By Emma Amaize
ON the eve of his 55th birthday,Â last Wednesday, the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan played host to Saturday Vanguard in his official residence at Asaba, the state capital. He had a day full of activity in the office and the reporter thought he would suspend the interview due to fatigue.
But alas, the governor was playing lawn tennis when I entered his security-tight domicile and on inquiry, He said, â€œI love the game of lawn tennis, which I play regularly to keep fitâ€.
He beseeched the reporter to also train to keep fit because itâ€™s good for the body as he walked back to the domicile, sweating with a white towel on his shoulder. As if he has no hiding place, his sitting room was filled with quite a number of officials, including commissioners who came with files or information that needed urgent attention.
He went for a shower and invited them one after the other into the mobile office in the house and in between the brief meetings with his aides; he sent words to the reporter to â€œbear with me pleaseâ€. When Saturday Vanguard eventually came into the mobile office, it was obvious that the governorâ€™s love for Information Communication Technology (ICT) is wholesome and he wants every Deltan to be computer literate.
Sitting at ease on a swirling chair and sounding confident about the future of the state, he fielded questions on his recent victories in court, his rumoured strained relationship with his predecessor, Chief James Ibori, comments ofÂ critics about his achievements, the Federal Government amnesty programme and post-amnesty process , why he invited ex-ilitant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo to a public function recently at Asaba, how oil pipelines can be policed in the Niger_DeltaÂ and what President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua needs to do to make the ex_militants not to dream of arms struggle again in theÂ region.
You achieved a major victory in court recently in court regarding your position as the Governor of Delta state and coming as it were on the eve of your 55th birthday, how do you feel?
(Long laughter) Actually, I feel good, I feel happy but above all, I thank God that so many things are happening at the same time and I have every reason to thank Him.
Some people say you always run to the church to celebrate each time the court pronounces you victorious and would you want to forget about such showmanship, are you going to the church this time around?
Well, my going to church is not celebration, itâ€™s to thank God and I believe that I am not even thanking God enough and I owe nobody any apology for going to church to thank God for whatever Heâ€™s doing for me. Heâ€™s doing so much, so much that I should be going to church everyday if itâ€™s possible to thank Him and I think that people should learn to thank Him because the more you thank Him, the more He does for you, that is my position.
What are you going to do on your birthday?
Well, when the Author of life, the God from whom all blessings flow and the I am that I am wakes me up tomorrow in His infinite mercies, I, my family and workers in my office will thank Him and my day starts from there.
As the governor, will you say you are now better charged to govern and put in your best with the string of victories in court over time?
Whatever I put in as the governor or am able to do is not because of court victory but with each passing day, I have the urge to do more for the state, I sincerely believe that I need to do a lot more for the state than I am even doing now, so it has nothing to do with my court victories. As long as it pleases God to still allow me to be the governor of the state, each day, I put more pressure on myself to achieve what the state needs to achieve.
Some people are wont to say that you have not achieved anything for the state except for the Asaba International Airport, which is still under construction and the street light projects, what will you say you have achieved?
Thank God you have counted two (long laughter). You must understand that I have a programme and it revolves around a three-point agenda, peace and security. Of course, you will not say we have not achieved our first point agenda in this state or at least, I have things to count in the area of peace and security. The second one is infrastructures development, we have a lot to say here and there is also the human capital development aspect.
In all of these, our overall goal is economic development and in getting at that economic development, we have to put a few things down in terms of infrastructures and in this regard, we are talking about transportation: the airport, seaport, road and of course railway and talking about power, you cannot say we have not done anything because we are part-funding what the Federal Government is doing in terms of the independent power plant and we are also starting our own independent power plant in the state. We have done the necessary works and started on ground and in the area of ICT, we are already doing the basic programme in our schools, we have trained over 8,000 secondary school students in computer appreciation and even the workers too.
Many workers who did not know anything about computer are now better informed but the bigger picture is ICT village that we are planning and then of course, when you talk about urbanization, youâ€™ll not say that the faces of Warri and Asaba have not changed, not just because of the street lights but the extra things that we have done.
