Olorogun David Edevbie is one of the frontline aspirants in the People Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State for the 2023 governorship ticket. In this interview with ROLAND OGBONNAYA, the former three times commissioner for finance and recently chief of staff to the governor, explains what has inspired him to step out to govern the state and other issues
What is your assessment of the development and growth of Delta State in the current democratic dispensation from 1999?
There has been a lot of development in Delta State starting from the situation we inherited from 1999. Let’s take it from each Governor. Before Chief James Onanefe Ibori, it was like the state was on ground zero. We need to go back a little bit in history. The state was created in 1991 and between 1991 and 1999, it was under military regime. Little or nothing was done because we had just been formed as a state. There was very little infrastructure, there was very little public structure in place.
Chief Ibori recognised that and we started to lay down the basic foundations. We looked at the state and put a development plan in place. One thing was clear, over 50 per cent of the state is riverine and they were disconnected from the upland effectively.
The first thing he did in terms of laying down infrastructure was to try and connect them to the mainland. That’s what gave rise to the Omadina Bridge, the Bomadi Bridge over Forcados River and the Aboh Bridge over Ase River. Those were the first significant steps taken in other to connect the riverine area to the mainland. Then, obviously there was focus on rural electricity and on roads.
Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan came in and built upon that. He did all the usual things one would expect as government and he also had the foresight to recognise that we needed to start looking at Delta beyond oil. He started with some major infrastructure. The Asaba Airport was under him.
The current Governor has built upon that and he has done so well in terms of infrastructure he is called the Roadmaster.
I have to say that in all these cases, I have been involved in one form or the other and I think there is still a lot more work to be done. Asaba, the capital territory needs further work in order to bring it up to the standard we have seen in other parts of the country. You also know that Delta is not a one city state, we have several cities and those cities need to be developed in other to reduce the urban migration that is going on.
How will you assess your personal contributions in government through your services as several times Commissioner of Finance and more recently Chief of staff to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa?
To be honest with you, the assessment has to be done by my superiors. There is self-assessment and there is assessment done by my bosses. But, if you look at my trajectory, I am the longest serving Commissioner of Finance there has been in the country so far. I don’t think Chief Onanefe Ibori would have appointed me commissioner twice, I don’t think the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would have appointed me his Principal Secretary to take over from his outgoing Chief of Staff, I don’t think I would have come back to Delta State and be appointed again as Commissioner of Finance for the third time and subsequently Chief of Staff if I wasn’t doing something right.
I think I have done pretty well in the public space if you look at a number of things that I have done, starting from my first appointment as Commissioner of Finance. We were the first state in the country to publish our audited accounts, we were the first state in the country to pay the minimum wage of N7,500 in year 2000, we were the first state to introduce the Cash Budget System, we were the first to introduce Computerised Management System in terms of SAP and we were first in so many other things. So, I think in general, I have done pretty well and that’s it within the state.
There are also things I have done at the Federal level. I fought for the 13 per cent derivation, which was given to us and so many other things. I am sure that you have seen what is happening with amnesty. That again is one of the things that was introduced by me. I have done pretty well and there is still a lot more to do.
You are one of the frontline aspirants in the PDP for the 2023 Governorship ticket, what has inspired you to step out to want to govern the state?
I haven’t actually taken the step, what I am doing is consulting. I am consulting widely. Quite frankly, what is happening is more of the public. A lot of people from the public want me to run and I am seriously considering it. Why would I consider it? I think it is self-explanatory. I have served or worked with three Governors. I have been involved in all their plans and successes at one stage or another and funded most of them. So, I have a deep understanding of the challenges that face the state and I clearly have the educational background, I clearly have the experience. I think I am second to none in any of those fields. We are at a stage in this country where we need someone who has the experience, who has the knowledge, because the country at this stage is facing enormous financial challenges and if we don’t get it right, I don’t know where we will end up. And here you have someone who already has the experience, who already has the knowledge and who has the financial expertise, because at the end of the day, government is about the management of resources and I am an expert in managing resources.
What then is your vision for the development of the state in terms of the economy and infrastructure?
My vision is shaped by the problems that exist. Epileptic power supply, high unemployment, insecurity, the list goes on and on. We have done well till date but we need somebody who knows the history of how we achieved what we have achieved today and can immediately hit the ground running in taking us to the next level. That is where my vision comes in.
