Governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan
Governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, speaks of his triumphs in the many court-ordered rerun election, why he’s averse to commissioning projects and why he wouldn’t have any difficulty adjusting to life after government in 2015. He spoke with THISDAY Board of Editors
How do you deal with the perception that you haven’t achieved anything commensurate with the time you’ve spent so far in government?
I was in government as commissioner and I was in government as secretary to the state government and I’ve discovered that many governments tend to do things on impulse. There is really no strategic plan in most governments. The danger in that when one government leaves the next government begins to pursue programmes of its own. Except you were in a previous government it’s difficult to continue what the previous government had done. So, what we’ve tried to do is to put up a strategic plan. It is, in fact, a 50-year development plan and the aim is that anyone who is taking over from me will have something on ground to work on. When you have that kind of strategy you’re bound not to be popular from the beginning until things start crystallizing. We needed to plan first with our three-point agenda and be focused so people will know the direction we are taking. But we still had our low-hanging fruits. I like to things quietly; I’m not a project-commissioning person. If I build a hospital, for instance, I expect that people should start using the using without all the funfare of commissioning. I’ve never heard that President Obama or any governor in the US went to commission any project.
Did you come to government with a blueprint or you began to develop after you got in?
I came to government with a plan. Even though I was a commissioner and secretary to the state government, there were still a few things I didn’t know. But I certainly had a blueprint.
Are there things you set out to achieve which you feel you might be unable to accomplish?
I set out to create a state that is not totally dependent on oil. I thought oil wealth is not sustainable if you don’t use it to develop other areas. So we set out to put up strategies to develop other areas of the economy especially the areas of agriculture, tourism and solid minerals. In doing that we needed to put up infrastructure that will attract investment. And with investment, of course there will be employment. We also needed to handle what I call the low-hanging fruits, immediate programmes that will empower people because the bottomline is job creation. The other aspect of empowering people to create immediate employment is our micro-credit scheme which is yielding fruits. We had to review the kind of pace we had set for ourselves and slow down because of funding constraints. We tried to increase our IGR but it’s not where we want it to be yet.
The monthly allocation has been going up and down. Putting these together would have been meaningful but then we also have this constraint of wage increase. As at 2007 when I started our wage bill, pension and all that was not more than three billion. Today, it’s more than seven billion. Since 2007 we’ve had special salary scheme for health professionals, teachers, of course we have the increased minimum wage for civil servants, the contributory pension scheme where the state has to contribute a certain percentage monthly for workers. So these have really increased the state’s wage bill. That has created a funding challenge for most of our programmes. The other challenge we’ve also had is the attitude of some officials to work. Many people generally have the idea that government is for sharing and if you’re not ready to do that, they have a way of slowing you down.
But some people say human capital development – a key point of your agenda – actually means sharing?
Whatever we’re doing is about the human being. Our human capital development simply means how do you touch the life of the human being from conception to the grave? We asked ourselves how we can affect the individual’s life from the day of conception to the day of delivery. We have to ensure that that unborn child has a quality health care programme whilst still in the mother’s womb. The constraint most time is finance; the pregnant woman does not have money to go the hospital and so resorts to patronizing quacks or herbalist. And how do we handle that?
Let us ensure that every pregnant woman has access to healthcare and it has to be free. That was how we developed our free maternal healthcare. When I was practicing, I was called to attend to a woman who had difficulty in labour. When I got to the hospital she was lying on a couch and they covered her with a cloth. When I removed the cloth I saw a baby dangling between her legs. Of course, the baby was dead. She was pregnant and didn’t register at the hospital or anywhere. But the day she was in labour she went to a government hospital and they asked for her card; she neither had a card nor the money to pay for one or for the delivery. So they sent her away and she left. Of course she went to patronize a quack and unfortunately the baby came out in breach and the head was stuck in the womb.
