Chike Ogeah Esq., Delta State Commissioner for Information, in this Exclusive Interview with Albert Ograka, Editor-In-Chief of Blank NEWS Online, unearths the strategies of effective governance in Delta state. He is blunt on the efforts and strides of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan-led administration and reveals more on its star projects, especially the Asaba International Airport.
Blank NEWS Online: Of what importance is the Asaba International Airport to Delta state and It’s people?
Chike Ogeah: The story of that Airport is the most intriguing story I’ve ever heard or seen. The truth is that that Airport is the star project of this administration. That Airport is also the game changer in everything we are doing. We talk about the three-point agenda and of course, peace and security, human capital development, infrastructure development. That Airport in itself captures all three elements of that agenda, because in that Airport, we have the best infrastructure anywhere in Nigeria and now people are even saying anywhere in Africa.
In that Airport, we are developing massive human capital development because as we speak now, the Ministry of Education is providing some major scholarships for Delta indigenes that are training as Air pilots and other related aeronautic education activities.
Of course, when people are meaningfully employed, like the kind of jobs the Airport is already creating for Deltans, and that means even if you just go there and see the kind of shuttle services of the taxis and other auxiliary activities that goes on; the trading, the cleaning and all that, you will see how many Deltans that have been employed already.
These are people that otherwise, would have been elsewhere, maybe committing crimes, especially the young men operating the taxi services there. So, that is why I say that Airport is a civil basic game changer in what we are trying to do and that is the three-point strategy. Now, the tactic to achieve that strategy is what we call “Delta Beyond Oil”.
Now, What can be better than the development of that Airport and all the ancillary activities that they come with to put in place of oil. As we go forward now, that Airport has been designated by the Federal Government as an Agricultural Cargo Airport.
So, aside from being an industrial cargo airport, where manufacturers can move their heavy equipments and all that; around that Airport, you are going to soon see the development of green house effects where we are going to start cultivating all kinds of cash crops that we have comparative advantages of here, like cassava, maize and all those kind of things. And what is going to happen is that they are going to enforce the kind of weather on those green house effects, where you can plant and harvest on almost same day basis and then instead of all our foods and crops that usually get rotten because you don’t have means of taking it to the last resort bias; these things would be put in a cargo and taken out of the country fresh. So that again is a different ball game when we get to that stage of things, because it’s just going to be agriculture meets aviation in perfect harmony and you can imagine the explosion for the economy. And that is why I say that that Airport is the singular greatest achievement anywhere, because though it is an activity in the Aviation industry but that activity has a multiplier effect on so many other sectors of the economy.
You see, that Airport is so strategic. It is located 10 minutes from the biggest market in Sub-Saharan African, the Onitsha market and maybe 15 minutes from the China/Taiwan of Africa which is in Nnewi where all kinds of metal fabrications and all that go on.
So you can imagine already the kind of use that that Airport is being put to and the way it is. I have a very strong background in Aviation like you all know. I have never seen an Airport grow potentially as that airport grow. Now even with the big Boeing planes that are coming in, if you don’t get your tickets on time when you are going to Abuja or Lagos, you will not even get a space. I’m aware that Aero is going to join in the next few days. Of course, you know Overland has upgraded their own planes, so we are going to have about three or four airlines already plying that airport.
And like we always say about aviation; an airport is a continues work of improvement. Its like a permanent construction site anywhere in the world because airport must meet the challenges of change and change is such a constant, especially in the aviation world. So if you build an airport even like we have done in 2010 or 2011, by 2015 you have to keep making major changes. You can imagine the airports that were built in the 70’s like Murtala Mohammed Airport, that is why they were almost going totally archaic until this Minister of Aviation came and started doing the kind of massive job you can see in the infrastructural renewal of those edifices.
So, like I was saying, this Airport in Asaba would continually be renewed to meet these challenges and you can see it is not just a straight passenger airport, it is also going to be a cargo airport.
And the greatest benefit for Deltans, if you ask me, about his airport, is that instead of our people traveling so much, even the traders, especially the merchant who ship in things, going to Lagos, many of them die on the road in road accidents while going to convey their things from the airport, now they can be doing that with Asaba.
But more importantly is the fact that Delta state is going to be the only state that will have two airports at the end of its administration because we are also building a second airport in Osubi. Now the thinking is that the Warri axis which we refer to as our oil and gas economic zone, then we have the Asaba axis which is the headquarters of the state and also a major economic zone, basically with the provision of this same airport because this airport is what has opened up the whole place. From the airport all the way to Agbor, you cannot find a land to buy because most businesses have taken up all the land. It is affecting the hospitality business, very soon you will soon see a Protea, you will soon see a Hilton in Asaba, and industrial warehouses. They are all coming up and have taken over everywhere.
