by Prof. Pat Utomi
I am pleased to hear the former Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan respond to my comments on the poor state of finances in Delta State. To my mind, it is the direction of engagement that I hope will raise the quality of public discussions and move our democracy towards better serving the people. I therefore feel obligated to respond to the issues raised and to set the records straight for the benefit of the general public.
While I agree with the former Governor that our conversations of today should focus more on the future than the past, we must recognize that the damage done to Delta State by the mismanagement of its finances and resources still plagues the state as we speak. Uduaghan’s legacy is a sad reflection of this awful chapter of our history.
My comments on optimal debt-to-revenue ratios is verifiable and those who have the ability to do the math are all over the place. It was a comment made to draw attention to and prevent the worsening of a problem that is still on-going; because in spite of the bailout funds from the Federal Government, and the huge windfall from the Paris loan refunds which now stands at over N24billion, the Delta State House of Assembly (DTHA) has approved over N18 billion as loans for the Okowa administration this year alone. In fact, a N13 billion plus loan request was recently made to the Delta State House of Assembly.
Deltans need to be aware and decry this type of heavy debt burden, especially as there are no commensurate development projects or programmes on ground to justify it and to aid repayment in future. Gov. Okowa was right to raise an alarm about the over N600 billion debt that he claimed to have inherited. He has however proceeded to increase this debt burden by over N60 billion of his own. This is only further mortgaging Delta state and the future of our children.
Having made that point, I wish to address a number of inaccuracies that dominate what was attributed to ex-Governor Uduaghan. He would deny them if he has any credibility for he had on many occasions said to me and to several others, including Arc. Kester Ifeadi of the Organization for the Advancement of Anioma Culture (OFAAC), that some elements in the previous government in which he served as SSG sabotaged our “Technology Village” project which was initiated by the private-sector to jump-start a “Silicon Valley” type development in Delta State. He had also mentioned to some that he felt indebted to the Anioma people and he had hoped to make up for that sabotage from 2000/2001. Uduaghan must note that some of the world’s most valuable companies today, including Google and Facebook started in Stanford dorms that went across to become a value-creating ecosystem with Venture Capitalists in place. We planned the same program for Illah, and had the government of Delta State not sabotaged this laudable project, it would have today become a reputable ICT hub driven by a learning centre of post-graduate level, just like Stanford, creating thousands of jobs for Deltans. It is the kind of hub in Silicon valley that makes the State of California the biggest economy in the United States of America; bigger than most countries in Europe and the world. Despite the sabotage, we still set up ‘Socket Works’, a pioneer e-Government service provider which created Nigeria’s new Passport, and partners with the Immigration Services till date.
Also, I invited Uduaghan to do the ground-breaking of a Youth Centre to be built in Ibusa by an NGO that I founded called Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), dedicated to the upliftment of the youths of Delta state for free. The location was in a developing area and Uduaghan as governor, pledged to tar the road in the next quarter. He publicly asked then Commissioner for Works, Mr. Paul Osaji, to commence work immediately on the road that would have linked Ibusa and Okpanam. But the road remains a mirage till date. CVL has started constructing another model at a different location. This NGO is currently executing Youth Entrepreneurship Programmes in all the three senatorial districts of Delta state valued at more than ₦800m, and training 400 youths in four different centres: Ibusa, Agbor, Effurun and Ozoro. All the trainees completed the 2nd phase of the program last week with written exams. The 3rd phase of the one-year program will commence next month and it will focus more on the acquisition of sustainable skills and capacity. This specialist program would ordinarily cost millions per person at Lagos Business School but it is offered free, with free meals and daily transport allowances to support the participants.
Even more troubling from the claims on attracting investment is the one related to an Agriculture Industrial Town. I brought a team of foreign investors to Asaba. Dr Uduaghan welcomed them and assured speedy allocation of land. After two years of trips to Asaba we turned to Edo State. Within months a C of O was ready. Several hundred million Naira of investments have gone into the project already with billions more pledged. As we speak, more than one hundred hectares of jungle has been cleared and continuing. An Independent Power Plant (IPP) to power the ‘Produce City’ in Edo State has commenced activity and hundreds of millions of Naira in investments have been committed. In 5 years there will be more than 20,000 quality jobs created in that location.
Deltans will prefer that Uduaghan gives account for the IPP project he abandoned in Oghara that gulped over N20 billion under his administration with nothing to show seven years after. We welcome any debate on how to efficiently utilize scarce state resources for the maximum benefit of the people and prevent such colossal waste as was witnessed under Uduaghan – and is still the experience today under the current administration.
Finally, I was astonished to learn of “partnering” with the former Governor in search of foreign investments and coming up short. As I recall, I was delivering a lecture some years ago at Cramfield Business School in the UK when my Personal Assistant in Lagos received a call from Asaba that the Governor would appreciate my joining him on a US tour. It was indicated that I was out of the country; however, with the focus being that it would add value if I could join the team in the US, I made the trip across the Atlantic. Evidence of several successful foreign investments that I have attracted and are on ground indicate just how bogus these claims are. If any foreign investors came near during this tour, it was by my trying to get partners in New York to show what they could do. I was not surprised when these investors did not get any response from him. A good Councillor would have done much better for the people than Uduaghan did as Governor.
There is extreme misuse of the opportunities available to Delta State. It will take a serious and truly capable government to vigorously tap its potentials and create jobs for our teeming youths. This is one of the many reasons why I believe Delta State needs new political leadership in 2019. Deltans are not meant to suffer from the jeopardy of a clueless administration, especially at this critical phase of our existence.
I would have imagined that Uduaghan will be very sober and saddened by his legacy of mismanagement and gross wastage that he left behind in Delta State. Trying to spin his poor record in the hope that Deltans would have forgotten so soon is a failed attempt to rewrite history. Undoubtedly, he knows that only few Deltans speak well of him and it is his pain to struggle with that reality. As he grapples with history, what is more important to Deltans today is how we can rectify the wrong policies, decisions and actions of the past, so that we can create a government that would not only meet the needs of our people today but guarantee a better life for successive generations.
This is the task that I have offered to commit myself to between now and 2023. We are looking forward to 2019 with hope and renewed zeal for the beginning of a ‘New Delta’ teeming with opportunities and alive with possibilities.