By Festus Ahon
CHIEF SOLOMON ARENYEKA is the Executive Chairman of Rural Development Agency, RDA, in Delta State. He was Chief of Staff to former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan in his first term. Arenyeka, who is the ‘Eson’ of Warri Kingdom, also served as Chairman of Warri North Local Government Area. In this interview, Arenyeka speaks on the activities of the agency and other issues of interest.
Tell us the core mandate of your agency.
Delta State Rural Development Agency was established via a bill passed by the state House of Assembly in 2000 during the first term of Chief James Ibori as governor. The mandate is similar to that of the former Directorate of Rural Infrastructure known as (DIFRI) during the military era. The core mandate is to provide full development in the areas of provision electricity, opening up of earth roads, and clearing of water ways in the rural areas of the state. Recently the state government signed Memoranda of Understanding with some power and energy companies to deliver on the promises of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. When the projects fully commence, we will come in wherever our assistance is needed. Don’t forget that some of those MOUs were signed on the basis of Public Private Partnership.
Vandalisation of transformers and other power infrastructure has been recurrent challenge in the efforts to supply electricity across the nation. What is RDA doing to curb this menace?
I recently met with the state House of Assembly Committee on Power and Energy and the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC). The meeting was initiated by the Honourable Commissioner for Energy, the state House of Assembly Committee on Power and Energy and I, to sit with the BEDC to iron out some of these issues connected to power supply. I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the BEDC to be alive to its responsibility on the issue of electricity distribution. While agreeing that the provision of electricity has been commercialized, I think we should ensure that the commercialization is done with a human face. Last week, I went round the state to inspect the facilities that have been provided by RDA. I visited Affor, Obetim, Ute-opku, Koko, Ubeji, Gbokodo, Graigbene, Tuomor, Oghara, Bitugbo, Onicha-Olona, Ughelli, Uweru and Agbo. I think BEDC while carrying out its commercialization effort should also provide transformers for the people they are collecting money from for power supply. I discovered that most of the transformers in the communities were supplied by government. And when we supply transformers, BEDC still want to collect connection fee from the people. I am speaking based on what I saw on the field. If they are not supplying transformers and the RDA is playing this role, I think there should be a synergy between BEDC and RDA to make sure that the transformers are connected. Because if the regulations for installing transformers are very stringent, most of the things we are doing may not be beneficial to the people. For example, in Ubitugbo, transformers were supplied for the past two years but BEDC cannot hook them to the grid if they don’t pay their bills. And the story is the same in most of the communities. Most of these communities are agrarian. They are not commercially viable were everything should be based on commercialization.
BEDC should introduce packages where in their own profit making mechanisms efforts are made to take care of the interest of these rural areas. I want to take DSTV as an example. I remember when it came, people were paying as high as N15, 000 for premium package but, along the line, they came with Gotv which allows people to pay as low as N1, 400. BEDC as a business venture can design a low cost package for people in rural areas. When we put these transformers in some of these communities, we are told that because of the high bills they cannot be connected which is not too good. It means that whatever we are creating there will be white elephant projects to the communities. I want to appeal to BEDC to go about their commercialization with a human face.
They should take care of highly commercial areas where they recoup their money and also take care of agrarian areas where do could be seen too to be rendering services in one way or the other.
Going by your statements, government purchases transformers while BEDC installs and commercializes. Is there any form of partnership between RDA and government?
We install but, in switching to the national grid, BEDC takes money; meanwhile, they are using the transformers and making money from them. The question is, what is government doing to check this exploitation? These are some of the issues addressed in the meeting between the House Committee on Energy and the BEDC. I only hope that reason will prevail.
How has RDA keyed into Delta State government SMART Agenda?
The agenda wants prosperity for Deltans. What is prosperity? It means happiness, service delivery and that is evident in what we are doing. In all the places visited by RDA, we were showered with accolades by the people thanking the governor for doing an excellent job. For example, if you have electricity supply in rural areas, micro businesses will thrive. Skill acquisition programmes are mostly for rural dwellers. If there is no electricity, most of the programmes will be in vain.
How many communities have you connected so far and how much has been committed to electrification projects under your watch?
Since we came in two years ago, government has been running on a tight budget. The crash in oil price has affected government revenue. The RDA used to run a budget of over N1 billion. In the last two years, our budget has been slightly over N400 million. And we have committed the over N400 million and covered close to 32 communities. Some have been completed while some are awaiting switch on. Like I said earlier, I was on tour last week to inspect some of these infrastructures and I am happy that most of the transformers are in good working condition while some of them are awaiting switch on. We also had issues with BEDC which saw us sitting in a round table to iron them out. However, there are some transformers which crashed due to overloading and we have reported the incidents.
There is a case of a transformer which was stolen in Ubeji, but was recovered by security operatives. We are looking at reinstalling it. So far, we have forty something transformers, some are working, some are awaiting switch on while others are awaiting installation.
What is your assessment of the Okowa administration in the last three years?
Within the resources available to the state, Governor Okowa has done very well. One thing I observe is that people do not want to come to the realization that government in Nigeria and in Delta State in particular is not what it used to be. When I served as chief of staff, for a year, our allocations every month from the federation account was between N19 billion and N29 billion depending on when money from the Excess Crude Account is shared and so on. But, at the inception of this government, allocation was as low as N3 billion monthly and there was little the man could do. Don’t forget that this state is peculiar in the sense that the 25 local government headquarters are urban centers. If you go to some states, you see concentration in only the state capital and once you see photographs of the state capital, you think the whole state has been taken care of. So, in view of the conglomerates of our ethnic groups, the state government must satisfy each of the senatorial districts. And if you look at the three senatorial districts, apart from the Central, which is almost homogenous, it is a different ball game in the other senatorial districts. The governor has really tried. My tour has given me better insight into what he is doing. There are massive roads constructions taking place all over the state; from Sapele to Ubeji in Warri to NPA bypass, from Umunede to Uteokpu, every day at the State Executive Council (SEC) meeting briefings, we see new approvals. Things are improving. There is a marked improvement from what we used to get.
What can you say are the chances of Governor Okowa in the 2019 general elections?
No other candidate holds a better chance than Okowa. I worked with him when he was Secretary to the State Government as Chief of Staff. Okowa is a silent achiever. He doesn’t like propaganda. He always wants his work to speak for him. I will want to use this opportunity to advice the opposition in the state that the field is very wide, hence they should deviate from unnecessary criticisms. The opposition can be useful in different ways. Before, they used to say Okowa is not doing anything. Now they say Okowa is not doing mega projects. But in some climes, major projects have become white elephants. Instead of doing a mega project in a small community, even distribution of sustainable projects is good..
We have seen that one of the ways of winning the hearts of people is road construction. Now, anybody can cover a sizable part of the state with a good car in three hours unlike what we used to see. On road construction, Okowa has done well and the song of the opposition is gradually dying down. Apart from ethnic coloration given to it, Okowa is loved by all and his chances of winning the 2019 general election are very high.
What is your advice to Deltans?
Deltans should be patient. The opposition should not tell lies for the sake of opposition. Look very well. And be positive like I mentioned earlier. If you go to the state secretariat, you will see that work is going on day and night. Some people were saying government cannot pay salaries yet they are spending such amount on constructing a secretariat. They forget the huge amount the government is spending on rent every month. Okowa will deliver dividends of democracy in full measure. There is going to be prosperity across board as the state records improvement in its allocation.