Why Governor Uduaghan Made His Development Template Simple

•Chike Ogeah

•Chike Ogeah

Chike Ogeah, Delta Commissioner for Information, explains how Governor Uduaghan has delivered democracy dividends to Deltans 

How would you score this government?

The truth is that government anywhere in the world is challenging because it is about development and development is not restricted to just physical development of infrastructure like a lot of people think. That is just a part of it. I think the more important part is human capacity. When you talk about human capacity, you also start looking at how government programmes and policies shape that.

But in the case of Delta, what this government has done with its vision is to make the template very simple by having what you call the three-point agenda, which is peace and security, infrastructure development and human capital development. The great thing about this is that it encompasses every facet of human life and they are all interwoven. That’s why I think the most important achievement this government has recorded is even one that is not quantifiable–peace and security.

The government came in at the peak of the Warri crisis. Neighbours were killing neighbours as it were, brothers were killing sisters. If you understand anything about Warri, you would know that it is a multi-ethnic city where you have the Urhobos and the Itsekiris co-habiting, most of them inter-married. Yet, when they fanned this fire of hatred among themselves, you found out that cousins that have Urhobos and Itsekiris were at war with each other. The killings were also going on unabated and happening side by side with the Niger-Delta crisis, including militancy, breaking of pipelines, oil theft and all that. So it was almost a no-go area for investors.

So, the governor, having been commissioner for eight years, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, for four years, I guess he was well grounded in the nuances of governance. And he used every trick in the book. He worked with the elders and everybody he had to work with and he was able to attain the peace.

•Chike Ogeah
•Chike Ogeah

How does the Governor manage the multi-ethnic nature of Delta?

Attaining peace is one thing, another is sustaining it in a multi-ethnic state like Delta where everything is so competitive and every ethnic group is suspicious of the other and everyone wants the best for himself. But he has been able to masterfully do this by checkmating and making sure there’s balanced development going on in the state.

You know we keep emphasising that Delta is a multi-city state. It is not one of those states where you have a major intervention in a town – mainly the state capital or one or two cities – and then people start saying you have done very well because all the other places are villages.

In Delta, we have about 20 big towns. We have Ughelli, Warri, Sapele, Asaba, Agbor, Kwale, Obiaruku, Abraka, Patani, etc. And these towns are spread across the three senatorial districts and usually they all have their topography. About 40 per cent of Delta is water and once you get to the riverine areas, development is 20 times more expensive than it is in the upland area and you must take all these into consideration. Of course, there were also the distractions of the elections and going to court, the petitions and all that. After we were able to stabilise the state, he told us that this was time to work and develop the state.

How far with the Delta without oil agenda?

To give better teeth to the three-point agenda, he put all of that into a jacket, asking: ‘If tomorrow comes and there’s no oil in the state or indeed, the oil dries up or the west that we depend on for the revenue finds an alternative to oil, then what happens to Delta State? He said the best thing was to start looking at those areas where we have competitive advantages, where we can derive better aggregate output than anywhere else so that we can start developing those areas using the resources and the revenue we derive from the oil we have today so that tomorrow, if there’s no oil, those areas can start propelling the economy of this country. And that was done after a painstaking research of realising that all the economies in the world today, whether the ASEAN/Emerging Tigers, Russia, India, China, Singapore or the developed world, do not depend on a natural resource for the level of development they have attained. In life today, the major catalysts of development are two-fold: human capacity and ICT. The governor actually went on tour of some of these ASEAN Tigers and saw what they were doing.

We found out that in Malaysia, they were using just the small and medium enterprises model as the engine of growth of their economy. Go there and you will see so many businesses thriving. These are businesses that were started on a very small scale through little revolving loans to farmers and artisans. And before you knew it, these people had turned the small businesses into conglomerates.

We came here and looked at it very well and that’s how we set up our small and medium micro-enterprises here. This is the greatest sector we have developed from nothing because we have taken the very vulnerable people in the society–the handicapped–and now they all have skills. They make beads, white cloth, jewelry, spices and are engaged in fish farming. They make all kinds of things and we give them revolving loans through micro-finance. But the idea is that they start it very small and with time, it grows and they start to pay back the loans. That’s where you realise that our people, not just Deltans, do not need handouts. What they just need is a clement weather for their talent to thrive because the way that scheme has progressed in Delta, I have personally been marvelled.

