Mr. Sunny Onuesoke, a former Delta State PDP governorship aspirant, is the Special Project Director, Ughelli-Asaba Township road dualization project. In this interview with Festus Ahon, he speaks on Delta State governmentâ€™s efforts in diversifying the economy of the state from oil and gas, and other sundry issues.
Sir, looking at the economy as it is today, oil is still the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, what do you think could be done to diversify the economy?
My governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan has been fashioning out lot of economic development programmes to shift the stateâ€™s concentration from oil and gas to the core sector, agriculture. Core sector in the sense that the governor is of the view that after oil might have been exhausted, what will be the last hope of the average Deltan? What are we going to be depending on?
What I am trying to say is that the governor has decided to delve into ventures that are quite different from what we have been expecting him to do. That is to say the governor is determined to refocus our economic dependence on oil and gas to the core sector, agriculture. Normal integrated farming system will be the order of the day.
You talked about diversification of the economy. What areas do you want government to focus on?
The three-point agenda of the state government is something you should understand. I think the principal area I want the government to focus on is agriculture and where there would be a lot of cottage industries, mega industries, production, companies that will depend on the waste of oil refining concerns, especially the focus is going to be on agriculture.
With agriculture the state could go into agro allied industrial sector. Iin another three to four years we should be thinking of companies that could can banga (ripe palm fruit) into liquid banga, from the palm kernel to banga soup just like that. So the real focus should be purely agriculture.
Agriculture is the mainstay of any economy that wants development. The American government was able to disintegrate the USSR government under Gorbachev by starving the USSR of wheat.
So agriculture is something that one cannot really do without. When the citizens of a country are well fed, the next step would be to go into research and other things. Without food, I donâ€™t think there is going to be any development in any economy of the world.
The issue of three-point agenda is purely focused on infrastructure, agriculture and other areas, but what I want to emphasize is that if we are refocusingÂ our minds from oil and gas to other areas, like the government is planning to do, in another 10 years, Delta would no longer depend on oil and gas.
We will now focus on cottage industries, sustainable industries, agro allied industries, that is agriculture- oriented industries. In Delta State we have the talents, we have the professionals, we have the wherewithal to do things like that. So these are some of the key aspects of the three point agenda.
Today, the state government is establishing industrial parks in some parts of the state and it is equally building an international airport and dualizing the Ughelli /Asaba road. What do these portend for the economy of the state?
We are building the airport as well as the Ughelli-Asaba dualization to key into the airport. The airport is an international airport of cargo capability. That is to say some of the easterners are coming with their multi-dimensional businesses, even people from Europe and America. They will prefer to utilize the Asaba International Airport. Besides, you know Warri is a key commercial city. So when you are going to Asaba we are doing all these dualization to key into the airport project to open up that axis.
If you look at the Ughelli_Asaba dualization, it is a project that cuts across the three senatorial districts. It is an embodiment of infra structural development in the state. The governor has a focal point of doing this, so sooner or later every body in Delta State will benefit from these Mega infra structural projects. There are lots of industrial parks the governor is building. We have taken the feasibility studies for the execution of Delta State Independent Power Plants. The governor is determined to do these things.
These are things that people cannot just comprehend instantly because in Nigeria we have refused to build projects of legacies. What my governor is putting on ground now are projects that Deltans will benefit from even in the next fifty years. What he is doing now are legacies that generations yet unborn will benefit from.
You were talking about development of the economy. Today, some of the youths are jobless and the Delta State government has a micro credit schemes. How is the scheme affecting the development of the youths?
All that is required in the Micro Credit Scheme headed by Dr. Anthonia Ashiedu is for Deltans to form credible co_operative societies and apply formally as a body to the scheme. After investigation and screening of your application, you will definitely get the loans because the state government intends to use the scheme to develop the people at the grass roots. The scheme is well spread all over the state. Those that have benefitted from it are using it to improve their economic lives.
We are talking about the core sector in the rural areas. Those that have not organized themselves into co_operatives should do so. It is only after you have organized yourselves into the co-operatives and you have been screened to know the objectives and genuineness of your co_operative society that the funds can be made available to you. The funds are meant to douse the problem of unemployment in the rural areas.
Only recently, the commercial motorcycle (Okada) riders in Warri axis protested against a levy that was imposed on them by Motorcycle Riders Association, and you are talking about youth empowerment and development. How will you explain this?
Talking about the issue of Okada riders, how much is the levy? Just N20, let them pay the N20, it doesnâ€™t make any difference. We are always talking about developed nations. These countries got developed through the payment of tax, co-operate tax and personal income tax, amongst others.
