Delta State no doubt has a sweet story to tell about how 15 years of democracy has changed its landscape in terms of good network of roads. Funkekeme Solomon, the state Works Commissioner, in this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Tony Manuaka, senior associate editor, Stella Sawyerr, associate editor, Tony Akaeze, senior assistant editor,and Adewale Adelola, photo journalist, describes as “pedestrian”, the state of infrastructure before 1999. Solomon recalls that “Ibori came in 1999 to face a state where development of infrastructure was at its lowest ebb because basically, we had to start afresh”. He says under the Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s administration, there has been “monumental development” because he is determined to make a change.
You have been part of this democratic experience since 1999. How would you describe the infrastructure development in Delta State from that time till date?
I will describe it as unprecedented. Yes, you are right that I have been around. Even before 1999, I was involved in the Ibru administration. I was the Chief Press Secretary to the pioneer Speaker of the House of Assembly. I was deputy project coordinator for the contact office. I was Senior Media Adviser to the Chief Judge before the advent of the Ibori administration and therefore, I am in good stead really to describe infrastructure development in Delta today as phenomenal.
Let us start from 1999. What was the state of infrastructure then, as compared to now?
It was very pedestrian because you know that after Ibru’s effort, we went directly under military regimes. Successive military administrators were barely managing the state and of course, there was not much done in that regard. So, Ibori came in 1999 to face a state that was in despair; a state where development of infrastructure was at the lowest ebb because basically, we had to start afresh. More so, he came at the time when there was fratricidal war between ethnic groups, particularly in the Warri area. And because Warri is actually the commercial centre or headquarters of Delta, in terms of infrastructure, it was surrounded with oil installations and companies, and so it was the revenue base of the state. So, he came to meet that sort of situation. Therefore, it is right, appropriate and it is only fair to say that there has been monumental development. Let us take Asaba for example; it was just a new State capital at the time Ibori came in. It had barely few roads; it was not fully developed. But now, you can see we have more than 70 roads in all parts of Asaba, and that means that the facelift given to Asaba alone can be a template for the phenomenal movement from where it was in 1999. We are also adding value to the state. You can see the flyovers being constructed. That will add aesthetic value to the state capital as well as ease traffic. We have airports now; businesses are being attracted and expanding. We have people coming in from Abuja and Lagos for business in Asaba and returning the same day. And so, in terms of infrastructure, as at today, we are developing.
Between 1999 and today, we have seen two administrations in Delta State – Ibori and Uduaghan. How would you describe the Ibori years and what would you consider his landmark achievements?
I think Ibori should be acknowledged for building the foundation of the new Delta. He must be seen as the father of new Delta State. And for every beginning, there are always challenges. You know that when a plane takes off, it will take some time before it starts gathering momentum. It stabilises before they announce that you can unfasten your seatbelt, or that the seatbelt light is off. It is always difficult when you start; so, Ibori should be credited for having the foresight that allows the next government to have a solid foundation to build on. He started so many gigantic projects that Dr. Uduaghan had to complete because government must be seen as a continuum. So, Ibori did his best within the prevailing circumstances. First, as I said, he came to face a very serious crisis, which for many years did not abate, and that was a very strong distraction in terms of development and in terms of stability of mind. But I can say in spite of that, Ibori really laid a firm foundation on which Uduaghan is building.
What were the projects he started that were inherited and completed by this administration?
Well, there are various projects, one of which is the Delta State University Teaching Hospital, DELSUTH, Oghara. There is rural integration, for example the Bomadi Bridge. And because of that bridge, now there are roads connecting various rural villages. Before Ibori, it was not possible; it was believed to be impossible. Various people were hiding under the issue of difficult terrain. In fact, Professor Jibril Aminu, former Petroleum Minister, was singled out for that kind of irredentist description of the Niger Delta, when he said that the area is so difficult that no one can even plant, but Ibori broke that jinx and successfully commissioned within four or five years, the bridge. Now there is road to the right and left of all the neighbouring communities. One is leading to my village and that has increased economic activities. One of the things we are happy about is that then, people were locked up, no integration; and when that happens, of course, tempers normally rise. With the completion of that bridge, you could find that people can come to Asaba to conduct their business and return that day, and the distance is reduced. Ibori also did the Omadino Bridge, the Aboh Bridge. These are massive infrastructures. So, like I said, there are so many other projects. He established the five Polytechnics at the same time, which was quite ambitious; but that was done. The educational development of the state was very key and also he established the campuses of the state University and made them operational. So, above all, he also did his best to put to rest inter-tribal wars. At the time he was leaving, there was a little bit of less tribal animosity, there was ethnic forgiveness and therefore, it can be said that at the time he came in, it was not thought of that you can bring an Ijaw and Itsekiri together. But by the time he left, it was possible for an Ijaw and Itsekiri man to work together. It is also important to credit Ibori for laying the foundation in Delta that an Ijaw man and Itsekiri can work together, especially by forming the G3, which made it possible for Uduaghan to come on board as his successor.
Earlier, you talked about the massive transformation that is going on here in Asaba as the state capital. We also know that Warri is the commercial nerve centre of the state. May we know what has been done to give the city a facelift?