These are people who you would ordinarily not give the opportunity, but they’ve just been given this chance and they are finding their way to the international market; like those spices I told you about. That is a major thing we have done with the small and medium enterprises.

On education, when we came in, all the schools were decrepit. They had decayed over the years and in some schools you hardly saw the roofs, blackboards; teachers were undisciplined and you didn’t know if the children were in school. We took a tour and decided that before addressing the human capital development, we would first strip all the schools naked. This is what we did in most of the schools. While doing that, he commissioned for 50 modern schools to be built all over Delta from scratch. Those schools are supposed to be world class.

In these schools, we have first class sporting facilities, first class laboratories, first class reading environment and e-library for the children. Using those schools as model, we then started re-modelling schools that were decrepit over the years and that work is going on.

We took a hospital like the Eku Baptist Hospital, a top facility in the 50s and 60s, which had been totally run-down, and turned it into a first-class facility. It is government-owned now. It is now called the Eku Government Baptist Hospital.

On the critical development, we have roads, riverine transportation and we now have air transportation, with the best airport in the country. What this governor first did was answer the question of how to link the cities. A few weeks ago, the Director-General of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, A. B. Okauru, came here to make presentation to us. What some of those who came with him said that day was very startling.

They said as sub-national governments looking at states in Africa, Delta State was rated economically as number 11 or 12. So, maybe apart from Nigeria and Lagos State, I don’t know which other state might have a better economy than Delta, because by the time they got to West Africa, Delta was sixth.

In view of all that, Governor Uduaghan then conceived the Asaba-Ughellii Road dualisation. That road is like a ring road connecting the economic zones of the state. These comprises the oil and gas zones of Warri, its ports, which are being developed so that bigger vessels can come in there in order to decongest the Lagos Port. What that means is that it would boost the economy of this area. We have even found that people who use the Lagos Port are merchants from Aba, Nnewi and Onitsha right beside us here and often, they are involved in accidents on the road.

So, work on the road is going on well. It is divided into three sections and is being handled by different contractors. It is a six-lane road to link those cities with Asaba, where we have the airport.

Again, the Federal Government has categorised that airport as a cargo airport because it said it needs four or five cargo airports in Nigeria from where they can be taking fresh produce abroad. Asaba is one of them and it is an international airport.

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What I can tell you as a former MD of Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited, SAHCO, is that airports everywhere are permanent construction sites because you are always rebuilding and re-adjusting. If you built an airport with the best design in 1970, there’s no way it is going to be the best design in 2000. That does not also mean you have to break that airport down and start building a new one. What people do when they design airport is that they give a lot of room for renovation and that is what we’ve done.

We have also bought a lot of Marcopolo buses that go all over the state; we have cabs bought for drivers through various schemes. There used to be accidents in the riverine areas because of the small boats they used, but now we have bought big boats that are really comfortable. We have also built many jetties. The governor always says that the idea is for us to finish strong.

As we speak, the Ministry of the Environment has been going around pulling down structures on those channels to make sure we avoid the type of flooding we witnessed the other time. Correction of the masterplan is going on all over the state. We must appreciate that development is a continuum. The idea is that whatever we do, we hope the next administration will build on.

We have put policies for the industrial and economic take-off of this state in a place where it is totally irreversible. Only a mad man would come and say we should not do what we are doing now. As you all know, even if you air-condition the streets and the people are still hungry, they will scream. That’s why we have a lot of empowerment initiatives.

There’s a Directorate for Youth, with a commissioner in charge. As they say, the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. So, we are continuously engaging the youths through different skill acquisition schemes. Youth restiveness was a big problem in Delta. But there were a lot of interventions in that area.

There’s this complaint that what the governor is doing is not commensurate with what comes into the purse of the state…

I don’t know if that is enough to distract this governor. It is a pity that this is the politics playing itself out right now in the sense that people feel this is the best way they can get noticed or make inroad into politics. These people are new in politics and they think by attacking the government of the day without empirical facts, they can achieve their goal. We are multi-ethnic.

The governor even gets some flak from his own stock, even from the Itsekiri people, who believe he is doing more in other areas than their place. Also, the Urhobo feel that for the first time, they are marginalised, given that they have always been in power. They can’t understand that any other person could be there. My own people from Anioma would also tell you a lot has not been done. That is governance. People want the best they can get. That’s politics, but I think instead of being a distraction, that is even a tonic for us to go on to be able to show the kind of balance.

