In Delta, democracy means development – Ogeah
In this interview, Delta State Commissioner for Information, Barrister Chike Ogeah, explains why the state elected to host a business seminar to mark this year’s Democracy Day rather than celebrate with banners and buntings.
Why a business seminar on Democracy Day instead of a celebratory parade?
What we did was an introspection. We assembled eminent Deltans who could look at us and tell us the truth and give us direction and advisory support to achieve our set goals. It is more like a score card for the government and how to improve the result. It is gratifying to note that the resource persons rated the government very high. Mind you, these are not sycophants. These are serious professionals and successful business people who have seen it all in the private sector.
Where we are now in terms of policy direction is Delta Beyond Oil. We are saying when the oil wells eventually run dry what are those things we should do with the revenue from oil in the decades while the oil wells lasted. How can we diversify our economy using our areas of comparative advantage?
What are these areas?
The major ones are the micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs). The success of the MSMEs underscores what we have always believed; that is, Delta is a land of limitless possibilities in terms of human capital and natural resources. Out of all these possibilities, we thought the one we could advance to the next level would be the MSMEs. This is because this happens to be where we have been doing very well. We have won four consecutive Central Bank of Nigeria awards and we had to be magnanimous by not putting in for it so that other states can also win it to encourage them. At the same time we knew it was not yet a perfect scheme. During the rerun election when we had town hall meetings with the people, we noticed that some of them could not access the funds, some did not understand how they were to pay back and other issues. All of this made us to address these issues with experts from the state rather than hosting bazaars as you rightly pointed out.
I can’t remember any celebration in the state in a long while because of the seriousness we attach to governance. What we did recently was to host the South-South Economic Summit which was purely for the benefit of the state and the entire South-South region. It is common knowledge now that the summit was a huge success. It was private-sector driven and the sound bite from that summit seemed to have defined our federation right now. Issues thrown up at the summit have continued to define national discourses but more importantly, the summit kindled a new sense of regional integration among the South-South states.
On agriculture as pivot of MSMEs
When you talk about MSMEs, you must involve agriculture whether it is agrarian farming or aquaculture. Delta State is 60 percent riverine. If you visited the exhibition ground, you would have noticed the different stands with different products all made in Delta State. One of the beneficiaries now exports her spices abroad and earns foreign exchange from that. At the stands, you could get giant size fishes, all products of the MSME scheme. There are two ministries that are coordinating these MSMEs: the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation which incubates them and brings them to life before they are passed to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry which takes them to medium and possibly big industries. This is one of the initiatives driving our Delta Beyond Oil vision.
On Asaba airport
The Asaba airport if you ask me is the most laudable project of this government. Though if you ask the governor, he will tell you it is the free maternal healthcare. You know he is a doctor who has seen it all in healthcare delivery. He is passionate about it obviously because of his experience. He has seen pregnant women die and all that. But to me, the biggest developmental project by any state in Nigeria is the Asaba international airport. I say this because the airport is a gateway from Asaba to the rest of the world. Before you know it, the rest of the world would only be five hours away from Asaba. It is also a cargo airport and we have Onitsha, the trading capital of the West Africa sub-region just less than 10 minutes away. Now with the dredging of the Koko and Warri ports and the dualisation of the Ugheli-Asaba expressway, the entire South-South and South-East regions are about to experience unprecedented inflow of goods and services and outflow of the same as manufacturers including the MSMEs would take advantage of the airport.
Ugheli-Asaba mega road project
The Ugheli-Asaba expressway dualisation is one of the projects in our bond. We had issues of compensation and all that but they have been sorted out and work is intensifying. When the road is completed, it would aid the movement of goods from Onitsha to the Warri port and vice versa and from the airport to Ugheli, Warri and other places. Don’t forget that the airport is going to be a cargo hub for agricultural produce complete with cold room and other necessary fittings.
Was that part of the entire airport contract?
Yes, it was part of the contract and it is to take advantage of the thriving agricultural resourcefulness in the state and the envisaged agricultural boom when most of the initiatives and partnerships with the private sector begin to bear fruits. Let me also tell you that because of the airport, the hospitality industry in the state is on the upswing. From Asaba to Agbor as we speak, you can’t find a single plot of land that has not been bought along the highway. Already, the airport is impacting on a whole lot of activities in the state and environ. Warehouses, hotels, shopping malls and clusters of industries are all coming up to be able to maximize the economies of scale that would arise from the airport.
What’s so special about this airport?
Talking about the airport itself, I can tell you with certainty that it is the very best in the country with a 4.2km runway, best architectural and structural design befitting a modern airport. The terminal building is second to none, a real masterpiece whichever way you look at it. We are not just talking for talking sake. As they say in Latin, res ipsa loquitor (the fact speaks for itself). The two airlines plying the route will tell you it is one of their most lucrative routes. Yet, they are still being restricted to flying only smaller aircraft because of issues of topography which was what caused a lot of hullabaloo the other time. There is the issue of undulating landscape, hills, rivers and streams all around the airport vicinity but they are being sorted out at the moment. Once these matters are sorted out, the NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) will give us the all clear and then the big aircraft will start landing and taking off from there.
Too many projects by this government, when is their delivery date?
This governor is a big thinker. He could easily have done what some of his colleagues are doing and that is, do the small jobs and quick wins which bring only temporary palliatives to the people. Instead, he is focusing on Delta in the next 10, 20, 30 years hence he is laying giant foundations in terms of infrastructure and human capital. He is embarking on generational changing projects that would not only impact on this present generation but also on generations to come. These are projects that would impact on the economy of the state in the long run. The governor does not believe in taking short steps that lead to short-lived successes, he prefers to take the long, sometimes hard path that leads to enduring successes. That is why he’s doing projects which have a longer gestation period. But what I can say for sure is that he is committed to completing most of these projects before May 29, 2015. However, you must know that government is a continuum, meaning that any of these projects not completed by this administration would be continued by the next administration because they are all developmental projects.
Does this include the Warri Industrial Park?
The Warri Industrial Park is a PPP (Private Public Partnership). The job of the government is to provide the infrastructure including land, power, road etc. Then the private investors would come in with their money and set up shops. The government has no control over how those funds are brought in so we cannot determine the pace of work there. Government has done what it should do but you can see from the tone of discussion at the seminar that Delta State is Nigeria’s best investment destination because it is capable of supporting diverse types of investments.
Investment in education
We are remodeling our schools all over the state. That’s a huge investment in the future of our children. We have e-libraries, air-conditioned classroom blocks, excellent sporting facilities. We are building 50 model schools, the type never before seen in the state. Don’t forget that Delta State unlike most states has about 21 big towns and cities.
Still on transport
Apart from the airport, we are providing boats and new buses because we want to build an inter-modal transport system that would enhance the movement of goods and services; a type of transport system that would suit the dual topography (water and land) of the state.