Peoples Democratic Party’s Governorship Candidate for Delta State, who is also the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, in this interview speaks on his political history, emergence as gubernatorial candidate and his programme of action for the development of the state, among other salient issues. Deji Elumoye brings excerpts:
Can we meet you, sir?
I am Chief Sheriff Francis Orohwedor Oborevwori. I am from Osubi in Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State. I am the incumbent Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly and also the Delta State governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I am married and blessed with children.
Why do you want to be Governor of Delta State?
Let me answer by telling you about my mission in politics. It is really about the people. And I have come to understand quite early in life that the most important means of affecting the people for good is politics. When I was growing up, I saw a lot of deprivation and poverty in society and my biggest wish was to see how I can be of help to free people from lack and deprivation. As I went through primary and secondary schools the role of politics and government in making life better for the people was made central in our social studies, government and economics lessons and textbooks. We also got taught that the surest and legitimate way into government is politics. So from childhood I carried the burden of taking up the responsibility of making life better for the people. That was my motivation.
Now joining politics at the grassroots saw me growing and evolving. I served as a councillor and I also served different governments as special assistant, senior special assistant and as special adviser. I made sure I put the interest of the people and loyalty to the government above my personal consideration.
Then the good people of Okpe constituency decided that they wanted me to represent them in the Delta State House of Assembly. I contested and won the election and became a member of the State House of Assembly. Not too long after, my colleagues and fellow lawmakers elected me as the Speaker of the House and by that I became the head of an arm of government in Delta State. This marked a turning point in my political career and evolution. I was no longer just a member representing the Okpe constituency, but the Speaker presiding over the state legislature.
That act made me a Pan-Deltan and it changed my consciousness and perception. As Speaker of the State House of Assembly, the entire state became my constituency. That position enabled me to appreciate what Delta State is all about, her development aspirations, her challenges and the colourations and preferences of the people.
After the general elections in 2019, my colleagues in the House of Assembly expressed a vote of confidence in me by returning me as Speaker for a second time, that gesture opened my eyes to new vistas of possibilities for me and Delta State. My return as Speaker is unprecedented in the history of Delta State. My colleagues said that they were returning me as Speaker because I am a Pan-Deltan and that I easily build consensus. They also said I showed a deep understanding of the development challenges of Delta State and that for the State to develop without obstruction, I should continue to lead the legislative arm.
I took time to evaluate what my colleagues said and I realized that I have unconsciously promoted politics in the service of the people in the House of Assembly and by extension the State.
I soon started receiving encouragements to take my peoples’ politics ideology higher by seeking to be governor of Delta State. I am not one to run away from a challenge especially when it has to do with the people. I thought seriously about it.
I also prayed. As a political scientist who is in practical politics, I thought of so many possibilities. I sat down to collate my thoughts arising from my burning desire to use politics to promote the welfare of the people.
I also asked myself, after speakership, what next? How else do I serve the interest of the people? It was at that point that I resolved and listened to the call to run for the governorship of Delta State. So, the response to your question on why I want to be governor is to serve the people of Delta State and enhance their welfare and security. My reason and justification is people-centric. It is all for the people.
Do you have what it takes to be governor of Delta State?
Yes, I have more than what it takes. Besides the basic points of being a Deltan and the age as well as the basic educational qualification, I am most qualified to be Governor of Delta State.
I am well educated in the art and science of politics having studied political science up to postgraduate level. I also must point at my experience in politics. I have been a councillor at the local government level. I was special assistant, senior special assistant and special adviser handling very sensitive positions.
I then crossed over to the legislature after winning an election. I have been elected Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly twice and I am the only one to be so elected and the longest serving Speaker in the history of Delta State.
So far, I have worked with three governors since 2003 when I was appointed as a special assistant. I have both legislative and executive experience.
As Speaker, the entire state is one big constituency for me and apart from the incumbent Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, no other politician has the kind of knowledge that I have about Delta State in terms of her development aspirations and challenges.
Besides these, I have also undergone political leadership and management courses in some of the best universities in the world.
