December 10, 2021

DELTA: We can’t afford inexperienced hands as governor in 2023 – Edevbie

I’ve experience, exposure, and capacity to sustain, improve devt trajectory

Chief David Edevbie, three-time commissioner for Finance in Delta State; director of Finance and Administration of the Yar’Adua Campaign Organization in 2006 and 2007; later, principal secretary to the President Umaru Musa Yaradua, is one of the frontline governorship aspirants in Delta State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

In this interview, the University of Lagos trained development economist, who earned higher academic degrees at Cardiff and Harvard; and  worked for global development agencies, such as the Commonwealth Development commission, CDC. For much of the 1990s, spoke on why he wants to govern Delta among others.

On why Deltans should trust him with the number one position in the state

Delta State is at a very delicate stage of its journey and cannot afford any reversals or slow-down in the pace of development. The previous administrations have laid down social, economic, and infrastructural foundations for the state’s sustainable development. It would be unfortunate at this point if political power were to pass into inexperienced hands lacking the capacity to manage the state’s diversity or having a sufficiently deep understanding of how to build upon the accomplishments of the past.

I have worked very closely with all the chief executives of this state since 1999 and played critical roles in developing their plans and implementing their projects, so I am very conversant with what has been accomplished and what remains undone. I have exceptional familiarity with the successes and in-depth knowledge of the prospects and challenges ahead. Delta State needs to creatively attract funding to tap its vast human and natural resources and fund a clearly defined future vision.

My academic background and experience working for nearly four decades in senior positions in the private sector locally and internationally and in the state and federal governments have equipped me for the job. My track record speaks for itself, and even my fiercest critics concede that I am fit for purpose for the job.

You mentioned attracting funding to Delta State. In an era where contractor debt stands at an all-time high, how do you hope to accomplish this? How can you restore investor/contractor confidence?

I have worked in various capacities across several global financial institutions, directly identifying and managing vast investment portfolios and projects. So I am very conversant with the intricacies and processes involved in securing foreign investments. The relationships established both internationally and locally during that period and in my personal and professional endeavours after that, which I have nurtured over the years, will be vital in attracting the required funding. On the issue of contractor debt, I am not aware that it is at an all-time high, but I have managed huge public debt relative to revenue before and can do so again.

When I served as Commissioner for Finance in Governor James Ibori’s administration, I established a monthly cash budget system that gave contractors confidence and certainty in the payment system. The system was devoid of lobbying, and contractors were paid on a first-come, first-served basis. In essence, contractors didn’t need to have a personal relationship with me or anyone else before they got paid; hence their works certificates were as good as physical cash.  Banks lobbied contractors to fund the State Government projects because of their confidence in our payment system.

Accumulation of contractors and bank debt signal a liquidity problem that could adversely impact government programmes and projects and other adverse effects on the overall economy. We will institute a framework for the prevention, management and settlement of all debts.

To rebuild contractor confidence, firstly, it is critical to prevent further accumulation of contractor debt, and consequently, realistic budget estimates, especially regarding revenue projections, are imperative. Also, bearing in mind that the accuracy of revenue projections has its limits, we will ensure strict commitment controls by tying expenditure approvals to actual fund availability monthly. My objective will be to create a predictable and certain payment system with a target of meeting every contractor obligation within a maximum of 90 days of the date they become due through a re-engineered cash budget system.

Secondly, we will ensure accurate real-time reporting of contractor and other debt by way of fully automated (i.e. end-to-end from procurement approval to settlement) public financial management (PFM) processes because the lack of a fully automated PFM process could usually result in deficient commitment controls, poor cash management, delay in the processing of payments, deliberate deferral of payments, duplication of payments and sharp practices etc. The existing SAP ERP software, which I introduced in the Ministry of Finance decades ago, needs to be implemented wholeheartedly.

Finally, a minimum of 10% of annual budgets and monthly revenue receipts will be set aside to settle all contractor arrears to completely defray them before the end of my administration. Government is a continuum, so all legitimate contractor arrears will be critically reviewed and a clearly defined payment plan agreed upon and strictly adhered to.

Successive administrations have been accused one time or the other of arbitrary siting of projects for ethnic or political reasons or otherwise. What is your take on that?

Such sentiments are bound to arise in a State as diverse as ours, whether true or otherwise, especially when expectations are not appropriately managed. In my view, what is missing is a statewide development master plan.

That is why I plan that a medium/long-term development master plan backed by appropriate legislation will be implemented within the first one hundred days of inauguration. The master plan will be developed with the input and collaboration of key stakeholders across ethnic and other demographic lines to ensure that it is a product of all. With a master plan in place, project selection and implementation should become more objective and easy to track, monitor, and evaluate.