Of course, that is the major infrastructure that you require for investment and talking about transportation, we are working with the Federal Government on the ports, to revive the Warri port at the moment, the Warri port is as busy as it can ever be today, the second busiest port in this country.
Secondly, when you talk about airport, you have mentioned Asaba airport, and also plans are on ground on Osubi airport, very close to Warri. And thirdly, you talk about road, we have even taking on roads belonging to the Federal Government, the Asaba-Ughelli dualization, itâ€™s a federal road but we are dualizing it so that it will be able to connect the southern part of the state, which is Warri port to the northern part so that traders from Onitsha in the eastern part of the country will be able to transport their goods from Warri and have a dual carriage way straight to Onitsha market.
But of course, we have the Koko-Ugbenu road, which we are dualizing to be able to connect the Benin-Warri road to Koko. Koko is another deep sea port and the Federal Government has approved a free trade zone.
So even if you are talking about what we have achieved, that we got the approval of that free trade zone alone is big achievement, not to talk about the Warri Industrial Business Park that we are planning, the design is almost ready, the KPMG has done the feasibility, so we are at an advanced stage plus the other roads and bridges we have completed. And still talking about infrastructure, we have built, completed and equipped a tertiary hospital at Oghara and the other general hospitals.
On the aspect of human capital development, we are looking at human being from the day of conception to the day he enters the grave and we have programme for each of these phases, starting from the free primary healthcare, immunization, which is of course to the school age and of course the youths and elderly and there is also theÂ Â micro-credit scheme, ours is rated the best in the country, you cannot fault that.Â We are also looking at agriculture as a basis for our future in our scheme, â€˜Delta without Oilâ€™ and the programme is planned to ensure that Delta does not depend only on oil in terms of economic development.
As far as this country is concerned, there has to be emphasis on peasant farming because the big farms take a long time but we are concentrating on the farmers that we help to increase their productivity and also the new farmers, the young ones, we have trained some of them, about 450 have been set up and I am happy to say that they have farms all over the place, either in clusters or individual farms. Let me tell you, there is a lot to talk about what we are doing in the state; I can go on and on.
I donâ€™t know whether you are aware of the widespread talk that you and your predecessor, Chief James Ibori are at daggers â€“drawn over the governance of the state, what is the position of things now between both of you?
Where is the dagger, I donâ€™t have a dagger, so I cannot be at daggers-drawn and I am not aware that heâ€™s with a dagger either. You see, Chief James Ibori was a governor for eight years and heâ€˜s is my predecessor and I respect him for that. And I keep telling people that that thereâ€™s no way somebody can be a governor for eight years and you would say he doesnâ€™t have experience, you cannot do away with his experience and naturally as somebody who has been there for eight years, we discuss, we compare notes, he advises me and I tell you that there is no iota of truth in the claim that we are at daggers-drawn.
Lately, we have noticed that people are calling for a second term of office for you, are they really dancing to music of your good performance in office or you are the one beating the drum in hiding for them?
The seat of the governorship does not belong to one person alone. Somebody may be sitting there but they are a lot of people that are carried along in that office. They are even better persons for that office and for you as a person, even when you are doing your work too, they are people who are interested that oh! this position we are holding now must continue.
Of course, they have an early start (laughs) and they are campaigning. Not necessarily because of Uduaghan as a person but because there areÂ a lot of persons involved and they want to continue. For some, it is that this position I am holding, I must work for it, so whatever you are hearing, itâ€™s the political family that is beating the drum but for me, I am concentrating on trying to develop the state or dealing with my three-point agenda.
As a governor, I want to know if you have headache over the problems of the state and who do you run to?
I donâ€™t have headache over the problems of Delta state (laughs), no, I donâ€™t have, in fact, I love the state. I can tell you that I enjoy doing the work I am doing. Maybe, because I am not new to the state, maybe I am not a stranger, maybe because nothing surprises me in the state because I have seen so much as Commissioner for Health and Secretary to the State Government in the past.
I really saw a lot then and now as a governor, I have a bigger picture but somehow, I have taken it as part of me, so there is no way it can give me headache and like I tell people, once I put my head on the pillow, I sleep off.