I am well trained in executive and legislative leadership, development studies, ICT, advanced leadership and the New World Order in universities in the United Kingdom and the United States. I have acquired skills and strategies in creative and critical thinking, development thinking and modern governance.
I have what it takes. My capacity is formidable.
What about the controversy about your educational qualifications?
It is unfortunate that what was supposed to be a minor mistake arising from names used and names not used in the course of schooling was twisted to cause mischief in an attempt to undo me. Let the truth be told. Many people who have three or more names have used them differently at one point or the other. This was my case.
The names that my detractors pointed at are all mine. There is no doubt about them whatsoever. The schools I attended at different times have the records and they can verify that the names refer to one and the same person which is me.
I have never claimed that the schools I attended are no longer in existence. I can direct you to my schools from primary, secondary to university. I am well educated. I might not have gone to school in quick succession due to my background, but I had the benefit of western education up to postgraduate degree which is the Master of Science degree in political science that I obtained from the Delta State University, Abraka. My school mates and many of my teachers at different stages of my education are alive. I affirm that my educational qualifications are solid and genuine.
What do you think are the challenges or problems of Delta State?
The challenges of Delta State are essentially the same with those of Nigeria and other Third World societies. The challenges which are also the problems include poverty, unemployment, inadequate electricity, inadequate ICT, infrastructure deficit, inadequate healthcare, poor education, low industrialization and poor agricultural productivity and insecurity.
There are also problems associated with growing population and shrinking resources. There are other social ills like armed robbery, cybercrime, youth unrest and others which disrupt life occasionally, but once the major ones I mentioned are tackled and overcome then we would have a stable and prosperous society.
What is your vision for Delta State and what do you want to do about the development challenges of the State?
My vision for Delta State is double fold. First is to ensure the welfare and security of the people and second is to make sure that the State and her people are not left behind in the race to the New World Order which is anchored on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
If you look at the challenges that I enumerated which are also the challenges of Nigeria, they are the roadblocks which I am set to dismantle.
I must admit that previous administrations and the present one ably led by Governor Okowa have done so much for the State to prepare us to take off and to go higher. There are already things that we can build upon. In the education sector, we have primary and secondary schools and what we need is to recruit and re-train more teachers with incentives and then upgrade learning infrastructure by introducing and promoting the use of ICT.
Delta State has the highest number of tertiary institutions in Nigeria and we will encourage them to refocus and become solution providers to our challenges.
Of course we will commit more funds, but we will make our tertiary institutions to become incubators of development. The healthcare sector is already receiving attention and we will build on what is on ground. I am aware that our health insurance scheme is the best in Nigeria having crossed the 80% national threshold. So we shall expand and upgrade our health facilities including the tertiary health sector to modern global standards with the hope of providing good medicare for our people and also making Delta State a medical tourism hub. This is possible.
I envisage an energy revolution by way of power supply to all parts of the State no matter how remote. We hope to replicate the IPP model that has given Asaba capital territory and environs stable power supply across the State.
We have plans to explore alternative power sources through renewable energy. Our science and engineering faculties and schools will be positioned to produce solar, wind and hydro power.
Two other issues have to do with agriculture and industrialization. We need to get our people back to farming through the mechanized mode.
Delta State has a vast arable land that can support uncountable number of food and cash crops. My team has produced a list of over 100 food and cash crops that do well in every part of Delta State. We hope to focus on the comparative advantage of each area or community.
For example, cassava and its value chain can earn Delta State over $20 billion dollars per annum while the oil palm could double that figure if maximally cultivated. What we need to do is to revive agriculture. Delta State can produce enough food to feed the entire South-South and part of the South-East and even have enough for export. We will galvanize agriculture and bring our industries back.
We will work with the Federal Government to revive the Warri Port and let it function maximally and open the opportunity for international trade for our people. We will set up a committee to evaluate all the moribund industries in the State, both private and government-owned, and see how government through Public Private Partnership (PPP) can intervene and revive them. I have a blueprint for that.
We already have two functional airports that will enable investors to fly in and out to do business in Delta State. It is part of my blueprint to further secure the State by enhancing peace and security thereby making the State an investment hub in the South-South and South-East due to our proximity with that region.