With the current spate of insecurity across the country, how do you hope to implement your plans?

Insecurity remains a significant threat to development nationwide. If the menace is not addressed quickly, all developmental efforts would be in vain. Effective security architecture must be put in place to create a safe, peaceful, secure and enabling environment for our development agenda to be delivered. Also, a thriving economy where the majority of the people are gainfully employed is an antidote to insecurity.

Consequently, I will adopt a two-pronged approach towards tackling insecurity; Firstly, the immediate approach will involve collaboration with the Federal Government and other stakeholders to re-engineer our State security architecture, emphasising local control of security apparatus to ensure greater efficiency in intelligence gathering, evaluation and speedy utilisation. An all-inclusive security regime driven by an enhanced public/private sector security trust fund providing sustainable funding for the security architecture, including the deployment of state of the art ICT equipment such as drones, CCTV etc., for real-time surveillance at security flashpoints etc. will be deployed. I will ensure that relevant State security laws are strengthened for greater effectiveness. Secondly, the long-term approach, which will involve rapid industrialisation of the State that will create jobs on a large scale engaging majority of the populace in meaningful enterprises with a spin-off in youths shunning vices that are currently plaguing the State

On his industrialisation plan

My industrialisation plan aims to make the State a massive production and manufacturing hub underpinned by domestic and foreign direct investment anchored on public and private partnerships. The strategy involves enacting investor-friendly legislation and providing requisite infrastructure, including reliable electricity and suitable road and transportation networks for industrial clusters to be set up across the State.

The Aboh-Ogwashi Agro-Processing Park and the Kwale Industrial Parks initiated by the current administration and the Warri Industrial Business Park initiated by the Uduaghan administration will be completed. Simultaneously, the Jesse Industrial Park will be fast-tracked into operation. The private sector will be encouraged to set up solid minerals mining and beneficiation industries to exploit marble, glass-sand, clay, gypsum, iron ore and kaolin, which abound in the State. We will do everything reasonable, including catalyst equity investments in such enterprises to support investors. We will also promote the establishment of modular refineries in each of the three senatorial districts.

You mentioned the provision of reliable electricity and suitable road and transportation networks for industrial clusters. How are you going to provide reliable electricity given the electricity challenge plaguing the entire country?

Reliable energy supply is a sine qua non for the development of the State and Nigeria at large as it is at the core of every human enterprise. Therefore, it will be my number one priority. I plan to leverage the State’s natural gas endowments and other renewable energy sources to provide accessible, affordable and regular power supply to catalyse diverse economic activities.

In this regard, a 500MW Power Plant will be developed within 36 months to boost the State’s power supply for domestic and industrial use. Energy hubs will also be created in each of the three senatorial districts to ensure that rural communities not previously connected are linked to the power grid.

What about the road networks. You will have some big shoes to fill if given the mandate after Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who has been nicknamed the Road Master. Do you believe you are up to the task?

I commend Dr Ifeanyi Okowa for his performance in road infrastructure that has earned him the Road Master nickname from Deltans. It is a worthy accomplishment. However, my plans extend beyond road construction to ensure high-quality intermodal transport over land, water and air.

READ ALSO: Delta Policeman wins Prestigious Observers Network International award

The Cabotage Act will be exploited, fostering investments in water transportation, rail and gas-powered coaches etc., to reduce dependence on vehicular transportation. We will pursue expansion and upgrade of the Osubi Airstrip and partner with the Federal Government to fully operationalise the Warri and other ports in the State.

Many State Governors and other civic societies have tried to engage the Federal Government on a myriad of issues with little progress. Why do you think it will be any different if given the mandate?

I worked for late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as his Principal Secretary, so I understand the intrigues and intricacies of the politics at the centre. Also, as Commissioner for Finance in Governor Ibori’s administration, I played a vital role in prevailing on the Federal Government to commence 13% derivation payments.

However, it was incorrectly limited to onshore oil production. This vexing issue has remained outstanding ever since. This restriction and the failure to review the revenue allocation formula every five years since 1992 to the detriment of the States and Local Government Councils has in part led to the ongoing struggle for collecting VAT by States. States need to adopt more novel thinking to make the required advances in engagements with the Federal Government. Similar cases will spring up soon to further deepen our constitutional framework and jurisprudence.

For instance, the issue of refund of Stamp Duties to State Governments as pronounced by the Supreme Court since 2000 remains pending. In all of these, we must deploy our diplomatic skills to ensure that the Federal Government understands that it is not a case of the States versus them but a case of collectively agreeing on what best serves the country. This would be my primary approach, and I will be unwavering in my commitment.