The woman who delivered her tried to pull the baby forcibly and in the doing so stretched the neck and as a result the neck became very thin. They eventually brought her to our hospital which was a company hospital but the baby had already died. That incident stirred something in me. It was clear that if that woman had access to healthcare or if that hospital had admitted her, the health officials would probably have known that she would require a caesarian section and that child would probably be alive today. As soon as I got the opportunity to make a change I introduced free maternal healthcare. We also have free healthcare for children under five years. We keep blaming the youths for their inappropriate actions but we don’t know the circumstances of their birth. Sometimes the circumstances of their birth contribute to what they become in life. Also, we have a lot of our children who cannot go to school because of money.
To address that, we have a three-phase programme: to ensure that every child has access to education. So they go to school free of charge; we pay for their exams and so on. The second is to ensure they have teachers. And to that end, we employ so many teachers. The third part is the infrastructure. So after the primary and secondary education, how do we affect their lives? We have programmes too for university students in the form of various scholarships even for post-graduate students. We have immediate scholarships for our first class honours graduate anywhere in the world. Of course, after education the search for job is inevitable. That is why we place so much emphasis on job creation. Essentially, that is what our human capital development programme entails.
You spoke of funding challenge and that is rather surprising given the level of oil exploration in your state?
With regard to the oil companies, you know most of them have their headquarters in Lagos. They don’t pay their tax here because their registration is at the headquarters. A company like Chevron, for instance, they have their headquarters in Lekki, Lagos, so the tax they pay we cannot collect it at the state level. Besides, the company tax is paid directly to the federal government. The only thing we can collect from them is the PAYE tax. That is the kind of challenge that we have. Our wage bill alone covers about five states. The number of teachers and health care professionals we have is quite large. The consultants in Delta State are more than the consultants of a whole zone in Nigeria. But we need them, so it doesn’t make sense dropping workers. Yes, we have more money in the Niger Delta but we also have more responsibility. Also, what it cost me to construct a kilometer of road is much more than what it cost to construct a kilometer of road in some other parts of the country. There is a 26-kilometre road I’m constructing now that requires about 22 bridges.
Although there are scheduled flights to the Asaba airport, it’s anything but complete. Why is the completion taking so long?
What is happening at the Asaba airport shows that Asaba was overdue for an airport long time ago. We are just four years in the construction of the airport and that is still very young with regard to airport construction. So that is the problem we have; people are in a hurry to use the airport. What we have now is a provisional approval. We haven’t started taking the bigger planes because of one challenge or the other. In terms of timing, we’re not lagging behind.
About how long do you think it would be before it’s fully complete?
There is a regulatory authority that comes for inspection as we move along. So it’s very difficult to speak with certainty concerning a completion date. But it’s important to note there is no airport that is hundred percent complete; it’s always a work in progress.
It’s instructive you spoke of the imperative of creating an economy not entirely dependent on earnings from oil; but what have you been able to do to create an alternative economy in Delta State?
In our strategic plan we’ve been able to put up infrastructure that will attract investment. There are also the low-hanging fruits I talked about. Power is central to our drive to create infrastructure and we’re partnering the federal government in various power programmes and we also have our own power projects. We also looked at transportation. We’re also looking at ICT and urbanization. And then we’re creating strategic infrastructure for industrial clusters like the Warri Business Park and Koko Export Free Zone. These ones are long term infrastructure that will attract investors. The other areas I call the low-hanging fruits are micro credit for small and medium businesses. We have started experiencing results in agriculture.
We worked with some peasant farmers through the Agricultural Federation of Nigeria. We try to improve on their yield both in terms of quantity and quality by giving them farm inputs like fertilizer and working capital. Apart from that, we also took some youths from every local government and trained them so they can imbibe modern agricultural technique and set them up in various farms either in cluster or individually. So if there is increased production and the products do not yield money for them it becomes a problem. That is why we’re creating the linkage with bigger farms. We have attracted some big farmers like the Obasanjo Farms, for instance. They acquired a vast land in Ogwashiuku where they have a big poultry, one of the biggest in Nigeria today, producing up to two thousand five hundred crates of eggs daily. They also have a factory for producing feeds and are setting up a facility that processes chicken.
