By Uduma Kalu
There is a consensus on the relative development of Delta State in the past 18 years. Chief Solomon Arenyenka,Â Chief of Staff to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan saddled with this preparation, speaks on the forthcoming 18th anniversary of the creation of Delta State, its prospects and challenges ahead in the quest to build a state that is both viable and enviable.Â Excerpts:
How do you assess the growth of Delta State in the past 18 years?
Delta State from inception was a carry over from the old Bendel State. Much of the progress made in Bendel State was easily attributable to Chief Samuel Ogbemudia. But with the division 18 years ago, I have seen a lot of openings, places which were hitherto villages have grown into major towns. A lot of infrastructural development has taken place particularly massive road construction.
You can jolly well travel to all the 25 local government areas, apart from the riverine areas, without encountering hazards as you wouldÂ find in some other states. Educationally, Delta State has recorded enviable progress. There is hardly any village or town in the present-day Delta State that has no school. If you talk of enrolment in major national examinations, you find out that a chunk of the candidates comes from Delta State.
On the social ladder, we have moved tremendously. When it was Bendel State, we excelled in sports. And from what we have seen since its creation, the glory of Bendel State in sports came from the people that make up Delta State. Since the creation of the state, there is hardly any competition where Delta has not shown its true colours.
Generally in the administrative sector, I think we have gone very far. Top officers who came from old Bendel State have grown to see the light of days, rising to the post of heads of services, permanent secretaries, Judges of the Court of Appeal as well as the Supreme Court and so forth. We are still moving.
What achievement would you say is the biggest by Delta State in its 18 years?
I think I would say that Delta State has gone very far as for infrastructural development is concerned.What about inter-tribal clashes?
What we need first and foremost is unity of purpose. Delta is a blessed state with people who are intellectually rated at national and international levels. There used to be this tendency of people pulling one another down, trying to identify themselves with their own ethnic groups against the idea of seeing themselves as Deltans first, and their ethnic group, last.
At times, I am surprised when I see people of good calling trying to turn themselves into tribal warlords. Those are tendencies that unreasonably pull us down.
For instance, when we have appointments and openings at the federal level, the moment one tribe hears that an Ijawman is going there, they will query the choice. If it is an Isoko, another will rise to ask about what qualifies him better than others.
So the resources and ideas we would have pooled together for the struggle to make one Delta are unnecessarily dissipated by segments which feel if itâ€™s not me, it canâ€™t be others. But thank God that for some years now, we are seeing ourselves more as Deltans rather than members of our ethnic groups. Thereâ€™s a spread of political appointments at the state and national levels. Recently, a Deltan was appointed for the first time as the Director- General of NIMASA, a very good federal parastatal.
Hitherto, such positions were reserved for the so-called three big ethnic groups. Before the recent one was the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff, in the person of Air Marshal Paul Dike coming from this state. If we are united and speak with a voice and drop this toga of â€˜I am Itsekiri, I am Urhobo, I am this and thatâ€¦.â€™ thinking of who is superior to each other, we will do better.
How do you rate development in infrastructure by the Uduaghan administration in comparism to his predecessors?
First and foremost, the rating would be very difficult to do because the governor has always told you that his government is a continuation of the previous administration. Donâ€™t forget that the governor was the Secretary to the State Government of the previous administration.
The Deputy Governor was the attorney- general of the state. The present SSG was a commissioner in three ministries in the previous government.
I, the chief of staff, was a director in Direct Labour Agency (DLA) for eight years. Very many things started by the previous government that were not completed are being handled since this administration has made it categorically clear that government is a continous affair.
Be that as it may, the Uduaghan administration has tried to re-orientate Deltans on the need to diversify the stateâ€™s economy from its dependence on oil and government contracts to exploring other lucrative sectors yet untapped.
This is the reason for the deliberate efforts at dualising roads, constructing a new airport to beef up commerce. If you have Sapele and Burutu ports working while Asaba airport is fully operational, very many people will veer into commerce. This government is just two years in office yet it has achieved much.
In the immediate past administration, there was a special duties commissioner in charge of Ethnic Relations and Conflict Resolution. Donâ€™t you share the view that the absence of such a mechanism in the Uduaghan administration is largely responsible for the occasional crises within and amongst communities in the state?
Well, you cannot compare what we have now to what was prevalent in the Ibori era. For almost six out of the eight years of Ibori administration, there was a permanent war between the Ijaw and Itsekiri on one side, the Urhobo and Ijaw on another side in the Gbaregolor/Esama axis. So the early years of the Ibori administration experienced ethnic crises that necessitated the birth of that portfolio.
Towards the end of the last regime and the beginning of the Uduaghan government, relative peace was evident in all parts of Delta State. As time went on, a lot of arrangement had been made to enable Deltans see themselves as one people.
There is no need to keep a gun by your side when there is no armed robber in sight. At least, people are sleeping with their two eyes closed as against the proverbial closure of one eye. Therefore, the creation of the ministry for conflict resolution might not be necessary and I pray it would not be necessary because I wouldnâ€™t want to go back to the dark days where you could not walk freely in Warri and Sapele.
Creation of states is listed as one issue the proposed constitutional amendment would address. Are you in support of the creation of more states out of Delta?
We can still live as one. Delta State as presently constituted is a blessed one. You have the upland and the lowland- both contributing to the development of the state. If there is need, it is going to be decided through referendum by people who are clamouring for such states.