After the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, a medical doctor turned politician, steps in to redefine governance and create a state of the people’s dream
“First, we talk about the three-point agenda of the governor. It is a module for easy administration of the state. And for a man to compress so many ideas to a three-point agenda, first, has really distinguished him from the ordinary person. It shows that his mental industry is at work. And he compressed whatever policies or ideologies that have been in place before him, and reduced them to three points which encompass the needs of the people”–Peter Onwusanya, Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly
The above quotation succinctly captures the game-changing strategy of Governor Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan soon after he took over the mantle of leadership of Delta State from his predecessor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori. Peter Onwusanya, Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, like other political watchers and Deltans in general, were not left in doubt that his three-point agenda aptly encapsulates the vision of the governor and charts a road map to the socio-economic development of the state. Having been part of the previous administration since the beginning of the democratic dispensation in 1999, first, as commissioner for health and then secretary to the state government, SSG, Uduaghan has seen enough and learnt enough lessons to resolve to adopt a different approach to governance as well as review his rule of engagement with politicians and those who would do business with the state in order to achieve better results and place the state on a sure but fast lane to development.
Of course the game had to change given his predecessor’s experience. Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay, SSG, reminisced on how people would just approach the then governor with proposals “your village has no light and there and then the contract is awarded. They give you 25 to 30 per cent mobilisation, take the money and you run away”. According to him, “for a man who saw it all happen for eight years, it will be fool-hardy for him to make the same mistakes and that is why today, Uduaghan is misunderstood to be a stingy man”. Onwusanya agrees with Macaulay. He says “I know and I believe that between that period of service and when he became governor, he was exposed to so many things and he has learnt so many things, in terms of probably where we got it wrong between 1999 and 2007; where we had our shortfalls. To the good side of 1999 to 2007, that prepared him enough to tackle the shortfalls and to add value to where we had an advantage”.
There is no gainsaying the fact that one of the values he has added to governance is his trailblasing Delta Beyond Oil economic development initiative which is evidently a marked departure from the run-of-the-mill approach to governance. Delta Beyond Oil has become the new face of Delta State and a passion that the governor is pursuing vigorously. Delta Beyond Oil is about investing in the future of the state. It is about making hay while the sun shines. Macaulay says only those with analytical mind would appreciate what Uduaghan is doing. “He has decided not to build a Delta for just today. He has decided not to put money into individual pockets. He has decided to build a Delta with infrastructure that can sustain development; that can attract investors so that with time, a lot of idle hands will be picked from the streets and Delta will not totally be depending on federal allocation from Abuja every 30 days. That is his own agenda”.
While recognising the three-point agenda as the governor’s strategy for development, Chike Ogeah, Information Commissioner, reasoned that he needed a tactic to actualise it. “The tactic, I guess, is what he called Delta Beyond Oil. I think that is a great vision, and we looked at about five, six thematic areas where we have natural comparative advantage; these are areas where he felt we could do much better than oil as well”. Today, Delta Beyond Oil has assumed a life of its own. The governor says it has gone beyond mere sloganeering. “It is real”. The initiative has translated into unparalleled development in infrastructure in all sectors – education, health, transportation, tourism and entertainment and indeed in agriculture. Peace has taken permanent residency in the hitherto volatile state; and with security no longer an issue, it was not surprising that investors, foreign and local, have found the state a safe haven for their investments. Uduaghan is happy that “Delta has become most favoured in terms of foreign investments”. Even the creeks that were hitherto a no-go area have been playing host to foreigners who, in time past, were endangered species in that environment. Because of the enabling environment that had been created, multi-billion dollars industries are springing up with the potential of absorbing a huge number of the teeming unemployed youths. Recently, the Okerenkoko community in Gbaramatu kingdom played host to the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan with an array of captains of industries to perform the groundbreaking of the Maritime University being built by NIMASA, as well as the construction of a dockyard and shipyard in the same environment. In a matter of weeks, the President will return to the Niger Delta creek, this time, Ogidigben, to flag off the $16 billion gas city project. That the state under this democratic dispensation is once again bubbling with economic activities is a clear testimony to the success of the peace and security component of the three-point agenda.
Since the advent of this administration, development in the state had been on the upward swing with urban renewal and rural integration being focal points. Landmark achievements have also been recorded in the areas of infrastructure development and human capital development. The Asaba International Airport has become a reality and the pride of the state. Ben Igbakpa, Commissioner for Transport, says “The airport has changed a lot of our frontiers and the airport is now a gateway to Asaba”. He says today, “our airport is regarded as airport of the future with regards to the Nigerian economy and it’s actually bringing in a lot”. Ogeah expatiates on the economic potential of the airport which is intended to be a cargo airport. According to him, “Around the airport, government has parcels of land where we are going to start agriculture project. The idea is to take most of these fruits like pineapple, orange, first hand, while they are still fresh – take them abroad because don’t forget that the airport, in another year or so, will go international. It is just being built in stages like airports are done anywhere in the world. So, the airport is going to be an agricultural hub for agricultural produce where we can be taking fresh fruit out. Meanwhile, just that activity in aviation, you see how the trickle-down effect has affected all other aspects of the economy in Asaba and its environs. I am sure you can’t get a piece of land to buy in Asaba now”. Like Ogeah stated, it is still work in progress at the airport. Austin Ayemidejor, Special Project Director, supervising the airport, said there had been no lull in business at the airport with the potential of passenger traffic getting higher. Aero Contractors and Arik Air are the major flight operators at the airport. He said of Aero “there was a day they had about 140 passengers. The minimum is about 90; so, it’s very encouraging. Very, very encouraging because the advantage is that apart from emerging markets and towns like Agbor, Isele-Uku, Ogwashi-Uku, Illah and others, you also have a major market close to this place, Onitsha Market. The proximity is just about 10 – 15 minutes drive. And so, the whole of that axis – Onitsha, Nnewi, Awka – prefer to use our airport as against Enugu Airport because of the distance”. Ayemidejor is optimistic that things would even get better as the “passengers want to key in because of the cargo wing we are developing”, adding that “as soon as that is completed, activities will increase here”. He expressed hope that “in the next six or seven months, we will be able to complete the cargo wing”.
