Why I am running for Senate
Ex-Governor of Delta State, His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, has called for the empowerment of the youths of the Niger Delta region as one of the panacea for peace and development in the region. In this interview chat with GbaramatuVoice, His Excellency, Dr. Uduaghan also talked about some other issues including why he is interested in going to the senate and also his legacies as a governor. Excerpts:
Your Excellency, sir, you have spent such a long time in politics that a lot of people are asking if you can still handle medical tools and operate them professionally. Can you still carry out your medical duties?
I was in active medical practice for over 19years; which were some of the most precious years of my life’s service. While in government as serving commissioner and later Secretary to the State Government, I had reasons to go the hospital once in a while but not in active practice. I do more of consultancy now in medical field. In the case of emergencies, I get my gloves on to help resuscitate or stabilise a patient pending access to a health facility. I can recall one of such incidences onboard a Singaporean Airline. A passenger was in distress and the air hostess somehow knew that I was a doctor. Fortunately there were about two nurses onboard too. Together, we were able to stabilise her until we landed in Russia where she was ambulanced to a hospital. I still have the First Class ticket that the airline offered me whenever I decide to fly with them. That is to tell you that when the need arises I can still come to the rescue.
Which do you feel more fulfilled in -medicine or politics?
Oh…! As a medical doctor! You know it is easy for people to appreciate you when you do something to save a life. But in politics very few appreciate what you do to better lives. As a matter of fact, they view it from the perspective of profit to your pocket rather than what you may have done. In my earliest practice days, I was involved in child delivery. Running into some of them around the world, married with children, I feel very fulfilled. Some of them even organised themselves into what they called FLT -meaning First Loving Touch because I was the first person to touch them on arrival to this world. Very exciting experience it is to me. Life sometimes, is not really the way you plan it. I didn’t really plan to become a medical doctor when I was at Federal Government College. I was more interested in becoming an accountant but it was my father who insisted that I read medicine and fortunately for me, I was good in science. that was how my journey into medical practice started. I am not done with medicine yet. As a matter of fact, I was a happy and successful doctor until 1996 when the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) was formed. Chief James Onanefe Ibori inspired me into politics. We became part of the founding fathers of the party.
While in office as the Executive Governor of Delta State you were always known to preach the gospel of industrial parks. However, since you left office we have not heard anything about the project. What would you adduce for this? Is it because it was not on sound footing before you handed over to your successor or what?
Well, I do not know if there was a gospel of Industrial Parks but what I can tell you is that we had a gospel of “Delta Beyond Oil”, if you allow me borrow your terminology. We put up a lot of non oil programs to ensure that we had a balanced economy. It was a long term vision that would outlive several administrations in Delta. And the beginning of the Delta Beyond Oil was to establish infrastructures that would attract investments and investors. We need peace and security for people to come and invest. We need infrastructures for people to invest and the most important one is the Human Capital Development of my Three-Point Agenda. The other two being Infrastructural Development, Peace and Security. Those were the three areas we hinged our administration in a bid to attain an investment friendly environment, and one of the infrastructure we thought would drive this vision was the Industrial Park. The first and most difficult challenge of that park was the acquisition of the land. After acquisition, it was greeted with litigations. Some people claimed that they wanted compensation from the state government. That attitude detracted from the success of that project. Otherwise, we were serious with the project but was hampered by litigations slowed down the project. The challenges after acquiring the land is to get anchor tenant who will be interested in the place and also invest. I hope the current government would look into it because it has huge economic benefit to the state.
Sir, could you mention a legacy infrastructure that outlived your tenure in office?
I usually do not want to use infrastructure… I know where you are going to but I have my own indices for measuring legacies. For instance, a woman who went to the hospital to deliver her child but could not afford maternal service which led to the death of the child. The next time she became pregnant, she delivered safely through my free maternal health care service, the baby is her legacy as well as mine. The child who could not go to school because her parents could not afford it but was eventually able to go to school later, through my free educational programme and later free WAEC and NECO enrolment, to that child’s parents and even the child, that is their legacy and of course mine. A young man or woman who scored first class in his or her first degree and was offered automatic scholarship worth N5 million a year to go pursue Masters Degree or PhD programme, that is their legacy and joyously again, mine. Someone from the riverine area who could not cross the river to his/her village except with security escort but could now do so without fear as a result of my Peace and Security programme, that is one of my legacies. To the riverine people of my native Abigborodo or Ifiekporo who could not drive to their hometowns but could now move in heavy machinery to build companies or businesses as a result of my Infrastructural Development program, that is their legacy of my government and naturally, mine. You see, examples abound if you want something to hold as my legacy in office. Time will fail me if I continue to reel out other examples of my legacy.