My vision is very simple: The modernisation of Delta State. We need to go from a system we inherited from the colonial masters into a more modern system, a current system which is based on value addition, industrialisation, knowledge-based economy and it is based on a number of key drivers.
The first is energy. In my opinion, if we don’t sort out our energy problem, everything else we are doing is going to be a waste of time. You need to get your power sorted because that is the driver of everything. I intend to build a 500 megawatts power plant from day one in the office. It can be done within three years. I have done it across the world and I have even done it in Delta. We have an 8.5 megawatts power plant in Asaba already. I was the chairman of the committee. So, it is not like it can’t be done. It is just that it will be done on a much larger scale. The power generated will meet all our needs and the surplus will be sold to the energy grid of BEDC. Most people don’t know that we already own about 15 per cent of the equity in BEDC. (Deltans) are a part owner of BEDC. I have had discussions with them and it will be seamless.
The next thing is security. Without security, I am afraid, no investor will want to come into your state, whether domestic or foreign. On the two approaches in addressing the security problem, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, has already laid the foundation and I just want to build upon that and focus more on how I can relate with the federal governmentovernment. The second step is the funding. Again, Governor Okowa, has done a great deal in that field and I am just looking to upgrade that. That’s why you have the Security Trust Fund (STF) that provides the funding of the security architecture that we have in place. I need far more funding working with the private sector. Once we have that in place and we sort out the energy problem, I can’t see any reason why we can’t deploy modern technology in helping to combat crime.
Things like CCTV, drones, they don’t cost that much any longer. Those are things that we can deploy in flashpoints to help us with our security challenges.
The other area that I think we need to address is the law. We need to take a look at our laws, revive those laws to give them more teeth, more bite. The long-term measure is industrialisation. Once we have industrialisation in place, I believe it will mop up unemployment which is part of the problem of security that we have, especially among the youth.
The next driver is job security. We need to focus on job and wealth creation. That covers a lot of gamut of areas but I will start with an excellent Chief Job Creation Office. That exists already. I was part of the process and they are doing an excellent job. That’s where things like graduate employment development schemes, GEEP, YAGEP, etcetera come from. I will like to continue with that and, if possible, increase the scope.
The next is micro credit schemes. I am an Economist. Everybody knows that the private sector is the engine of economic growth and within the private sector is small businesses that actually drive employment. So, I will like to stand a lot more in that area, to provide credit for small and medium scale enterprises.
There are other areas, like agriculture. That is part of wealth and job creation but my emphasis would be to try and bring in the private sector, not to try and do it as a government because government has no business being in business, certainly not in agriculture. There are lot of opportunities there. By some estimates, we could be generating about $10b worth of agricultural produce, if we do the right thing in terms of large scale mixed with small scale holders.
There is also the creative industry. We have got the Film Village there. That is another area we could take a look at. I have spoken to the likes of Netflix who would be interested. You know Governor is building a film village, it will soon be finished. That will provide an avenue for creativity and job creation because in the process of making films, working with the likes of Netflix, we could be increasing revenue generation. There are lots of other areas in job and wealth creation but that is just a summary of it.
The next area would be social infrastructure. We all know about roads and other infrastructures that are required in the state but I don’t look at it from the perspectives of roads. The last three Governors have done so well, particularly the current Governor when it comes to roads and infrastructure. It is work in progress. More infrastructure is required but I want to take a different perspective. I want to look at it from an inter-modal transportation system to put in place a transportation plan. Once you have a transportation masterplan, it doesn’t just limit you to roads. It could be roads, bridges, railway, airport etcetera and, very important, the riverine areas. Once you connect all together, you then have an integrated transportation system. That is part of the development of social infrastructure.
There are other things like education, for example. We all know what needs to be done there but my perspective for education is to tie education with the private sector. It doesn’t make sense to continue to produce graduates when there are no jobs for the graduates to go into. There must be more discussions between the private sector, industry and the university so that universities are producing the graduates that fit into the private sector and the industries. That is the perspective that I would like to take when it comes to social infrastructure.
