ONE does not need to be told that the man at the helm of affairs of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, is a performer. It only takes a tour of the major cities and other areas in the state to confirm that there is a massive transformation going on in the state designated as Heart of the Nation irrespective of its ethnic divide.
At a time the global economy is facing horrendous challenges with some economies in Western Europe still battling recession, the clarion call everywhere is development, development, development and nothing more. For Delta, the challenge of meeting the huge infrastructural needs of the people against the backdrop of a difficult terrain has been the focus of His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. And with the development of infrastructure as a key arm of the three-point agenda of the administration, Governor Uduaghan anchored his game plan on growing the economy even in times ordinary leaders would have been distracted by the legion of litigations from opposition groups.
With his transformational development coined out of his doggedness to ensure that Delta State works, the medical doctor turned politician has been able to embark on some people-oriented projects including road construction and rehabilitation, giving education and health care the deserved facelift, building of public viewing centres across the state, construction of the multi-billion naira Asaba International Airport and many more.
The dedicated and amiable governor spoke with ENCOMIUM Weekly further on some of his achievements so far and where he is headed when he hosted a group of media houses including ENCOMIUM Weekly, on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Asaba, capital of Delta State.
We have visited the airport, we discovered that it has started operations, even though it’s yet to be commissioned. When are you going to commission the project?
First, let me welcome you all. You came yesterday and you said you went round Asaba only. Like I keep saying, unfortunately, you could get the feel of what we are doing in Delta, in just one day in the state. At least, you need to spend one or two weeks to get round the state and see what we are doing because Delta is a very vast state. We have at least 14 cities that are major urban centres. That’s the major difference between Delta and other states. Other states are like one city state but Delta is a state with many cities. That’s just by the way. Talking about the airport, I am happy you were there and you saw the project. One thing is to underline the fact that there is no airport anywhere in the world where construction is not going on regularly. If you wait till you finish all the constructions at the airport, you will never begin operations. The basic thing is to have the equipment that will facilitate easy taking off and landing and ensure safety at the airport. Those are the minimum requirements of any airport in the world and those are the things we pursued first and they are there for planes to land. I cannot give you a particular date for finishing the airport or for commissioning because regulatory activities of the airport do not depend on us. It all depends on Nigerian Airports Authority and Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). What we do is that as we progress with the construction, we invite them and each time they come they give us new targets. The regulatory bodies are entirely Federal Government bodies and it is when they tell us to move that we can move, it is the kind of plane they tell us to use that we can use. And each time they come, they tell us something new. So, it’s difficult for me to say this is the date for the completion and this is the date it can be fully operational because that doesn’t depend on us, it depends on the federal authorities. Actually, airports are entirely federal issues. Just as a state, we can’t do without an airport now, that’s why I went about constructing the airport.
Having gone round and seen some of the projects you have completed and those you’re still embarking on, you have actually done so much for real, what haven’t you done and what more do you want to do for your people?
There is still a lot to be done. I don’t think we can even finish them in the next 50 years. The comprehensive master plan we have really will take 50 years to complete. We have been able to design a 50-year master plan for the state. Btu as you go on, some things you have started before wear out. So, you have to go back and re-do them. There is always a lot to be done in every sector. Is it the transport sector, we are talking of airport, railway, seaport, roads, we still have a lot to be done. In the area of power, we also have a lot to be done. Although, these are totally federal government responsibilities but we can’t leave them for the federal government alone. Now, even in the area of education, we still have to do more. What we have done in education is to ensure that every child has access to primary and secondary education without any hindrance, without money being a hindrance to that. So, we are paying whatever levies for the children to make sure that every child in the state has access to education without any hindrance. But we still believe there is still a lot to be done. For instance, in the teaching population, in 2007, when I came in, we had so many teachers in the urban centres and the rural schools didn’t have enough teachers. Sometimes, there would be only one or two teachers in the whole of the school. So, what we did was to do a sort of redistribution. We sent some teachers to those rural areas. But we now found out that there was a short fall of over 10,000 teaching and non-teaching staff, but if we employed 10,000 teaching and non-teaching staff, eventually all the money you get won’t pay their salaries. So, we only did half, we employed 5,000 teaching and non-teaching staff. So, we still have a deficit of 5,000, if we are to still use the same statistics of 2008. There is still a lot to be done in terms of teaching population, there is still a lot to be done in terms of infrastructure. The state has about 1,200 primary schools and 459 secondary schools. So, you can imagine the number of schools we still need reinforce. So, there is still a lot, even in terms of health, water resources and others. There is no governor that can finish everything in just eight years.
