By Dapo Akinrefon
CHIEF Rita Lori-OgbegborÂ is a leader in the Niger Delta and also the Igba of Warri in Delta State. In this interview, she bares her mind on the state of the nation just asÂ she lamentsÂ the current trend of events in the country. She also comments on many other burning national issues. Excerpts:
How would you comment on the state of your state?
In the time of the founding fathers of this country such as Zik, Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, etc, we were of the opinion that Heads of State did things for the people not for their families or villages. Therefore, I am very disturbed about the two institutions, which President Jonathan commissioned at Oghara, Delta State recently. The institutions are the Medical School and the Navy Logistics.
Medical School itself is a good thing for the development of human beings. However, where a medical school can be sited is defined. And there are rules and regulations guiding the location of different institutions. The medical school sited at Oghara is a good thing but the siting makes people like me wonder whether the former governor, James Ibori,Â sited the institutions knowing full well that he was the governor of Delta State and not governor of Oghara. It is in that regard that I frown at what he has done. Again, the location of the school is against all principles of placement of institutions.
For instance, the distance between Oghara and Benin City is very short. There is Federal Medical CentreÂ in Benin. Now if we are to site another one, is it right that we site it very close to Benin City when it will be needed in places like Warri or other places that areÂ densely populated? You can imagine if somebody from Escravos, Patani or Burutu is seriously sick and needs medical attention, how the person would journey to Warri in canoe through the sea before taking a vehicle to Oghara. When I see this, I cannot sleep because it is absurd. Did the governor not think before he did what he did? Did he not think of others? Did he just think of himself and his people? Did he just think of how to develop the town to the detriment of the whole state? I also want to stress that the finances could have been greatly reduced if the school were attached to an existing general hospital. Take Lagos state as an instance.
When they wanted a medical school, they just turned their general hospital into one and itÂ reduced the cost of establishing one. But Oghara had no general hospital of any significant size to take that kind of medical school. Every medical school has a university, but in the case of Oghara, where is the university. If it is DELSU, then they should have moved the medical school there.
So, there is no university attached to that school. These are questions that are going through my head;Â we were taught that when one has risen to that level of leadership position, you donâ€™t do things for yourself anymore. The whole state is your constituency. I am not saying you should not attract investments to your home but such investments should not be to the detriment of the whole state. So, if any government wants to spend state funds, then the entire state should benefit andÂ everybody would be grateful.
On the issue of Navy Logistics Institution, I will simply ask: Why Oghara? In the first place, the Navy is a federal institution and Deltans are asking questions. Who spent the money? How much was spent in building it? If it is the Delta State government that spent the money, we want to know whether the Federal Government is going to pay that money back to the state and when because we need it for the development of Delta State.Â Â Is it the Federal Government that put it there or wasÂ it built by the state that is ought to be looking for money to develop its riverine areas that are being ravaged by poverty. The president described the Navy Logistics as the best in West Africa but weÂ want to know how many secondary schools in the state areÂ capable of producing the calibre of students that will study in Oghara. So, there are lots of confusing issues.
I therefore warn that such attitude must stop because the aftermath is that when other governors come, they too would look for institutions to put in their backyard. And if they donâ€™t do it, their people will call them fools.Â To me, that is the height of corruption and it should be discouraged. Today in Oghara, there is an army barrack; there is the Navy barrack and MOPOL. I also understood that there was to be an airfield until there was a big fight to remove it from there. The danger there is that every governor that is coming now would look for something to build in his own village to turn it into a city over night to the detriment of the city and entire country.
What then is your advice to the current governor, who comes from one of the minority ethnic groups in the state, towards ensuring equity in the state?
That is a question for the governor to answer. I suppose he knows. I have said what every Deltan is feeling now.Â I suppose all he must do now is to raise the standardÂ of the general hospitals in Ughelli, Warri and Burutu so that the people can easily access health care in the state.
But is this your position not coming late since these projects have been commissioned?
As I said earlier, the reason I am speaking again on this issue is because I want future leaders in the state to take correction. It was not as if people did not raise theÂ alarm or IboriÂ was not told. There were write_ups here and there but he blatantly carried on. I understood that the National Universities Commission refused to accredit the school initially. We had thought that with the hullabaloo the project generated, it had been abandoned not knowing that it went on. I think finally, they managed to get the NUC to approve it otherwise the president would not have been there to commission it. But I am re-opening this matter to warn that Deltans would never accept any governor again to come and use the peopleâ€™s money in pursuit of a personal ambition. This would be the last time Deltans would carry the burden of a governor whose ambition is to develop his village while abandoning the rest of the state.
The 2011 elections are fast approaching. Where do you stand on the governorship race in Delta?
This is a very crucial question. With what I have just told you, what do you expect me to say? To say that the minorities should not have their own time? The money that is spent in the state comes from the minorities and so they must produceÂ the governor. And would you blame them should the governor ascend power and spend his entire tenure looking after his people?Â So, we are waiting.
However, I am equally anxious because we want educated people to rule that state both as governor and as members of theÂ House of Assembly. If members of the House are well educated, they would be able to confront the executive and bring justice. ButÂ now, I am not happy with their performance.
And what about the presidential race?
I stand by what the president said. Time will tell whether he will run or not knowing full well that he has a lot to do. If he can, and if it is the will of God, then he will. This is because most of the happenings in this country today are beyond reasoning. God himself is piloting us. So, we have to pray and we the elders are praying seriously for the good of this country.
Where did things begin to wrong?
DuringÂ Zik, Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello era, there wasÂ focus. Zik had the focus of building a country that would match any other country of the world. Awolowo did not just have a vision; he implemented projects that catapulted the country in the areas of health, education and infrastructure. It was during his time that television came into the country. But today, what do you have? In those days, I knew who was representing me. But today, I donâ€™t even know who is representing me in the House of Assembly in Delta despite being an elder in Itsekiri land. The story is also the same in Lagos here. So, that is how bad it is.
What is your view on the political party system in the country with 57 political parties set to contest the next general elections?
The situation in our country today is that able_bodied men donâ€™t work any more. Everybody wants to go into politics because once you get there, you can makeÂ money. That is why there are so many political parties in the country. Ask them what their political ideology is and the answer is none. Is it the AC, PDP, ANPP or what have you? A member of PDP can decamp to the AC today and by tomorrow change to the PDP. It is the same uniform because the ideology is the sameâ€“get there, take what you can. That is the ideology.