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By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Delta gathered its leading lights to celebrate democracy at a micro-credit level and ponder on the unthinkable: Delta State without oil money

Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan's unique commemoration of Democracy Day last Monday was obviously a horror for many Deltans. If not, then certainly for those who have been on a roller-coaster on the oil income presently flowing to the state.

Building on the micro-credit scheme success story that has been a unique selling point for his administration since 2007, Dr. Uduaghan gathered major stakeholders from the state for a talk shop that day to ponder the prospects for the state without oil money. Oil revenue from statutory allocation, derivation proceeds and internally generated revenue from oil exploration activities is estimated to account for more than 85% of the state's income.

The one day seminar with the theme 'Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises as drivers for achieving the goal of Delta beyond oil' paraded some of the most outstanding entrepreneurial success stories from the state. The toast of the day was undoubtedly Mr. Tony Elumelu, the former banker who built one of Africa's largest banking chains in under ten years.

Given the burgeoning unemployment situation in Nigeria many would have been shocked with his remark that one of the first investments he made after his disengagement from UBA in Tanzania employs at least 100,000 persons. 'We went there because the government provided the right environment,' he said during the panel discussion he chaired.

Besides Dr. Uduaghan, dignitaries at the seminar included the deputy governor of the state, Prof. Amos Utuama, (SAN), Senators James Manager and Patrick Osakwe, Speaker Victor Ochei of the State House of Assembly, Commissioners, Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere who is Chairman, Agric and Food Security Commission of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Mr. Otti Ikomi, Managing Director of Keystone Bank, leading financial expert and chairman of Delta State Economic Advisory Team, Mr. Bismark Rewane, Mr. Albert Okumagba among others.

With global oil consumption put at an estimated 82 billion barrels of oil per day and global reserves being depleted at the rate of 2.1% per year, some findings have shown that world oil production could peak by 2014. That is some ten years earlier than had been projected. Given that scenario it was indeed remarkable that the Delta State government conceived the idea of planning for a life without oil.

As Governor Uduaghan revealed that day, the scenario was such a frightful one for some of his aides that he had to change tact by rephrasing the focus of 'Delta without oil' with 'Delta beyond oil.'

As he took charge of proceedings that day, Mr. Elumelu commended the governor for his concept. According to him Democracy Day that is normally celebrated with a political slant and parties was in Delta being done with something 'fundamental and catalytic.'

He also praised the governor's vision of looking at life beyond oil, especially the focus on micro-credits as he noted that it was his own first time of attending a seminar in the country where the focus was below the usual SMEs and down towards the micro-credit layer. He was to add that the best way to project democracy is to democratise the dividends at the micro-scale level, a scheme he added, would also tackle the social burdens of poverty and crime.

Delta capitalism
A dividend of the government's micro-credit scheme in his hand, Gov. Uduaghan (R) with Elumelu listen as the Commissioner for Poverty Alleviation, Ashiedu explains a point at the exhibition

Giving his own present pursuit of projecting African capitalism through his present venture, Heirs Holdings, he said that African capitalism entails Africans doing things to help themselves maximally. Nobody he claimed would help Africa better than Africans. He added that Delta State must build into that philosophy of Delta for Deltans or Delta Capitalism as he termed it.

Mr. Elumelu was to further enumerate four points upon which the Delta Capitalism could be built on. The first was that Deltans must take a frontal role in developing the state economy, second was that investments should be projected on the long run, third was to build in social and environmental considerations, and lastly, that the state government must create a conducive environment for investments.

While noting that individuals must do the first three, he was to highlight the government role of providing a suitable environment for investments with his narration that the proposed plans by Transcorp Corporation to build two five star hotels in Asaba and Warri would have been impossible respectively without the Asaba Airport and the peace provided by the Uduaghan administration.

He also used the opportunity to announce plans to build a $1.4 billion fertiliser plant in the Burutu area of Delta State as perhaps his own example of Delta Capitalism that he is now preaching.

Governor Uduaghan in his own comments before the commencement of the panel discussion underlined his administration's commitment to its three point agenda of peace and security, infrastructure development and human capital development.

Noting the administration's goal of consolidating on a life beyond oil, he disclosed how he has worked to make the state an investment hub for local and external investors. Besides, he spoke of how he has worked to build on the micro-credit success story towards advancing the industrial base of the state.

'We believe that with our micro-credit scheme we can get our SMEs and from there get our large industries,' just as he disclosed that the administration is progressively using the micro-credit scheme to advance the entrepreneurial spirit of the citizenry.

'In the first three years we were dealing with cooperatives but from this year we are moving them up to the SMEs so that they can start exporting.' That would have been welcome news to the many men and women who flooded the seminar venue with the products realised from their productive engagements facilitated by the Micro-credit Scheme presently managed by the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation under the leadership of Dr. Anthonia Ashiedu.

Uduaghan further restated his administration's goal of using the success of the Micro-credit and SME scheme to change the mindset of youths who presently thrive on indolence. As he revealed to the amusement of the gathering, community youths in some sections of the state have formed the habit of extorting what is called 'Devve' otherwise called Development Levy from anyone attempting to lay foundation or make any significant addition to a building.

Mr. Elumelu was to also note a challenge he faced with his foreign partners just weeks after initialing the agreement for the fertiliser plant in Burutu. 'Just after we signed the agreement my mother was kidnapped and my partners were asking, 'are you really sure Delta State is okay for this investment?''

Panel discussion
At the panel discussion moderated by Channels Television's Deji Badamosi, with Ikomi, Rewane, Ijewere, Okumagba among others as participants, the place of agriculture in boosting the economic potentials of the state came to fore. Ijewere, a farmer relentlessly asserted that farming could be made a success story but only if encouraged noting how he has sometimes as a farmer found himself isolated among bankers and other professions in the first class or business class cabins of aircraft.

Uduaghan in his contribution also relayed lessons the administration learnt in its first foray into the micro-credit scheme. According to him politicians almost derailed the scheme with the selection of youths who did not have any interest in entrepreneurial activities. According to him after the first disbursement the youths took the money to satisfy their indulgences instead of investing such sums in the businesses they were meant for.

The need for the administration to work out a price stabilisation scheme to ensure that farmers are not discouraged by falling prices was a consensus among the panelists. Delta's unique celebration of democracy at the micro-credit level is arguably aimed at putting democracy dividends no matter how small in the grasp of all citizens of the state. Not the macro level where a small clique steals the collective patrimony of the state.