It is very easy to be a critic. Also it is not difficult to find a band of followers when you are a critic. But when you crave relevance, simply pitch tent with the opposition as a critic, you can be assured of being treated as a celebrity. “What is the government doing?”, “Does this governor know what he is doing?”, “Who are the advisers?” and “Are they expecting us to endure this rubbish?” are some of the catch phrases you must learn how to deploy once you set out to be a critic.
And at a time like this, a time when family, friends and well wishers of Delta State Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan are likely to roll out the drums, probably seek to outdo themselves in celebration of his birthday, it is to be expected that critics and the so called opposition would be poised to play the spoiler. Of interest to them would be the role of perceived sycophants, likely amount spent on the celebration(s), and at what cost. The most important question that would be asked is rather predictable: “What has the governor done to deserve this jamboree?”
Of course, there is no doubt that talk is cheap. And for the critic and the so called opposition, the swan song has predictably resulted almost like a cracked record. I don’t see them changing strategy at this stage. Perhaps, they don’t need to, giving the fact that without an alternative voice, governments tend to relapse into avoidable inertia.
Unfortunately, the impression would be created that government funded the celebrations. Either so or those celebrating are direct beneficiaries of government’s largesse. “So what about the huge crowd that would turn out?” one may ask and the quick reply is that they were definitely hired to give a semblance of acceptance. It is a predictable refrain.
For the critics in Delta, the measure of achievement is confined to a discourse on physical structures and public infrastructure. How many roads have been built by the Uduaghan administration? How many new schools built and old ones renovated? Are there massive bridges being constructed? How many transformers have been procured and distributed to communities? What of industries? A tragic reflection of our limited perception of what development is all about in this part of the world.
It is no wonder that so much money and fun fare accompany the commissioning of projects by our chief executives. And some of them have indeed elevated the weird practice to the level of the obscene, such that they are on live television to celebrate so called “Festival of Projects” every other week. A clear descent into the mundane.
But it is to the seeming “intangibles” of the Uduaghan administration that I avert my mind to as Deltans devote today to celebrate the governor’s birthday. I am talking of the innocuous, easily forgotten initiatives and temperament of a man whose tenure has made the state more united, peaceful and irrevocably hoisted on a path of identifiable progress and development. I do so conscious of the fact that this is the best way to explain the relentless love and commitment of majority of the people to the three point agenda of the administration. It is the same reason for which Uduaghan seems to have triumphed above his traducers.
Indeed, one must ask why the governor has consistently won elections, even when all odds are staked against him? Is it a case of a cat with nine lives, or simply because the man has mastered how to win elections? Why is the opposition unable to displace him even after enlisting conspiracies at the highest level? Why has he become an enigma even to his accusers?
Giving that there is no controversy as to the circumstance of his taking over the helm of affairs, it is appropriate at this stage to recall that Uduaghan took over the reins of administration against the backdrop of insecurity and threat to lives and property, particularly in Asaba, the state capital and Warri the oil city. Armed robbery, hostage taking, assassinations and unbridled ethnic rivalry were the order of the day. Life could be said to be worth less than a farthing as one could get killed for the flimsiest of reasons. This was compounded by the larger than life role of so called militants, with the largest militant camp located in Delta State.
Conscious of people’s expectations, the governor within hours of being sworn-in promptly inaugurated the Delta Waterways Security and Monitoring Committee resulting in the release of 23 Philippines abducted and kept in militant camps before he took over. He thereafter unleashed a regime of political engagement that also saw a drastic reduction in militancy to the barest minimum, following this up by advocating that the Federal Government should offer amnesty to the aggrieved youths in the creeks as a way of restoring total peace in the Niger Delta.
While it is still a matter of debate as to whether Uduaghan, acting alone or in collaboration with other leaders in the region helped sell the prospect of the amnesty programme to the late President Musa Yar’Adua, there is no doubt that the rapprochement initiated by the governor has paid off greatly in his state. And today, oil exploration and exploitation go on almost unimpeded except for the criminal activities of oil bunkerers which are being tackled by the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the military. Till date, neither the Excravos Gas To Liquid (EGTL) project and Excravos Gas Project (EGP) being undertaken by the multinational oil company, Chevron have been disrupted. So also are the interests of other oil giants, including Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC). And oil bearing communities have subsisting agreements that enables them benefit from contracts and other development projects.
Relatedly, Dr Uduaghan’s bold and courageous decision to allocate 50 % accruable from the derivation fund to the Delta State Oil Producing And Development Commission (DESOPADEC) buoyed the oil bearing communities to lay down arms and desist from their confrontational nature. Despite initial challenges, DESOPADEC has become a rallying point and vehicle of solidarity to these communities which had hitherto suffered untold neglect and marginalization from successive administrations.
The initiative of the government in providing street lights in major towns and cities has further cut down crime, such that other states contiguous to Delta record higher rate of crime. Whereas kidnapping, robbery, car snatching and political assassinations are rampant in neighbouring states, the reverse is the case since the advent of the street lights, apart from serving to beautify the towns and cities. Asaba and Warri in particular have witnessed unusual influx of migrants as direct consequence.
Neither must it be forgotten that the maternal mortality rate in Delta was quite high before the medical doctor turned politician took over the helm of affairs. Same was the case of infant mortality.
Many women and children died from avoidable and treatable diseases. This was because they could not afford medical expenses or had no access to modern healthcare facilities, such that several pregnant women had to rely on local birth attendants that were ill trained and lacked the capacity to handle complications or emergencies. Today, Delta has been applauded by the Federal Government and other multilateral agencies for introducing free medical treatment for pregnant women from the day of conception to delivery, including caesarian operation. Children from zero to age five also benefit from th free medicare. Avoidable deaths have thus been averted among these category of people regarded as vulnerable.
Perhaps of greater significance was the resolve of the State Government to bear the cost of examination fees from primary school to junior secondary and then to senior secondary level, including the National Examinations Council (NECO) and the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) fees. Students in tertiary institutions also enjoy enhanced bursary, while first class graduates are giving a scholarship to pursue their masters and doctorate programmes in any part of the world, thus engendering competition and strive for excellence among the youths.
The award winning micro credit scheme of the Uduaghan administration, mass deployment of buses for transportation in all the nooks and cranny of the state as well as the engagement of our youths through the Youths Empowered Through Agriculture (YETA) programme has endured the governor to a majority of the people, providing succour in place of despair that was their lot in the past, undoubtedly a fulfillment of the human capital development component of the three point agenda of the government.
Today, as the drums beat and horns blare, the most noise would not come from the contractors seeking to arm twist government to return to the old order of doing business as usual. Neither will it come from those expecting the governor to out rightly “share the money”, which he has bluntly turned down. It may well be that some government officials may be at the forefront of the celebrations. But Dr Uduaghan would wish that those who have benefited from the so called intangibles or seeming inanities are those who walk the streets and shout for joy in appreciation of what he has done for them. And why not? After all, they belong to the majority that voted him into office.
As for the critics and the opposition, I dare them to deny these “intangibles”. Definitely, the creeks affirm, the urban centers resonate and our mothers, wives and children attest to the reality of these inanities. To deny their existence is to stand truth on its head. But for the governor, this testament would always stand to his credit and for posterity to accord him a right of place. No birthday gift can be most apt.
FELIX OFOU is Press Secretary to the Delta State Governor.