By EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State is in the second and final term of office as governor of Delta State. the Governor was last Thursday honoured with the Fellowship of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria in Lagos, the highest award given by the institution. Uduaghan, who is a medical doctor by training on the eve of the award, spoke to a selection of newsmen on issues in the polity including calls by a faction of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should resign as Minister of Finance, calls for a national conference and his plans to hand over Delta to a credible successor. Excerpts:
What’s your reaction to the calls for the resignation of Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Finance Minister by the NGF?
I was very careful in listening to and reading the communiqué and I think the communiqué talked about an Appropriation Act that is based on ‘projections’.
If you read the communiqué, it talked about projection and what projection simply means is that you are not sure of what is on ground.
What that means is that you are making an estimate and your projection may be correct or may be wrong.
What has happened is that I think the Federal Government is saying that our projection, although it is an Act, the projection figures are not quite adding up and so we cannot run it exactly the way it has been projected.
What is your reaction to the support of Senate President, Senator David Mark for a national conference?
I talked about national conference over three years ago and that Nigeria needs a national conference. What I refuse to agree with is a Sovereign National Conference.
We should remove the word ‘Sovereign’ we should hold a national conference. I talked about it maybe in low tones over three years ago because there are various challenges in Nigeria that we need to sit down and discuss.
There are regional challenges, there are security challenges, there are even religious challenges that we need to sit down and discuss and agree on the way forward.
There are economic challenges. We have to sit down and put them right on the table, and start a process of give and take: I am from this part of Nigeria and these are the challenges. You are from that part of Nigeria and these are the challenges.
Okay, I will give in to that and you will give in to this. We start the process of give and take and eventually arrive at something that is acceptable to everyone and we move up from there and build up from there. It might not even be the best by the time we even agree, but with time we would build up on what we have started as a people.
There is so much suspicion, there is so much distrust. Let me take the issue of President Jonathan for instance. Many people in the Niger Delta believe that this opposition against Jonathan is because he is from the Niger Delta. They started with performance but now people are beginning to see performance.
This is a President who had challenges from the beginning on insecurity. I don’t see any President who has had the kind of challenges he had on Boko Haram from Day One.
What was one of the issues from Boko Haram? That if we want to give you peace, then, you must become a Muslim if you want to continue as the President of Nigeria. Those are challenges that had never happened and these are things that have been on ground.
And the Niger Delta people are looking at it and asking, ‘is it because he is our son that all these problems are happening? Is it because he is our son that is why there are those evil political moves?
Did they make those political moves against their people?
When they wanted to be President they came to us and we gave them the highest votes and now that our son is there, we expect that they should also give us the highest votes but are they? These are questions.
They may be abstract but they are questions that people from that (Niger Delta) region are asking. And that is why some of us are saying that the opposition to Jonathan should not come from his region and I still say it that the opposition should not come from his region.
People of his region should put their hands and heads together and see how we can build bridges across the other parts of Nigeria to make him succeed as a President.
I agree that there should be a national conference, if anything, to give everybody room to air their views and then we will start negotiating on what will happen.
What is your succession plan like in Delta?
It is on course. (General laughter)
You have a succession plan?
Off course; when you talk of a succession plan there is no way you can hold a position without having a succession plan. There is no way you can be a political editor for example and not have a succession plan.
You must have a succession plan, but the difference in our own case is that the person who is going to succeed me is going to be elected by the people. The person has to work hard, the person has to work on me that has one vote and also work on the people that have over two million votes.
The challenge about my succession plan is that I have put a structure in place that I am marketing to Deltans that we should build an economy beyond oil.
So, if you are going to succeed me you have to convince the people of Delta that your plan will be on developing the Delta economy without oil.
But if you say you want to continue to depend on oil forever and ever, I don’t think you will find it easy to be elected. So, when I talk about my succession plan, the person has to key into the programmes we are putting in place.
Why haven’t you held local government elections in Delta State?
Let me first of all say this that the issue of who fixes the date for local government elections is for the State Independent Electoral Commission. The responsibility of the governor is to put up that commission which I have done. Unfortunately, by the time the life of the other council was finishing, the life of the DESIEC was also finishing.
We took a list to the State House of Assembly but somebody challenged the membership in court and it took us some time to get through that process because we had to appeal to him to remove the case from court before we inaugurated the commission. The commission is in place now and I hear they are going round sensitizing people and they will soon fix a date.