant, up-to-date statistics commission.
By building on what is known, realistic estimates of what the state wants to achieve in terms of crop production, number of skilled personnel in specific industries, etc can be made.
Data on a previous year’s agric output can help the state estimate the quantity of arable land, and manpower needed to produce a certain unit of output.
Delta has a Planning, Research and Statistics Commission but does it have the kind of data that matters in the required robustness?
Our research team visited a state in the south-west last years and met with the commissioner for agric. “Our ambition is to be the state that meets 30 percent of the food need of Lagos” he said, smiling from ear to ear. I leaned forward and asked
him “what percentage do you supply right now?” He looked oblivious.
Then I said “so how will you know when you’ve met your target?” He was even more quite. Finally he said “you see, my brother, we don’t have the data, the farmers are small and scattered everywhere.” Is the task of having a list of all the farmers in
a state beyond a state government?
A strong statistics office will guide the state across sectors other than agric, make planning and projections more empirical and help measure progress more accurately. That is just a necessary, but not sufficient condition to attaining the
goal Delta has set for itself.
The real task lies in identifying the real comparative advantage of the state, making realistic projects on the level of productivity expected from each of identified sectors [of the comparative advantage] and working to achieve the projections.
Essentially, the major strength of Delta lies in its people. With a population of almost 4.5 million people as at year end, 2014, Delta’s population compares with those of nations like Luxembourg, Norway, New Zealand, Ireland and Singapore,
albeit, it is much less educated.
Five years ago, an NBS bulletin put Delta in good light as it estimated that Literacy in English Delta was 69.5% against a national average of 57.9%. While overall literacy rate in the state was put at 88.4% as against a national average of
76.3%.
But a firsthand observation of schools in remote locations like Ekraka, Obueghavbo and Orhokpo in Ethiope East LGA shows that most children are out of school. Also in the interiors of Oguname and Ohrerhe, both in Ughelli North LGA, schools are largely deserted.
That is apart from the hundreds of young school leavers, both tertiary and secondary, who have resorted to riding tricycles for a living when in reality, an industrialized Delta could make them more productive. The first step to a Delta without oil is massive education, skills development and training of the workforce.
Delta can learn from Bangalore, the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state, which is today home to what is considered India’s Silicon Valley.
In the 70s the Karnataka state government demarcated a large piece of farming land outside Bangalore for an electronic city. By 1983, both Infosys and another future tech giant, Wipro, moved to Bangalore and the country’s fledgling IT industry
started to grow around the two firms.
Encouraged by government policy, in the early 1990s, the industry had grown to global recognition. Today, nearly 40% of the India’s IT industry is concentrated in Bangalore.
One advantage it had was that Indian educational institutions were offering good courses in computer engineering. And that is a model Delta can adopt to engage its teeming youth population.
It is imperative to study the needs of Nigeria and make Delta the state that meets them. It has been estimated that Nigerians spend an estimated $1billion annually on medical tourism. Can Delta not build and maintain world class hospitals that will
turn the direction of that trade? And train its local doctors to cater for this need?
Development of local manpower was a silver bullet in India’s rise so also can it be in Delta. Certainly, more technicians, sailors, engineers, computer programmers, agric economists, doctors, nurses, radio biographers, research analysts, statisticians, agronomists, agriculturists, foresters, are needed in Delta state! But apart from manpower, there are other natural resources at the disposal of Delta.
It is endowed with marble, glass sand, gypsium, lignite, iron-ore, kaolin and wetlands. These can be used to the advantage of the state. Most of the ceramics and floor tiles which are imported by Nigerians from China and the West can be made from clay mined in Delta.
On Mr. Okowa’s shoulders rests the responsibility of investing Delta’s oil earning in such a way that the state can sustain small manufacturing businesses. A skilled workforce and adequate infrastructure are sine qua non to growing small manufacturing businesses. Perhaps Mr. Okowa can do a great job at making Delta less dependent on oil.

Obodo Ejiro Senior Research Analyst, Lagos +2348050745774

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