‘Nobody Can Wave a Magic Wand to Turn a Country, State to Eldorado’

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong holds a conversation with Mr. Ife Oyedele, an engineer and Executive Director, Niger Delta Power Holding Company, whose eyes are set on the office of governor of Ondo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress

Being a founding member of the APC, how would you asses the performance of your party in your state?

Well, that is a double edge sword but let me put it this way, I desire more in my state. I desire that we should drive on good roads, I desire that rather than being Number 19 on the list of Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, I will want us to be Number One, I will want us to be Number One in education, in industrialisation, I will want us to have pipe-borne water in our homes. I will want us to have regular power in our homes. I’m not too comfortable with where we are knowing where we used to be.

For instance, in the area of agriculture, even in the production of cocoa where Ondo State used to be Number One, we are no longer Number One. I understand that we are now Number Two if not Number Three. I will want for instance that when we are cutting down our rich forestry reserve, we are immediately planting new ones. I will desire a state where we can produce many sports stars, I will desire a state where the jobless youths can find work to do – where employment rate can be reduced to 10 percent so that government can have enough money to do projects and even the people can have enough money to take care of those who are jobless. So there is so much to be done in the state.

It’s easy when you are outside to proffer all these solutions but when you get in there you find out it’s a different cattle of fish. How do tackle that?

I do not know what you mean by when you are out and when you are in. All I know is that in every cell that I have had the opportunity to belong to whether in my Old Boys Association, in my Residents Association or Tenant and Residents Association because even when I was a tenant, I was very active in the residents association. In my club which happens to be the Ikoyi Club, in my family and in any group, that I have found myself, my desire always is to leave the place better than I met it. When I was the Premises Adviser in Ikoyi Club I initiated the construction of Sewage Treatment Plant – that was 74 years after the creation of Ikoyi Club. What that means is that in 74 years, all that we were doing in Ikoyi Club was bringing sewage trucks to evacuate waste and we were spending almost N14 million every year. To the glory of God, working with the Chairman of the club and members of the executive management committee of the club, I designed a sewage treatment plant and the contract was awarded and today, trucks don’t come into Ikoyi Club. So to say that when you are outside, yes I was a critique in Ikoyi Club as well but when I got in there I was able to make a difference. Nobody can wave a magic wand to turn a country or state to Eldorado. But it is incumbent on you to move from Level A to Level B within the time that is allotted to you because you have a short time. Thereafter, anybody who comes after you, can continue from where you stopped.

Are you now saying that so far Ondo state hasn’t really developed as you want it to be?

Well, you can tell me, you are journalists, you should go to Ondo State and tell me what meaningful development you have seen in the state in the last few years. The truth is that if Ondo state is 44 years. Is it right that a state that is 44 years old does not have pipe-borne water? When that state was created, we had pipe born water in many places. Go to Akoko and tell the people that there has been any development in the state – there is virtually no stretch of 10km of road that is motorable in the entire Akoko area. How can you tell such people? A State at 44, we do not have a stadium where our football team can play football. Our state football team is not even recognized by NFF not to talk about the world football federation, so what are we talking about? In the part of Ondo state where I come from, the students don’t sit for JAMB in those places, they travel as far as Akure or Ijebu-Ode to write because there is no JAMB compliance centre in any of those places. How many schools have standard laboratories in Physics, Chemistry, Biology or ICT centres in all of those places? So we can go on and on. If that is your desire for your children, it is not my desire for my own children. If you tell me that it is desirable for a state to be Number 19 in Nigeria in the Ease of Doing Business ranking, then I am not happy. The level of unemployment in Ondo State is 37 per cent and if you are talking about 37 per cent it means that over half of the population are without a job because when you talk about employment, you are not talking about children between the ages of 0-10, or 0-16, you are not talking about adult who have retired. So you are saying that if the level of unemployment is 37 per cent, virtually, one out of two young people doesn’t have a job. If that is what you you want for your own state that is not my desire for my own state. I desire more and I think that those of us who have been blessed, those of us who have gathered experience ought to do more to ensure that our country can be taken out of where it is now, that is the purpose of our being in government.

If you’re given the opportunity of being the Chief Executive of Ondo State, what will be your priority?

