By Rume Johnson
For some time now, anytime anyone, particularly policy makers or major opinion leaders in the society, harp on the need for the diversification of the nation’s economy, to make Nigeria a better place for all, one name that readily comes to my mind is that of the immediate past governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan.
The reason is not far-fetched – At the end of his eight years in office, the medical doctor-turned-politician carried out what, for a long time, has remained an impossible task, only mouthed by many political office holders. He succeeded in extricating Delta State from the problem of over-dependence on oil.
The significance of Uduaghan’s achievement was again, as it is often done, brought to the fore last week by President Muhammadu Buhari and the new President of African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.
Speaking while in audience with the new Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Nigeria, Fahad Sefyan, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Buhari promised of his administration’s urgent diversification of the country’s economy and the development of the non-oil sectors. In a similar vein, Adesina, at his inauguration as the financial institution boss described diversification as the key to a greater Africa.
Had the different leaders of the country carried out their promise to diversify the economy which, as far as Nigeria is concerned, translates to reduced dependence on oil as the mainstay of the economy, the endless crave and promise to carry such out year in year out would not have been necessary at all.
Without any attempt at making a god out of Uduaghan, there are so many lessons to learn from his administration, having succeeded where many had failed woefully in the area of developing other areas of the economy, apart from oil, for the betterment of the state and its people.
For example, while the governments of the different states of the federation and even the federal government continued to mouth their commitments to developing other sectors to no avail, Uduaghan was successful with his project which has become a reference point for all and sundry – “Delta Beyond Oil”.
From the level of idea conception, to execution, the glaring qualities that came to the fore are deep thinking , careful planning and total commitment and doggedness. For instance, with due recognition of the fact that no business enterprise can survive in a turbulent environment, Uduaghan sought the much elusive peace in his state at the time he resumed office.
An extremely volatile area with people of the different groups that make up the state killing themselves, the former governor brought in the needed peace and everyone could sleep with two eyes, truthfully, closed. Having achieved that, development work began in earnest, with him giving assurance that “No hard-working Deltan will go to bed hungry”.
Displaying good understanding of the devastating effect of impoverishment that the long years of internal strife, bad governance, oil spill and other problems had had on the people of the state, Uduaghan saw the need to create the financial wherewithal for the “hard-working” people of the state.
The people were obviously ready to be enriched through a systematic way in the form of Delta State Micro Credit Programme (DMCP). Through the programme, small and cottage industries gained a new lease of life and the erstwhile poor people began to feel good.
Before Uduaghan left office, no fewer than 111, 321 persons – male and female – who made up about 10,439 groups of entrepreneurs benefited from the programme. The businesses of the people boomed and their products assumed international standards. From dependence on oil, many could then veer into fish farming, agriculture in general and manufacturing of products which include insecticides, soap and many others.
An account of one unemployed graduate, Daniel Uwandulu, a beneficiary of the scheme who had suffered to no end best stresses the happiness that trailed the scheme. “Suddenly a new dawn came and a lover of the masses was enthroned as the governor of my state. He introduced soft loans for the less-privileged like me and my one-time hopeless life received unexpected hope that will forever remain in my memory,” he said.
The success of the scheme is also seen in the fact that it won different awards for the state from the Central Bank of Nigeria. In a letter signed by Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, Deputy Governor, Financial System Stability, the CBN says the awards were in recognition of the state’s efforts towards developing the Microfinance/SME sub-sector during year 2009 and the programme’s efforts towards developing the Agricultural sub-sector in 2009.
Also in an award of the Silverbird group’s 2014 Man of the Year, mention was also made of his programme that created self-employment opportunities for the people of the state. Organisers of the award said: “His sterling performance in health signposted by the free medical care for children and the elderly as well as the free maternal care for pregnant women, and the micro-credit scheme where over 111,000 Deltans have been empowered to set up their own businesses, were highlighted as part of the programmes Nigerians who traditionally voted for the winner elected Uduaghan the winner.”
With his calculated steps, Uduaghan succeeded in seamlessly diversifying the economy of the state. Agriculture and other businesses became more significant and revenue generating. The desire and efforts to diversify came with a lot of good things for the state. For the teeming population of the state who had been shut away as a result of bad roads and lack of bridges to cross the rivers that are in their abundance, it was the end of a sad chapter in their lives.
In the build up to creating abundant opportunities for the people, massive road constructions were embarked upon and the pains majority went through to bring the farm produce to town ceased. A particularly intriguing case is the construction of Sapele-Abigborodo Road which made it possible for a car to be driven to Abigborodo, a community situated in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State, for the first time.
Incidentally, Uduaghan belongs to the community, and at the inauguration, he declared: “For me, it is historical and very encouraging; and I am so sentimental about it, I must tell you that a car has never been to Abigborodo before but with this bridge, that is now a thing of the past.
“The good thing now is that at least one can drive through this bridge. For the very first time, especially for those of you who have been following me to the village when we have elections, we always go by boat. Now that the bridge has been constructed and we can drive through by road, I am very happy.”
The beauty of the efforts and achievements of Uduaghan through the diversification project is that of the creation of abundant opportunities for all and sundry.
Let me say simply that with the laudable achievements in Delta State under his administration, it certainly would not be out of place to say that those who are genuinely willing to make success of the bid to diversify the Nigerian economy, including the federal government, should learn from the Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan legacy.
Rume Johnson wrote from Warri