DELTA @ 20: HOWS GOVS RULED THE STATE - COMRADE MACAULAY
As a journalist, who was there when the state was created in 1991, he knew the sentiments that were harboured; as a labour leader, he watched the military administrators lay the foundation blocks and civilian governors build on the foundation; and now as SSG, he is one of the few Deltans that can authoritatively pontificate on its flight in the past two decades. He speaks to Saturday Vanguard in an interview.
People from some parts of Delta state loathed Asaba
In general terms, yes, the confusion following the creation of Delta state was much and that is why when people ask why we are celebrating, I say for every year that Delta state is able to overcome, there is need to celebrate because like I said, there was too much acrimony upon the creation of Delta state.
People from certain geographical areas felt Asaba couldn't have been capital, they will not come to Asaba. I know of some persons who never slept in Asaba. For any reason if they must come to Asaba for anything, no matter how late they finished their assignment, they must go back.
But today, all that are things of the past. We are now marrying ourselves. Some Urhobo have married Asaba women. Before, nobody was ready to build a house in Asaba. I can say I was the first non Anioma person who built a house in Asaba. Anybody from Delta south and Delta central, particularly Delta central never wanted to be part of Asaba. But I have always believed that I am a Nigerian and I built my house in Asaba. So that general confusion, with time and good management has subsided.
Today, the Asaba people now have a full sense of belonging. Before, they felt neglected and their complaint was that those who came into leadership disliked them. That was their perception - that Asaba was not being developed but today, nobody can complain anymore that Asaba is not being developed. From 2007 till date, I am sure the rate Asaba is growing, there is no state capital in this country that is growing at such speed.
By God's grace, even with all the pessimistic views expressed and the position, Asaba has an international airport that is also growing very fast. It is the only state capital in this country, including Abuja, where you can have streetlights from 7.00 pm to 6.00 am. And our radio and television stations are being digitalized at the moment. And because of the inflow of funds into Asaba, you can see that there is a new Asaba now, the real city of Asaba as different from the old Asaba. When we came to Asaba, Asaba ended at where is known as Usonia.
After that, you go about 500 metres of no development before you get to the hospital and after the hospital, you go about another 500 metres before you get to Saint Patrick's College, that was the end of Asaba. So what you see today, from the Summit Road in particular, pushing towards Okpanam, towards Anwai and Illah is a new city with modern buildings, roads and everything.
Ochulor laid foundation of old secretariat
The first pioneer military administrator is Air Commodore Luke Ochulor who was in charge from August 1991, when the state was created to about January 2 started what we call the old secretariat, of course that was at the foundation.
Air Commodore Kefas, the governor by the roadside
In going forward, we must remember those who initiated development in Asaba and I must say that one of them is Air Commodore Ibrahim Kefas. He is the one of the military administrators that passed through this state, who ruled the state with a sense of commitment. He was the one who built what we have today as Government House, the present Government House was started by Kefas.
Why I sympathize with Ibru
Going backwards again, I recall that Ibru came in here as the first elected governor, January, 1992. He is one man I sympathize with because that was the governor, whose office was a three-bedroom, whose lodge was a three -bedroom, all situated inside one compound. Of course, Kefas also met that situation, but that was how Ibru started. He brought porter_cabins and a few things to make the place ready. Ibru came to complete the old secretariat which was started and left. In fact, Ibru spend more time managing crisis of confidence. People even said Ibru was not sleeping in Asaba, that was a blatant lie. Ibru was spending Monday to Friday, but of course, knowing where he was coming from, there was no way he could spend the weekend in Asaba.
He likes playing golf and drinking his beer. So, Friday evening, he would go to Warri to play golf and retire to his house in Ughelli to hold political meetings on Saturday and Sunday. And on Monday, he returned to Asaba for governance. But people then scandalized his name that he was never staying in Asaba and that he flew in and out. Apart from during his election, I cannot remember Ibru flying into Asaba with aircraft for the about two years that he ruled the state before he left.
Ibori had his fingers everywhere
Another person that we cannot but talk about is James Ibori. Ibori came in 1998, by the time he came, the state was already in a condition of decadence, not much had happened to the little infrastructure put in place by Kefas. Things were not really working across the state and he started putting his fingers virtually everywhere because there was pressure to develop. Oh now, we have voted somebody, you must develop… Warri people were crying, as Sapele. Everybody wanted development and there was really no defined programme, unlike now when we have a three_point agenda. But for somebody who came in then, he had to lay the foundation for virtually every strata of development from road construction to bridges, schools and renovation of hospitals and a I must say that some of the best renovation, especially in the area of health, was done during his time and that was when the present governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan was the then Commissioner for Health.
