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Let's Give Oil Communities Shares from their Production, Says Uduaghan

24 Jan 2013

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Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan

In an interview with journalists, the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, identified his major preoccupation as ensuring that the state can be viable without depending on oil revenue. Ernest Chinwo, who was there, presents the excerpts

How far have you gone with your Delta without Oil project?
We started with Delta without oil, but now, it is Delta beyond oil.  It simply means an economic agenda; that we will develop other areas of the economy, different from oil and gas but using the current funds coming from oil and gas to develop the other areas of the economy, especially in the areas of agriculture and solid minerals. I am glad that all over Nigeria, people are now talking about Nigeria without oil.

We are using the economic agenda, believing that crude oil is a commodity that is very volatile. We are not sure of the price of oil at any particular time and that affects the state and national economies. It can also finish with time and we may not have the oil again. What happens? That is why we, as a state, have put in place the economic agenda so that in the future, with or without oil, we can survive. I am glad that all over now in Nigeria, everybody is talking of Nigeria beyond oil.

I will say so far, so good. Specifically, what we did was to put up three-point agenda of peace and security, infrastructural development and human capital development, with the ultimate goal of job creation. How have we set about doing this? We tried to ensure peace and security through engagement and of course, enforcement of law and order. We are engaging those who are involved in peace and security issues. While engaging them, we must ensure that there is law and order, which we achieved through the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the Federal Government and our various law courts.

In the area of infrastructure, we have two components: infrastructure that will attract investments, big or small and in this area, we are talking of power, transportation, roads, airport, seaport, railway, ICT and Industrial Parks. We are also talking about urbanisation, which involves improving on the quality of lives of our people. We also have the special infrastructure: education, our schools, water, public transportation, which we are deeply involved in through the purchase of tricycles, taxis and buses for our people.

Also, there is health infrastructure which comprises primary health care centres and hospitals that are more of social infrastructure. The third aspect is the master-plan development in which the structures and strategies recognise that the human being starts from the day of conception until it becomes a baby and you must take care of the union.

We also put that into consideration and that is the basis for our free maternal health care, to ensure that every woman, who is pregnant, has access to quality health care. So that the woman will have the opportunity of giving birth to a quality child and the quality child is taken care of health-wise by the state for five years. We have our free Under-5 health care services.

After that, the child goes to school. We ensure that the child has the opportunity to attend school. We have a free educational system, up to secondary school level. We also pay for WAEC and NECO. By the time you finish secondary school, you have the opportunity of going to the university. We ease the burden through scholarship scheme. For those who are intelligent, we have another scholarship that we give while at the university, even for Law students and those studying Aviation.

By the time you finish your university and you make First Class, we will offer you automatic scholarship, involving N5 million every year, to study in any part of the world. We have the coordinated programmes. We are preparing for an industrial revolution in Delta State. The ultimate is job creation. In Europe, many governments have fallen because of lack of jobs. The issue in Obama’s election was job creation. Today, nationally, the issue is also about job creation.

The industries will help to create jobs, but these are long time issues. We have the micro-credit scheme for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises. These are quick wins we could employ. We want an economy that is not totally dependent on oil. We do not mind the oil as long as it lasts. When it is not there, we should be able to survive.

Since you are trying to diversify the economy, what specific areas are you directing your attention as a state?
In terms of agriculture, we have our emphasis on the value chain of agriculture by being able to encourage our farmers at the local level to produce so much- first to feed ourselves. It is very important that we are able to feed ourselves and then we produce extra for economic gain.

A typical cassava farmer is able to produce enough during the year to feed his family and will simply produce more that he can sell. When they are encouraged to produce so much and they do not have anything to do with the excess that they produce, then, they will be discouraged. When they produce so much, the price will drop.

When we are talking of the value chain, we are talking of a situation where the farmer produces cassava and there is a system that ensures that for the fact that he produces it, it is taken off and processed. That is where the issue of processing comes in. We have a value chain from the farmer to the processing and packaging. We are encouraging the peasant farmers and large investors that will bring in cassava processing machines. I just used cassava as an example.

One thing about agriculture is that it can employ massively and it can ensure that we do not go hungry. A society that is not hungry will be peaceful. If you are hungry, you are angry. If you are angry, you tend to be violent. A society in which people are able to feed themselves tends to be more peaceful as against when they are not able to feed themselves. We are placing emphasis on agriculture.