I have my plan and I have always said that I am always ready. If tomorrow by appointment or by an election I come to a platform because God has given me opportunities and this country has blessed me, I know what I will do in every area. As a governor of Ondo state, I know what I will do in the area of sports, in the area of water supply, in the area of education in the area of agriculture, industrialization and I can begin to tell you one by one because it is not yet time for politicking, because I have not declared my intention publicly, I will just give you just one example. Let’s look at the area of education for instance, I complained that there are so many schools that do not have laboratories, I did not think that I have the magic wand as a governor I will just come in today and in hundred days, every school will have laboratories, but I can tell you what I will do. I will group schools together in various areas – four, five, six schools and what I will do is that I will build a biology lab in one school, a chemistry lab in another school, a physics laboratory in another school, and ICT centre in another school and I will ensure that the students can rotate – can go to do their practicals in other schools like that. Let me tell you, in Ondo state today, as I understand in so many other states, many of the secondary schools are short-staffed. They have three, four or five permanent trained teachers all the others are what you call auxiliary teachers and they are employed not by the government but by the Parents-Teachers Association or by individuals like you and me who have the needs. Now, what am I going to do? In the first month of my being governor, I will call a conference of all the parents-teachers associations and thank them for their support and I will promise that for every N10000 they spent, the state government will match it by the equivalent amount. That will encourage those parent-teachers association to do more and it will encourage them to know that the government cares about what they are going through and then I will lay before them my plans on giving their children access to standard laboratories. Then I will go further and assemble all the auxiliary teachers and ensure that we train them during the holidays and at the end of the year, I will make sure that maybe the first one hundred – depending on the purse of the government, will be given permanent employment. In so doing, their output will be better, they will learn how to teach our children better and be more productive, the children will learn and the parent will want to do more. It’s not rocket science, there are simple little things that we can do in the area of health, in the area of sports, education, amongst others. In Agric for instance, there are so many opportunities that the governor will be able to create enormous employment in the field of agriculture. If you understand what is happening in the sector and you key into all programmes – the Anchor Borrowers programme the CBN is doing, the support from the Nigerian Export Promotion Council and so on and so forth, and you help the farmers to get access to better seedlings and improved farming methods. I can tell you what I can do in sports and many other areas without breaking the banks.

There have been lots of calls for restructuring the country, what is your position on restructuring?

I am sure you know that even right now restructuring is going on in various areas and the opinion of people on the issue of restructuring is as many as the number of Nigerians. Restructuring will always be an issue because even in countries like America, there is some sort of restructuring going on. In Europe for instance, Great Britain just exited from the European Union, that’s some sort of restructuring. So restructuring will always be with us and I don’t think we should create tension out of it. I know for a fact that this government has a policy of devolving more powers to the federating states. What somebody means by restructuring is regionalization, it’s some people’s idea but those who are governors, who are benefiting from the devolution of powers to the federating states are also happy about it. The National Assembly is a different stakeholder, they don’t want to lose their position for as long as we practice the kind of democracy we have in Nigeria, for as long as we are electing people to the National Assembly, they would have a stake. You have seen recently some of the cooperation that is going on in the various parts of the country – the security outfit that was brought together in the South-west, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) for instance, is part of a restructuring. These are things that will continue to evolve as we go on as a nation. But what I detest about it is the fact that some people are deliberately mischievous and they want to create tension out of it. We would always have restructuring with us, there would always be news to restructure as we go on.
Nigeria was 60 million people when we were practicing the parliamentary system of government and so the whole of a region was not more than maybe, ten, fifteen or twenty million people but now we are over 195 million people. There will be need to review the way we live together as a people and that is the way I see it.

What is your view on the issue of security vote?

I don’t want to talk about something I don’t know, nobody has been able to come to us to say this is the law concerning security vote. All I know is that if I were a governor, I will be transparent in the way I deal with the funds available to my state, pure and simple. I will be accountable for every penny that accrues to the government under me. I hope this will be the desire for anybody that comes into governance.

What is your opinion on the issue of godfatherism in Nigerian politics?

Let me ask you, what is godfatherism? It’s mentorship. I mentor people, even in this place, I mentor people. But a godfather governor who wants to leave a legacy will pick a competent and reliable person to succeed him. What we tag godfatherism means many things to so many people. If godfatherism is being out of government and allowing the new person who has taken over from you to continue to take instructions from you, you must be deceiving yourself. If it is mentorship, I will want to be mentored by people who have done good things in so many areas of life. I still go to people who I believe have good expertise, good knowledge, good wisdom to teach me, I go to them to learn. So that’s my own idea of godfatherism and I don’t detest that. But I have godfathers in every area – in business, engineering, character, in values, in politics and I know that I am godfather to so many people too who see me as their mentor.

