The Presidency Persecuted Me Because Of Ibori — Uduaghan
He listens more than he speaks and when he manages to open up, his words, like a seasoned diplomat, are measured and bear no added meanings as such. On a normal day, it could be actually tasking extracting exciting details from outgoing Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan. Often, he prefers being correct to being controversial or even courageous. But last Sunday, and for two hours, he was a shade outside his character as he takes on The Guardian’s team. From why the PDP failed to fly in 2015 to the albatross of James Ibori’s conviction and the near diabolic politics of Delta State, Dr. Uduaghan was literally on rampage, saying it as it is. Sampler: “I will not be blackmailed into not expressing my mind on what I believe led us to where we are as a party.”
Eight years ago, you came with a very innovative formula called Three-Point Agenda, which collapsed public administration in Delta into three things namely Peace and Security, Infrastructural Development and Human Capital Development. How would you review your performance so far on all three counts? We started with the Three-Point Agenda that captured most of the things we wanted to do.
I had a brainstorming session with my team on what we should do as a government. Over a 100 things were suggested, but in the end, we synthesized them into three.
There is nothing you do in government that is not incorporated into the three broad agenda of peace and security, infrastructural development and human capital development. Along the line, we drew a fresh vision from there, which is Delta Beyond Oil.
That is, coordinated efforts to take Delta State beyond the oil and gas economy such that life will still flow in abundance in the state if oil ceases to flow tomorrow.
Ultimately, the overall objective of our Three-Point Agenda and Delta Beyond Oil is to deal with the challenges of unemployment, which has become a global disease.
Most of the crisis in the word today is because of unemployment. Yes, we are an oil producing state, but we were ardent at developing the other areas of the economy, especially agriculture, culture and tourism, in which we have comparative strength in Delta.
So far, so good, we are still very much on course. The happy news is that we have achieved the foundation of a Delta State that will not entirely depend on oil.
With the emergence of Senator Okowa as your successor at the polls, can you vouch that he will key into your agenda for the state, even with the fact that you are from the same party? I have listened to him and read his plan; everything he is saying is also about a Delta beyond oil.
His focus area is going to be agriculture. You know he was a former Commissioner of Agriculture, so he is on a familiar terrain. He is going to focus on mechanized agriculture.
In addition to our Warri industrial business park, he has also talked about having a mainly agricultural industrial business park. Two, he is also talking about training our youths in skilled development and that again is preparing our people for Delta beyond oil.
What we have achieved is to put this theme in everybody’s consciousness that this oil will one day dry up or the price will be so low it will affect our economy. And today, the reality is staring us in the face.
The price of oil has dropped drastically. Recently, I was listening to the Minister of Finance, Prof. Okonjo-Iweala, talking about Nigeria beyond oil. So, it is a vision every Nigerian will have to key into going forward. How do you feel about the power shift to Delta North in spite of the many complexities in the state? I feel happy and fulfilled.
Delta has a lot of ethnic groups; we have the large ones, the biggest being the Urhobo ethnic group. What has happened before now is that both the Central and the South in the various governorship elections have had their chance and what was left was Delta North.
Now, it has been realized through a very complex and complicated process, which one day I will explain better, it has been realized. I am happy every Deltan has accepted it and that has solved a major problem in Delta.
The problem of sense of belonging has been tackled and I am leaving the state in peace. If you notice, among all the politically volatile states, Delta has been cool in the last election.
Maybe you will let us into some of the complications in achieving this; a lot of people will want to hear part of the story now. It is not easy to just get up and say it must go to Delta North but the truth must be told.
Once you search your conscience and you notice that this is what is right, not many people will agree with you and accept it, but you just have to stay on the right path. In achieving this, you have to be able to maneuver your way through the delicate web of ethnic interest. The Urhobos for instance, were still agitating against it, especially the UPU (Urhobo Progress Union).
You don’t just tell them, go to hell.You will have to carry them along and that was what I tried to do. At a point, many people would have accused me of tilting more towards what UPU wanted but it was all part of a strategy to carry everybody along.
And I think it worked. Driving it down, this rotation of power at the state level was so perfect but it wasn’t the case in the Senatorial zones, which was why you were edged out of the Senatorial ticket in the South.