We also have comparative advantage as a state in the areas of culture and tourism. We have a lot of cultural sites. We have Delta Tourism Park that we are developing. One other tourist area is medical tourism. The average Nigerian that goes to India goes with at least one person. Most times, they go with two people. When they get to India, those two people will stay in a place, either in a hotel or a guest house. They are spending money. They will go to the market. They will buy souvenirs when they are coming. I am not talking of the patients, but people that followed them. It is a lot of boost to any economy. As a state too, that is why we are developing our health sector to be up to standard so that people will also be coming from other places for their treatment.

In our teaching hospital in Oghara, we are doing some surgeries that are not done in any other hospital in Nigeria. We will soon be doing kidney transplant so that our people do not have to go outside Nigeria for treatment. Culture and tourism are very key areas.

One of the major challenges in Delta state today is the issue of kidnapping. How are you dealing with this and do you believe in death penalty for kidnappers?
As a person, I do not believe in death penalty for kidnappers. The crime has never been solved by death penalty. First, death penalty leads to more desperation. Second, notable people have been unnecessarily killed and the evidence brought to the court, sometimes, is not accurate and innocent people are sentenced to death. Third, we have the right to life. The public execution in Nigeria did not stop armed robbery.

Kidnapping is a big challenge to us. It has become an easy criminal activity than armed robbery. It is a bit of migration from armed robbery to kidnapping. There is no dividing line between the two. For me, a kidnapper is an armed robber. Instead of stealing money, he is stealing human beings and forcing people to negotiate. It is another form of armed robbery. But we are dealing with kidnapping, first by strengthening our security agencies. Second, we are ensuring that our intelligence network is greatly improved upon. We are using various bodies for that. We are using vigilante groups, traditional rulers, religious leaders and some of our youths.  Intelligence is very key!

There is little complexity in Delta state kidnapping. Apart from the economic reason, it is more of a political issue. At a time, the focus was on government appointees and their relatives, persons that are close to the governor. So far, we are making progress.

The little sore point we had was the kidnap of the mother of the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, about two months ago. Since then, it has been more on the quiet side. What has actually assisted us in tackling kidnapping is the ban on the use of commercial motorcycles (popularly called okada) in our major cities. Commercial motorcycles are major tools the kidnappers were using. Once we succeeded in banning motorcycles in some of our major cities, those cities have been quiet. We are moving to other areas, where we still have pockets of kidnap cases. Even the Boko Haram suicide bombers have been using motorcycles.

How was your experience like during the kidnap of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s mother?

The truth is that every human being is important. Every human being kidnapped is a big challenge. Of course, there are still some human beings that give more challenges when anything happens to them. Why her own was more challenging? First, she is from the royalty- the queen of a community, the wife of a prominent traditional ruler in Delta state.

It is not just about the minister, but about the fact that the kidnappers went inside the palace to take a queen. It was very challenging. Even managing the community was also challenging because it involved the mother of the coordinating minister of the national economy, who has been having running battle with the oil cartel. I did not know that woman (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) was well known world-wide. That incident made me to know that she is more of an international figure than we imagined. In Nigeria, we have somebody that we underestimate her international status. I do hope that one day we will take advantage of her international status. Her mother’s kidnap was challenging and a big dent on us as a state and also as Nigerians.

We understand that you are building your own power plant. When will it be ready?

From the port in Port Harcourt, we have brought by road the turbines to where we are building the power plant. The turbines are not more than six kilometres to the site. We still have the challenge of moving them to the site. By the end of this year, the power plant will be ready but we have the challenge of transmission. The Federal Government is still totally in charge of transmission of power. Our hope is that when we start generating power, the people of Delta State should be the beneficiaries, rather than just take it to the national grid.

Are you comfortable with the current situation with the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) before the National Assembly?

The development is very unfortunate. Because of the crude oil exploratory activities, there had been a lot of environmental damage in the Niger Delta. As a young boy growing up in the village, I used to go to the farm, our produce from the farm was very healthy and I used to boil Banga (palm fruit) on fire and while it was boiling, I would go to the river and catch fish with the hand to cook the soup.