There some specific things I would like to see done. Continue with free education, there is no doubt about that. At the university level we must continue with bursaries but, in addition, I believe student loan should be provided to those who require it. That is a commitment that I am making, that if I become the Governor, I would provide student loan to those who require it.
On health, I want to look at it from the point of view of, how do we improve our life expectancy? At the moment it is about 54, I believe. I would like to increase life expectancy from 54 to 70. That can be done in eight years. I have looked at studies and everything that is required to facilitate that can be done. All of these are in my manifesto.
The last one is public sector reforms. In other to achieve all the things that I am talking about, there must be reforms in the public sector. We can’t carry on the way we are doing. We must have a public sector that is able to deliver on all the requests we have in mind. So, within the first 100 days, I would like a situation whereby we do a best value review of the public sector and to change the public sector, not very much, but so that it becomes more dynamic, more IT based in order to produce better services for the people.
Again, in terms of public sector reforms, looking at the executive, I think we need to have a governance system that is reflective of the people being governed. I don’t think it is right to have a population where over 50 per cent is women but when it comes to governance you have a token or handful of women. That is not right. If you really want to have a system that works, you have to have a governance that reflects the people being governed. That is why I am committed to saying that at least 35 per cent of all political appointments will be given to women.
The same applies to youth. You may not be aware that we are one of the youngest populations in the world. If you look at our population demographics, over 70 per cent of our population is under 35 years old. What that tells you is, and I think we all saw it during EndSARS, we (older people) are in a minority. We have to have a governance structure that reflects them. So, again, I have already committed to reserve 25 per cent of all political appointments for youths.
There is a reason for doing that. I was brought into the government as a youth and that’s why I can sit here and boost of all the experience that I have. That is because somebody saw it fit to think ahead and do so. I am one of very few in Delta. I would like to see a situation that when, it comes for governorship, there are 3, 4, 5, 6 credible people with the knowledge and experience that people would expect so that the people can have genuine choice.
The next thing I would like to see in terms of public sector reforms is, I think it is wrong for people to work for 35 years of their life and not get paid their pension. People die while waiting for their pension. The first thing I would like to do is to look at the Contributory Pensions Scheme. I think as at when I left government, it was about N70b owed by both the local government which owes the majority and some by the state government. What I undertake to do when I become governor is to pay the whole amount within one year, so that we have a situation that when people work and retire, they get what is due to them.
Now, all of this, we must package in a development plan and passed by the House of Assembly so it becomes a law and everybody then knows what the development plan of Delta State is for the next 20 years. What people don’t realise is that we had a development plan before Lagos State, but Lagos State has continued to follow their plan. We need to put that plan in place and it has to be approved so that everybody has an understanding of where we are coming from and where we are going. You can’t embark on a journey without knowing where you are going.
Having been around and been part of the process of development in Delta State, what is the need of each of the Senatorial Districts?
I think all senatorial districts want development. They want roads, they want schools, they want all. There is no senatorial district that has everything. They all want the same thing. I think what you are referring to is the peculiar needs of the areas and that is a reflection of the different terrains.
Let’s start from Delta South. It is largely riverine and the major problem we have there is the oil production that goes on in majority of the place. Everything that has to do with oil production is a problem. Then, certainly, because it is riverine, it costs a lot more money to develop but, like I said, if we have a development plan like we had in 1999 and if we had followed, I think by now we would have done a lot more in the riverine area. If you really want a state where everybody has and feels an equal part of, we must spend more emphasis on the riverine areas.
The other thing I would like to pursue is the Warri Port. The people of Warri and around that area are concerned that that port continues to operate sub-optimally. If it operates optimally, the multiplier effect would be significant.
If you look at the Ijaw area, everything to do with development is required in that area, without a doubt. And that is because it is a difficult terrain but if we spend the money we need to spend, within 20 years, and especially if you are working with the private sector, there is no reason why we can’t have it looking much better than it is today, more like a Dubai, more like an Miami.
But in term of specifics, I have been going around consulting and one of the things that they keep raising, constantly, is the need for a higher institution in the Ijaw area. There isn’t. So, I think we would need to look at the finances of the state at the time whether it does justify another higher institution. But in the short term, what we could do is to look at existing institutions. The School of Marine Technology in Burutu, if we spend more money there, I think that will bring some succour in that area, especially in respect to higher institutions.