But is it a burden of sort which you carry to God?
Yes, of course. If not for God really, I will not be where I am, He is one of the main reasons why I am enjoying what I am doing. He is one of the reasons I donâ€™t have headache.
May, 2009 will not be forgotten in a hurry by you and the people of the state because of what happened on May 13 and subsequently, itâ€™s still like yesterday but as I speak, itâ€™s actually about five months now, looking at episode, how do you see the progress today?
We have progressed a lot. In fact, it was more of something dramatic, I would say. But let me say this, whatever happened in May was really not what led to the state where we are now. Why am I saying this, Mr. President had talked about the amnesty before May 13, he had announced it, what he was waiting to do was to put a committee up to look at the various facets and of course, May 13 happened, and he fast-tracked the process and thereafter, declared amnesty.
Of course, declaring the amnesty, there were lots of challenges, if you remember, part of it was will it succeed, will it not succeed, some people were trying to pull a fast one on the Niger-Delta people because of the amnesty, they were worsening the situation and all that, and that was almost going to stall the amnesty and Nigerians quickly rallied round and dealt with those issues. Today, we are where we are because virtually all the youths have laid down their arms and accepted amnesty.
Mr. President has sort of told the work his post-amnesty plans and we, as a state government also have our own post-amnesty arrangement, which is keying into the federal governmentâ€™s own. So between May and now, I will say a lot has happened in terms of the peace process.
What kind of fast one did some people try to pull?
Quickly, the issue of Petroleum University came up, the issue of appointment in NNPC came up and of course, the issue of Petroleum Industry Bill. These are very critical things for the Niger-Delta people; they just came almost at the same time. We have to say eh, let us stop it there.
Talking about amnesty, it was known that President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua was not too keen on it, as part of the strategy to resolve the Niger-Delta crisis, but, all of a sudden, he developed interest, I understand that it took a number of persons, including you to prevail on him before he finally saw reason, how true is this?
Let me say this, the President listens to a lot of persons, so I donâ€™t know how many persons spoke to him and all that. He is also somebody who takes time to study issues. You know the way we looked at the Niger-Delta issue was that of engagement and we pushed for engagement rather than total military action.
Not specifically for amnesty but engagement and the President like I said before, I donâ€™t know how many people spoke to him about amnesty, but, I know that having listened to many people, he weighed the different options, thought deeply about amnesty, thought deeply about the Niger-Delta issue and said let me go this way and by the grace of God, the road he took led to success.
At a time, it was as if Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo was playing hide and seek over the issue of accepting amnesty and surrendering arms and you had to step in almost at the last minute, how did you make him to see reason?
I donâ€™t think any one person can claim the credit for anyone surrendering arms and I donâ€™t want to claim the credit for Tompoloâ€™s surrender because a lot of people were involved, a lot of leaders, the Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants, Minister of Defence, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd), Chief Edwin Clark, Ijaw elders, communities, etc, a lot of people came in and everybody did his best.
You see, Tompolo accepting amnesty was key to the success of the amnesty because if you understand the structure of the Niger-Delta struggle, he was more like a field marshal among the commanders. To drop his guns means of course that he has collapsed all the other ones and it took a lot of efforts by various persons.
You invited Tompolo to Asaba recently when you swore-in new members of your cabinet, what informed this?
He is a Deltan (laughs), I invited him as a Deltan to let him also know what we are doing.
How do you intend to manage him and other ex-militants in the state to ensure that they do not go back to what they used to do in the past?
Like I said, starting from Mr. Presidentâ€™s plan, which we all applauded when we went for the meeting, I think it was Friday, October 9, governors, youth leaders and some top government functionaries, Mr President laid out his amnesty plan. It revolves around three key areas, one is rehabilitation, two, some structural changes in government and three, constitutional policies.
Now, for the constitution as the President explained, he, as President cannot start amending the constitution, it has to be done by the National Assembly and so, itâ€™s for the people of the Niger-Delta to say what they want as amendment to the constitution and push for it, lobby for it and he promised that as President, he will not oppose anything that the Niger-Delta people put forward.