We also intend to get the oil companies to return to Delta State so that the State can retain her position as the leading oil and gas industry state in Nigeria.
I have seen the youth as our biggest capital. We have plans to give them a re-orientation beginning from deploying civic education and ICT from primary to secondary through our tertiary education. Delta State already has a variety of youth empowerment programmes that have engaged more than one million youths directly and indirectly in productive enterprises.
What we want to do next is to put our youths on the global internet economic community and promote knowledge economy not through cybercrime, but through legitimate global commerce enabled by ICT. We envisage an ICT revolution that will be targeted at the three senatorial districts so as to make quality internet services affordable and accessible to our people. Part of the big picture is the promotion of SMEs where many of our women and youth are involved. You can see that my emphasis and focus have been on the people wherever they are even in the remotest villages.
Part of the plan is to enhance the transportation network to not only include roads, but water for riverine communities. We shall build other physical infrastructure and provide amenities to make life better for our people. We have commissioned a needs’ assessment per community in Delta State to enable me know the particular needs of each community.
Life is dynamic and so is politics and development. Nation building is always work in progress so we shall engage new things as they come for the good of our people.
What all our proposed programmes point to is the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Delta State will not miss it under my watch.
To firm up my vision for Delta State, a think tank is working day and night to come up with a development strategy. I have charged the think tank to review previous development agenda and see what has not been done so that we can harmonize to match new and contemporary realities.
Can you briefly talk about your manifesto and link it with your vision for Delta State?
Sure. My manifesto is anchored on the aspirations of the people of Delta State and it is the product of months of brainstorming during which I was advised to read the programme of action of societies or nations that came out of the Third World. I was so advised because their conditions were similar to ours in Nigeria.
So we thought that looking at what they did, comparing and localizing it in our context will help us. I focused a lot on Malaysia, Singapore, India, Botswana and Rwanda. It was a painstaking work because I read a lot of books about their history, their struggle and their economy.
As a trained political scientist, I knew some of these things, but now I had to read them with a lot of seriousness so that I can apply them to our situation. My team insisted that I must read and show an understanding of the situation of things in those countries and how they evolved before we do anything about the manifesto.
I discovered that their idea of development was about the welfare and security of their people. I was happy in discovering that because I am actually in politics for the overall interest and good of the people. That was why at the end of the day we resolved that my manifesto should be about MORE which we coined from the standpoints on which the manifesto is resting which are Meaningful development, Opportunities for all, Realistic reforms and Enhanced peace and security. Each of these legs is about the welfare and security of the people of Delta State.
I have mentioned some of the statements of intentions when you asked about my vision for Delta State. But be rest assured that the manifesto is unique because it blends the local with the global in articulating a development agenda for Delta State.
The manifesto takes cognizance of our challenges. It looks at what has been achieved and then goes on to strategically point at how to leverage on what has been achieved to take Delta State and her people into the Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by ICT and the knowledge economy is all about.
So we are reaching out to the world from Delta State and very soon we can tell our own story of From Third World to First. It is very possible and the signs are there. We also have to deliberately carry out a lot of public service reforms. We must refocus our public service to be purpose driven and result oriented or else we will achieve nothing. The public service drives government and development. Let me say that my manifesto is really the people’s manifesto.
What is your understanding of Delta State?
Delta State is a multi-ethnic state and it is one of the most naturally endowed places on earth by virtue of her vast arable land that supports food and cash crops as well as many other natural resources including solid minerals.
With a population of about five million people, the State has the capacity to undergo an agricultural revolution and industrialize. The State has the advantage of having many rivers and it is by the Atlantic Ocean. The State is dynamic and it is a mini Nigeria in terms of her diversity, talents and resource endowments.
I do not want to emphasize on the State’s oil and gas resources, but rather focus on the great use to which we can put our human and other natural resources especially in agriculture that will lead to industrialization. We are also famous for our talents as a people. We are very strong in education, sports, the creative and entertainment industries and in fact every area of human endeavor. Delta State is a leading state in Nigeria.
Assess the PDP in Delta State since 1998 when it was formed.