Of all the things you have done, which one gave you the greatest joy and why?
The one that gave me the greatest joy is seeing a woman who ran to me and said, “Governor, thank you o, if not for you, I wouldn’t have delivered this child in the hospital.” That gives me the greatest joy. What do I mean? We have a free maternity healthcare service which has been operational since 2008, so that every pregnant woman should have access to free healthcare. There are lots of women who cannot afford to go to the hospital because they have to pay one levy or the other. They will have to pay either for card or ante-natal care or for delivery. But in Delta, we do everything free. If you go to the government hospital, you get all these things free. Because of that, we have had more women who are able to have free access to healthcare and they deliver in the hospital. When they see you on the road, they appreciate you. Some will tell you, “Oh Governor, it’s your free healthcare programme that helped me to deliver in the hospital. Before my children were born at native doctor’s homes. But this one was born in the hospital.” That alone gives me a lot of joy. Again, there are lots of other things that also make me happy.
We can’t do without talking on some of the projects your administration has completed, we saw a big viewing centre here in Asaba, which accommodates a lot of people, what actually gave you the idea?
The viewing centre is a long story. First, I am a lover of football. I love watching football a lot and if you love doing that you will know that you feel better when you watch football with others. You will become a good coach, analyzing what’s going on in the field. “Oh! Drogba should have played it like this” (laughs). Watching football collectively makes it more interesting for those of us who love the game. The idea of viewing centre actually started when I was Commissioner for Health. In my local community, I had this set of youths, I think it was the match between Nigeria and Argentina. That was the year we won the trophy. What happened was that, in the night of the semi-final and final, there was so many of these young boys who came to my house. So, the house was choked up. When it was time for the final, I said instead of everybody coming inside, let’s watch it outside. So, I brought my television set out, we just put it on the street, connected it to a small generator and the whole place was filled up. That’s my first public viewing centre. By the time it was the World Cup, I was secretary to the state government, what I now did was to identify places, bought small television, DSTV and small generator. So, all over Warri, I think I had about 12 viewing centres and I got three youths to man each of them. And after the World Cup, those youths took those television sets, DSTV away. Of course, when I became governor, one of the things I tried to do was to put viewing centres across the state. The one you saw yesterday is the most comprehensive but every local government has a viewing centre with that kind of screen. In some places, even in local government headquarters, we have some and some people man then, ensuring that they function. The idea is just to bring people together and ensure they enjoy whatever they are watching. We want to progress in that viewing centre. It’s not just for football alone, it is not just for sports alone. We may get to a stage, hopefully, that I will be able to sit in my office and interact with the people at the local government headquarters. I can call a group of people today and tell them I want to address them from my office or somewhere else, and many of them will gather at the viewing centre and we will be able to interact. They are seeing me, I am seeing them, they ask questions and I respond. That’s the ultimate. We are also able to use it to showcase some of our activities but basically, for now, it attracts a lot of football lovers.
What about the issue of three-point agenda?
The three-point agenda is always there. It will always be there and it will outlive me because there is nothing you will do that won’t be within the three-point agenda of peace and security, infrastructural development or human capital development. Whether you are talking about schools, health, water and so on, everything is captured in the three-point agenda. Now, strategically, we are developing in such a way that we are now using it as a tool for achieving our aim of creating Delta State beyond oil. And what does that mean, what we are getting now in terms of resources, whether from VAT or from IGR, how are we using it to develop our three-point agenda such that we build our economy not totally dependent on oil? We are going to develop all other areas of the economy including agriculture, tourism and others. Again, the ultimate is job creation because between you and I, we know that the greatest challenge in the world today is the issue of job creation. Whether you’re in America, Asia or Europe, the challenge of creating job is every day thing.
If you have been following elections in Europe, you will agree with me that incumbent governments are falling. Why are they falling? It’s because of the economy and what is the challenge of the economy, it’s job creation. So, the only challenge for anybody today is job creation and that’s the greatest challenge. That’s why I said from the word go that what we have been trying to achieve with our three-point agenda is to ensure first of all, that we are able to develop infrastructure that will attract investors. Infrastructure in the areas of power, transportation, ICT, which will ensure that an investor comes in and when the investor comes, he will be able to employ people. But those are long term things. We are also dealing with short term ones which are the micro credit scheme. So, the three-point agenda will always be there, whether I am here or not. There is nothing anybody can plan outside the three-point agenda.
