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Published On: Sun, Apr 21st, 2013

Threats from MEND are False- Uduaghan

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Delta State Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan

Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, discusses some challenges facing the Niger Delta, his administration as well as the threats posed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in this interview with JULIET BUMAH

What are the key things you are happy that you have done or you are aspiring to do as governor?
To answer that question means we need to mention all the programmes that we have undertaken in the state. For me, whatever I’m leaving behind will depend on the person that is assessing what I’m leaving behind. I will not say a particular effort is my legacy, neither will I say a new government house is my legacy. A legacy depends on the person who is assessing. A woman who has no access to health care and has not been able to deliver in a hospital before but is given that opportunity will say, we provided that opportunity. For her, that is our legacy. Likewise, a village woman who has never entered a new vehicle before but now has the opportunity to enter a new bus which is highly subsided, would likely say, ‘Yes, I now take a new bus to the market’. That’s my way of looking at legacies.
So, how are you dealing with the problems?
Generally, what we are doing is captured under the strategy of developing Delta State beyond oil. What that means is how to use the funds we are getting now, whether from oil or internally generated revenue. Let’s look at other areas of the economy. Yes, Delta State is an oil-rich state. Most of what we have is because of the oil. This oil is very volatile. It will not last forever. Tomorrow, the price may change or the oil may not be there. Preparing for that tomorrow is what we are doing. We are trying to look at other areas of the economy like agriculture, mineral resources, culture and tourism. In doing that, we have captured our programmes in two areas; a project aimed at attracting investment, like infrastructure. These are long-term projects. The other one is social infrastructure.
For those that attract investors, we have power, transportation like the roads, airports, seaports, railway, health, ICT project and urbanisation. Virtually everybody is depending on the government for employment. There is a limit to which government can employ. I may even say government is over-bloated. The alternative is private investors to come and be able to employ the jobless youth. The challenge of any leader today is unemployment. If we are able to attract investors with the infrastructure that we have and the enabling environment of peace and security, then the possibility of eradicating unemployment is higher.
To provide this infrastructure, in the area of power, we have keyed into the national power programme. We are shareholders in Niger Delta Power Holding Company. We just got our share certificate. We paid about N15.7bn in the company. One of the plants located in Sapele has been completed. We have got shortage of gas in only two of the plants.
We are also constructing our own power plant. We have gone far in the project. Initially, it was supposed to generate 120 megawatts, but since it is a modular plant, it can generate up to 450MW. We have also invested heavily in distribution and transmission. The way it is now, private individuals and states are allowed to generate. But the transmission has only been by the Federal Government which has the responsibility of transmission.
We believe that with adequate power, a lot of our problems in the state and Nigeria at large will be a thing of the past. The small-scale industrialists like the barber and seamstress need power. We are taking the issue seriously.
We are also taking the issue of transportation seriously. Asaba-Orele is a major highway that is being dualised. It is a federal highway but we are working on it. Also, we have the Eku Road dualisation. It’s also a federal highway but we are working on it.
Our economic road policy is that for a road to be constructed, there must be an economic reason. You know there is political road construction. There are some of my political colleagues who would construct a road to a house they may not visit in a whole year. That is not an economic road. I must confess that once in a while we go into it. But if you want me to construct a road to your place, let me know the economic value of constructing the road. In the urban centres we construct roads for its value within the urban centre.
Delta State happens to be state that is not a one-town state. By that, I mean one can count at least 14 urban centres which we have to focus on. Another thing about Delta State is that it has two economic zones; one in Warri with economic activities revolving around oil and the other in Asaba with economic activities revolving around Onitsha market. Onitsha market is the biggest market in Africa. The separation between Asaba and Onitsha and also the separation between Anambra and Delta is just the Niger bridge. So, we have a lot of people from Onitsha living and working in Asaba. We are taking advantage of that to grow our economy and one of the things we will require is an airport.
Apart from the Asaba International Airport, we are siting another one in Warri, being the oil-producing part of the state. There is an airport there but it has a short runway, which is only about two kilometres. We are trying to put up one with a four-kilometre runway. The seaport and railway are mainly Federal Government concerns.
What we have done is to partner the Federal Government to improve the port. Today, Warri port is very active. We have been able to work with the Federal Government to complete the railway line between Ajaokuta and Aladja, which had 21 kilometres of it abandoned. We have all this transportation system across the state.
The third area is urbanisation. We are trying to improve on Warri and Asaba. If you drive round the cities now, you will see the improvements we have made in the areas of lights, roads and beautification. We have also put up this new government. We believe that a state like this should have a befitting government house.
The fourth area we have focused on is the area of ICT. We have tried to improve the capacity of our youths.
What about investors?
Yes, we have been able to achieve something in terms of attracting investors. As at today, we have investment in agriculture. The Obasanjo Farms has opened a branch here, which is one of the biggest poultry farms it has in Nigeria. The biggest investment is a combination of petrochemicals, fertilizer plants and gas facilities. It is a multi-million dollar investment. These are long-term investments. On the short-term, what I call the low-hanging fruits, have to do with our social infrastructures and empowerment activities. They are in the area of health, education, micro-finance and transportation. In the area of education, which is our main focus area, because of the capacity to improve on human capacity, we have the student population, staff and infrastructure.
Our initial focus was to see how our children will have access to education. One of the greatest hindrance to education in the state is finance. There are lots of people who are not in school because they cannot pay their fees. We ensure that we remove all these. Removing them means somebody has to pay for them. The government started paying every form of levy or exam fees. From primary to secondary level, it’s totally free. Even the payment for WAEC and NECO is free. So, a child would have no reason not to go to school at least up to the secondary level.