How would you describe a situation where a godfather begins to dictate to the governor?

Like I have said, these are opinions and they depend on who you are. There is nothing wrong in anybody, who has had prior experience in an area to want to teach somebody on what to do. Even if you have a godfather who is overbearing, if you are well- brought up, you will know how to relate with them in the way that they will be happy and they will understand your point of view. Even we as parent cannot act as godfather to our children, if you are overbearing, they will resist you, and that is a child that you sent to school, you paid his fees and you feed him. How many of our children live in our homes? They live on their own, drive their cars. My son runs his business, how can I teach him how to run the business? Most of the time, I don’t even understand what that business is all about. It’s a different age. Mentorship is a form of godfatherism and I recommend that to any person, there is no end to wisdom, to learning in this life. Sometimes your godfather may even be somebody who is younger than you, but has expertise, knowledge in a particular field.

Every month governors come to Abuja for revenue sharing while there are mineral resources in various parts of the country, what is your view on the issue of resources control?

The federal allocation is a right of every state, so they should get it. However, governors should concentrate more on developing their internally generated revenue. The greatest resource that I believe we have in Ondo state is not the mineral resources you are talking about, it’s the good skilled people that God has blessed us with and there is so much to do in the state that can turn the fortune of the state around.
I recall that when Jakande was governor of Lagos State, he didn’t step out of the country for one day. I don’t know how many times he came to Abuja or maybe, then they don’t use to come to Abuja but he did not step out of the country for one day. It is about individual goals, when you have ideas and know what to do, you will not put all your hope in Federal allocation and in any case, this federal allocation cannot pay all your bills. It’s like the salary workers, it’s a take home pay that cannot take you home. So the federal allocation is like the take home pay that cannot take any state home. What Lagos is benefitting today, is the fact that successive government from the times of Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, increased the internally generated revenue of that state from a paltry one billion plus to now about N32 billion monthly. That is why when you see the budget of Lagos state, it’s so different from the budget of other states. Other states are talking about N144 billion or N200 billion, Lagos state is budgeting over N1 trillion.

Looking at Nigeria’s electricity problem, what solution do you think the Niger Delta Power Holding Company has for the country?

Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited is a company owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria; it holds 47% of the shares. The 36 States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, plus the 775 local government areas own the remaining 53%, so we are a Nigerian company.

Originally, the vision was to increase the generation capacity of Nigeria, but in the process, a lot of things happened, having embarked on the building of generation stations or plants, it was then discovered that those plants will need gas to operate, so the company added another department, which is to build gas pipelines, gas metering stations to be able to fire the turbines.

Thereafter, it was also discovered that when you build those power plants, you need to be able to transport the power generated from one place to the other and that’s how the idea that they should build transmission lines and substations. It was further discovered that when you build transmission lines and the power lines are flying all over the place, it must get to the consumers and therefore the idea to also build distribution networks and injection substations was also incorporated into the tasks of the NDPHC so today you’ll find out that NDPHC has built many power plants, ten at the last count, eight of them are generating electricity into the grid. Then you have transmission lines all over the place.

If you look at this you will see the Nigerian map showing existing, ongoing and proposed TCN, NIPP and IPP projects for 10,000 megawatts are all over the place. We have done quite well in that area.

Today, I can tell you, without any fear of contradiction, that NDPHC has increased the transmission capacity of the electricity network in Nigeria by almost 50%, if not more and then the distribution capacity by almost 60%. That’s how much we have done and that’s how we are doing.

The power problem in Nigeria needs multi-dimensional approach and you can see that the Federal Government is doing a lot, setting up various committees to look into all of these areas and to fill in the gaps where we have shortcomings.

How confident are you that these committees being set up will be able to resolve the problems of the sector, considering the billions have been spent?

I want you to separate the fact that a lot of money was spent before this administration came into office. What this administration is doing right now is to look at the whole network and see what are the gaps that we have. You will see that we are introducing a lot of things, there’s a lot of emphasis, on mini-grids, on renewable energy, filling the gaps in the transmission network and so on. On a daily basis, you’ll find out that the government is taking the problems that are identified and then looking at ways to solve them. That’s what is happening now.

I also understand that the distribution part of this chain is still wobbling because of, in my own opinion, the way that privatisation was done, those who bought those networks, to my mind, didn’t have enough money and experience and so they have to wobble through it.

