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Emmanuel Uduaghan... Rock Steady Governor!

29 Nov 2012

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Intro

From an early age, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan has always been described as selfless, hard working, disciplined and committed to duty, traits that still very much reflect in his every day rule of Delta state. Born 58 years ago, Dr. Emmanuel who is the current governor of Delta state is the son of Chief Edmund Uduaghan and Mrs. Cecilia Uduaghan. His academic career began in Baptist Primary School, Mosogar in then Ethiope Local Government Area of Delta State, where he was a pupil between 1961 –1966. He then went to Federal Government College, Warri for his secondary education and from there moved on to the University of Benin where he graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS). In 1981, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, fresh from the university, was posted to Kwara State for the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

Here he excelled and was honoured as the most outstanding Corps Doctor in Kwara State at the end of the service year. Thereafter he felt a need to enrich his knowledge in his chosen career and he did this by successfully obtaining a Diploma in Anesthesia from the University of Benin. He made his debut into medical practice as a doctor at the Delta Steel Company (DSC) Medical center, Aladja in Delta State and from then on served in a number of healthcare facilities such as Shell Clinic Ogunu, Westend Hospital Warri and Benoni Clinic, Benin City, Edo State.


Given such an enviable background in the health sector, it didn’t come as a surprise to many when he was appointed Commissioner for Health in Delta state in May 1999. And from then on, it has been a steady rise for him as he got an appointment to be the Secretary of the State Government in June 2003 and was eventually elected Governor of Delta state in May 2007. Judging from his enviable and inspiring profile it is indeed safe to say Dr. Uduaghan is an accomplished elder statesman. Style Correspondent KONYE CHELSEA NWABOGOR spent an afternoon with his Excellency where he spoke about his transition from the every day practice of medicine to full time politics and also the everyday challenges of governance.

CREDITS- PHOTOGRAPH BY TY BELLO.

What was your childhood like?

From age two, I grew up with my grandmother in a village called Mosogar, which is currently in Ethiope west local government, Delta state, back then there was no light, water, no health facility and you could only access the place by boat. I think the only thing we had was a primary school. I remember I had to go to the farm early in the morning with the men, tap rubber and then go clear farms with the women later on. Sometimes we would also go fishing. So I would say I was a typical village boy. That was where I also started my primary education, up to primary five before I went to another village to continue my education.

What inspired the transition from the every day practice of medicine to full time politics?

Even as a medical practitioner, I was an armed-chair politician. Armed chair in the sense that I used to be very interested in political conversations but my coming into politics was as a result of the influence of my cousin, James Ibori who I would say I followed into politics. Like you rightly said, I was involved in the everyday practice of medicine but as politics came, I thought it wasn’t just good enough to leave politics for those who I would call traditional politicians. I had the belief that a lot more exposed persons should also come into politics.

Some may say your road to the State House was made a lot easier by the fact that your predecessor James Ibori is a blood relative? Would you agree with that?

Well I would agree that he contributed and there’s no doubt about that, but one person alone cannot make a governor, it is the choice of the people.

Delta state has recently experienced one of Nigeria’s worst ever-natural disasters, what has the State done so far to ease the pains of the victims affected?

The flooding that affected Delta State also affected so many states in Nigeria. Yes, it true that there was a warning from NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) stating that we were to expect a flood, but I don’t think anyone expected the magnitude with which it hit us. It affected a lot of local governments in Delta; I would say about 14 local governments were affected. Out of these, four were severely affected! The first challenge we had was trying to evacuate the people, which we eventually did. At first, a lot of them resisted but we finally convinced them to leave. The aim was to bring them to a place where we could give good shelter, food, water, medical facilities and all other basic necessities of life. We were able to open about eighteen camps in various parts of the states. It has been challenging running these camps but we have managed to cope.

What support has the state so far gotten from the federal govt, corporate bodies and private individual in managing the situation?

The support given to the flood victims have been very amazing! A lot of individuals brought items like clothing, mattresses, blankets, medications and even food items. They did a lot to help. We also got support from a lot of companies too. As for the Federal Government, they have also been very helpful. Mr. President set up a committee headed by the Minister for Environment, and when they submitted their assessment, he categorized the states and placed Delta State in Category A, meaning it was one of the severely affected states. And so when funds were being released N500 million was released to Delta state to help handle the crisis. Overall, the support for the flood victims has been quite impressive.

What’s the total amount of occupants residing in these camps?

There are roughly about 35,000 occupants. They all didn’t open at the same time. At the very beginning, we had just two camps but as people were being evacuated more were opened.

