Mr. Patrick Ukah is the Delta State Commissioner for Information. In this interview with NAIJ.com’s Austin Oyibode in Asaba, Ukah speaks on the developments in the state, how Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s government is impacting on the people and battling to pay salaries amidst reduced federal allocations. He also speaks on the effort to curtail youth restiveness in the state. Excerpts:
How is the governor coping with salaries of workers, considering the reduction in federal allocation?
On Thursday June 25, 2015, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa presented a statement of affairs report on the state to the State House of Assembly. In his speech, he presented a graphic illustration on what he met on assumption of office. The highlights of his speech to those not privy to it are: (1) the revenue receipt from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) has dipped significantly, dropping to just N8.03 billion in April (as received in May 2015), from a high of over N20 billion in previous years.
Based on the various financial outstanding from the previous administration, a total monthly deduction of N4.60 billion will be made from our FAAC receipts with effect from June 2015 to March 2017, and thereafter N1.098 billion monthly until September 2017. The State workforce as at May 28, 2015 stood at over 60,000 persons with a monthly personnel cost of N7,437,940,015.38 inclusive of N678 million State Government’s support to Local Government Councils for the payment of primary school teachers’ salaries.
So, if we assume that the FAAC allocation stays at N8.03 billion monthly, with the deduction of N4.60 billion, it leaves us with N3.4 billion, and even when you add roughly N2 billion derived from Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), (which is a positive assumption considering many corporate bodies have left the state as a result of pipeline bombings), the total available fund is N5.4 billion. The implication is that the available fund cannot offset the monthly wages (N7.437 billion) of the State’s workforce and the LGC primary school teachers’ salaries.
In a bid to address the challenges posed by the drop in statutory allocation, the State Government developed the Delta State Medium Term Development Plan (DSMTDP) (2016-2019), a policy document that provides the road map to: (1) Drive rapid infrastructural development. (2) Ensure and sustain inclusive economic growth and sustainable development (3) Reduce the worrisome high level of youth unemployment, pervasive poverty. (4) Woo the private sector to explore and exploit the economic and business opportunities in Delta State.
At this point, it is worthy to cheer the state’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, which is already yielding results with agreements already signed for the Delta Commercial City Project, Umunede Rest Park, Asaba Integrated Power Project, Warri-Effurun Water Scheme, Agro-Industrial Parks and Housing Projects in the state.
What is the governor doing to restore lasting peace to the state especially in the restive coastal communities?
We cannot deny the fact that the destruction of oil facilities in the Niger Delta region has compounded the financial woes of the nation and the state in particular, as oil prices have not only reduced but the country could not increase oil production to boost revenue.
The Okowa-led administration is working assiduously with various stakeholders on the need to create a peaceful atmosphere for the development of the Niger Delta region and Delta State specifically. And, in his bid to strengthen the unity of Delta State, the governor inaugurated a 42-man Peace Building and Advisory Council, which has former Minister for Information and Culture, Professor Sam Oyovbaire as the chairman.
The Delta State Deputy Governor, Barr. Kingsley Otuaro, as chairman of Advocacy Committee Against Oil Facility Vandalism, has been meeting with traditional rulers, youth groups and other relevant stakeholders to find a solution to oil pipeline bombing as well as to ensue peaceful co-existence among communities.
The mandates set out for both committees are against the backdrop of implementing the Meaningful Peace Building Platform as enshrined in the SMART mantra, all in a bid to maintain peace in Delta.
Some areas in the state feel marginalized especially the Ndokwas in the distribution of projects by the Governor, what is the government doing to rectify that?
There is no evidence to suggest that Ndokwa is marginalized. Only recently, some projects were either commissioned or inspected, they included the reconstruction and widening of the existing 7.5km long road between Owhelogbo in Isoko North and Abbi in Ndokwa West as well as the rehabilitation and widening of Access road to Beneku community in Ndokwa East.
In education, there is the establishment of Utue Secondary school, Utue-Ogume in Ndokwa West; a completion of a 24 classroom storey building at Ashaka Mixed Secondary School, Asahaka in Ndokwa East; infrastructural upgrade of Utagbe-Ogbe Technical College and construction of six classroom block with offices and toilets in Umuze primary school, Ossissa, Ibrede primary school, Ibrede and Isselegu primary school, Isselegu of Ndokwa East.
In water, rehabilitation of water supply scheme in Aboh, Ogume, Obiaruku, Umukwata, Abbi and Ejeme-Aniogor. Also, there are many sons and daughters of Ndokwa that are in the government of Okowa. But, the projects highlighted, are the gains of one-year of Governor Okowa’s administration. But it would not stop there. Are the gains enough? Many may say No, but there is a need to be patient, as this government would go the extra mile to impress on its people, why it coveted and won their votes.