The result is that the smaller poultry farmers now have a place they can by feeds for their poultry. When that processing factory is completed, the small poultry farmers can take their chicken there, process and package them. We are putting up six cassava processing plants to process starch and cassava flour. The benefit is that the average cassava farmer is encouraged to produce more. What has been happening was that when they produce so much and there is no market for them, prices drop and they are discouraged. The effect is that the next year you would discover there is cassava scarcity. We have also formed the fish farmers into cooperatives so they would become part-owners of the fish feeds plant that we’re setting up. We’re doing this in collaboration with the Bank of Industry.
The other sector where we have become very active is the tourism sector. Several hotels are springing up in Delta, particularly in Asaba because of the airport. International brand names like Hilton, Radisson and Protea are all coming up in Asaba. It’s interesting that the movie industry is virtually now in Delta. Most of the movies you see today were shot in Delta. That is attracting a lot of visitors. But much more significant is the Delta Leisure and Resort Centre that is coming up. It’s a partnership between the government and private investors who are bringing in $240 million. They are the ones operating it; the fund is not coming to the state. The state’s contribution is to get an access road to the place which we have done, and to also provide the land. They are also constructing a zoo. Industries are also showing interest in the business park and the free trade zone. We’re almost ready to go to site on the Warri Industrial Park to start initial construction of the access road.
All of these would make no meaning in the face of rising insecurity which Delta seems to be experiencing with frequent cases of abduction. There was the case of a police chief alleged to be conniving with kidnappers and nothing has been heard about the case since then. Are you not alarmed by these?
In terms of statistics I’m not sure we have the highest. It’s just ours is the most reported. Delta has the fortune and misfortune of having the highest number of urban cities in Nigeria. So anything that happens in any part of Delta easily gets to the media. But I’m not denying there are cases of kidnap in Delta. We have done a lot to try to see how to handle the issues of kidnapping but it’s been quite complex. Security agencies are involved and we even had a case of a pastor and his children being involved. It has now become the quickest means of making money. In dealing with the issue of kidnapping we’ve tried to put up a lot of strategies.
One is intelligence-gathering; we’ve also tried to sensitize the various stakeholders – traditional rulers, religious leaders, vigilante groups, community leaders, because these kidnappers live among people and I have a feeling that people know them too. The other challenge we have too is that many kidnap cases have insiders. Thirdly, I’d say over 50 percent of the kidnap cases are carried out by people who come from outside the state. Kidnapping is a national issue. With regard to the police officer, the person who you would normally call if there is case of kidnap to go and rescue the victim was also suspected of being in the kidnapping ring. He was arrested and taken to Abuja. We were shocked when he came back to Delta. He did not just return, he had a thanksgiving in church and held a big party after that. And then the incident that had gone down just went up again. I complained to the inspector-general and he sent some people to come and investigate and we’re waiting for the outcome. But this now leads to the issue of state police because if I was in total control of the police I know what to do in that circumstance.
The fear is that state police would be prone to abuse?
There is no country that runs the kind of federation that we run that doesn’t have a state police. Most have a state police and the federal police. Community policing would help us deal with our security challenges. But it can only be done effectively when there is state police.
It appears the South-South Summit has become more or less a mere talk shop because there is yet no project jointly-conceived by the states in the zone let alone being implemented four years after the first summit in Calabar?
I disagree because in Calabar there was nothing like the BRACED Commission. We just had six states coming together to hold talks generally. But after that we sat and tried to put together what happened in Calabar and strategizing on how we go about it. We needed to have a structure and that was how the BRACED Commission came about. It has a director-general. The commissioners from the various states have been meeting in areas like transportation, education, environment and various other sectors. We were supposed to have another one two years after the one in Calabar but there was a dislocation in the governance of many of the South-South states. But a lot of things are crystallizing after this second meeting.