One of the things this government is doing, which is remarkable is the fact that they have not taken knee-jerk actions to cancel the privatisation and that we must record to the glory of Muhammadu Buhari administration because you have seen that many projects that were started by previous administrations like the road networks, the airports, like the privatisation, are being continued. That is the beauty of governance, there must be continuity. When you have a government that is not prepared to line its own pocket, then their desire will be to complete what has been started without necessarily condemning them.

In the next few years to the end of this administration, you will see that many of the abandoned projects will be restarted all over again. I spoke with the Honourable Minister of Education sometime ago and he was very vehement about his resolve to complete the National Library. I’m just giving you an example outside the power sector. So you must give it to the Buhari administration that he has a desire, it’s comfortable looking at what was , correcting the flaws in them and continuing in the same spirit to ensure that they are completed.

The National Economic Council, in its meeting, said it wants the Federal government to review the privatisation of the DisCos. What is view on this?

Like I said, it’s obvious that the privatisation was not thoroughly done, it is obvious that most of the companies that won the bids don’t have pedigree and expertise in that field, they don’t have the financial muscle. Most of them went to the bank to borrow the money and because of that, unfortunately for them, they didn’t do their calculations very well, because of that they are not able to refurbish the old aging NEPA lines that we have around. That is part of the problems that we are facing now.

You will see that some of the poles we see around, to the layman, the transformers are old , some of them have been installed since 1960. The transformer substations are totally broken down and unfortunately, technology has moved on, modernisation has come into play. There’s intelligent technology these days whereby a transformer and the substation are loaded and they can account for every power that is connected to that station. There’s need to change that, but because they have no money, they are just struggling.

Yes, there may be a need to review the privatisation, maybe the kind of thing that was done in the banking sector where the banks were told to recapitalize, there may be a need to merge some of them, there may be a need to break some of those networks into smaller units so we can have more efficient power sector delivery to the homes. That’s what is going to happen.

Of course, I hope also that as we are talking about these things, most of the state governments also need to plan their cities. In a situation where you build an area, take Lagos for an instance, look at the entire Surulere area, it used to be purely residential, but now Adeniran Ogunsanya has become a commercial area. Ogunlana Drive, Adelabu and all of those places. You can imagine that the power demand in those areas would have increased like ten times, the equipment are still the old equipment.

There’s need for us, as a nation, to plan our cities. It’s not enough for somebody to just bring an industry and establish it in a place, simply because that’s where he can afford cheap land or that’s where he thinks the amenities he needs are available. There is a need to review policies on planning our cities and our highways as well.

Some say the power sector in Nigeria is jinxed and can never work. Also some say despite efforts of government, there are those who are working to ensure the sector does not work for their own selfish interest. What do you think?

I don’t believe those theories. For instance, importers of power generators have been accused of being the ones standing against power sector performance. The powers of government are very enormous and they cannot really stand against government policies.

Look, it is not unusual for people who are benefitting from a particular system to put up resistance when there’s going to be a change. The resistance will be put up, but that will not stop progress in a nation. You remember that we used to have single carriage ways all over the country, now government is building dual carriage ways with laybys all over the country, homes are being broken and demolished. Compensations are being paid and you move on. Yes there’ll be resistance, we’ve had many cases where people protested against building highways because it will consume their homes and businesses, but as a nation we need to make progress.

I don’t believe that the power sector is jinxed, I believe that when we apply the right solutions, we’ll be able to solve the problems. One of the problems I think we’ve had in the past is the approach of government to power sector, has been disjointed and now government is ready to put everything together so that we’ll have a single approach, so that when you come to Nigeria you will understand what policies are and how to come in and you will not be doing exactly what somebody else has done in the past.

The power sector has a lot of prospects if you consider the fact that today, the available capacity is 13,000 megawatts, yet we are loading about five to seven thousand megawatts in the grid now. But the power demand in Nigeria is about 180,000 megawatts, for a fully industrialised Nigeria. When all of the mining industries begin to spring up when people begin to invest more in the production sector, the demand will go up in quadrupled. So this is the time for anybody who has the business sense to come and invest in Nigeria.

Our transmission capacity is about 8,000 now. For 13,000 megawatts we need about 24,000 megawatts in transmission capacity and we need about 32,000 in the distribution network. There’s a lot of prospects for those who want to invest in all of these fields now.