Why did you accept the manipulations that played out? When you are managing difficult situations, you try as much as possible not to open too many fronts for fighting.
At the state level, I had power rotation to manage and then this similar situation at the Senatorial level. Somehow, the one at the state level did not involve me personally but I was personally involved in who goes to the Senate in Delta South.
I have managed the security situation in Delta State for the past 16 years, first as Secretary to the State Government, Commissioner for Health and as Governor.
I am aware of some of the things that can cause eruption and one of such things is politics if not carefully managed. My first agenda as governor is peace and security.
I have managed the state to a level where we have considerable stability. Regarding the Delta South Senatorial seat, it came to a point where I had to decide between my personal ambition and the peace and security of the state because the campaign for the Senatorial election had unfortunately moved to an ethnic contest between Ijaws and Itsekiris.
Ordinarily, one would have expected that it would be the turn of the Itsekiris having regards that Isoko and Ijaw had had opportunities to represent the zone in the Senate.
But for some reasons, some elements just insisted an Ijaw man still have to continue. If I had insisted, it would have caused eruption. Don’t forget that in 2003, there was a similar incident involving Warri area in the House of Reps election where some Ijaws in Warri said it had to be an Ijaw man and some Itsekiris said no. It caused one of the major crisis in that axis.
Houses and farmlands were burnt, including a local government headquarters. Children were thrown into raging fire. I was around and I saw everything happen. I didn’t want a repeat of that because of my personal ambition.
We believe that four years is very short. If we don’t get it now, we can get it in another four years. It may not be me but definitely an Itsekiri person. I had to drop my ambition for the sake of peace and security. And with the benefit of hindsight now, I think God guided me to do that. At least, the eruption that would have occurred was avoided which afforded me more time to manage the politics at the state level. You know after the PDP primaries, I had the mandate to put the party together.
It gave me time to mend fences; that was why we were able to win in Delta. You have shown a unique example of sacrifice for the sake of peace, don’t you think you have to do more by way of advocacy for people to bury their personal ambition because in the emerging Okowa equation, the Isokos have got nothing and the Ijaws are still everywhere Up there, a lot of talking to and advocacy will be done. One of the things I will get involved with once I leave office is putting Delta South together.
No one ethnic group should be a super star over other ethnic groups. Every ethnic group will have a sense of belonging. It was like that before but today, somehow, there are grumblings in that Senatorial district.
A lot of speculations were rife in the social media during the heat of the power rotation tussle, why didn’t you decamp to the APC since your fellow governors that felt shortchanged the way you were unfairly treated decamped? PDP has done a lot for me. I am a PDP loyalist and I will remain one to the core. I don’t believe that decamping is the solution to the problems of Nigeria.
I came on the platform of PDP and I should not leave it in tatters. Secondly, every decision I take as a governor, I put my ethnic group interest first. I am an Itsekiri man, one of the smallest ethnic groups that have had some skirmishes with both the Ijaws and Urhobos at different times.
It was important to me to consider deeply how my decisions will affect the Itsekiri person. Decamping to APC would have pitched the Itsekiris against the Ijaws because the President is an Ijaw man and it would be seen that I am antagonistic to the President’s cause and it would start another round of crisis.
I can protect myself, but a lot of my people would have been negatively exposed to harassment. There are some local things you must put into consideration before making such decisions.
Talking about finishing strong, which is one of your slogans, it is about a month more to finishing your tenure. Where are the strong points? For me, the strongest point in finishing strong is that Delta State is more peaceful than I met it.
I will tell you a story of a friend who came from Abuja to stay in Warri recently. He alighted from the plane and took an airport taxi to get to my place.
On the way, he was asking the driver the major thing this governor has done in your state and the driver said, Oga, people might talk about other things like schools and roads but the major thing for me is that today, I am driving you to his house and I am not afraid on the road.
For that driver and many others, peace is more important. There was a time that once it was 6pm, we would all run indoors.
We still have challenges on security issues, we still have some youth cultism and armed robbery going on, but things are better than they were in the past, especially the ethnic relationship.
An Itsekiri man can go to an Ijaw village without being afraid. In fact, they have started marrying each other again. As an elder of the PDP, what actually happened that from being a super party and largest party in Africa, it crashed down into a minority party just after 16 years? I believe this loss started in 2011 after President Jonathan’s election.
