Interview by Ochereome Nnanna, Azu Akanwa & Emmanuel Aziken
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan was his affable self on Thursday, December 12, 2013 as he settled down with the team of Vanguard Editors for an interview in the Delta State Governor’s Lodge in Lagos.
The interview, coming in the early evening after a series of appointments and meetings in Lagos, was no restraint to the governor, as he in one hour showed himself to be a man of details, rolling out facts and figures on his style, strategies and structures that made him Vanguard’s Man of the Year, 2013.
What can you remember about your days growing up?
First, I grew up in the village with my grandmother. I was just two years when my grandmother took me from my mother because my mother was falling ill, in and out, so my grandmother took me to a village called Mosogar in Ethiope West local government area.
That is why I speak Urhobo very well. One interesting thing about that village was that it was a rural community, no road to the place and the only way of getting to the place at that time was to get to the river bank, enter the boat and cross the river from Sapele to the village. There was no road to the place, no pipe borne water, no electricity. The only thing that was there was the Baptist Primary School and the Baptist Church.
The main occupation of the people was fishing and farming. When I got to the school age which averagely then was about six years, I was taken by my grandmother to the school to enrol and I was told to put my right hand over my head whether it could touch my left ear. But unfortunately for me that year I could not touch my left ear, so I was not taken. I cried, I cried very profusely, as my grandmother took me home.
Somehow, one of the teachers noticed that I was crying. So, the next day he came to the house, apparently, his name was Emmanuel, and he told my grandmother that it was like I was very interested in school and my grandmother said yes, and the teacher now said that I should be following him, to school but that I would not be enrolled since I wasn’t qualified and he was then teaching in primary one.
So when I get to the school he would put me at the door so while he was teaching the class I would be listening to him and I was also answering questions. So that was how that year I didn’t really go to school, and the next year when my hand reached I still started in primary one so it was like doing primary one twice. That was how I started school.
So the circumstances under which you went to school were not too different from those of President Jonathan who did not have shoes when he started schooling.
Not too far, but I had shoes. At least when we were going to church I remember I put on shoes. My father was a policeman and he used to buy clothes and bring for us. Anyway that was how I went to school but as I was growing up, about primary 3 I had now grown up to be able to go to farm. And the farming was of two types, rubber farming, that is rubber tapping and general farming which was to plant cassava, plant yam and all that.
The rubber tapping was mainly for the men and the cassava planting was for the women. The men would wake up earlier, and there were three cock crows. The first cock crow will wake you up, the second one was to get ready and third was to enter the road. So by the third crow we were on our way to the rubber plantation and we would put on bush lamp and by the time they finished it would be daybreak.
What they do is that there is a small cup into which they would tap the latex and the latex drops in to the cup. By day break, we would now go and look at our traps. We younger ones had these traps for catching rabbits and if there is a catch, we would take it and then re-set it, but if it doesn’t catch we would leave it, then we’ll go and join the women.
They would have come to the farm by then and would have roasted the yam, plantain and with the palm oil that they brought, and that would be our first breakfast. If it was during school days, we would rush home and get ready and go to school and even with that we were always the first to get to school because my grandmother made sure of that. But when it is not a school day, after eating we would get back to the rubber plantation with a bucket and start emptying the various cups into the bucket. That was what our morning averagely looked like.
Then later in the day, we would go to the river either to wash clothes or fish or just to swim or to play. The river was so clean and had a lot of fish; literally we could put our hands and catch a fish. Of course, in the evening it was story time, our grandmother would gather us to tell us stories or we would go to one elderly person in the village to tell us stories.
But the thing about the village was that it was like a communal life, every adult male was every child’s father and every adult female was every child mother so if you committed an offense anybody seeing you will correct you but I don’t think that is happening now. That was my experience growing up.
Did you ever think then that you would one day become governor?
Did I know what a governor was? (laughter). I didn’t know what a governor was. All through my primary, secondary and even university, I never had political ambition, I was much more interested in my profession and I wanted to be a successful professional.
As a young man what inspired you?
The truth is that when I was in secondary school what I wanted to become was an accountant, and in terms of academic activities in secondary school, I attended Federal Government College in Warri. In both art and science subjects I was averagely good. I told my father I wanted to become an accountant but my father was more interested in me becoming a doctor that was how I read medicine. I don’t really regret it. So when you talk of ambition, during secondary school what I wanted to become was an accountant, but when I now started reading medicine I wanted to become a good doctor.
What really brought you into politics?
Actually it was James Ibori that I will say was my first encounter with politics. Now as a medical doctor practising, I was an arm chair politician in the sense that I was politically aware, I could discuss politics but I wasn’t a politician, I didn’t register in a political party and all that. So, when he came and got into politics, I just said let me help him to win election.