What long-term plan does government have for some of these occupants who have no homes to return to?

The challenge of managing the internally displaced persons and also that of managing the flooding itself were put into three categories- the short term, the intermediate and the long term plan. The short-term plan involved bringing the victims into camps and ensuring they had all the basic necessities of life, the intermediate one had us pondering on what actions to take after the water dries up or recedes. We currently have two teams who are working on an assessment and are to make recommendations on the post-flooding management. Meanwhile we have been fumigating all the areas that are getting dry. We are also trying to discern between the houses that are still inhabitable and the ones that are not. It is obvious that certain people have no homes to go back to, it is also obvious that certain areas need to be reclaimed, sand-filled and so on and so forth. So it is after we get our assessment reports before we are conclusive on the next steps to take.

On your assumption of office, you proposed a 3-point agenda to guide the governance of your administration- Peace and Security, Infrastructural Development, Human Capital Development? How much success have you achieved in each of these areas?

The 3-point agenda are actually programs or strategies to industralise the state and eventually empower the people and create employment. It is not a program that is totally achievable in a 4 or 8-year tenure. We actually have a 50-year strategic plan using the 3-point agenda as a base line. So far so good we are making progress. For the peace and security, we are working with the federal government to control militancy, which was the major challenge at the time, I assumed office. We also have what I would call the emergence of new crimes, which really is a fall out of militancy. Crimes like illegal bunkering and kidnapping. In the area of Infrastructure we also are trying to develop that by focusing on areas like transportation, power and ICT (Information and Communication Technology).  And of course for Human Capital Development, we are talking of health care and education. In terms of how much success we have achieved, I would say we have made very good progress.

What have you done to develop the state in the area of culture and tourism?
Delta state has various tourist sights, which the Ministry of Culture and Tourism are currently trying to develop. Aside from that, Delta is known to all as the home of entertainment. Our Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Richard Mofe Damijo is a well-known Nollywood star. He has tried to identify talents in areas like music, comedy and acting and help build them. He has a talent show, which he organizes yearly to help with his search. In terms of tourism facilities, we are also encouraging private investors to come build various hotels. We also have a private firm who are currently building the Delta Leisure Resorts and Wildlife Park, which would be one of the biggest water themed parks in Nigeria.

Aside from the obvious oil revenue, what other avenues do you have for wealth creation should this product dry up?

I think we are the first state that has strategised a way of dealing with the problem of entirely depending on Oil alone. The economy of Nigeria, by extension of many states, is almost 90 to 95 % dependent on Oil. But we have realised that though we don’t pray it dries up, it is a huge possibility that it can, also the price can fall and this would seriously affect the economy and so our strategy of development is based on creating a state that is not dependent entirely on Oil. That means we would use the oil money to develop other sectors of the economy.  And the two major areas are agriculture and tourism. For agriculture we intend to assist the current farmers to improve on their yield, encourage those who are not into agriculture to go into it, also encourage large scale farming and finally create a linkage between the large scale farmer and the peasant farmer. This linkage is very necessary because when small-scale farmers produce their goods there usually is no processing or packaging facility. This reduces the value of their products and in turn drops the market value, which discourages them from farming. So we are trying to create a linkage that would ensure that whatever the small-scale farmer produces is processed, packaged and probably exported.

Delta state has been described as an axis for kidnappers, because of the high record of cases in recent times. What is being doing to restore safety?

We are working very closely with the security agencies to deal with the issue of kidnapping. We are massively educating our people on how to be security conscious. Some of these kidnappers live within us and some people know them. We have also been working heavily on Intelligence gathering, that is getting information from people. We are doing a lot and I can confidently say the rate of kidnapping is reducing in Delta.

The Delta State House of Assembly recently proposed passing a bill stipulating death sentence for kidnappers and terrorists. Some may say it’s a well-deserved punishment, others concede to it being too steep. What's your take stand on this?

My stand on this has always been the same; the death sentence has not stopped any criminal activities.

Being a medical doctor you are fully aware of the difficulties people experience from the health sector, now you are on the other side of the table as a governor what have you done to alleviate some of these problems?