Beyond that, we have the university and the post-graduate education. We also have improved on scholarship. We have improved on our bursary scheme and scholarship for law students. We also have post-graduate scholarship. But the most interesting part of the scholarship is that once you have a first class we give them N5m a year to study in any part of the world. This is part of what we are doing to improve on human capital.
In the area of education like I said, we found out that many teachers moving to the urban areas are leaving the rural areas empty. So, we had to do a redistribution of teachers. By the time we finished, we discovered that we have a shortage and we had to employ massively and lay emphasis on their welfare and their capacity to teach. We are also renovating schools massively. We are placing a lot of emphasis on education at all levels.
In the area of health, we want to ensure that they have access to health from the day pregnancy starts to day they deliver. So, we put in place a free maternal health programme. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, the state government takes care of her till she delivers. We also have a free health programme for under-five children. The maternal-child health care centres are being constructed. Our teaching hospital is the most active in Nigeria. We want to stop the issue of travelling abroad for treatment. People who travel to India for treatment go with at least one person each. The person also spends money. So, there is a lot of medical tourism going on in India. We also want people to come to Delta from outside Nigeria and outside the state.
We have our low-hanging fruits, which is the micro-credit programme. We have the most robust micro-credit programme in Nigeria today. As at today, over 120,000 of our people enjoy it. What we trying to do now is to grow some of the microfinance projects into small and medium scale enterprises. We have started exporting the products of the some of the women we have empowered.
There has always been this complaint that development in Delta State is lopsided.
Well, I try not to go into the ethnic politics of Delta. If you go to Warri, they will tell you that we are not doing enough. If you go to Isoko, they will tell you we are not doing enough. What has happened in Delta State and not even in Delta State alone, but also in the whole of Nigeria, is that there has been a lot of infrastructure decay over the years. Some attribute it to long military rule. Some will say the last time there was really any infrastructural development was during the Murtala/Obasanjo rule, when Murtala Muhammed Airport, Tin Can Island port, and all our refineries were built.
After that, there has been nothing. It’s just like that too. Most of the infrastructure has decayed. It is not possible for any administration to fix everything in that short period, whether within four years or eight. The expectations of our people are quite high. But we have tried to spread infrastructural development evenly.
Last year, many parts of the state witnessed flooding. As it has been predicted that the rain will also be heavy this year, what has been done between last year and this year to improve the situation?
I would not say the floods took us by surprise last year because of the warning that was sent out by NIMET. Nobody expected the massive level it got to. Everybody was surprised at the magnitude. For us in Delta, one of “A states”, A in the sense that we are one of the most affected states, we had about 14 local governments that were totally submerged. It was a sad situation. But we were able to rise to the occasion to some extent by general assessment.
What we did was to first mobilise the internally displaced persons into various towns and emergency camps. In those camps, we were able to provide shelter, beddings, food, water, medical care, education and skill training. It was a very difficult situation to manage, but at least we took care of them. When they were leaving we provided small relief money. Thereafter, we had a committee that went round to see to their welfare.
At the same time, we set up a special committee of the (Delta State) university to go round and do a technical assessment. They are going to come out with a report. No state can deal with the problem of flood alone. I learnt that the rainfall for this year will be worse than last year’s. Now, that’s a cause for worry. But we have begun to put in place something that we believe we can do. We are also working with the Federal Government to ensure that NIMET, NEMA and the Federal Ministry of Environment are proactive this year.
We are dealing with NEMA. Our officials have been attending their programmes. But on our own, we have started meeting to see what we can do.
What strategies are you using?
Our strategies are in three areas. First is to look at what the major causes of flooding are. One is rainfall, two has to do with water from rivers Niger and Benue. You know that of last year was a result of the release of water from the dam in Cameroun. That is beyond our control. Even the heavy rainfall is beyond our control. Some man-made activities also cause flooding like the blockage of natural water channels or drainages. Unfortunately, people build in places they should not build. What we are doing now is to open up natural water channels. We are removing all obstructions on the channels, whether private buildings or commercial.
We are also clearing drains because some people have the bad habit of blocking drains with wastes. It is a comprehensive project we are doing. We are also constructing new drains. We are embarking on those programmes to ensure we have free flow of water when the rain comes. We are constructing permanent camps for the internally displaced persons so that if it does happen we will have a place to take them.
The most important effort is that we are raising an advocacy team. They will go from community to community educating and advising them. They will also educate the people on the kind of crops to farm. A lot of the victims lost their crops last year. We are also in touch with NEMA and United Nations on their national programme.
Talking about economic growth, why has the completion of the East-West Road been a big problem to the Federal Government and what are the Niger Delta governments doing about it?
Well, the road is a Federal Government project. What we have been doing is to show concern. The major problem on the road has been funding. Fortunately, the Minister of Works was there two weeks ago. There is a lot of encouraging news about the project. Thirty-seven out of the 42 bridges on the road have been completed, which is encouraging. About 732 or 755 culverts have also been completed. It is a water-logged road. If they are able to finish the culverts, all they need to do is lay the tar. One other good news he was able to give us was that fund is now available for the completion of the project.
The issue of militancy is returning with the threats of MEND.
Something I keep telling people about the MEND threat is that even Okah himself and Tompolo said the threat is not true. Let me just say this. There are a lot of criminal activities going on in whatever name. I am a Niger Delta governor who has been involved in the management of militant groups ever before I became governor. So, reasonably, I know some of these people very well. Militancy is not returning. There are criminal activities which are like flashpoints in the management of the issues of the Niger Delta.

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