By Festus Ahon
Mr Paul Odili is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, for the Ndokwa/Ukwuani Federal Constituency, Delta State in the 2019 elections. He was Manager of Communication to former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan for eight years and a journalist by training.
In this interview, he speaks on his experience as a politician and his ambition.
How has it been as a politician?
Politics is service to the people, to your community, and generally to humanity. Since accepting to serve Delta in 2007, it has been a deep learning curve. I joined government as a technocrat, burning with the zeal to be a positive influence on the thinking of colleagues and the people, my hunger was to influence policy and drive development—that fire is still there I have to say—but in doing that I learnt that it demands a give and take, you have to understand the act of negotiation, you have to know how to lobby for the things you are seeking.
Those kinds of things are not often seen but it is the life blood of getting things done. Now as a politician you have to present a perspective to the people and you have to persuade them to your side of thinking and from that build fellowership and support base. And if you are minded as I am you want to be given the chance by offering yourself to the people to vote for you to serve, to bring to reality what you have been telling them that you can do.
You want your people to accept that you can selflessly advance and defend their interest and not be motivated by selfishness. In my view your ability to serve selflessly is what makes you a good politician. I want to show that I am a good politician. So you asked, what is it like, I say that is what it is like and that is what I believe it is.
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You were Communication Adviser to former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan for eight years. How did you use your position to impact on your people and Deltans?
I think a great deal. And that is because Governor Uduaghan was willing to listen and willing to accept suggestions and advice. First, when we came on board we knew Delta had a message and image problem. Militancy, kidnapping, pipeline vandalisation, ethnic disharmony; in short the state was unravelling and needed to be put together first above everything else. How you do that is to communicate sincerity, trust and inclusiveness.
That is because the administration that came on board had a vision it ran on and which needed to be implemented. And so Delta needed to be rebranded, especially if you needed investors and investments. If you remember the administration vision was first christened three point agenda of Peace and Security, infrastructure and human and capital development. There was clarity of purpose, but unless you sell it, Deltans might not work with you and ensure that what you are proposing has inherent benefits. If Deltans were hesitant, outsiders won’t even touch you.
But to successfully do anything and for the message to get across, we simply had to engage with the people. So we use every available tool of public communication to advance our agenda. Townhall meetings, direct phone lines, short message service( SMS) that allowed Deltans to directly communicate with the governor and other top government functionaries and we made sure there was constant exchange of information.
All these came before the advent of social media. We created and hosted local and international events, conferences, seminars etc. We knew that if you want many successful Delta entrepreneurs and business leaders to be part of Delta story you have to craft the right message and you have to create an important platform for meeting of minds.
We evolved our vision from three-point agenda to Delta Beyond Oil, which I crafted. As our message developed many Deltans and other Nigerians began to take notice and they began to identify with the Delta story because we were telling it in a compelling way.
You can recall that at regular intervals major national and international events were happening in Delta state. Some of these events were not funded by government but simply the initiative of those involved while some events happened with government as co-host at minimal cost and that is because our partners wanted to be part of Delta story.
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We were also engaging with the international community. We understood that climate change was a big issue, so we cleverly affiliated with international organisations, like R20, UNIDO, UNDP etc Through these engagements, Delta story was been told internationally. We had twin city agreements with Pennsylvania, California, Shenzhen in China, etc. You know I was the Climate change/Green Economy project lead, so I led Delta delegations in some of these talks and I anchored and drove these initiatives.
I can say that had it been sustained, we would have seen physical manifestation of these initiatives in terms of investments, capacity building, skill transfer and employment generation. From experience I know serious investments don’t just happen. There is a process which includes building a relationship and it takes time but we were very close before our tenure expired.
You are running for the Ndokwa/Ukwuani Federal Constituency on the platform of the APC. What informed your decision to run?
Poor representation by the person we had mistakenly sent to represent us. His scorecard has been abysmal to say the least. We were better off not sending anybody to Abuja. At least we can say we did not send anyone there.
We deserve far better than what we have received. And so by running I want to show that we can do better and that we can change the story and situation on the ground. If you tour Ndokwa/Ukwuani federal constituency you would weep. Complete absence of any presence of federal government in the area.
We are oil and gas producing and yet we were able to attract zero federal presence. And every day we hear tall tales by our representative. The reality is that our people have woken up, they are fed up. They are tired of deceit, of selfishness, of incompetence, of lies. The people want a change.
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The truth is that if I were not running, and if no one bothered to come out, our people are so fed up they would have boycotted that election. We would have gone on record as boycotting a general election. This is no joke. I am serious. It is that bad. So I am here to win and to show that it can actually be done.
APC has a manifesto and I am going to make sure that our people benefit from it. We are going to bring federal presence in terms of infrastructure, economic and social programme. We are going to Abuja to tell our story and to give quality representation. And we are offering competent, truthful, sincere and honest representation.
What do you want to do differently if elected?
I will offer purposeful representation. Enough of deception. Our people want quality representation that is driven by public goal not a personal goal. We lack infrastructure, we are impoverished and we are neglected and so we would do all in our power to change that.
We will improve social programmes, we will ensure that neglected parts of our communities are remembered and made to feel presence of government. We are oil and gas producing but it appears we are unfortunately not recognized and treated as such. We will change that. We will attract national and international attention to the area. We know how to do it and it will be done.
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