It happened at three different levels. One is the level of elders and leaders of the party – the National Working Committee (NWC) and executives of the party. The other bloc is that of the governors and the third part is the Presidency; people around the President, who work in the presidency and who are his close friends.
After 2011, some elders and members of the NWC apparently sat down and felt the governors had become too powerful in the party. The strength of PDP from inception, revolved around the governors.
One thing that keeps a party going is the funding and the governors were the ones funding the party, even during elections and Obasanjo recognized that. But some of these elders felt governors were too powerful and wanted to reduce their powers. Working with the National Assembly members, they started doing all sorts of things.
Unfortunately, Chief Bamanga Tukur became chairman of the party and he was the arrowhead of the plan, sending queries to governors and signing such queries as CEO of the party.
It didn’t go down well with some governors and the crisis started building up. It built up to an extent that some governors were upset and it was one of the reasons the seven governors walked out at the party convention in Abuja.
Almost at that same time, there was this external perception even among ordinary Nigerians that Nigerian governors were too strong and it was accepted to break their ranks through the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).
And so, the crisis in the NGF started, it was fueled from outside and the forum broke up. Among us the governors, we allowed ourselves to be influenced from outside. While a handful governors walked out of the PDP, others remained in the party.
But I should add that as PDP governors, we did not also manage the situation very well. Yes, as a governor, you have interest in who takes over from you and who becomes a National Assembly member, but we did not do it in a democratic manner. So much so that the choice of governors were forced on members of the party and this was not acceptable to the party and many moved away from PDP.
Were you able to democratize the process in Delta State? What we did in Delta was novel. I didn’t limit myself to one person, but people did not understand that hence they thought that I was for one person. Actually, I had four people shortlisted and anyone of these four that emerged from the primaries would have had my blessing.
So, I provided a level-playing field at the primaries by ensuring that every leader in the party was involved in selection of the delegates. Nobody was upset. We sat down with the local government leaders to look at those that would be delegates. That alone was able to reduce the tension in the party, and at the primary, we had a free and fair process.
Even when some people wanted to disrupt the exercise, I moved security to forestall it. At night, while counting was going on, some people wanted to switch off the power generating set, I got intelligence and countered their move.
In the end, the most popular candidate emerged and once you allowed the most popular candidate to emerge, there would be peace. But that did not happen in many states and there were a lot of break-ups, which till date are affecting the PDP at the national and at the state levels. That’s the aspect of the governors.
The third area is that of the presidency – Some appointees in the Presidency, family members and friends of the President or people from same ethnic group with him somehow became a problem.
We must understand that the President has a lot of powers, which are not exercised by him alone. Sometimes, a mere photograph in which you and the President appear together can be used to do a lot of things. Some people around him misused these powers by elbowing people out.
There were people who wanted to genuinely help but they were elbowed out and kept away. Some decided to sidon and look, others moved to another party.
These factors, which started from 2011 put together, eventually led us to where we are today. At a point, the current chairman came and he was called the game changer and all that, but he also had his own issues and by the time we were going into the elections, it would have been a miracle if we had won.
Underlying all these was the arrogance of power. As a party, we became arrogant, saying we would rule for 60 years and that we were super strong and ended up misusing our strength. Secondly, there were people who were not really sincere; people who held critical positions but were not working for the party.
They pretended to work for the party and by the time we realized, it was already too late. That is my own analysis of what really happened. As a
scientist, you would agree that the law of gravity cannot be abridged.
A falling object must get to the base degree. We assume now that the PDP has fallen to the ground, how do you intend to gather the momentum to put it up again? Unfortunately, even after the loss, one is still seeing that arrogance going on.
All the elections have ended and we will now have time to reflect. It is time for us to sit down and do some analysis of what happened and be honest to ourselves.
If we are honest to ourselves, even if it is just three or four members that are remaining, we can build the party again. APC is where it is today because one person was very prominent in building the party to what it is today and the person started from one state, Lagos, spread to some parts of the Southwest and today they are at the national level.
So, if we are able to get a few people that are sincere and honest to the cause, we will get back up and I think there are such men who can rebuild the party.