So the whole idea is that with the condition of the Ughelli-Warri road dualization, though a Federal Government road which this administration is pursuing vigorously, then we can connect those two hubs and what that means is that goods and services can now be flowing both by land, by air and by the time the Warri Port is dredged, which is what the Federal Government has promised us to do, and by sea, then Delta state will already have an economy of its own that would be open to the world and Delta can start doing business with the world. That is the vision of this governor. That is why we keep saying it that this vision might be too big for a lot of people to comprehend and that is why the little criticism we get here and there, but with every successive day, the vision is coming together and I think it’s getting clearer to people what exactly this massive vision of this governor is. That is why those of us that are his vision helpers, all we can do is continue to propagate and try to explain on what this vision is, that it is a vision of Delta banishing poverty and embracing prosperity in an open economy that is about to explode….but you know people don’t realize it but you will see that happen very, very shortly.
Blank NEWS Online: Do you think that successive governments can sustain what you already have on ground?
Chike Ogeah: You see, Delta State University Teaching Hospital (DELSUTH) , Oghara, as you will recall, was started by the successive government but this government came in and took such a first class edifice to now world class level, gone beyond just the infrastructure and put in massive modern day equipment for everything. You can do knee replacement surgery there. You can do kidney dialysis treatment and many other things. The Delta state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan went a step further by having direct relationship with one or two American Universities, where they are sending us first class medical professors as part of the Human Capital Development, who are coming over here.
Mind you, these Professors are Deltans who left Nigeria about 20 or 30 years ago and would have forgotten about Nigeria. We are using that facility to attract them back. And this administration has completed that hospital and delivered maybe the best Teaching Hospital in Nigeria now in Oghara. That is what governance is all about because governance is a continue. And it is our wish and prayer that because these projects are such massive projects, that any successive government, I don’t care from whichever party, would follow suit with a lot of these laudable projects.
Like you say, we don’t have projects in Delta, we have programmes because programmes are beyond projects. Projects are just what you see. How do you categorize what we are doing in health care for instance? Do you know the kind of billions that go into the free ante-natal, free 1-5, free delivery services for all our rural women, even the ambulance services and all what we takes into the rural communities to do all the eye checks and all that. How do you compute that kind of money or you don’t see it because it’s not quantifiable. That is why you see, like I said to you, we have programmes.
The same thing in Education. Look at the massive renovations going on in schools. Okay that you can see. Schools free and like you know, we are going to talk about Education Marshall very soon. They are launching it because it’s a major programme where government officials from the Ministry of Education would be going round the villages, nooks and crannies and if they find any child of school bearing age that is not in school, that child will be taken straight to school. And if we find out that it’s because of some beliefs or the other that the parents are refusing to send that child to school, those parents would be prosecuted because the schools are free. So, why should children not have an education? So these are the things we are doing and that is why I say we have programmes.
But I think the critical thing is to let the people have ownership of these programmes. Let the people be the owners and they will defend it. So whichever government comes and say it is not going to continue with these programmes that is the people’s programme, it is the people they will have to contend with and not the out-going or out-gone administration that would have gone. I have no doubt in my mind that because these are people oriented programmes, they must be sustained by whatever successive administration is coming in.
Blank NEWS Online: Can you beat your chest to say that the facilities at the Asaba International Airport are effectively put to use?
Chike Ogeah: Well, like I said to you, an Airport is a permanent construction site and it’s always changing and improving to meet the challenges. The truth is that we are very lucky in Delta because things like airport, aviation generally are things that should really ordinarily be left to the private sector but Delta is blessed. We had the government come in to give us this fantastic push with that first class edifice.
Of course, the usage of that airport, if you ask me today, is maybe 1/3 or less. When we started, I remember I used to enter some planes and there would just be five of us there, at that time. That is how airport development is. It’s called route development, it’s called airport development. Everyday makes a different in that airport, in terms of the usage, in terms of the patronage and all that.
So, what have happened is that instead of building every other year, we have already put an edifice that would just be able to absolve and continue to expand in terms of usage and that is what you would be seeing. I can assure you this time next year, you would be telling a different story. You would be saying maybe we should add more conveyor belts or something. That is how airports work. Why I am optimistic about that is that this airport, actually is serving six states.
I remember, I was talking to the Secretary to State Government (SSG) of Anambra state when he came over here for the Nigeria Guild of Editors meeting in Asaba and he said to me that “What we are thinking of in Awka now is how to develop a mono-rail from Awka to your airport. Why should we be thinking of building an airport”.
So those are the kind of things I’m talking about. We are serving Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Edo, Delta, Rivers and Cross-Rivers states, though some of them even have airports but depending on the type of plane and flight schedule. So you can imagine and that is exactly what is going on.
Blank NEWS Online: Sir, considering the rate of development at the airport. When do we expect the arrival of Cargo planes at the Asaba International Airport?
Chike Ogeah: Well, you see, especially the Agricultural cargo aspect of it. Like I told you, it’s not even a Delta state initiative, it is a Federal Government initiative and I think they chose certain airports in the country of which Asaba just happens to be one of them, knowing the criteria they used and I think they want to start across board at the same time. I think between this year and next year, they will take-off.