We have five mega-projects, all within the three senatorial districts here. There’s the Warri Industrial Park that is going to attract big businesses. It was conceived by a private company, with the government assisting. It is going to complement the Escravos plant, which has the capacity to employ over 5,000 workers and that would make Warri stable. You add this to the two ports we are trying build in Warri and Koko and that’s in Delta South.

In Delta Central, we have the teaching hospital, maybe the only of its kind in Africa; we have the Udu Leisure Park. In Asaba, we have the best airport in Nigeria, we have the ICT Park, we have the best Government House, built but not necessarily for this man to live in because he is even on his way out. The most symbolic thing is that it institutionalises Asaba as the state capital and gives it a befitting State House, which has none like it anywhere in Nigeria. But we must put these things against challenges we face and part of those challenges is that when projects are sited in a town, many of the youths begin to see it as money for the boys or an opportunity to make money.

They start harassing the contractors; the community starts asking for unprecedented amount for you to get a land to build a road or any other project.

The governor has had to tell them that if they don’t like development, there are other areas crying for it and that he would take such projects away from them. Yes, we are diverse in this state, but what we have resolved to do is that we must find strength in diversity. We must master that diversity and unleash a kind of momentum with it.

Building schools is one thing, but what is the government doing to ensure that parents send their kids to these schools?

As I speak with you, there’s a bill that is about to go to the House of Assembly and is being prepared by the Ministry of Education. It will make parents that refuse to send their children to school liable to a term of imprisonment. Part of the bill will have provision for education marshals that will go round the neighbourhoods and get children not enrolled in school to go to school.

We don’t really have much of that problem because our people thirst for education. If you go back to three or four generations ago, you would see that our great-grandparents were graduates. So why would you now not want to go to school? We are going to address that though it is not a major problem here.

The state almost became the hub for kidnappers. How did you manage the situation?

Kidnapping is a double-edged sword for Delta. The reason is that as Commissioner for Information, I am privy to some security issues. What I can tell you is that there was nothing happening in Delta that was different from what was happening in other states at any time. It was just that a lot of states were suppressing information about it. But Delta, being a unique state and because of the struggle for power, there was vendetta. It is Deltans that rushed to the roof top to shout what our problems were. Now, it is clear to everyone that the state is not more dangerous than Lagos. This was the same Lagos that we all lived in and never thought there was a problem. But it was well managed and it was important always to say that Lagos is Nigeria, so to speak. If anything goes wrong with Lagos, then Nigeria is finished as far as I’m concerned because everybody lives in Lagos.

So, part of our problem was that it was always exaggerated. More of the solution to it is what we are doing in Delta, which is getting modern technology to proactively work. I can assure you that because of the equipment we have in Delta today, a lot of kidnappings have been aborted. It was a bit challenging at the beginning because we had a situation where you call a governor the chief security officer of a state, yet he does not have power over the security agencies.  In Delta, where we have crime ranging from oil theft to oil vandalism to armed robbery and kidnapping and you have a governor that has no control of the security apparatus, he is more or less hamstrung. Irrespective of that, we invested heavily in vehicles and communication gadgets and have been working hand in hand with all the agencies.

Again, why is there kidnapping in any part of Nigeria at all? I think it all has to do with ignorance and poverty. That again must be attacked. We must have enough projects and policies to tackle the grinding poverty we are beginning to see in Nigeria because when people have nothing they are looking up to or that makes life worth living, then they would do anything to survive. But if a man has a family and can take care of them, that man would not be reckless with his own life by going around trying to kill or kidnap. In Delta, we are focusing on those policies.

What is the government’s feedback mechanism?

That’s one of the strengths of this ministry. The good thing is that this ministry is the only ministry in the state that actually has staff in other ministries to act as Public Relations Officers. They are in those ministries to assist the commissioners by taking whatever the ministries are doing to the world, bring such to us here and we churn them out as well.

Not only do we have PROs, we also have Community Officers from this ministry. These are officers who are in the communities reporting to us on a real time basis about the community and their challenges. This was how we discovered a community and the government went there and found out the strategic agricultural importance of the place and we built a first-class road for the first time to link that place.

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