I was one of those who first instituted the free maternal health care in my first few months as a governor. This was due to an experience I had as a practitioner. I had to manage a woman who lost her child during childbirth. She initially went to the hospital but because she couldn’t afford the fees charged, she resorted to a quack doctor but he could not deliver her bridge-baby so she was brought back to the same hospital with the baby dangling in between her legs. It was a truly nasty experience! And when I had the opportunity to take the decision, I made sure that every pregnant woman who gets to a government hospital in Delta state will not only receive free medical healthcare, but would have her child treated free of charge till they are five years old. This has put a lot of pressure on our hospitals but we are not relenting, instead we are working towards increasing the amount of medical facilities we have in the state by building more hospitals, employing more doctors and nurses. Even our Teaching hospital, which was started by my predecessor, has been completed and properly equipped. As at today, it is one of the best Teaching hospitals in Nigeria. By next week, we would be in the States to sign an MOU with a Teaching hospital over there so that by next year we would be able to do renal (kidney) transplants.

What do you miss most about every day practice as a medical doctor?

I miss interacting with the patients. As a doctor, there’s so much joy in seeing your sick patient get better. I miss all of that.

If given a chance, would you go back your primary practice?

Of course I would. I might not be able to attend to patients like I used to but I miss the hospital and I would love to once in a while go back there, interact with the patients and also the medical personnel and get to know some of the new medical findings.

On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, what number would you rate your performance as a governor so far?

I can’t rate myself let others be the judge of that.

Where do you see yourself in 2015? Any plans of running for another political office perhaps the Senate?

As at today I don’t intend to run for any office, I am more interested in how I can help in developing our youths.

Tell me a bit about the First lady? How did you meet her and how long have you being married?

We met over twenty-seven years ago and got married about two years later. By February next year we would be twenty-five years in marriage. I met her through one of her Uncles. She had come to visit him and I was also there to see him. That was the first time we met.

What has marital life being like so far?

It has being wonderful. An amazing gift from God.

What traits do you find most enduring about her?

She is a very spiritual and prayerful person.

It is a general belief in Nigeria that a governor can solve almost any financial problem. How do you cope with the amount of people who bring their problems to your doorstep? And how do you also cope with the negative responses you get from those you can’t assist?

It is true that people put a lot of financial pressure on governors. But the truth is you can’t assist everyone. You try and help as many people as you can and also more importantly, make people realize that governance is not about dishing out money but creating a better environment for the people. It is really quite challenging.

How have you and your family being able to cope with the invasion of privacy that comes with being the First family of Delta state?

Our privacy as the first family of Delta state is constantly eroded. People try to pry into your private lives. It is one of the pains you have to bear as a Governor. Sometimes it’s even worse on the children. Fortunately we have kids who have been able to absolve this intrusion and cope with it. We constantly pray and talk about it and as it comes, it also goes.

Now as a governor your time is split between millions of people who need your attention. How do you strike an even balance between time for yourself and time for your family and time for your people?

I was brought up to see life as dealing with 3 issues. First your relationship with God, the second your family and then thirdly your work. At every time in my life, even while practicing as a doctor this has been the sequence for me and so as much as possible, I still try to follow this now even though it is quite tough especially because I travel a lot. But even then I always create time to attend to the needs of the family.

There is this conception or mis-conception that when a governor assumes office he tends to turn his back on close friends and associates who grew up with him. And because of territorial boundaries that come with the office they have difficulties reaching out to him? How true is this and do a lot of your childhood friends still have easy access to you?

When you become a governor there are so many things that take your time. For me I now have to deal with the issues of about four million people, which is the population of Delta state. Before I assumed office this wasn’t the case. I assure you this is a very difficult question to answer. First of all when you assume office your friends and people who grew up with you now want to see you more often than they used to. Asides from that you suddenly have a lot of them. In fact some people you might not even have seen since your primary or secondary school days now surface. Sometimes the pressure is really much and of course you have family too, some of them who you might not even have met before. And then of course political associates and current friends. It is really just about these people understanding that you have so much pressure on you. As much as possible you try to relate to old friends but I can tell you it’s very challenging and sometimes very difficult to deal with.

How would you like Deltans to remember you after you leave office?
My own way of answering that question would be slightly different from the regular. I think it totally depends on who is remembering me. A woman who before I came into office had difficulties footing her maternity bills but is now able to go to the hospital and have her baby free of charge would of course remember me for the free maternal health care she got. Someone in Asaba here who usually had to travel to neighboring towns to catch a flight would remember me for the airport. It all depends on who is remembering me.

Knowing what you know now at this stage in your life, and in reflection of your past, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
No, not really. God has been very gracious to me. I never thought I would become a Governor. I just wanted a quiet family life with my medical practice but here I am today. I have no regrets.

Any last words for Deltans?
First of all I would like to thank them for their cooperation so far. I think those who have being supportive of my government have out numbered those who haven’t. Yes, I have had challenges but generally its been good and I want to thank them for their support and let them know that for the remaining years I am here I intend to do my best to improve on their welfare.

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