But when he came, the kind of election he wanted to contest and the area he wanted to contest, I advised him that he would not win in that particular party but he said; well he has been assured and all that, but having gotten the ticket, I said OK, we ran around and he lost. But he now confessed that it was only the two of us that gave him the correct advice; every other person said he would win. Of course that is politics.
It was a contest for the House of Representatives during the days of NRC and SDP. That was his first election. So when the GDM started, of course I got in to it naturally and then become active in PDP.
As the Governor of Delta State what would you consider your greatest achievement?
I don’t have any achievement that is great, greater, greatest if you want to put it that way.
Well, we mean something that you would say broke some kind of barrier and moved the state forward?
I think everything moved it forward and let me turn the question around maybe you want to know what my legacy is. I don’t have a legacy.
Like I say, politics is about human beings when I look at it professionally from my medical point of view and that is why there is a similarity between politics and medicine. Medicine is about human beings. When you come and see me as a doctor with malaria, when I treat you for that malaria you will remember me for the malaria I treated you. If he came with hernia and I operated the hernia he will say that doctor was the one that operated my hernia, then the other one will say he was the one that treated my malaria. And it is the same thing with politics, it will depend on what somebody is remembering you for.
I will give you an example of a woman living in Ontisha. She used to fly from Benin to Lagos to see the children. One day I was at the Asaba Airport, the woman came to me and was praying, praying for me and I was just saying amen, amen. When she finished, she now told me the story that she used to fly from Benin and one day she was on her way and now had an accident and nobody knew where she was for three days until they eventually discovered that she was in the hospital and eventually got well. Since then, the fear of driving to Benin to fly to Lagos was so much in her that she could not go to see her children, but now that there is an airport in Asaba, she just drives to the airport and flies to Lagos. So for her, she would remember me forever for the airport.
Now, there was this other woman who saw me as I was inspecting roads one day, she came and was trying to get hold of me, trying to come and embrace me but the security people stopped her and there was a child beside her. Then I told them to leave her and she came, she was holding me, singing and all that.
What was the problem? The child had a condition that was treated free of charge for her, including a surgery that was done free of charge for her because of our under fives free health policy.
So you have a free health policy?
Yes, for under 5 year children. So the woman will remember me because of that. So if they ask her wetin Uduaghan do for you self, that is what she will say. Of course we also have a free health programme for pregnant women. A woman who before now had some children she delivered in a quack place because she could not pay the hospital bill but now has children who she delivered in our hospitals free of charge. Of course she has two sets of children, this one was born in one quack place outside the hospital while this one was born in the hospital, she can now have children in the hospital, so she will remember me for that.
If you go to some of our communities there is Uduaghan’s bus because we have new buses that take people to rural places and people pay 50% of what is normally charged so those people will remember Uduaghan’s bus. So it depends on who is remembering you. So for me everything you do is important depending on whose life is being touched by what you have done. So, I don’t do things because this is what I want to do, everything is legacy for me.
Can you be able to measure the impact that the Asaba Airport has added economically to Delta state?
It is very difficult to measure. Let me take two areas. As soon as we started the airport the cost of land in Asaba shot up seriously. You know if you were buying a thousand square metres before at 100 naira, at the time we started the airport, that 100 naira had become 1,000 naira and now it could be like 10,000 naira that is for land.
When you drive around Asaba, between the time we started the airport and now, the population in Asaba has grown, the businesses have increased, small scale businesses have increased, and most of the places that used to be residential, people have now turned them to offices. Now we have three, four, five star hotels coming looking for land, some have started building, and people from Onitsha bought a lot of the land and if you go round Asaba now you will see a lot of warehouses springing up. So commercial activities have increased tremendously as a result of the airport and everywhere, including places that used to be residential, are being turned into commercial places.
Can you tell us the major thrust of your three point agenda?
When we came in 2007, and assessing what we needed to do on ground, we narrowed everything to three key areas; peace and security, infrastructure development and human capital development. And this captured virtually everything we needed to do in government. Two, they are also interwoven. Without peace and security you cannot talk of developing infrastructure because without peace and security and with the problems we had in the Niger Delta there was no way anybody could go and start constructing roads or schools. And of course, you also require human capital development and so, the three of them were interwoven.
But the ultimate goal of our three point agenda is to start developing an economy not totally dependent on oil, so we have tagged it, Delta beyond oil, having at the back of our mind, the issue of employment. The problem of unemployment is really the nightmare of anyone in this position, whether it is governor, president, or American president.