The same applies to the College of Engineering in Oleh, the Oleh Campus of the Delta State University. I think if we spend more money there and upgrade it, that would satisfy a lot of people with respect to higher education.
In Delta Central where I am from, I am old enough to know that it was once the industrial hub of Delta State. There were so many businesses which then created employment but they are all gone. So, I think there needs to be focus on industrialisation. But before we can move forward with the industrialisation, we must address the energy issue like I said. We will first address it in the Oghara, Jesse, Sapele axis and then come down to the Ughelli, Udu axis. Once we address the power situation, we address the security situation, government would be able to attract the private sector into industries in those areas. If necessary, government can take equity in order to bring in those industries to that area to create jobs.
And then, we have Abraka. It is already there. It can be a developmental hub for us in Delta Central. We already have people there, what we can do is to have a way of bringing in industries that can take the feed from the university into them in order to have a synergy between industry and the university.
Then Delta North, it has riverine areas and upland. The riverine areas have the same problems as the riverine areas elsewhere and, in the upland, we have erosion. Erosion is a major issue in Delta North and it needs to be tackled and addressed. There is also the issue of industry. Luckily Delta North is peaceful, so I see it as quite easy to attract businesses. I would start by breathing life into the Kwale Industrial Park. I will start by breathing life into the Asaba Industrial Park. You know there is an Industrial Park in Asaba but it hasn’t been functional. I would like to bring it up. Because of its proximity to the Airport that is a very quick win. There are several other Industrial Parks that have been created by the governor that I would like to continue to pursue. The final thing in Delta North of course is Asaba. We need a masterplan for Asaba. We need to develop Asaba. I don’t see any reason why we cannot have an inner rail network.
In the local governments, if we have ICT backbone to all the 25 local government areas, that will provide a platform for developing ICT across the state. That is an area I am much interested in, knowledge-based economy. Whether you like it or you don’t, it is already happening, anyway. Why not formalise what already exists and channel the knowledge and expertise of these young men into profitable businesses. It just requires government to provide the enabling environment that will allow it to happen.
But how would you manage the sentiments arising from the diverse ethnic groups to be able to achieve these visions?
First of all, we shouldn’t look at the fact that we have multi-ethnic groups as a disadvantage. I see it as an advantage. The truth of the matter is that, yes, we are multi-ethnic but there is a lot of inter-marriage among us. We are one people and we need to start seeing ourselves more as one people. We need to stop doing things that promote ethnic sentiments as opposed to the sentiment of Deltans and I think the younger generation tend to focus more towards that. They don’t really care where you are from. All they want is that they want jobs, they want education, they want good health. So, I don’t see that as a major challenge. Luckily, the three Governors before me have instituted peace. We now have peace in our society generally.
Like I mentioned before, if we have a development plan that is put on the table, it is debated and discussed by all ethnic groups and it is clear what the development plan is for the next 20 years, everybody then knows where they fit in within the system, and as long as revenue comes in as I anticipate the revenue coming in, and everyone is treated fairly, I don’t see that being a problem.
When it comes to ethnicity, I think most of the time when we do have a problem, it is promoted by people who have an ethnic mindset. They are the ones that create the problem. I think the average Deltan doesn’t really care where you come from. Certainly, the younger ones don’t really care. All they want is good services as a people.
Besides industrialisation, we have rich deposit of oil, gas and other mineral resources. What is your plan towards harnessing these for economic value?
First of all, you must understand that the gas resources we have here do not belong to Delta State. Let’s be very clear on that. We are like oil bearing, we are like gas bearing but it belongs to the Federal Government. Having said that, other minerals that we have in Delta State are things that we can attract people to come and take advantage of. If necessary, the state government can do feasibility and take equity in companies that are interested to act as a catalyst to the development of all of it. We have to do it. If we are going to have a situation where the private sector becomes the engine room of our economic growth, we just have to do it.
The other thing we need to do obviously is create an enabling environment but in other to create an enabling environment, you have to sort out your power supply, you have to sort out your security. Those are very basic. You have to sort out your infrastructure. Once these things are in place, I have worked in the private sector, what they are interested in is making returns, making revenue and once everything is in place that enables them to do that, trust me, they will come.day, government is about the management of resources and I am an expert in managing resources. enough? If not, what else do we need to do?