Then, for the policy changes, this, he said he could do, this has to do with the some policies of government as far as oil production and ownership are concerned. This is where the issue of the 10 per cent equity shares by communities is very key, and of course, the remaining nine percent, they are still working out how it goes.Â But the important thing is that the Federal Government will divest 19 per cent of his shareholding, that is 60 per cent and it now comes to 41 per cent and in that 19 per cent, 10 per cent is for the communities.
That his very interesting for us, we are very happy, because if you would recall, in all my presentations on the issue of Niger-Delta crisis, I have always said that that is the key, when I went on road show with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the national gas master plan, I kept saying the companies that are coming in should give some equity participation to the communities because if the Shell and Chevrons of this world by the time they came gave even as little as five per cent to the communities, today, these communities would not be where they are because that is a lot of money over time.
That the federal government thought about it and is giving 10 per cent is a big credit for Mr. President.
That is the second one third was the decision on infrastructure, major road and bridges of which he wasÂ very particular about completing the East-West highway and of course, the coastal road that will start from Lagos, run throughÂ most of the Niger-Delta states and end up in Calabar.
There is also the railway that will run from Calabar-Akwa-Ibom- Rivers- Bayelsa-Delta-Edo state in the first phase and the second phase will be from Edo state to Lagos . So, these three, rehabilitation and reintegration as one, policy changes/constitutional amendment as two and thirdly, the issue of infrastructure, you know, with those three, it is onÂ record that Mr. President has some things for the region.
You inaugurated the Delta Waterways Security Committee (DWSC), which has been instrumental to the peace in the waterways of the state and the committee recommended the formation of coastal guards, which the federal government is studying at the national level, though, the details are still hazy, what is the role of the committee in the post-amnesty process?
What I will say is this; I am still studying the details of federal governmentâ€™s plan in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration because the question is what we do with the youths. Itâ€™s a very key question and the first thing is to say let us reintegrate them into the society, let us do a mindset change for those who have been in the creeks for a long time and that is why there are various camps and of course, you have to train them in various skills when you discover whether they are still trainable, whether they can go to school, secondary, university or can acquire skill.
Like I did propose, involving the communities in the security of oil facilities is very key, itâ€™s not possible for the military alone to secure the oil facilities, we have kilometres and kilometres of pipelines, there is no way the security agencies can monitor those pipelines effectively because you cannot put them at every point.
Now securing those pipelines entails involving the communities because for something to happen to the pipelines, the person or persons that are doing it have to be from the community or has link with people in the community.
So if there is something like a community watch, they can help to protect the pipelines and there should be youths who should be patrolling and gather information to pass over to security agencies to act on.
So, one of the things I think should be done is to involve them in monitoring oil facilities, especially the pipelines and gathering information so that the government can be proactive in dealing with situation.
The real worry at the moment is now that the militants have surrendered arms, will the federal government keep to its promise of developing the region because if it does not, things will be worse than they are now, what have the governors of the region collectively told President Yarâ€™Adua about the dangers of failing to deliver on his promises?
The President recognizes first that thereâ€™ve to be sincerity and each time he talks, he keeps stressing it, that there have to be sincerity, there have to trust.
Whatever we tell him, whatever we suggest the bottom-line is sincerity and you see, sometimes, you need to have faith. Collectively, we have faith and we have the belief that Mr. President will see through the plans he has for the Niger-Delta region because it has taken him a lot to get to where we are and I am not sure he wants us to go back to where we are coming from.
Some months back, you were talking about gas and its potentials for the state, we are not hearing you on it again, what is amidst?
Itâ€™s still on (laughs), thereâ€™s a national gas master plan, let me say this, infrastructure is not what you talk about today and it settles on ground tomorrow. Sometimes, it takes two, three years to plan, that is infrastructure, where roads, airports, etc. It takes some time and the gas master plan is not easy thing that you will just talk about today and everything actualizes tomorrow, but, suffices it to say plans are on ground, plans are on.
You are approaching your fourth year in office; can you make some projections on what you are thinking?
What I want to do is to complete the projects I have embarked upon.