Personally, are you one of the honest men to build the PDP or you might still jump out? No, no, no, no! The issue of jumping to the APC is not on my thoughts for now.
I am not thinking about it at all. Politically, as a person, my area of focus and emphasis is how to build young people for leadership as I am leaving office. Nigeria has invested a lot in me from Commissioner to SSG to governor.
I have a lot of experiences in me and I won’t want them to get lost. I have had successes and failure and I want to use both experiences to build up the young generation, who will become stronger than I am.
One of the challenges we have, as a nation today is that young persons who are coming up to take up political positions have not been mentored. In developed democracies, most of the people who come forward to take up positions must have been mentored before being thrown into the ring.
Coming back to the issue of thee party itself, I will get involved deeply but not as an arrowhead. There are people of like-minds that will come together and we will rebuild the party.
Without a strong opposition, APC cannot move Nigeria forward. That is the truth. APC is made of people from different political backgrounds and ideology. Even the issue of zoning political offices is already causing problem, which is good because it will make them sit up.
Is it true that you are scheming to become the National Chairman of the PDP? Or put differently, will you accept the position if you are offered? Noooooooooo! I have not attended any meeting and I have not discussed that with anyone. In any case, that is not my ambition.
However, I will not be blackmailed into not expressing my mind on what I believe led us to where we are as a party. If you look at the map of Nigeria today and you look at the areas APC is occupying, you will find out that the South-South and Southeast have being isolated.
Except for Taraba and Gombe, the map is somehow frightening, what is your own take at the new structure? I laugh when I hear people say the biggest challenges before Buhari are corruption and economy. For me, those are not the biggest challenges before him. The biggest challenge is giving every segment of Nigeria a sense of belonging, especially the South-south and the Southeast. He must bring them on board. Why did Boko Haram get inflamed? Boko Haram was there before Jonathan came. But it became inflamed because the people of that area started having the feeling of being abandoned.
When the armed struggle started, there was a subtle encouragement by even the political leaders of those areas because they kept saying our people are not empowered while Niger Delta people are being empowered. Those things were being said. I attended meetings where we eventually had to talk hard to each other to correct the impression.
Both the leaders and fighters of these areas had the feeling that they were being cheated and treated unfairly. I told some of them that as a governor in the Niger Delta, I went into the creeks to try and see if I could engage these militants that were fighting at the time. They said yes, it was easy for me to go into the creeks but their own challenge was how to empower the boys who were hungry so that they could stop fighting.
Those were the initial reactions we got. What I am saying is that the President-elect when he becomes President must ensure that the South-south and Southeast are brought on board to have a sense of belonging. If not, we might be creating another avenue for uprising, which is a very challenging security situation. Before now, the other parts of the country, specifically the North, have been so angry about the resources going to the Niger Delta.
They mentioned specifically the 13 percent, Niger Delta ministry, NDDC and the Amnesty Programme. Can there be a likelihood of resurgence in militancy in the Niger Delta, especially if some of these structures are one way or the other altered? It is possible. And that is why I say we have to be careful so that this does not pose a major challenge to Buhari. When you treat regions like conquered territories, it doesn’t take rocket science to forecast an uprising, especially now that we still have a lot of youths that are not engaged and who can easily be recruited for any uprising. We should not have a repeat of the last four years where a certain part of the country did not have a sense of belonging.
Within the context of the misuse of power, are you not persuaded that the governors have actually become too powerful in Nigeria? There are checks and balances for any governor. Maybe people have not used it to keep the governor in line.
The major source of any threat for the governor is the House of Assembly. Have we used the House of Assembly properly? Maybe not; and why? It starts from the selection of people who go to the Assembly. What is the quality of the people who go to the House of Assembly? The answer is with all of us. We should take more interest in who goes into the House.
Let move back from national politics to your eight-year administration. As you take your exit, are there things you will be leaving undone? For instance, there are two road projects that are so central to Delta State, the road from Asaba through Kwale to Ughelli and the one from Agbor, Abraka to Warri.
