At the investiture of my administration in 2007 we articulated a three-point agenda: Peace and Security, Human Capital Development and Infrastructure Development. At the core of this agenda is the attainment of economic growth that will guarantee a peaceful, stable and safe atmosphere in Delta State.
The entrenched and endemic abuse of basic rights and freedom under the military culminated in bottled up agitations, tension and pent-up emotions, especially in the Niger Delta where agitations for control of natural resources graduated into criminal activities.
Like all governors in the Niger Delta, this was one complex challenge I met upon assumption of office. There were other problems confronting the young administration ranging from political conflicts, to violent youth conflicts, armed insurgents, to ethnic rivalry amongst the various ethnic groups in Delta State. This was aptly captured by Professor Michael J. Watts who co-authored The Curse of the Black Gold when he noted that "the Delta is awash not only in oil but in ferocious intra and inter-community struggles..."
The Federal Government of Nigeria on its part, through its Amnesty Programme, helped ameliorate and substantially quelled the effects of militancy in the Niger Delta region. No serious discussion of insecurity or challenges of public safety and security problems is complete without referring to the educational, socio-political and overall economic environment because security challenges do not occur in a vacuum.
Having identified the root causes, my administration concluded that massive government investment in infrastructure, eliminating corruption at all levels and a sustainable improvement in the general standard of living of the electorate would significantly help to arrest and ultimately eliminate the spate of insecurity.
To address this, we adopted a strategic approach. First, within the first few weeks of my administration, I quickly empowered the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), an interventionist agency set up to address the challenges of under-development in the oil producing communities of Delta State, to go down to the rural, oil-producing communities to create jobs, stem the growing army of unemployed youths and provide the much-needed infrastructure in designated host communities. 50% of the 13% derivation accruing to the state or about approximately $222.5 million annually is passed on to the commission. We thereafter constituted the Delta State Waterways Security Committee to help gather intelligence and information that would assist in crime prevention and detection.
We believe that a functional educational system could serve as great armour against crime. Consequently, my administration quickly re-opened, equipped and rehabilitated 42 high schools that were closed down in Warri and its surrounding towns and villages during an inter-ethnic conflict in Delta State. Again, as part of our strategic approach, we began implementing our holistic strategy by conceptualising the brand identity, 'Delta Beyond Oil'. In its simplest terms, this perspective attempts to bring to the attention of the people of Delta State and private sector operators, the need to understand that oil and gas are finite assets and exhaustible resources that cannot be permanently relied on.
Correspondingly, we conceived and designed a new comprehensive economic development framework with investment strategies and approaches that ensured that other sectors of the economy in the state are brought on stream. The idea was to expand and complement oil receipts as alternative income sources and focus on internally generated revenues (IGR.)
Some of our direct government investments aimed at catalysing state-wide development include the completion of an international airport in Asaba, the state capital and the on-going expansion of an existing airport at Osubi, near Warri, the commercial hub of Delta State. Taking advantage of the huge economic activities in Onitsha market, which is about 15 minutes away, the Asaba Airport has the potential of being the busiest airport in Nigeria.
Recognising the need to partner international development agencies and citizens of Delta State in the diaspora, my administration launched an outreach programme in 2009 in New York under the chairmanship of Ambassador Walter Carrington, a former United States (US) Envoy to Nigeria. We believe that there are eminent Deltans in the diaspora who have both the technical expertise and the web of contacts to bring to the table for the overall development of Delta State.
One important infrastructure project, central to all other economic activities, is electricity. In this area, the state government, in partnership with private investors, has reached an advanced stage in completing an Independent Power Project (IPP) to produce power that will be transmitted and distributed throughout the state. Also, the Delta State Government has invested over N15 billion (approximately US$93.7m) in the Federal Government IPP Project as part of her counterpart funding to step up power generation and distribution in the state.
Delta State has embarked on several projects to modernise and upgrade agricultural production in the state. Other strategies and programmes include the promotion of commercial and industrial entrepreneurship through the funding of micro-level entrepreneurs to grow into small and medium scale commercial and manufacturing enterprises. In total, over 100,000 people have benefitted from the micro-credit scheme.
Also important is the development of the tourism sector. Because of our drive, a lot of tourism and hospitality industries are now springing up in the state. The biggest is the $240 million Delta Leisure Park by a private investor in partnership with the state government. We are also encouraging medical tourism by improving on the quality of secondary and tertiary hospitals and encouraging private investment in healthcare.
Inspired by a vision to consolidate the foundation of a robust, diversified, stable and economically viable state, we intensified the drive to build a modern Delta State. In view of this, a strategic pursuit of local and foreign investors and expertise was implemented and we recorded encouraging results. The most recent example of large scale investments being attracted to the state is the plan by Transcorp Hilton Hotels to establish two five-star hotels in Delta State --Asaba and Warri respectively. In addition, Heirs Holding, a big private sector firm in Nigeria, plans to establish a $1.4 billion dollar fertiliser plant in Burutu, one of the riverine communities in the state. The Federal Government of Nigeria working closely with the Delta State Government is also building a multi-million dollar landing jetty in Okwagbe, a community located along the tributaries of the River Niger, to support the state's transport infrastructure.
The state has also revamped its foreign investment drive by the setting up of the Office of the Senior Foreign Relations Adviser within the Governor's Office. Following this step, the state has targeted two constituencies. These are Deltans in the diaspora who are given special incentives to bring investments in their areas of expertise and other foreign investors that are invited to invest in critical sectors of the state economy that will generate broad economic activities and employment opportunities while securing high returns.
We recognise that a major way to attract and retain domestic and foreign investors to the state is to provide industrial development infrastructure, such as industrial estates, parks or areas. Consequently, the state decided to establish such sites for potential investors. These are the Warri Industrial and Business Park, the Koko and Ogidigben Industrial Park/Export Free Trade Zone and the Asaba Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Park. These industrial estates are conceived as flagship projects that will become models of industrial infrastructure; but also more practically as sites that will attract massive investments, which will help to generate economic activities and employment opportunities in the state. We are also tackling the challenges of environmental pollution.
As a state government, we have donated modern anti-crime gadgets, operational vehicles and communication weapons to the Delta State Police Command to help re-position the command. Indeed a state survey carried out since 2009 has shown a steady decline in crime as a result of our aforementioned intervening strategies. This was further authenticated by the findings of a recent survey conducted by the Canadian-based Oil for Good Governance (OGG), a non-governmental organisation domiciled at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, which noted in its 2012 report on sub-Saharan Africa that the security situation in Delta State shows tremendous progress and improvement.
*Excerpts from a lecture delivered by Delta State Governor, Dr Uduaghan, at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, USA