In the near future, Nigerians who desire to stay home and enjoy a vacation tour of the country will find Delta State a pleasant place to visit and experience the kind joy that attracts Europeans to the Kenyan safari.
It is the story of an emerging future that Chike Ogeah, a lawyer and Delta State Commissioner for Information loves to tell, whenever he discusses the achievements of administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, governor of Delta State. In this interview, he talks about the developmental strides of the governor and his post-2015 legacy. Excerpts…
By the time Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s tenure ends in 2015, what legacies would he leave behind?
Let me say it simply: it will be tremendous, because what we have done in Delta State is to define those areas we need to make major impact. We work on a three-point agenda – infrastructure development, human capital, peace and security. In fact, peace and security is being sorted out. The most important thing we are trying to do now is to enhance the quality of life of Deltans, which we are doing through the free health and free education programmes we have in place.
Over a period of time we have improved on our health facilities and they are almost first class. The teaching hospital in Oghara is a first class institution where we can do any kind of surgery. Part of what we are trying to achieve is medical tourism so that Nigerians who would have gone to India and all other places for medical treatment, can then get quality service here. The same goes for the education sector, where we have raised 500 schools to world class; besides, we built 50 new model schools, each with e-library, standard pitch for physical education, standard classrooms that are air-conditioned just like you would find in any school abroad.
Those are things we have done to improve the human capacity of our people, but we have four or five mega projects. The Asaba International Airport is wonderful; it was built with N27 billion under a public-private partnership initiative. It is the cheapest and best airport in the country. We also have the Warri Industrial Complex, where we have a cluster of industries. We have our own version of Disneyland called Olieri Film Park. There will be first class, five star hospitality facilities as well as malls in the place.
We are building a wildlife park in Ogwashi-Ukwu. The intention is to create the kind of safari people see in Kenya and South Africa. We want to fully exploit the advantage we have in the areas of tourism and entertainment. Delta State is blessed with a multitude of talented Nollywood stars, musicians and comedians. We turn them out as if from a factory. We want to enhance all those synergies and unleash them not just on the nation, but the world. Then people would see the power of tourism and entertainment. We are building the Ughelli-Asaba dual carriageway, which is a ring road round the state.
It will connect the industrial and economic zones of Warri, where the oil companies are to Asaba in Delta north, which is just five minutes away from Onitsha, the biggest commercial market in West Africa. Incidentally, the Asaba airport has been designated a cargo airport. What we are trying to do with the port in Warri and Koko is to use them to decongest the ports in Lagos. From our research, we found out that maybe 50 per cent of the cargo that come into Lagos are meant for the merchants in Onitsha, who currently have to go all the way to Lagos to take delivery of the goods imported by them. So, in a nutshell, the Uduaghan administration will leave an enduring legacy. I can assure you of that.
How would you describe your experience as a commissioner?
It has been very challenging, especially in a place like Delta State which is so diverse. We have almost the number of ethnic groups in the whole of Nigeria in Delta State, and everybody from every ethnic group is an expert at everything. It’s very challenging, but I’m sure with commitment to God and knowing that you are doing it with a clear heart and doing the best you can for your people without any hidden agenda, we carry everybody along. The projects I mentioned earlier are evenly spread across the three senatorial districts. We are doing our best to carry everybody along.
Before you became a commissioner, what were you doing?
I was managing director of Skypower Aviation Handling Company. I was there for four years. We concluded the privatization of a company that was valued at N1.2 billion and sold it for N5.6 billion. The new investors are doing well, and that’s my joy; they have put in so much money and have turned the company around because it was actually a government parastatal. We had no subvention from government and we could not buy the necessary equipment to operate effectively. We tried hard to remain afloat, but now we have seen the company skyrocket. The new investors have brought in all the major latest equipment. I’m so proud we were able to bring that kind of value into this country. I dare say I deserve a medal for that – taking on a moribund government agency that was likely to be liquidated like the parent company. I think that was a great achievement.
Do you still have time to relax?
For now, I hardly do, because we are always on the move. It is a 24/7 job, especially with my beat as Commissioner for Information, which just takes me all over the state and beyond. I take it as a call to duty. By the grace of God, I will do all the relaxation when it ends.
Is your family not complaining about your frequent absence?
Well, they understand and they encourage me. After all, it’s a job that helps me provide for them.
Did you grow up in Asaba?
No, I lived in Asaba. My parents had always lived in Asaba, but I grew up in Ibadan and Lagos.
Tell me a bit about your family and the best memories of your childhood.
I have two sisters and we had the best of life. We had so much fun. I think the experience I can readily recall in my childhood was in 1966 when I was five years old. We were living in Benin, having a good time, my father, a medical doctor and mum a school principal in Benin. Then one day they herded us into a car and said we were going across the River Niger. We were there for 30 months. I had the experience of the civil war. It was not a joke. That is why till today, I tell everybody that whatever we are doing in Nigeria we better be careful, war is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. I saw it and I know it.