Are you pained that you would not be able to deliver these roads as you had wished? Apart from these, are there other regrets? I don’t call them regrets. If I had another opportunity, I would probably have done it slightly different. Now, the major road is a 149-kilometre road, almost the same distance from Lagos to Ibadan. It is quite a long road for any state government to embark on. From Asaba to Ughelli is 149km. It is actually a Federal Government road and I had to get the necessary clearance before going into it so that my refund can be processed later. They didn’t allow us initially but after about two years, we decided to go ahead with it whether we got refunds or not.
Because it was so long, I thought it was better to give it to three contractors. We gave the middle section, which had a bridge to an international firm CCECC, the other end, which is the Asaba end was given to an indigenous firm.
Unfortunately, where we really have the challenge is the indigenous contractors. If I had to do it again, probably, I would not give the contract to indigenous firms. We have a major challenge at the Asaba end.
The Amukpe to Eku road is a Federal Government road but I don’t think they have awarded it. From my experience, I will say we still have challenges from our indigenous contractors for major jobs.
They seem not to be getting their acts together to handle major jobs. That is one thing I would have done differently if I had another chance. That is, to pay more attention to the big international firms who have the capacity to deliver on major jobs. For me, one of the challenges I had when I started was fear of the big contractors.
I wanted to deal directly with Julius Berger but they were not ready to come to Delta because of the crisis at that time. How do you reconcile that with the desire to empower local people?
I mean, how do you balance good governance with political patronage? Our people seem to have a wrong perception of political patronage. People believe that political patronage is bringing out the money and sharing it. That is, give out the contracts and allow people to collect money whether the jobs are done or not.
Our people must start to build capacity. There are people, who over the years, have been contractors to the military and civilians but have not built enough capacity to handle big jobs. Secondly, in empowering our people, officials in the various ministries, who make assessment, should be able to advise the government correctly on who has capacity to do what.
Sometimes, as a governor and for political reasons, you may want to force a contractor on a project even when your advisers advised against it. In other words, as governors and top officials, we should also learn to respect the advice of the professionals in government.
My advice is whoever that is coming should work with the professionals who are the experts and who can give a correct assessment of a contractor’s competence.
Even if we sponsor a contractor, it is our job as political leaders to ensure such contractors have the capacity. By May 29, you would have been 16 clear years in government. In a nutshell, what are the things you have learnt in government? (Laughs) It’s a lot. One is the fact that human beings are different.
You have to be at alert and watch the people you are dealing with, especially people close to you, because they are the ones that can harm you most. I keep reminding people that what killed Julius Caesar is not the stabbing but the realization of the person who stabbed him, when he turned and saw it was Brutus. Same as Ikemefuna in Things Fall Apart.
What killed Ikemefuna was not the injury Okonkwo inflicted on him but the fact that the person that delivered the matchet stroke, that is Okonkwo, was one he called a father and to whom he was running for protection.
So, it is really the person close to you that can make you succeed or fail. It is one of the things leaders need to be aware of. But in dealing with that, leaders need to keep their eyes open. In any leadership position, as you move to build or rebuild, you will always have resistance from people. I read the Bible a lot to get some leadership knowledge because the Bible has a compilation of great leaders. One of the people I have read over and over again to learn a few things from is Nehemiah.
He was able to manage opposition very well in Tobiah and Sanballat. Those were constant opposition. But he was able to rebuild the wall despite the opposition. You must be able to manage the situation although challenges can come in different ways and forms from within and outside your team. Could that be the reason you were able to manage the opposition posed by Chief EK Clark?
I really don’t want to bring in those issues now, especially on Elder Clark. How did the relationship with your predecessor affect you in office? Chief James Ibori is my cousin; we grew up together though I am older than he is. We didn’t see ourselves as cousins but as blood brothers. His mother was more of my real mother than my biological mother.
All these fathers and mothers that tied us together are all dead, so I am like a big brother. We were brought up in such a way not to harm or hurt each other. We might have differences, but it could be settled.
One person’s pain is the other person’s pain. That is how we are till today. Many may not understand this. So, when he was having his problems and challenges, they were also my problems and challenges.
People expected me at a point to dump him and do one thing or the other to worsen his situation. A lot of overtures were made in this regard, which I can’t say here. But I kept telling them, if I did anything harmful to him, our parents in their grave would not be happy.
I just refused and because of that, I also passed through certain pains. I was persecuted from those who really wanted him nailed even before the UK trial.