I want to ask, how many people pay tax in Delta? We are seeking for infrastructural development but we donâ€™t pay tax in Delta State. Developed nations depend on tax to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. But in Delta people want to benefit everything without an iota of tax towards the treasury of the state. Whether Okada, bus driver or the Igbudu market trader, we should cultivate the habit of paying our taxes.
It is a legal way of developing any society.
I am appealing to my fellow Deltans, letâ€™s pay tax the and the government will use it to address our infra structural needs, our educational needs, our health needs.It is not purely for the Okada riders alone, I am advocating for taxes to be paid by every Deltan, no matter what you are doing, whether you are a worker or a garri seller in Igbudu market, we should endeavour to pay some tax.
But donâ€™t you think this protest by Okada riders is threatening the peace and security agenda of the state government?
It is going to be over. In every situation, it just depends on negotiation. I know our government is open. I keep telling the Okada riders that it not by protest. No nation grows without negotiation. They need some re_orientation. In some of the civilized societies it is not the government that provides the industries, so you just donâ€™t hold the government responsible for the industrial sector.
We should ask some of the millionaires in Delta State, where are the Industries they have set up? I want to use this opportunity to tell Delta millionaires, we should redirect our focus to small scale industrial sector. People shouldnâ€™t be thinking of focusing their attention on government alone. Government is there to provide the enabling environment. Independent power plants are there, industrial parks are there. These are things that Governor Uduaghan is setting up to stimulate foreign investments.
We should channel our minds from petrol station to investment on small scale industries like polythene industries, juice canning industries. What is wrong in investing in a mega pineapple farm and after six months you go to China to bring a factory of N10 million for canning purposes after processing the pineapple. Could you believe that every canned juice consumed in Delta State comes from Ogun, Oyo and Lagos?
What more can a filling station money give you than a pineapple canning factory that could employ over a hundred persons? Is it not high time we refocused our minds from filing stations and hotels and face core sectors like breweries, soft drinks, and bottling companies?
Imagine in the whole of Delta State, there is no soft drinks bottling company. Is it not a shame to the self acclaimed millionaires in the state? So why are we just pushing the government to the wall that the government must provide every thing?
The government is to facilitate infra structural development, constant electricity like what my governor is doing with the Independent power plant, good roads, good water projects, what are we talking about? Must all our focus be on the government for everything we are doing?
Only recently the state House of Assembly passed a vote of confidence on the governor and endorsed him for a second term. Looking at his antecedents since he assumed office in 2007 do you think the governor has a chance of being re_elected in 2011?
The state governor has 98.9% chance of being re_elected. I donâ€™t want to speak because of the infrastructure on ground. I am speaking based on the response of the citizens. We know there is going to be an election in 2011 and it is going to be Uduaghan versus Uduaghan.
We have a family that is called a party in Delta State. People call it PDP at the national level but in Delta State we call it a family and the eldest child of the family is still on duty. He is the governor who is currently the ruler. It is a family affair in 2011. Delta State is 96.999 PDP-oriented and it is the only state in Nigeria that has the highest number of PDP faithful. He is already there, it is a one man affair, what he has done speaks volume for itself and these things are mind-blowing.
After the passage of that vote of confidence on the governor and the endorsement by the State House of Assembly, so many Deltans have been reacting, having counter views on the issue, what is your view on this?
Well that is the beauty of democracy. You are entitled to your views. The House of Assembly has endorsed the governor for a second term, fine, they have the right to say what they have to say, it is entrenched in the constitution. If somebody says because you are an elected member of the House you no longer have your freedom of speech that is not true. If I know something is true I donâ€™t have the right to say it because I am an elected member of the House, then that is not a good democracy.
The only thing is that if you elect me, I am going to represent your interest, so I believe that if you elected me whatever I say must be in your interest. It is the performance of the governor that motivated the House of Assembly to endorse him to go for another four years. They are men of astute and outstanding personality in the society, so is it that because they sought for your opinion to be elected into the House, they should not be entitled to their own opinion?
Their constituencies are benefitting from what the governor is doing. Majority of the people are saying the governor has performed exceedingly well and therefore deserves to be re-elected.
Finally, what will be your charge to Deltans?
I want to use this opportunity to appeal to Deltans that for every society that you see, even American passed through their different phases of economic hardship.
I am employing Deltans to watch and see the things as they will be unfolding in the state.
They may not feel the impact now but our children that are yet unborn will feel these things. Do you know what it means for a state government to embark on Independent Power Plant Project?
When you see these things manifest you will be amazed. So I am appealing to Deltans to be clam because the policies of this administration have a master plan. We should also learn to cultivate the habit of paying tax. There is no economy that can develop in this world without tax.