Asides from reviewing the revenue formula at the federal level, shouldn’t the States look inwards to grow their IGR?

Well, they go hand in hand. For instance, when the States win the VAT collection struggle (laughs), it should increase the IGR of most States in the long run as competition will drive growth. Nevertheless, the States also need to innovate on their other IGR sources continuously.

For example, in Delta State, I will implement a complete restructuring of the Internal Revenue Service to ensure professionalism and performance-driven promotions and remunerations. In this regard, the staff of the Internal Revenue Service may need to be excised from the mainstream Civil Service. This is also part of my vision for public sector reforms. I also expect our industrialisation efforts to contribute immensely to internal revenue through numerous sources.

Aside from your industrialisation plans, what other job creation plans do you have for Deltans?

The current administration’s job creation and empowerment programs have been mainly adjudged successful, so it only makes sense that one should build upon it. And this means adopting a multi-faceted approach to combating unemployment rather than relying on a single silver bullet.  For instance, ICT is an area that not only creates employment but sustainable wealth. I will therefore place a lot of focus on investments that deepen our ICT ecosystem.

Why the emphasis on ICT?

Obviously, the global drive to transition away from fossil fuels presents a threat to our State’s economy, largely dependent on oil revenue. ICT is not just an economic growth pole; it also offers an opportunity for harnessing the impressive energies of our youths. Therefore, our investment strategy must be tailored to use ICT to leapfrog the various sectors into the 21st century. My ICT programs will encourage creativity, innovation and deployment of skills to create a productive and sustainable knowledge-based economy.

The majority of Nigerians believe that agriculture is the pathway to Nigeria’s independence from an oil-dominated economy. What is your take on that?

Well, the goal is a diversified economy that is not dependent on any single sector, so agriculture provides a ready route for diversification. But we must seek to grow beyond just being primary producers of raw materials by investing heavily in value addition to our agriculture output. For example, agriculture will serve as a feeder to our planned industrialisation.

Overall, I plan to foster the cultivation of the State’s vast arable land to achieve food security, develop agriculture value chain and exploit the agriculture export potential estimated at $10billion annually. Agriculture will be boosted by employing modern farming techniques, providing requisite infrastructure, credit facilities, training, research, processing and marketing opportunities in collaboration with the private sector.

On the other hand, ICT is the ultimate validation of the information age that succeeded the industrial age. Take the creative industries, for example; we have Netflix, YouTube etc.,that can seamlessly bring a movie filmed in Asaba to the home of someone in Atlanta. Our youth are daily creating innovative ICT solutions with global utility that generate wealth and employment in significant proportions, as has been demonstrated recently by PayStack in Nigeria.

What are your plans in respect of the creative industries?

The plan is to foster, protect and promote the creative industries to grow and harness the economic and cultural benefits spanning cultural heritage, the arts, media, creative services and design. Collaborations with industry stakeholders such as Netflix Nigeria etc. will spark a creative economic boom. I also plan on establishing an Entertainment Trust Fund to provide further zest to the sector.

You earlier hinted at public sector reforms. Can you expatiate on that?

The public sector needs to be re-engineered to attract capable and experienced personnel locally and from Diaspora. I will prioritise policy formulation and implementation using a multi-sectoral approach whilst implementing a robust Management Information System for digital service delivery. Within the first 100 days, we will conduct a Best Value Review of the organisational structure and management of the entire public service. This will be geared towards producing modern public services that are efficient, economical and effective.

The State Executive Council and other political appointments will comprise at least 35% women and at least 25% youths to engender diverse perspectives and ideas. A Value for Money capital spending approach will be implemented to ensure that all significant expenditures are backed by a robust business case and defined acceptance criteria. We will also seek to clear the backlog of all unpaid benefits to Contributory Pension Scheme retirees within one year.

On the issue of unpaid benefits to Contributory Pension Scheme retirees, how will you clear it?

This is a very delicate issue that needs to be addressed urgently. The current policy of the Pensions Commission bars retirees from accessing their Pension Fund Account until it is “fully funded”,, i.e. until the accrued rights/benefits are remitted therein. This has inflicted severe hardship on affected pensioners, as they are left empty-handed with no means of livelihood after they are removed from the payroll. I plan to immediately tackle this with various financial techniques, including issuing Bonds or Promissory Notes or a mix of both.

What informed your plan to constitute the State Executive Council with at least 35% women and 25% youths?

I believe many demographic sensitive issues are either completely ignored or not critically examined daily. For instance, the menace of police brutality and other sensitive matters brought to the fore during the recent nationwide EndSARS Movement could have been resolved earlier if proper attention had been paid to the youths.