This is the worst that can happen to him and we are all passing through the pain as family and blood relations. Yes, it had some effect on me. There are people who distrust me, especially around the Presidency because of James Ibori’s problem. You are leaving behind Warri not as an oil community but as an industrial park because the oil giants have left.
Does this pain you? Shell has moved away but the oil is still there. Why we felt the exit of Shell was because of the way NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation) handled matters. For instance, Seplat, which came after Shell had left, is doing very well in the Sapele area. When Shell left, these other oil firms like Seplat were supposed to move in and operate the way Shell was doing but what happened was that NPDC (Nigeria Petroleum Development Company), which is an arm of NNPC, started operating the fields that Shell left behind. NPDC is a government outfit and they behave like government. Whether they work or not, they get their salary.
Their attitude has been very negative which explains why a lot of the oil wells left behind by Shell have been abandoned. Nobody is operating them. We must have policies that are beneficial to the people. Today, the stealing of oil from Seplat field is very minimal. If all those fields were operated properly, nobody would have felt the effect of Shell’s departure.
But I am happy with the feelers from the new government that the industry would be properly monitored and administered by those who have the capacity. The Warri Industrial Business Park is on course but it will take quite some time. The infrastructure is being put in place. We just signed a deal with a firm that will generate about 15megawatts of electricity to power the park and some areas of Warri. The strength of the Southwest for instance is the fact that their best live amongst them and the best from other areas live in the Southwest.
What can you do beyond government to attract your best back home to live among the people? There is no doubt that in terms of development and capacity, the Southwest is far ahead. Even you are in the Southwest too because that is where the action is. The Southwest as personified by Lagos started developing since 1861 and everything started gravitating towards the region. One of the things that can get Niger Delta up is if the oil firms can move their headquarters close to where they are operating.
To bring people back home, we must make the environment friendly and we have started well in the area of peace and security. One of the things that will open up the Niger Delta is the development or rehabilitation of existing port facilities. In Delta alone, we have Warri, Sapele, Koko and Burutu. Why are the ports in Delta comatose? The biggest challenges about the Delta ports are the entry points. The Escravos channel for instance is shallow and requires a lot of dredging.
And to that, we need at least $1 billion, which is huge. The most viable way is to have a deep seaport at the mouth of the Escravos estuary and that is what this current EPZ project may achieve if we are able to get it right because one of the components of the project is the development of a deep seaport. If that is done, the story will change.
Looking back, will you consider the Asaba Airport as one of the things you will be remembered for? Yes, it is one of our biggest projects quite alright. But about what I will be remembered for, it depends. You that use the airport will remember me for the Asaba airport but the woman in the village will remember me more if she is able to go to the hospital nearest to her and get medical help. The Airport is one of our star projects. It is fully utilized because it is serving a major part of the Southeast.
Asaba as the capital is still an issue in Delta politics It is an issue that won’t go away so soon. Historically, among those of us in politics now, I think I was one of the first persons that built a house in Asaba. Most of the others refused to build houses in Asaba, even though they were working in Asaba. They would work till Friday, and then go to either Benin or Warri or Sapele for the weekend. Recently, I met someone in Delta Central who told me he has never slept in Asaba and he will never do that.
He is a top lawyer and once he gets cases, he just goes and returns because he is still emotional about the location of Asaba as the state capital. Some elderly people still have such feeling, although they are now coming to Asaba to do businesses. Altogether, majority of Deltans have accepted Asaba as the capital. That is why we have sited necessary infrastructure there because it has come to stay. Anybody that is bringing it up now is only bringing it up for mention sake.
Despite the fact that we have had so many medical doctors as governors, health in Nigeria is still a huge challenge. People still troop to India for medical attention. How do we get out of this? First, the issue of people going abroad, sometimes, is more of perception. There are a lot of things that can be treated in Nigeria that people are still taking abroad. Even women are going abroad to deliver; it is not as if they cannot deliver here, but because they want their children to have foreign passports.
The Governor of Kogi State for instance was treated in Abuja when he had that accident. We have a lot of hospitals, especially in the private sector that are doing fantastic jobs. Having said this let me add that we still have a lot of gaps to fill. There are three things mainly. One, is the issue of