PDP is the dominant political party in Delta State. It has grown very strong and it is waxing stronger daily. I think it is only in Delta State that you still find a majority of the founding fathers of the PDP still alive and still with the party.
The founding fathers saw tomorrow which is now today and they groomed younger people who have become active leaders today. We have had occasional disagreements which are normal, but the PDP in Delta State remains as one big family. Its influence is felt in every home, every unit, every ward and in every local government area of Delta State. The party has ruled Delta State since 1999 and it will continue to do so.
What are your chances of becoming governor?
My chances are very bright. In fact I have the brightest of chances among all the governorship candidates. You know my emergence has a history. I was among the 12 governorship aspirants screened by the governorship screening committee of the DC-23 for four months.
I was among the three shortlisted aspirants. Then we went for the PDP governorship primaries which I won by a very wide margin.
The people, from DC-23, to the delegates and now the overwhelming majority of Deltans are saying that I am the next governor. They have seen my manifesto that it is all about them.
I am also taking my campaign message across the State. There are many interest groups declaring support for me every day. I receive endorsement daily. I was surprised to hear about the Sheriffication movement and many people are saying they are sheriffied. My chances are the brightest. I can assure you. The people see my governorship as their project which has been divinely endorsed.
Any message for your opponents?
In truth and frankly speaking, I do not see them as my opponents. They are my friends, people that I know and once upon a time fellow PDP members especially the APC and the SDP candidates. They have their ideas about Delta State and I respect that. However, I believe that in the end when I would have emerged as Governor they will fold up their canopies and rejoin the PDP which is one big family with a big enough umbrella to cover all of us.
What is your relationship with former Governor, Chief James Ibori and Chief David Edevbie?
I smell mischief in this question. But I must say it again that His Excellency, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, the former Governor of Delta State, is our leader and my leader. When I started this journey of becoming governor I went to consult him and he prayed for me. He remains my leader and he is supporting my ambition and all that I am doing.
Chief David Edevbie is my brother. We contested against each other and we struggled for the ticket. He remains my brother and friend. There is a picture of the two of us shaking hands, embracing and laughing. That is the relationship between Chief Edevbie and I.
People out there are saying a lot of things that are not true about us. Be rest assured that we have a good relationship.
What do you have to say about the allegation of you being a stooge of the incumbent governor and also about the massive borrowing and indebtedness of Delta State?
These are very unfair and unkind allegations. I am not a stooge and I have never been a stooge. I have been a grassroots politician all my life and somehow I know my way around in politics.
The stories of borrowing and indebtedness in Delta State are also not true. They are exaggerated and manipulated by political enemies to make His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa and the PDP to look bad and score cheap political points. The State Government using the appropriate organ has come out with explanations and I urge the people of Delta State to believe the explanation.
The opposition is using lies and propaganda to want to deceive the people. Do not believe their lies. We must remember that that was how the APC told lies against President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 and they deceived Nigerians. Look at what the APC has done to Nigeria. They brought our country to ruins. If not for the managerial skills of Governor Okowa, Delta State would have collapsed. How many of the states governed by APC are paying salaries regularly? Delta State pays the highest wages in Nigeria. Delta State is also the best State in terms of human capital development as indicated in education, healthcare services, sports and workforce.
Delta State has the highest number of state owned universities in Nigeria. Look at our world class technical and vocational schools. Look at the bridges completed and ongoing ones. Take a look at the Stephen Keshi Stadium that hosted the recent National Sports Festival best ever even by African standards. What about the Ogheye floating market the first of its kind in Africa?
Apart from the bad federal roads, Delta State has the longest network of good roads in Nigeria. Governor Okowa has done well by matching human capital development with infrastructure and peace and security, but bad belle politics is making opposition politicians to tell lies. So the people should not allow the opposition elements to deceive them. They have nothing to offer other than lies and destruction. We have seen it at the national level.
What are your final words?
I appeal to the good people of Delta State to vote for me and all PDP candidates all the way from the State to the national level. Delta State is on the momentum to greatness and we should not abort it. I have outlined a robust vision that will take our State work for the good of our people. This is possible and we can do it.