The aphorism ‘charity begins at home’ is indeed a wise saying. It is a product of an imaginative and constructive mind. The story of Governor Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan manifestly lends credence to this dictum. As the governor of Delta State, leadership was not just thrust upon him. No, it was not by happenstance nor fortuitous. The leadership trait had been innate and what was required was for it to be nurtured in order to be given expression. Though this quality was discovered early in life when as an elementary school boy he was saddled with the responsibility of being a janitor, it took his grandmother with whom he spent his early childhood at Mosogar in the present Ethiope East Local Government Area of the state, to inculcate in him the values and responsibilities that go with leadership. And he learnt his first lesson in leadership the very hard and primitive way, so to speak. Uduaghan shared his experience with a large audience at the cozy ambience of the Events Centre on the occasion of this year’s democracy Day celebration as he gave account of his seven years stewardship as the governor of Delta State. Though it sounded funny, throwing the hall into hearty laughter, to the discerning, the message was indeed instructive with lessons for everyone.
“One night, dead in the night, I was woken up but I could not open my eyes. What happened? I grew up with my grandmother. My grandmother had put pepper on my two eyes. I woke up, tried to open my eyes, I could not because she had put pepper on my two eyes and I was shouting Nene, Nene because that was what I called her, thinking that she was somewhere else and she told me that she was right beside me. Of course, she started beating me. What happened? I used to hold the key of the school that I was attending. I’ve told you before that sometimes, you have to go to the farm before you go to school. And that put the responsibility on me that I must be the first to go to school because if I don’t open the doors, nobody will enter the school. And on that day, I didn’t go to the farm but I went late to school and so, people were waiting outside. I couldn’t give her any reason why I went late but that I over-slept. And for my grandmother, that wasn’t acceptable. Over-sleeping wasn’t an excuse to lock out everybody in the school. And so, I had to be punished and she punished me in her own way. So, if you see me rushing to beat time today, it is because I still believe that my grandmother is still standing over me and if I am late, she might still put pepper in my eyes”.
Asking rhetorically “why is that important to me?” he responded “it is important to me when I now trace back why I’m here, it just occurs to me that God used many people to prepare me for this office and one of the first persons He used was my grandmother. And she was preparing me, telling me that whatever you do, you must be punctual. But she said something very significant. Whatever you are given to handle, do it well so that people will be happy. That simple message, I would say, was my first lesson in leadership because I was given a responsibility of ensuring that the school was open, but on that particular day, I failed in that responsibility. Between then and 2007, a lot of things happened that for me, were all preparations too what I am today”. Though his original ambition was not to govern Delta State, God, in His wisdom and benevolence, found him worthy of elevation from a janitor to a state governor having gone through ‘pepper baptism’ to be more alive to his responsibilities at any stage of his life.
That the first lesson in responsible and responsive leadership his grandmother taught him has been well applied is evident in the successes he has achieved in the past seven years as governor of the state. His policies and programmes are such that have brought happiness and succour to the greatest number of people being people-oriented and welfarist in conception. The free maternal and infant healthcare programme, the free zero-to-under-five medical care, free education and various categories of scholarship schemes available to Delta youths and of course the award-winning micro-credit programmed designed to alleviate poverty, are some of the programmes that have brought relief to the people. A man full of innovative ideas and a trail-blazer, Uduaghan has also in his seven years in office, demonstrated an immense capacity to tread where angels dread to venture into, initiating and executing ambitious projects to drive his robust vision of Delta Beyond Oil, the economic gospel he has spread round the country. The Asaba International Airport, the 168-kilometre Ughelli-Asaba Road dualization, the Trans Warri Road project with 24 bridges leading to the ancestral home of Ode-Itsekiri, the Sapele-Abigborodo Road, on-going construction work at the various sites of the four polytechnics established in one fell swoop and state-of-the-art model secondary and primary schools across the state, among other mega projects he initiated, are some of the capital-intensive projects of his administration. Chike Ogeah, the state Commissioner for Information, was so astounded by these accomplishments that he retorted: “What I have seen is that sometimes, especially in the life of a state, that timeframe might not be enough to achieve all those lofty projects, particularly my governor. If he has a problem, it is that he is a big dreamer. His vision is massive”. Indeed, Uduaghan is one governor who dared to dream big and demonstrated the capacity to translate that dream into reality.
In health, in education, in road infrastructure and the new goldmine – entertainment, culture and tourism, he has left his imprimatur that would remain an enduring legacy of his eight-year sojourn by the time he leaves office May, 29, 2015. Uduaghan who clocks 60 October 22, 2014, was a product of Federal Government College Warri, where he passed out in flying colours in 1974. He gained admission into the University of Benin to study Medicine, graduating in 1980 with a Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery, MBBS. He did his compulsory national service in Kwara State, emerging the most outstanding corps doctor in the state. He thereafter returned to the University of Benin for a Diploma programme in Anesthesia. Before he ventured into politics, he served at various times at Westend Hospital, Warri, Benoni Hospital, Benin-City, Shell Hospital at Ogunu where he was Consultant Anesthesiologist, as well as at Delta Steel Company, DSC, clinic before setting up his own private hospital, Abode Clinic, in 1994, named after his grand-mother who made a positive impact on his life.
Having had a fulfilling career in medical practice, it was time to explore a new terrain and seek new challenges. Politics became his preferred calling since it fitted perfectly well with the very reason he opted to study medicine – to be of service and add value to humanity. Consequently, as a founding member, he emerged the pioneer chairman of the All Nigeria Congress Association for Warri South Local Government Area as well as an executive member of the Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM. He was also a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 1998. Following the emergence of Chief James Onanefe Ibori as the second executive governor of Delta State in 1999 when the country was once again returned to democratic rule, he was appointed Commissioner for Health. He was later appointed in 2003, as the secretary to the state government, SSG. According to him, “the truth is that at that time, how I became commissioner and SSG, there was none that I planned for”.
How he became governor was even more mysterious and a clear manifestation of divine providence. According to his testimony, as SSG, Uduaghan said he was at a Catholic cshurch for a service at Ogwashi-Uku after the thanksgiving service while kneeling down by the altar where there were a lot of priests that were praying “and somebody whispered into my ears ‘You will be the next governor of Delta State’ and I looked at him”. He said his reaction was that this man wanted patronage because at that time, and said to himself no way. He said even though he just dismissed it, he didn’t reject it. According to him, “If I had said I reject it, I wouldn’t have been where I am today. And who was this man? Rev. (Fr.) Mario Dibie. And thereafter, one thing after the other, I eventually became the governor of this state”. Dibie delivered the sermon titled “What He started through you must be Completed” on Democracy Day.
And as he enters into the last phase of his administration, Uduaghan says the Moses story, described as Fr. Dibie as psychological opposition, can be real. Because of anger, he did not enter the Promised Land. His desire is “I want to finish strong and I want to land well” and his appeal to all therefore is “let us work together so that we can land well”.
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