Issues such as sexual misconduct, menstrual hygiene management, gender discrimination etc., also need to be critically examined; hence, a survey of female needs will be conducted within the first 100 days in office to guide the development and implementation of policies and legislation to protect the female populace. With more voice in the government, these arguably marginalised groups should be able to push through their yearnings.

What do you think about the current state of the health sector and how the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled so far?

The world, in general, was not prepared for the pandemic, so I believe the government of the day did its best, especially considering the number of casualties compared to other countries. Nevertheless, more investment needs to go into the health sector, especially in research and pharmaceutical manufacturing capacities, as the African continent waited cap in hand for vaccines from the West.

My aspiration aims at increasing life expectancy from the present 54 years to at least 70 years by providing affordable and quality universal health care with ICT support to ensure easy access. We will build, renovate, upgrade, equip and adequately staff primary health centres in all 500 wards in the State and ensure that health services are rendered to our people in the riverine communities.

The Delta State University Teaching Hospital Oghara will be further upgraded to enhance its training capacity and make it a centre of excellence in medicine to reduce offshore medical tourism. Specialist hospitals will also be built in each senatorial zone.

Doctors and health workers will be recruited where necessary with improved working conditions to enhance service delivery. Attention will also be paid to people living with disabilities and other health conditions. These and the encouragement of private investment in the sector are part of my vision for improving the current healthcare delivery system for our people.

We are running out of time, can you briefly tell us about your plans regarding the education sector before we move to the politics of Delta State, which I believe many Deltans will want to hear your views on.

My vision is to transform lives through education, recognising its essential role as a primary driver of development that will strengthen and deepen our democracy, ensuring leadership accountability and representation along with economic benefits. We will work closely with relevant stakeholders to develop and revise policies and programs to achieve the global sustainable development goals for education 2030. We will focus on access, equity and inclusion, quality, and positive learning outcomes using modern methods and ICT.

We shall continue to provide free and compulsory primary and secondary education with appropriate infrastructure. We will recruit teachers where necessary, ensure regular training and retraining, and incentivise them with good emoluments. ICT, skills acquisition and entrepreneurial studies will be incorporated into the curricula to help our youths adapt early to the demands of our fast-changing world.

Attention will also be paid to technical and vocational education, ensuring appropriate colleges fully equipped to world-class standards cover all 25 Local Government Areas. Our tertiary institutions will be programmed to drive government and citizens’ developmental aspirations by formulating public policies based on applied technological research paving the way to the State’s scientific and technological advancement.

 The institutions will be positioned to establish a nexus between our environment’s unique needs and realities and current global development trends. We shall sustain a system of sessional bursary, student loans and scholarships for deserving students and encourage virtual learning to match universities worldwide.

Is there any other particular issue you would like to speak about before moving to politics?

In summary, my agenda is the modernisation of Delta State. It involves the reclamation of our cities and towns through urban master planning with environmental and physical development controls ensuring an enabling environment that encourages stay, leisure and business development and growth. A panel of public and private sector players will be constituted to identify the challenges of doing business in the State and proffer solutions for implementation to attract firms that have exited the State and encourage new ones to set up in the State.

Private sector investment in social infrastructure/services will be actively encouraged, and urban regeneration programs will be established in the three senatorial districts. We will create institutions and processes that will expand both housing delivery and access to homeownership for Deltans. Smart Cities are envisioned for experimentation because the 2050-projected urban pressure is bound to strain utility services. Sports will also be used to support the well-being of Deltans.

It will influence youth lifestyles and attitudes, harnessing the abundant sporting talents that abound in the State and highlighting the potential employment opportunities for young professionals in physical fitness and sports science.

Funding and management of sports and sporting facilities development will also be enhanced. We will establish a sports academy to nurture talented youths and prepare them for successful sporting careers.

Before we move on, quickly expatiate on your plans on housing delivery and access to homeownership for Deltans

In collaboration with the State-owned Delta Trust Mortgage Bank and other private sector players, about N10billion in mortgages should be made available to taxpayers annually at single-digit interest rates. Developers, suppliers and informal workers must be duly registered and regularly pay their taxes. The program will be strictly regulated, ensuring that participation is appropriately distributed. Strict due diligence and repayment compliance will be implemented.

Applications, processing and approvals will all be visible online to ensure transparency in the sector. This will not only boost homeownership but will also boost the State economy and IGR. The State, again in collaboration with the private sector, will provide land and basic amenities such as water, power, waste management, security in the form of sites and services, estates schemes etc, utilising paved roads to create employment and longevity.