What is your view about the federal government increasing revenue allocation to the states?
Let me explain better what you’re saying. We believe that the responsibilities that the federal government is taking is too much. I cannot imagine the federal government sitting in Abuja and coming to build a primary healthcare centre in your village. Federal government should not have any business in such things. As a primary healthcare centre, they are using the name of MDG. All sorts of things should not concern the federal government. Just a couple of weeks ago, they said they launched text books for primary school. What is the business of the federal government in such things for Christ’s sake. We believe the federal government should leave some of these responsibilities in the hands of local and state governments. All these primary and secondary education thing should be left for the local and state governments. All these boreholes, primary healthcare and all that are local and state government’s responsibilities. Federal government should concentrate on bigger responsibilities such as national security, the bigger infrastructure and all that. And in doing that, we have to rearrange the revenue. Right now, the federal government is talking about 52 per cent of the total revenue. Then the rest 48 per cent is between the states and the local governments and of course, the ecological fund is also included. So, we believe there should be a arrangement in which more revenue should go to the local governments and the states. We tried to tie it down to the payment of primary school teacher’s salaries. The responsibility today for paying primary school teachers’ salaries is for the local government councils. But most local government councils can’t do it. so, we spend about N600m every month for primary school teachers alone. Whatever a local government is bringing, we are putting in about N600m every month. So, we have to remit the amount to the SPEB to be able to augment the salaries of primary school teachers. If not, they won’t be able to pay their salaries.
Right now, we have problem of promotion arrears which local governments are supposed to pay. Arrears that have accumulated to about N7 billion. Where will the local government get that? Of course, we will gradually come to their aid. Last month, I just released N1 billion so that they can start the payment. This is not really the responsibility of the state government but these are the teachers that teach our children, we cannot just leave them alone. In terms of rearrangement of the federation in terms of responsibilities, things should be rearranged. We believe if the whole thing is rearranged, more funds will come to the local and state governments.
Delta is a multi-ethnic state, what are you doing to bring all the ethnic groups together?
Ethnic harmony is a very key and sensitive issue. Ethnic harmony, in terms of distribution of official structure. We tried as much as possible to ensure that every ethnic group gets what is due. Realizing and recognizing the fact that we have large ethnic groups and small ethnic groups. I come from Isoko, one of the smallest ethnic groups but that shouldn’t make me give everything to my group because I am the governor. I should realize there are bigger ethnic groups. You cannot as well say you’re not from a particular ethnic group, therefore, you won’t give the group what’s due. So, as much as possible we are giving each area or each ethnic group what is due. I try not to emphasise the issue of ethnicity, especially in the distribution of our major infrastructural projects. This is because we cannot put an infrastructure in a particular ethnic group and that project or that structure is being used by that ethnic group alone. It’s not possible. It’s like as there is airport in Asaba now, how many Asaba people use the airport now? The people that use the airport most are the people across the Niger. So, what I am saying is that the fact that an infrastructure is in an area doesn’t mean the infrastructure is for that ethnic group alone. It is an infrastructure that can be used by others. But because of our nature, sometimes, we say oh, ‘we don’t have this in our area, we don’t have that in our area.’ For instance, I took some Isoko people up one day who said there is nothing happening in Isokoland and all that. Before you can get to Delta from Lagos through Benin or wherever, by the time we finish that expressway and we have the airport here, you land in Asaba, within 20 minutes you’re in your home in Isoko. And there is a dual carriage way that’s going through the two local government councils. So, it’s for you to identify these infrastructure and you invest in your place. I cannot build another airport in Isokoland, it’s not possible. So, that’s the operational manual of infrastructure. You must also acknowledge that in spite of all these, there is also the issue of the state capital. Maybe people are complaining that we are doing so much in Asaba, forgetting that Asaba is the capital of Delta State. And being the capital, it means every Deltan has to identify with Asaba. Whether you like it or not, you have to come to Asaba to do one thing or the other once you’re from Delta. If you buy a land in Warri or anywhere in Delta State, you have to come to Asaba to get the Certificate of Occupancy. Whatever you want to do as a Deltan, you have to come to Asaba because Asaba is the state capital and it’s the centre of activities, we just have to develop it more than any other part of the state.
This story was first published in Encomium Weekly edition of Tuesday, June 19, 2012