We are trying to build an economy that is beyond oil and we have simplified Delta beyond oil, and what that simply means, is that whatever we are getting now in terms of funds from oil let us use it to develop the other areas so that when tomorrow if there are any problem with the oil revenue, whether the oil is not there or there is a shortfall in oil revenue, we would not have the kind of challenge we seem to be having now.
Having that at the back of our mind, we set about developing infrastructure, infrastructure that will attract investments in certain key areas like agriculture, culture and tourism, solid minerals. That is how we embarked upon transport infrastructure which includes the airport and the dualisation of our major highways and the work with the Federal Government to develop our sea ports and to complete the Aladja railway line.
Off course, we have started our own independent power plant and working with the Federal Government to complete the existing national independent power plant and we have invested heavily on that.
We have also invested heavily on transmission equipment, distribution equipment like transformers. Hopefully by the time all these investments mature, the improved power in Delta…we also invested in the power plants that were sold, especially the ones that are in Delta and the Benin distribution facility. We did that so that we can have a lot of improvement in power supply.
We have also invested in industrial zones and clusters, Warri Industrial Park and other parks that are springing up. But you know, these investments are quite heavy and are long term in nature and the way unemployment is in Nigeria, you need some quick wins and that is why as we are doing the long term, we are also doing the short term like our micro-credit scheme and in the agricultural area, we embarked on what we call YETA, Youth Employment Through Agriculture and setting them up and also helping existing farmers to improve upon their yield in both quality and quantity.
Those are some of the things we have done as quick wins to ensure that our people are empowered. But having said that, don’t also forget the social infrastructure which will also help manpower development. In the area of education, we are working on our schools, improving the quality of our schools, the infrastructure, the quality of the teachers and off course, also making it free and accessible even to the poor.
There is free education up to secondary school level and then at the university, we have increased our grants or bursary to university students by 100% and of course, and apart from other scholarship schemes we have at the university level, when you finish university and you get a first class, it is automatic scholarship (for postgraduate work) worth N5 million a year. Many of the recipients are outside the country studying now.
So far, how many do you have under the scheme?
So far, we have about 185.
Are they mandated to come back to serve the state when they are done with their studies?
We expect them to come back to serve the state but I also have this opinion that we should not restrain them if they have better job offers. For instance, a child we have sent to school who got a PhD and Mobil was doing a head hunt… I will not want him to come and be a civil servant when there is an offer for him from Mobil. One day that child might become the MD, but if you say that he must come and serve in Delta first, he would have lost that opportunity. If they don’t have job elsewhere and they want to come and serve in the state, fine.
You mentioned micro credit scheme, there was a time you were winning CBN awards in that sector but you are no longer. Why?
We are not interested in winning awards. So at a time people thought our micro credit scheme was all about winning awards.
But to what extent has the scheme touched the populace?
The stage we are in now, we have moved the scheme now to small and medium scale enterprises. That is what we are concentrating on now. Most of the initial micro businesses have grown to medium and small scale enterprises and even exporting their products. Some now have NAFDAC certification and are now exporting. Some even have outlets outside Nigeria. I believe that you can grow a business from the micro level to the macro level and many of the businesses in developed countries started as micro businesses.
We are identifying those that have potentials and funding them more so that they can grow into big businesses.
To what extent has DESOPADEC helped in achieving peace in the oil producing areas of the state? What was the reason for the dissolution of the last board?
The law setting up DESOPADEC was started by my predecessor, but I started running the commission when I came in. The dissolution of the board was done last year. The law establishing it empowered me to nominate the board members and forward the list to the House of Assembly for clearance and approval. But after that, I am the person that the law gave the powers to also dissolve the board. I think they had some challenges and they were invited by the House of Assembly, whereupon the House dissolved the board. But we notified them that they did not have the legal right to do so. But they complained that the board was doing some things that were not right. We applied a political solution to it and I dissolved the board myself and set up a new one.
Have they been able to resolve the issue that led to the dissolution of the board, to ensure that there will no longer be crisis between the board and the members of the House of Assembly?
Yes we have resolved the issues. Two members of the board did not come back. And I can say that so far so good, I am satisfied with what the board is doing now. So I can say that they are working.
How have you been able to stem the tide of kidnapping and other forms of insecurity that once bedevilled the state and at what cost?
Starting from the cost, nobody can tell you the cost of security because there are visible and invisible costs of maintaining security. The visible ones are the ones you see, while the invisible ones are the ones you cant see. For instance, if I have an informant somewhere, I cant tell you how much I pay the informant.
So, do you have informants?
There is no security conscious government that does not work with intelligence. You can monitor this house now without my knowing. You can monitor this house now without my knowing and can be paying somebody in this house and getting information about this house but will not disclose to anybody what you are paying the person.