Even going to the river, one would see clean and clear water, with the sand at the bottom of the water. Dipping hand into the water and we remove the white sharp sand which we used to brush our teeth. I experienced it. I was not told. As a result of oil activities, today, we do not have such things. We have polluted air and soil that will not be able to grow anything because it is polluted. The water is also polluted, with the fishes dead.

People should be sympathetic with what is happening in the Niger Delta because of the environmental damage. The people can no longer farm or fish as a result of pollution and environmental degradation. So, we need some extra funding to be able to survive. I keep saying that the ideal is for these people to own the oil and pay royalty and tax to the Federal Government. But we have gone over that argument over time and people have died because of it. It becomes very sensitive.

The other argument is that if you do not create an enabling environment for oil activities to go on, the more money you are looking for at the centre will not be there. At the peak of the Niger Delta crisis, oil production was about 700,000 barrels per day, less than one million bpd. Today, we are talking about 2.4 or 2.5 bpd and everybody is clapping. When it was 700,000bpd, Nigeria felt it terribly. That was why everybody was happy when amnesty came. So, do we wish to go back to that era? The answer is no. Nobody wants to go back to that era. But how do we prevent going back to that era? Give the people a percentage of their production.

Some people have said if the money is given to the communities, they will kill themselves. That is laughable. Give it to them. They will not kill themselves. I am not saying give it to the states, I am saying give it to the communities. We can even help in how they manage the funds. There are communities all over the world that have these kinds of funds. Sometimes it is put in trusts to manage either locally or internationally. It is the interest that goes to the community every year. This way the principal remains even for generations to come. The interest is used to develop the community. Sometimes cash is given to the community. It happened in Alaska and other parts of the world. So, what is the problem here? If this oil was in some other parts of the country, this debate will not go on.

What is the way forward over the crisis in PDP?

There is no war in PDP. I say that with all sense of responsibility. As a governor of a PDP state, as the leader of the party in my state, that also makes me a leader of the party at the national level. As a member of the National Executive Council (NEC), I want to say this with all emphasis and all seriousness, with a true conscience. There had been no time the governors had come together, either publicly or privately, to discuss the issue of fighting the chairman of the party (Alhaji Bamanga Tukur). We contributed very significantly to making him the chairman of the party.

Yes, there are challenges in the party and these are challenges that are encountered in a big party like the PDP. There had been no time the governors decided to move against the national chairman of PDP. Alhaji Tukur is an elder statesman. We have a lot of respect for him. The war in PDP is imagined, rather than real. Whatever is being put in the media is being done by certain persons in Abuja. There are Abuja politicians. They are not doing much in terms of being engaged. They just cook up things and push to the members of the public. There is really no war in the PDP.

There is the belief that PDP governors are on the side of Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako, on the decision of the party to suspend the state executive, when in actual fact, the PDP national leadership was trying to ensure sanity in the state. Isn’t that true?

Let me put it correctly, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP reinstated Adamawa executive committee in its communiqué. NWC sacked the exco, but after looking at some other factors again, it reinstated the exco. What the PDP governors did was to say we were in support of the reinstatement of the exco by the NWC. There was a statement by the NWC to the effect.

When we met the last time, we saw the statement and we said fine, the NWC had reinstated the exco and we were in support of the reinstatement of the Kugama-led exco.

Why we supported the NWC which did the right thing by reinstating the Kugama-led exco in Adamawa State was that there are procedures for installing the exco of the party at every level- from the ward to the national. There are also procedures for removing the exco. It has nothing to do with Nyako as a person. It is just a procedure. If the procedure is correct, we will support the procedure which was what we have done.

Some people want to see the PDP fight itself. There is no fight or tension in the PDP. We have been in the PDP for so many years and we know what can happen. What is on the ground now is not near what had happened in the past in the PDP. Elections are still about two and a half years away. So, why will there be tension? There is no tension at all. It is when elections are coming that you talk about tension.

Where do you stand on state police and power generation, transmission and distribution, as the nation’s Constitution is being amended?

I am a strong advocate of state police. Power generation, transmission and distribution are still being controlled by the Federal Government, through the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. Some states are generating power, but there are challenges in the areas of transmission and distribution. My position on Constitution review is that of true federalism. True federalism is key and allows you to control power, security, your resources and a lot of things.

Tags: Featured, Nigeria, Oil Communities, Politics

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