And more importantly, for the overall Cargo which is an initiative of this government, i know work is also in progress with that and i might not be able to tell you this is the day they will start but work is still in progress.
Blank NEWS Online: Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has concentrated more on infrastructure. Why?
Chike Ogeah: I don’t even know whether that is right to say. It’s because we have done so much in the infrastructure you can see, that is why you are coming to that conclusion. Otherwise, the invisible infrastructure, like what we doing in Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SME’s). We have the Central Bank Governor’s prize for over three years and we had to stop. And these are major programmes were we are creating a new class of people from the vulnerable and underprivileged people that were either physically disabled and all that, you now see them having their own businesses and employing people. In the middle of that, we are also building up strong Micro-Finance Banks because they provide these loans to them and these loans are being paid back. And you juxtapose that with the programmes we have in health, education, the ones you don’t see, the training.
So those things have been going on and a lot of money, of course, all the various scholarships. You know that any first class student in a first degree of Delta state set would be paid for to any level his or her abilities can take him or her to anywhere in the world. So we have a lot of those projects but they are not seen.
But yet, it is important that we put infrastructure. For instance, what I am thrilled about personally are the level of renewal we are doing with our roads because that has been big challenge. And the truth is that since Delta state was created or even from when we were in Mid-West, I don’t think any administration had ever done drains in Delta. This is the first time drains are being done and that is why we are having these issues of flooding or no flooding. Even in a city or town like Asaba where we have a natural drain point in the River Niger. How to get those drains to get to the River Niger, because they are all under the ground, has been a big challenge. This government have to now taken it over. I grew up in this town. This government opened up this whole area. When we were growing up, this whole place was all massive forest. It opened up this area and started providing these kind of massive infrastructure you are seeing now in terms of drainage and by the time those drainage are completed because those are the main thing and not even the asphalting of the roads, and these roads are laid out and asphalted, then Deltans will begin to see the kind of work we are doing there.
You know in Delta, we keep saying its not like most of these states that you make intervention in one or two towns and they start shouting because the places are so small. But in Delta, anything you do in Asaba, you have fourteen, fifteen, sixteen other towns, like Asaba that you must do it and these things are happening simultaneously everywhere, because you know it’s politics and everybody, it’s all about their own self interest. The man in Warri would not sit down and just let you be doing this in Asaba; either would the man in Kwale, Obiaruku, Agbor, Patani, Burutu, Ughelli or Bomadi. Don’t forget we have riverine areas. Their own challenges are different and development in those areas are much more expensive because of their soil, degradation, pollution and all that. You have to contend with all that but yet you must attend to them. We thank God for our interventionist agency of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) also plays its role in that as well.
So those are the kind of things that are being done on daily basis to make sure we provide and don’t forget that this over meant has hinged its Infrastructural Development on some major five-star projects, like the airport we are focusing on, like the Oleri Leisure Park in Udu which is Private Public Partnership (PPP) because the government cannot go on that kind of project on its own, it doesn’t even have the resources. What the government has done is provide an enabling environment for a private firm to come and develop by reclaiming massive wasteland, almost, putting a bridge across the place because the place that was found suitable for that kind of thing has to be a picturesque place with that kind of topography and done what it should do for it and then the company’s going ahead. There are going to be five star hotels, shopping malls, you just name it.
The same thing, we are going to do with the Warri Industrial Business Park which is going to be a conglomeration of major massive manufacturing industries in one place.
If you go to the Asian and the emergent nations, these are how they have been able to transform their economy from developing, struggling economies between 20 to 30 years to world class developed economies.
Blank NEWS Online: What do you mean by the slogan of “Finishing Strong” by the Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s administration?
Chike Ogeah: What we mean by that basically, is just as it says, “We Want To Finish Strong”. Its important. We are saying that we are not going to be distracted. Don’t forget that this administration has been the guinea pig, so to speak, of our democratic experiment. While this governor was winding down on his first term, getting ready for his re-election, a court judgement out of some Court of Appeal in Benin nullified his election, thereafter it was series of elections, we went for what they call re-run, then he had to do the general elections again, then after that it was series of litigation up to the Supreme Court. These are all major distractions, though we remained focused. Thank God for the strong leadership we had, but the truth is that those distractions were there because we were running to Abuja, running everywhere, going to court in Benin and all that.
So, some time was lost, now we we are saying that all that time that is lost, every minute, we count down in this administration now on these. We have planned what we are doing to almost days and hours. It’s that much, because we know exactly the time we have left, and we know we have tremendous work to still do. I told you that this is a big decision government and when you want to do big things, you must be prepared to make that extra sacrifice to be able to make it count.
So, therefore, we’ve all been asked by our leader, the Governor, to redouble our efforts and we must stay focused and know that this development agenda is still the number one priority. That is what “Finishing Strong” is all about.