Of course to complement the Asaba, Osubi airports as well as the Warri Port is the ongoing 168-kilometre Ughelli-Asaba Road dualisation and other such roads of economic value. Across the state, over 1,000 kilometres of road had been done to link the rural areas to the urban towns and cities. Urban renewal, with special attention to the environment, is one of the deliberate strategies of the Uduaghan administration to attract investors. Funkekeme Solomon, Works Commissioner, says “we have also ensured a rigorous environmental policy…where every road is cleared and cleaned up for investors to understand that the environment is well taken care of. Roads are being widened, all illegal structures are being demolished as it helps security and it also adds to the aesthetic beauty of the environment. Investors are more attracted to such kind of environment”. The transport sector is also being overhauled. Part of the radical changes that have taken place in transportation in Delta State is the government’s involvement in public transportation with the provision of over 800 mini-buses, 50 Marcopolo buses and 30 made in Nigeria Innoson buses as well as over 4000 tricycles. The government has also ventured into the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT. Igbakpa said “the BRT in Warri is actually a 15.5 kilometres range, with 70 buses plying it” adding that “it is expected that in every bus stop, the headway we are looking at is just five minutes; no matter where you are within that area, a bus must come”. Solomon explains why this is important.
He says, “when a city has seamless transportation system, the first attraction is to attract investors who don’t fear that there will be loss of man hour to move round goods and services…” Igbakpa on his part explains that “when we talk about Delta Beyond Oil, a lot of things have to come into play. If an investor is coming to Delta today, the first point of call is either Warri or Asaba even if where you are investing might not be in these two places. This (Asaba) is the seat of government; you must want the government to know that you are here…The first thing you will see when coming is the orderliness of the environment…So, we must make sure that those two basics, the commercial and capital cities must be places that when people look at them, they will say, yes, this place is good and orderly…and we want to ensure that when they come, they won’t be disappointed”. A visit to Asaba and Warri confirms this. Beautiful bus stops and terminals with aesthetic appeal dot the landscape while rickety taxis and buses have completely disappeared. With the ban on commercial motorcycles popularly called Okada, there is sanity on the roads as commuters move from one destination to another in comfort.
Education and health have also witnessed unprecedented and revolutionary development under Uduaghan. It is not all about free education, but the functionality of it. Education in the state has been repositioned to appeal to the young ones. Supported with state-of-the-art infrastructure like modern school buildings and educational aides, and complemented with well-motivated teaching and non-teaching staff, pride has been restored to attendance of public schools such that the patronage of private schools have nosedived. Uduaghan says his huge investments in education are also not unconnected with his Delta Beyond Oil initiative. According to him, “we cannot be talking about Delta Beyond Oil if we have our populace that is not educated. You must educate them first for them to even understand Delta Beyond Oil. But if they are not educated, they will just believe that so much money is coming from oil; so, let’s just get the money and share the money. For us to succeed in that development strategy of Delta Beyond Oil, we need our populace to be educated”. The same commitment has been demonstrated in health care delivery. Delta State remains the only state in the country where maternal and child health care, including caesarean session, is truly free and the result is there for all to see. The state is the first and only state to attain the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, in maternal and infant mortality.
Developing Delta State has however not been without challenges. A major challenge, apart from funding, is the multi-city and multi-ethnic nature of the state. It is imperative to mention that Asaba and Warri are not therefore the only centres of development hence the government has to spread itself thin to extend development to other cities. Consequently, infrastructure development takes place simultaneously in such big towns like Agbor, Ughelli, the university town of Abraka, Sapele, Ozoro, Ogwashi-Uku, Kwale, among numerous others. The idea is that every part of the state is given a sense of belonging and this, to a large extent, has fostered ethnic harmony.
As this administration winds down, there is no gainsaying the fact that democracy has impacted positively on Delta State with the governor playing a pivotal role in creating a state of the people’s dream. But a forward-looking and visionary leader that he is, Uduaghan is already looking beyond his tenure. A few months ago, he did something rather unimaginable in our clime. He invited a team of experts from the United Nations to do an assessment of what his administrative had achieved since 2007 when it came on board. To many, it was a rare demonstration of sincerity of purpose and commitment to good governance. Even the governor admits that “it takes a lot of courage and boldness to do this because in Nigeria, people have different ways of assessing leadership and people are always eager to condemn…But in moving forward, we need to know how far we have gone. We need to know the challenges that we still have and of course, it will be difficult for us to assess ourselves and that was why we approached the UN”. The governor said he was convinced that “this assessment will help us in moving forward; not just this administration, even future administrations”.
The expectation of Deltans however is that a man or woman who shares the same vision with Uduaghan who has demonstrated immense capacity as a game changer, will succeed him in order to sustain the present tempo of development, or even surpass it. Having set a very high standard, his successor cannot afford to go below it.
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