ON UDUAGHAN AND DELTA PROJECT

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I know that some consider a spewing of falsehood and human brickbats the stuff of politics in Nigeria. I have never and am unlikely to start now. In 35 years of public life, any observer will realize that my views may be very critical but never a broadside on individuals but a focus on my perspective on issues. It is in staying at that level of play, without lowering myself to the gutter that I provide a few factual clarifications of some matters raised by former Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. The comments from him came ostensibly in reaction to a remark that the State government be careful about further borrowing lest we jeopardize the future of our children. In that comment no name or particular government was mentioned.

In the report I read it was said I was appointed Chairman and member of several committees and I failed to use them to attract foreign investments. I recall being asked to serve on a flood Relief Committee and on a State’s Elders Council for the Delta vision to which just about every prominent Deltan was appointed. None had to do with investments. I am grateful that the flood relief committee chaired by a Supreme Court Judge gave me insight into the level of the problems and inspired a personal initiative through CVL, the NGO I founded to take relief materials we raised from our resources, companies on whose boards I serve, and a Bank that responded to our call for help to Delta, Anambra and Adamawa states.

Even though neither of the two committees had anything to do with investments I did make spirited efforts to attract investments to the state and was frustrated repeatedly by the government off the state. Not long ago some Deltans accused me of locating a multimillion dollar Agriculture Industrial Town project in Edo State. What I avoided stating was that the initiative was originally for Delta. That I brought my foreign partners to meet the Governor who suspended a State Executive Council meeting in progress to meet my team. He promised speedy allocation of Land and ostensibly set up a committee of the Executive Council to handle the matter. After two years of games and loss of our foreign partners as a result we turned to the Oshiomole Government in Edo. realizing the value in terms of employment generation and future tax receipts they quickly allocated the land. A few hundred million Naira in investments have already gone into the project and billion of Naira have been pledged and are still in the process of being offered as debt and equity. Our estimate is that 5 years from now at least 20, 000 quality jobs will be available in Edo State as a result, and a new town will have risen from a pure jungle.

The former Governor was also quoted on a Silicon Valley project for which he turned the Sod in Ibusa, my hometown. That statement is incorrect. We invited him to turn the Sod for a Youth Centre to be built by CVL to give opportunities to the youth. The remote location of where land was acquired, required we grade the road to the location. On that day he publicly declared a road would be quickly built there and asked the Works Commissioner at the time, Paul Osaji, to bring that to the front burner. That road which would link Ibusa to Okpanam remains a mirage till today, again frustrating that project. We had eventually to relocate the project to a Church with significant land area and the construction is ongoing. It is an irony that the Silicon Valley initiative should be mixed up here because it was the sabotage of that project by a previous Delta State government that Dr Uduaghan used to make friends with me.

At a meeting at the Abuja Airport when he was running for Governor he said to me that one of the reasons he was canvassing for the office was to right injustices. Among them, the use of the machinery of government to sabotage the Silicon Valley type ICT park we planned for Illah. The Illah Community had made the Land available, we had brought in a team lead for Leapfrog Ventures whose Board I chaired. An entrepreneur from Silicon Valley and Oganiihu Anioma a association of which I was a member were, were the champions of the project. It was a completely private initiative. But a few days before the turning of the Sod the government of Delta took out full page adverts disparaging the project. I would learn that it was designed to prevent a part of the state from getting ahead. I was scandalized. To my question why would private entrepreneurs from other parts of the state not just try to initiate competing initiatives in their part of the state, the then Commissioner for Commerce in the state Dr, Joshua Enueme who represented Governor Ibori that had successfully caused postment of date of the project launch so he could attend the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, simply said’ “Welcome To Delta State where we don’t think straight”. I know that as Governor, Dr Uduaghan told this story about how he wanted to compensate Delta North people for the injustice done by some clements in the government he served as SSG in sabotaging the project because it was located in Delta North. One of them Arc. Kester Ifeadi, founder of the Organisation for the Advancement of Anioma culture came to me to tell me what Uduaghan had said. That increased my regard for him and motivated me to assist whenever he reached out.

The reports also suggested that Uduaghan said he took me to the US to attract investment and I failed to attract investors. Just to set the facts down. A recent PriceWaterhouse survey suggests that while foreign investment flows are rising for many African countries they are declining for Nigeria. I have known this for long and been active in canvassing for improving the ease of doing business. Part of my counsel, drawing from the model of the referred, did anything but that.

I was teaching in some Executive Programmes at the Cranfield Business School in the UK when I got a call from my office in Lagos that the Governor’s aides were calling frantically to get me to confirm I could join the Governor’s entourage for a US visit. I asked my PA to indicate I was engaged outside the country. But she got back to say they would not mind my joining part of the way through. I obliged and joined in New York. I had no clue what the agenda was. Indeed I believed it to be a Diaspora cultivation exercise. Meetings and presentations with and from Diaspora elements were held in New York. i called up some of my American friends in the Gas business to come to make a presentation on what they could do around the Gas Value Chains. Managed to get Dr Uduaghan to squeeze a few minutes out to listen to them in his Hotel Suite in New York. I doubt that a letter ever went to the potential investors acknowledging the meeting. Sometimes Nigerian public officials do not realize that they act as if they are doing investors a favour. This clearly obvious for how the PriceWaterHouse just published, places Nigeria in the ranks of countries attracting investment even in AfricaThe rest of the trip consisted of courtesy calls to the UN, World Bank and a meeting at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. I still recall calling Oby Ezekwesili who was Vice-President of the World Bank for Africa at the time and lamenting lack of clarity on the mission and she laughing at me for being on a Jamboree to nowhere.

I had put out an earlier response when Uduaghan’s unprovoked litany based almost 100 percent on fabricated falsehood and caustic innuendo were published but thought a sequential ordering of the facts could help probe the mindset that did not display the discipline senior public office should confer. I can only assume that God wants to begin judgement on some and has put it those people to begin to self destruct because nothing else can explain the unwarranted outburst.

The point we made, in the public interest, was to warn about rising debt levels and the consequence for this ending age of Oil. No name of a person or government was mentioned. To go hyper on such suggests public life in Nigeria harbors elements terrified of public discussion, accountability and the democratic process. In the interest of the democratic process I am pleased to meet Dr Uduaghan for a debate on the subject of Delta State finances, Good Governance and the future og our country. Surely he should have advantage as an incumbent of many years but I am still ready to debate him. That is the way of democracy.

Patrick Okedinachi Utomi

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