He was able to bring some hospitals to modern standard. No matter what you say about Ibori, we cannot take away his feat from him. I don't think any other governor laid the foundation for four bridges and completed it during his tenure in office. He was actually the first person to link civilization to Ijaw land, the first bridge Bomadi Bridge that went to an Ijaw land, anywhere in this country was constructed by James Ibori.
We must not fail to credit Ibori with successful mediation and resolution of the ethnic crisis that engulfed the state for seven years before his election. On the day the young man was being sworn_in, guns were booming in Warri and I know that his first priority after he took over power was how to stop the war. In the first four years, he tried to reduce it, but he could not get it right. However, in his second tenure, he got it right, the hostilities and everything about the Warri crisis, the crisis that lasted for seven years came to an end in 2003. We signed the agreement for cessation of hostilities February, 2004 and the second one by the youths, April, 2004 and since then till today, there has been peace.
Other pockets of crisis emerged, intra_ethnic crisis started coming up and of course, most of the youths, who were being used for the ethnic war that were disarmed, found some space in crime, some were able to go back to normal life, and we started managing that process. Well, by 2004, I was already part of government. I was only close to people in government.
Governor Uduaghan came in 2007 and of course, having worked as a Commissioner and Secretary to the State Government in the Ibori tenure, he had the advantage of knowing mistakes were made and areas that needed attention and came up with his three_point agenda. He has done everything to ensure there is peace and like I said, redefined issues development in two ways_ infrastructural development and human capital development, which he is pursuing today. The rate at which Uduaghan is going now, he is thinking ahead as a visionary. You know about his Delta without oil concept, it is not just for the government to create all the resources that we can rely on without oil, his plans are for investors to come and invest in the state, employ our people and pay tax to the government to generate revenue. To create conducive atmosphere, one of the first things he did was to install streetlights in Warri, Asaba, as there were pockets of killings virtually everyday in Asaba and Warri to banish darkness because crime thrives in an atmosphere of darkness. So, the streetlights are not just there for aesthetics, it is primary for security and with security, you are sure many people will come and invest in the state and that is why we have expanded it beyond the Warri and Asaba that we started it. I tell you, the money that the state government had invested in training people in the last four years is amazing. Delta state is the only state today where any first class student gets automatic scholarship to anywhere in the world to study, numerous kinds of scholarships outside bursary.
Then, we have been training our youths, the last time I checked, we have trained about 800 youths in the area of agriculture and they are being attached to farms and some of them are given starter packs.
That is why you see the state government collaborating with Obasanjo Farms Nigeria because we need a bigger outfit to be able to train these people and build smaller outfits will take care of the micro aspect of the economy.
You cannot just generate them without looking at somebody to learn from and that is the advantage of that farm and again, that farm solves another problem, at completion, it is expected to absorb a minimum of 2,000 persons. 2,000 persons absorbed means that 2,000 families have been taken care of, then of course, what they will generate, there is no family that has less than four persons, so you have to multiply that by minimum of four persons in every family, you have the airport.
You can get land to buy around that airport anymore, they have all been purchased and as you can see, development, both from the Ibusa Road end and from the Asaba expressway is taking place, why? Because of the Asaba airport, a lot of people want to build warehouses, a lot of shops are coming up, and these are developments we are talking about.
In Lagos, the state government makes up to N18 billion to N20 billion every month from tax, it is because there are investments there, the thing is clear, the more investments you have, the more people you have in the community, the more employed people and workers you have, the more tax you collect.
Today, the state, in spite of its scarce resources, is building a dual carriageway of 145 kilometers, off the East-West Road from Ughelli down to Asaba here it is a federal government project, but we feel Delta will benefit more from it because you cannot be talking about development when there is no good transportation and so we have taken it upon ourselves to build the roads, as Warri is being dualized to Port-Harcourt, we are improving the Warri Port so that if goods land in Warri port, there will be good road to convey them so that an Onitsha trader for instance, will not opt for Port Harcourt.
Most of these big time traders in Onitsha live in Asaba and most of the houses here in the new Asaba city, even around my residence, 30 per cent of them are owned by Onitsha businessmen.
So, if we dualize the Ughelli Ozoro Asaba expressway and the traders are sure that they will convey their goods safely, they will not berth their goods in Lagos and Port Harcourt, they will prefer Warri port and by the time they bring the goods through the Warri port and other ports in Delta, fly in some cargoes through Asaba airport, which is a passenger and cargo airport, and stock their goods in warehouses in Asaba, who is benefitting, we know what we are talking when we say Delta without oil.