Do you envisage permanent peace in the Niger Delta following the continuous bombing by the militants?
If you will recall, I had explained how various committees have been put in place to thinker up innovative ideas and solutions to bring about peace in the Niger Delta. The various committees are working assiduously to deliver their mandate. The state government in turn, is in constant talk with community leaders, the military and other stakeholders to bring about peace. So I do believe that there will be permanent peace in not just the Niger Delta but Nigeria as a whole. As at now, there is enough evidence to suggest that peace is gradually returning to the Niger Delta and just as the governor announced to investors in the two-day Economic and Investment summit in Asaba and a lecture organized by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and Lagos Business School in Lagos on September 10, 2016, we can assure our prospective investors that we are going to have a lasting and sustainable peace in the region and that a conducive atmosphere awaits them.
What can you say the present governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, has achieved since he became Governor of Delta State?
Governor Okowa came into office with the bold promise of “Prosperity for all Deltans” hinged on a five-point agenda for his administration. The first year of the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has witnessed massive infrastructural work in the construction, completion and commissioning of 22 roads while 12 roads that are presently ongoing would be commissioned upon completion in the nearest future.
In markets development, the Orerokpe Model Market is at an advanced stage of completion. In the education sector, three primary schools, one model secondary school, one technical college and the faculty of law complex, Delta State University, Oleh Campus and model secondary school Ashaka were completed or near completion. In the health sector, the paediatric ward, water scheme, accident and emergency project and other facilities at the Patani General Hospital were either newly constructed or renovated; the Abavo General Hospital now wears a new look with a new health facility.
The Asaba drainage problem is being confronted head-on in order to deliver a lasting solution. Following an extensive study and review of this embarrassing problem, arrangements have been concluded to provide an effective remedial short-term solution and a master plan for the Asaba drainage works. It is our expectation that within two years, our capital city will be flood-free.
Having spelt out the past and the present administration’s achievement so far, as regards infrastructural development, there is no doubt that there is a need for more infrastructural development. And, I must assure you that the Okowa led-administration is willing to make Delta a model for everyone to follow, even in these hard times.
Delta just celebrated 25 years of state creation. Do you see Deltans as a people pursuing the same objective?
At the recently concluded 2-day Investment and Economic Forum, which was part of a week-long Delta at 25 celebrations, I noted that most speakers agreed that Delta State is a mini Nigeria due to her diversity, location and economic importance. While many may consider the marriage of the five major ethnic groups as strange, unlike the federal level, we’ve figured a way to live amicably.
Politically, we’ve found power sharing a long-lasting solution to resolve our peculiarities. On infrastructural development, we have more people living in urban areas across the three Senatorial districts than any other state that makes up the federation, excluding Lagos and Abuja. In sports and entertainment; irrespective of our divides, we are proud to associate with our numerous talents at home and abroad.
Is the state government thinking of employment besides the youth empowerment programme?
Every right thinking government is concerned about creating jobs. Our primary motivator about jobs is not necessarily about employment but more about its citizenry being more innovative and proactive by becoming entrepreneurs. Our duty is to create that enabling environment. And, it has gone beyond YAGEP and STEP. The sum of N546 million was disbursed to a total number of 3,100 persons within the various micro, small and medium enterprises from May 2015 to April 10, 2016. They comprise 2,052 females representing 66% of the loan recipients and 1,058 males representing 34%.
However, The Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP) is designed for a distinct segment of unemployed graduates with professional training who live in urban areas. In particular GEEP is targeted at unemployed graduates with Bachelor’s degree or Higher National Diploma in Engineering, ICT, environmental disciplines and others.
The aim of the programme is to improve the employability and job-readiness of the graduates by affording them relevant work experience and exposing them to job opportunities. The programme also helps participants who wish to establish their own companies and enterprises in the respective professional fields, as groups or partnership.
We are focused on meeting our target, which is to grow the state economy by at least 5% annually, create 50,000 jobs annually up to 2019, increase house hold incomes by 5% annually, reduce unemployment by 5% annually and reduce overall poverty by 5% annually.
As a state where PDP is firmly rooted, what do you think can be done to settle the crisis at the national level of the party?
At the last convention held in Port-Harcourt, the constitution was amended based on the prevailing situation the party found itself as regards the post of national party chairman, tenure and mandate. I do believe that come next year at the expiration of every person’s actual and alleged tenure, the party will automatically right itself.
That the PDP is firmly rooted in Delta State is largely attributed to a power sharing model that easily resolves our peculiarities and ethnic divides.
Originally published on Naij.com