Now that you are desirous of moving to the senate in 2019 what do you possess that you feel will give you an edge over the host of other popular politicians you will face, first in the PDP primaries and later, if you scale that hurdle, other political parties?
The legislature is an arm of government in which we are supposed to leverage on lawmaking to do several things – making of laws that will protect the interest of the people, attracting development to your area, oversight function and empowerment of your people. I managed a state in the Niger Delta for eight years. Before the eight years I was part of the government as commissioner for four years and another four years as Secretary to the State Government. As SSG, I was like the engine room of the state government. So, you can say that I was deeply involved for 16 years and I have had a lot of experience. The major area I had challenge in those 16 years was in the area of peace and security in Delta State and by extension in the Niger Delta. As a governor, I was in the forefront maintaining some level of peace and as I left office I have watched the current government trying to attain some level of peace too. Over the years we have had some issues of crises in the Niger Delta. We have had crisis among the ethnic groups, particularly between the Itsekiri and the Ijaws and sometimes between the oil companies and the ethnic groups. We have had political crisis and in addition to the crisis there was an agitation for resource control which is also an issue of criminality. The crisis between communities and the oil companies has been quelled but not totally. Kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, attack on rural communities, sea piracy are criminal issues that have risen from the Niger Delta crisis.
In its wisdom, the Federal Government employed several security agencies to come handle security issues and clean up the Delta. In fairness, they are all working towards dealing with the crises but if we continue with the status quo, I am afraid we may never resolve the crisis in the Niger Delta. I don’t believe that the military can solve it with its military approach. I believe that involvement of the communities in the security of their area and IOCs facilities in their domain will go a long way in reducing crime and quelling the violence in the creeks. With my experience in power, I can tell you that we achieved most of the things by involving the youths. Without the youths no military can achieve anything in the Niger Delta, these youths can be used to deal with the issue of sea piracy, kidnapping and other issues in the Niger Delta. And also the communities should be in charge of security contract so that the boys can do the work and also enjoy the benefit of their work. They know their area more than anyone else. Community policing is the answer to the criminality and violence in the creeks and by extension Northern Nigeria which has become a hotbed of violence in recent times. Involve the locals.
The National Assembly members from the Niger Delta geopolitical region are facing serious criticism for what is perceived as their lukewarm performance especially in the area of ensuring that the region gets its due. Now that you are aspiring to be in the national assembly, what would you do when you get the mandate to assuage the people’s anguish?
I am not going there to only legislate on security issues. There are other issues that I believe if well managed will bring peace to the Niger Delta. One of the key issues that I want to handle is the issue of Illegal refineries. I have always been advocating for the legalisation of the so called illegal refineries. There was a time when those who colonized us would arrest our people for distilling local gin otherwise called ‘ogogoro’. Instead of training them on how to do it based on international best practice, they criminalised it as ‘illicit gin’. As a measure, they took that same ‘illicit gin’ to their country and modified it and brought them back and called them Brandy or Whisky.
Instead of destroying those illegal refineries there are ways we can help them improve through technology. Give them fuel legally and also give them working capital so that they can start a refinery of their own. The modular refineries do not come cheap, even to maintain. They are very digitalized and as such they don’t employ a lot of people. But these small refineries can employ more people especially youths who could organise themselves into cooperatives in other to effectively run a refinery. I would also deal with environmental laws; otherwise environmental degradation would continue unabated. One of the advantages I believe I have is my contact in the country, as commissioner, as SSG and as governor for eight years. Delta State is a very popular destination in Nigeria. It is a place that people are very interested in and as the head of government, you have the opportunity of making a lot of contacts. The legislature is a house where you can use your connection for the good of your constituency. You can extend a hand to your colleagues to support programmes for your people. And I do know that in this country we all have what we are looking for in every part. But we have to carry other parts of the country along so that every other person from other parts can benefit. And also good governance is a key factor.