Has Delta gained anything specifically from hosting the summit?
A lot. There was a lot more visibility. It also gave us the opportunity to showcase some of the things that we’re doing.
Is it true you have virtually lost out to the opposition camp with your party in the contest for influence; that you are battling for your political life? Also, are you grooming a successor?
(Laughing) How can I possibly be grooming a successor when I’m said to be battling to stay relevant politically? I guess the two don’t go together. But, on a serious note, I’m not fighting for survival. For two months, I was not a governor and I still came back. There were some PDP members who worked with the opposition but it didn’t work. When you’re fighting a battle you must at a point sit down and reassess your strategy. All along I’ve been preaching peace, for us to come together. Those who took over from the last set of governors, even though they were their “boys” many of them are not in agreement with their predecessors. There are some risks in grooming a successor. What I’ve tried to do is ensure there is a level playing ground for everybody that has interest. Whoever emerges as governor would of course continue from where I stopped.
Is there any particular zone that your party is looking at?
The party has not sat down to make a decision on that. But people have their own agitations and may be gravitating towards one zone or the other.
Isn’t the fact that you had to take part in more court-ordered rerun than perhaps any other governor a taint on your victory? Has there been any rapprochement with Great Ogboru who is no doubt you major rival?
I won every election and all the ones I’ve won people have contested it in court. I won every court case except the one in which I was asked to leave office. And it has turned out to be a mistake. It was decided on the burden of proof; that the burden of proof rest on INEC and me to prove that we won the election – not that the person who is complaining should do so. I’m happy that the Supreme Court has now corrected that. There are areas where I lost; I don’t dispute that. There are also a lot more areas where I won. So, it’s a total picture. I’ve made overtures to a lot of the people that contested with me and even to him through parties. But he is also back to the Supreme Court.
Given that by 2015 you would have been in government for 16 years, how easy would it be readjusting to how you lived your life before the entry into politics – of course, that depends on if you don’t aspire to another political office?
It is not likely I’d contest any election after 2015. It’s only God that knows what the future holds. But I also have my plans. So many people do not have an exit plan when they leave office. And because of that, they are either idle or they are struggling for another office immediately after leaving office which is a big problem. I have my exit plan. I’ve been in government since 1999. I was thrown up into a leadership position as a commissioner without being prepared for it. My aspiration really was to be personal physician to the governor (James Ibori) in 1999 after the election. When he called me to ask what I wanted, I said “I want to be you personal physician”.
But he said no, that he wanted me to take of the health ministry. I had never worked in government so the first file I saw as a commissioner I didn’t know what to do with it. I had to call the permanent secretary who now gave me the necessary directions. I think back to that incident most time and I have realized there are several people in similar circumstance at different levels – commissioners, secretaries to state government even governors. I think I should try and do something about that when I leave office. I intend to establish a leadership training centre where I can train young persons for future leadership positions. Let us also create a platform for those who now have the leadership positions to at least get some basic training even if it’s for a few weeks when you’re appointed. We’re not preparing our leaders and that is creating a lot of problems in governance in this country. That is the gap that I want to fill when I leave office. By the time I leave office I’ll be over 60. I’ve lived a full life and a fulfilled life too. I need to give back to society.
What do you consider the most expedient areas that require amendment in the in the constitution?
First, we should have a proper federation. The federal government is overloaded with responsibilities. Why should the federal government be involved with primary school or primary health care? These are responsibilities which should be handled by the states. Of course, there should be some amendment on the revenue sharing formula. Also, there should be an amendment on the structure of the police. I cannot be described as the chief security officer of my state when my directive to the force in my state would only be carried out based on the relationship with the person you’re giving the directive. Ironically, as governor you’re funding a lot of their activities – even up to the fuel in their vehicles.