What we require is a security system that is more local, more locally controlled. Yes, we will relate with the Federal Government but we will need the security architecture itself to be under our control and that covers from the standard police to the vigilante groups. All of those are part of the security architecture that needs to be put in place.
That combined with adequate funding, because that is the major drawback all the time when it comes to security. You can’t have a situation where policemen are fueling their own cars. You can’t have a situation where policemen are buying their own bullets. Then you are not being serious. You also have to introduce information technology. All of these things that I have mentioned are actually being done by this government of which I was a part of. That is why security infrastructure is being provided, the Trust Fund and all of that. All I have to do is to ramp it up, put more money, lay more emphasis on attracting more people from the private sector.
We also have to get our communities involved because if we don’t do that, we will continue to have the problems we have. But I think it is the desire of everyone in the community to have better security, so we will get the support if we put the right architecture in place.
But if you become Governor, how accessible will you be to the people?
I will be accessible but you must understand accessible to enable me do the job that I am elected to do. Of course, you have to be accessible otherwise you will lose touch with the people you are supposed to be governing.
There are many forms of interaction these days. Again, it has modernized. There is the physical meeting but there is less emphasis on physical meetings now. Covid has made it clear, you don’t need to sit in front of each other every day to get things done. There is the telephone, there are computers, there is Zoom meetings, then you also have social media, Facebook etcetera. That is where the world is moving to in terms of interaction and that is the sort of interaction I would like to promote.
But what matters the most is putting in place a system that allows the common man to have access to the people that are governing him. It is very important because if you don’t do that, how will I be held accountable by the people if they are not accessible to me? And how will I know whether I am doing the right thing if they are not accessible to me? Accessibility is the number one issue that must be, so I will be extremely accessible so that we continue to have continuous dialogue. There has to be continuous dialogue between the people that are governing and the people that are being governed because at the end of the day it is for the people by the people. Therefore, accessibility is key.
How would you harness our aquatic bodies to add value to the state economy?
I think it is an opportunity for us. There is so much that is happening in the riverine areas. There is no reason that we cannot be involved in fisheries, heavily involved in fisheries and anything that involves the riverine areas. It is just a matter of putting in place a master plan that captures all the potentials that exist and then investing in all those potentials.
I see a river as being another form of road. As far as I am concerned, you need to get on a boat and it is the same thing as being in a car. We need to move our mindset towards that. Some of the most beautiful cities in the world are in the riverine areas. The potentials are enormous in the riverine areas. All we have to do is to find a way of connecting them equally. Like I said, sometimes, it is even more efficient to move cargo by river than by road. It may be far more efficient but first of all, you have to bring them in to make them feel and see that they are an equal partner in this our state called Delta.
What is your definition of Delta Beyond Oil
Delta Beyond Oil is very simple, as the name says. Whether you like it or not, and this is a fact, by 2030, a lot of countries are going to start reducing the amount of oil that they import. Some have set deadlines in terms of introducing electric cars, so the prognosis for oil is actually quite bad if you look at it. Therefore, we must find a way, because it is going to affect the whole country and, certainly, it will affect us.
We must move to start to invest in other areas outside oil. That is why my emphasis is on industrialization, on knowledge-based economy, because even the largest producers of oil right now are moving that way. Places like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, it is clear what they are doing. They are using the money from the oil and investing in other areas. That is what we need to do so that by the time oil and gas and all those things decline, we would have moved into a different trajectory and definitely Delta will then be beyond the oil.
On a final not what is your message to Deltans?
My message to Deltans is very clear. 2023 is a pivotal point. We are all in this country, perhaps this is what I meant by the development of democracy, and it comes from history and experience. I think perhaps a lot of people didn’t think that experience matters. A lot of people didn’t think that educational qualifications matter. But I have just told you, governance is about the management of resources and the people who can manage these resources are the people who have knowledge and experience in such area. We have seen in the last six years, I don’t want to go into the politics of it, but we have seen the consequences of it. So, we need to make sure that in Delta State, we don’t fall into that trap because if we fall into that trap, I don’t I don’t know how we can extricate ourselves.