As I speak with you, almost all the major roads in Warri are being improved upon. Some are being reconstructed, some have been rehabilitated. When I say Warri, I will like to put it together with Effurun in Uvwie local government area, Udu and environs. Right now, there are two flyovers that are being constructed now. There is one at the Warri-Effurun-Sapele intersection, and there is another one at Airport Road roundabout. Now, we have also ensured a rigorous environmental policy as it were. We have instituted environmental policy where every road is cleared and cleaned up for investors to understand that the environment is well taken care of. Roads are being widened; all illegal structures are being demolished, as it helps security and also adds to the aesthetic beauty of the environment. Investors are more attracted to such kind of environment. So we are doing urban renewal, we are dualising Warri and its environs. For example, we have done the junctions; some of the major junctions are being improved upon. In Warri, we are doing the Warri Industrial Park where work is already going on. The park will house tenants who do business. You must also have gone to Oleri, where we are doing one of the largest leisure parks in this part of the world. We have finished the road already; we have been given the mandate to construct roads in all the major commercial areas. We are putting up waste re-cycling facility around the place to ensure that waste created is cleared and the environment maintained, and jobs are created. And then there is the Warri Port which is being improved upon. The Warri Port is not like the one we had before. Dr Uduaghan has been able to achieve more in that regard. And then, there is the issue of peace and security. It is one of the agenda of this administration and that is why we have the Peace and Security Committee, which is dealing with the issue of kidnapping and all that. Recently when they kidnapped the son of Chief E. K. Clark, it was that committee that went into action and later the son was released. We are doing what we can generally. Is it in terms of schools, hospitals and in terms of having required facilities there? So sincerely speaking, in Warri and its environs, almost all roads, including Refinery Road, Airport Road, Jappa Road, indeed all major roads in Warri have been touched. No political divide.
What have been the challenges of creating order out of the chaos in Asaba and Warri in particular given the fact that illegal structures had to be brought down?
Well, I think the first thing is to have environmental order. And the second one is that appropriate environmental behaviour must be instilled into the people. And that is what we are doing in terms of enlightenment. But more importantly, government is providing an alternative, first and foremost. Before now, there were some markets that were already completed which were not put to use. Government has looked at and sorted out all the issues surrounding the non-usage of these markets and anybody that is displaced from a legitimate spot, will have to be moved to those markets, otherwise it is not tenable anywhere in the world where anybody would just find a space and put a caravan on it without finding out who owns the land or without acquiring it; that is what was happening. In Udu area for example, after the bridge, you could see stalls on both sides. There are stalls up and down, but between those stalls and the road, there are about eight to ten-metre stalls covering the road. So what government has done is to restore environmental integrity, to restore appropriate environmental behaviour. If the environment is not cleaned up, the capacity of human beings to live properly will also be affected.
We travelled by road and by boat to Ode-Itsekiri; we also went to Abigborodo by road and we saw the massive work going on in those areas. They are evidently daring projects in view of the very difficult terrain. What is the driving force?
Well, it is determination. First, the governor is determined to make a change. And if all past governors starting, from the Midwest, the old Bendel and then Delta had made little efforts before now, by now the entire rural areas would have been integrated. So, when we came on board, we designed a policy or road network for rural integration. We ask ourselves why the rural dwellers are being treated as if they don’t belong to the state. So, studies were carried out and it was found out that it was possible to do it. In any case, the state derives its revenue from oil and these areas they describe as difficult terrain is actually where the money comes from. So, it was clearly determination and commitment on the part of the governor that these projects are being done. Ode-Itsekiri, of course is going on. We are determined to go as far as we can. You must have also seen Effurun Bridge, which is part of rural integration. Effurun links Ughelli South-Urhobo; Ayakoromor is Ijaw and the aim is to connect Burutu ultimately because the governor made a promise when he was campaigning that he would like to drive to Burutu. So unless you are interested in your work, mere expression will not make it happen.
In a place like Asaba where flood is a major problem, what long-term measures are being taken to mitigate the impact of flooding?
Yes, I think we are doing that, and that is why we are doing major drainage system because the state capital is under water. If you want to know, if you drive on the expressway after the airport, you will notice that Asaba is down and Onitsha is up. So it is a major challenge and that is why we are doing major drainage projects, underground projects. There is an ongoing one from Okpanam and another one from DLA Road down to River Niger. There is another one from around the Asagba’s palace area connecting to River Niger. Then if you go to the NITEL area, there is also another major drainage channel. The idea is to see how we can save the lives and property of our people. We are also doing stone-base, not ordinary asphalt. We are doing a lot of layers on the road to keep it better. But generally, there will be continuous maintenance of these roads.
Given the sheer number and size of some of the road projects you are undertaking, there is the fear that some of these big projects may be abandoned.
Anyone we could not finish, we will leave for the in-coming administration. I don’t see how a government will see a good project and not be willing to complete it. We didn’t abandon any of the projects we inherited, we completed them. We inherited a lot of projects from the Ibori administration, and we see governance as a continuum, and that was why some persons did not see the speed we have now in the first tenure; we had to sort out a lot of things. So I am very optimistic; yes, we will try to complete some, but anyone we could not complete, we will leave.