Kidnapping is a fallout of small arms that became readily available after major crises like the Niger Delta crisis. If you are able to settle Boko Haram crisis today, the arms and ammunition that would be available will easily fall into hands that would use them for other criminal activities. So kidnapping, piracy were fallouts of the Niger delta crisis and it became very challenging. But what we have done so far is to approach it in various ways like using intelligence, education and security. We tried to involve the traditional rulers, churches, communities and hotels in activities geared towards confronting kidnapping. And also, we identified places that are either hideout for the kidnappers or where they take their victims to.
What were the challenges in managing a multi-cultural state like Delta?
I can say that it was challenging but, the bottom line is: be fair to all. Let everybody have a sense of belonging in terms of appointments, in terms of infrastructure distribution.
Naturally some people will still feel that they are not getting as other people are getting, but it is to make them realise that there are some areas you would need to naturally need to pay more attention to. It is natural that you pay more attention to the state capital. It is also important that you pay more attention to a commercial area like Warri.
So, if you notice, we have paid more attention to Asaba and now Warri also while not ignoring the other areas. It is not as if the grumbling is over, but it is not the way it used to be. But it to let them know that every part of the state is important and whatever we are doing in any part, has a relationship with other parts. For instance, the Asaba airport is not only utilized by Asaba people.
Now, anybody going to Isoko area, I know they used to go through Warri, but now that there is Asaba Airport and we are dualising the Asaba/Warri road by the time we finish the dualisation, from Asaba to a place in Isoko area will take nothing more than forty five minutes. So, instead of that drive that takes you hours to Benin to catch a flight, you now can do that through Asaba.
It is to make everyone understand that what we are doing in any part of the state is for the benefit of the whole state and one way or the other, the whole state benefits from it. So ethnic issues may not have been totally resolved, but it is much more reduced. Secondly, everybody now knows that because of my background, the ethnic group I come from, everybody has a sense of belonging, that anybody could be anything in Delta. You know at a point, some people were saying that only this group of people that could be governor or that. That I was able to be a governor, that means that anybody from any part of the state could as well become a governor.
So, do you believe that with Delta South and Delta Central having produced the governor that it is now the turn of Delta North to produce the next governor?
Deltans will decide. Delta people will decide that.
What is your own personal opinion on this?
My position is too sensitive for me to start airing my personal conviction. Deltans will sit down and decide whether this time it should go to the North or not.
As the leader of the party in the state, do we foresee you convening a stakeholders’ meeting, to take a decision on the matter?
As I move along, I am discussing. People are consulting me, I am consulting them and I will know that there is a gravitation.
What is your assessment of the amnesty programme?
Reasonably, so far so good. There are grumblings here and there. Like anything human, people will grumble. There are some ethnic groups who are grumbling that they were not carried along, that the emphasis has been on those that carried arms and that what happens to those that did not carry arms.
There are grumblings here and there, but I don’t regret being part of those who brought about the amnesty because I think it has achieved results.
Do the recent meetings of the South-South and South East governors have bearing towards 2015?
Even this interview has something to do with 2015! (laughter)
Once two or more governors are gathered, there must be political undertones to it. But basically it was not for 2015, but really it was for economic integration of the two zones. We have a lot in common and we believe that we should come together and deal with issues that affect us on the economic side and also on the security side. We thought that coming together and seeing what we can do together on common issues like security.
We also believe that since we produced the president that we should also give him the maximum support and make contact with our colleagues outside the zone to also encourage them to support the president.
Are you ruling out your colleagues in Rivers and Edo States from this process?
Attending the meeting is a matter of choice. You decide on who you want to associate with. But whether they are there or not and when the programmes come out and you have not been attending but if you find out that our programmes will be beneficial to your state, you are free to adopt it. It is not necessarily their presence that matters.
Do you think that the defection of five governors from your party and some members of the National Assembly to the APC, would affect the fortunes of the PDP?
No, no. The way PDP is, PDP is the only party that started out in 1998 that is still existing and bearing its name. Why I am saying so is that if you look through most wards in the whole Nigeria, you will either see the PDP as the number one party or as the number two party. So on ground, it is still a very, very strong party. At the grassroots, it is still a very strong party and it is a party that is going to beat nationally.
Having said that there is no doubt that we have challenges and if you understand politics very well, you would know that if you lose one member from your party it is a problem. It is more if you lose one leader and so, no one is saying that the fact that these five governors are gone will not affect the party. Or that they should go to hell. We know that it is a challenge that we have lost five governors and we know the role of governors when it comes to elections but we also believe that we can still win elections if we do a few things.